Monthly Archives: February 2012

Memo to myself:

Posting while exhausted is no different from posting while under the influence.  Better to drunk-dial a spouse’s crazy ex than to publish while not possessed of judicial capacity.  Thank you, SAVE DRAFT button!

A defense of designer clothing.

First let me say that this post might be a surprise to those who have known me longest.  In high school, I was the brainy girl.  I was also slender, and a bit of a fashion plate.  But back then I was all about DIY and vintage (still am, strongly) and I turned up my nose at those who have no personal style but want to buy whatever is latest in the shop windows (still do, strongly.)  No offense, folks, but that’s not style, it’s just a way to show off disposable income.  Wearing whatever they put in front of you, without asking yourself, “Does it suit me?  Is is comfortable, flattering, appropriate?” is worse than a crapshoot.

When I went off to college, I became somewhat radicalized. But becoming aware of the sexual politics of women’s clothing, the history of costume, and the ethnic / class issues of dress were nothing compared to learning the pollution and environmental impact of the textile industry.  To DIY and vintage were added free trade textiles and thrift store re-useables.

This didn’t quite fall by the wayside, but I admit:  I love to quilt.  Worse,  I joined a recreational group that required medieval clothing, and learned to sew garments for myself, ones that required major yardage.  And I still loved fashion design, which is a fascinating and fast-evolving tradition of artistry and craftsmanship.  The people who buy fashionable clothes as status symbols without regard for taste still make me roll my eyes, but the creative folks make their living off them, so who am I to complain?

These two sides have finally dovetailed in my mind.  If this comes across as a pure rationalization, let me know.

Designer clothes (not licensed or unlicensed knockoffs in chain stores, but actual designer clothes) are made in small batches, by skilled (usually union) labor, from carefully sourced materials not mass-made.  These are not shoddy jeans with a logo on the pocket, cut by a programmed machine and sewn on a factory assembly line by a Chinese teenager doing 17 per hour.  They are handmade by skilled cutters and seamstresses, working in good conditions, for good money.  That they were designed by an artist of reknown doesn’t make them cheap, either, but let me add:  those jeans will last a lifetime.

Once upon a time, even mass-produced garments were made beautifully and built to last.   Unexceptional 50s and 60s tea dresses from Sears Roebuck now look as good as very pricey items from Saks and Bergdorf.  It’s one reason so many vintage garments have lasted so long as they have.  I am sorry I no longer live in a nation that can afford to dress its low-to-middle class in ILGWU-made garments rather than third-world concoctions of mystery fibers and harsh chemical dyes.  But we are a nation of consumers, and would rather have a dozen pairs of mystery jeans than a few pairs of  L.L. Bean or just one Denim of Virtue.

The inner child.

Sometimes I joke that my inner child is a twelve year old boy.  Those are the days when my status as an adult woman, sometime lady, and gent by practice are suspended, and I revel in that which is vulgar and biological, from Beavis and Butthead to South Park to Family Guy to being slightly carbonated by the sight of nekkid chicks.  Hur-hur-hurrr.

But this morning’s ethereal news brought word of Scout Longpaw, fellow traveler and the hardest working diva in know business, breaking up with her inner child.  I had to step back and think for a minute.

What with one thing and another, life didn’t take long to teach me that I could bullshit other people, but I could not survive if I tried to bullshit myself.   Not the little white lies about calories, but the big lies about history.  Whodunit, and wit wat — and what it really means.  Feeling that I could rely only on myself, I had to create a reflexive core self with whom there was zero bullshit, zero omission, zero knowing the truth and dismissing it.  It’s the voice that tells me the right thing to do, with no fear, no favor, and no fuckery.  But she’s not Jiminy Cricket, she’s a nine year old girl, the Self Mark II in my personal evolution, and she’s my inner child.

Inevitable backstory:  growing up far from the nearest hamlet, being the oldest child by seven years, and being surrounded by many family members of grandma’s generation, meant lots of time spent alone.  Thank god for books, which gave me “tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything” — not to mention socialization of a sort, and friends, albeit imagined.  Thank god for nature, too, which was endlessly fascinating, and for my mother’s shopping for Christmas gifts out of the Edmund Scientific Catalogue.  If I had grown up in the desert, I’d have been hooked on meth by puberty for lack of mental fodder.

But neither books nor nature nor any other agent came to my rescue when the bad times started.  I’ve deleted a thousand words of the yucky events from those years of my kidhood (which was sufficiently miserable the first time around and doesn’t need to be relived here) but I will say this:  when things got to be too much, when I had thought out all my options, my determination crystallized. I would do whatever it fucking took to get through it — sending my mind to another place, switching off altogether, just enduring — but I swore, with every ounce of my being and all the potency of intent I could muster, that I would do three things:

1.  I would never forget what was done to me.

2.  I would leave home as soon as I could, go far, and never return.

3.  I would keep faith with my kid-self forever.

What this meant:

1.  The family who reared me, stoics all, did their best to forget their traumas, thinking “putting it behind me is the best thing I can do.”  Those women were hearty and hardy and fierce and wrong.  Even at eight years of age, I could see how my grandmother and great-aunts were carrying out the nutty aftereffects of not acknowledging their traumas.  I despise wallowing, but ignoring major sabotage condemns you to a life in a mental cage, insulated from pain, with boundaries that were not self-imposed, even if accepted under duress.  Unacceptable.

Beyond this, our family of women have the strong tendency to forget ugliness as convenient, or not to see it at all.  I knew I could go in this direction if I didn’t work hard not to, by reminding myself constantly:  never forget.

Have you ever known a woman who had been raped and came out the other side sneering at other rape victims because “she asked for it, she’s a tramp anyway, it was her own fault”?  I’m related to a lot of them.  Easy to see the self-loathing trapped at the bottom of the idea.  For my soul’s sake, and for proper justice to myself and others like me, and for those who hurt us, I could not allow myself to forget, no matter how badly I wanted to.

2.  Promising to leave home ASAP and forever didn’t mean not going home for visits, or not loving my family.  I’d rather miss them than hate them, or have them hate me.  As much as I adore my family, being around them is a trap for my mind.  It keeps me in a childlike state to be around older generations of my kin.

The seed for this was planted one day at my great-grandma’s house.  I was young, but I remember it clearly:  Great-grandma snapped at my grandmother (a strong woman in her own right, and God over my mother, who was the world to me) and spoke to her like a child.  Instantly, my grandmother turned to my mother and likewise put her in her place.  I fully expected Mom to turn to me, knuckle that forefinger into my sternum, and put me down even lower.  Mom didn’t; she dropped her chin, shook her head, kept her mouth shut, and walked out.  But I never wanted to be the low man on that totem pole.  And I never wanted to be like my grandmother, a strong woman in her fifties being treated like a child — and allowing it, because she was trapped in the pattern of living next door to her mother for most of her life.  My grandmother was still turning into a child in her mother’s presence.

I can’t say it strongly enough:  proximity to parents can lead to perpetual childhood.  Particularly for those of us who never joined the ranks of mothers, and have no authority with those who have.

3.  Keeping the faith with my kid-self never meant any kind of vengeance or Peter Pan Syndrome; nothing like that.  Part of it is being obliged to relish every day that I’m not living under the thumb of someone abusive.  Being an adult means having the power to leave.  There is no greater gift I can give someone than to stick around.  Not that it might mean anything to them, but it’s a hell of a love offering from me.  I won’t say I never look back — Lot’s wife and I have some things in common — but that doesn’t keep my feet in one place, and fighting the stone butch blues was a challenge sometimes.  Life is short and joy is where you find it — and now that I’m living life on my own terms, not theirs, I am free to savor it the way I should have, back then, if I could have.  I’m enjoying it on her behalf, and I am enjoying it as it should have been then:  with wide-eyed glee at all the potential fun and awesomeness to be had.  Whenever I can invoke that connection to my innocent self, I do so, to keep faith with the kid who spent a lot of afternoons throwing up with stress and dreading the nighttime.

The other half of keeping faith with my kid-self is keeping my eyes open and my mouth open, too.  Confronting abusers.  Confronting those who defend them.  Objecting to people who rationalize and justify and condone and try to mitigate the facts.  The hardest part is confronting friends, because when they do that, it feels like a personal betrayal, and it hurts like hell.  Not a lot upsets me, but that turns my little applecart upside down.  With strangers, I can keep cool and point out the facts and hopefully sway them with logic and with ethics.

Vocalization is so important to me now, has to be so important to me now, because I had no voice then.  I knew, when I was little, that if I told my mother what was happening, she would either blow me off, or she would believe me.  If she believed me, she’d be killing someone soon, and she’d go to jail forever.  I didn’t know which was worse, but neither looked good.  I decided that it was in everyone’s best interests if I just kept it to myself…

…and got the hell out, and never went back, but always looked back, and never forgot.

That little kid that I was is not my inner child.  If anything, she’s my inner grown-up.

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Atkins Diet: why the original version worked so much better

Fun facts:  back in the early 70s, people ate less overall.  Giving them a diet rich in fats and low in carbs would make them eat more at the beginning, in an attempt to satisfy the carb craving, and then eat less, due to unexciting meal routines and rich food.  That helped.  Requiring that people drop the starches and booze and candy cut out LOTS of unnecessary calories also helped — as did requiring them to drink eight large glasses of water per day.  This was the days before hydration, folks, and the occasional slurp from a drinking fountain was IT for most workers and students.   That sort of thing.

Atkins sort of went haywire in the 90s  when people were not just having a bacon and egg breakfast and skipping toast; they were eating LOTS of bacon and a three-egg omelet, then noshing on beef jerky until lunch.  Lunch was not a piece of chicken and a side of spinach; it was a rotisserie chicken and skip the greens.  Dinner?  Steak drenched in butter, with pork rinds and diet soda all night.  Even the metabolic advantage of a low-carb diet can be wrecked by calories.  It’s hard, but we did it.  Low-carb doesn’t require a significant calorie deficit to work, but there is no way you can choke down 4,000 calories per day and expect to lose weight.  It’s not magic, it’s science.

Look too at the excess junk food (beef jerky, charcuterie, pork rinds) popular with modern Atkins followers.  Back in the day, snacking between meals was less common (still feeling the effects of the authoritarian 50s — not a bad thing in eating) and certainly was not the meals-between-meals we eat now and call it “snacking.”  Moreover, people had not yet started freaking out about cholesterol, for better or worse, and there were nowhere near as many highly processed sugar-based dietetic foods, nor as many should-be-low-carb-but-aren’t foods.

Beef jerky?  Cured with sugar and a ton of salt.  Rotisserie chicken?  The seasoning rub has substantial sugar hiding underneath the salt.  Same with barbecue, jerk flavoring, Cajun blackening, and all Asian foods.  In a balanced diet, this would be no big deal, but on a low-carb diet, it’s a killer.  If you are carb-sensitive, your body will focus on that fractional sugar, and your low-carb weight loss will stall.  A large diet soda, an ounce of cheese, soy sauce, a half-cup of mayo for your tuna, the green pepper holding your chicken salad, the onion on your burger, even caffeine can throw you off.   Not everyone is that sensitive, but even small amounts make a difference for some.

And even for those who are not sensitive, a large quantity of those things will kill you.  Even guzzling tea all day can break the carb allowance.

After the 90s, Atkins Inc. started pushing lifestyle food products, like low-carb “power bars” and recipes to make cream pies with chickpea flour instead of wheat crusts and sucralose instead of sugar.  Why bother, people?  Consuming empty calories is as much a killer.  Better to have a tiny slice of the real thing than half a pie of some overprocessed concoction of chemicals and off-flavored substitutions.  (Anyone whose parents foisted carob on them instead of chocolate knows what I mean. )  In addition, the modern attempt to seem healthy by adding a bunch of vegetables only increased the carb load and decreased the fat.  Doesn’t sound too bad, but again: it throws off the process for many.

Another modern killer was the cholesterol issue.  I’m lucky in my ancestry:  my close nordic and middle eastern roots combined to allow me egregious intake of hard animal fat, and my cholesterol is so good my doctor checked it twice in disbelief.  If you have cholesterol problems, pick a different diet.  Avoid starches, sure, but if you low-fat it as well, it’s just called being sensible.  High fat intake is crucial to this diet, and it is not for everyone.

And remember:  this is a temporary plan, not a way of life.  Weight loss diets cause weight loss; way-of-life diets keep you just as you are.  If you’re perfect, a weight loss diet is not for you.  If you have a bad relationship with food, see a shrink before you diet or your bad pattern will repeat itself.  If you can’t wait for the diet to be over so you can gorge on chips again, it’s not the right time for you to be on ANY diet.  But if you are basically not normally fat, but went through a period of stress / depression / bad habits / hyperfocus on school or work or some other project, chances are you got sloppy.  This will get you unsloppy and back to your old self, wearing your skinny jeans and following your historically skinny habits.  If you are extremely overweight, drastic measures to lose weight are perfectly appropriate.

Even more drastic change can be accomplished by zero-carb, high-fat, low-calorie dieting.  Don’t try this for more than two or three days in a row.  It’s particularly useful if you plateau easily.  One day per week, eat no more than 800 – 1000 calories, and they must be >90% fat.  Brie cheese works, or take a tablespoon of olive oil every couple of hours, just as if it were medicine.  You will lose weight and climb out of the plateau.  It’s like hitting a reset button for low-carb weight loss.

Obviously there is a need for a multivitamin, at the very least, and way more than eight glasses of water.  An oversimplified but still useful analogy would be the distillation of alcohol.  Fermenting sugars, with the aid of anaerobic yeast activity, create complex molecules with the byproducts of carbon dioxide and ethanol — exactly the same process, incidentally, as rising bread dough (with the unconcentrated/undistilled ethanol evaporating during bread during the baking process.)  Removing sugars from your diet and adding a lot of water allow a sort of reverse distillation process, in which your body burns fat instead of carbs, and this burning is possible by adding a lot of water.  Water helps burn fat the way oxygen helps burn wood.  The more you drink, the more you burn.  Just keep an eye on those electrolytes!

If all of this seems unbelievable, consider the Inuit, who have historically eaten only meat, fish, and fat, and the story of Dr. Vilhjalmur Stefansson, an anthropologist who lived among them for an extended period with no ill effects.  (Like them, he ate raw liver, which provides Vitamin C.)  Consider the Lancet study, which followed three groups:  one group ate 90% protein, one ate 90% fat, and one 90% carbs.  The Fat group lost a substantial amount of weight, the Meat group lost some weight, and the Carb group gained weight.  A study at the Naval Hospital in Oakland put people on 1000 calories per day, with no more than 10% carbohydrates; over a ten-day period, they lost more body fat than the group who fasted completely.  There’s more.  A lot more.

But let’s review the bidding:  back in the 50s, Grandma had the generic low-carb diet which worked quite well.  In the 70s, Mom had the original Atkins Diet.  They both followed the same basic meal plan:

Bacon and egg breakfast with coffee.  Chicken cutlet, tuna salad, or bare hamburger for lunch.  Steak, chop, meatloaf, or similar for dinner.  Lots of water.  A pickle if something crunchy was needed.

In the 90s and oughts, we had:

Huge cheese omelets for breakfast, with bacon / salami / pepperoni slices to nosh until lunch.  Breve lattes from Starbucks.  Toppings scraped off pizza, or cold cuts rolled with cheese for the midday meal.  Fake power bar for snack.  Huge steak, barbecued chicken, hot links, or similar for dinner.  Pork rinds or beef jerky in front of the boob tube.  Diet soda and/or coffee or tea all day, with a bottle of water or two.

Calorie bomb.  Crypto-carb sabotage.  Mission result:  fail.

Mum and Grandma knew best.

And my dear sister, who dislikes meat and hates fat, lamented that Atkins didn’t work for her:  boiled egg for breakfast, tuna with lemon and cracked black pepper for lunch, naked chicken breast for dinner.  But the little darling is already skinny; I’m not sure what she expected.

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Forgiveness, and the wanting of it

Another angle on the matter of forgiveness:  craving it for yourself, and why I have mixed feelings about absolution.

When I was a skinny young blonde thang, I had a cruel streak where boys were concerned.  The goal at the top of my mind was to make them happy, make them feel strong and confident.  Even if they didn’t care for me or what I was shaking, I figure that it’s like leaving the campground in better shape than you found it.  I was already seeing the effects of boys who had been treated poorly by girls in junior high turning into cruel woman-haters by high school.  It occurred to me that boosting male morale wherever I found it would be a benefit to girls everywhere, and might add lusters to my own Boy Scout badge.

My favorite guys to shower with admiration were geeks, and those who looked like geeks.  Wisecracking boys with big brains and scrawny bods.  The admiration was honest.  There was nothing like an “A” in Physics to carbonate my hormones — and I had been out with a few gorgeous meatheads who never had had to cultivate what might be euphemized as a large hat size.  So it was a natural inclination on my part, but I did try to go out of my way to pay attention to the overlooked guys who seemed as if they had something going on.  Not many had received direct gazes and slow smiles from skinny blondes who didn’t need help with their homework, and some of them stood a little taller after getting a grace note from a pretty girl.  I tried to pick only good guys who didn’t have the permanent resentful sulk some perpetually underrated people developed.

So whence the cruel streak?  It was because I used to be a plain Jane in ugly clothes with a few extra pounds and an earnest, doormat demeanor.  All guys ignored me, even the geeky ones.  But between junior high and high school, I determined that I would make my last few years before college memorable and enjoyable.  So I lost 15 pounds, which I definitely need to lose, plus another 15 that I couldn’t really afford.  I asked my mom’s cousin, a hairdresser, to bleach my hair and perm it large.  For the first time ever, I spent my birthday money on something other than books:  clothes, makeup, jewelry, and perfume.  And I cultivated self-control, in action and reaction, with a constant awareness of how I would be perceived.

I had the best teachers:  Bette Davis, Rosalind Russell, Myrna Loy, Joan Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, and Audrey Hepburn.  Not to mention Dorothy Parker, S.J. Perelman, Jack Benny, George Burns, Gracie Allen, and Groucho Marx.  Always look good, always play to the room, be able to seduce or dismiss with a glance, and never let them see you sweat.  Smile.  Be a glad girl, as Pollyanna was, and everyone will be glad to be around you.  Be self-deprecating, and take nothing too seriously.  On and on.

It wasn’t fake, not really; it was all the me I wanted to be, and trusted myself to become.  And I was.  But it was such a severely bowdlerized version of me, edited for content and compressed for time, that I became unconsciously bitter and eventually very lonely.  I wasn’t accepted for who I was, so I edited myself, and became accepted — but not for me; only for That Girl.  So fuck alla y’all.  You don’t have time for the chubby girl with the mouse-brown hair and the blitzwits?  I’ll be a skinny blonde who perpetually laughs.  I will try to love on the male versions of myself before the change, and eventually despise them for not having liked me when I was one of them.

This occasionally led to making dates with more than one boy at once, and requiring them both to hang out in my dressing room (a spare bedroom with a vanity and extra seating) while I swanned around in my paisley bathrobe, making frothy conversation with both of them while I got ready, each of them wondering which one would get to go out with me.  Sometimes a girlfriend would help with this, and each guy would be thinking the other was going to be paired with the friend for a double date.  Sometimes, the friend and I would double team a single guy, which led him down the wrong path, for which crime we would torment him even more.  On and on.

Eventually I decided it was hogwash, unfair, that I had to grow up and be a man, if you will.  It was a hard year for a lot of reasons, and being a decent person required masterful effort sometimes.  But I didn’t want to be a fritterhead for the rest of my life; I wanted to be a mensch.  During my junior year of college, I came downstairs in my p.j.’s and sat at the breakfast table with a bunch of my roommates and their friends.  I realized that I was wearing a nightgown my high school sweetheart (who became my college albatross) bought for another girl while he was cheating on me with her — it was too small for the Other Woman and non-returnable, so he gave it to me; naturally I didn’t know the backstory at the time I received the lovely and expensive gift, but there I was, wearing it, at a table where he and she both were guests.  Also present were my live-in boyfriend and the girl he was cheating on me with, who was pretending to be my best buddy while he was goosing her under the table.  Across from me was the sweet but spoiled roommate who referred to me as a slut behind my back, but was always coming on to me when no one was around…and his girlfriend, who also thought I was a slut, and thought I was at high risk for poaching her boyfriend.  A skinny Irish girl with five years of field hockey can throw an icy glare, let me tell you.

So, no shit, there I was, the turd in the punchbowl, not speaking to anyone, ignoring the sly glances, ignoring my cereal as it sogged in front of me.  I thought:  maybe this is karma.  Maybe this is payback for the boys I hurt in high school.  Maybe I’m free of that debt now and can move along blithely in my life, unburdened by my foolishness.

And then I realized that’s bullshit.  The guys I hurt really did suffer, and I hope they got over it quickly (or just wrote it off like a sunburn) — but I’m going to have to live with the burden that I hurt someone, on purpose, who did not deserve it — which is pretty fucking low.  Guilt is part of the cost.

Likewise, the people who hurt me weren’t jolly angels who just happened to be agents of karma; they were flaming assholes.

My (low) self-esteem from that score was only elevated over a long period of time, and through long dint of effort to treat everyone fairly, and to be as kind as possible.  Not snarking, not jumping into fights with both feet, not letting my temper rise, not lying to or cheating on anyone, and a lot of other things that didn’t come naturally at first, let’s put it that way.  It’s what I have to do to live with myself after hurting people.  I am now a better person than the fucked-up unit who decided to be the life of the party instead of an emo shoegazer.

But if I had just said, tra-la!  Karmic payoff!  I’ll be good from now on, but I no longer need to worry about what I’ve done!  Sorry, boys, you understand, right? — I would have been a schmuck.

Two assholes don’t make it karma.

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Quote du jour: manners

“Insofar as he’d formed any opinion of her, it was that she suffered from misplaced gentility and the mistaken belief that etiquette meant good breeding.  She mistook mannerisms for manners.”

from The Truth, by Terry Pratchett

This topic has been on my mind a lot lately.  I seem to know a lot of people who mistake manners for morals.  (Ethics, for me, but alliteration is irresistible.)

It sounds absurd at first; as if anyone would be considered immoral for using the wrong fork!  But consider how many people have done really unethical things without batting an eye, yet think of themselves as Good People because they always say please and thank you and cover their mouths when they yawn.

Consider too the folks who have low tastes and behave in a vulgar fashion, but stop to help people with flat tires and otherwise go out of their way to make the world a better place.

I’m not running down manners — courtesy and consideration produce real and positive effects, both in terms of needed assistance and of morale, and provide social lubrication, which keeps us all rolling along without too much grinding of gears.

But never make the mistake of thinking good manners imply good heart, or that coarse manners denote lack of character.  The devil himself wears a three piece suit and smiles a lot.

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Personal ya-yas

I’m sitting here in happy tears.  I just got an email from my dad.

My folks getting divorced is the best thing that ever happened to me.

I was brought up in the bosom of my mother’s mother’s family, for Grandma was divorced as well, and her own mother next door was widowed young.  A pavilion of women.  I’ve wondered if we know how to have happy, long-term relationships with men at all, in our family.  But the women who married in never lasted long either.

This side of my family were unsmiling farmers who worked like John Henry every blessed day.  Our corner of the world has plenty of resources, but it takes a hell of a lot of work to wrestle them into submission.  The struggle to survive was constant, daily, and hard.  It’s no wonder they all lived to great age.  If they managed to avoid accidents, and get through wars alive, they pulled hard to live and didn’t know how to stop.  Devoutly religious teetotalers and non-smokers, all.

But they didn’t laugh, or dance, or hug, or sing.  Each generation had things a little better, but no one spontaneously generated the ability to express emotion, particularly any encouragement.  I suppose everyone was always trying so hard that no encouragement was assumed to be needed — it would be like encouraging someone to breathe — but if anyone who lagged was dealt with harshly.  Using or consuming more than you contribute is taking food out of the mouths of your siblings.  Love was understood or assumed — never expressed.

To illustrate the effect this has had on me:  a friend said “Hurt” (the Johnny Cash version) was the most depressing song of all time, and listed a body of shoegazing runners up.  My rebuttal:  “Summertime / Motherless Child”, by Mahalia Jackson, with “Baby Mine” (from Dumbo) a strong runner-up.  Ronnie singing “Be My Baby.”  “You Are My Sunshine.” “Just the Way You Are.”  “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?”  He thought I was missing the point.  Oh, believe me, I’m not.  They might not work for everyone, but I cry every time.

So:  my folks were crazy kids who eloped young, had me, got divorced, married each other again, divorced again, and parted ways forever.  As can happen in early marriages.  And my dad roamed the earth, like Kane, remarrying a few times and eventually settling down with his wife of about 30 years, now, whom he adores.  Mom remarried once, was delivered of my sister, divorced, and hasn’t been on a date since the Carter administration.  To each his own, or hers.

Growing up in a so-called “broken home” meant it was all hands on deck.  Mom was the Captain, I was the First Mate, and Tiny Sis was the Cabin Boy.  Everyone helped out, and we were of good cheer, but the struggle continued.  Enduring the pity of classmates (“your parents are divorced?  That’s so saaaad) was a real challenge.  My dad never paid child support, and I never had nice things.  But kids from unbroken homes sometimes came to school exhausted and swollen-eyed from witnessing all-night parental fights, and I never had to deal with that.

My dad and I were strangers for years.  He traveled back to our little hamlet twice to visit, and I eventually spent a few summers with him and his family.  We got along incredibly well, but when we weren’t together…well, I have always hated talking on the phone, and he has never been a letter writer, so….

Fast forward to the email age.  I’ve been married and divorced and remarried, and we’ve both been around the block a few times.  Dad and his people are from the South, and the emotional availability and expressiveness always made me feel uncomfortable — stiff, awkward, inhibited.  But years in the Southwest, and marrying a Southerner, have expanded my comfort in myself.  A while back I realized that I’m no hothouse flower, but if it chokes me up when a waitress calls me “Honey,” I need more warmth in my life.  Which means, by the immutable laws of man and nature, that I needed to put more warmth out there to other people.  So I did.  And by those same laws, expected nothing in return.

(This seems like a digression, but it’s not.)

Expectation is a killer.

It’s a lifesaver, or life-shaper, to children.  Pull kitty’s tail, expect the claw. Pet kitty, expect purr.  Trial and error inform us; repeated experience trains us.   We know what to expect.

What we don’t know is when to stop applying it.  Kids who get married expect to be transformed into Fred & Wilma, and are bitterly confused when that other idiot isn’t holding up his end of the bargain.  People who hand a buck to a bum expect him to get a haircut, a suit, and a job,  and grow resentful when that same bum hits him up the next day, stoned as a crow.  Bougie guys are attracted to flashy females and expect them to stop wearing trashy clothes “now that we’re together.”  Some girls cave to this, but others get the hell out (and are maligned as tramps forever.)  Idealistic girls who get involved with tomcats think they’ll magically become devoted, monogamous romantics.  Most tomcats cultivate this illusion, so long as the tail doesn’t get withheld.  Some expectations are stupid.

And some are just wrong.  Don’t give a gift in order to get one.  Don’t give love with the expectation that you’ll get the high holy reward of love in return.  And for gott’s sake, don’t dole out warmth on a rationed basis, anticipating an appropriately reciprocal amount.  That’s cheap.

It feels great to show love.  If you can’t accept it in return, though, halt the process until you get over those stone butch blues.  (This is different from specifically not wanting it.  Not all sources are healthy, and even some healthy sources aren’t wanted.  It might be worthy of desire, but if it is not actually desired, don’t eat it!)

Likewise, it’s easy to love the loveable.  But don’t some hard-to-love things merit love as well?  I certainly feel love for some of them.  My grandmother, after a lifetime that included physical abuse, mental illness, multiple surgeries, and a wasting disease, was often mean as hell, and very hard to deal with.  But I loved her like crazy.  I have a friend who has flown solo for his whole life after a single disastrous affair when he was young, and the bitterness has cramped his soul and bent his back.  He’s a crusty, inhibited Swede, and is not ever happy to be hugged, so all I can do is meet his perpetual crankiness with patience and good cheer.  And occasionally grin and say, “You’re a cranky bastard, aren’t you?” — and we both laugh.  We do now, anyway.  I was laughing alone for the first five or six years I knew him, but now he laughs, too.

If that seems a long time to wait for someone to share a smile…it is.  But endurance, the secret to my great-grandcestors’ survival, is the secret to my loving life, and loving others, and not lacking for love, and not being hurt by the lack of it.  I know that I love.  Until the last line has been crossed, I won’t stop.  I’m free to love without let or hindrance.  Being able to love like that is a miracle, given where I’m from and the environment that produced me.

I don’t blame my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandma; they all were shortchanged too, in a way, and they gave me the endurance that keeps my good ship rocking.  That fierce unspoken love that’s so hard to convey in words, I’ll cherish til the day I die.  But when I caught up with my dad, earlier this year, and found we were on the same page, it gave me such a catharsis, and such delight.  We had grown.  We had the tools to describe our growth.  We could talk about hurt and emotions and doubts, our philosophies and histories, without embarrassment or euphemistic blurring or holding back. And he loves me anyway.

Since then, we’ve emailed more and spoken on the phone, and it has been such a joy — to be known, and to be loved.  I used to withhold the unhappy parts of myself, the scars and mental messes and mistakes I’d made.  I used to feel that no one could possibly understand.  And I was certain that no one who truly knew me could ever love me.

I tore down that thick wall around my ugly side because it worked too well.  No one knew me.  Which meant that their love didn’t mean a thing to me.  And it is disrespectful to mislead people.  I believe in boundaries, and big, distant ones at that — it allows you to welcome people further in rather than have to push them back out — but material omissions are unfair to them and unhelpful to you.

Dad is not concerned with saving my soul, but he praises it, just as it is.  Thank you, Dad.  It means the world to me.

But I’m deeply glad I got to the point of no longer needing this validation by the time I got it.  Having someone throw you a life ring when you’re drowning is the deepest relief, and let no one sell that short.  But staying afloat, teaching yourself to swim, and being strong enough for long enough to make it to shore…it wasn’t a sure thing.  There are parts of my childhood I wouldn’t wish on any kid, but the Krazy Glue holding me together is stronger than the shards.  Surviving, learning to love, learning acceptance without expectation…this challenge was my Everest.  And I climbed it by myself.

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Miscellany du Jour

Forgot to eat until three pee em today.  Unheard of.  Possibility:  new stinkum, with honey-bourbon-vanilla notes, might be stifling my appetite rather than whetting it.  I don’t care for sweet food — not more than one bite — and the scent alone might be reducing my urge to nosh.  But I don’t think the Cloyingly Rich Perfume Diet will fly any time soon.

Scrubbing the loo is loathesome, but gleaming fixtures bring me wa.  The opposite of wa is being so grossed out by a shower floor that I prayed for the ability to hover.  There is nothing like having four male roommates at once to make one see the wisdom in wearing footgear to the bathroom.

Now that I’m an old married lady, I’m adding Honey’s CDs to my computer (and if waiting sounds ridiculous, I’d ask you to give me your take on current copyright laws.)  But one of them was spattered in soda (howinhell does that happen?) and then replaced in the case (whoinhell does that?)  I’d love to blame his ex-wife, but I know the beast well, and she never put away anything in her cotton-picking life.   At least it’s on the non-playing side.

Scanning extensive documents without auto-feed is vastly boring.  Even more tiresome?  Staring at a stack of insurance paperwork and tax documentation.  The annoyance has to build up in my system first.   But what a relief when it’s gone.

Groundhog Day was the day before yesterday and it’s currently 66F outside.  Working on five pee em.  That’s dark, where I grew up, and rock ice, and I still can’t get over this balmy weather.  If only it never got any warmer…..

Today, I am especially grateful for coffee; for coffee that can be bloody strong and yet be 2/3 decaf; and for coffee I did not have to boil in a pot and settle with an egg.

I am grateful, in a shamefaced way, for the good people at Dow Chemical, who made scrubbing bubbles.  When people became so fastidious (or decadent, or both) that daily bathing prompted them to build indoor baths (and when did they start putting them next to the toilet?  So much for hygiene) the heinous chore of loo-scrubbing was born. Doctors and nurses I’ve worked with have stressed that periodic purging will keep bacteria from burgeoning, but unless you’re hosing the walls with bleach, there is no real chance of creating a sterile, immune-system-lowering germ-free environment.  So scrub away. Scrub on, Scrubber.

On the other hand, unless it’s livestock, you stand no chance of catching anything from a toilet seat — with or without the utterly useless toilet seat “protectors” that look like waxed paper cowboy hats — so long as you are actually sitting on it, and not doing handstands, and then sucking your thumb.  Wash your hands all you want — they’ll never be clean — so for god’s sake, stop biting your nails and picking at your eyelashes.

But I’m terribly sorry for wrecking the environment and the water supply.  I really am.  But I live in a city and we can’t all go down to the river and scour our hides with sand.  Not even on a roster basis.

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Thoughts on religion, from Granny Weatherwax

There is a strange phenomenon in my online life of comment-leaving interaction with other comment-leavers.  I used to be a devout Christian of the non-denominational evangelical variety, complete with glossolalia and other gifts of the Holy Spirit, and despite having been vouchsafed sight of many miracles, eventually lost my faith.  That story, along with my native agnosticism and chosen atheism, is for another day.

But because I remember my earnest faith quite well, and still have a family of believers, I’m often the only person in the atheist clubhouse (or even the progressive Christian clubhouse) who can answer the question, “What in HELL are those people smoking that they believe that BS?”  Progressive Christians in the room either stay silent, possibly out of embarrassment of association, or so as not to be seen defending the extremists, or they sneer at their farther-right brethren, possibly for the same reasons, or even because extremists richly deserve it.  Inter-sect rivalry?  Who knows.

Being the only person, or one of very few, who pipes up with insight into the American evangelical mindset,without contemptuous wild-assed conjecture, often leads people to construe my explanation as endorsement.  I don’t blame them for skimming, but it’s not my position.

Once they find out my actual position, they tend to want to get chummy by expressing contempt for religious extremists, and I give them the cold shoulder at that point.  They don’t get it, they really don’t.  I’ve tried to explain it, with no luck.  Lately, reading Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett, I ran across a rant by Granny Weatherwax to a Priest of Om that sums it up pretty well.

Granny asks the priest if his god, Om, has ever been seen by anyone, and the priest confesses that thousands of people saw Om appear, according to their holy text, but that was a long time ago, and now it’s in dispute.  She replies,

     “Right. Right.  That’s people for you.  Now if I’d seen him, really there, really alive, it’d be in me like a fever.  If I thought there was some god who really did care two hoots about people, who watched ’em like a father and cared for ’em like a mother…well, you wouldn’t catch me sayin’ things like ‘there are two sides to every question’ and ‘we must respect other people’s beliefs.’  You wouldn’t find me just being gen’rally nice in the hope that it’d all turn out right in the end, not if the flame was burning in me like an unforgivin’ sword.  And I did say burnin’, Mister Oats, ‘cos that’s what it’d be.  You say that you people don’t burn folk and sacrifice people anymore, but that’s what true faith would mean, y’see?  Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at a time, to the flame, declarin’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathin’ the soul of it.  That’s religion.  Anything else is just…bein’ nice.  And a way of keepin’ in touch with the neighbors.”

I couldn’t agree more.  If a person sincerely believes, to the core of his being, that he has an open wire to an eternal and almighty God, whose will is known to us through holy writ, how can he be true to that overwhelming reality without doing things that, to nonbelievers and other-believers, seem grossly unfair and against the social contract?

If you have ever experienced true-to-the-bone, core-melting belief, the people who aren’t really sure what they believe — but insist that they behave so nicely as they do because God wills it — might irritate the hell out of you.   When they talk about being nice per God’s will, it makes me wonder if they’re admitting to having horrible, violent inclinations that are only barely kept in check by fear of going to hell.  But no, not really.  They are genuinely nice people, and they would behave nicely whether or not they were religious.

The fact that they pick and choose what to believe, out of the Bible, lets you know without a doubt that they don’t have an almighty God that they worship; they insist that God fit with what they already believe.  The rationale sometimes comes out in this form:  “No real god would hate gays!  My favorite aunt is gay!”  — Which tells you how much logic is involved.  God doesn’t have to be what you think God should be.  If he did, would there be child abuse, disease, and starvation, and all that jazz?  The Catholic Church practically invented the orthodoxy to cover up for the theodicy problem, believe me, and make it look like it was all our fault and not God’s.  But if God’s the grown-up in the room, and by definition could stop it, but doesn’t…He’s responsible, in my book, and if He does exist, He has a hell of a lot to answer for.

But back to the flock.  If you don’t have real faith, why pretend?  If you’re not going to do the ugly stuff that devotion demands, why get so defensive about doing the obviously good stuff “for God”?  There is more than sufficient reason to be a good person without insisting that God wants it that way.  Especially when He doesn’t.

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RuPauls’ Drag Race: Comments

Is it just me, or do some of these ladies remind you of past contestants?

Alisa Summers, a real stunner, reminded me of that Jersey bitch from last season, with the fierce bod and a blind spot for everything but how pretty she was — Carmen Carrera.  Who?  Me?  Eliminated?  But I’m so pretty.

Madame LaQueer = the looks of Mimi Imfurst, and the personality of Delta Work.

And again, we have the clusters of showgirls, tasty and satisfying meat & potatoes drag, an impersonator, and the self-made Creatures category.

Which is not to say that they can’t be brilliant, not at all.  They may well meet or exceed the standards set in previous seasons.  But I was really hoping that in addition to these breeds of cat, we’d see some stylish gender masala, more like Ongina, Raven, and Nina Flowers.  Gender neutral art persons are wonderful, but I love mixing it up from the deep end, too.  That high contrast paradox of rich masculinity and aggressive feminine signifiers is PO-TENT.

My great wish, which Santa might have ignored, is please, please:  more wit!  Pandora Boxx and Jujubee were delicious.  Raja invested great wit and imagination into the competition itself (really thoughtful presentation, using her traits and talents to best effect, etc.) (and completely deserved to win), but not so much into one liners — although, to be honest, that would have developed persona contrary to the finished product, sometimes; a bad idea.  No demerits, then.  Manila Luzon had brains for days, and was very witty, but in a shallow, bitchy person, it can only count for so much.

This season, we have some fine kinds who show more gracious poise  than one-liners — Milan, Latrice Royale, Jiggly Caliente — and they have great heart, which makes me root for them, despite a lack of snappy patter.  But if the only wisecrackers we have this season are Creatures, I’ll be sorry, since there seems to be a lot of Manila-style bitchiness in that corner of the room.  Throwing shade is very tiresome if it’s not more funny than mean.

Special mention goes to Jiggly Caliente, who earned, most beautifully, both halves of her name at the LS4YL.  I was delighted that she didn’t have to go up against Kenya Michaels, who is not just a beauty, but a damn fine dancer.  And yet I was sorry to see Alisa Summers go.  Her looks might have been her Achilles’ heel as well as her strength, but I still could look at her all day.

And finally, kudos to Shangela, for being able to laugh at herself.  This might be her excuse to put “hallelu” to rest forever.  One may hope.

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