Friday, February 27, 2009
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
I love Michelle Obama. I make no bones about this. I think I fell in love with her when I read this article about her during the campaign. She was in Iowa and tasked with reading a story to some kids at a school. She tossed aside some patriotic pablum called "Our National Anthem" and instead read Skippyjon Jones. Now, Skippyjon Jones is hard enough to read... but reading it while you're campaigning? That book requires you to do a voice, and the voice is like a Speedy Gonzales style Mexican accent.
That choice struck me as so game and fun and brave.
But mostly I love her because she speaks to me as a working mother. A lot of feminist writers have deplored what they call the Momification of Michelle Obama. But that's the thing about her that appeals to me the most. Her Mommy-ness doesn't detract from her professional accomplishments. Instead, it's remarkable how she managed all this awesome professional achievement without relinquishing her Mommy identity. I think that's extraordinary. And the thing I admire about her the most.
Last night during the speech the president (still love saying that) got to talking about Ty'Sheoma Bethea, the eighth grade girl who wrote her congressmen about the crappy conditions at her school, and the camera focused on that little girl. And she knew it and was so nervous! Michelle Obama kept looking down at her, and touching her, and I swear, it was palpable that she knew that girl was scared and overwhelmed and she really wanted to give her a hug and tell her she was doing just great.
And then she did and the smile on that kid's face was a thing of beauty. It was a lovely moment.
I know a lot of my fellow feminists will take issue with this... and I get the arguments they're making. But, it's not just that I love being a Mommy. I love my Mommy Identity. And I love this six foot tall lady showing up on my TV every day and being this loud and proud example of how we can have that identity without sacrificing the other stuff. Well, some of the other stuff. I mean, I do have to sacrifice my sense of calm and order... but that's pretty overrated anyway. Also my hair almost never looks good.
After my post of couple of days ago, I got a couple of responses of the Meet the New Boss variety. Aside from that being a depressingly cynical outlook on politics, let's just take a look at the new president's first month (month!)
From Rachel Maddow:
- Announced strict new rules for lobbyists
- Paycaps for White House staff
- Hilllary Clinton confirmed Secretary of State
- Signed an Executive Order closing Gitmo and Secret CIA Prisons Overseas
- Named George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke Special Envoys to the Middle East
- Made first visit to the State Dept, symbolically reviving diplomacy
- Appeared on Arab TV network
- Signed Lily Ledbetter Act
- Eric "waterboarding IS torture" Holder confirmed
- Signed S-ChIP legislation
- Canceled 77 land leases around Arches National Park
- Signed the Stimulus Bill
- Announced home forclosure prevention plan
- Took first foreign trip
- Banned budget gimmicks, like emergency funding for Iraq
- Met with mayors
- Signed Executve ORder for Office of Gulf Coast Recovery
"Meet the new boss" is empirically, evidentiarily untrue. That much is obvious within a month.
I don't want to be obtuse, though. These cynics aren't saying that Obama=Bush. I think they're saying that politicians are inherently untrustworthy and smart people don't put any faith in them. Let me be clear here: Barack Obama is not Jesus. He will not make the world perfect. He will screw up and disappoint us. Shoot, he already has! But, by and large, he's showing signs of being the guy who can lead us out of this morass and back into our normal state of fuck-up-edness.
And politics, dammit, are too important for us to descend into unadulterated cynicism.
In the inimitable words of the late, lamented Molly Ivins:
Your entire life—the warp and woof of your life—is going to be bounded by political decisions made in city halls and state capitals and the White House, and the Capitol in Washington. How deep you will be buried when you die, the qualifications of the people who prescribe your eyeglasses, whether or not the dye you use on your hair will cause cancer. All of those, and many, many more things that touch your life everyday in a thousand ways. Whether or not your car is safe when you get into it, all of these things are affected by government. You are involved, whether you like the picture or not. And if you don't like it, you really have an obligation to change it.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Monday, February 23, 2009
Friday, February 20, 2009
Meh. As much as I enjoy a little Olbermann-esque outrage, I can't work up even the teensiest little care.
I confess the 2003 Cubs broke me and I lost my big passion for baseball. But, that said, it irks me when people get all judgey about steroids and baseball. How many homeruns would Babe Ruth have hit if he'd been juicing, they ask. How many homeruns would Babe Ruth have hit if he'd played against black people, I might ask. And, let's be honest, to what heights would those golden age baseball stats have soared if there'd been juice around to be had?
Steroids take exceptional athletes and make them more exceptional. But let's not forget that they begin exceptional. And teenage. And we throw piles of money at them. And then we get shocked SHOCKED when they turn out to be opportunistic adults.
It seems to me that if we're going to be sensible, reasonable adult fans it might behoove us to remember that baseball is a game and not some lofty, bullshitty George Willesque metaphor for the moral health of the country.
I am boundlessly dubious about all of that, but for the sake of argument, let's just take it at face value and move on from there.
Here's my problem: If you act like an asshole to the 15 year old boy with the cracking voice who shows up at your door with his adorable little boxed wrist corsage, you will not make your daughter feel loved and respected. Instead, you're just giving her an example of another guy who thinks it's his right and obligation to completely disregard her wishes and behave outside the bounds of common courtesy.
Stop being an asshole (and, for crying out loud, stop feeling you you're SUPPOSED to act like an asshole). Instead, let's try this crazy idea and teach our daughters not to tolerate assholes.
Quite a few of the guys your daughter, let's say, finds herself in situations with, are going to be guys she meets in dorm rooms or at parties or at the myriad places she'll be in that are entirely outside of our control as parents. A young girl who is ingrained with a sense of self-worth, with the idea that her wishes are taken seriously, and that she does not have to suffer assholes gladly, is a much more formidable opponent to a horny teenage boy than any scary, gun-cleaning dadddy.
And, seriously guys, let's drop the "gun cleaning" metaphor. It's just too fucking Freudian for words.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Is it just me, or is the overprotective Dad showing up an awful lot in cell phone ads?
This particularly irksome trope stems from the most pernicious bit of sexism of all: men cannot control themselves sexually, therefore, women are responsible for not only their own sexual behavior but also the sexual behavior of the men around them. And if we change those nouns to "girls" and "boys", then it becomes Daddy's job. And, in short: ew. Or, if I may rephrase: gross.
And, let's face it, frankly unfair. I know plenty of people raising boys. And I know that they teach those boys to treat all the people in their lives respectfully. Even if it's a cute girl. Even if it's a cute girl in a belly shirt. In other words, all men are not pigs. And if you are a pig, don't blame your penis or that Y chromosome. Just, you know, stop being a pig.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Ah, that old pernicious sexist stereotype. Girls are shallow and materialistic and if you want a pretty one, dangle something pretty and pretty expensive in front of her. Hell, one pretty thing for another, right? Seems fair. Sigh.
This is such a tired old chestnut and one that I really don't get. Then again, I may be particularly un-car-y. I think my car is cute, but mostly I like it because I can sit up high without being in a big old douchey SUV and I can park that fucker anywhere. The fact that it's scratched on one side and is missing a hubcap doesn't really phase me.
Anyhoo, I can extrapolate and will. In the interest of gender detente, allow me to demystify: getting a nice car will not make pretty girls like you, it will make pretty girls like your car.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Which got me to thinking (as it does) about that lady that's in a bikini on the side of the airplane. It's a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue thing. I find the whole Sports Illustrated swimsuit magazine thing kind of creepy in general, and this especially so.
Which got me to wondering: what's the difference between these two things. Why is it OK for Michalengelo to extol artistically the beauty of the male form while I think it's creepy for SI to extol commercially the beauty of the female form? And then it hit me that that question is so stupid and shallow and obvious that it sounds like something plumbed from the depths of Bill O'Reilly's murky, nasty, willfully ignorant little cellar of a brain.
Women's bodies are used as marketing ploys. PETA, for example, evidently thinks that the female body has less intrinsic value than a rodent's (and I fucking HATE fur coats and haven't eaten meat in 10 years). Women's bodies are devalued, commodotized, bought and sold. This is obvious. So, what was UP with that whole David/SI thought process I was working through?
And, man, this is sad:
I was afraid of sounding strident, angry, man-hatery. I have been successfully indoctrinated in the philosophy of the cool girl. I was trained by a young age to think that male approval means more than female approval. That it's only ugly girls who complain about men honking at pretty girls from their cars. That it's somehow empowering when gross, middle-aged men drool over you in magazines (or from an airplane seat). Here's an anecdote: I was a 23 or 24 year old bartender working the day shift when one of my 40-something customers looked up from his third lunchtime beer and commented on how great it looked when I turned around and the bottom of my shirt cupped (his word, complete with HAND GESTURES) my ass. And, I. Felt. COMPLIMENTED!
If I could, I would drill a hole in my head and tweeze that fucking memory out of my brain.
And, now I look at my little daughter and her perfect, perfect little body and I think I will, by hook or by crook, teach that child that her body is HER body. The only approval she needs for it is her own. And, for crying out loud, when gross men say gross things about that body, she should make sure that guy knows he's gross.
Now, I'm off to watch Dollhouse. Yeah... I get the irony.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
I know this is a stupid question, but I'm asking anyway. I was listening to an exchange between O'Reilly and feminist activist, Courtney Martin, and marveling at the paucity of his emotional scope and tone (rage or condescension... nothing else), and it hit me: his is the most vile, damaging voice in the American media landscape, and there are some pretty vile, damaging people out there.
He is an adolescent, vapid, self-aggrandizing moron. Why is he famous? Why is he popular? Who enjoys Bill O'Reilly? For a glimmer of his fandom, I invite you to review some of the emails Martin got after her appearance on his show.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Conor McPherson really seems to get how powerful and immobilizing the force of regret is. And yet (hi, Dave!), he also seems to believe that redemption is always at hand, no matter how great our sins or how wasted our lives. There's an exchange at the end between Sharkey and Richard that I swear to the gods actually made my heart sing. Seriously. Four days later, it still does.
And besides all that deep stuff, his plays are such a good ride. With a cast to do them justice (and this one does), the two hours fly by. You are in the palm of this play's hand. Also, one of the characters is Satan. And Satan gets drunk! This play has a drunk Satan. It's awesome.
Quick anecdote: this is an Irish play about drunk Irish men, so obviously around 2/3 of the lines in it including the word "focking." John Mahoney, for example: "I'm trying to focking use the focking toilet!" So, when the play ends, I looked at my friends and said "That was so focking good!" The lady in front of me glared at me and gave me a "tsk." Seriously. Hee.
Monday, February 9, 2009
I hear Republicans say why would you weatherize a building when you throw that money out of an airplane in a foreign country
I went down to the basement to clean up the wreckage of Laney's last playdate when I decided to confront this box full of papers that I'd been studiously ignoring for the past couple of weeks. I'd figured it was full of some boring financial papers, ancient bank statements or long defunct insurance policies. But it wasn't. It was mine. It was a box full of all my writings from the 90s: fiction, journalism, academic. There were bar reviews and columns I'd written for Barfly and the boring town hall meetings I'd covered for The Daily Southtown. There were deep, dense papers I'd written in grad school. And I just fell into that box.
And, oh, I miss that girl.
There's something about sitting here on this cusp of 40. It looms and threatens. This knowledge that I am in the middle of my life, and while much is ahead, there's a whole lot behind. There's a whole lot that is unrecoverable and distant. And it's sad. I'm mourning that carefree kid who had such fun chewing on literary theory and deconstructing bar traffic back in those carefree 90s. I mourn her. I mourn her even though I'd never trade being this woman who sits alone at my computer at night, listening to the rain on the roof, secure in the knowledge that my child is safe and happy, that my husband loves me and is my partner in this whole, scary, enormous project that is life. But I mourn her nonetheless.
I suppose 40 is like most things: the anticipation is a lot more intense than the actual. I reckon I'll be ruminating on this for a few months and then it will be over and I'll say "This wasn't so bad, this turning 40." And yet (Hi, Dave!), I think that to love being alive is inextricably intertwined with being really sad that it passes so quickly. And, you guys, I really love being alive.
Oh, shit, let's just leave it up to the professionals (read it aloud. I'm not telling you again: you read poetry aloud):
In the Middle
of a life that's as complicated as everyone else's,
struggling for balance, juggling time.
The mantle clock that was my grandfather's
has stopped at 9:20; we haven't had time
to get it repaired. The brass pendulum is still,
the chimes don't ring. One day you look out the window,
green summer, the next, and the leaves have already fallen,
and a grey sky lowers the horizon. Our children almost grown,
our parents gone, it happened so fast. Each day, we must learn
again how to love, between morning's quick coffee
and evening's slow return. Steam from a pot of soup rises,
mixing with the yeasty smell of baking bread. Our bodies
twine, and the big black dog pushes his great head between;
his tail is a metronome, 3/4 time. We'll never get there,
Time is always ahead of us, running down the beach, urging
us on faster, faster, but sometimes we take off our watches,
sometimes we lie in the hammock, caught between the mesh
of rope and the net of stars, suspended, tangled up
in love, running out of time.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Thursday, February 5, 2009
But, look, I'm going to try to do better. I'm going to try to have a little confidence in the man who's been president for, what is it? two weeks now? And, above all else,I will remember the advice of my husband and my old-now-new friend Mo: Don't Panic.
I am not panicking.
I'm cool like the other side of the pillow, man. I am cool like Fonzie. I am coooooool.
(I'm so not cool)
But most federal employees, that are not political appointees, vote Democrat. Since Washington, DC is the seat of government, whenever new federal bureaucrats are created many live in Maryland and Virginia. In 2008, Virginia went Democrat for the first time since 1964, and Mr. Obama won it by 130,000 votes. Creating 600,000 new jobs might help cement Virginia in the Democrat column, making it harder for Republicans to retake the White House.
I want you all to just take a minute right now and imagine what the news cycle would have looked like had Howard Dean (or ANY democrat) been that cravenly political. These are the people controlling the message right now.
Lookit: Obama's economic recovery plan is a good plan. It's not a perfect plan. But, it's a good plan. It needs to happen and it needs to happen now.
I am, therefore, demanding that you call your senators (or fax or email) and you tell them the Rush Limbaugh branch of the American right is not calling the shots anymore.
And, let's be very clear about who is controlling the message right now. Ken Blackwell is also the dumbass who said:
Not in the history of mankind has the government ever created a job.
And this is a guy who got PAID by the government.
Call, fax, email.
*EDITED TO NOTE: Ken Blackwell is not the head of the GOP. Michael Steele is. Basically, I got my black republicans confused. This makes me a dumbass. Fortunately, not as much of a dumbass as Ken Blackwell. Please continue reading my dumbassery. Although, really, the main point still stands.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
So, in January (as mentioned before), I was bouncing between a couple of book series. The first was the charmingly tony 44 Scotland Street Books, and then, for something completely different, some good old shoot 'em up scifi: Old Man's War.
I've made no secret of the fact that I am a big scifi fan. Among the many things I love about it is how familiar the outlines are; there are people who fight wars and fall in love and suffer through ethical dilemmas, etc. But right when you get comfortable, the details rock your world and make you question some of the fundamental assumptions about life. Like, the whole concept of time. If we're not here on this planet, then there's no hour or year. Isn't that crazy? I mean, I'm torn between thinking that that means time is a total fabrication or that that means time is the foundation of our whole reality.
Anyhoo, enough of that. Old Man's War is good. It's really good. All three books. Most of the reviews said the second book, The Lost Colony, lost steam. But I didn't find that. I was in those books for every page.
An another note, one of the wonderful things about the fundamental interconnectedness of the interwebz is that in shouting reviews of scifi books down the well, you can discover that the dude you're writing about keeps a really cool blog!
Mary Dixon (who, seriously, I love; she's wry and warm and a perfect counterpart to Lin Brehmer) pulls out this quote from the review:
...courtesy of two of today’s foremost young stage actors, Carla Gugino and Pablo Schreiber, whose performances here transcend by some measure even the excellent work they have done in New York
Hee. They can still act... and they're NOT IN NEW YORK!
Anyhoo, I'm really looking forward to this play.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
You know how people say they love cracking open a new book? I am not one of those people. I love to be IN a book. But I hate to start a book. It's so much work getting to know the characters, the setting, the time. It's much better to just be there with them.
Which is why I love a series. I love to open a book and be welcomed into a familiar world but a new story.
I spent January back and forth between a couple of them, alternating between John Scalzi's Old Man's War trilogy and Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street books
It was weird bouncing back and forth between these two really really different kinds of books and I can't quite reckon now why I did... but, no matter. In the end, I had an awfully enjoyable month of reading in January.
Let me start here with 44 Scotland Street.
Imagine Evelyn Waugh didn't hate people, and you get close to these books. You get the wit and the atmosphere and this world of people with more money and more education and better conversation than you. But there's no cynicism or schadenfraude. Instead, you'll just want to head off to Edinburgh, take a long walk and look around and then have dinner with almost all the characters (others you'll want to smack upside the head... only George Eliot can get away with no bad guys).
There's an anthropologist who always knows the right thing to say. And a character who spouts off the most wonderful extemporaneous poetry. And he has a dog... named Cyril! Who not only has his own internal narrative, but he drinks beer! And manages to do both those things without being cutesy. Read the books and you get the idea that Smith really likes people and he really likes being alive and he likes writing. And, probably, he'd even like you. Check this out:
People said he had a tendency to go on and on, and I suppose he did. But those long stories of his, sometimes without any apparent point to them, were stories that were filled, yes filled, with an enthusiasm for life. Ramsey found things fascinating, even when others found them dull. In his own peculiar way, he celebrated the life of ordinary people, ordinary places, ordinary things.
Sigh. I love that.
OK, I'm heading off to Amazon to buy the two I have left in the series. So far!
Monday, February 2, 2009
And I thought "Oh, fuck off, Paul McKenna." And then I wanted to go back to bed.