Gotcha

Sun, May. 8th, 2016 09:55 am
scarlettina: (Independence Day)
Last night on Facebook, I found myself entangled in a political “debate” with a Trump supporter. About halfway through the conversation, after I linked to articles that proved that Trump had called Mexicans rapists and saying that women should be punished for having abortions, my opponent said that I was engaging in “gotcha” tactics that had no meaning for him. When I finally quit the argument (because it’s pointless arguing with an unarmed opponent), I went to bed, and found myself staring at the ceiling considering this idea of the “gotcha.” I went through the conversation in my head again and have come to a couple of conclusions that I must bear in mind going forward—because the election season is going to be interminable and full of this sort of hyperbole and zero-content argument.

What does it mean to make a “gotcha” argument? Apparently, for a certain segment of the population, a “gotcha” argument means that one has presented proof of one’s position in debate. Proof that your point is actually valid and has weight. They don’t like it. It’s inconvenient. I realized that those who accuse one of making a “gotcha” argument or asking a “gotcha” question, don’t actually expect that the words of the people they support will be used against them or that the listener has taken their words seriously. “So Trump said Mexicans are rapists. You really believe him? He was just, you know, saying that. I know he didn’t mean it.” It’s the only thing that can explain, from my perspective, this idea of the “gotcha.” No one expects that the truth or the record will matter in the end. We couldn’t actually expect Sarah Palin to list the periodicals she reads; it was a “gotcha” question, intended to make her look bad. The fact that she never actually mentioned anything she reads regularly doesn’t matter. It was the journalist asking the question who was at fault, not the target of the question. No one cares if she’s actually literate.

My opponent kept saying that it didn’t matter that Trump had said any of the things being reported because people liked him. I replied that someone being likeable didn’t make them competent to run a country. His response was to talk about what a criminal Hillary Clinton is. This kind of diversion is another tactic I see Trump supporters use—distract, don’t debate. When I tried to pull the discussion back to Trump, I was called a sky-is-falling liberal and told that I’d be disappointed when Trump is elected and the sky doesn’t fall.

Obviously, Trump won’t be getting my vote. I’m going to start speaking out more about what a danger this man is to our country. It doesn’t matter that the Constitution draws boundaries around the things he can actually do should he be elected; people will expect him to do what he says he’ll do, and their bigotry and ignorance have already been validated by his own. That’s why we see things like the bathroom laws in North Carolina. Such forces must be pushed back against. If Trump is elected, I will pull on my boots and start protesting as soon as I can.

Because here’s the thing: I have to take a man at his word. If a man says he’s going to build a wall or expel millions of people based on their religion I have to fight back. I have to behave as if he means it; I have no evidence that he doesn’t. This is a man who says that he’ll do what he says he’ll do. I have to believe him. Words do matter. And to behave in any other way is not only irresponsible, it’s reckless. It’s poor citizenship. And that’s a responsibility I won’t abrogate.

The press of time

Wed, Feb. 3rd, 2016 08:58 am
scarlettina: (Truth shall make you fret)
I joined Facebook long after it became a Thing, and only after being shamed into it by a coworker. Within the space of 24 hours, I had over 300 friends. Said coworker was blown away and asked how it had happened, given my reluctance to join. "Life," I said. "A long career," I said. "Lots of friends," I said. With time and the peculiarities of the internets, that figure has settled at around 950. I'd say that I know in person--or at least am personally acquainted with--at least 90% of those people. The other 10% are friends of friends whom I've gotten to know online. Though that number is high, I'm actually pretty careful about who I accept as "friends" on Facebook, and I do occasionally cull the list when it becomes clear that someone either isn't really very friendly or asked me to be friends for some reason that turned out not to be genuine or appropriate or disappointing.

One of the weirdnesses of Facebook--some would say it's a blessing, but given my experience, it's just been weird--is reconnecting with people from as far back as elementary school. My earliest best friend--from the low single digits--turned up, and she's as sweet as I could have hoped for: smart and funny and someone I'm glad to call friend again. Someone who was nothing but mean to me in high school turned up asking to be friends--and I decided I was going to be so nice to him that he was going to regret his behavior . . . and he did! He very seriously apologized to me, and now I'm "hon" and we joke pretty regularly.

Among the people with whom I've reconnected are friends from high school that I knew marginally well, with whom I shared membership in drama club and that kind of thing. I got together with a small group of them when I visited Long Island in 2011, like a mini-high school reunion. Among them was SSK who, as it turned out, had become a family doctor and something of a local rock star as a result. She was lovely, bubbly, funny. And we kept in touch afterwards, mostly in the casual way one does on Facebook. At the time, I didn't know it, but she'd just been diagnosed with cancer. Pictures of her with a scarf around her head started showing up online. More recently, her local friends ran a campaign to get Paul McCartney to sing happy birthday to her. The campaign failed, but a number of us stepped up to do it instead (including me). News came about a week ago that she'd gone into hospice.

This morning word came that she died at 3 AM. :: sigh ::

I'm glad that we'd reconnected, even in the way one does on Facebook, caring just enough to check in online, but maybe not enough to make a phone call given the casual nature of the connection. It was OK; it was OK with both of us. I'm glad I made the birthday video for her; she knew I was thinking of her. This is what we can do, at minimum. I know I couldn't have done more at such a physical and emotional remove. I even know that it might not have been appropriate to do more, all things considered. But I think about it.

In a conversation on Monday evening, I mentioned to a friend that I was feeling the press of time. It's always at times like this that said pressure becomes more intense. We ask ourselves questions about what we're doing with our lives, are we making a difference, have we been good family members, good friends. The answer is that we do the best we can do. And if we don't feel like our best is good enough we strive to do better--or whatever it is we think is better.

One day at a time.
scarlettina: (Spanky Dignified)
Earlier this week, something happened that made me very angry. I wrote a long, heartfelt blog post about it, my browser crashed and the whole thing was lost. At the time, I was enraged that all that work was gone. A day later I thought, Well, you've had your catharsis. Move on. But this morning I realized that I was still angry. I'm not going to talk about the specific incident, but I want to talk about the larger principle behind it. This won't be as gracious or poetic as that first draft, but it still gets the idea across.

I have a philosophy: try to be kind to people, but be especially kind, especially careful and considerate, with those to whom you are close. That kindness manifests, among other ways, by being polite. Saying "please" and "thank you." If I want or need a favor, I try to ask for it carefully and with consideration for the other person's feelings, their time and effort: "If you wouldn't mind, would you please . . . " Being polite is a Thing for me, but it's especially a Thing with regard to the people I care about. It's a sign of respect.

The closer I am to someone, the more I owe them my care and consideration. When I say "close," I don't mean family, because family can be abusive or manipulative or mean. Sometimes we are close with blood relations--caring, supportive, enthusiastic about each other--and that's great. But we also have close friends who are like the family we want most. Anyone we're close to, by this definition, deserves to be treated thoughtfully.

I have heard some people say that the closer you are to another person, the less important it is to be polite; they know you care about them so politeness isn't an issue. To me, this is like saying the closer you are to someone, the less you have to respect them. But I can't believe for a minute that a friendship isn't damaged, that relations aren't strained, when one person treats another without consideration. Such behavior assumes that love is known. It assumes good will.

But you know what Felix Unger said about assuming.

This applies regardless of the relationship and regardless of the circumstances.

This isn't a matter of social graces. It's a matter of treating the people we care about with respect. It's about offering consideration to others, especially if we need or want something from them. It's a way of demonstrating appreciation, a way of saying, "Thank you for caring about me. I care about you, too." It's about being a mensch. I have found that respect begets respect. Consideration begets consideration. If you don't treat someone thoughtfully, you don't give them a reason to treat you that way either. You strain their goodwill. You diminish their love for you.

ETA: I'm not perfect. I can't say that I'm completely considerate and thoughtful every single time. No one is. But I try to be aware and I make a regular effort. If I fail, I try to be more considerate the next time. Perfection isn't the point--practice, intention, effort is.

This goes back to one of the first lessons we learn as children. Say "please" and "thank you." Ask nicely. Consider others. It's a little thing, but it makes a difference. And you'll be remembered more kindly, loved more fiercely, as a result.
scarlettina: (Writing)
Years ago, a friend of mine gave me a chapbook of short-short stories he published. One of them was, ostensibly, a Jewish story. But for some reason, the character kept referring to "shavath." I couldn't figure out what the character was talking about. I asked the friend and he said the character was talking about the Sabbath. I said to him, "Oh, you meant 'shabbat.'". No, he responded rather defensively, he meant "shavath!" That's what a rabbi told him--shavath! I'd never seen or heard or referred to the Sabbath in any way except as "shabbat" or "shabbos," and that's what I told the friend. "Well," he said, "you're wrong." Whoa! thought I, and dropped the subject. Clearly, having grown up Jewish, I couldn't possibly know what I was talking about. Not having been ordained, I couldn't possibly challenge a rabbi about something this basic. Or maybe he had misinterpreted a reference that the rabbi had provided to him.

Another friend just posted on Facebook, asking for a particular phrase in Italian Hebrew. I asked if she meant Ladino, since that's what many Western European Jews speak. No, she said; a little later, she edited the post and rephrased her question. She wanted a character to say a particular phrase in Italian Hebrew for authenticity. I did some quick Google searches, found some references for her and pinged a friend who is more observant and more fluent than I am in Hebrew. The Facebook friend seemed to be genuinely grateful.

What I didn't say to this friend is that I wondered that she hadn't done her own research first. The Googling I did was educational to me and I learned things I didn't know--like there is an Italian analog to Yiddish and Ladino called La'az. It was very cool to learn about. But I found some information within three clicks. On the other hand, she didn't ask for the language--she knew enough to make a distinction between Ladino and La'az, even if she didn't initially appear to know the name.

But here's the bigger issue that's been bugging me. This writer wanted a phrase in Italian Hebrew "for authenticity." And all I could think was that language is a product of culture. You've heard the old saw that Eskimos have more than 20 words for snow? I don't know if it's true or not, but conceptually the idea is sound. And the corresponding concept exists for every other language on the planet. Language and culture have a symbiotic relationship; each grows from the other organically. So if the writer was looking for a phrase "for authenticity," then I hoped that she was researching other things about this character's background as well--for authenticity of behavior, of environment, of personal history.

I didn't say the last bit because it occurred to me that when she thanked me for the references, she might have been grateful, sure, but she might also have been being patient. As I said, she knew enough to make a distinction. My own recent experience with research for fiction has shown me that what's new to me may be well-known information to others who have studied the subject before. I didn't want to get presumptuously pedantic. I didn't know where this writer had been with her subject, so I left the conversation there and went on my way. (It's taken a while, but I'm learning when to step away from Discussions on the Internet. And I don't have to correct everyone who's wrong on the Internet either; sometimes, it's even me. [shock!])

But I couldn't help feeling a little possessive and a little defensive, myself. This was my culture--or a similar one--she was writing about. (Was she? I didn't know context or anything else.) What about the rest of the details?

I will admit that this is one of the reasons I'm always a little nervous about writing characters from other cultures and backgrounds. What if I get the research wrong? What if I make a perfectly innocent misstep (like the friend who got defensive)? I've done it before, in other contexts. We don't know what we don't know. Asking questions, using Google, using the library all help. At the same time, a lot of policing goes on these days; I could get pilloried for an honest mistake, one that even may have come out of trying to do effective research. I didn't want to be a police officer on the subject for this writer, which is another reason I stepped away. I knew the limits of my knowledge and tried to provide a more knowledgeable resource.

It's hard, though. Complex. I want to help her make sure she gets it right. At the same time, all those other questions I had? A natural reaction, but not necessarily a helpful one. Knowing when to walk away, when to say so much and not more, is challenging. Getting the research right is hard, too.
scarlettina: (Pennysmasher)
Today on Facebook, a penny-smashing friend of mine told me that she remembers how upset I was today 12 years ago. She remembers my posting the smashed-penny email list about the events of the day. It reminded me of the editorial I wrote for TEC News, the elongated coin club newsletter I was editing at the time. I used it for the issue of the newsletter that I published immediately after the event. I've dug out that editorial to share here:

Editorial Impressions: On collecting, sentiment and history

In June 2000, I went home to New York City to visit family and friends, and to get together with TEC member Egon Pavlis and his wife Margo. Egon, Margo and I met in the grand concourse at the bottom of the World Trade center, then took the speedy elevators up to the observation deck to take in the view and press some pennies. It was a beautiful day: warm, sunny and clear. We each smashed as many coins as we could, took some pictures and then departed for dinner.

I have fond memories of that day. It was the last time I was in New York and, consequently, the last time I’ll ever go to the WTC Observation Deck. I recently found the pictures I took: a picture of myself with Egon, Margo and myself with an elongating machine; a picture that faced north, showing all of Manhattan. I’ve looked at the ECs from that trip a lot lately. I owe that visit purely to my enthusiasm for this hobby and to Egon and Margo’s willingness to change their plans so we’d all be in New York at the same time. Until September 11, I thought of that day as just a fun day meeting new friends. Now, that memory is a treasure, something I’ll tell about in years to come the way my mother told me stories about her teenage years during World War II. It feels like it was a different time.

Many of the longtime collectors in TEC see their collections as an investment, and rightly so. These coins, their art, their rarity, have a value that is clear and significant. But many collectors come to the club as souvenir hunters first, unaware of the secondary collectors’ market or of the colorful history of the hobby, preserved by the Smashed Penny Museum. Souvenirs, like those I gathered on my visit to New York, can have an emotional value that can’t ever be quantified financially. Sometimes in our zeal to add to our collection, we lose sight of the fact that most ECs are reminders of some kind: of a place we visited, or of a historical event we remember or wish to commemorate.

ECs are also travelers through time. Think of the penny smashed at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in your collection. Now think about how that valuable antique came to be: At some point, someone--maybe a little boy and his father--were at the Columbian Exposition, experiencing the wonders coming to be at the end of the 19th century. That EC was pressed, probably on an Indian Head cent, as a souvenir of a wonderful day. Now, more than 100 years--two World Wars, several major police actions, the falling of the Berlin Wall and the democratization of Russia--later, it’s a collector’s prize, but once it was a treasured memento.

Recently, on the elongated coin collector’s e-mail list, one subscriber scolded others for seeing ECs purely for their financial value rather than as sentimental keepsakes. We each have our own reasons for collecting elongated coins, and each of those reasons is a valid one. No one can predict which coins will be more valuable than others. I’m sure that at some point, coins from New York’s World Trade Center will become coveted collector’s items, and their value will be legitimate: the dies were lost in a historic catastrophe that touched the entire world. In the meanwhile, I’m going to keep my WTC ECs safe, mementos of a time and place that will always be important to me, and to the nation.
scarlettina: (Never Forget 9-11)
September 9 was my tenth anniversary on LiveJournal. I intend to write about these last ten years at some point very soon.

September 11 is the 12th anniversary of the attacks on New York City, the Pentagon and a third location of which we'll never be certain (the White House? the Capitol? Has it ever been determined for sure?). In the ten years I've been a LiveJournal subscriber, I've never written about that day. I just checked--went back through 10 years of entries and found that either I never posted on September 11 and never wrote about it in the days before or after that date. At most I've posted brief things like "To absent friends..." or "Never forget..." and left it at that.

My memories of that day and the days that followed are fuzzy and weird. I remember that morning, turning on The Today Show to watch over breakfast as I did every day back then. I remember watching, and Katie Couric talking about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. It was the first plane, and they were showing a shot of the smoking building over her shoulder. It was a live feed so, as she was reading the news about the first impact, the second plane came into the frame and hit the second building. She looked over her shoulder to see both towers damaged. I was standing at the time and I actually collapsed to the floor when I saw that.

Now here's the thing: That's my memory, very clear. But I just watched the broadcast again on YouTube (Part One | Part Two), and that's not how NBC showed it. They had Matt Lauer and Katie Couric sitting on a couch at the beginning of the story and they cut to a live feed of the towers--which they never cut away from--throughout the next half hour at least. So my memory of Couric reporting and looking behind her is something my brain created. I can't tell you why, but there it is. And weirdly, watching those videos again, I now remember seeing that as well as this clear memory of Couric reading and turning around to see the video.

I went into work that day in a haze. I remember people asking me if I was all right, because I was clearly not. I shouldn't have gone into work. I remember posting to a mailing list I was--and still am--on that is comprised mostly of NYC friends and telling them to check in, to let us out on the west coast know they were OK. I don't remember much of the day after that, except for sitting at home and watching the news like a zombie. The next things I remember about those days are bits and pieces:

  • The skies being crisp blue and eerily quiet for days after, with no air traffic

  • Being freaked out because I was supposed to go to the Frankfurt Book Fair and not wanting to fly

  • Wanting desperately to be in New York with my friends and family; wanting to be in my city; feeling isolated from other New Yorkers and feeling like I was alone on the other side of the country, mourning for my home town

  • Going to the impromptu 9/11 memorial put together at the International Fountain at Seattle Center. I remember models of the Pentagon and the towers made of match sticks that someone had left there in amongst the flowers, teddy bears and notes. The Seattle Fire Department erected folding screens upon which they put flowers and cards, fire department patches and wreaths. I remember bursting into tears there. A black woman and her daughter came over to me, put their arms around me and started to pray--people I'd never met before, and never saw again. It was a remarkable moment. I'm still grateful to them.

  • I was working for WizKids at the time. Two days after the event, I remember the company's VP in charge of marketing grousing that business was still shut down in New York City, and that he couldn't understand why people couldn't just pull themselves together and get back to work. I felt such hatred for him at that moment, and the dislike never went away. Until the day I left the company, I had nothing but disdain for him. I still feel it, even now.

  • I remember people in Seattle talking about how scary it must be to go to work in the Seattle's downtown skyscrapers and thinking that they just didn't understand. There's not a single building in Seattle that is nearly as important as the World Trade Center was as a symbol of America--not a one. The only thing that comes within shouting distance, maybe, is the Space Needle, and its status is so small compared to things like the State of Liberty or Independence Hall that it wouldn't be a first-tier target. Not that it would never be a target, but not like the Twin Towers were, or the Pentagon. Seattle's ports are more likely to be attacked than our skyscrapers or the Needle. It just isn't the same.

It was a bad time. The world has changed since then, more than we could ever have imagined. For all the things I disliked about President George W. Bush, I'll give him this much: he made a point to tell the American people not to make this about Muslims, not to take it out on our fellow citizens. That was one of the only things he did in those days that I look back on with any kind of admiration. As for the rest of how he handled things, well, I won't say more than that.

We do live in different times. Americans have changed; our profile in the world and our influence have changed. Our perspective has changed. I want to believe that we're kinder, more empathetic, more sensitive about war and about how our actions affect others. I know that some of us are less tolerant, more fearful, less generous. It's not a safe world. For Americans, it was safe before 9/11 -- or at least we believed it was. What I've seen as I've traveled is that on a one-to-one level people are still kind, generous, curious about each other, loving and open. But on an international level, at the federal level, it's different now. It will never be the same again.
scarlettina: (Creating yourself)
As I start this journal entry, it has no title because I'm not sure of all the ground I'm going to cover; I know it will be wide and deep. Perhaps the entry will have a title before I'm done.

About 6 weeks or so ago, a friendly acquaintance sent me a letter via Facebook, telling me that I'd helped make his life over the last few years well worth living, that he appreciated my friendship. I was delighted, if a little surprised, at this outpouring. I knew that he was getting ready to deploy overseas--he's in the military, with the Army Corps of Engineers--and would be gone for a year. We see each other annually at Norwescon, as we did this year, though we didn't get to spend much in the way of quality time; we didn't have a real visit for any number of reasons. We don't know each other very well, but well enough to have fostered a certain friendly affection--we each give good cocktail party talk, flirtationally (it's a word now) we each give as good as we get, and have learned a little about each other's lives over the last couple of years. He lives, I have learned, in a very different world than I do; I want to learn about that world because, in some senses, my friendship with him is a kind of experience of the Other that is rare. My primary reason to spend time and keep in touch with him, though, is that we like each other and have much in common. We've just experienced it in very different ways. I thanked him for the note, expressed my surprise, and he said that I shouldn't be surprised; he meant every word of it. A couple of days back, he texted me a picture of himself in camo, saying he was about to head out--he'd see me in a year. I told him to be safe and to come back in one piece and asked for an address where I could write. He promised one when he discovered where he would end up. I just received his Skype address. And suddenly his friendship is that much more precious to me.

I have friends who are veterans, but with one or two exceptions, their friendship came in the wake of their service, not during same. It has been said that convention friendships are years long and weekends deep; in this case, that is absolutely true. The convention space fosters strange, intense connections because of the kinship created by shared enthusiasms and shared energy. And so as this friend departs for parts distant and dangerous, I am worried, I am hopeful, and I am watching his Facebook page and email/texts to see whatever news may come.

As I temper my concern, I am put in mind of another friend who has decided that the best course for his life is to engage in life-threatening behavior as a recreational activity. There is nothing about what he is doing that is harmless. It is behavior in which he engages with complete awareness, provides momentary pleasure and comfort, and could kill him. I was ferociously angry when I learned about it, and terrified for him, and I find that I'm angry, still. I have compassion for him, I love him, and I understand why he does it, but none of that matters to my anger (or maybe the love does; maybe that's why I am so angry).

So here I have a friend who goes willingly into life-threatening danger for a cause larger than himself, and another who thrusts himself toward danger for the comfort and the thrill. I have friends who fight for their lives every single day as a result of illness over which they have no control. And I consider the idea of taking one's life into one's own hands.

It's a strangely vivid phrase, as if life were a tool--a knife, a plow, a wrench, a brush, or a pen. I think about the ways in which I have taken my life into my own hands: my travel, my weight loss, dating, editing and writing. Deliberate choices, all. They are such different ways of doing this thing that they could almost be said to be entirely different from the things I talked about above, and yet they are not. All of these choices are about behavior, about control--about, well, living. Sometimes, even when we think we've got control or we do things that guide this wild horse we ride every day, it's beyond us. That's what my dating life--what little there is--feels like sometimes. No effort at finding a permanent partner has ever panned out; it preys on me, lately, quite a bit. My travel has resulted in enormous rewards for me; I suspect it will continue to do so. True of my creative life, too, for the most part. My work life has always felt like a mixed bag, so much of it out of my hands. We control what we will, what we feel like we can.

I suspect--no, I know that there's a point beyond which we have control over nothing. That places greater weight on the choices we make that we can control. Which means we might want to be thoughtful about those choices. If we have one life to get it right, then we ought to make those choices mindfully. I don't suggest that there should be no spontaneity or serendipity; they are vital and necessary to a life well-lived. The unexpected opportunity, the magnificent discovery are what makes it all worth it. But we have to be present for those things, present physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually.

I'm not sure where all this thought is leading to. I know I want more direction than I have. I feel like, at my age, there ought to be more than there is. I look at these friends who have made choices to do these dangerous things, and part of me feels like, well, at least they made a choice, whether or not I agree with it. I look at friends who are monstrously ill and see them making choices about how they live, about how they'll die, choosing directions, taking their lives into their own hands.

Sometimes I am desperately afraid of that. Sometimes I desperately want to do it and don't know how. Sometimes I think what I don't need are hands to take control, but gills, fins and a tail to just keep swimming, as if movement itself were a kind of control--as long as I'm moving, I'm making decisions and taking control without overthinking the process. Maybe that's the key: to not overthink it. (Um, to the person writing this, I say, "Have you met me?")

If life is a tool that we take into our hands, the question becomes the greater one: what do we do with it? I want to create: love, art, family. I want to build. I want to make rhythm, rhyme, vision and thought. I want to foster experience--my own and others'. And I do want to move in some direction. I still haven't figured out which one yet.
scarlettina: (Truth shall make you fret)
I was going to make a "Five Things..." post this morning. But one of those five things was provoked by Trish Sullivan's post about sexism in SF and the Rod Rees debacle, which I still haven't been able to find anything about online; my Google-fu has failed me. But the Google brought up the Resnick/Malzberg genderfail, and it quickly overcame the other four things I was going to post about. So here's a post about the Resnick/Malzberg thing along with related ideas, and I'll post about the other stuff a little later.

I haven't weighed in on the whole Resnick/Malzberg SFWA genderfail mainly because so many others have been so much more eloquent about it than I think I can be (with thanks to [livejournal.com profile] jimhines for the awesome round-up). What I see as I read through the original Resnick/Malzberg dialogues and all the response they've provoked is a couple of men clearly out of touch with the social dialog on sexism and completely unaware that, generationally speaking, they're oblivious, outgunned, uninformed, and were completely unprepared for what hit them. No argument they've marshalled in their own defense addresses the complaints lodged against them because they don't understand the complaints or the history and perspective behind them. They don't get it.

And that obliviousness is something I've had to wrestle with myself a bit as I get older. Case in point: Several months ago, a writer of whom I'm enormously fond both personally and as an author posted a portrait of herself online. She's lost weight and has been working out like a queen bitch; she looks awesome. But I found myself channeling my mother when I said, "Great pic--look at those cheekbones--but smile!" and found myself scolded for telling a woman to smile. I was a little blindsided by the scolding. I had missed an entire social dialog that centered around the idea that it's not OK to tell a woman to smile because it communicates that we are worth nothing unless we are, first and foremost, decorative. The picture reflected the success of her efforts whether or not she smiled. I Got Skooled. And the people who schooled me were right to do so. And I understood why. The incident created an important awareness for me and provoked a lot of thought.

I understood why because the discussion has been taking place since my formative years and I've been a part of it. The fact that I've missed more recent discussion alarmed me enough to go and get myself more grounding. It's something of a generational discussion and the fact that I missed it freaked me out more than a little.

So there's a piece of me that understands the Resnick/Malzberg dismay and umbrage at the response to their dialogs. There's a cultural futureshock going on for these guys. Part of the trouble is that they've never been part of this particular social dialog--or at least they haven't been recently. Their injured dignity arises from this idea that they were (See how progressive we were? See how the ladies around us never objected to us?)--and even if they were, they're not now and haven't been for so long that their defenses, though apparently relevant to themselves, aren't relevant or effectively presented to those they're arguing with. Moreover, the arguments they've marshaled in their defense reflect a generational and social divide so profound that I'm not sure it will ever be effectively bridged; I'm not sure it can be. There's an element of "you young whippersnappers" about their response that undermines a lot of what they're trying to say (separate from the fact that what they're saying doesn't address the legitimate complaints lodged against them). They present a lot of their defense in the frame of, "Why, in my day..." as if their forward-thinking behavior 35 years ago makes them social paragons to be respected today.

Except it jest ain't so. Perspective that doesn't remain informed and evolve as the dialog develops is perspective that has ossified. And the fact that these gentlemen can't see that is another symptom of that ossification. Plus, the fact that they appear to have responded in a knee-jerk fashion rather than in a thoughtful way with a little reflection and research about why people objected to their perspective just made it worse.

Look: we all believe in ourselves and the righteousness of our positions. But without stretching those positions, testing them, we become stiff and movement becomes difficult. I think that one of the lessons to come out of the Resnick/Malzberg genderfail is that we must remain aware and elastic in our learning and our perspective. We must question our assumptions. We must learn from our mistakes, yea, even into our 70s and 80s. Otherwise we might end up telling the wrong person to smile. ;-)
scarlettina: (Furious)
8/25/13: ETA I wrote this after having decided not to write about it. I filtered it tightly. Then I privacy-locked it. At this moment (two months later), I'm unlocking and unfiltering it because I have things to say to which it pertains, and it's time.
------------------

I spoke with [livejournal.com profile] davidlevine about this last night because I was so upset, but I woke up this morning, still upset, and decided that if talking it out didn't help as much as I'd hoped, maybe writing would.

I have a friend whom I have learned regularly engages in risky behavior, as in life-threatening risky behavior. When said behavior was confessed to me, I flashed on all the friends I have lost in the last two years to illnesses or conditions that they didn't ask for and couldn't control; I thought of the friends who are fighting the battles of their lives ([livejournal.com profile] bedii, [livejournal.com profile] jaylake, and a couple of others not on LJ) and something in me just seized up. I found myself with tears in my eyes, angry and hurt, and I begged this friend to please stop this behavior, that it could hurt him in permanent and almost certainly fatal ways. I saw a future without him in it and it scared the hell out of me. He had a portfolio of rational--and, he admitted, not rational--reasons for doing what he's doing and continuing to do it; nothing I said penetrated. I have been angry and upset about this ever since.

The great Jewish sage Hillel said, "That which is hateful to you, do not do to others." (And by the way, he said it a good hundred years or more before that rabbi in Judea said something similar and, frankly, less rigorous--but that's a subject for another time.) I bring this up because of the understanding that I came to as a result of the above-described conversation and about some decisions I have made recently with regard to dating.

Let's start with the dating thing, and you'll see where I'm going. There's a man in the writing community in whom I am interested. He is funny and sweet; he is a writer; we clearly have much in common, and there is a certain attraction. He is also large. And I mean large. He also has two kids from a former marriage. As result of my difficult personal history, I've decided that I can't involve myself with someone who won't take care of himself. I'm not here to argue fat politics. My experience is that some of the people of size whom I have loved have died terribly and far younger than they ought to have, all for reasons related to being overweight, starting with my father, who died when I was 11. Given all the loss I've experienced over the last two years, I simply will not invest myself in an intimate relationship with someone of size again; I cannot do it. But more than that, I can't do it in this case because there are children involved. It's not that I don't like kids; I do, very much. But if a man can't bring himself to take care of himself for his children, to ensure his presence and long life for his children, then I can't rely on him to take care of himself to be present for me. I'm not looking for a model body; I'm merely hoping for someone with enough sense of self-worth and responsibility not to be 200 pounds overweight.

And let me be clear: I speak as an overweight woman. I know I can do better, which is one of the reasons I've made a point to work at it the last couple of years. I've faltered. I'll succeed again; I know it. I haven't stopped trying.

What the process of making this decision has done for me is make me understand that part of love is a responsibility to those whom one loves to maintain oneself, to preserve oneself. Perfection isn't necessary or even desirable; there are plenty of perfection Nazis who, frankly, aren't terribly lovable. My point is that if you love someone and they love you, your best gift to them is to keep yourself aware and healthy, to not do things that could jeopardize your presence in the world. It is an act of supreme selfishness to risk one's own life given the presence of loved ones.*

Now, I am a reasonable person. Some of us love a good adrenalin rush. I can't begrudge an adrenalin junkie his adrenalin. But I don't have to like the choice to throw oneself out of a plane, either, even if there's a parachute involved.

In the case of my friend, where this whole post started, there's no parachute, metaphorically speaking. He has deliberately chosen not to wear one. He has facts and figures and reasons for this choice, all very rational and reasonable. Some of them are emotional. Some of them he couldn't articulate. I told him that gravity has no respect for facts and figures and reasons; it will still kill him if he doesn't wear a parachute and choose his landing target well. But, by God, he's going to continue to jump out of planes without a gravity-mitigation device no matter what I or anyone else has to say. And it makes me so angry that, two days after I learned about it, I'm still angry--really angry--about it. Because it means that he doesn't care about the people he loves enough to stop it. And he doesn't love himself enough to stop it either. That which is hateful to him--hurting others--he is doing without restraint or consideration.

I understand that some of this behavior comes out of pain. He is not the sort to seek help; he has a million rational reasons for not seeking it. He wouldn't take it from me.

There's nothing I can do about it. It's clear, based on our conversation, that he has no intention of stopping what he's doing. I'm sure he doesn't see it this way, that his behavior means he just doesn't really give a damn about the people who love him. But it does, just as surely as if he were putting a gun to his head to play Russian roulette. Someday, there's going to be a bullet in that chamber. He'll pull the trigger, and it'll hit before he even sees it coming.

God damn it.



* An exception here, of course, are emergency workers, law enforcement and the military. In each of these cases, the work is a matter of social good and safety precautions in the face of deadly circumstance are requirements of the job, not just good ideas. One goes into such work with thought, care, training, support, and safety gear. It is, at its most elemental level, different than what I'm talking about.
scarlettina: (Blood love and rhetoric)
I was cleaning out my hard drive this morning and discovered something I wrote in 2001 after going to the range with a friend who had just completed police training. He wanted to practice, and I wanted the experience so off we went together. The references to The X Files clearly date the piece, but not by much. This is what I wrote:

So it's Friday night at the shooting range. The place is relatively empty--apparently Friday is a slow night--and suddenly I'm being handed protective glasses and sound-dampening head phones. If I weren't so nervous, I'd feel like Dana Scully preparing to sharpen her skills.

My friend has brought the better part of his personal arsenal: two rifles, three pistols, three different kinds of ammunition. We carry these things into the range in black totes that--if you didn't know better--look like camera bags or the sort of thing in which you might carry a stick bass guitar. He rents a basic revolver to teach me gun safety before we start to shoot: how to hold a gun, to be aware of where the gun is pointed at all times, checking the safety latch, how to show someone else a gun (always unload first), how to aim, how to load a revolver or a magazine full of bullets. ("It's not called a clip," he says. "Clips are for hair or for hanging up the laundry. It's called a magazine." I say, "Where I come from, you load a magazine with short stories, not bullets." He sticks his tongue out at me.)

So it's time to try and shoot. We start with a classic revolver with teeny bullets. He hangs up a target and sends the target holder back on its track about ten feet. I take the gun, holding it just the way he showed me, and fire it empty a couple of times to get the feel of it. (I flash back to that scene in Starman where Karen Allen is watching movies of Jeff Bridges showing off how to shoot a gun. He points it and says, "And squeeze..." Bang! "And squeeze..." Bang!)

Then we load it, and I point, and squeeze . . . BANG!

The first thing is, I'm surprised at how loud the sound of a gun being shot really is, even through protective headgear. Were I not wearing head phones, my ears would be ringing. The second thing is, if you haven't braced yourself properly, the kick can almost be painful. The third thing is, squeezing a trigger is work. It's not an easy clicky-click like with a toy gun; it's a spring-loaded feeling (even a revolver) that gets harder and harder the closer you are to actually firing the thing off.

I shoot six, empty the chambers, and reload. My friend praises me--"Good grouping, you're a natural" (all my bullets have punctured the paper target within an inch or so of each other)--and we go again. This time, when I put the gun down, there are only four new holes in the paper. Apparently I shot three times through the same hole. It's like shooting a camera, I think. Hold your breath to steady yourself before you fire. I use up half the ammo in the box--about 50 bullets--before we move on to a semi-automatic.

My nerves are calming. My friend says it's sort of a Zen thing; the less you think about it, the better you become. I'm thinking, "Use the Force, Luke," and my aim is improving.

We retrieve the target and hang a new one. I'm looking at the bullet holes getting progressively larger as we try to find a combination of gun and bullet size that is comfortable for me. The holes look huge. Suddenly I realize that the only appropriate way to describe shooting at a person would be to say that the bullets rip through a body. That's what they would do: tear flesh. You're shooting at paper, I think, not people.

Soon, he's showing off his new Beretta, all sleek lines and Italian economy. He braces himself and rapid-fires into the fresh target. Talk about grouping.

He rents me a Sig-Sauer--the kind Mulder uses on The X-Files--and I'm discovering that semi-automatic pistols are easier to shoot because they do the work of moving the bullets and reducing recoil. They also eject empty cartridges in every direction. One ejects and bounces off the wall. One ejects and bounces off my chest. Several land on the counter in front of us before bouncing to the floor. They feel more ergonomic, more natural than revolvers.

Two and a half hours later, we leave. My right hand is tired. We're both dehydrated and hungry. He hands me the targets from our session. "Souvenirs," he says, and I accept them like a kid getting an A on a penmanship test. I want to try this again, see how much better I can get.

After dinner, I go home and unroll the targets, looking at them one at a time. I notice the bullets leave dirty black marks around the punctures in the paper that are the shade of pencil lead. Look at that grouping.

And the holes look really big. Those bullets, they just rip right through.

Maybe I'll wait a while before I try this again.
scarlettina: (TV Watcher)
So I spent some time this afternoon and evening thinking about the essay about The Big Bang Theory (TBBT)--a show I've watched more-or-less since the beginning--that's making the rounds on social media. The essay posits that this show about four super-brainy geeks is actually a show that makes fun of nerds, not a show that loves them. The essay posits that it's the ultimate manifestation of mainstream disdain for nerdy enthusiasm and social awkwardness, and that it further ghettoizes geek culture. It posits that the show's point-of-view character is Penny, the "normal" girl, and that the audience is supposed to laugh with her at the nerds, rather than laughing with the nerds at themselves. I spent a lot of time researching and starting to write a long exegesis analyzing all of this and then, tonight, realizing that I just didn't feel like writing the encyclopedic refutation I originally had in mind (three paragraphs in, I realized that if I continued, the resulting analysis would be worthy of--dare I say it--Dr. Sheldon Cooper*), I decided to approach it a little more simply.

I disagree with the essay at a pretty fundamental level. I don't think that Penny is the viewpoint character; it is clearly and obviously Leonard, the best-socialized of the four main male characters. He is Penny and the audience's facilitator into the geekier universe of Raj, Howard, and Sheldon, but he's also Raj, Howard, and Sheldon's facilitator into Penny's more mundane world. He's a person of both worlds and is befuddled by navigating them both. That's where a lot of the comedy in this show comes from.** When the audience laughs at a geek reference, it's partly out of recognition of something beloved and familiar; it's partly because we each in our own way identify with having a deep enthusiasm (whether it's which issue of a comics some character last appeared in or which baseball game was the last in which some player played for some particular team); and it's partly because each character is doing something so signally in character that it provides entertainment, delight, or surprise.

I'm not saying that every joke on TBBT is good-natured. Some things are funny because they're mean; that's the nature of comedy, and there's not a single sitcom on television that isn't cruel towards its characters, whether the jokes are about weight, about how long someone has been single, about baldness, and so on. (My God, the jokes about obesity on Roseanne were legion, and yet the Connors' obesity was one of the things that made them most identifiable to the audience. I don't think many fat people objected to the jokes--or if they did, they didn't watch, and missed a key pop-cultural moment in television.) But most sitcoms, including TBBT, are also loving toward their characters. There is a balance. (Howard's character has been treated with real love in the development of his relationship with Bernadette; he's clearly grown and changed.) It should also be noted that the mean jokes aren't just as the expense of the geekitude. There are mean jokes about Leonard's height, Howard's mother, Penny's relative lack of education and her attempts at acting, at Bernadette's astonishing vocal resemblance to Howard's mother. The show is an equal-opportunity insult machine. But also? It does--like the best sitcoms--get at some fundamental truths about being human and being an American in this time and place. Comedy comes from--and leads to--that as well.

In the end, here's the thing: if we can't find a way to laugh at ourselves (in the guise of Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Howard), then we're kind of missing the point--which is that everyone is socially awkward in one way or another. Everyone is super-geeky about one thing or another. Everyone has had moments of social humiliation along with personal triumph, moments of desperation in dating, cluelessness in friendship, and painful yet transformative growth. I think the original essay writer betrays a sensitivity about his own geekitude in his refutation of TBBT, and that's OK. But I think that there are valuable lessons to be learned from the show by viewing it through a broader lens than he's viewing it through. And I think that geeks who turn off TBBT, while certainly within their rights to do so, are missing something key about the entire TBBT phenomenon: it wouldn't be happening if we geeks weren't a cultural force to be reckoned with in the first place--and that's something that, as geeks, we have always wanted and that we--no question--have achieved.


* For example, the author posits that TBBT is the first show to feature geeks front and center. I started to research the truth of this assumption, since I disagreed with his disqualification of other shows that I thought plainly punctured it. The Lone Gunmen came first. And Chuck premiered the same year TBBT did. 'Nuff said.
** I should note, upon reflection, that Penny is Bernadette and Amy's facilitator to the guys' world and, often, the guys' facilitator to the women.
scarlettina: (Frank N Furter)
It must be something in the air.

Today's XKCD comic makes a point about time and age and change. It rings a little false to my ears, but that's because the character who makes the crack about the MTV generation is exactly the sort who isn't self-aware enough to get why it would ring a little false to anyone paying attention. Then, last night, I received a phone call from MM, a friend with whom I share a love of, among other things, Rocky Horror Picture Show, who attended a showing of the movie on Halloween and rather significantly disliked the pre-show the kids did. (Some of his reasons for that reaction will be discussed here; others are the subject of another post, I think, which I probably won't get to until next week for several reasons). And then there was the advertisement for the stage production of Rocky Horror that I'll be seeing tonight. The tagline in the ad: This isn't your daddy's Rocky.

When I saw that ad, it occurred to me pretty quickly that I was the "daddy" the ad was talking about, old enough to be the parent of a kid going to the show.

It's not like I'm not aware of my age; trust me, I'm aware every day. But stuff like this, references to things that were elemental parts of my life--especially Rocky, which had such a strong influence on who I am and choices I've made over the years--always sits me back and makes me think.

One of the things that MM talked about, in discussing the reasons he wasn't happy with the Rocky screening he attended, was the difference in the audience shout-outs, and how no one responded to some of the shout-outs he did. It didn't surprise me; some of the shout-outs he related to me were rooted in their place and time--the mid-to-late 1970s and contemporary events. We talked about some of the shout-outs usually heard at the Rocky venue where I attended, and I realized that they, too, were artifacts of their time and place. (For example, when Eddie bursts out of the freezer and Columbia yells, "Eddie!" Frank says, "One from the vaults," the audience at the Mini Cinema in Uniondale would shout, "A greaser from the freezer--a bat outta hell!" Who would get these references today except for 40-somethings like myself with long memories and perhaps not enough to do with themselves?) The cultural literacy required for comprehension of these references is an ephemeral thing. MM's dissatisfaction with the crowd was as much a symptom of age as it was of disconnection with what was a primal coming-of-age experience.

(Side note: I wonder if anyone has done a sociological study of how Rocky Horror shout-outs have changed over time along with audience demographics as measured against economic and social change. There's a master thesis for you! I also wonder if anyone has done an oral history of shout-outs from different parts of the country and different eras. That would be fun reading.)

What I'm trying to get at is that disconnect from primal experience. MM's unhappiness with his experience has to do with watching another audience adopting and adapting a cultural touchstone of our lives. What was, for us, a transgressive experience that broke rules and social barriers that had been becoming more brittle in the wake of Stonewall (not yet 10 years in the past when Rocky broke out as a cultural phenomenon), the rebellion of the '60s, the women's movement of the 1970s and so forth, is something entirely different to a generation that grew up with gender identity awareness and women's equality. What's transgressive for them is entirely different than what was transgressive for us.

And what I find, this morning, having had that conversation with MM and having seen that XKCD comic, is that I'm a little nervous about attending tonight's performance. I'm looking forward to it, of course, but I'm also pretty sure that my companion and I may be some of the oldest people in the room, and that this will be a very different presentation of material we've both grown up with and have great love for. (Note: I've seen other live performances of the show; it's the interpretation that I'm talking about here.) I'm virtually certain that something (or many things) will strike us as different or wrong. Bearing this in mind, I hope, will keep me from an instinctive, "Hey you kids! Get offa my lawn!" reaction. At the same time, I'm looking forward to seeing that change, that reinterpretation of old material for a new generation. After all, everything old is new again--maybe me, too. :-)


--------------------------
Things I want to post about:
-- Rediscovering my smashed-penny habit
-- How we're taught to deal with product frustration
-- What Rocky Horror is and isn't and why
scarlettina: (English lurks in an alley)
Among the many random things I consider every now and then is how Americans talk. For example, when did business people adopt the Valley Girl habit of ending sentences as if they were questions? When did any trace of a rolled R leave our pronunciation? Stuff like that. (When did I start saying "stuff" as opposed to "things"?)

By complete accident, I ran across a piece in The Atlantic that asks a related question: When did Americans stop sounding this way? By "this way," the author refers to something called the Transatlantic Accent, a sort of manufactured way of speaking taught by elocution coaches that we've all heard in old movies.

Interestingly, long before I discovered this story, I found myself wondering about this question when I heard a story on KUOW a year ago about the Great Seattle Fire (Real Audio | MP3 | audio download | transcript). I suggest listening rather than merely reading the transcript, because my point will be lost otherwise. (Also, it's just a fun, interesting piece.) What struck me about the piece is the way that the people, survivors of the Great Fire, which took place in 1889, sounded. If the announcer is to be believed, the people being interviewed are event attendees pulled from the crowd. But they speak with a version of this Transatlantic Accent, and it appears that they're just average Seattlites, not actors or announcers. So when did we stop sounding this way, if we ever sounded this way at all?

I'm virtually certain that television and the movies have played an enormous role in the evolution of our national sound--that is, if we can be said to have one given all the regional flavor American speech offers. Still, the media has got to be the primary mover of the General American accent. And with the lamentable proliferation of disdain for education in this country today, anything that sounds like it may come from someone who's read a book probably generates enough mocking or repulsion to discourage at least some people from sounding anything like they care about how they express themselves which, I think, is a shame.

But I digress.

When I think about this, what I think about, in early radio, movies, and television, is the difference between how comedians sound and how dramatic actors sound. Comedians so often took the role of the common man in film and television. Characters from the monied class usually came with a Transatlantic Accent built in. So I find myself wondering, based on how people sound in the Seattle Fire clip, if we as a nation circled ourselves into a sort of self-reinforced aural classification by accent adoption, or if (and this is far more likely) the media merely reflected and emphasized a natural national phenomenon.

I suppose what I'm thinking about here is evolution in action, evidence of something changing over time. Just like finding a fossil and interpreting its patterns and ridges, listening to the KUOW piece and the film clip included in The Atlantic story presents an opportunity to examine something that has been lost or changed so significantly that, while it may not be unrecognizable, certainly is unfamiliar. We're offered a window into a very different time. I think that's pretty cool.
scarlettina: (Creating yourself)
Yesterday, after a delightful brunch with [livejournal.com profile] matt_ruff and [livejournal.com profile] lisagold (and the ever assertive Sophie Sestina) and an afternoon of work, I went downtown for movies with [livejournal.com profile] bedii and [livejournal.com profile] ladyjestocost.

My bus brought me downtown about a half hour earlier than I had to be at the movie theater, so in the wake of this weekend's experiments with clothing, I decided to stop into a store I've never been able to shop in to see just how far this smaller body thing would take me. I stopped in to All Saints Spitalfields, a British clothier that's taken up pretty prominent residence here with a window full of antique sewing machines. Their sizes stop at size 14 so I grabbed something I thought might be attractive and tried it on. And it fit, and it actually looked kind of adorable. (And was sized in the British manner, which meant I was wearing an American size 10, not an American size 14, which was actually little too much for me to handle. I still don't believe that's really what was happening.) Two things stopped me from buying it. The first was the price--on sale it was $85, simply too much for a blouse that would probably be in style for only six months or so.

The second was a question that I sometimes hear in my head, something my mom used to ask: Can I get away with this?

It's a damning question, and it has put the stops on me more than once. What does this question mean, exactly? A number of things:
--Is this too young a look for me?
--Am I kidding myself about how this looks on me?
--Am I really small enough to wear this or am I missing something important?
--Am I betraying someone by choosing this? (I'll get back to this question in a minute.)
--Am I allowed to wear this? (I'll get back to this one, too.)

Examining the questions )
scarlettina: (Jewish: Stained glass menorah)
I grew up on Long Island. My family was one of only three Jewish families in our neighborhood. The families around us were mostly Italian Catholic, Irish Catholic, or German Protestant. Many of their kids went to St. Barnabas parochial school. My brother and I went to the secular elementary school, a typical public school with kids from a wide variety of backgrounds, most of whom nevertheless were some flavor of Christian. My parents chose this neighborhood because, as my mother told me, they wanted us to grow up knowing that "there were other people besides Jews in the world." As if that could ever have been in doubt.

Every Christmas our street would be lined with Christmas-lit houses. In every front window a Christmas tree twinkled. And when it snowed, there would always be at least one Santa snowman. Each winter before my father died, we'd take a walk or a drive, usually the weekend before Christmas, to look at all the displays, because they were pretty and different from what we did at holiday time.

There were Jewish neighborhoods in the town where we lived. At least one of them was the tonier neighborhood to the south, where the houses were bigger, the gardens were meticulously trimmed, and the kids went to different schools than we did. Though my family attended a Conservative synagogue, many of the families who were members were more observant than we were though we went to shul most Saturdays.

I had one friend who lived in that tonier neighborhood to the south whose family kept kosher--in the kitchen and dining room. They didn't keep kosher in the family room, where we often had pepperoni pizza or Chinese food (pass the pork-fried rice!) on paper plates with plastic utensils. And her family had a Chanukah bush. It was a large sort of palm bush that they would hang homemade Chanukah ornaments on: dreidels, boxes wrapped like gifts, paper cut-out menorahs, blue glass balls, white glass balls, and Jewish stars. One year I asked about our having a Chanukah bush. My mother was adamant: Chanukah bushes are Christmas trees in disguise, she told me, and have no place in a Jewish home. My father would never have allowed it and neither would she. And that was the end of the conversation.

Cut to: 2010. Last weekend, I attended the annual Christmas gathering that [livejournal.com profile] ladyjestocost and [livejournal.com profile] bedii throw to help set up and decorate their Christmas tree. I always enjoy this get-together and have fun hanging ornaments. Last night, I attended [livejournal.com profile] varina8's lovely annual pre-Christmas event and discussed with other guests her tree, its ornaments, and how each tree is different from home to home.

I was recently in the local Fred Meyer store, the place festooned displays of Christmas merchandise. On sale were artificial trees about 1.5 feet tall; piled nearby were small glass balls in blue and white and silver. And I had a moment. I'm an adult. I can do what I please. Having a Chanukah bush would make my mostly secular Jewish lifestyle no less Jewish than it already is. And then, in the back of my mind, I hear the admonishment: Chanukah bushes are Christmas trees in disguise and have no place in a Jewish home.

Being Jewish in Seattle has always been something of a struggle for me. It's easy for me to keep whatever measure of tradition I want to keep in my own home, but being out in the world here is difficult. Seattle is the only town I've even been in where I've been accosted on the street for being Jewish (in liberal-as-hell Capitol Hill, no less). I've been given a hard time by employers about taking time off for the high holidays. The Seattle Jewish community is pretty insular, so I've often found myself in the position of being a sort of ambassador, and taken whatever teachable moments I could as opportunities to share and educate. And for many local Jews, I seem to be a little too ethnic, a little too East Coast somehow for their comfort. I've found my own small circle of local Jewish friends, but it's been challenging and not always comfortable.

So there I was in Fred Meyer looking at this little tree with the echoes of my mother's words in my head. And I went back and forth about buying a little artificial tree and setting it up. I couldn't do it. I wanted to, but I couldn't do it. I went through this last year, and the year before. I'll probably go through it again next year. And maybe, someday, I'll set up a little Chanukah bush. But for now, I'll skip it. I'll enjoy my friends' Christmas trees and walk through neighborhoods looking at the displays of lights. But then I'll go back to my little mostly secular Jewish home, enjoy my pretty little Chanukiah, and find comfort in it. It's what my parents would have done.


=================================================

List of things I want to write about, updated:
--The movie "Black Swan" Done
--Ripping my CD collection to my computer and the resulting discoveries
--Christmas trees, Chanukah bushes, and me
--Perspective and politics
--Sophie and Spanky--mainly some pictures because I haven't done that in a while Done
--The creation of art (words, pictures, or jewelry) (or lack thereof) in my life right now
--What comes next
scarlettina: (Truth shall make you fret)
People who don't live in Seattle may only just now be hearing about the demise of one of the city's two local daily newspapers, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It's the lede in the New York Times' coverage of the decline of newspapers in general. I've been following the news partly because my brother is in the business (he does event marketing for Newsday). He tells me that he still has a job--for now. But I digress. The direction in which news is going in Seattle is a little alarming. Just ask [livejournal.com profile] varina8, the professional journalist, and she'll give you an earful.

I remember reading Newsday every single day, growing up on Long Island. As a kid, I didn't read much hard news, but all of the stuff in Part II--a combination of Living, Style, and Entertainment--was must-read stuff for me. (I didn't go a day, growing up, without Peanuts, B.C., Ziggy, and Ann Landers.) I came to hard news later, living in NYC and reading The New York Times every day with some Newsday on the side.

When I moved to Seattle, I was astonished to find that the local papers didn't really cover national news much. It seemed a little Mickey Mouse to me. And the locals I met early on disparaged both the Seattle Times (a shill for conservatives) and the P-I (referred to by some as the Seattle Public Insult). All of this lead me to continue using the NYT as my primary news source, with smatterings of news from The Stranger (one of our two local weeklies--the reporting is occasionally excellent but, with a few notable exceptions, often unreliable due to bias). It's only been the last five years that I've really started paying attention to the Times and the P-I. True, the Times is more conservative than the P-I, but each offers value and together they make a pretty good source for local news.

And now we're losing the P-I. The idea that the city will have only one local news source in print--and that, we're told, will rely mostly on AP reports and news from other aggregators as well--is just bizarre to me. It's alien in the way that being in a foreign country and stumbling onto some completely new and ferociously unappealing custom is alien. It flies in the face of everything I've ever learned or thought about monopoly and competition in the marketplace, the value of multiple viewpoints, the value of local news and more. And if the Times does rely on aggregators, then our only mainstream source of local news will be broadcast, The Stranger, and the Seattle Weekly, which I stopped reading quite some time ago--which should make things, um, interesting. I think it's a bad idea.

Now, I totally admit that I haven't done much of anything to support my local papers. I only read the paper versions occasionally. I've become much more dependent on the Web for getting my news. My bad. But there's the part of me that grew up on newspapers, commuted to work with newspapers and then had to wash my hands when I got to the office because they were so dusted and darkened with ink, that just rebels against the idea of losing newspapers altogether. For me, a lot of this--I admit--is as much about losing the experience of reading a newspaper as it is about the value of multiple news sources, the importance of local reporting and so on. It was a piece of growing up that I'm sorry to see diminish and that I fear disappearing. But times, they are a-changin', it's been coming for a while, and I've adapted to new media with nary a thought to what it's replacing.

Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?
scarlettina: (To Boldly Go)
Coupla days back, my friend Brian helped me bring some boxes up from my storage unit, the idea being that I'd figure out what was in them, then do one of three things: rearchive the contents, dispose of the contents, bring the contents back into the rotation of daily living.

As previously mentioned, one of the boxes contained my junior high school and high school yearbooks. This same box, it turns out, contained a number of offset-print, perfect- or comb-bound Star Trek and Starsky & Hutch fanzines printed in the mid-to-late 1980s.

When I moved from New York to Seattle, I made choices about what was going into storage, including the 'zines. I kept out the 'zines in which I had stories or art. I packed away 'zines I wanted to keep for one reason or another that didn't have my work in them. So for the first time in about 15 years, my issues of 'zines like "Vault of Tomorrow," "Guardian," "Nome" and "Mind Meld" are seeing the light of day. I also have copies of then-classic novel-length stories including "Legend's End," "Courts of Honor," "The Thousandth Man," and more. There are also the notorious, then-controversial "Sun & Shadow" and "Broken Images," the contents of which probably look tame now in comparison to some of the explicit fanfic being published on the web. These are thick books printed on 8.5 x 11 paper, all richly (if more often than not, inexpertly) illustrated.

I never thought these things would become the fossils they clearly are. I was most definitely a post-K/S-emergence fan (I was 16 by the time the first fall-off in slash fan-ac began), but the tradition, obviously, has continued to this day, although in a considerably broader and more mainstream way.

These relics have personal relevance for me in the friendships they recall and represent, and a particular period in my life. It was a time when a female support structure was a safe haven for me, when I was learning basic social skills I'd missed growing up. I am profoundly grateful to that community of women. I also remember the day I was done with it. It was a clear and fairly clean break. It was, for me, a kind of graduation day.

Perhaps storing the 'zines and the yearbooks in the same box represents an equivalency, different kinds of mementos accrued and then bundled together for what they all represent: learning, growth and moving on.
scarlettina: (Reality Check)
I am not comfortable being the new kid or a beginner. I'm just not. In such situations, my perfectionist tendencies and my own insecurities turn me into a tense, detail-oriented little stress bunny. All this considered, it's good that I learn new things quickly and develop my skills pretty fast. In new situations, I find my niche soon enough. But for that brief period at the start, I am always a little freaked out, at least on the inside.

Tonight in my Photoshop class, I felt like the beginner I am. With help, I used the new tools we learned about, and I practiced in the time we had to try to cement the knowledge. But at the end of the class, when I sat back from the computer, I realized that I'd been hunched over, my neck and shoulders bunched tight. I'd barely breathed as I peered at the screen, pushing pixels and transforming shapes. When I rolled my head to loosen up my neck, the snap-crackle-pop was audible. It took me most of the drive home to destress--and I'm not done yet. I can still feel the stress seeping away. There will be wine before bed.

My instructor said something interesting at the end of class when I said that I hadn't realized how anxious the process was making me. She said, "Don't be anxious. Be curious."

And I had to ask myself why I was anxious. After all, taking the class was my choice, and I look forward to it each week. I've been sitting next to a woman who had a foundation in Photoshop before she came to class. Tonight she picked up the tools far more quickly than I did. Upon consideration, I realized that I had been worried that I missed some crucial part of the lesson because I wasn't picking it up as quickly. But it wasn't me; she was just more familiar with the tool.

My instructor is right: I need to approach this process with curiosity and joy. Usually, for me, it's fear and arrogance, kinda like playing baseball: Never let'em see you sweat and always look like you know more than anyone else in the room. When you wonder what I learned in the corporate halls of Manhattan, that was Lesson Number One. Or maybe I learned that from watching Bull Durham. Anyway, the point is, I need to unlearn that lesson. (Okay, that's Yoda, I'm certain.) And relax. And enjoy the process. It always works better that way.

Generation Jones

Wed, Nov. 12th, 2008 01:45 pm
scarlettina: (Circle of Life)
I've heard a lot of talk this week about how Barack Obama will be the first post-Baby-Boomer president and that post-Boomers made his election happen. I think this is really interesting, as I've given a whole lot of thought over the years about where I fit into the generational brackets the media and sociologists so love to define. I don't know why I've given it so much thought, but I have -- and I think it's mainly because I never felt like a Boomer and sort of resented being put into that box.

According to the Source of All Knowledge (a.k.a. Wikipedia), a Baby Boomer is "a person who was born during the Post-World War II baby boom between 1946 and 1964." At 47, Barack Obama fits solidly into this category, as do I, if at its tail end. I have always felt some identification with Boomers. My parents raised my brother and I on their World War II experiences, and I have vague memories of the '60s: my cousin Paul being off in Vietnam; dresses with bright, psychedelic patterns; the Beatles; men wearing their hair long (and how revolutionary it was at the time); bell bottoms; and so on.

But I never felt like I owned that heritage. I always felt, for better or worse, like I was much more a child of the late '70s and early '80s. That's when I came of age: Starsky and Hutch, disco and prog rock, pocket calculators and the Walkman, Jaws and Rocky Horror. And there were the Reagan years, unlike anything at all that the older portion of Baby Boomers experienced.

Back I went to the Source of All Knowledge to discover that a new category for us late-born Boomers has been created. They're calling us Generation Jones, born 1954-1965:

...first labeled by U.S. social commentator Jonathan Pontell, [Generation Jones] is the younger portion of the Baby Boomers. Their early life experiences hold more in common with Generation X than with the Boomers. The name connotes a large, anonymous generation, and derives from the slang term “jonesing”, referring to Pontell's claim that this generation feels "unrequited cravings and unfulfilled expectations."

Here's Pontell's own site on the subject of GenJones. Regrettably, it's not very deep and seems to be more about press coverage than anything else.

When I started doing some Googling on the term, I discovered that amongst those who pay attention to demographic slicing and dicing, there's been much discussion of GenJones as a political force, and that there's even a Web site devoted to following such discussion. I found another, deeper definition of GenJones here amidst a discussion of Obama as the first president of this generation, and why and how he won.

In short, I seem to have discovered the generation to which I -- and our President-elect -- belong demographically, and it makes a whole lot more sense to me. As the bar graph on Pontell's site indicates, I was never alone in feeling that I wasn't a Boomer. I always identified more -- but not completely -- with the Gen Xers. But I really fit somewhere in between.

And I think it's a big reason why I identify so strongly with Obama politically and socially. Though it's a certainty that most of his formative experiences were vastly different than mine, we grew up in the same era, subject to many of the same current events and resulting social forces and trends. Being lumped into the same demographic category as George W. Bush never made sense to me; beyond our extreme political differences, he and so many others in his age group always felt like part of a slightly different culture.

Does any of this really matter in day to day life? Mostly it matters to sociologists, demographers, marketers and politicians. What I find myself wondering is, now that Pontell's made a point of defining us and there's been so much media coverage about it (most of which I missed completely until I did my Web search), will marketers and politicians re-target some of their work toward GenJonesers? I doubt it, based on what I know about marketing. Will we see any sort of shifts or changes given that a GenJoneser is in the White House? I think it's a certainty.
scarlettina: (Writing)
I was going through my hard drive today trying to find a particular essay that I'd mentioned to a friend this weekend. It was something I'd written in response to a conversation I had with [livejournal.com profile] dochyel more than 10 years ago about Adam and Eve and God's reaction to their eating the apple. I couldn't find it; my suspicion is that it's lost to old technology and the dim mists of time. I may try to reconstruct it at some point.

In the meanwhile, however, I found a light thing I wrote when I got rid of my old TV set and purchased the one I have now. It entertained me then and was something of a comfort (because I'm an odd duck) so, since I can't find the thing I was looking for, I'll post this instead. Hail RCA, hail mono sound, hail rabbit ears... )

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