Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More Twilight hating

If you don't already know how I feel about Twilight, I think it's bad for women, and just bad.



Soooooo.....
Clearly, I take issue with this kind of thing. This is a T shirt transfer available from faboo on ETSY.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

stop motion paper animation sets my heart aflutter

Thanks to Owen and the always excelent The Experts Agree
this is indeed, beautiful.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Twilight is Bad for Women, and Also, Bad.

Look at this poster.


I read the first and part of the second books in the Twilight series. Not because I'm a masochist, but because I love good young adult literature. Well, as a person who finished Finnegans Wake, Infinite Jest and most of William T. Vollman's books, I can tell you, this shit is unreadable.

The writing is bad. Just.Really. Fucking. Awful.

But it has beautiful vampires and is set in the Pacific Northwest and had crazy marketing so teenage girls flocked to this pile of manure in droves not seen since the height of the NKOTB madness of the late eighties*.

But worse than being bad, this series seems dangerous to me.

The thing that bothers me is that those who are rallying behind these books/ movies (due mostly to Meyer's Mormon faith, methinks) continually point out the strength and independence of the prtoagonist, Bella. Because the book tells you she's independent. But her behavior holds up traditional gender norms of women being beautiful, virginal, and submissive. Bella's obsessive thoughts about Edward are normalized in the world of Twilight and the violence between them and around them is normalized because it is surrounded by or associated with traditional romance imagery and props. This reminds me of an amazing article I read this semester written by Jennifer Dunn called “What Love Has to Do with It: The Cultural Construction of Emotion and Sorority Women's Responses to Forcible Interaction". Using the Interactionist perspective, Dunn examines the emotional response to and interpretation of “forcible interaction”, a qualified group of behaviors that run the gamut from “pestering” to “stalking” that transpires between two people when one is attempting to take by force what is normally freely given. What she found was how the “influence of courtship imagery” shape these women's “interpretations of unwanted attention”. This pattern was most pronounced in consideration of men they had been in long-term relationships with, but it was also present in the context of men they had simply dated. There was a “range of attempts” considered: leaving a gift, waiting at the respondent’s residence with flowers, leaving messages, showing up (sans flowers), following and suicide threats. All of these behaviors were understood to be forcible interactions but when they were framed with the “trappings of love” the women were much more likely to ameliorate the behavior into something they viewed as acceptable. Thispresents evidence of how women participate in their increased vulnerability to forcible interaction and how such behaviors are codified as acceptable when in the context of romantic relationships. Sound familiar?

Look at that poster.

A friend posted an article on FB that points out that by all measures, Bella and Edward are in an abusive relationship. Ha ha, Oh wait, no really.
This shit really bothers me. What are we teaching a whole generation of young women? I'm not saying that girls read Twilight and are suddenly spineless, boy-obsessed and sexually chastened morons, but I'm saying it doesn't help to have such a salient cultural touchstone be championed for having a strong woman protagonist when in fact it has the opposite. Bella is not strong, not independent and is kind of an idiot. Also, sex and violence are all mixed up and worst of all, she's made to feel guilty whenever she feels desire. . It really really really really really really bothers me that when Bella expresses physical desire she in punished in some way. Sex is always dangerous or imbued with violence. This is not OK. This is fucking bananas, and bad for women, and also, bad.

So.
Let's not, mmkay?
Thoughts?

* Madness which came to a screeching halt in my elementary school due to my brother circulating the rumor that Joe was rushed to the hospital with a stomach full of sperm. Jordan's sperm. I remember one friend, crying into her pencil box in the girls bathroom at T.A. Hendricks, wailing, "Joe! How could you do this to me!" Not to be judgemental, my first concert was NKOTB with my sister from another mister the night before Martin Luther King Day which her school failed to recognize so she had to get up and go to school while I got to sleep in. Oh, Indiana.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hooray! Graphs!



I'm not going to say new favorite website, but I might be tempted:
http://graphjam.com/

Monday, November 30, 2009

New! Favorite! Website!


I know I say this about once a week but really this site is killing me:
http://pictureisunrelated.com/

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Gendering Christmas: or Apparetly there's only room enough in this town for ONE red suit.


photo from News and Observer / Debra Goldman

from New Raleigh:

Wonder why you didn’t see Mrs. Claus aside Mr. Claus at Saturday’s Christmas Parade at Raleigh? No, it wasn’t something simple like “She was sick”. Instead, Mrs. Claus was banned from dressing up in the red and white by the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association, the N&O reported Saturday morning. It was recently elected City Council candidate for district B and Raleigh Merchant’s Association executive director John Odom made the call.


from the News and Observer
John Odom, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association, which runs the parade, said it’s confusing for children to see two people in Santa suits. He said it’s a policy that only Santa may wear the official outfit.

Parade officials even discourage people from wearing Santa hats, Odom said.

It was unclear how common youthful confusion of Santa and Mrs. Claus might be, and what harm might result from the misapprehension. Dr. Joseph Loibissio, a Wake Forest pediatrician, said Friday night that children can generally identify genders by age 3.


Several things strike me about this:
One is just about Mrs. Claus in general. I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about Santa Claus since I was six and figured out that if the chocolates in my stocking came from Molly's Sweet Shop on the circle in Shelbyville that Santa was likely not real (oh the deductive reasoning of children!). But really, Mrs Claus basically represents the worst kind of traditional gender scripts, and becomes increasingly outdated. We do know that Mrs. Claus first appeared in 1890, in a book of poetry called "Sunshine and Other Verses for Children." The book's author, Katherine Lee Bates, also wrote the words to the song "America the Beautiful." That seems apropos, somehow.
From Wikipedia
Since 1889, Mrs. Claus has been generally depicted in media as a fairly heavy-set, kindly, white-haired elderly female baking cookies somewhere in the background of the Santa Claus mythos. She sometimes assists in toy production, and oversees Santa's elves. She is sometimes called Mother Christmas[citation needed], and Mary Christmas has been suggested as her maiden name.[citation needed]

Her reappearance in popular media in the 1960s began with the children's book How Mrs. Santa Claus Saved Christmas, by Phyllis McGinley. Today, Mrs. Claus is commonly seen in cartoons, on greeting cards, in knick-knacks such as Christmas tree ornaments, dolls, and salt and pepper shakers, in storybooks, in seasonal school plays and pageants, in parades, in department store "Santa Lands" as a character adjacent to the throned Santa Claus, in television programs, and live action and animated films that deal with Christmas and the world of Santa Claus. Her personality tends to be fairly consistent; she is usually seen as a calm, kind, and patient woman, often in contrast to Santa himself, who can be prone to acting too exuberant. In some modern adaptations, Mrs. Claus is shown with a younger, even sexier appearance.


So some interesting themes present themselves. She is typically shown doing traditionally feminine tasks (baking cookies, "mothering") and she is almost always shown in the background. She is presented as a foil to Santa Claus (what is not masculine = feminine).She is passive, nameless and depicted as a helper to Santa, as opposed to a person in her own right.
Maybe that's why her presence has faded since her pinnacle in the 1960s.As the world changes, our archetypes likely change too(at least somewhat). Maybe she has become less salient because she no longer represents and ideal. Maybe it's time we liberate Mrs. Claus. I mean she doesn't even have a first name, ferchrisakes.
Updating Mrs. Claus for the aughts ought not automatically mean sexualizing her, however. (say that 3 times, fast) There is some argument that we automatically imbue Christmas with "sexiness" because we tend to sexualize everything. But Mrs. Claus seems to be the magnet for that energy.
But I digress.

By banning Mrs. Claus from the Christmas parade, we are just reinforcing the message that women don't matter: they are faceless, nameless objects that can be used, ignored or shuffled to the background at will.

It sounds to me like Mrs. Claus was usurping some of the attention away from Santa, a symbol of patriarchy, and that shit won't stand, at least as far as the greater Raleigh Merchant Association is concerned.

Because, really? We're worried about confusing the kids? It sounds like we are worried about confusing the kids about who's important.

Apparently there's only room enough in this town for ONE red suit.

Monday, November 23, 2009

MIA

That is, I will be until finals are over I'm guessing.
I miss you!
Tonight I watched some classmates give a presentation on advertising and they had four commercials from YouTube as examples. 3 of the 4 commercials used traditional gender scripts and assumption about the internalization of those scripts. What's scary about commercials is that we see them OVER and OVER and when they use humor we pay attention to them even more, but fail to notice the other, subtler messages they send, like all women should be thin and work out constantly, or all men should be in charge of the grill--because that's the man's domain. Send me your favorite commercials, I want to keep thinking about this stuff. In the meantime, here is something to think about UNTIL I RETURN....(cue scary laughter)



Notice how Nigeria is supposed to be a scary and dirty place? Notice how it's contrasted to the clean, safe white world?
Notice how this commercial only works if that stereotype is internalized?

Send me your links!

UPDATE:
Here are some of the videos friends sent.






Keep sending them in!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Hit The Bitch": Or how The Danish do Domestic Violence Awareness


From AdFreak
There are subtle ways to raise awareness about relationship violence. And then there's "Hit the Bitch," a Web campaign by a Danish advocacy group. Setting up an interface where you're encouraged to slap and punch a woman seems pretty extreme. It's almost like an advergame, except you're delivering an adverbeating! (You can use the mouse, or connect with your Webcam and swing at the girl with your hand.) Getting called a "100% idiot" at the end doesn't feel like much of a rebuke. Perhaps you're supposed to feel guilty, like a real-life abuser might, for continuing to hit the woman just to see what happens next?



Un-fucking-believable.

From Sociological Images


At the top, a counter keeps track; you start out as 100% Pussy, 0% Gangsta, but your Gangsta rating goes up every time you hit her.
Apparently, though, when you get up to where you’d be at 100% Gangsta, it instead says 100% Idiot, as though this is a real put-down that is going to make you think really seriously about domestic violence.
I am trying to think of any context that would make this seem like a good idea, or an effective way to combat domestic violence. I mean, ok, yeah, I guess people might be made more aware of it after hearing about or playing the game, but is it likely to have any positive effect? It seems more likely that people who don’t already take domestic violence seriously would either be uncomfortable, leave the site, and never think about it again, or find it funny to play for a few minutes just to see what would happen…and somehow encouraging people to slap around an image of a woman for fun seems like a really weird way to get people to think more seriously about domestic violence.


I have no words. thoughts?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Cozy Uterus

From http://streetanatomy.com and via Tara


Maybe I need one of these!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Weight

Oh, man.
How do you tell someone you love that someone they love is going to die?
Right now the Bagel is going through some hard stuff.
I come from a big family. Nine aunts and uncles on my mother's side. Thirty-three first cousin. I had an uncle, Don Whaley, who promised to give me a pony if I would come live with him in Texas, who gave me bubble gum against my mother's express wishes and who worked with B.F. Skinner in behavioral psychology and is one of the founders of the discipline, and he told my aunt Nan once at a funeral, "Nanny, we've got a lot of people to bury." My uncle Don, the smartest man I knew, died when I was four and we buried him on Halloween. He was an amazing person, and every day I hear his words in my head.Oh man, was he ever right.
I am 31 and I have attended 17 funerals. One of them was for him.
I had four grandparents, like everyone else, I guess. But I have attended the funerals for all of them, each one successively more difficult.
What do I tell my husband, as he experiences tremendous loss for the first time?
I can tell him it's survivable.
I have lost many people I love. Although in the moment, it feels like you can't make it, you always do.
At the same time, I am never more afraid than when when I think of losing him, or my parents, or my brother or my sister (from another mister). I don't know how I would survive these things, so who am I to tell him he will survive this?
I can tell him to do everything he can to tell his grandfather he loves him while he has the opportunity.
At the same time, you can never tell the person who is leaving you how much they mean to you because you can't tell them how much you don't want them to leave you.
I've been through this, but I've never been through this.
All I can tell him is that he can be sad, but I'm scared of a sadness this big.
My first test as a wife, and I feel like I'm failing.
This is the weight.
To love someone is to make two promises; it is not only to say "I will love you now", it is also to love that person when they leave you, to say "In my heart, I will love you always", it is to admit that life is not the same without them.
And this, my loves, is the hardest thing to tell someone you love when they are dying. It is the hardest thing to tell someone you love when someone they love is dying: that their love is terrible and wonderful and a blessing and a curse, that the love for them made you who you are and when they die they take that with them. That we are not the same when someone we love dies.
I know I am not the same. Nor will he be. But that he will make it. Because there is no god damned alternative. Not under my watch. No.







Thursday, October 1, 2009

“So You Want A Social Life, With Friends,”

Some of you know that I am a great advocate for and defender of modern poetry.Below is an example of why.
It comes from the poet Kenneth Koch a modern American poet who embraced the exuberance of (some) post modernists while refusing to mire his work in ridiculous navel-gaze-y self-aggrandizing experimentation. It is, however, lovely and melancholy and brilliantly observant of human behavior. I truly love the plethora of poetry on YouTube,everyone should take the time to check a few out.

This, by the way, is a portrait of Koch by the wonderful artist Alex Katz.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Well, someone finally got it right

As many of you know, I' a struggling atheist, one that slips into superstitious thinking and panicky prayer when I hurt or lose something. But there is one thing I REALLY can't let go of; I've always said that the closest I've come to the experience of having real faith is through reading. I'm thinking of Haven Kimmel in particular. She would love this, I'm sure.
Maybe I am a little prone to romanticizing bookstores (ahem): the scope, the nature, the feeling they give you. But I also believe, dear readers, that they are my holiest places, where I can breathe in the smell of paper and glue, silently commune with my fellow parishioners, and sometimes, just sometimes, feel the presence of something larger than myself and terribly good.
What are your favorite bookstores?
Thanks to Tara for this

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Are you happy?

This feels apropos: sometimes I just need a little reminder. Thanks to Tara for this.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New assignement: fake obituary


This piece is for my creative nonfiction workshop.
Former NC Senator Elizabeth “Liddy” Dole, 73, drowned yesterday in a mud bath at a high-scale salon in Washington, DC. The Red Door Salon, attended by many members of the House and Senate, provides many services such as facials, massages and aromatherapy which are covered under the health insurance afforded to member of Congress. Dole was a known opponent to health care reform and the recipient of a failing grade from the American Public Health Association indicating an anti-public health voting record. Had she survived and chosen to sue the establishment her reward may have been affected by her own yes-vote on limiting medical liability lawsuits to $250,000.
Born Mary Elizabeth Hanford in Salisbury, North Carolina, Dole’s origins became a source of contention in her bid for the NC senate seat vacated by the late Jesse Helms. Opponents pointed to her permanent residence, a condo in the infamous Watergate Hotel, which she and her husband, former senator and 1996 presidential hopeful Bob Dole, have owned for nearly 40 years. Her official residence was shifted to her mother’s home in Salisbury in order to seek election. After a comfortable childhood replete with niceties such as dance lessons and a beach house, Dole graduated high school having been voted as most likely to succeed. She then attended the honorary-Ivy League Duke University, as a brother before her did, and majored in political science, though her mother had hoped she would pursue economics. A member of the Delta Delta Delta sorority, she was nominated to the May court and was titled queen. She was also elected student body president and graduated with honors as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, preparing her for post-graduate work at the blue-blood bathed Oxford and also a master's degree in education from Harvard University, no stranger to privilege and political capital of all stripes.
In 1962 Dole began working toward a degree in law at Harvard, one of only 24 women in a class of 550. Her mother was deeply disappointed that Elizabeth pursued her career over getting married and starting a family, despite the fact that her daughter was not seriously dating anyone at the time. Instead of wedding a phantom husband and building an empty house on the lot next to her family home in Salisbury, North Carolina, Dole graduated in 1965 and moved to Washington, beginning her political career in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare under President Johnson. A registered Democrat, while Elizabeth was working for Johnson’s Great Society program, her future husband was voting against it. One must surmise from her later record that the future Elizabeth Dole--staunch conservative and loyal Republican--would have voted against the program as well.
Contradictions and change thus characterized Dole’s political life. After representing poor clients at a public interest law firm in 1967, Dole jettisoned her needy clients as her resume and connections took her to work officially for Johnson in the White House in the Office of Consumer Affairs. When Nixon came into office, the savvy (though not particularly loyal) Elizabeth switched her party affiliation to Independent and remained in the White House, one of a minority of staffers who was allowed to stay after the Republican president took over. The switch enamored her to Nixon and she assumed the position of executive director of the President's Committee for Consumer Interests in what Dole has categorized as the “heyday of consumerism”. Her experience here no doubt led many years later to the rebranding of her husband through dignified endorsements of brand names such as Pepsi and Viagra. Nixon then appointed her to the Federal Trade Commission for a seven-year term. After years of tutelage under Nixon and forgoing the young woman she was when she worked for Johnson, Dole switched parties again, this time to Republican, in 1975, shortly before she married.
Routes of power and the privilege of access brought Elizabeth and Bob Dole together within the insular circles of Washington politics. It is fitting that they were reacquainted at the party of Clement Stone, an insurance mogul and millionaire. Dole was reluctant to pursue Elizabeth romantically due to a thirteen-year age difference, but eventually he asked her to a date at the restaurant of Watergate Hotel, the site of this Washington power couple’s future home and the symbol of corruption that would color American politics for years to come. In a strange twist of fate, the apartment next to theirs would eventually be occupied by another symbol of political corruption, Monica Lewinsky.
Elizabeth, once so ambitious, set aside her own political career to campaign for her husband’s Vice Presidential run on the unsuccessful 1976 Republican ticket with Gerald Ford against Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale. 1979 she left the FTC for good as she campaigned for her husband again, in another unsuccessful run, this time for president, in 1980.
Reagan’s victory led to renewed ambition and success for Elizabeth Dole, first as director of the White House Office of Public Liaison from 1981 to 1983, and as United States Secretary of Transportation from 1983 to 1987. She broke glass ceilings as the first female Secretary of Transportation and as the first female head of a military branch as the Coast Guard fell under the jurisdiction of the DOT. During this most fruitful political period, Dole began to question the centrality of her career to her life. She had no children though she was stepmother to Bob’s daughter from his first marriage. She was a political anomaly, a conservative female politician who had no children and was known as ambitious and successful. On the precipice of true success, Elizabeth Dole doubted her ambition and stepped back from politics while she had what she has characterized as “a spiritual awakening.” On the campaign trail with her husband in 1996, she could often be seen carrying a turquoise, leather-bound bible with her, winning the minds of conservatives and the hearts of Evangelicals, voters that would stand by her in later pursuits. Though she returned to politics under yet another president as George H. W. Bush’s Secretary of Labor, she left to become President of the Red Cross in 1991. She resigned in 1999 to pursue her own unsuccessful Presidential run. She found victory in the 2001 NC Senate race, filling the seat of the notorious and controversial Senator Jesse Helms after his retirement, like so much milk to his fiery moonshine.
Loyal at last, she voted along party lines, and was often counted on to co-sponsor bills rather than write her own. In fact, out of the 52 bills she authored, 46 never made it out of committee and only two passed at all. Her constituents often remarked on how little she was in North Carolina, in 2006 spending a paltry 13 days in her “home” state, no doubt preferring to stay in her luxury condo at the Watergate than in the confines of her Mother’s home. She was also voted one of the least effective senators, 93rd out of 100.
Despite, or perhaps because of her unremarkable senatorial record, Dole was elected chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Under her watch, Republicans lost the majority in the Senate, and were out fund-raised and out recruited by the Democratic chair. As a result, Senator John Ensign of Nevada soon replaced her.
In 2008, Dole lost her seat to Kay Hagan, a state senator from Greensboro, North Carolina. The convergence of many factors led to this underdog upset of the incumbent Dole including aggressive campaigning in the state by President Obama, galvanizing the Democratic base, and the unequaled spending of Political action committees for Hagan. Despite her pledge to run a positive campaign, Dole appeared desperate to change the momentum of the campaign, and authorized a series of extremely controversial commercials that painted Hagan, a Presbyterian Elder and Sunday school teacher, as an atheist. The ads prominently featured a woman’s voice saying “There is no God”, a voice that viewers were to surmise was Hagan’s. The commercials were largely considered the worst kind of political maneuvering, and routinely criticized as pure mud slinging. An unfortunate turn of phrase, considering. Atheists and agnostics poured money into Hagan’s campaign, exacerbating the worsening situation for Dole. She lost by an 8 point margin, the largest margin of defeat in the last thirty years of NC Senate races. The commercials are her most public failure, in a life that was marked by a series of unsuccessful campaigns, a husband that once backed a rival opponent, and an unwillingness to embrace true greatness whenever given the chance. Her undoing reflects the largest theme of her life; the compromise of self in the pursuit of power. Elizabeth Dole, known as Liddy by her friends but not allowed to be called that by her peers or her constituents; known as a Democrat then an Independent then a Republican. Elizabeth Dole, once a sure bet for the first female president, became a victim of her own inability to make a decision, to decide what was right, and stick with it. Dole’s unfortunate legacy will undoubtedly be tied to the method of her passing, an irony that will be immortalized on late night television, not unlike her former neighbor.
She is survived by her husband, Bob Dole, and stepdaughter Robin.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"the impact...depends on who is watching it"

from my new favorite website Sociological Images:

"This cartoon satirizes the common sitcom family that includes an average-looking, bumbling husband and a gorgeous, put-together wife. It reverses the roles to illustrate (1) how offensive these sitcoms are to men (men are useless oafs who can’t be expected to act like adult human beings) and (2) how we take for granted that hot chicks should marry useless oafs,"

"I know, it’s satire, and, if you’re a regular reader, you know how I worry about satire. To me, this points out how stupid (and gendered) family sitcoms are. But, for others, it might just reinforce the hateful stereotype that fat women are disgusting and useless. The problem is that the impact of the cartoon depends on who is watching it."


A-men!
I worry about satire too, it's so easily manipulated into the opposite of what it sets out to be.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cupcakes make it better




A friend sent this pic to me, I sure could go for these right now, but it would be difficult to eat something so rad.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Wackness not the Dopeness

The Wackness
1) The commercial for a female heroine centered video game with the horrible horrible awful title of WET


2) 17 hours this semester
3) no time for the gym in over a week
4) my exam tomorrow
5) fat jokes on a friend's Facebook update and The Daily Show
6) cigarettes
7) one of my classmates making me feel dumb b/c apparently reading Marx is sooooo easy for him
8) the healthcare "debate"
9) being broke
10) not sleeping

The Dopeness
1) MAD MEN!!!
2) the chicken tetrazzini Jeff made dor dinner
3) ...


Friday, September 11, 2009

The Craziest Thing I Have Ever Read

So I peruse the Onion AV Club when I am not drowning in Marx, and today while reading the comments on the latest Mad Men episode write up in the TV Club portion I ran across this little beauty and I had to share:

The dark undertones of this episode brought me back to a dark time in my life

7 Sept. 2009 | 12:13 AM CDT

As a teenager I suffered from severe depression and formed a strong bond with the character Garfield and his outlook. Its sad but reading garfield anthologies obsessively was the only thing that made me feel normal and it eventually took on something of an erotic fixation.

To avoid feeling like a sicko I drew pictures of garfield with a womans(Think Pamela anderson circa 1991) body and garfields head, so that I was assured

that my fixation wasn't with animals or repressed homosexuality. This garfield/pam hybrid still had the same biting wit and acerbic outlook and tended to cut herself in self loathing while wolfing down a lasagna to fill the void after sleeping with drawings of a much more handsome and muscular version of myself. These drawings eventually evolved into erotic fanfiction starring garfield and myself (In my head Garfield still has a womans body but someone reading the stories would think Im having sex with regular Garfield.) I killed off Jon in a jealous rage, I didn't touch Odie, I enjoy his companionship and don't mind if he watches.


The stories are your pretty basic wish fulfillment stuff, balanced with self loathing rants. I've been doing this near daily for years and I have a substantial amount of writing in a folder I keep buried in 8 different folders.

Jesus Christ Bananas. I am speechless
It also gives this panel a seriously creepy vibe:

For those uninitiated, be sure to check out the melancholy world of Garfield's Jon, in a life of panels sans Garfield at http://garfieldminusgarfield.net/
Surreal, funny and heartbreaking. Unlike the previous joker who is just a freak.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Door to Heaven

I've been gone for awhile.
This last week I have been writing a piece for my Nonfiction workshop about Shelbyville. The assignment was to write about a small town I know well, so the choice was obvious. For those who don't know, Shelbyville is the town in Indiana I grew up in, until my family left after a series of personal disasters. For a long time, I didn't know if how I felt about my childhood there--idyllic, storybook, almost perfect--was the result of skewed perspective, sentimentality, selective memory. That may still be true, but after seeking the memories and recollections of childhood friends I realize that it was more complicated than that, a lovely place to grow up in but with an undercurrent of darkness that we rarely addressed openly.

Thank you to all those that helped me, that were willing to remember both the darkness and the light.

The Door to Heaven

In the thick of summer, the parks of Shelbyville, Indiana, shine and shimmer like emerald mirages amidst a desert of corn and soybeans. Moth-badgered Halogen lights illuminate well-tended fields of deep green and startling white, base lines as straight and predictable as the furrowed rows of the fields of surrounding farms. The community congregates to watch their sons participate in that most sacred and American rite of passage: Little League. Baseball fields are the non-denominational churches of summertime; the sounds of bats connecting with balls the hymns. The air lays like a hand across the back of their necks, a perfumed humidity that reeks of salted hot pretzels, drug-store cologne, chewing tobacco. There is a restlessness about them, the people of this town: this is only what they do while they wait for basketball season to start

Adults bring cheap Styrofoam coolers (won at Cagney’s Pizza for dining in ten times) filled with Miller Light and Schlitz in cans, sodas for the kids and the benefit of the umpires. As the parks technically prohibit drinking, each can is wrapped in some kind of koozie: pledging allegiance to the Shelbyville Bears, the Indy 500, John Deere--one nation under Bobby Knight. Tom Crean, two years in, is still the “new” coach of the Hoosier’s, still earning his stripes—and everyone likes to forget about the Mike Davis and Calvin Sampson years. The smaller children stand in front of the bleachers, grasping the slightly rusted metal of the chain-link fences that separate the spectators from the players. The metal diamonds leave slightly orange indentations on their palms as they make the metal ring with the tension of so many bodies leaning. The hands of their parents and neighbors grasp their slippered drinks as they sit on bleachers in duets or trios, singing the gospel of bases and boyhood, and they drink while they watch boys play ball.

Underneath the bleachers, scarred with the signatures and proclamations of love of five generations, are the kids who are not playing ball. So many girls, and boys also. Boys too old for baseball, or too cool or clumsy or too protective of their bodies as they condition for the “real” sport of the upcoming season. They sit in the shadows underneath their parents and watch the game occasionally, but more often watch one another. They sneak beers and wander to the dark spots of the parks, not wary of muggers or rapists, not wary of anything really, except more of the same. Sounds from the game occasionally echo around them, like apparitions of sound--phantom plays from ghost runners. They roll joints and pass them like collection plates. They flirt and sigh and posture as adults. They look at the imposing, inevitable Mid-Western skyline and wish they could get the hell out of this place.

Many of them do. Many leave, some stay, some leave and come back, some never look over their shoulders, afraid of turning to pillars of salt, of the terrible reach of aging parents, of the familiar, of the easy rhythms of being who you are in a place where everyone knows you and will only allow you to become so much.

At the heart of Shelbyville is a circle, with a fountain that runs until it gets too cold--usually October--a circle that used to comprise the hub of activity and business. Now industry in Shelbyville has moved to the edge of town, along the interstate, where Bruce Springsteen tells us there is darkness too.

Adults work for Knauf, the giant fiberglass-products manufacturer or for Major Hospital in the expanded oncology wing, or for Makuta, a medical device micromolder. Others work for Kroger, or the maligned school system. Some work for the Super Wal-Mart that drove all the useful stores downtown out of business. Now there are “boutiques” on the circle, filled with antiques and tchochkies, ceramic statues of the character Balzar holding two bear cubs, one in each upraised hand; Balzar from Charles Major’s signature work The Bears of Blue River, set in and about Shelbyille. Every year the last weekend of summer, the one before school begins, the town holds the Bears of Blue River festival to honor the author as its most famous native beside former tallest woman in the world, Sandy Allen. It used to last a week, now it is only three days. The smell of elephant ears and fried pork tenderloin sandwiches wrapped in see-through, grease-strained wax paper drift over the crowd that collects in front of the bandstand. The girls share pineapple whips, the kids eat tri-colored snow cones, the boys smoke cigarettes and watch the girls from under groaning metal bleachers. From this vantage point the country music sounds like it’s swirling in a tin can, piped over the thinnest of wires. The whole town tours the circle and the streets that shoot off like spokes on a wagon-wheel, walking the same paths through crushed wax Coca-Cola cups and smashed pop corn kernels over an over, for hours and hours, hoping to see something different, finding comfort when they don’t.

Except on the occasion of the festival, downtown feels hollow. If you throw a coin in the fountain, you can hear the echo bouncing off the windows of empty storefronts. A real statue of Balzar stands on the circle as well, looking over the still fountain, the empty circle, the town that ate itself, a ghost town, dead.

It wasn’t always like this.

When I was little my friends and I would walk the same pavement without thinking, barely watching for cars as we crossed roads and played tag in the streets. We stayed out until after midnight in the alley behind my house in the summers, our moms trying in vain to call us in. We walked downtown to the circle to sit on the fountain and cool off, get the humidity off our necks and watch the high school kids cruising, dreaming of the day when it would be us. We walked to school in the morning on the same streets our parents walked to the same schools. We walked and walked, getting nowhere, really, without knowing we would one day want walking to take us somewhere new.

When I tell anyone of a certain age that I am from Shelbyville, the town seems familiar to them, the name rings a bell. Their faces light up when they stumble upon it in the random highways and bypasses of tangled memory and recall nestled in their brains. Then they ask, always, inescapably, “Like from The Simpsons?”

No, not like that at all. It is not an imaginary place, my childhood home. I think.

Silvia’s mom worked for the Knauf’s. She cleaned their house, and lived in a small white cottage on the backside of their no kidding, real-deal, straight-up mansion, a model of the big house in miniature. They had two handsome sons they sent to boarding school in Switzerland or some such nearly unimaginable place. In this way (and many more) they were of the town, but not from it. For Silvia’s tenth birthday we were invited to a pool party at the Knauf mansion. Silvia broke her leg two weeks before. She rested on a chaise with her leg in white plaster, glowing like a lighthouse. She cried while she watched us, and we did nothing, continued to play, ignoring her on her birthday in pursuit of so much fun. Her mom, who reminded me of Sandy Duncan or some other cheery Disney heroine, died when we were young. It felt unreal, disconnected from the rest of our lives, death didn’t belong here, so I stopped thinking about it. For some reason, I have always felt worse about her party, her broken leg.

When something terrible or great happens to us, time becomes binary: before your divorce and after; before I loved you and after; before he lost his money and after. That is what time is like for me: there is my childhood in Shelbyville, and then there is after. More precisely, time has made Shelbyville binary: the town of my childhood and after. I do not want to go back there now, do not want to admit or despair what it has become. I do not want to turn into a pillar of salt. But I miss my town, and I miss who I was there. It was a place where I believed in God, where my home was a castle on a hill, where I was allowed to grow-up without fear. My happiness there is the barometer upon which all other happiness is measured, measured in the lengths of long summers of walking, in depths of admiring boys from and under bleachers, in widths between then and now.

One measure of a town is how it treats its eccentrics. Shelbyville has been home to a host of oddballs, iconoclasts, freaks and lucky losers. They say God looks over drunks and sleepwalkers, and if that is true, I am sure he also used to look after the most unusual residents of my home. It is no small thing to buck the tide of homogeneity in a small town. You may be branded an outcast, dangerous, treated as an outsider when inside access determines whether your business survives, whether your children are liked, whether you may sit in the bleachers with the rest of the town and take communion.

Pat drove a school bus and the town taxi, a service provided after the buses and trolleys stopped running. In the 1960’s she dressed as a man; her hair slicked back and smelling of lemons, the rough tan skin of her neck of Old Spice. She dressed in Dickies and mechanic shirts, and could be found at Bob’s Chug-A-Lug on the weekends with her girlfriend. When she got too far into her cups, she sang along with the songs of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash from the jukebox, off-key, and as lonesome as a hound dog in a chain-metal pen. She picked us up on Monday like the weekends never happened. The people of Indiana respect work ethic, and believe enough in it and minding your own business to repay deviance of one sort with the courtesy of pretending not to notice. It’s the children that notice, that make things awkward and unbearably honest in their asking, “Mom, is Pat a boy or a girl?” It’s complicated.

My father ran an appliance business on the circle, in the tradition of his father before him. I was raised, in part, in this store. We spent hours, days, weeks, climbing refrigerator and washer-dryer sets in cardboard boxes stacked upon one another in the back warehouse, our own personal Mount Everests; conquests marked not by flags but in the amount of dust in our hair, the dirt under our nails, the sting of deep paper cuts on the insides of our elbows. Here we were privy to a parade of characters: my father’s customers, his employees and friends. The strange became ordinary--different became our everyday. When we were hungry, Charlie Hershey, my father’s right-hand-man who happened to be a dwarf, would take us out to Taco Bell or The Chicken Inn and make us laugh so hard we would fart and beg for mercy. What we didn’t know until we were older were his midnight hours after work. While we slept sound in our castle--protected by night-lights, luck, our last name--Charlie could be found at the strip club, or at Bob’s Chug-A-Lug looking for easy company, for comfort in dark bottles that would not show his fun-house reflection. When I heard he died this year I remembered meeting him for the first time. I sat in the car on the way back home from dad’s store, quiet, wheels turning in my head until I said, “Mom, Charlie needs to have some more birthdays.”

One night Mr. Knauf showed up at my dad’s store when it was closed. He wanted to buy a television. My mother, having never met the man or having even seen him, recognized him for who he was despite the fact as he knocked on the front glass doors. When you are rich in a small town, and are of a certain disposition you expect favors. My mother, quick, found my father to tell him “Thies Knauf is at the door.” My father, more curious than obsequious, opened the doors for him. He was dressed impeccably, like Jay Gatsby, like Dapper Dan. He looked at a few models. He chose one and left. The store was quiet with the deflation of myth. Thies Knauf was no longer a mystery, he was an RCA man, just like my dad.

In Little League there are rich teams and poor ones, teams that are desirable and teams that reek of desperation and failure before the season starts. The good players go to the rich teams and the bad ones don’t. Knauf had a team, of course. My dad’s store sponsored a team for a few years. Little League is like any other democracy, in that it isn’t.

My parents were wealthy in a poor town. Our house was a Victorian mansion that took up half a block. It was only home to me, bigger than my friends’ houses but it gave me no pause, it was no Knauf monstrosity. The strange becomes ordinary. My parents were ambitious, and busy. They hired a babysitter, Renee, who took care of my brother and I at her house after school. She made us butter and sugar sandwiches for a snack. Her son and daughter, Tony and Jada, rode the roller coasters at King’s Island with us, teaching Chris and I that fear could be a wonderful thing as long as someone held your hand. Her husband, June, was the biggest man I had ever seen, he picked me up with one hand and held me aloft until my back scraped the sharp plaster pebbles of their ceilings. They used to take us to Noble Roman’s for pizza when my parents worked late. My grandfather saw us there one night while getting take-out. An unbearable bigot, he chastised my parents, telling them the picture was strange, these two towering, rotund black folks with these two little white kids squirming all over the burgundy fake leather booths laughing like no one else was there. The statistics for Shelbyville from the last census say that Blacks make up less than 2% of the population. One of the most important stories of Shelbyville could be told by what is missing, what refuses to change. She was a Jehovah’s Witness and her church shunned her for going in a bar. They refused to speak her name, literally turned their backs on her and made her sit in the last pew alone for service. She set herself on fire and left her husband and two children to piece together their own narrative from what remained, from what was missing. Ashes. The Holy Spirit. A melted gasoline container. My family was on vacation when it happened. She circled our block in her car, looking for my mother before driving to a parking lot on the edge of town and setting her heart on fire. She found darkness there, no doubt, but not God, nor any hand to hold to make the fear better.

Whenever I tell a woman of a certain age that I am from Shelbyville, Indiana, their faces go still until they remember, that’s right, I know that town and ask me, “Did you see that article in Time? That piece on Oprah?” They know my hometown as the example of a town that failed its children. Shelbyville is the town that spent millions on education, on top-of-the-line facilities, on counselors of every stripe, only to have the highest dropout rate in the state. I did see that piece on Oprah, one late night, in an empty bar in Raleigh, North Carolina, the station left on after a UNC game. Gut punched and sick I saw the streets of my hometown on parade as an example of How Did It All Go Wrong? I saw it, and I tell them no, that’s not the one.

The teenagers initially have few options for jobs; the unemployment rate is almost 12%. Those that do find jobs work in fast food, detassel corn in the summer, power-wash houses. One group of friends always takes over The Bear’s Den, a relic of 1950’s carhop culture, with root beer on draught and girls on skates. My childhood best friend worked there when we were in high school. She tells me, “I think you would have worked there too, had you still been in town.”
Kids drive “The Strip” after work, the short loop between the circle downtown and the Kroger out in the newly developed part of town. Sometimes they go out in the country, where someone fastened a plastic chicken and cow on a farm fence. It became a destination, something to do and somewhere to go, as in “let’s go to chicken and cow.” The kids, they meet out there, bathed in moonlight but protected by darkness, by obscurity and randomness, smoking pot because it’s easier to get than booze, or just talking, endlessly talking about how nothing is happening, about getting out. These are the things you do when you have nothing else to do.

Our elementary school, the one just a few blocks from my old home, it sits abandoned now. It is filled with the debris of crumbling hallways, papers graded but never returned, the dust and dirt of neglect, lost memory, childhood. I can not bear to see it now, humbled, unbelievably small, unrecognizable. The basketball hoops have no nets on them, that is how I know it is forgotten.

A few years ago, Shelbyville was on the news. Knauf was on fire, the building burning. It was so bright, it lit the whole town up; the alleys and back ends of parks, beneath bleachers, the pale underbelly of normal. They rebuilt the factory, made it bigger, tearing down houses on the darkest, most neglected streets. When I was little, I saw the smokestacks and I believed that was where the clouds were made, where the door to heaven could be found.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Week four round up and some thoughts on writing

pounds lost: at least 13 but I forgot to weigh yesterday
Dinners in: six
Gym visits: at least three but I think four

I am feeling pretty good as the weight loss continues and I am noticing a difference in my clothes and my general health. I feel better than I did a month ago, and I'm not losing my mind with hunger. I just hope that as I I get further in to the school year I can keep up the routine. I gear up from 3/4 of a mile to a full mile every time I swim starting this week, so I'm curious to see how tired I'm going to be. My son of a bitching shoulder is still wonky as all hell so I think I'm going to have to go to the PT again, which is both a hassle and expensive. Also I need to go to the dentist, so someone should start harassing me about that until I go.

Ah, school. It is a difficult as I feared it would be but immensely worth it as it is already so much more rewarding than previous semesters. Thank God for no more 200 level classes or group projects or core classes or bullshit as I don't think I could take it anymore. Graduation hovers like a benevolent angel in a not-so-distant future and it is, as I imagine all angels would be, both terrifying and glorious. There is also something a little sci-fi about that simile and the idea of actually graduating, FINALLY, as Mamala would say. Lawd help me, Jeeezuhhss!!!

I had an amazing class tonight that served as a great reminder for why one of my majors is English. As much as I love love love reading, it is often such an isolated pastime that it can make me feel a little disconnected from people. I don't know how many times I have wanted to share the special brilliance of a passage or prescience of a viewpoint with no one to talk to about it, and ultimately feeling creepy as I laugh out loud and corner the cats with newly minted bon mots. I love talking about writing as much as I enjoy reading it but you can't make people love what you are reading from an anecdote and trying will just make me weep and pull my hair out. Glory glory the writing workshop. I am taking a creative nonfiction workshop, a class that meets just once a week but for three hours. It's not fiction, and it's not journalism but it borrows from both. It's often memoir but it doesn't have to be. I hope to steer clear of the all-memoir-all-the-time bent as there is PLENTY of navel-gazing being done right here, on this here old blog. Anyway anyway, we basically write and then critique one other which is good and makes you a better writer but the REAL JOY (for me) is making a group of people read a great and moving piece of writing (essays and excerpts from established writers) and then putting them in the same room and forcing them to FUCKING TALK ABOUT IT!!! Yes Lawd! Woot! This is like my dream come true! No more cats that are afraid of me!
OK, so tonight we had another professor sub for the regular professor who is in Nova Scotia or some nearly imaginary place. The sub was none other than the famous and universally beloved Dr. John Kessel, whose classes I have been trying to take, literally, for 10 years. He was, seriously, a-MAZ-ing. We talked about this extremely effective essay by Scott Sanders called "Under the Influence". What is so damn good about this piece is that is easily could have fallen into cliche, as it is about Sanders' memories of his drunken father, but he adroitly avoids sentiment and cliche. A man writing about his drunk father is like the masculine version of Mommy Dearest but at no time does Sanders evoke the "poor me" vibe of say, a Pat Conroy novel (whom I love but you know, I know what my weaknesses are). Instead, Sanders brings you under the emotional affect of the ten year old boy he was, and it's easy to empathize and sympathize with the child he was, avoiding the prat fall of a grown-up whining about how shitty his parents were. In fact, he only refers to the man he has become selectively, and just briefly, so the glimpses are powerful. In addition, he creates scenes that could be found in the best fiction: descriptive, pungent, visual words that pummel you. Emotional wording is limited, but the reader has no trouble realizing the emotional impact of witnessing your father drink himself to death. The power, as it so often is, resides in the details. In the end, his father is not demonized, but instead a study in dichotomy ; sometimes a monster, but often a weak, frail, and deeply sick human being. He also provides portraits of others: his mother, his neighbors, the adult children of other alcoholics. These portraits provide a resonance and a thoughtfulness that is lacking in most memoir nonfiction by going beyond personal experiences. The most interesting structure of the piece is composed of how the narrative unfolds. Sanders tells us in the first paragraph of the essay that his father died, "body cooling and forsaken on the linoleum of my brother's trailer". What in fiction would be the denouement, he gives to the reader within 50 words of starting the essay. The spectre of his father thus hangs over the reader, a menacing version of the ghostly grandfather from The Family Circus. Additionally, the real drama is in the integral suspense of of the progression of time, and his father's surprising but doomed 15 year dry spell. Like Hitchcock says, suspense is more interesting than surprise. His father's sober period is like a bomb on a bus that only you know about, and which explodes just like you knew it would. The piece reminds me of a eulogy, one that you might want to deliver, but never would. Funerals are for the survivors, after all, and so often is memoir.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Week Three Roundup

Pounds lost: not sure
Visits to Gym:4
Dinners in: 6

I have lost at least 9 pounds since we started the diet but certain factors are preventing me from getting an accurate reading on the scale. But I feel OK about where I'm at and I am continuing the gig at the gym. I am already fitting back into clothes I gained too much weight to wear since last summer so that's positive reinforcement.

School starts tomorrow and I am already freaking out about how I'm going to fit everything in. I'm just going to take it one day at a time and set a goal of three gym visits a week that I think is doable.

I've been sucked into my own little domestic world as of late because we adopted a new cat, Prince. You may have read about him in the Independent in an article about animals that were the least likely to be adopted. When I read about it it broke my heart but I figured with all the exposure that he would be adopted. It turned out that even a week after the article came out he was still being fostered. I couldn't stand it and due to a certain incident that involved Bourbon, a trip to the Taj Ma Teeter for baking soda at 5:30 am looking like a crackhead and vomit all over my prized Red Sox jacket, the Bagel owed me one.
So we talked about it for a week and after it struck us (muuuuchh too late for my own liking) that his name is Prince and would fit in the established pattern of music names for pets (see also our cat Black Sabbath, our cat Coltrane and our dog Bruce "Bean" Springbean) we officially decided to adopt him and picked him up on Saturday.
Bean is ecstatic; the cats are not thrilled.
I was balling last night after being ignored by the cats for three days and when we went to bed they deigned to come in the bedroom at least, if not on the bed. Straight bitches.
So between this insanely insane project I am working on for my job and the animals and working out and cooking I have been busy and it will only get crazier tomorrow.
You know what's nuts? I have a class with a professor who is the father of an acquaintance of mine, as well as the father of another acquaintance of mine who took his own life a few years ago. I'm stoked to be taking his class as he is supposed to be amazing, but I am a little weirded out about knowing something so personal about a teacher, when he has no idea that I know. What would y'all do? I plan on saying nothing, except maybe after the semester is over.

Also, see the movie Doubt as it is some of the best writing I have experienced in forever. It's funny, as an Atheist I am often drawn to eloquent expressions of faith. (See Haven Kimmel's Indiana trilogy or Killing the Buddha for prime examples.) In dedication to the unknowable future I give you an excerpt from the screenplay of Doubt written by John Patrick Shanley in which one of the characters gives a sermon on doubt, set in the year after President Kennedy was shot. Substitute Presidents Kennedy being assassinated with 9/11 or even this economic meltdown and it feels prescient.

Last year, when President Kennedy was assassinated, who among us did not experience the most profound disorientation? Despair? Which way? What now? What do I say to my kids? What do I tell myself? It was a time of people sitting together, bound together by a common feeling of hopelessness. But think of that! Your BOND with your fellow being was your Despair. It was a public experience. It was awful, but we were in it together. How much worse is it then for the lone man, the lone woman, stricken by a private calamity?

‘No one knows I’m sick.’

‘No one knows I’ve lost my last real friend.’

‘No one knows I’ve done something wrong.’

Imagine the isolation. Now you see the world as through a window. On one side of the glass: happy, untroubled people, and on the other side: you.

I want to tell you a story. A cargo ship sank one night. It caught fire and went down. And only this one sailor survived. He found a lifeboat, rigged a sail…and being of a nautical discipline…turned his eyes to the Heavens and read the stars. He set a course for his home, and exhausted, fell asleep. Clouds rolled in. And for the next twenty nights, he could no longer see the stars. He thought he was on course, but there was no way to be certain. And as the days rolled on, and the sailor wasted away, he began to have doubts. Had he set his course right? Was he still going on towards his home? Or was he horribly lost… and doomed to a terrible death? No way to know. The message of the constellations - had he imagined it because of his desperate circumstance? Or had he seen truth once… and now had to hold on to it without further reassurance? There are those of you in church today who know exactly the crisis of faith I describe. And I want to say to you:
DOUBT can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.

Friday, August 14, 2009

There is no self-created replacement for being genuinely loved.

I've been thinking a lot about living in a fantasy world lately, both as thought experiment and while watching some people in my life trudge through ones of their own making.
This, in turn, got me to thinking about how much I want to see Where the Wild Things Are. That book teaches us that the fantasy worlds we create to escape the problems of our lives can't hold a candle to the genuine article, and in the end, it's best to accept our messy, problem filled lives and return to reality, where one can hope to find hot supper waiting for us.
These worlds, however, still live inside all of us, and we remain the kings of our own self-designed kingdoms, that's the beauty part.
I hope I get to watch this with my own kid someday, after having read the book a million times.
This is the new trailer, and man, it makes me cry like crazy.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Love, Love Will Tear Us Apart.

Today has been a shit day.
I did have one bright spot, though. My terrific friend Julie, aka, The Beauty Whisperer, owns a great business,Beauty Ethics,that offers services such as haircuts, color and style, brows, waxing, facials, etc. Anyway, the BW is helping me get my skin in line after it has freaked out over being submerged in chlorine three times a week for 45 minutes. Hopefully things will improve with my new skin care routine.
Outside of that I have cried on the phone twice and in altogether separate incidents I have been disappointed by two people I love.
I have issues opening up to people, I'll be the first to admit that. But it doesn't help when people you care about consistently treat you as an afterthought. It also doesn't help when you ask someone to be there for you and they have their head so far up their ass they turn what you need into something all about themselves. This is not about the Bagel, btw as he is nearly a saint and a lovely person all the way around who always puts me first. Except when he drinks too much bourbon, but that's for another time.

I think I'll be glad when school starts again, as being busy prevents me from investing in other people.

Anyway, my giraffe necklaces from ETSY is shipping from Canada so it's going to be awhile. Something to look forward to.

So I've been thinking a lot about the school of Sociology that I went nuts for, Symbolic Interactionism (SI) lately, as my life has changed pretty drastically in the last three weeks, all because of what I am now defining as success and as my goals. Basically the dude who coined the term SI, Herbert Blumer, defined the basic premises as the following:
1) We act a certain way toward things or with things (including people) because of the meaning that has been assigned to them, i.e we do not brush our hair with a fork but rather eat with it because we learned that's what we do from other folks. Unlike Ariel.
2) The meaning that is ascribed those things we interact with derives from interaction in the greater world, or people in society. That is, meaning is not inherent, it is ascribed and that is not done by individuals but collectively.

3) Each of us then takes those ascribed meanings and interprets them through a process that has also been shaped by interaction in the greater world. That is, no man is an island, we depend on others to help us define the world, even when we are privately interpreting something.

All that to say, I really really really believe in this process, and I know that when I interpret the actions of others I try to use this paradigm as it seems to me that it makes what people do a little less deliberate.

So I started reading the textbook for my Gender class last night (yes that is the sound of glasses being pushed up my nose) and read a really interesting article called "Beyond Pink and Blue" in which the precedent of the medicalization of intersexuality was examined and debated. (Intersexed, btw, means those who, as the author Sharon E. Preves says, "...inhabit bodies whose very anatomy does not afford them an easy choice between the gender lines". The article's focus is on contemporary gender studies and how my man Erving Goffman and his theory of stigma or spoiled identity, wherein "Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity" applies to the development of identity by the intersexed. Needless to say, I love this shit and find it endlessly fascinating. It also reminds me of how we all develop our identities and how we all manage at times with a spoiled identity and what we must do to overcome it.

I am definitely mad at some people right now, and more than that, hurt, but at least they didn't cut off my clitoris when I was a baby for no real reason or make me grow up as a girl when I was in fact a boy. Pat Conroy says "In families there are no crimes beyond forgiveness", but seriously, I am not so sure. Also, he's an alcoholic.

My scale is a piece of shit btw, and I did lose weight last week, three more pounds. From now on I'm only using the scale at the gym and the doctor's office.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Week Two Roundup

Pounds lost: 0
Visits to the Gym: 5
Dinners In: 4 (plus one at the in laws)
Ovulation: check!

God I am so pissed I didn't lose any weight this week. I don't know if it's because of where I am in my cycle or because the world hates me, but it's so disheartning to work this hard and have nothing happen. I went to the gym five times this week, I changed up the workout, I swam, I did abs, I'm eating less than 1500 calories a day, what the fuck do I have to do!!!

Number Six sent me this fascinating article that definitely gave me pause, especially considering this past week. In it there is so compelling evidence that exercise won't help with weight loss. It's not that exercise doesn't have positive value, but weight loss tends not to be one.
The conventional wisdom that exercise is essential for shedding pounds is actually fairly new. As recently as the 1960s, doctors routinely advised against rigorous exercise, particularly for older adults who could injure themselves. Today doctors encourage even their oldest patients to exercise, which is sound advice for many reasons: People who regularly exercise are at significantly lower risk for all manner of diseases - those of the heart in particular. They less often develop cancer, diabetes and many other illnesses. But the past few years of obesity research show that the role of exercise in weight loss has been wildly overstated...The basic problem is that while it's true that exercise burns calories and that you must burn calories to lose weight, exercise has another effect: it can stimulate hunger. That causes us to eat more, which in turn can negate the weight-loss benefits we just accrued. Exercise, in other words, isn't necessarily helping us lose weight. It may even be making it harder.

Jesus Christ Bananas. Sigh.

At least I ovulated.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

More Waiting but "Coming Soon", They promised!

As Liz Lemon says in 30 Rock, "I want to go to there". A documentary about how awesome and funny Arrested Development is? Yes, Please.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Ovulation Celebration

Hooray!
In celebration and in convergence of nerdery, here is a fractal image of an ovary.




Thursday, August 6, 2009

I need something to read

Before the semester starts and I have no time for true pleasure reading, I need one more book that will totally wow me. Any suggestions? I like long, complex, character driven stuff of the Contemporary American stripe. Right now I am reading some Kurt Vonnegut non fction and I just started Jane Smiley's Good Faith.
I bought a totally kick ass giraffe necklace from ETSY today, can't wait to get it.
I started a new ab work out yesterday, and I'm going to ramp it up again this afternoon. I'm taking the day off from swimming and I'm just going to do some strength training.
Made delicious pita sandwiches last night with balsamic marinated grilled chicken, arugala and a sun dried tomato vinnagrette. Delish! It didn't hurt that we had the best sesame pita bread from Neomonde as well as cous-cous salad. I've tried making my own but it doesn't even come close. I love this little piece by Kurt Vonnegut becuase I like to think we both were goofing around in Indiana at the same time.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bad Mood Rising

I talked to the Dr. today, as I have been on the medicine for 9 days with no apparent cycle. I was freaking out but apparently I have 15 more days to wait. If something doesn't happen by then I go back to the Dr. for more tests. Wheee. So cross your fingers for me and send me fertility charms!

It has been one of those days in which the time just disappears,magically. What did I do today? I worked, I went to the gym and cleaned the kitchen and then cooked dinner. Why is it 10:40 already? I am really cranky about dinner, because I tried a fairly ambitious risotto, and it rejected me like the fickle, traitorous "rice" it is. It was way too something, starchy, I guess: like 3 day old oatmeal. You know what? Risotto is a stone cold bitch, that's what. Hopefully the rest of the recipes for this week will turn out a little better.

Risotto, you will regret meeting me, yet!

Also, does your back hurt when you use a treadmill? I am in constant and severe back pain every time I use one. What gives? I'm going to stick to swimming, I think.

Ugh, a bad mood rising, on the left.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Week One Round Up

Pounds Lost: 5
Gym Visits: 3
Dinners at home: 6

Well it's officially been a week and I am already feeling way better. The diet is going well and it feels good to return to the gym though my hair probably hates me and is going to fall out from the chlorine and the constant washing.
I still haven't begun ovulating despite having been on the medication for a week now, and I have called the NP to see when I should expect to. I hope to hear from her by tomorrow.
I should say, there has been a tremendous outpouring of love and support from an abundance of you. I have heard from so many of my friends and family members, some whom I don't get to speak with often and it has done me well. I especially appreciate the numerous people who have written in with PCOS success stories, as it give me a little more hope with each one. Please continue to read and leave comments and email me as it's nice to know this blog isn't just "a bone thrown from the void that lies quiet in offering to thee" as Joanna Newsom says.
This weekend Bruegers Coffee (BC) and Future American Business LEader (FABLE) came and brought My Hot Pepper (MHP). We also had over Ruthless Rummy Ringleader (RRR) as The Wrestler and Queens Blvd. #1 (QB1) were in New York City over the weekend. It all went pretty well but was stressful due to 1) too many cooks in the kitchen 2) running behind schedule 3) I am a crazy person on these god dang hormones. Later I got sick because the food was too rich and I have to be really careful as I am on Alli. I am one of the few people who has zero side effects as long as I stick to my diet so it sucks when I make a mistake or underestimate the fat content of a meal.
I can really tell how much I am being affected by the medicine when I get stressed out as I start freaking out so easily and screaming about the smallest things. I managed to yell at Momala despite the fact that she's still recovering and we were discussing a hypothetical situation. I am an assahat. I have also cried about sixteen times this weekend, mostly over documentaries or movies. We watched Gran Torino last night and it far surpassed my expectations, and of course, made me cry a lot. Clint Eastwood portrays the first likable racist I've ever encountered and thus his performance at times left me conflicted. He just so damn entertaining. I also identified with certain parts of his character, like his disbelief in religion as evidenced by what he tells an overeager priest: "I think you're an over-educated 27-year-old virgin who likes to hold the hands of superstitious old ladies and promise them everlasting life. " Wow. It's probably a bad thing that I connect to such a horrible person, and despite his late in life transformation, he was a really lonely person who wasted a lot of time being angry and hateful. It was a pretty good reminder that life goes quickly and if you aren't careful you can alienate the people you love, or be left by them until you are all alone. And then you have to befriend the Hmong neighbor kids to save them from a fate of poverty and violence. That doesn't seem like something I would be into.
All that to say, I am sorry if I am a crankmonster, I don't mean it.

By the way, last night I fixed what might be my favorite diet recipe ever last night, potato corn chowder. When we had BC, Fable, MHP and RRR we grilled a bunch of corn that we did not even eat as there was a lot of other food. Instead, I used the corn for this recipe and made a couple of substitutions and additions (more potatoes, skim instead of 2%, ground sage). It was flipping delish and light enough that we could have big 2 cup portions. Definitely a new keeper.

Goals this week include getting a haircut, cleaning the pantry and swimming a mile at least three times. I also need to send out thank you cards for our wedding (almost a year ago!) as my time is definitely going to be limited after school starts.
In tribute to everyone getting along here is my favorite viral video ever, which a lot of people accused of being a hoax but here is a hilarious fake budget for the supposed cost of the hoax that the Matt dude presented in a speech at Macworld.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fantastic, indeed

This is a trailer for the new Wes Anderson movie, an adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox. I love it when there is convergence between two things I love.

Friday, July 31, 2009

one MILLION giraffes

This guy made a bet with his friends that he could collect 1 million hand-drawn giraffes by 2011.
For more info check out this link:
OneMillionGiraffes.com

Note! All giraffes must be hand-drawn, but they can be delivered in various ways (Twitter, mms, snailmail, facebook and so on).

Thursday, July 30, 2009

It's a Man's World


James Brown said it best. Ugh. Completely disgusted with the world today. It seems like everyone I care about is going through something awful.
First I want to let you know that I am going to be using code names for almost everyone on this blog excepting Jeff and maybe some of my family. I got this idea from the amazing Motorboat McKnickers whose blog is an inspiration and a joy to read.
So I'll begin with my Mom, whom I affectionately refer to as Mamala because I'm secretly an old Jewish lady, who underwent surgery today. It was elective surgery for a breast reduction, and she's fine and will be home tomorrow morning, but it got me to thinking about how breasts, when you don't want them, just seem to ruin everything. It makes me sad that my mom has hated her breasts all her life. They inhibited her as an athlete and garnered her unwanted attention. (When you have big breasts, people often make unflattering assumptions about your character. It's fucking annoying.) My mom has wanted a breast reduction for thirty years. I don't blame her for wanting the surgery, as I have struggled my whole life to find clothes that will fit me in the bust, especially dresses, that don't make me look any bigger than I already am. But I think she hates her breasts because of how other people, particularly men, made her feel about them. Even when it's your own body, you still feel like it belongs to other people. The fact that she looked at a part of herself, one of the fundamental parts of her anatomy that connected her to her womanhood and motherhood, and viscerally hated it makes me really sad. I am proud of her for getting the surgery despite what I have to assume was my father's reticence. Also, here's to looking at breast reduction surgery in thirty years.
I have this friend, I'll call her Ditto because we so often feel the same about so many things, who has been going through a lot for the last year. We've grown even closer in the last few months while she basically has had to start her life over. I grew worried when she told me about this guy she was seeing because he was demonstrating some sketchy behavior. I didn't want to see her get hurt, again, and I was afraid that she was putting her own happiness second to pursuing a relationship with this guy. For every sketchy thing that happened there was some explanation for why it wasn't his fault, it was out of his control blah blah blah. The thing about really good liars is that they create enough doubt to where you can't bust them outright but you know something isn't right. This makes you feel like shit too, as you start to doubt your own instincts, and they turn it around on you for not trusting them. Anyway, it turns out he was playing her, as she found out. Oh, and he was cheating with a friend of hers, who confessed last night What an asshat. I'm glad she's getting out of this compromised and clearly damaging relationship, what sucks is that this guy may have permanently affected her ability to trust men.
All this to say, I'm really glad I have a husband who accepts me for who I am and whom I can trust completely. I hope that if we have a daughter, we can instill in her a sense of worth and self esteem enough so she can grow up to love herself enough not to settle for someone who makes her question her own instincts, and who loves her body just the way it is.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Back to the Gym

It has been an embarrassingly long time since I have gone to the gym; somewhere around 6 months. Yikes. And considering I pay $50 every month to these people you'd think I'd be more motivated to go. And yet.
But today I went back, and I definitely FEEL it. It was weird, on our way there I got really anxious and moody and
was yelling at Bagel for really stupid stuff. I realized later that I was afraid I wouldn't be able to do it, mostly due to a shoulder injury I have sustained somehow in the last year. Not to mention that I have gained a lot of weight and I felt self conscious and enormous. Jeff eventually looked over at me and said, "Oh, I know why, it's your medication." That's probably a factor too, as I have been short tempered and downright mean for the last few days. It is after all, a version of the hormone found in birth control and that junk makes me go to Crazy Town. I was on BC for about 4 years and I will never forget what it felt lie to come off of it, it was this huge relief as I wasn't strung out and emotional and most of all angry all the time. God I hope this medication starts to kick my ovulation in to overdrive soon as I am going to hate being on this stuff for very long.
Anyway, We did about a half hour of strength training and my arms are definitely not nearly as strong as they were a year ago. My left knee was not feeling so hot either and I'm really going to have to baby it. My thigh and hip workout is still awesome, however, as I can still do both with multiple sets moving 200 pounds of weights. It's insane how strong my thighs are compared to the rest of my body.
After that I went and swam, but I had to wait for a lane as only one lane was marked off and there were already three people in the pool. As a Whaley I can not walk, run (ha), or swim in a straight line, so I thought I'd just wait until it cleared up a bit. I hung our in the jacuzzi until the pool cleared up and then got about ten laps done before we left. I would have liked to swim more laps but I will work up slowly, I suppose. I remember when I used to swim 100 laps or more 4 times a week. Sigh. As a bonus they had free sushi samples from the swanky place next door, Mura, and it was like the best thing I had ever eaten. It was like beach food, so good because you are so tired and hungry from swimming and being in the sun all day.
I'm so glad Bagel is cooking dinner tonight as my shoulders are killing me. Red snapper tacos and black bean and corn salad!