Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tell a Feminist Thank You

On February 11, Melissa McEwan of Shakesville (@Shakestweetz) started the #TellAFeministThankYou hashtag on Twitter in response to harassment of feminists on Twitter. I came a bit late to the party yesterday afternoon, but participated enthusiastically. So did many people, so much so it was the top trending topic in New York City yesterday until the Rangers game and State of the Union address unseated it.

I was inspired as people mentioned their struggles, loved ones, and heroes. It was disappointing to see how many people, women as well as men, co-opted the topic to insult feminists or to rant about why feminism wasn't needed, even as they so often proved it. In particular, right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin sent her flying monkeys after them. So many of my tweets became rebuttals to right-wing derailing and insults.

I know it's been months since I blogged, and I probably should write a proper blog entry soon. However, I decided to archive my own #TellAFeministThankYou tweets, and to share a few thoughts that take more than 140 characters. I noticed right away that there was a lot of crap about how feminists wanted "free birth control," as opposed to discounted birth control pills as part of the insurance benefits they paid for along with other legal drugs, and a lot of attacks on Sandra Fluke. So I started by thanking Sandra Fluke for her courage:

#TellAFeministThankYou Thank you, @SandraFluke, for standing up for womens' right to get all the insurance benefits they paid for.

I figured that everyone needed a reminder that a woman being a stay-at-home mother because she is required to isn't such a great deal for anyone, including her husband:

#TellAFeministThankYou Thank you for making it possible for me to marry for real love, not societal approval and economic support.

Of course I needed to thank relatives, although neither one, especially my father, used the "feminist" label:

#TellAFeministThankYou Thank you to my father, who saw no reason why I couldn't be the first (or fifth) woman to win the Daytona 500.
#TellAFeministThankYou Thank you to my great-grandmother, who left an arranged marriage for America + was one of the last US suffragettes.

There was a lot of talk about how women used to be treated as "valuable prizes", but are now devalued. One disgusting man even compared young women to "Kleenex for cum" as opposed to the "prizes" they used to be. Yeah. I'm sure he would've really valued women if it weren't for feminism. It was all too reminiscent of the nonsense I got in my Assemblies of God youth group, about how we were pure and beautiful princesses unless we touched another human being before marriage:

#TellAFeministThankYou for teaching me that I am not a prize or valuable object, but a human being with needs, wants, and ideas.

Some people said that femininity was devalued. I don't believe that for a moment, being both femme and feminist:

#TellAFeministThankYou for giving a secretary like me options and help if I get harassed.
#TellAFeministThankYou for making skirts, makeup, and cooking choices that I enjoy, not mandatory chains that I hate.

So many women, like Malkin, Michelle Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and their female fans benefit hugely from feminism. They certainly wouldn't have been allowed to take an active role in politics without it. They needed a reminder:

#TellAFeministThankYou Thanks for making it possible for @MichelleMalkin to have a company, credit, + opinions of her own, b/c she won't.
#TellAFeministThankYou For all the educated, voting, free women who stand tall on your shoulders and think they despise your legacy.

"Men used to open doors for us." "I'm the only guy I know who still opens doors for women." "Women used to be ladies, but now we're told to be just like men." "Women used to be ladies, and I miss it." The word "chivalry" came up an awful lot.

I just shake my head at how history tends to be idealized. At the Renaissance Faire, everyone dresses like lords and ladies of the manor, despite how much more likely it would've been that one would be a peasant. In discussions of how feminism ruined everything for women, so many people harken back to a Victorian era that never existed, where every woman was a lady in the parlor, no woman was a scullery maid, and poor women and women of color just didn't exist somehow. (Certainly they weren't washing the lady's dishes.) Also, they forget just how easily even a wealthy white woman could have fallen from grace due to "inappropriate" relationships or behavior:

#TellAFeministThankYou because the lives in classic Western fiction are fun and instructive to read, but were awful to live.
#TellAFeministThankYou because a man's chivalry is conditional, but your own humanity is forever.
#TellAFeministThankYou because maybe 1 percent of women in the time before feminism took root were "ladies" who received chivalry, if that.

So many concepts that we now take for granted, such as "marital rape," "sexual harassment," even TV procedurals like "Law and Order SVU," are of recent vintage and would've been impossible without feminism. It annoys me when women take these developments for granted and think they want feminism rolled back or shut up. That said, even the conservative heterosexual married women who were ridiculing feminists benefit.

#TellAFeministThankYou if you've gone to the police for a rape kit or human resources to report a harasser, or told your friend to do so.
#TellAFeministThankYou if you're a woman who's not afraid to tell your husband you're too tired, too sore, or just not feelin' it tonight.

Modern life itself would be difficult without feminism. A Christian, conservative, heterosexual woman leaves work an hour early, takes her two daughters to soccer practice, then takes her SUV to the mechanic for an inspection. She hands the cashier her credit card. Then she goes to Hobby Lobby and buys materials for her latest scrapbooking project. That afternoon may as well be labeled "Sponsored by feminism!," despite Hobby Lobby's hostility toward birth control and the women who use it:

#TellAFeministThankYou if women are spending their money on your product or service, not begging a husband's permission or feeding 10 kids.

Some people were derailing the conversation by bringing up how terrible life is for many women in the Middle East, and why aren't feminists working there instead of whining in America?:

#TellAFeministThankYou if reading about the women in Islamist regimes horrifies you. Feminism is what differentiates your life from theirs.

When "#TellAFeministThankYou" became a top trend, so did "kitchen" and "sandwich" in many areas of the United States. That's because many dubious comedians, mostly men, decided to joke about how women needed to go into the kitchen and make them a sandwich. You'd see someone talk about her mother or favorite author, then "#TellAFeministThankYou for the sandwich! Hurhurhur!":

#TellAFeministThankYou because we don't have to live with any of the unfunny, unoriginal assholes making the kitchen and sandwich jokes.
#TellAFeministThankYou because I did cook a nice meal tonight, for me and my wife, and my brother did the same for his girlfriend.

The #TellAFeministThankYou hashtag exposed just what (mainly) American feminists have to deal with, but also provided much inspiration, conversation, and new knowledge. For me, it showed the real need to learn, share, and teach womens' history, lest we forget exactly how much we owe to feminism and how badly we still need it. There is still a crucial gender gap in historic and literary education, and there are two generations of adult women who think all the major battles have already been fought. There are women who benefit from presenting themselves as special snowflakes and holding other women down. Thank you, Melissa McEwan, for inadvertently providing the snapshot of American womens' lives in 2013. It shows an awful lot.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Fizz This!

"I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way."--Robert Frost

I've been upset about New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposed ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces. It seems like an irrational thing to be angry about. Why not, say, the violations of civil liberties perpetuated by Ray Kelly's police department, from stop-and-frisk to blasting sound cannons, a literal sonic assault weapon, against Occupy Wall Street?

It's not even like this is a new thing for Mayor Bloomberg. He's banned food donations by restaurants and other private entities to homeless shelters, as it might be too high in fat and salt.. We can't have fat homeless people! He's banned trans fats and public smoking. When I visit towns where smoking is allowed anywhere, I cough and actually feel a little grateful I'm not subjected to second-hand smoke at home. There's even anti-obesity public housing. Bloomberg considers public health his signature issue, and is proud of his bans.

Having talked with others, and thought about it, I have several theories as to why the soda ban is particularly upsetting. First of all, summer's coming up, and that means sometimes we're gonna want cold drinks and lots of them. (The proposed ban wouldn't go into effect until March 2013, but what about next summer?) I've always loved soda, too. I used to fill large cups with diet soda--a possibility nobody seems to discuss--in my teens and early twenties. I usually don't now because the drink gets warm and flat and because that much diet soda isn't great for your kidneys, either. I understand that getting the cheap large drink is a false economy that only benefits businesses, not me. But that's my choice, which I made with information that's readily available to almost any American.

It's my choice. That's the big thing. Tell me not to do something, and I'll want to do it more--that's how I ended up a huge fan of the late, lamented GCB who uses Pinterest. Sure, it's a childish reaction, and one that doesn't always serve me well, but there it is. I had to ignore the urge to buy and drink an entire liter of regular Pepsi. (I think it tastes and feels like breakfast syrup, the cheap kind that insults maple.) It's upsetting that Mayor Bloomberg feels he can make these choices for us and for small business owners.

Those of us who weren't born in New York City arrived for freedom. My wife's family did when they emigrated from the former Soviet Union. Even Americans arrive in pursuit of freedom, in much less dramatic fashion. Gay and bisexual people, people who were the town weirdo, people who don't fit, find their fit in New York City. I came because I knew my wife and I would have a much better life in NYC as two women together than in my native Florida. Frankly, if we wanted people judging us, pressuring us, and micromanaging us, we'd have done the easy thing and stayed in our small towns and suburbs. It doesn't feel like one has room to be whoever and whatever one wants when the size of one's soda has been limited by the government.

I wrote on Twitter that Mayor Bloomberg is like a father who yells at you to change into a longer skirt, but ignores the fact that you've had a hacking cough for weeks. Tolls and MTA fares have increased steadily, for less and less consistent service. Funds have been decreased for the homeless, especially youth. Library branches have closed or significantly reduced hours, staff, and materials, with more cuts planned. So basically, a lot of people in NYC need a lot of real help. But hey, Fatty, put down that Big Gulp! *slap*

Mayor Bloomberg's stated goal is public health. However, bans like this undercut the food reform movement. It confirms peoples' suspicions that food reformers are bullies who want to make them eat nothing but kale with lemon and water all their lives. Tasty food is part of the joy of living, and in a bad economy, it is a relatively cheap joy. Humans have evolved to love fat, salt, and sugar, so adding those to food is a cheap and easy way to please potential customers. Other methods, like herbs and careful cooking, take time and money. For many, a large soda or coffee is a highlight of their day, sometimes even fueling them through the day. And now the mayor wants to take *that* away, when we're doing without so much already?! The large corporations that supply most of us with sodas and junk food are good at ingratiating themselves to us. Bloomberg is good at telling people "no, no, no," with not even a yes to, say, making grocery stores stocked with healthful and inviting food more accessible in low-income neighborhoods. Who looks better?

As some have noted, nobody needs a bucket of high-fructose corn syrup. But in a free society, one may fulfill desires as well as needs, even desires that aren't particularly good for us. Surfing is healthful exercise, but I've gotten injured from it. Perhaps we should all do low-impact aerobics at the same time every day--why should everyone pay so your exercise can be "fun", you selfish bastard? Mayor Bloomberg will send the illustrated instructions to your email, and if you lower-income residents are lucky, the library's printers may have some ink. Some people believe that same-sex marriages like mine are harmful; I'm grateful my wife and I can be married in New York City. We're known for our diversity of people, religions, styles, and tastes, and we don't always approve of what someone else picks. But that's okay, because not everyone approves of us, either. The important thing is that it's our own choice, not someone else's.

I for one look forward to choosing a new mayor in 2013. Now if you'll excuse me, I need another can of Diet Pepsi.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Becoming Pinterested

"'I hate discussions of feminism that end up with who does the dishes,' she said. So do I. But at the end, there are always the damned dishes."--Marilyn French, The Women's Room

As if Twitter didn't keep me from blogging enough, I joined another social media site. I am now on Pinterest. I resisted the idea mightily for quite some time. I'd heard about Pinterest, but thought, "That's for crafty middle-aged women." Never mind that I love to cook, want to decorate as a profession, maintain a little container garden, and, um, am turning 38 in a few days. As much as Country Living and Better Homes and Gardens talked it up, I figured I was too busy and didn't really want to pin up pictures.

The thing about me is, when someone tells me I shouldn't be doing something, I get a tick defensive and am inclined to yell "Oh yeah? Just watch me!" So when @graceishuman linked to a Washington Post article that trivialized and pathologized womens' use of Pinterest, my hackles rose up. Excuse me? There's something wrong with domesticity? Men can get excited over electronics and boats, but we're materialists when we discuss what we like? I signed up for the Pinterest account waiting list that night. I joked that I would name a board something Victorian, like "Jayelle's Hysterical Womb Flutterings," and fill it with panda bears and NHL players' butts.

I got my Pinterest account this week, and so far, it's pretty stereotypical. I've re-pinned Lilly Pulitzer prints and Better Homes and Gardens pictures; I've posted comic strips and sassy sayings. And the more I'm using it, the better I'm liking it. There are spammers, and I want more followers, but that's fairly typical growing pains for any social media site.

Have you ever wished you weren't good at something? It took a long time for me to understand and accept that most of my talents are domestic. My mother lost my father when she was 27, and she taught both my brother and I that we should know how to do certain things for ourselves. I know how to change my own tire. My brother was admonished with "No woman ever shot her husband while he was washing dishes." But my mother was disappointed that I didn't enjoy many of the foods that she did. (If ground beef, chicken breasts, and cream of mushroom soup were made illegal tomorrow, she'd have a difficult time making tomorrow night's dinner, put it like that.) She was also highly critical whenever I did attempt to help--I could never stir fast enough or slice thinly enough. She made it clear that I should put more effort into learning to cook, and spoke of how backwards it was that my brother was more enthusiastic about it than I was.

Growing up among Evangelical Christian relatives, and going to an Assemblies of God church myself in my teens, I learned that as a girl, I was expected to serve a husband one day. I wasn't particularly interested in serving anyone. I wanted to be a best-selling author and travel the world. I wasn't sure I even wanted to get married, just have boyfriends (which was daring enough in that church, never mind that I kinda wanted girlfriends, too). Looking at the housewives and soccer moms at my church made me cringe--I really didn't want to be that. The stuff about "submission" to a husband really irritated me.

Even outside the church, I could see sexism, such as when Hillary Rodham Clinton was castigated because she said she didn't "stay home and bake cookies." To hell with all of that, I decided. I'd live on sandwiches, ramen, and take-out. I didn't need to keep a home; I needed to keep a suitcase packed.

Except, of course, that my life didn't become one of jet-setting glamour. I learned new ways to prepare food as I bounced around various Orlando-area fast-food and casual dining restaurants. I realized that it was unhealthy to eat nothing but the food I could get for half-price there. My body screamed for things like salads. I learned how to make them, to steam vegetables, to turned canned vegetables into chili or pasta sauce. My step-grandmother's lessons about biscuits and pie crust came back to me. I felt better and saved money.

Then I started working in offices rather than restaurants, and was fortunate enough to rent an exurban house whose interior walls I was allowed to paint. I had a small yard, too. I enjoyed painting my walls jewel tones, slipcovering the furniture I bought at Goodwill to match, and planting strawberries. I was horrified to find myself spending weekends humming as I pulled weeds, but oh, those strawberries tasted so delicious. When I spooned some over sweet biscuits that I'd made myself, just as my step-grandmother used to do for me, I felt like an adult for the first time in my life. My friends began to hang out at my house and describe it as "comforting."

One day, I went to Home Depot for nails to fix a bookshelf. I got drawn into a mini-class on refinishing furniture. I bought a small jar of white paint, some sandpaper, and a set of pretty white ceramic drawer knobs with violets painted on them. After I fixed my bookshelf, I proceeded to take my grandmother's hand-me-down chest of drawers to the yard and make it my own. I had become "that woman," and I didn't mind it one bit, because I'd given myself some really pretty furniture.

Domesticity is still considered uncool, even suspect, to some progressives. It is also disrespected by misogynistic conservatives even as they recommend it to women as our main focus. I think of my best friend, a chef, who has encountered sexism while working in New York City restaurants. "If you're a guy and you cook your mother's recipes in your restaurant, that's great, but heaven forbid Mama open her own restaurant instead," she complained once. I think of Chris Matthews saying it's "weird" for husbands to cook dinner, of women wringing their hands over their more domestic sisters setting us all back.

The thing is, we all need to eat. It's really helpful to have a roof over our heads, too. Why not make those things as pleasant as possible? Why not use the tiny bits of power we have as wisely as possible? Tomatoes and peppers figure strongly in my container garden. I once grimly joked that "come the Apocalypse, I can keep us in salsa." But when I make bowls of salsa in the summer, I feel so accomplished. I may have given some multi-national corporation my hard-earned money for the chips, but the dip, oh, that's mine. I control the nutrition profile, seasonings, and cost of our dinners. I may drink Pepsi, but I try to patronize local farmers and companies. I will be taking a canning class this spring, so we can enjoy strawberry jam and tomato sauce made entirely with my own hands next winter. (Just typing that makes me smile.)

I have learned that domestic talents are not shackles that chain me to a husband whom I must submit to, but gifts that I can share with the world. My wife is proud to tell everyone that I packed that lunch and varnished that coffee table. I have learned to love what other people can produce with their hands and their imaginations, too. I feel fortunate to live in Brooklyn, where that kind of thing is highly encouraged.

So I put local farmers' carrots and my own dried rosemary in the soup, and I compost the peels to grow more herbs. I look around my home and think it's due for another makeover. I think of how I will leave my desk job and finally use that interior decorating associate's degree to its full potential. And I pin ideas from the sorts of magazines that used to horrify me on Pinterest. My 18-year-old self would shake her head at me. Thank the Gods she's not around anymore.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Just a Little Too Much

I know. It's been forever. I missed blogging most of this summer. I missed Hurricane Irene and Snowtober. I missed the Fourth of July, Samhain and the start of hockey season. I missed two months of Occupy Wall Street! Blame Twitter, blame my job, blame my desire to make homemade ice cream and paint chairs instead of blog. But some thoughts don't fit in 140 characters, or even a series of tweets, so here I am.

This week, I'm thinking about loyalty. What triggered this is the Penn State football scandal, which I got sucked into like everyone else. I was horrified by the allegations against Jerry Sandusky, horrified that his crimes were covered up, and horrified by the spectacle of Penn State students taking to the streets to defend coach Joe Paterno after his sudden firing Wednesday night. Please understand that what I am writing is not a defense. I don't know anything about sexual abuse, thank the Gods, except that it is horrific and nobody, especially a child, should ever have to go through it. What I know, and am writing about, is how it feels to discover that things and people you loved are worse than you could ever have possibly imagined. It is me processing what I saw the way I do best--by writing it out.

I feel no sympathy for Paterno, though his distinguished, decades-long career flamed out in a spectacularly appalling manner. I don't feel sympathy for the students who took to the streets, either. Their main message wasn't "We support Paterno," but "Our priorities are all kinds of screwed up." But as I tried to consider why the students would go out and support Paterno rather than take to the coaches' houses with pitchforks and torches, I thought about my own fandoms.

Having lived in Florida most of my life, I grew up around college football as the state religion. Two friends of mine are in an interfaith marriage as well as a cross-rivalry marriage--an atheist Seminole and a Jewish Gator. Agreeing to raise their five children as (future) Seminoles and Jews satisfied them both. I have no doubt that if such a thing, Gods forbid, happened at the University of Florida or Florida State campuses, most students would rally around their coaches at least as passionately as the Penn State students did Wednesday night. Those coaches haven't been on these campuses for anywhere near the length of time Paterno had been. If these students are anything like the ones at UF and FSU, they grew up loving Penn State and the Nittany Lions, raised by parents who were passionate fans.

Love is a hard habit to break. Loyalty is one of the most beautiful human virtues. If it weren't for loyalty, none of us would even survive to adulthood, let alone manage to love and be loved. We need lasting love in this world, and we need loyalty. Passionate sports fandom is not only fun and a great way to meet people, but a powerful expression of humanity's best traits. Sadly, it can also contain some of the worst.

I somehow managed to avoid college football fandom. I didn't become a Florida Gator, either, which disappointed my mother. However, as a lifelong NASCAR fan, I have my own legendary old guys who I venerate. My father taught me to revere Richard Petty and Junior Johnson before he died. I know that Petty is proudly and profoundly right-wing. I know that Johnson got his start running moonshine and that he's been married and divorced several times. Yet when I see them on TV, I have to drop everything and watch. The sport I love wouldn't have been the same without them, and most fans will grieve when they're gone. I admitted on Twitter that if, Gods forbid, Petty or Johnson had been involved in anything remotely like the Penn State scandal, I "would cry for days." Love is a habit, and I have loved both of these men ever since I was old enough to recognize them on TV. I would not overturn a news van over it, but I would want to deny and defend as long as possible, until I reached the point where cold reality slapped me in the face.

Loyalty isn't loyalty, love isn't love, until you can accept imperfection. I know that Sidney Crosby has a bit of a dirty streak and worry that he won't be quite the same when he returns to the ice. I know that Tony Stewart can be a real jerk to reporters and that he gets stupid on the track when he's frustrated. I love them anyway. And then there are all the quirks and flaws that I accept in my wife, my friends, and my relatives. I love them for their weaknesses as well as their strengths, and hope they can return the favor. But where is the line between a lapse, a flaw, a weakness, and intolerable, unforgivable behavior? It's never quite as bold and bright as we think it will be when we encounter it.

I was my paternal grandfather's favorite, and I considered him the wisest man I knew. He was unfailingly kind to me, although he had this frustrating ability to know when I was planning to, say, use his John Deere green spray paint and thwart me. Imagine my horrified, devastated reaction when, at 15, I learned that my beloved granddaddy had been in the Ku Klux Klan. I still don't know precisely what he did when he was younger, but I know he didn't just turn up his nose at black men. By the time I was born, he'd left the Klan; by the time I was a teen, he had genuine friendships with black people and seldom displayed any racism. It was hard to accept that he'd been violent towards black people, and hard to even be near him after I'd accepted the reality of his younger years. He knew my love had gone cold, and we walked on eggshells with each other for a while. I eventually saw him as a changed man and a product of his environment, but I never saw him quite the same way I did as a little girl. There was a monstrous, cowardly component to his personality that I had to acknowledge even though I personally never saw it. He was capable of evil thoughts and actions.

This wasn't the first and only time I've seen the monster inside a loved one, but it was the worst. I will never know if my reactions were entirely right, or even if there was any good response available to me at all. What I know is that it's never a good feeling to know you loved and respected someone who is capable of evil. Is the evil the exception, or is it the qualities you loved? Or is that person a jumbled, confusing mess? Are they worth loving again, or do you walk away? Either way, it's going to hurt like hell.

What I think we saw in State College, Pennsylvania on Wednesday night isn't necessarily about the rape culture or a society that doesn't value its children, although those certainly are components. What I saw was a mass expression of denial, a large group of people who have been told they loved people who were capable of great evil and didn't want to hear it. The habits of love and loyalty had not been broken yet, and perhaps won't be for a while. Hopefully they will be smart and compassionate enough to feel stupid and guilty soon. Eventually they will have to stare the monsters inside people they loved and respected in the face, and accept that the football program they loved had been twisted into a place where young boys were irreparably harmed. And it will not be pleasant.

Every good thing can be turned bad when taken to excess, from cheese to bourbon to work to loyalty. Yes, even love can be turned sour and horrible. The truth is, we all have the capacities for great evil and great good inside of us. The challenge is taming our inner monsters, and letting the good in us take the lead most of the time. At times, we must recognize the evil we see around us and call it by its proper name in order to keep from becoming monstrous ourselves.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Leaving Mass Vegas

You know. The whole world knows. Same-sex marriages can be performed in New York State at the end of July. My wife and I were ecstatic! After weeks of dilly-dallying and bullshit, New York State now has marriage equality!

My wife and I are one of many same-sex couples who lived under a strange compromise. I'll try to recap succinctly. We married in Massachusetts on December 31, 2004. Our marriage was legally invalidated by judges because we were not residents of Massachusetts, and there was a law against letting out-of-state couples marry there if their marriage would be illegal in their home state. (The original intent of the law was to prevent interracial couples from traveling out-of-state to marry in Massachusetts, which demonstrates how intertwined all sorts of oppression are.) Then that law was overturned, and around the same time, the State of New York began to honor marriages that had been contracted *out* of state. As in, one couldn't legally marry a same-sex partner in New York, but could marry out of state. L'Ailee and I went back to Massachusetts as close as we could to our anniversary and re-married.

We weren't the only ones. My best friend is a bisexual woman with a same-sex partner; L'Ailee's best friend is a bisexual man with a same-sex partner. Both couples eventually took quick day trips to Massachusetts, as we had for our second wedding, to get married. Both couples returned to New York before the ink dried on their marriage licenses. The six of us jokingly referred to Massachusetts as "Mass Vegas." After all, for us, it was a quick place to get married, as Las Vegas is for some people in mixed-sex relationships. Unlike the stereotypical Las Vegas couple, however, we put much thought into our marriages and had known our partners for a long time.

For some couples, "Vegas" was elsewhere. They preferred locations in Canada, or, as their choices expanded, Connecticut or even Iowa. I remember how a vendor for my company laughed as he talked about how he never thought he'd be bringing his boyfriend back home to Iowa so they could get married.

I envied him. Neither L'Ailee nor I had ever so much as driven through Massachusetts before our wedding. She is from Siberia, where she's still discouraged from returning, and I'm from Florida, where my preferred venue, the Daytona International Speedway, is. But it was legal in Mass Vegas, so that's where we went. We got lost on the way to the bed and breakfast we were staying and marrying in, and I cried in the car. It wasn't home for either of us! We had to make our friends and a few select relatives fly in! It just wasn't right. And then L'Ailee kissed my tears away, and I decided we could get married on Mars for all I cared.

But going out of state isn't an option for everyone. L'Ailee's uncle had given us money as a wedding gift, and I chipped in more from selling my truck, which was more of a liability than an asset in New York. So we were able to reserve the big conference/banquest room at the bed and breakfast, to make the trip, to help people we loved with their plane tickets. Our wedding wasn't particularly lavish, but we can't replicate it anytime soon. Her best friend, a cabbie, could only afford to take a day trip. My best friend, a chef, couldn't get time off for a honeymoon. We know other working-class same-sex couples would have a real struggle with expenses, especially if they're senior citizens or raising children. I'm glad that same-sex couples in New York now have the ability to go to their own city hall or place of worship.

Some people wish to downplay the significance. I won't. Having needed my wife to stay by my side in a medical emergency--I surfed into a sailboat off the coast of New Jersey and was lucky to get away with bruises and a concussion--I understand how important it was that she was considered my spouse. The emergency room doctor in New Jersey almost chased her away because she didn't have our "kennel papers," as we call extra legal documents that we had to get like our medical powers of attorney, on her. We had to rely on the kindness of an understanding nurse. Our friend was terrified when his daughter got sick in school, he was far away, and his partner wasn't allowed to pick her up. They hadn't married yet. He therefore wasn't a legal guardian. They decided to get married that night. They were well aware that they couldn't always make that decision.

There will be ripple effects. For one thing, New York doesn't have any residency requirements. As with other states, there's a chance that a couple can marry here, then use their status in New York to challenge their own state's DOMA ("Defense of Marriage" Act) in court. There will be adoptions and second-parent guardianships. The fact that birth sex is no longer a consideration in whether two adult citizens can get married will benefit transgender people and those who love them. Gay and bisexual kids will now grow up with the expectation that, if they want to, they can get married.

Some people think it's not enough. It isn't. I sheepishly admit that I didn't even think too much about GENDA the Gender Expresssion Non-Discrimination Act. It's another bill that kept passing in the State Assembly and getting blocked in the Senate. Essentially, if GENDA passed, one couldn't fire a person for being transsexual, deny a butch woman housing, refuse service to an effeminate man, etc. As a relatively feminine bisexual woman who answers to "Who brought the straight girl?" in most lesbian spaces, I don't deal with most of those problems. But while my wife and I fought for our marriage, other people fight for the right to simply use the bathroom in peace. I vowed on Twitter that when the state Senate reconvenes, I will call and email and beat the drum as hard for GENDA as I did for the Marriage Equality Act.

I find myself inspired by the unexpected straight allies I found. I've grown up around a lot of religious-inspired homophobia, and there's still a lot in my family. But at work, observant Catholics, Muslims, and Jews told me they were praying for us, not to change, but to see the result we wanted. My NASCAR and Pittsburgh Penguins-fan friends online gave me encouragement. Sean Avery, the notorious pest on the New York Rangers, testified in favor of same-sex marriage in Albany, leading my wife and I to joke about the win coming with an assist by him. (I no longer hate Avery!) Our cell phones blew up with text and voice messages last night. Today, as we went about errands, straight people kept wanting to hug and congratulate us.

These straight friends and allies overcame the homophobic bullshit they'd been told, opened their hearts, and looked at sexual minority people as we really are. So did several Republicans in the State Senate, though they'd been pressured most intensely under the assumption that they'd vote "for family values.' None of them had to do this. I therefore want to pay it forward by helping others.

In decorating others' houses as well as my own, I've found that one change can lead to many more. The rest of the house just looks like a mess in comparison to the renovated room, and the old things no longer work. So, this is a big repair. We may sit on the paint cans and pop open a beer or soda and smile at it today. But there are still teenagers thrown out of their homes over their sexual orientation and/or gender expression. (My wife was one of them.) There are still hate crimes. There are still people being fired for even a suspicion of queerness. There are still 44 more states to go for marriage! And there are people who, for whatever unaccountable reason, have devoted their professional lives to blocking or reversing any civil rights gains L, G, B, and/or T people might enjoy. A group of those, the National Organization for Marriage, has pledged 2 million dollars to reverse same-sex marriage in New York. They will work to oust the Republicans who voted for marriage.

I think too of the fact that straight people can also suffer. I found myself haunted by an article in the June 2011 National Geographic about child marriage. I was haunted by this photograph of a teenage girl being carried to her new husband's home. Surrounded by festive finery, she wails exactly like her short life's just been wadded up and thrown away by someone else's much bigger hands.

I think of how "love," and even "choice," are relatively modern concepts that not everyone gets to enjoy. I think of how very fortunate L'Ailee and I are. I've been fired, she's been beaten and thrown away, we've been threatened and rejected, we've suffered indignities, we've taken extra steps and had to talk fast. But we were able to find each other, love each other, live with each other, and marry each other. We are no longer afraid of being forcibly divorced again. We were able to put our arms around each other, scream, and celebrate in bed as the city erupted in (mostly) joy around us. We still count that first wedding date as our anniversary--after all, we still felt married. We joke about how every New Year's Eve, all of New York celebrates with us. Today, we really did feel like the whole city and many people around the world wanted to celebrate with us.

We want to celebrate with the world, too. We don't normally like going to New York City Pride. It sucks to get to Manhattan on a weekend. It's hot and crowded. And hey, the Sonoma NASCAR race is on! But this year, we're TiVoing Sonoma. We're going to Pride tomorrow. Anything else is unthinkable. Then we'll get up, pack our gear, and look for the next job to do.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Why Ryan Newman Snapped

"Sources tell that an altercation broke out between the drivers in the NASCAR hauler, the sanctioning body's at-track office where private meetings can be held.

One source told that Montoya said after the incident that "Newman hits like a girl."
--"Newman, Montoya Feud Hits New Heights," May 7, 2011

I'm weird about fights. I don't want to see nothing but fighting--wrestling, boxing, and MMA are boring to me--but I do like the occasional hockey fight. I *love* the extremely occasional NASCAR fight. It's like wasabi on a sushi tray. Plus, when drivers use their fists, they don't use their cars and risk taking other drivers out in the process.

It looked so much like Ryan Newman, the guy at Stewart-Haas Racing who isn't Tony Stewart, and Juan Pablo Montoya, the Colombian open-wheel veteran, would have one after they beat and banged at the Richmond race last week. There was some rather blatant retaliation by Montoya. Even the commentators were slavering over the prospect. And why not? We had two big (for NASCAR, anyway), evenly matched, emotional guys who would throw actual punches, not like the amusing but brief nerd fight between Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton last year. Also, Montoya's hot. (That was my reason for wanting it, anyway. It's not just straight men who love to watch attractive people fight.)

Sadly, it would occur yesterday, before the Darlington race, away from the cameras. Ryan Newman, the more even-keeled of the two by miles, is rumored to have thrown a punch in the hauler where NASCAR officials have stern talks with drivers. (Some fans refer to it as "the principal's office.") This gave birth to a Twitter hashtag, #WhyNewmanSnapped. I loved it. My NHL fan tweeps are excellent about coming up with hashtag games, perhaps too much so, but the fun just doesn't come to the NASCAR neighborhood of Twitter all that often. I therefore enjoyed the hell out of it. Once again, I'm archiving my own entries, and several from others that I liked.

Many of these have to do with the drivers' sponsors (Tornados snacks and US Army for Newman, Target for Montoya) or the fact that both have recently had babies. Other quirks these drivers have should become obvious.


Montoya lied about Target-brand antacids being "just as good as Tums."

"Look! My baby's faster than yours, too!"

Montoya suggested that Ryan's next sponsor should be Extenze.

Ryan was sick of Montoya's lame-ass sound effects.

Ryan was tired of Tony Stewart being considered the tough guy at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Montoya had a good laugh at how badly Ryan + Krissie's NJ Devils did this year.


@ampedup19: Saw the bullseye

@AskThe_Man: Because he's tired of JPMs toy planes waking up his baby in the motor coach lot

@DaveCroce: Newman is just jealous that Montoya keeps sticking his neck out and he simply can't.

@DavidLStarr: Newman thinks Target's baby clothes are too expensive.

@Fieldof33: Montoya laughed when Newman said he had a real engineering degree... from Purdue.

@HitYourMarks: Having problems shooting down JPM's model airplanes.

@Jeff_Gluck: Was tired of letting Tony Stewart being the only Stewart-Haas driver to have punched someone at the track

@jjfan1993: he was pissed @jpmontoya interrupted his coverage of the Royal Wedding on the scanner

@ksrgatorfn: JPM kept blasting the Friday song outside Newman's motorcoach

@mearn: Saw the episode of Pawn Stars where they laughed at the idea of a Ryan Newman firesuit being valuable

@mearn: Montoya claimed Newman didn't know how to measure banking, old Bristol was definitely 36 degrees

@nscrwriter: Wanted to prove what the initials JPM really stand for: Just Punched Montoya

@queers4gears: because Montoya told Newman a Tornado was just a cheap American rip-off of hispanic food.

@queers4gears: JPM kept on demanding to see Ryan's birth certificate.

@queers4gears: Juan Pablo still thinks "winning" jokes are funny.

@queers4gears: Juan Pablo changed all the radio presets and adjusted the mirrors in Ryan's car.

@RaceMonkey: JPM asked Ryan if he had "a case of the mondays"

@RacingWithRich: JPM unfollowed Newman on twitter.

@Rich52370: overheard that JPM kept refering to Ryan as the creepy overweight mailman that lives downstairs

@SBPopOffValve: Thought JPM's Kentucky Derby hat was "unnecessarily showy and vulgar"

@SBPopOffValve: Auditioning for role of NHL enforcer since Matt Cooke is suspended

@SBPopOffValve: Prefers Wal-Mart to Target

@SBPopOffValve: Had "Hit on a Colombian" on his bucket list, but misinterpreted what it meant

@sbsimonds: JPM walked in and announced "My name is Juan Pablo Montoya, and you killed my father. Prepare to die"

@sbsimonds: Juan licked the last Tornado

@silverdsl: Juan referred to him as "No Neck Newman" one too many times.

@supahlissa: JPM muttered something dirty in Spanish...and didn't know Newman understood him.

@teaganvamp14: Ryan wants to be a trending topic on twitter.

@TLaut23: Newman was told that Tornadoes were no longer being sold at Target

@TomKopacz: JPM's ugly white-framed sunglasses

@wood_brothers21: Juan Pablo didn't deliver the good Columbian that Ryan was expecting.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Food and Other Revolutions

It's amazing what inspires me to write. I tweeted a lot about the death of Osama bin Laden, and we went to the World Trade Center site at 1 am. We ended up watching the sun rise and taking May 2 as a personal day. By the time I felt like really writing, everyone had already said everything and a little bit more. They're still talking. I reserve the right to blog about something else.

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution TV show, on ABC, has been moved from the all-important sweeps month of May to the rerun season of June, where it will probably do much better. (It had been scheduled opposite Glee and NCIS, which strikes me as a kiss of death.) Good riddance, I thought. I watched much of the first installment, where Oliver goes to Huntington, West Virginia. Huntington ranked high in all the things a city never wants to: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc. So TV chef Jamie Oliver came in to "save" them.

The show absolutely disgusted me. It was turned into a stereotype-ridden fish-out-of-water drama. Poor widdle Jamie Oliver cried a lot--when kids threw away fresh homemade bread, when he faced opposition, when grown women in the school cafeteria took offense to his sexist pet names. The West Virginians were made to look like the most benighted hillbillies. Oliver literally screamed at poor families. Certainly there was a problem--children in the school couldn't even use a knife and fork properly, because they'd been fed chicken nuggets, pizza, and hamburgers so much. But I found it the most obnoxious kind of scripted "reality."

I don't like to watch people be humiliated on TV for my entertainment, unless they play for the Philadelphia Flyers or wrecked Tony Stewart last week. I don't enjoy watching real strangers cry, hug, and share their pitiful stories for the unblinking eye of a camera and the hands of an editor who will use them for maximum drama. It was painful viewing for me. I stopped. I was appalled at Oliver, at producer Ryan Seacrest, and at ABC. My hackles rose up every time someone mentioned that they liked or supported these efforts.

Also, honestly, my childhood wasn't all that far from Huntington, West Virginia. I could quite easily imagine "Miss Linda" from the lunchroom getting every bit as defensive as their lunch ladies. My brother and I drank chocolate milk because the chocolate made it less torturous to drink that thick, creamy crap with tomato sauce on a hot Florida day. If someone had yelled at us about all the sugar in our flavored milk and taken it away, leaving only plain milk, we would have yelled back and drank water with lunch. My mother was overly protective of us because our father died when I was 7, and she didn't want to lose us, too. We didn't live in a bad neighborhood, but she worried about us playing outside while she was at work. Our mother taught us how to cook and prepare food, but many of our neighbors didn't have time to teach their children knife-handling skills. It seemed like Oliver never stopped to ask anybody about things like that. He told people what they needed, and told, and told some more.

So. I gleefully read about the hit this awful, if well-intentioned, show took in its second season. I wrote this admittedly sarcastic comment amid outraged Food Revolution fans:

You mean poor single mothers don't like being screamed at by some posh stranger who keeps what they make in a year in his wallet for pocket change? You mean schools have these things called food budgets? You mean kids like sweet things, think in the short term, and get resentful when you take away all the foods they like at once? WEIRD!

I got some risible replies. These are all unedited, not just the attempt to mock me as a moron:

"yer funnie ! we shood git toogathur an klub sum seels!"

"Anyone can eat healthy for the same price it costs to eat at McDonald's. Being smart about food is what he tries to help people to do. Don't like a "stranger" telling you...I'm sure many local people who take the time to learn about how to keep their bodies moving and choose an apple over a bag of chips can tell you. He's "posh" because he has an accent and used proper grammar? Really?"

"You mean parents should CARE about what they're feeding their children! How DARE they! Especially since the state is PAYING( from MY taxes) to feed the children YOU brought into this world? How about using a condom and saving us ALL the trouble of paying for YOUR children , since you don't give a good damn about them anyway!"

Oh. Wow. How could I possibly have assumed that any classism was at work here, or that it wasn't the people who actually needed help who were watching this show? (For one thing, my grammar was at least as proper as that of other commenters.)

It would probably surprise these people to know that I wasn't typing with one hand while eating a bag of chips with the other as 20 fat, pre-diabetic toddlers ran around the house. I don't have children, just a wife and cats. I support urban farmers, including the many in Brooklyn. I do much of my food shopping at farmers' markets. I got a wake-up call when I was diagnosed with high cholesterol, and that combined with my chicken/egg allergy made me re-evaluate my own diet. I don't wish to die of a heart attack at 38 like my father. My wife, who teaches martial arts in a gym, gently keeps me in line. We started playing street hockey on spring weekends because it seemed so wrong to her to watch other people exercise while we sat on the couch. A boy who we recruited to play goalie now plays goalie for his high school's team.

I do think there's such a thing as Big Agribusiness, and I don't think it's good for us to eat foods with all the nutrition processed out. I agree with Alice Waters, who tweeted on April 29th that "The true elitism is a food system controlled by a handful of corporations." I think children should know what a cherry tastes like before they take their first sip of Cherry Coke. I don't think mega-food corporations are friends, only skilled at friendly rhetoric in commercials. They are the worst kind of backstabbers. This op-ed spoke to me.

I've learned much from my brother, one of many new organic farmers in their twenties and thirties. He double-majored in business administration and agriculture so that he could live his lifelong dream, one that people laughed at. "I make good food. I feed people. It's the best job in the world," he says.

I would like to see a reality show based on passionate young farmers like my brother. Or, perhaps, a sitcom based on them, Green Acres for a new generation. I'd like to see the cameras turn to the urban farmers in Brooklyn and elsewhere, with vines wrapped around their homes and apiaries on their roofs. To homegrown (ha!) heroes like Majora Carter, who's working to green the South Bronx. To the Catherine Ferguson Academy, an award-winning school in Michigan which taught pregnant and mothering girls how to farm. But, you know, that was closed down by an awful new Michigan state law.

Let's not promote them. Let's not showcase the real, wonderful American food revolutions going on all over this country. No, instead, let's show a caricatured version of "foodies" and aggrandize a TV chef who's already been paid a ton of money. Let's have yelling and crying and "lunch ladies" made to look incredibly stupid for TV reviewers who can't even be bothered to get their names right. (I can't blame the staffs of Los Angeles school cafeterias for not wanting Jamie Oliver and ABC's cameras around.) Let's give smug people who think they're doing good by eating organic multigrain tortilla chips instead of Lay's on their couch a good laugh at poor peoples' expense. Food Revolution fans complained that ABC had caved to Big Agribusiness, never mind that ABC is itself a large corporation. If people find a show unpleasant to watch compared to other choices, the network will do something about that show--duh?

I don't even think Oliver's all bad. His intentions are good. It's good to give back once one has earned money. He's right about processed food. I was pleased to read about one of his projects for Los Angeles--rolling kitchen on a bus where urban teenagers, among others, can learn to cook simple, healthful food. His foundation does behind-the-scenes work in two countries. In short, I'd like to see his work go on, with respect for the people being helped and without a camera and editors.

So, again, I'm rhetorically threading the needle. Or maybe my thoughts are all just a jumbled mess and I entertain way too many opinions. Whatever.

In typing all this, I almost said the attitudes displayed in Oliver's show are "all stick, no carrot." But there are two things wrong with that neat little metaphor. Firstly, human beings, including poor, unhealthy, uneducated humans, deserve to be listened to and given real help that acknowledges the realities of their lives, not trained like mules. Secondly, the nice, healthful, unprocessed carrot can actually be transformed into yet another stick for people who've been hit enough already.

We can do better than that. A good start would be to learn how to market at least as well as Big Agribusiness. They listen, they learn, and they know what to say to promote their products. Meanwhile, reformers often come off tin-eared, arrogant, and, well, douchey. It's true that douchiness isn't fatal and diabetes is. However, douchiness does cause people to tune out a message and make it incredibly easy for the real elites to paint reformers as elitists.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Get the hell out, Glenn

Glenn Beck's Fox News show has reached its "Final Chapter," per both Beck and FNC. He'd been losing viewers, and, thanks to the concerted efforts of Stop Beck, advertisers for a while. His radio show was losing markets, too--New York City, Philadelphia, several towns in Connecticut, Madison, Wisconsin. For the past couple of years, it had seemed like Glenn Beck never went home, just had a cot and a cooler in the NewsCorp building someplace so he could take the occasional break between bloviations. Now it seems like he can't be jettisoned quickly enough. All I can think is, it can't happen to a nicer guy.

I have long loathed the efforts of groups like the American Family Association and Parents' Television Council, which attempt to get any media they disagree with removed from their line of sight. The AFA is largely responsible for those screens that "protect" childrens' eyes from magazines like Glamour and Cosmopolitan in a checkout line. They try to persuade advertisers to leave shows like Glee, so they become radioactive to network executives. They're against any positive depiction of gayness, bisexuality, religious beliefs that contradict their own, sex in college, etc. I never wanted to become one of those people.

I say that because I was reluctant to join in efforts like, and was never an enthusiastic participant. I believe in freedom of speech. I don't pride myself on causing another person to lose their livelihood. But then, Beck embarked on a crusade to get Obama administration officials fired, figuratively getting Van Jones' scalp as he resigned from the White House Council on Environmental Quality. His fans also went after Frances Piven, a CUNY professor. There are other examples, but those glare to me. Beck has no problem robbing others of their livelihoods for simply disagreeing with him, and he doesn't need to stick with plain facts to get it done.

At least once a week, I'm required to turn off the flat-screen TVs on my office's walls at 5 pm. Beck's show is, was, on at 5, so I'd see him on "the Fox TV." (We also have CNN, HNN, and MSNBC TVs.) I was amazed at how loopy this guy sounded. He always seemed to have something incredibly hateful to say. I found his snarky, sneering, bug-eyed delivery highly unpleasant besides. It didn't surprise me to learn that he'd been a "morning zoo" radio host earlier in his career.

It dismayed me to realize that this was the man my mother kept quoting. For my brother and I, the worst thing about Beck was how much our mother liked him. She'd always been conservative, but she became increasingly credulous, and said things that seemed extremely off-the-wall to us. Her skeptical streak, which she'd raised us with, got smaller. She became much less tolerant of debate, and she'd take our disagreement personally.

In one episode, Beck managed to insult atheists, environmentalists, and organic farmers in one shot. My mother shared her new ideas with my atheist, environmentalist organic farmer. He cried to me, and they didn't speak for weeks. I went a few weeks without speaking to her when she told me what Beck had taught her about LGBT civil rights groups' role in undermining America. We were so hurt--she trusted this charlatan over her own children! She should have known better than anyone else that my brother had always wanted to farm and I just loved my wife!

She enthusiastically quoted the history Beck taught her, and I lost all the color in my face when I realized it came from David Barton, who claims to be a historian and has a long track record of "improving" history for his right-wing audience. After a while, we learned to change the subject or "have something boiling on the stove" when she'd quote Beck. She got wise to that, and it made her angry, too.

My brother and I would laugh at how we sounded so much like her when we were teenagers. She'd feared our music, our TV shows, our friends. "You know, she's getting older and more impressionable," we'd joke. We didn't want to be that way toward her. But we learned from our friends, in the real world and online, that we weren't alone in fearing the influences on our parents after Obama's election. The recession had been unkind to her, and she'd had to scramble to recover. (I don't want to share more than that.) She'd always preferred Fox News, but she had it on constantly while working from home. Several friends and siblings got interested in the Tea Party movement. Soon, Mom volunteered for conservative causes and became a Tea Partier herself. She made new friends there.

So, we know it's not just Beck. We know a lot of things worked together in her, and that it's been fairly common. We know she'd always felt bad that my brother is an atheist and I'm a Pagan, like she'd failed as a Christian mother. Her Tea Party friends kind of reinforced that. We think she's ashamed of us.

That said, we keep hoping that maybe, just maybe, the end of Beck's show will be the beginning of tolerable, even pleasant, conversations again. She's doing much better financially now, and a bit too busy to volunteer for every campaign. It's better when Mom's away from that TV constantly blaring Fox News anyway. It's easier to debate opinions than outright lies. It's easier to have a discussion when one is not positioned as part of some evil anti-American agenda. It's wonderful when we don't have to have a discussion at all, because she's not afraid that the world's going to hell in a handbasket while we worry about weather and watch hockey. We see some of the more lovable parts of our mother sometimes--for example, her humor, her amazing work ethic, her generosity. (She loaned us money for a hotel room and airfare for my uncle's funeral.) I love to discuss NASCAR and country music with her.

As I type this, I tear up. Unlike Glenn Beck, I am not using Vicks Vapo-Rub to do it. Beck is one of many media personalities and politicians--not all on Fox News--who took advantage of justifiably angry, fearful people and whipped them up into a frenzy. They distracted these people from their real problems with scapegoats and shiny objects. They convinced them that their country was not just changing, but going into the abyss, and had them screaming, "I want my country back."

My brother and I are among many people in their twenties and thirties who wondered what the hell had happened to our parents. We had been taught to respect teachers, police officers, and fire fighters; now we were told they were greedy unionists who were paid too damn much. We had been taught to respect the office of the President of the United States even if we didn't care for the current occupant's policies; now we were told that he was destroying our country. We had been told to eat sensibly and go play outside; now we were hearing advocates of those things dismissed as enemies of freedom. And so on, and so on. Frankly, we're at the point where we want to scream, "I want *my* country back."

So, as Glenn Beck leaves, we breathe a sigh of relief. He did so much damage to American political discourse in such a short time. There's a long way to go, but perhaps this is a sign that our country can eventually go sane again. That we can disagree without being disagreeable. That we can see our neighbors as perhaps a little strange, but not an enemy. That if someone's being drummed out of their job, it's because of something they actually did wrong. And Glenn Beck, you did a metric fucktonne of wrong.

Don't let the door hit you where nature split you!

For a somewhat funnier take on this--because, as my paternal grandfather said, "Some things are much too serious not to joke about"--click here.


Twitter being Twitter, the idea of Glenn Beck's final show coming up resulted in a hashtag game on Friday evening, #GlennBeckFinalShowSpoilers. I am an avid participant in hashtag games. These were so good, I wanted to archive a few favorites somehow. I'm proud of my own, though they do betray the sorts of movies I watch when I'm in a girly-swirly mood.

Starting with my own, @GreenEyedLilo:

Cries real tears for the first time as he apologizes to everyone he's defamed.

Learns he could've gone back to his home world whenever he wanted if he clicked his heels 3 times.

Glenn reveals his alter ego, Glennda.

Laughs maniacally while saying, "Man, I really had you going! You shoulda seen the looks on your faces!"

Glenn realizes that George Soros is the soulmate he's been corresponding w/by email. #YouveGotMail

The Ghosts of Patriots Past make him see the error of his ways, + he summons a boy to fetch a plump Easter goose

Glenn learns he can be more than a pretty face, + graduates w/honors from Harvard Law School.

Now for others, several of whom I follow.

@2babru: GB removes mask. He's really 'Old Man Whithers'. "Woulda gotten away with it if it werent for you meddling kids"

@adambonin: Beck goes preppy to woo Sandy, who in turn shows up clad in tight black leather.

@adavid: Takes hammer to an entire box of chalk then snorts the lot through a rubber hose.

@allanbrauer: Goldline has been selling pyrite.

@allanbrauer: Billy Mumy turns him into a jack-in-the-box, then wishes him into the cornfield.

@allanbrauer: Glenn mortars the last brick into the wall as Mrs. Beck watches, crying, then SHE gets up and leaves basement.

@awienick: Glenn Realizes that Leia was his sister … and decides to turn to the Dark Side so he can lust after her…

@awienick: Danny Glover peers over, saying "You're one ugly…" as Beck wakes up screaming "MOTHERFUCKER!!!" Fight ensues…

@boloboffin: "You get a caliphate! And you get a caliphate! And you get a caliphate! EVERYBODY GETS A CALIPHATE!"

@bschefke: Glenn Beck realizes that the Republican budget plan is actually a cookbook
@c_r_evans: The Aristocrats!

@DaysWithDave: Beck, Hannity, Doocey, Cavuto, and O'Reilly embrace before singing It's a Long Way to Tipperary

@fountain_penmj: Glenn dresses as a bunny. He does not explain.

@fountain_penmj: Glenn reveals his Kenyan birth certificate

@FunnyManG_Child: As "Don't Stop Believing" plays in background, Van Jones, Barack Obama & Jon Stewart walk on set. Blackout...

@GregFrayser: Arrested under Good Samaritan law, Beck has character witnesses called against him, beginning w/ Van Jones

@GregFrayser: O'Reilly chops off Beck's hand with lightsaber, reveals he is Beck's father

@kcivey: Camera pulls back to reveal buried Statue of Liberty. It was our Earth all along

@Kipper42: Wants to write one last thing on his chalkboard; chalk breaks. Beck breaks down in tears. Fade to black

@LauHope: Beck water skies wearing swimming trunks and leather jacket and jumps over a confined shark

@LeftsideAnnie: He reveals that he is going to be the new spokesmodel for Vick's VapoRub

@LeftsideAnnie: Glenn reveals that he's going to be on next season's DWTS.

@LiberalJaxx: Beck will reveal he's secretly a Dem hired by Soros to chase all of Fox's advertisers away.

@MagicLoveHose: "My real name is Banksy."

@myinfamy: Beck says 'Screw you guys, I'm going home'.

@MyNameIsMofuga: During a tear filled rant admits he has perfect 20/20 vision and only wore those glasses to look smarter.

@osgood9: " Yes Glenn your own gold dust covered straight jacket"

@owillis: Beck turns the earth's rotation backwards, stops election of Obama

@PatriciaB42: His sweater will get caught on the chalk board and will continue to unravel until he collapses in a sobbing pile.

@PROTIPZ: Glenn and a band of plucky conservatives fight back a hoard of evil libs preventing the opening of the Hellmouth

@rightwingwatch: Beck finally destroys the broadcasting antenna that has prevented us all from seeing that Obama is a space alien

@strawberryslady: Beck dies after begging us to "look at me" for one last time

@TVHilton: It ends just like the X-Files: with a mythology so confused and contradictory that nobody cares anymore.

@Voiceofgarth: Glen pulls his head out of his ass to the thunderous sound of suction as his head finally breaks loose.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Common threads

The French parliament banned the wearing of face-covering Islamic veiling--the niqab and the burqa--and French Muslim women were arrested for wearing that attire in a protest for their right to dress and express their religious beliefs as they wished.

A designer for a clothing company appeared in a fashion spread with her young son. It contained a photograph of her painting her smiling son's toenails bright pink, and that picture became one of those news-network nontroversies that revealed oh, so much about the speakers.

A man was beaten very close to death for wearing his San Francisco Giants jersey to the Los Angeles Dodgers' home opener. As if the fact that he remains comatose isn't bad enough, on Sunday, a sports columnist took it upon himself to blame the victim for wearing that jersey at all, then express a grievance about most sports fans.

There are common threads in each of those stories, no pun intended. In each case, someone is being attacked or punished for their clothing choices. I've discussed this before, years ago, in this post. I feel the need to discuss it again.

My wife, L'Ailee, is particularly sensitive to the significance of others' clothing and accessory choices, and has imparted that sensitivity to me. She literally majored in fashion design. Although she doesn't use the degree in the way she intended, she considers fashion an art form and painstakingly assembles the outfit--the self--she'll present to the world before she goes out. Someone will disapprove of the Team Russia Olympics t-shirt, the red lipstick, the sharply tailored gray sheath dress, the heady cologne, the exposed bat tattoos on her arm, the diamond stud in her left nostril.

She maintains her right to wear whatever she wants in whatever combination she wants. When she grew up in the dying days of the Soviet Union, she was punished for such acts as daring to embroider flowers onto her school uniform shirt. Later, in an elite New York City high school where she also wore a uniform, three changes were made to the dress code thanks to her. She states that with sincere pride.

When we watch news footage from Muslim-majority countries, she's taught me to note how the women are dressed. If there aren't any women at all, we're most likely looking at an extremely totalitarian nation. If the women are swathed head to toe in black, with their faces obscured or invisible, that's also an awful sign for the entire nation. We were encouraged by the sight of bright headscarves, exposed hair, jeans, and calf-exposing skirts on the female Egyptian protestors recently. We've been told that we're shallow and looking at the wrong things. However, in totalitarian regimes, the way a person--most often, a female and/or young person--looks becomes extremely important, so much so that violations of appearance standards are met with physical punishments and arrests. If it's important to tyrants, it becomes important to the rest of us.

That said, we find France's ban on face veiling as distressing as mandated face veiling in other nations. I can see reasons to ask a woman to remove that veil--for instance, for her driver's license picture, because part of its purpose is to verify identity. However, the reason France ordered a tiny minority of a minority to remove these veils was to express anti-Muslim bigotry. They are a secular nation, they claim, and want all citizens to live by their secular values. Nevermind that sometimes people cover their faces for secular reasons, such as illness or extreme cold. Like governments that order all women to cover their faces, heads, ankles, etc., France decided that their "right" to inflict their standards onto citizens was more important than citizens' right to express themselves freely through their clothing. It is, in short, simply the other side of a slimy, rusty coin.

It isn't even working. When the French parliament first debated this law, 300 women claimed to cover their faces. Now the number is 2,000--still a tiny percentage of the nation, but exponential growth regardless. Muslimahs in France understand that they are being targeted, and this leads people to become defensive. How many times in your life have you uttered a sentence such as "Oh, you don't like that, huh? Let's see what you think about *this*!"? As far as I see, this is exactly what new and part-time niqab wearers in France are doing.

So far in this country, females can wear or not wear almost anything in public, so long as their nipples and genitalia are covered. Males technically can as well, although there are more and stronger de facto rules about it. When Jenna Lyons helped her young son Beckett paint his toenails--PINK!, even--for a J. Crew ad, she unleashed right-wing rage. Never mind how J. Crew's actual clothing looks. (For one thing, there's very little pink in their spring boys' collection.) She was encouraging her son to accessorize in a slightly feminine manner, and seemed proud and happy about that! And by allowing that picture to be published, she was clearly encouraging transsexualism and Teh Ghey!

I remember covering Love Won Out, an anti-gay seminar that had been founded by Focus on the Family (it's now an Exodus International project) in 2001, for an Orlando LGBT magazine. The speakers discussed childrens' gender identity in great detail. Boys were to be *boys*. Girls were to be *girls*. One speaker, Joseph Nicolosi, exhorted fathers to roughhouse with their sons. I'll never forget this joke of his: "You may drop him on his little head and cause brain damage, but that's a small price to pay for heterosexual masculinity." I believe he and many others truly would rather see a boy like Beckett Lyons brain-damaged than with painted toenails.

When I was a little girl, I was rather mixed in my gender presentation. Mostly, I was a lonely little geek. Y'all can see that I like pink just fine now. But when I was little, I hated it. I didn't hate it because of itself, I hated it because there was such an expectation that I would like it just because of my age and gender. I always wore skirts and dresses, but they were always shades of green and blue, which are still my favorite colors.

I would wear those green and blue dresses, with long blonde hair in braids, while climbing trees, digging in hopes of finding cool ancient stuff, training squirrels, and "winning" many Daytona 500s in milk crates. My parents told me I could be an archaelogist or a NASCAR driver if I wanted. It breaks my heart now to see how, 30 years later, there seem to be even fewer possibilities presented for children. So many things are splashed in pink to mark them as "for girls." I want every child to have every color in the big crayon box. But for every person who feels that way, it seems there are so many who want to keep choices for children as simple and limited as their own minds.

One objection to the boy's pink toenails is that "he'll be made fun of by other kids." Really? Who would be giving the other kids the idea that it's wrong for a boy to have pink nails and that such a deviation from the norm is worth discussing loudly in the cruelest language possible? Who keeps trotting that picture out, which would otherwise have been forgotten by now? It is, purely and simply, concern trolling. There is absolutely no excuse for adults with media platforms to act like the meanest playground bullies themselves.

Besides, sometimes a person can wear something that's considered 100 percent gender appropriate and still be punished for it. That's what happened to 42-year-old Bryan Stow for wearing San Francisco Giants gear to the Los Angeles Dodgers' stadium on March 31st. As I--and John Steigerwald--write, he is still comatose. Steigerwald, however, had this charming take on it: "Maybe someone can ask Stow, if he ever comes out of his coma, why he thought it was a good idea to wear Giants' gear to a Dodgers' home opener when there was a history of out-of-control drunkenness and arrests at that event going back several years....Are the 42-year-olds who find it necessary to wear their replica jerseys to a road game, those kids who are now fathers who haven't grown up?"

That's right, Steigerwald blamed the victim. Stow was expressing his unpopular minority stance through highly visible clothing in a sports arena, so of course he had a savage beating from which he may never recover coming, right? And what a perfect opportunity for Steigerwald to then address how stupid he thinks all adults look in team replica jerseys at sports events!

In all of these stories, there have been strong opinions, and people made clear their own stances on so many issues besides the bit of cloth or cosmetic. I know I'm no exception to this. In all of these stories, people think they have the right to tell other people how to express themselves, to practice their religious belief or sports fandom, to raise their children. They predict dire effects: You'll erode our secularist tradition, repress women and scare children. Your son will need years of therapy, and you want to make other children just as warped as your own. You're not just supporting your team--you're pretending you're a member of it, like a big baby!

The Thanksgiving before I took my then-girlfriend home to my family, my aunt said, "Everything was so much better when the gays stayed in the closet." I wanted to yell, "Better for *who*?" But of course, I was still semi-closeted as a bisexual girl at that point and wasn't sure I wanted to throw that rhetorical grenade into the middle of the family dinner table. I've heard other people long for the good ol' days of (what they thought were) no gays, no bisexuals, no transsexual people, no atheists, no Pagans, no Muslims, no *weirdness*.

People in all of these stories want difference stuffed deep into a closet, or at least caged and confined somehow. They find something as tiny as a small boy's toenail intolerable for flaunting difference. They don't want to open a catalog and be reminded that there are people who don't subscribe to their views of gender. They don't want to walk down a sidewalk and see a woman in full niqab, a page out of National Geographic come to life and sharing their space. They don't want a fan of some other team being an asshole by, you know, existing and cheering. Somehow, another person's difference spoils their day. Their children end up thinking and asking questions, too.

When L'Ailee shaved her head, people occasionally would get agitated: "I don't want my daughter thinking that's okay!" "So you tell her it is not okay," L'Ailee would calmly respond. But too late--a little girl saw a possibility outside of her family's carefully constructed and constrained world in a flash of pale, stubbled scalp on a small woman. For some people, such a thing is genuinely threatening.

The solution is not to hide in plain sight by carefully suppressing oneself and one's beliefs. I don't know what the solution is. I can't control another's mind. What I do know is that hiding doesn't stop people from hating anybody. Instead, it further emboldens bigots to create an atmosphere of intimidation. It allows them to believe they aren't actually hurting anybody when, say, they ban a mosque from being built in their town or a book about a child with two mommies from a library. It allows stereotypes to take root in another's heart rather than truth.

In Dr. Seuss' children's book Horton Hears a Who, a tiny creature demands to be heard by an elephant. The Who screams a "Yop!" into the elephant's ear. Those of us who are members of minority groups often have to "Yop!" to an elephant more than once in our lives. Our clothing, our accessories, our small gestures, can say it all for us. Perhaps we take a chance that we might get trampled. But we'll definitely get trampled if we remain hidden and quiet.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

No Leonard Cohen afterworld yet

"Give me a Leonard Cohen afterworld, so I can sigh eternally."--Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), "Penny Royal Tea"

"I'm not like them/but I can pretend...I think I'm dumb/maybe just happy."--Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), "Dumb"

Today, "RIP Kurt Cobain" trended on Twitter. Seventeen years ago, he shot himself in the head and ended his life. He left behind a wife, a baby daughter, two bandmates who suddenly had to make new career plans for themselves, and a few CDs' worth of terrific music, just barely enough for a legacy. I put the Nirvana VEVO channel on at work, when I could, just to remember.

It was fairly obvious that he wasn't built to last, looking back. I often find Nirvana's songs hard listening now for the same reason I found them irresistable in my late teens. It's so easy to see the depressed, self-medicated mind behind his lyrics *now*, so easy to understand why authority figures hated Nirvana so much. But it felt good to hear the anger and sadness inside my head turned outside, to a backdrop of Cobain's screaming guitar.

Some teens only heard that brilliant guitar and Krist Novoselic's bass and Dave Grohl's drums, and didn't figure out what Cobain was screaming out to the world until they got older. I could dance to it. We could all dance to it. Most rock music didn't allow that. I myself was a hip-hop girl, and called a "wigger" for it because white girls in rich, preppy schools weren't supposed to love that music as much as I did. I wasn't rich or preppy, and had to defend myself a lot. I could have hidden it. After all, I hid the fact that I also loved country music, if it had enough twang and wasn't too poppy. But I hated hiding as much as I did. Cobain hid in plain sight.

I have two stories Nirvana makes me want to tell, both a bit awkward. One's funny (now), and one's painful, but they both ultimately end well. The first...well, I gave L'Ailee, the girl who would become my wife, my virginity to Nirvana. Sort of. Our relationship was long-distance, me in Orlando and her in New York. We were very young and perpetually broke, but we occasionally scraped together funds to see each other. It took us about a year to actually have sex. We discussed it before a visit, and we decided we were going to make it happen.

I felt fat, ugly, and self-conscious, especially since L'Ailee's always been very athletic and never had a problem with her weight or complexion. Her flaws were all worn on the inside. She was going to see me naked. I insisted on doing it in the dark, nevermind that she had a really good idea of what I looked like under my too-loose clothes and liked it just fine.

It went so badly. So badly. We turned on the light. She walked away and paced around her tiny living room, which she'd worked so hard to clear of roommates. I cried, and blasted Nirvana's "Nevermind" to hide my tears. She came back in. Her eyes went all big and dark. She sat close to me and wiped my tears. We kissed. Without a word, with the guitar spurring us on, we gave it another try in the light. It worked that time. For months, I couldn't listen to "Drain You" without blushing. I remember thinking that maybe when I met Kurt Cobain, I'd tell him about it.

Except that I never did get to meet Cobain. I never even saw Nirvana perform live in concert. I still regret that a little. I was 20 years old, still living with my mother, when Kurt Loder solemnly reported it on MTV News. I'd just worken up--I was working graveyard shifts at a donut shop, and so I slept in the midday. It was a hell of a thing to wake up to. I couldn't believe it at first, but he kept saying it. I burst into tears, and I was a wreck by the time my younger brother came home from school. "Kurt Cobain died!" I told him. "He killed himself!"

My brother, who was 13 and thought he was cool, blew me off. "Well, it's not like you *knew* him. You don't have to cry like that."

"You don't have to be such a jackass!"

I didn't even bother telling my mother, but my brother told it for me: "She was crying over Kurt Cobain like it was someone in our family." My mother proceeded to harangue me over why I was wrong to feel the way I did, until I screamed at her, grabbed my purse, and ran out of the house. My best friend Yemaya O'Reilly, also a hip-hop girl who loved Nirvana, and I got rip-roaring drunk that night, and I slept it off in her little studio apartment above her parents' garage.

I realized something very important over the next couple of days. I'd felt depressed, even suicidal, most of my life. My father died when I was seven, and to put it in the most ridiculously simple terms, that event seemed to set off the bio-chemical programming that came from his side of the family. I attempted suicide a couple of times as a teen. I sometimes thought things would be easier if I just died. I'd have moments when I would need to avoid a big knife because I wanted to turn it on myself, or a lake because I wanted to jump into it and never come out. This webpage geared for people considering suicide got it so right--I didn't actually want to die. What I wanted was the pain inside me to just stop, and I knew no other way to make that happen. I felt like I was a complete failure at life and, as I would morbidly joke later, the only objection would come when my mother had to clean up afterward.

I had thought that it was natural for me to be depressed. After all, my life sucked. My girlfriend was far away, and we fought quite a bit, and lots of people objected to the fact that we were both female. I lived with my mother, who is an extremely critical person. I wasn't in college because the only school I could get into was filled with classmates who'd tormented me in high school. I made minimum wage at the donut shop. So, I figured, I needed more money, I needed to move, I needed to go to back to school, I needed to get things right with L'Ailee or find someone else. I'd do all that and everything would be okay, I thought. I looked everywhere in the world *but* within.

Kurt Cobain had had so very much. He'd actually managed to profit from his own pain, and made his own wildest dreams come true. He did all that, and he still felt like he needed to just die! Like I did! It occured to me that if a freakin' rock star felt that hopeless, I'd almost certainly need more than a degree and some more paper in my wallet to get right.

I'd had people want to slap that "depression" label onto me, and I was scared of it. They all acted like I was crazy. I tried and failed to act like nothing was wrong--I'm just not a very good actress. My mother couldn't afford a psychologist throughout my adolescence, not that I'd have told one anything, and the guidance counselors at my middle and high schools were pretty terrible. All their advice could be boiled down to "Your life isn't *that* bad, cheer up, smile for once, and stop being so damned weird." My pastor at church wanted me to stop listening to the music I loved, including Nirvana, but I felt even worse listening to Christian music. I heard from the pulpit that suicides went to hell and that Christians were supposed to show the rest of the world how happy they--at that time, we--were. I therefore learned not to tell them a thing, either. I sometimes wanted to print and wear a T-shirt saying, "Don't ask me questions if you don't want to hear the answers."

But by his tragic example, Cobain had shown me that I needed to consider help. I looked up books in the library. I never checked any out, because I was scared of the librarian's look, but I made lots of copies and wrote lots of notes. I took three quizzes, and they all said I was off-the-charts depressed. By that point in her career, my mother had finally gotten decent health insurance, and I was just young enough to be on it. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done to ask her to help me see that kind of doctor. She thought I just needed to toughen up, but I'd made photocopies of those quizzes, and I showed her. She made some calls the next day.

I've taken enough of your time, so I don't want to go into the whole long process. My first two prescriptions didn't work out for me. Sometimes I had money, sometimes I didn't. I used state assistance for a while. I had some awful therapists--one who was much more interested in curing my bisexuality than my depression--and some decent ones. The first one heard me say, "Of course I'm depressed," and gave me a bit of insight. He said, "That's like saying, 'I fell off a ladder, of course my arm is broken,' then never going to a doctor to get it re-set." The more I got help, the more open I was to receiving it, even if it wasn't perfect. I still had many problems, but knives and lakes stopped looking like solutions to them. I wanted to do the work it took to get past them, not check out, and I felt like I could get it done.

Spending almost my entire childhood and adolescence depressed made it very difficult for me to gauge what "normal" or "happy" were supposed to feel like. I think it was around age 29, a strange year when I began Lexapro, needed treatment for what my relatives euphemistically call "female problems," and said yes to L'Ailee's oh-so-romantic proposal over the phone, that I finally began to really understand those concepts. By 31, I began to actually feel contentment on a regular basis. I can tell you 100 things wrong with my life, but I can also tell you 100 things that are right about it.

I no longer go to any kind of therapy, nor do I take any medication. I take dance classes a couple times a week instead. Those are much more fun. However, L'Ailee and Yemaya know what to look for. My brother does, too--he's an adult now, and a friend, not that callous 13-year-old. we've all grown up. I'm so glad I didn't leave them behind or make them suffer. Reading accounts by survivors of suicide shows me just how selfish I was at the time. I could have hurt them so horribly. But when you feel insignificant, you feel like you can do anything, because your actions have no real weight. I'm prepared for the possibility that the black cat may come after me again, and I may once again need professional help.

I thank Kurt Cobain for blessing the world with his amazing talent. I thank him for making me feel less alone. That helped a lot. I don't know exactly how to thank him for showing me what I needed, or even if I should. The way he did it was so terrible. I dearly wish both of us could have gotten help, and lived to know what a good day feels like.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Snakes in the City

"The Bronx Zoo cobra was found in the Financial District, but it didn't bite anyone. Why not? Professional courtesy."--Joke I heard today

A 20-inch venomous Egyptian Cobra from the Bronx Zoo hasn't been accounted for since Friday afternoon. The news broke yesterday. The Bronx Zoo attempted to convince people that there's no reason to be afraid at all, really. And that's when the fun began.

As my wife, several of our friends, and I watched the Pittsburgh Penguins game and Fontana NASCAR race at our house, we got texts and calls about the snake. Several people made hissing sounds. A couple of the guys made things move and pretended like they saw the snake. My friend's 10-year-old daughter almost instinctively telescoped her fingers together to form a fake "snake head" and tried to "bite" her father and stepfather. Kevin Harvick's dramatic win captivated us, and we figured the snake would be found.

It's Monday night, and the snake has yet to be found. Lots of New Yorkers had fun with it, though. Pranksters brought fake snakes to school and work. At my office, people hissed and yelled, "Cobra!" at random moments. I quickly learned that this was being done elsewhere. My wife is a martial arts instructor with hair-trigger senses. A man at her gym thought it would be funny to sneak up on her and "bite" her arm as our friend's daughter had attempted; she grabbed his wrist and quickly threw him down onto his back. People quoted Samuel L. Jackson in Snakes on a Plane. My work husband kept singing Montgomery Gentry's "The Big Revival": "Praise the Lord and pass me a copperhead!"

It was getting boring and annoying, to be honest. I mean, I grew up in Florida; I saw snakes all the time. Yes, a cobra's venom can kill in three minutes, as the news anchors loved to remind us, but you just stay vigilant and move slowly if you do see a snake. But I cracked up when I saw the inevitable Twitter parody account, first for the snake, then for a Bronx Zoo zookeeper:

@BronxZookeeper: Seriously, @BronxZoosCobra. I give you special entrance to the rodent exhibit and this is how you re-pay me? NOT COOL.

There are still revolutions and growing pains for new governments going on in the Arab world. Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant is still spewing out radioactive matter, and it looks like we're all getting a taste. Republican governors are still busting unions. People who need help still aren't getting it. But today, everyone in New York City discussed the snake.

I guess it's because, compared to those problems, it's almost charmingly simple. Hell, it's practically a children's book. Keep looking and someone will find that cobra, then Animal Control will come get it and return it to the zoo. Totally doable. It can't even get very far, right?

Wherever the snake is at tonight, I almost want to thank it for bringing out New Yorker's humor, even a bit of childlike silliness. We desperately needed it. HISSSSSSSSS!

Monday, March 21, 2011


Sometimes it takes an awful song to put terrible events into perspective.

I didn't know what to say here, you know? About Egypt's and Tunisia's hard battles for freedom. About Libya's even harder battle, and the UN action there. About the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant explosion in Japan. About the war against union workers several Republican governors, including Chris Christie in the state next to mine, are waging. I read and tweet and re-tweet. I don't know what to say that hasn't been said far more clearly by far more clever people. Scarily enough, the really smart people also seem to be struggling to make sense of everything.

Then my work husband's Pandora station, which he's programmed to create the country radio station we crave but can't get as Southern transplants in NYC, played a song I hate. It happens. "Mayberry" by Rascal Flatts. If you're not familiar with that treacly crime against country music, you can torture yourself here, then play Rebecca Black to soothe your poor ears.

"Sometimes it feels like this world is spinning faster/Than it did in the old days/So naturally we have more natural disasters/From the strain of a fast pace"

Except, you know, we don't. The victims of Mount Vesuvius' explosions and the Black Plague would take exception. So would the Inca and the Maya, if they could. People got the news slowly, if at all. They would wonder why they haven't been getting the silk and spices they used to, go on expeditions, and find out that the whole village was wiped out. Or some tired, dazed traveler who lost his or her entire family would end up in a new place and tell the news of what had happened where they came from, assuming someone in said place understood their language.

The world isn't spinning faster. Information is spreading faster. I've said that a lot, but it's because I have to remind myself, too. Today Twitter turned 5 years old. I've used it for just over a year. My world's become a smaller, scarier, and more interesting place since I used it. I learn about cool new music, shows at Brooklyn Bowl, accidents that will affect my ride home, and the location of the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. I correspond with people in Singapore, New Zealand, Great Britain, and California. I get first-hand reports from people in Libya, Bahrain, Egypt, and Japan.

Before then, I blogged. Before that, I was on email lists. Those also introduced me to far-flung people. I first began to get concerned about people I'd never meet in those venues. Before that, TV showed the world the horrors of Vietnam. Newsreels in movie theaters reminded women and children of why the men in their lives had to go so far away. Photography preserved the heartbreaks of the Civil War. And so on, and so on.

"Sometimes I can hear this old earth shouting/Through the trees as the wind blows/Thats when I climb up here on this mountain/To look through God's window"

There are so many fronts on which to fight, so many ways in which to help, that it's dizzying to even choose. And then there's the terrible thought that I can't even help at all. I mean, I'm a secretary who's sometimes fortunate enough to decorate other peoples' homes for money. I'm told I'm bright, but my degree's in marketing, not anything that most people would consider practical. I do know how to swing a hammer and pick up trash, though. Can I, dare I, just put on my boots and go? The technology improved there, too--I really can go and do, well, *something*. Or do I just sit here in comfort, cuddled up with my wife to watch a race or hockey game, until the wolf decides it's time to visit *our* door next?

With vision comes responsibility. We see so very much. I don't want to become one of those hardened New Yorkers who'll keep walking with my face down when I hear someone scream. I try not to feel guilty. I remember my grandfather's admonition against seeking too much excitement, because it will come to you soon enough. I look at the poster of the story of the starfish that hangs in my bathroom. I text to donate $10 to the Red Cross--that's a day we can't go to the coffee shop where the owners treat my wife like their granddaughter for breakfast, but someone else needs it more than us. Someone always needs it more than us, until we become the needy ones. We have been needy before.

"Well I miss Mayberry/Sitting on the porch drinking ice cold Cherry --- Coke/Where everything is black & white"

Technology enables us to leave a record of our present that becomes our past.
Sometimes when I post a blog entry, I wonder what others will think years from now, and how my words will be read. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened had Anne Frank or a Cambodian intellectual had been given access to today's technology. The fact that the Library of Congress archives tweets makes me think.

Sometimes I'll record one of my more profound thoughts just so I can leave more to future generations than race results, Penguins game scores, and cocktail recipes. It's not a revolution in real time, but I don't really want that, anyway. That doesn't seem like much fun at all. Then, you know, sometimes I laugh at myself and think the words may simply get lost as the technology to read them becomes obsolete (or unavailable when humanity's made to regress to the Stone Age, just you wait). Even my chatty self can only leave drops in the world's word ocean.

I'm grateful for that, though. I'm glad so many of us can just shout out our messages to the world whenever we feel like, without even having to go find a bottle to float in the ocean. It's good, in art, to have the guiding hand of a skilled editor. However, that editor can affect so much.

I viewed the Andy Griffith Show differently when a sociology professor showed us a random episode, then asked us, casually, "Now, who's missing in this town?" Black people, for one thing. In the 1960s American South, black people were rebelling against stifling laws and social norms. It was a justifiable rebellion, and it scared many white people. Mayberry, North Carolina didn't have any black people. Therefore, there were no concerns about where they ate, sat, worked, or attended school. Therefore, it could remain a sanctuary for scared white people in the 1960s to retreat to when they got home. The show would have been far more controversial, and less wholesome, had Mayberry looked more like a real small Southern town. But Mayberry survives in reruns on multiple basic cable channels, and the reality's harder to find.

"Sunday was the day of rest/Now its one more day for progress"

I'm white, and Southern, but I don't really want to live in Mayberry. I don't want people to get into my business and act all scandalized over what they find. Forget a same-sex marriage--Andy and his girlfriend hardly even kissed. Mayberry didn't have any Pagans like me. No atheists, Jews, or Muslims, either. That "day of rest" on Sunday meant some people were pressured to go to a house of worship dedicated to a God they didn't believe in, lost money at their places of business, and couldn't buy beer. Better isn't better for everyone. I, for one, am happy to have the progress.

I don't mean to pick on just one TV show, or one era. L'Ailee likes detective and procedural shows, which are also super-easy to find in reruns. However, she gets troubled by these shows, which are just a few years old. Russians like her are seldom played by Russian actors, and always seem to be villains or victims. She thought it was very strange that Monk which is set in San Francisco, never seemed to have LGBT people. Wouldn't a San Francisco police precinct occasionally see a bisexual victim, a gay villain, a transsexual witness, a lesbian cop whose wife worried about her? Then again, other shows tend to treat LGBT people pretty badly, so she has to be careful what she wishes for.

I hate that song not just because it's treacly and the singer's horrible, but because it expresses nostalgia over something that never was. I love country because it so often expresses real emotions about real things, and these singers had to pour on the fake saccharine syrup. It's an easy trap to fall into, to think that the images surviving of the past are the past. Nobody wants to dress up as a scullery maid when they put on Victorian costumes, do they? No, we usually get a far better look at the attire of noble women. We don't have to smell the smells, which must have been horrific. We don't have to keep the costumes on. We can take them right off and return to modern life, with all its benefits.

So I use the amazing technology I have access to for tweeting nonsense to my many acquaintances, jokes and hashtag games and cooking advice. I passionately follow a hockey team in a city whose sidewalks my feet have barely touched. I coo over pandas in foreign zoos. I stream songs I might have never heard if I were stuck with the technology of the bad old days, the 1990s. But I keep my eyes open. Only babies think that when they cover their eyes, everyone around them goes away--right? I know there's a way for me to help. I know I might catch something important, and be able to respond in real time. I know sometimes I need to turn the machines off, and see what's around me at this very moment. The voice I need to hear might be transmitted over the wind from a few feet away, not over a WiFi network from Australia. In fact, it almost always is.