scarlettina: (Reality Check)
A couple of remarks on Facebook this morning got me thinking about contrasts and distinctions.

1) An acquaintance of mine posted a single phrase: I need a girlfriend. The conversation that ensued was . . . enlightening. A couple of his female friends advised that he work on himself and that love would come. (This has been my occasional thought about this acquaintance, as it has often been about myself.) Some of his friends asked him what he could possibly need a woman for; girlfriends, they said, were all whiny, needy and expensive. And this acquaintance of mine said, "You mean it doesn't get better? At least the last one had the body of a goddess." At which point, I thought, "Ah, you're not looking for a girlfriend; you're looking to get laid." There's a difference. It also made me remember one of the many reasons I've never dated this acquaintance of mine. He reveals himself too often to be exactly the kind of man who doesn't see women as real people. We are useful for particular things, but mostly we're adjuncts to men, from his perspective.

2) I saw a production of "Cabaret" last night, and remarked upon the fact that a couple of people laughed at the end of the song "If You Could See Her," with its horrifying, deliberately anti-Semitic punchline. I said that I wasn't sure whether or not they laughed because they were shocked or because they actually thought it was funny, that in the current political climate it's hard to tell. A friend responded that it's an old show, and that when he saw it in the 1980s, people laughed then, too. I responded, "I don't think the age of the show has anything to do with it. It's a shocking moment, signaling a major cultural shift in the play." He said, "The age of the show was in reference to your thought on current politics." But the more I think about this exchange, the more I think he really didn't get my point. Did he think I thought the show is contemporary? Is he not aware of my more than passing interest in theater and awareness of at least some of its history? Possible, certainly, but I'd be surprised if that were the case, given how long we've known each other. Art--good art--remains relevant despite the passage of time. It will provoke different conversations in every era. Either he missed my point, or he really thought I had no idea what I was talking about. The longer I know this man, the more we butt heads about particular issues, the more I think he hasn't been paying attention, which is . . . disappointing. Or maybe it's just that we've lived such completely different lives that we don't know how to communicate with each other--a thought that has never occurred to me until just now.

Touch

Sun, Sep. 25th, 2016 10:55 am
scarlettina: (Hug 2)
Recently, in a locked post (that will remain locked), I observed that we live in a touch-stingy society, and how when I've been alone for long periods of time, I get touch hungry. I wasn't talking about missing sex (though I'd be lying if I said I didn't). I was talking about missing physical contact with other human beings. I am naturally demonstrative, relish a good hug, and will occasionally casually touch friends in conversation. I sit with my cats next to me or on my lap as often as I can--or at least as often as they'll allow it. It is both a source of comfort and joy to me. We are made for contact, as those horrible monkey love experiments conducted in the 1950s demonstrated so effectively, and as therapists, doctors and clinicians know to this day. Touch produces oxytocin, which can lift moods, inspire affection and feelings of safety, and reduce a sense of isolation.

But our society has sexualized touch almost to the exclusion of everything but mother love. In 2013, the Good Men Project published what I thought was an excellent piece about how touch deprivation has affected American men and American society in general. Historically, men have always had intimate, intense relationships with each other, many of which weren't homosexual. (As a side note, if you haven't seen this article and its gallery of men friends from the early 20th century, you should check it out. It is completely delightful.)

Thankfully, women have mostly been spared the strictures against touch that society has imposed on men, but it's because of how we are perceived as a sex by men as well as the fact that the allowance of mother love seems to easily translate into the acceptance of other forms of touch in our lives. We also, historically and to this very day, have relied very strongly on the community and fellowship of women; our touch has never really been stigmatized. It's certainly been a mainstay of my life. Women kind of get a pass on the touch thing.

Which is a goodness as far as I'm concerned. Being naturally demonstrative, I reach out. Sometimes I don't even think about it with friends I've known a long time. I find that I receive casual touch in return. I try to be sensitive about the fact that not everyone is as comfortable with touch as I am, nor do some people want it. And that's OK. Being aware not to touch can be as much of a gift as touch can be, depending upon the recipient. I suspect (though have no proof) that respect can inspire the release of oxytocin in the right situations.

I noticed this all particularly when I was in the hospital. Almost no one touched me at all, except clinically and not very often. It was almost like clinical touch was worse than no touch at all. By the end of my stay, I wanted to hug everyone, partly for the support I had received and partly because I was so touch hungry that it almost hurt.

I dislike how American society has turned touch into such a categorized thing. I think we all suffer for it.

As for me, I rely on hugs between me and my friends and cuddles with my cats. I am glad for it all. I'm glad for more when the relationship is deeper. Touch makes me feel better and tends to affect not only my mood but my self image and how I interact with others. I wish touch was less stigmatized in our society. I would certainly be better for it. I think we all would.
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: (Reality Check)
Night before last, I had an interesting dream. (Well, interesting to me anyway.) I was in Seattle Center at the Armory (formerly the Center House) having lunch with my brother. He got up to get some ketchup and my far-away friend BK came by to say hello. We hugged, chatted and he left. My brother came back and I told him he'd missed BK. "Well, crap," he said. "It would have been cool to meet him." I got up to go look for BK, to see if I could catch him before he left the area. When I went outside to find him, I discovered that people were leaving the area and then I came face to face with the reason why: a big Serengeti lion was stalking towards me. That's when I woke up.

I'm a pretty cognitive dreamer. I know what this dream was about.

BK is a rather formidable guy with a LOT of brains, a strong military background and a ferociously independent political streak. More than any other veteran I know, he--and his wife--are outspoken, plain-spoken, and have no time for bullshit, so when debates flare up on Facebook, they waste no time in telling you exactly what they think in unvarnished and often pretty brutal terms. You return the volley or admit you're outgunned and step away. On the one hand, I admire this forthrightness. On the other hand, it's hard to be on the business end of such fire, especially given the premium I put on being careful, polite, and thoughtful with those about whom I care.

I was on the business end of such fire recently, and it upset me. I stepped away from the exchange pretty quickly, understanding that a) political debates on Facebook get very heated very fast, B) I don't always have the presence of mind to manage my own response in such situations in a measured, objective way, and C) my investment in the substance of the debate was pretty low but my response to the language used in my direction was pretty high. It wasn't personal; it was debate, which is why I've weighed my response so carefully.

In the wake of that exchange, though, I've made a point to keep political debate off of my Facebook wall, and I've kept some distance between myself and BK online. BK has shown up in conversations on my wall since then, responding in friendly, pretty benign ways. The dream I noted above came in the wake of his posting a humorous video to my wall that entertained me and that was meant as a gesture of friendship and goodwill. The dream was a reminder that, like a lion, which is strong and beautiful and appealing, my friend is also a formidable, dangerous man and to act accordingly.

BK and I live very different lives. It's one of the reasons that I've maintained the connection--not the only one, by any means, but it's an important aspect of the friendship to me. I live in such a comfortable bubble, surrounded by people who live in ways very similar to mine. He has gone places and done things that I don't know if I'd have the fortitude to do, even with training. This friendship--maybe friendly acquaintanceship is a better description--is a reminder to be aware that not everyone lives the safe, comfortable life that I do, that people make choices significantly different than the ones I make, have different priorities and perspectives. It's important. But it's not always easy.
scarlettina: (Angel)
I don't typically think of myself as "rich." Comparatively speaking, financially, I'd say I'm comfortably middle class, if such a thing still exists in these United States. Every now and then--such as my trips to Kenya or Europe--I am reminded that my self-perception isn't wholly accurate in the context of the larger world, that I have resources others don't partly because I'm single, partly because I attempt to be careful with money, partly because I work in high tech, and partly because I go without some things so I can have other things. And partly because, well, I'm white, American, well-educated, and was born into a family that valued me, that valued education, and that valued finer things even if we couldn't always afford them. I know that compared to many places in the world, I live like a princess in my spacious condo with more clothes than anyone really needs, my own car, clean water, ample food, and loving friends and family.

I had two encounters recently that made me extremely aware of my privilege, though, and they got me squirming a little bit, and trying to figure out how to be more aware.

Examining my privilege )

I'm not sorry for or ashamed of the things I have, the place I live, or my advantages. There's no question I started in a privileged place in life. At the same time, I've struggled getting to where I am now, I've overcome some pretty tough stuff over the years, and I've achieved a lot of it on my own. But encounters like this are good, if uncomfortable, reminders that I do need to be more aware. I need to maintain some perspective. Maybe I need to come up with a roster of neutral conversational topics so I don't inadvertently flaunt my advantages. I don't know. What I come away with from all this is that I need to be more aware. I guess I'll just keep figuring it out as I go along.
scarlettina: (Never Forget 9-11)
Eleven years ago today, a little girl I didn't know at the time would ultimately be my niece was born to a woman who didn't know she'd be my sister-in-law. Today, that girl turns 11 and I couldn't be more delighted to be her aunt. She keeps telling us that she doesn't want to grow up, but in many ways, she's more grown up than she could know. I love the person she is, and I'm looking forward to the adult she will be some day.

DSC_4797

Thirteen years ago today, I woke up to the news that the United States had been attacked. I wrote about my experience of that day pretty thoroughly last year because I realized that I'd never written about it before. I don't feel a need to go over it again. But it's important to acknowledge the day, the loss we all experienced. For me, I still have this weird regret about not having been in New York City, this desire for the solidarity of experience with my fellow New Yorkers. It's a bizarre thing to wish, to have been present for tragedy and horror. I was fortunate not to be there and I know it. I was fortunate not to lose anyone I knew or loved. At the same time, I often feel like the grief I always feel on this day somehow isn't as justified, as if my growing up on Long Island and all my years as a resident of the city don't matter in the face of what happened. But they do. I walked those streets every day. I saw the Twin Towers every single day. I remember them being built. I wasn't in the city at the time, but a piece of my heart will always be there. And so I acknowledge the day, a kind of yarzheit for my fellow New Yorkers.

And then I look at that picture of me and my niece again. Life goes on in all the best ways. That's ultimately the most important thing. And it's the best way we can pay tribute to those we've lost.
scarlettina: (Angel)
On a different but obscurely related topic to my last LJ post (made just minutes ago), I made the following post on Facebook last night and wanted to memorialize it here, with a couple more observations:

"Midnight Train to Georgia" really is one if the greatest pop songs ever recorded. [N.B.: It won the Grammy for Best R&B Song in its year.] Never gets old. Gladys Knight recorded one for the ages. And I just love those Pips.

What I love about the Pips' back-up is that not only is it just plain awesome, it's really affirming for the narrator of the story. She's made a decision and they're behind her all the way. I think we all need Pips. G-d knows I do.

A friend responded: I totally want Pips. I never really thought about it before, but you're so right - we all need someone to soulfully sing "I know you will" when necessary. :-)

If you want to know how awesome the Pips really were, you ought to see them doing their thing without Gladys Knight. And if you want to know how beloved they are, here's a kind of spoof/tribute, with Ben Stiller, Jack Black and the impossibly hot, impossibly cool Robert Downey, Jr. (Whoever directed this skit is an idiot, though. There's a gag at the end that he totally botched. It was a gag in bad taste, but his direction just made it lame, as well.)

My friend is right. There are days when we all need that back-up chorus validating our choices. (And, you know, if they all looked and moved a little more like RDJ, I would so totally not mind.) Today is one of those days.
scarlettina: (Writing)
I'm working with a co-worker to revise copy targeted toward lay people to help them understand something both technically and legally difficult. What I'm finding fascinating is the speed of interaction. It highlights different work styles, different emphases, and different information-processing capabilities. I'm turning things around fairly quickly; she's slower and more deliberate. I'm also seeing where the lines are drawn between communication specialists and subject matter experts or SMEs. The SME goes looking for accuracy and often ends up tangled in the language, providing passive sentence structure, more complicated vocabulary and so on. I read what she's sent, redraft it for the lay person in a more effective and economical way and send it back pretty quickly, 9 times out of 10 getting it right the first time. It's been an interesting process. And heartening to my sense of confidence and accomplishment as well.
scarlettina: (Rainy Day)
I've been doing this commute for a little over a year now, and I've gotten familiar with the people patterns of my walk from 9th and Stewart to 3rd and Pine. On these walks, I'll typically see the following:

The cellist playing awesome classical music at the entrance to Pacific Place mall, where the acoustics can't be beat. Either him or the earnest singer-songwriter with his guitar, alternately playing his own music and classic, familiar covers.

The steel drum player hammering out calypso or reggae, accompanied by a back-up audio track.

The twenty-something canvassers looking for signatures and trying their charming best to stop passers-by.

The Women in Black who, every Thursday, stand vigil in Westlake Park to distribute their flyers in solidarity with war victims, the missing, the distressed, women in trouble all over the world.

The drug traffickers, pot smokers, and street artists on the block between 4th and 3rd who will leave you alone if you leave them alone.

The one or two crazy homeless people who hang out by the bus stop on 3rd.

It's like getting to know the traffic patterns on 520: once you've done it a while, it becomes the thing you just do without thinking about it overmuch.
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: (Fountain of smart)
This morning in his excellent Link Salad, [livejournal.com profile] jaylake pointed to a New York Times article about the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago completing their dictionary of Demotic, the language of the common people of ancient Egypt. It was an excellent piece. But about three-quarters of the way through, the author talks about how Demotic reveals more personal and more human details of Egyptian life. Here's the passage that pissed me off in full:

The translation effort can have its rewards, including a new understanding of what Dr. Allen called an X-rated Demotic story well known to scholars. The hero in the story goes into a cave to steal a magic book. A mummy there warns it will bring him disaster. Soon he is entranced by a woman who invites him to her house for sex, but she keeps putting off the consummation with endless demands and frustrating conditions.

On the subject of sex, Demotic scholars said the lusty Cleopatra, the last of the pharaohs and presumably the only one fluent in the common speech, probably spoke only Greek in her boudoir. That was the language of the ruling class for several centuries.

Dr. Johnson, who specializes in research on the somewhat more equal role of women in Egyptian society, said Demotic contracts on papyrus scrolls detailed a husband’s acknowledgment of the money his wife brought into the marriage and the promise to provide her with a set amount of food and money for clothing each year of their marriage. Other documents showed that women could own property and had the right to divorce their husbands.


Can you figure out what pissed me off so thoroughly? There, that middle paragraph. This is how those three paragraphs sum up to me: Demotic lets us read sexy stuff about Egyptians that we never could before. Remember Cleopatra? She spoke Greek while she had sex. Women all over her country were treated more like people than this journalist will treat the empire's last queen.

What the f*cking hell? I haven't been so thoroughly irritated by a science journalist in a long time. Since I couldn't find a comment button on the article, here's what I wrote to the author directly:

"I was fascinated to read your article about the new Demotic dictionary. Your article is packed with interesting information, and as an Egyptophile, I was excited to understand how much more we'll learn about ancient Egyptian life as a result of this work. I was dismayed and disappointed, however, by the unnecessary sexualization of Cleopatra in what should and could have been simply a factual assertion. Why make a point of characterizing her as lusty and speculating on the language she spoke in the bedroom? Why not just mention that in private life she spoke Greek? Clearly a number of her predecessors spoke the same language, all of whom were men, and you chose not to characterize any of them in the same way. Every time a journalist reduces Cleopatra to the caricature of a scheming sexual vixen, they obscure the fact that in a world where men ruled, she was highly educated and politically canny, charismatic and enormously powerful. It's past time that Cleopatra was given her due as the political powerhouse she was without having to put up with the unnecessary speculations of the male gaze and the prurient peek-a-boo attitudes about her personal life. This one paragraph distracted me unpleasantly and unnecessarily from what was otherwise excellent journalism. As a regular Times reader, I'm very disappointed."

Disappointed doesn't nearly cover it. F*ck.

That Conversation

Fri, Sep. 7th, 2012 08:16 am
scarlettina: (Spirits)
It's been a helluva year. With death and serious illness in my social circle, and my striking a half century in age, it seemed like it was time for me to do something enormously adult and, frankly, quite sobering: get my affairs in order. That's the euphemism many of us use for writing a will and thinking about The End. I was scheduled to have a meeting with an attorney about it last night. That meant that I had to call my brother yesterday and Have the Conversation.

Which conversation? The one about who will be the executor of the will. The one about who will oversee my health care wishes. The one about what to do with my body once I vacate the premises.

So I got on the phone with him. For reasons I won't get into here, I had to have this conversation during the day, which meant calling from work--from my shared office. So the woman with whom I share an office got to overhear this conversation. I didn't care, honestly. What we discussed didn't feel especially private to me--but then, as my brother said to me, he and I have been living with an awareness of mortality since I was 11 and he was 9. We are conversant in the vocabulary of end-of-life matters and pretty comfortable with it. (For me, the hardest stuff is what comes before if illness is involved, but that's another post for another time.) He was barbecuing chicken while we talked; somehow, that struck me as enormously funny.

It was an interesting conversation. My brother, it turned out, had made the same assumptions I had: that because it was just him and me, he'd be my executor and I'd be his. We discussed other elements, like what to do with my body once I was done with it, and who would be my health care proxy if I couldn't make my own choices. He was funny about the body issue; he said, "Jan, if you want your body dragged around town behind six white horses, I'll make sure it happens; it's your decision." While that hadn't been my first thought, I admit to having given it consideration once he suggested it! It has a certain je ne sais quoi that appeals to me.

What was also interesting about the conversation were the things he'd assumed about me that weren't, in the end, correct. Some of my own decisions surprised me, but from a practical standpoint they make the most sense for me. (I'm not going to share them here; while I'm comfortable talking about all of this in general, I do not wish to post the details of my decisions publicly.) Such conversations require thought, but they provoke thought as well. (This distinction is important; one thought leads to another, and often those thoughts are unexpected and unwelcome.) Things one might not consider with a cursory glance become clear and more complex upon deeper study. I should note that some of that study may reveal uncomfortable truths about one's life--who will be left behind, who will or won't visit a grave if one is buried, and so forth. Also, who will take care of my kitty.

Most important of all is that I made a point to discuss all those assumptions with him. One of the most difficult lessons I learned in the wake of my mother's death is that Felix Unger was right: When you assume, you make an ass of you and me. My mother assumed that my aunt and uncle would be the executors of her will, but she never asked them. She just named them, and when they found out that they were named, they were unhappy and clearly put out at the imposition. And they let 19-year-old me know. I vowed at that point that I'd never assume anything about this stuff. It's too sensitive and too important.

So we talked, he and I. And then he went and ate his chicken, and I hung up and went back to work. Or tried to. My coworker said to me, "It's so funny: as soon as you got on the phone your New York accent came back . . . but, ew, you were talking about death!" And I said to her, "Yep, it happens to us all." She said she hadn't known what to do; should she put on her headphones or something? I apologized if she felt uncomfortable but at that point, I didn't feel like it was especially private, and to please not worry. And I apologized again for any discomfort. She was fine with it.

The truth is, when death comes, we all learn about the decisions our family and friends have made anyway. We are meat; we are dust. But wills are contracts that take care of business. And the conversations that surround their creation help to set expectations so that people have an idea of what's coming and what to do in the event. These conversations are important, and ultimately, they're a kindness. They let your loved ones know that you've got a handle on things; they provide if not the reality then at least the illusion of some control. But they also are a way of telling your loved ones that when they feel their most vulnerable, you've made some accommodation; they won't be alone. You're still there, wrapping things up, even if it's only your will (literally and figuratively) and not you.

------------------

The Met Life web site provides an excellent, basic explanation of the elements of a will and the considerations to think about when you're preparing to put one together.

The Mayo Clinic site provides a basic explanation of living wills and advance health directives, something else to think about carefully (and something I need to discuss with my lawyer).
scarlettina: (Fountain of smart)
Short version: Author Genevieve Valentine attended Readercon and was repeatedly harassed by a big name fan called Rene Walling. Readercon has a publicly-stated zero-tolerance policy for harassment, and anyone guilty of harassment is supposed to receive a lifetime ban from the convention. Readercon has enforced this policy strictly in the past. In this case, after a two-week investigation, they've announced that they're banning Walling for only two years.

Yep, they failed. Completely failed.

Predictably they are getting spanked pretty thoroughly by the fannish community. Didn't I just say something about waiting for the community to mature? Oh right: "Social growth and change take iterations of transgression, dialog, and healing. Sometimes helping someone grow up takes the infliction of a spanking. Spank away, internets. The culture needs it." Apparently the community continues to prove that spanking is needed. What a shame.

I had an exchange with an author on Facebook about all this, who asserted that neurology (men are helpless before evolution and neurology, and someone will always transgress as a result) and fannish politics (if the transgressor is a BNF, he'll get off with a slap on the wrist because other BNFs want to retain their social cache) mean that harassment and inappropriate responses to same by concoms would always perpetuate an unsafe environment. I asserted that perhaps this heirarchy of status over safety was screwed up and could be changed; he persisted in his assertion that there was nothing we could do to change it. After a while I decided the debate was fruitless and walked away. It's that kind of thinking that will perpetuate such an environment.

What impressed me about the FB exchange is that it was all very civilized, nuanced, and sophisticated--we were talking, after all, about neurology and sociology. That makes it all so reasonable. But it's the Peacock phenomenon all over again (see the spanking link, above): I have demonstrated that I have brains therefore I couldn't possibly be wrong. And Readercon took what they thought were reasonable actions and made a bad decision anyway.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Someone, someone show me evidence of positive social evolution please. I need a little reaffirmation of positive change on the front of a discussion rather than in hindsight.
scarlettina: (Geek Crossing)
A day or two ago, a friend posted a link on Facebook that went to Alli Thresher's rebuttal to a blog post about "fake geek girls." I read it and then went in search of the original piece, written by Joe Peacock and published on CNN.com, Booth Babes Need Not Apply. A more well-intentioned but misguided thing I have rarely read. Go ahead, go read for context--start with Peacock and then go back to Thesher. I'll wait.

Google searches revealed that Peacock's piece has spawned not only Thresher's response, but a plethora of carefully-thought-out and well-written (not to mention occasionally delightfully snarky) rebuttals like these at DoctorNerdLove and Forbes.com (which always but shouldn't surprise me with its geek savvy), among others. (ETA: John Scalzi's response is the king of all responses, with thanks to [livejournal.com profile] oldmangrumpus for the pointer.)

I am not in the least surprised that we're still dealing with this kind of sexism and purity testing. I'm not surprised that it's still the "POSER!!" accusation wrapped up in nuanced argument and published in the context of a reputable news outlet (though the idea of a reputable news outlet these days seems to be one that's fading fast and becoming a relic of another era). Mainly what I am is disappointed.

Geek culture is supposed to be about acceptance and joy. The oblivious sexism in Peacock's discussion is its own damnation. Purity testing makes it no different than the kinds bullying geeks have dealt with our whole lives by bullies who didn't find us straight enough or mainstream enough to socialize with. And so here we are, our own worst nightmare wrapped in TeeFury geekitude*, wielding the Light Saber of Truth and a Patronus Charm against girl-geek wannabes. ::sigh::

I hope for the maturing of geek culture to the point where these conversations don't happen any more. Based on the patterns of other cultural tribes (I'm thinking of certain male-dominated sports fandoms, mainly), I'm not convinced we'll see it any time really soon. I am, however, comforted by the rebuttals and the discussion taking place. Social growth and change take iterations of transgression, dialog, and healing. Sometimes helping someone grow up takes the infliction of a spanking. Spank away, internets. The culture needs it.


* (Note: For the record, I am the proud owner of two TeeFury tees--they are awesome.)
scarlettina: (All my own stunts)
I went to the dentist on Wednesday, a check up in the wake of some pretty significant dental work I've had done over the last couple of months. When I entered the office, the dentist was behind the desk with the receptionist. She turned toward me when I came in and said hello, complimented me on my haircut, and asked me how I was. I've had a tough week and said something noncommittal, that I've had better weeks.

She told me she could understand, that her 12-week-old niece was about to undergo open-heart surgery. And then she began to get into the details of what they were going to do because she found it fascinating, and I felt my entire body sort of heave up. About the time she got to, ". . . and then they put this golden mesh around the sack of the heart . . ." I realized I couldn't breathe very well and told her I couldn't keep talking about it and had to sit down. My eyes filled up, and it took everything I had not to start bawling right there, and several minutes before I was able to gather myself up for the actual business of my appointment.

The feeling wasn't like being hit by a wall; it was more like being overcome by a wave. Even as the dentist started talking about her niece's surgery, there was some part of me thinking, "You can do this; you can talk about this; it's OK," until it really wasn't.

It's amazing how easy it is, in the rush and bustle of life, to forget that grief doesn't end when the official mourning is concluded. I've missed [livejournal.com profile] markbourne these last four months, missed his humor, his insight, and his company. There have been particular instances--dinner with the Bears recently, SIFF, JayCon, this or that reading--when I found myself thinking "Mark should be here," angry at the untimeliness and injustice of his death, selfishly angry that I won't get to spend my 50th birthday with him. It's always little things, like wondering what he'd say about Prometheus or any of the films he might have seen at SIFF this year or what books he'd be reading or what he'd think about this person or that person to whom I wanted to introduce him or, well, you get the idea.

Our bodies remember grief, experience it, even when we think that we're coping with the business of life every day. I wouldn't trade away a single minute of my friendship with Mark, not one. This grief is only one legacy of that friendship; I won't allow it to overwhelm the rest, a wealth of time and affection that I'm privileged to have shared with my friend. But I do miss him.
scarlettina: (Default)
It recently occurred to me that I needed to turn my mattress. This mattress, not being double-sided, must be spun like a disc rather than flipped like a record. What a freakin' pain in the butt. I wish it were more comfortable, so as to feel like it's worth all the damn trouble. ::sigh::
scarlettina: (Huh?)
. . . but probably won't:

Restaurant Bathrooms: Why are restaurant bathrooms invariably cold? It's the one place in a restaurant where you will remove clothing to function. It's like you're being penalized for being human. And then the water from the faucet for handwashing is also, invariably, cold. Why? In the dead of winter, WHY?

Living with a Young Cat: I spent so many years living with geriatric cats that I forgot what it's like to live with a kitty who wants to play and interact. I love being with Sophie, and I love playing with her. She is athletic, imaginative, and inventive. At the same time, every now and then I just want to sit and read or sit and work. As much as we'd all prefer it, not every minute can be playtime. There's nothing so plaintive (or occasionally so grating) as a cat who keeps asking why, why, why aren't we playing now, now, now? And yet she is hard to resist.

I had a Tough Food Week: A week ago today, my goal was to have a good food week--and I did, but not in the way I meant. I ate out a lot--some wonderful meals--had a meringue cookie binge, and didn't track my food well. Consequently, I chose not to weigh in at Weight Watchers last night. I start this week with the same goal as last week: eat on program, track my food, and be active. Next Tuesday, I weigh in, come hell or high water, and hope for the best.
scarlettina: (Seattle Space Needle)
One of the things I have long enjoyed about my neighborhood is that I often am reminded that I live near a lake in the middle of the city. Despite the occasional inconvenience of living on the side of the lake farthest from the freeway, it still gives me a great deal of pleasure. And though it's scenic, it's also a busy lake with a great deal of leisure and commercial traffic, both maritime and aerial. I often see the seaplanes that launch from the south end of the lake flying north up to Vancouver over my neighborhood. Sometimes, if I look between the trees, I can see a sail gliding by in the distance. I also can hear the boat traffic, specifically whenever some ship toots its horn requesting that the Fremont Bridge be drawn up.

Lately, I've been hearing one particular, very distinctive tooting about once a day. There's some boat--I'm assuming a leisure cruise vessel--that comes down the canal toward the Fremont Bridge that plays a music-box-like version of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" punctuated by its baritone horn. It's the strangest, most comical thing, like the horn of some ship out of a children's book. That's probably the point, of course, but it's just odd, and it always makes me smile. It feels like a very Seattle thing, this peculiar bit of whimsy in the air.

I appreciate it for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that it reminds me of why I like living here and why I've stayed for so long.
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.

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