School Marm Ghetto

Image result for San Francisco Bay Area Traffic

San Francisco has returned education to its roots, by attempting to provide “affordable” housing to its educators.   Like the 1800s, when teachers of the plains and western states were required to live in or near the one room school houses, the city is converting an old school into barracks-like apartments for teachers-only to rent. Of course, the people behind this plan think it is a meaningful, maybe even a humane solution.   At what point will they realize that by providing housing, in the same way they provide housing to low-income families in many other cities, they are literally and conceptually ghetto-izing the job of being an educator?

The Golden Gate City is one of the most interesting, attractive cities in our country, with a rich history and cultural landscape; intriguing foods, distinct villages or boroughs, tantalizing vistas all add to define it as an original.  And for years the variety of dwellings has also allowed its citizens to remain inside its boundaries with generations of people  who have called themselves San Franciscans.

But then the tech companies landed. With the money that many of its workers earn, land and buildings have disappeared into their pockets, which then has allowed a competitve market to open up where property costs have sky rocketed. A place where the average worker-nurses, electricians, teachers-could still live is harder and harder to find inside the city.

Add that teachers are notoriously underpaid for their degrees and expertise, especially new teachers, and the city now has a problem on its hands.  Where do you find people to teach your children, when they can’t live within the community?

So make the teachers commute.  Big deal.  (Except this is not true in any other major city to this degree.  Even teachers in Manhattan can live in Manhattan.) Commuting takes away precious after- and before-school time that teachers use to tutor and connect with their students.  It takes away moments of comradery between faculty and administration which is essential to build a strong school family, an hallmark of a “good school”.  It also removes the teacher from the community, which in my experience, is a wonderful part of teaching.  Kids who run into Ms. Sneed or Coach Bowen at the grocery store or the local burger joint feel a stronger sense of pride, respect, and even identity than those who think teachers fold-up into drawers at the end of the night.   Toss in the stress of the extra hours on the road, fighting traffic, and even the cost of gas and wear and tear on the car, and commuting is forcing some teachers to vacate not just the city, but the profession.

Now realize that all educators are paid with money from property taxes, and you’d think the solution was built into the cause of the problem to begin with.  Land values go up, salaries do too.   Right?  Well, not quite. They have both risen since the techies arrived, but not in comparable rates.  The value of property has risen by 40%, but teacher salaries have risen by 15%.  So Ms. Sneed, young teacher, now makes $4000 more a year, hardly enough to keep up with the newer rents, where the average rent is $4200 a month.  (Because, guess what, the cost of everything inside the city limits has risen, too; food, gas, health activities all range between 25% to even 70% than the rest of the country. )

Enter the politicians.   Recognizing that they were struggling to find educators willing or able to make those commutes, and were limited to a smaller pool of the most-qualified applicants, they made a decision:  “Let’s revamp that old building in town into lofts for teachers. . .”  Yay!

But what they are doing is keeping the educators segregated from the community.   Physically underscoring that teachers don’t fit in with the very children they teach.  Politicians are also labelling them as people who need to live in “the projects.”

NO matter how cute the floors are or how attractive the landscaping is outside, everyone nearby knows. . .”Those folks living there. . .they are the teachers who couldn’t afford to live anywhere else here.”  And if they have kids, their kids will most likely be grouped with other educator’s kids only, much the way kids in the project hang with kids from the project. Teachers living there also seem to hand their independence and privacy over to the city-Managers can come in and monitor, even define, the lifestyles inside the building. . .just as they did over 100 years ago with the young, unmarried women of the 1800s, who lived in the back of the school, and followed a strict code of behavior.

Can you imagine the  uproar if they did the same to any other “degreed” profession?

The worst part about this is that it signifies what the U.S. has been guilty of doing to teachers throughout public schooling-treating us like servants (civil servants, of course) rather than private citizens. We are nearly a class of soldiers, with separate rules of living and now the housing to go with it.

Where’s the Hair?

Image result for hairy chest caveman

Men’s body hair?   I for one don’t understand where it is disappearing to.  Well, the chin, obviously, since hipsters everywhere are trying to impersonate Rip Van Winkle.

I’m beginning to miss body hair in general.  The other day, my youngest son was glancing over my shoulder while I was poking through a magazine.  On one page was an ad for a hair removal product.  The pretty model held an old photo of herself as a pre-teenager.  Her arm used to be covered in black down.  Not too crazy, just the sort that Italian girls might have sported when I was a kid.

Son said, “EWWW. Yuuuuck.”

“Huh?” I replied, as he pointed to what was grossing him out.  “That hair?  So what?”

And here’s the thing: he says, NOT something about her or other girls, but about himself: “I hope my arms don’t ever get like that.”

Well, my beloved kiddo, they MIGHT!

I was expecting him to say something negative about girls, but apparently very few girls even at his young age have any arm hair any more.  Are their parents shaving it off?  Waxing it?  They are not old enough for laser. . .I think.

I find his reaction so very ironic because when he was an infant, one of his self-soothing gestures was to suck his thumb while he gently yanked and smoothed the hair on my arm. . .or his father’s or his grandparents’.  I mean, my arm hair is  a smattering of blonde, or at the very darkest, light ginger growth, but it is graspable.  Oh, the sweet memories of his nursing, while he played with the little hairs on my wrist.

I’m sure there is some deep Freudian something at the root of his pubescent yuck of a hairy arm on himself.  I’m not sure I want to go there.

But more than likely, it is simply modern culture that is destroying his future self-esteem, should he grow up to be as fuzzy as his grandfathers.  Or Mom.

I know the trend of shearing the body to the skin is nothing new on the female side of the genders.  Years ago when I was divorced and had jumped back into the dating pool, I tried the waxing.  My arms suffering first, which bled,  stopped me from trying the wax in a more hairy, more tender region for sure.  In fact, my arm hair became ingrown, once the somewhat curly bits started filling in, causing a rash the likes of smallpox.

I had to go on a first date on one of the hottest days of the year wearing long sleeves. And of course, the date asked me, why the hell are you dressed like that?

Because YOU IDIOTS have decided hair is gross.

Even farther back in time, before the naked pubic bone trend, while I was teaching in a southern, “traditional” school, meaning a place where the men still saw themselves as the lions of the home, we came to a reading passage in a book which mentioned something about hair on a girl’s legs.

A young man shouted out how disgusting that was.  A young lady next to him said, “Lots of women around the world never shave their legs or their armpits.”

“Not their armpits?!!” he griped.  “That’s just plain dirty!”

“So,” I said,  “Really?  Why don’t you shave your armpits then?  Somehow YOURS are nice and clean? And hers,“ pointing at the girl  ”Are dirty?”

“Well. . .yeah!” said the boy.

I said, “HOW?  Don’t men sweat more?  Don’t they have more hair?  If so, how is it cleaner exactly?”

He started turning red.

I continued, “I think you should stand up now and say to all the ladies in class that you are simply a cleaner human being than they are, but that you could be even cleaner.  And then offer to shave your pits.”  He put his head down on the desk to shut me out and said not another word.

The hypocritical thing is that I did shave my pits then.  And I had no intention of stopping and no intention of men ever doing it.

I’ve accepted that this is just how things are.  So much so that a few weeks ago when everyone was up in arms over Sansa Stark being graphically raped by Bolton in Game of Thrones, and more so when R. R.  George Martin stated this was simply realistic to the time period setting, I couldn’t be bothered to ask, “If you are trying to be realistic to a time period then why is Cersei not covered in leg hair, or worse, why does Cersei have a ‘narrow landing strip’ of hair on her pubis.  Pretty modern. . .”

But the bald woman has become so “normal” I stayed out of that argument on misogyny.  I figured it was the actress herself who wouldn’t be caught dead with hairy legs on T.V..

BUT NOW. . .men are joining the changing trend .  And I don’t like it.

I happen to love a hairy chest, arms and legs on my men.  Whether a tiny smattering in that concave area between the pecs, or a thatch from shoulders to naval and below;  Think 1980s Alec Baldwin or Sean Connery? YUM!

I feel badly for men in general, and my sons specifically, that now they are beginning to suffer the grooming demands of a hair-fearing culture.  Sure, I can see the appeal of a slip-and-slide chest that some women crave.  But the vanity and the procedures behind maintaining such is so unappealing.  If it is natural, okay.  If not, don’t go there, Guys

I also feel badly for the young ladies whose mental picture has been so shaped by their culture that they cannot love a downy chest the way I can.  The Black silk that lines my husband’s stomach.  Tingly nirvana, Women!

And I hate that my children may have ANY itch of self-loathing due to the demands of hair-hating women.  My oldest son whose chest is fuzzy blond does pick and pull at it, and has wondered aloud about shaving it.

I cannot tell him that when I was back in the dating pool years ago after his father and I split, I dated a MUCH younger man. To my shock, the guy groomed his privates and shaved his chest. And even as recently as he had done so, I was completely turned off by the mere stubble on his stomach, and the weird crew cut feel of his pubis.  Of course, I guess men are used to that feel from their wives or girlfriends . . .but I’m not going to discuss that with my son.

Not quite.  I simply said, “Not all women want a naked little boy chest.  Some women prefer MEN.  Keep your hair.”

Come on!  If we can shape people into this current baldy viewpoint, let’s reshape them back to the other.

The End of the B Movie! (aka The End of Quality)

Hollywood has always created both masterpieces and schlock. I have never felt that every movie produced needed to be the best possible work ever, though, if you’re going to do it, why not do your best, right? But, fine, there is a niche for cheap crap, or even expensive crap in the theaters; we used to call these B films. And rightfully, everyone involved knew it was a B film before selling or buying it.

Somehow it feels as if the movie industry has no concern, no recognition anymore for this boundary, trying to pass off B flicks as quality, oscar worthy films; it is destroying the joy of crap, for crap’s sake, and the thrill of masterpiece theater. Sure, in the past, a movie might really want to be great and it flopped, but at least you could tell someone was trying. But now there is a laziness, where, you can almost hear the director thinking, “Ah, who cares. It’s got a star. . .why worry about the quality. No one will notice.” (Think LONE RANGER for instance.) Enter ELYSIUM . .old news, but perfect to illustrate my point.

This movie in the ads, looked stellar: Can’t! Wait! Matt Damon? Jody Foster? It MUST be awesome! However the only redeemable element about this mess is how it gave the boys and me loads to discuss (read:criticize) in terms of its many distracting plot wrecks. We bonded as a family over our displeasure. It was neither a good film, or fun B Flick. And, spoiler alert, aside from being extremely derivative, and predictable, and self-righteous, here’s what we else couldn’t ignore in the film:

1. In almost two centuries into the future, The Wealthy escape to a segregated paradise in space because Earth is a polluted, starving hellhole-not just Delhi-Bad, but escape-the-planet bad. But. . .Where is the starvation? If so, how are there tons of people in every nook and cranny, but no dead bodies piling up as history proves there would be? Why does the granny peasant have a cart filled with fat swine, fresh pork on the hoof and no one is paying one lick of attention to her? No one is trying to knock the eighty year old over for the meat. (and how is granny moving the cart?) People are smeared with sweat and grime. . .implying hovels and outhouses, but there is clean running water coming from the taps. . .implying there is still an infrastructure.
2. There are still hospitals on Earth with doctors and nurses. So doctors-the wealthy class in our age- are not going to move to Elysium? Oh, they would be obsolete there. So wait, they don’t make any money on earth? Huh? Do they still have medical schools in this hellhole? Who pays for this? Structure that the plot doesn’t support.
3. the world is in chaos. But there are still many jobs that look suspiciously like the ones now-production, computing, doctoring? So is the real problem smog then? Where are the face masks? Where are the inevitable skin diseases? Oh, wait there’s a kid on crutches. I guess smog causes leg troubles.
They still have personal cars, perhaps souped up jalopies from the present age. But one guy who has an underground network of computers also has a handful of personal spaceships. So either he’s the equivalent of a modern day billionaire with a handful of Rolls Royces, in which case, why isn’t HE on Elysium? Or spaceships are accessible; if so, then why the heck are cars even still around? (And where is the gas secured in all this chaos?)
4. A group of spaceships attempts to smuggle people (dirty, broken, crazed people) into Elysium. Okaaaay? Why? The place looks sort of small. Even with the new “citizen” tattoos, where are these stowaways going to live, work, eat? Or are they hoping to quickly break into a rich house, climb into the tanning-slash-healing bed, get fixed, then hop a ride back home to Earth? It’s a little like someone trying to break into Buckingham Palace to live, and hoping no one will notice.
5. Matt, Our hero, is offered and rejects an amazing variety of life enhancing pills in the beginning, sort of like SOMA from Brave New World. But there is still yearning and distress on Earth? WTF? Are we supposed to assume Elysium is really like a resort that one aspires to instead of a separate society?
6. Our Hero, having been imprisoned many times, at some point decided to go straight, so he could save money to get to Elysium. So in this broken world, a job is more stable and financially rewarding than crime and black market? Isn’t that a little bit of why the wealthy are trying to secure their way of life in the first place: to get away from crime/criminals? How is Our Hero different from them then. . .Is he more kind because he hugs his “criminal friend”? Again, the stability of Earth doesn’t fit the movie’s premise.
7. BIG ISSUE: Robots do many human jobs, like acting as parole officers, flying planes to and from Elysium, being police officers who have legs and hands and minds that are humanoid, BUT our hero has a job screwing nuts, bolts, and pushing buttons on a dangerous radiation-filled assembly line. Weren’t humans replaced by machines on assembly lines back in Ford’s day? Yet they’ve got very human robots who could easily screw in a bolt? Or the rich schmo from Elysium who has to travel to the factory, he can’t give directions from home? From space, Jody can lock down all air travel, and summon a sleeper-agent on Earth, but this guy can’t get a production company in line from space, with or without robots?
8. There is a machine that can revamp not only human tissue, but human (and viral) DNA in mere seconds. But so far these fear-filled wealth mongerors have not come up with an effective form of birth control? What about some handy population control machines? Hey, lady, come walk over here by this sensor. Stand still a minute. Op, there you go. No more babies, for you, little lady! They can’t swing that since that is what ruined earth to begin with? And the wealthy I know are more philanthropic than anyone else I know. Why exactly are these folks so greedy with their magic machine?
9. Power hungry lady-Jody-is willing to risk it all, stage a coup, and murder the president of Elysium. Machines can graft, repair bone and flesh in mere seconds. She gets a fatal wound. Nurse can save her to put her in machine later, and Power woman says, “no, thank-you” and dies? Huh? But why? (I think Jody, the actress, had just had enough and literally said, I’d rather die. . .)
10. WORST of all. . .Premise of film is Rich vs. Poor, Elysium vs, Earth, equality vs. Inequality, Jody vs. Matt. All rising action is along those lines. Final show down is between, not Jody and Matt, but Matt and angry, crazy dude, who was seemingly not right in the head earlier, for reasons unrelated to premise. He’s extra pissed because Matt blew off his face, not because Elysium is elitist, not because he was poor. . .so Matt has to take down not “the power”, but crazy dude. That could have been set in any movie, any time, for any reason- which thereby negates the whole flipping premise. Sure, crazy dude mentions early on that he wants Matt’s brain chip to wield some power, but that never comes up again. Not only does this climactic scene destroy the plot arc the writer tried to set up, it gives us good reason to want an Elysium of our own: to get away from crazy, dudes like him.

And here’s why it annoys me enough to write. How hard would it be to fix these many flaws?

Show people truly starving. Don’t give Matt a real job, or give everyone hellish jobs, like slaves. Do have computer geek but get rid of smuggling ships, or at least show us a few folks who have been able to successfully sneak on. Or not. We can learn about lifesaving machines in some other way. Get rid of any semblance of a regular, albeit dirty, world on Earth. Explain how population control is too expensive for the rich to install;. Elysium is easier. Let computer geek try to steal chip AND ship from rich guy to put Matt on Elysium. Kill off Kruger. Go ahead and save his life in machine. Have Jody kill him in surprise twist. Have Jody strap on (smirk) and get into a fist fight with Matt. Who among us wouldn’t love that scene!

How hard was that? But NO. . .The creators disrespect their audience so much that they cannot be bothered to write a tight, plausible script; They don’t care even when the bullshit is obvious in just about every single scene. I read a horribly written book once where a cop (secretly) shoots and kills a bad guy in the front yard of a mansion, to rescue freaked out damsel in distress. He and the love interest then go inside and have a light lunch. They just go about their business, onto the next plot development. No one else ever notices dead guy. No one ever asks. The dead body just never comes up again. It is still on the front lawn I suppose. Hollywood is more often than not, phoning it in, just like that crappy novel, but expecting us to applaud anyway.

What were Jody and Matt thinking? (The heavy handed social-political statement was so intrusive that even THAT can’t explain why they signed on to this film). Shame on them; but then. . .look at the ratings. . .it’s as if viewers don’t even recognize a B Flick anymore.

So are we then to blame for this overt laziness?

Depression: Too Common to Care

Robin Williams, please forgive me. I am going to inadvertently throw you under the bus. I loved you. I still do. I always will, though sometimes I admit. . .I turned away from you when you’d get manic on talk shows. When I was thirsty for “you”, it was too tough to watch you instead isolate in front of an audience. It is painful now to watch as we, your people, shower you with affection AFTER your darkest hour, and excruciating to see how we are using your death as a platform to discuss the thorns of the depression business.

I say “we” because I am climbing on that platform, too.

People are saying (everywhere) how dismissed it is as a disease. Insidious, destructive, misunderstood, but most of all dismissed. Dismissed because of the supposition that people who suffer from its jaws are mentally frail, maybe even lying. . .at the very least self-involved. We are demanding that more light shine on this disease, and asking that people do not vilify the sufferer.

More light?Is it really any less recognized as a disease than any other?

In terms of advertising, anti-depressant meds take up almost as much air time as headache and arthritis meds.. Bus riders in my city see posters advertising local therapy centers. Schools send home, along with how to notice ADD, documents to help parents/teachers notice depression among preteens, along with the suggestion to “speak with the child’s pediatrician” about these signs. The Golden Gate Bridge literally has a hotline in the middle of the bridge, with signs telling would be leapers to get help.

We do not come across as a nation that closets the topic of depression. If anything, we seem on the capitalistic side of it, perfectly willing to farm the profits of its biological effects, if we could just get all those obviously depressed folks to come in for help.

Therein lies the problem. Diagnosing the illness is often anecdotal, rather than medical. People aren’t sure, or maybe unwilling to see it in themselves. Even Williams in an interview years ago tried to shrug off the implications that he was mentally ill.

So what we really are complaining about isn’t depression being recognized as a disease. Instead, we are upset about how others feel about us and our depression stories.

Do you dislike Mike Douglas because he battles cancer, or Vice President Biden for his heart disease? How about Mary Tyler Moore for Diabetes? I am sure you might have felt pity for them or at least sympathy. But remember Steven Wright’s humor. . .the depressed guy gig, where he uses a flat voice, zero facial affect, and whines? Who wants to be around that?

I had a professor ten years ago who battled severe depression. She was extremely open about it. I felt for her because I suffer from depressive episodes related to PMDD. At least I know that in a few days I won’t want to toss myself off the top of any buildings anymore. I will want to climb out of bed with purpose again. . .

But then. . .I felt like every time Prof. So-and-so took three weeks grading our work, every time she missed a thesis meeting, every time she came late to class. . .her students got a play-by-play of her empty, mentally exhausting weekend. She would be prostrate, tearfully apologetic. But also. . .an eensy bit self-righteous. Who are you students to expect me in my depression to work!?

When I suffered from debilitating morning (read: 24/7) sickness with child two, my students certainly weren’t forgiving. Nonstop vomiting is no good excuse. When my best-friend is hospitalized with complications of her kidney transplant, people expect her work to be finished still. Cancer insurance exists to cover the costs of missing work while one undergoes chemotherapy, implying that no work, equals no pay. Yes, these are recognized diseases, but they come with expectations and not really all that much sympathy. Honestly, my diabetic friend learned long ago people don’t really want to talk about that either.

I, in fact, do not want people to talk to me only about my disability, and their interest is really limited.

So is it that people suffering from depression want more sympathy? More attention? More forgiveness? More sick days? Like I said, it’s not really like ANY disease gains that much acceptance or warmth from others.

But to concede, I know there is stigma. Teachers have to admit (and most do not) if they have ever been treated for depression on their applications. They also know to keep it to themselves if they seek treatment. (You’d better say you were seeking therapy for family counseling and not depression.). Everybody fears a teacher “going postal” at school, right? Infact, even the term “going postal” illustrates the ridicule that depression receives. It’s a term, coined by jokesters, about the worst results of depression. No one says, when a man dies of lung cancer, “He went all carcinogenic on us, man!” Noone mocks it. . .Unless, being depressed, the lung cancer patient shoots out the chemotherapy floor.

I have found that stigma tends to exist around two extremes: the unknown and the questionable common. Extremely rare birth defects, rare forms of cancer, injuries from strange events, like spontaneous bone breakage or flesh eating viruses freak people out. They rubberneck briefly, then disappear. But very common inflictions also make people uncomfortable if there is an “unsavory” or distasteful quality to it. Thus, HIV has stigma, breast cancer does not. Scabies, no stigma, crabs, yes. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome vs. Down’s syndrome. ADD. vs. Depression. One is okay and worth our sympathy. The other is too low to discuss. (Plus, the that is judged seems to have culpability attached to it. Or so, people think.)

So just what’s unsavory about depression really. Where’s the blame?

Frowns? Tears? Constant Criticism? Negative Outlook? Self involvement? Drug or alcohol abuse?

Death?

Worse. It’s Death by what we see as selfish choice.

Who are you to leave us hurting? Who are you to choose to leave the rest of us slogging through the daily sludge without you? Depression is so common, almost everyone will suffer from it some point, but we do not all succumb.

It’s the “I walked through ten miles of snow up hill in my bare feet every day to go to school” mentality of the rest of the world that keeps depression dirty.

Seeking a Placebo: God, Me, and Everything.

Some people can be hypnotized.

Some of us see signs. Everywhere.

Some can turn off the pain of hot coals singing our feet.

And many of us feel certain God watches over us.

But then. . .some of us cannot.

Years ago, I was watching a film on how people “see the bright light” during near death experiences, a documentary that explored the spiritual and/or biological evidence and theories surrounding the universality of this phenomena. People from far ends of the Earth have commonly described the brilliance and sense of wellbeing at coming closer to this light. Historical references crossing centuries cite the same experience. As I watched, for one brief moment, I had such complete faith that there was “more” beyond “here”, the most blissful tranquility simply settled over me.

I said brief moment. Too brief.

I am the person who says to those pitching the intricate design argument, “Well, if this is all too complicated to be random, then who created God? Or did he randomly appear?” If one must be begotten. . .

Believe me. I would rather feel the peace than questions.

My husband’s faith on paper sounds like my own. Like me, he does not imagine a God who is fatherlike, listening to our every word, magnanimously answering prayers. He does not believe in predestination, hell, or even destiny. But, unlike me, in practice his faith is deep, sure, comforting; he willingly goes to his knees to give thanks, to empty his heart of fear or pain. He lives as fully in the moment as anyone I know, trusting that with sense, all will be as it should.

On those nights when I am still awake when the morning’s alarm rings, I envy the easy sleep my husband enjoys. His profound ability to hand his day over to God is undeniably complex, yet simple.

When I use the word God. . .I might mean the rain, or the Earth, or Jesus, or love. It really doesn’t matter. To my husband, it is the unknowable, the essential, the everything of all. We agree on this, yet his relationship with God fits him so well.

And more than anything. . . I want what he has.

To find this relationship isn’t as simple as reading The Bible, or the Koran. It will not come to me by studying the wisdom of prior or modern religious leaders. As much as I loved reading Joseph Campbell’s expertise on comparative religion, his knowledge and historical exploration of humankind’s faiths enlightened me, but also stunted me. This scope allowed me to see how essential to man a belief in a parental otherness is, but also made me very aware of man’s creation of God. The truth of those conflicting observations made me all the more aware of how important spiritual understanding beyond myself can be, but also made me so conscious of the false underpinnings of it.

My faith suffered a stroke.

I have hints of this peaceful faith I seek when I watch my family of cardinals return to our forsythia each year, or when my youngest son tucks me in at night (he switched the roles on me last year when I came home from the hospital). Finding a colony of trout lilies each spring, listening to a talented student sing wholeheartedly, lying with my ear against my husband’s heart as we fall asleep. . .all connect me to my God.

But then my brain interrupts with worries that mankind won’t truly move forward until we give up this father figure that all cultures seem to have, give up religion, and take on the awesome responsibilities of the universe ourselves. But. . .then again. . .How lonely and scary, and even a little dangerous.

So I waffle spiritually. My husband has no inner conflict here; peacefully changing what he can take responsibility for, moving through the world as if it is all up to him, but relying always on God for comfort are not contradictions to him. He’d just smile at you pleasantly when you try to argue this point. His belief is a living example of what phenomenologists call Epoche. His faith is so deeply felt that it needs no debate because of it.

Faith is found within me rather than without me. This concept is dawning on me, oh, so barely. So ephemeral a thought, that when I think on it, it evaporates.

I suppose I could design my own Eat. Pray. Love. experience to search for my spiritual peace. (But I am certain I’d end up never leaving the Italian leg of that journey, glorifying pasta, gelato, and Michelangelo every single day.)

What I am certain of is this: Twenty years ago, a pharmaceutical study on a new cancer drug was taking place with several groups. One observed side effect of this medication was extreme eyelash growth (among other more painful effects). Patients’ eyelashes literally could grow an extra inch. Unexpectedly, many members of the control group receiving the placebo, and no medication at all, discovered their eyelashes growing. The power of their mental system was so deep that their bodies physically altered, simply because they believed they were receiving the medication.

Do you see how astonishing that is? Unlike the hair on our heads, eyelashes have a set length. How can believing they will grow, actually shift the genetic predisposition of their length?

What limits can faith in anything have then? Does it matter that a “God of his Understanding” exists literally to my husband? No. What matters is that when he hands over the stress of his day, he believes fully that all will be the way it should be. He doesn’t try to define the “should be”. In fact, he doesn’t try to decide what that even looks like. He simply trusts that he will be able to face what comes his way because to him God is essential.

I do not mean to demean any religion by suggesting that faith is as baseless as those sugar pills, but I want that power of the placebo. I want to believe so deeply that no matter what the reality is, no matter whose belief system turns out to be right, I can be hypnotized into feeling no resentments, I can trust that everything will be okay. Not only will I see signs of greatness everywhere, I can walk on coals and no longer feel any pain. It is the belief that matters.

The Son who Loves those ‘Dorky Fantasies’ and the Mom who Loves him.

This started back when he was still small, probably six or seven. He could read, but I was still in the habit of reading to him each night. We had already finished as many Harry Potters as had been published by then, (which I loved; the dry humor always reminded me of Roald Dahl of my own childhood.) But Graham was now ready for The Hobbit, a natural boyish progression in the land of Fantasy fiction.

My own brother had tried to work me through all those plots too, when I was a child. He loved Tolkien, along with futuristic books like Dune, and anything by Ursula Le Guin. We were both children of the library. Being the hero-worshipping younger sister, I tried my hardest to fall in love with The Hobbit, but I didn’t get very far. It did inspire me to try writing my own inner Earth fantasy with talking bugs and moles and elves, complete with colored drawings. I didn’t worry too much about it. After all, even The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe series sort of bored me. I was more of a Jane Eyre, Little Women, April Morning sort of girl.

But then came my son. . .and a copy of The Hobbit.

This is honestly the only time I have fallen asleep while reading. . .and this was reading out loud. I’d get into the rhythm of pronouncing made up lands, made up people and made up vocabulary, and I’d just doze off, the book smacking me in the face. It was like reading to my son in a foreign language; I completely disconnected from my own voice. Oh, I tried. I’d literally prop my own eyelids up with my free finger tips. My poor boy would begin poking me because just before the book would nosedive, I’d start to ramble and mumble.

“Mommy. . .MOMmy! READ!” He was so hurt. Sadly, he finally took over and just read The Hobbit to himself. This might have been both my greatest failure and my finest success as a Mom.

Later came the Lord of the Ring movies. (I got to skip the books, halleleuah.) I adore movies, and I wanted to love the series to the point of obsession, just like everyone else on the planet. (What could possibly be wrong with any movie with Orlando Bloom, anyway?) Though I was a willing viewer of Part 1, Father and son had to force me to Parts 2 and 3. There is only so much Fight, Flee, Inspirational Speeches, Fight, Flee, Inspirational Speeches plot sequencing a woman can stand. Sure. Sure. We loved calling each other Precious for months, too, but I fell asleep during much of the films. They exhausted me.

When Hollywood finally got around to The Hobbit, my second, much younger son had been indoctrinated. So the whole family along with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law had to go. How could I say no. I literally walked out when the first reverent candle-lighting dwarf sing-a-long cropped up. Was I the only one who wanted to both groan and giggle at the sheer silliness of its pretension? Somber Dwarves, Hobbits, AND Gregorian chants? Too much. My family caught up with me rewatching Jack Reacher in another theater.

SOOOO. . .along comes my oldest son wanting to share his beloved Game of Thrones series of books. Luckily, The Hobbit all those years ago had not fully stopped our readers’ dialogue. He loved my Watership Down, I enjoyed his The Giver. But I knew with maps and zombielike creatures, I was heading into Tolkien-like territory with the GoT collection. Winter was coming, for sure.

I made it through the first two books okay. Admittedly, I ate through them in a week. No small feat at 800 plus pages each. Graham loved it and me for it. He could hint at what plot developments would come next, (where-spoiler alert-everyone must die!) He relished how many times I had to reference his giant Westeros map since my eyes are too old for the teensy ones in the books. . .even with “readers”. He could share my hatred of the same evil characters, but become defensive when I was getting offended by how incestuous every family was. The Lannisters, the Targaryans, the Wildling Craster, even a moment with the Greyjoys. . . what was up with author George R.R. Martin and his sister that this is the titillating plot he leans on so often. . .really? Luckily my son was old enough to discuss my distaste. . .

But by Book 3, I was suffering the Tolkien headache, the issue of a repetitious, never-flipping-resolved plot line. Remember that movie The Neverending Story with its addictive song? Whenever Graham came into my room for a plot discussion update, I just began singing, “It’s the never-ending stooooooreeeeee! eee! eee! eee! eee! eee! eee! eee! eee! eee!”

And as much as I loved connecting with Graham, I was starting to hate Martin. I didn’t want to face anymore dreary, muddy, starving, freezing, blood-drenched scenes where people I liked died. Horrendously. I gave up. I stopped. I found myself for the first time wanting to Wikipedia a damned book just to skip to the end, though I didn’t because, well, like I said: everyone dies. I figured I already knew the end.

A year later, I am home on medical leave, which leaves me time for reading. Out of reader’s desperation, I picked up Book 3 of Song of Ice and Fire (the real name of the series) again, only to find it as my favorite of the four I have read so far. After finding the chapter where I left off (pretty early, like chapter six or so) and after picking through Graham’s memory bank, I jumped back in.

I could not recall why I had gotten so burned out, for I enjoyed every word of the rest of that book (except maybe when he drones on with a bunch of minor characters’ names and histories-I skip those). Maybe it takes Martin a few books to finally find his rhythm? Maybe he stopped focusing on the incestuous and the sodomous? Whatever it is, I began to enjoy his characterizations, his ability to make us both love and hate a character (always a sign of a great writer.). Why in the world can I love the Jaime Chapters? How could Tyrion be my favorite voice? Why did I like the Sansa chapters and Graham hated them?

Graham is now of the age that he can discuss the deeper elements of fiction, the literary critical theories that apply. He was better versed than I at this, in fact; he knew what all the experts were saying about pretty much everything to do with the novels: theories on Martin’s psyche and process, analysis of Martin’s views on females, his use of famed mythology crossed with fictionalized history, and on and on. We have had some very intellectual (and pretentious) conversations, my son and I.

I’ve gotten so fond of the series (I am up to his fifth and final book, and I’m holding off just to savor it) that I take umbrage with the back cover blurb, calling Martin “the modern age Tolkien.” Whaaat? I’ve never hit myself in the face with any of George R.R. Martin’s books.

And let me say, Graham and I agree: Martin’s grasp of the greys of the human spirit, when it comes to the age-old good vs. evil themes, is so far superior to the stark whites and blacks of anything by Tolkien.

I know I was slow to the conversation on the GoT hubbub. But that’s okay. The books washed away my failings as a Hobbit reader and allowed me access back into my now grown son’s “dorky fantasy” world. (Those of us feeling left out use the word “dorky” as a defense mechanism, you know.) He can’t wait till I can bring myself to watch the actual TV series. I don’t relish watching the sex scenes with my “child” in the room. I’ll try to be as mature as Graham and not actively squirm. I’ve already checked out IMd and approved the pics of who plays whom. Wonderfully, one day soon, my youngest son, will be old enough to join the conversation as well. ..

Thanks, George Martin! May mothers everywhere embrace this chance to be on the same page as their sons.

Prejudice on Prejudice: Self-delusion


I live in the South. I should not have been as shocked as I was.

I say that, but I have often tried to defend the South, protect it from its own reputation. Back in grad school, Sarah Lawrence, famed for its liberalism in gender issues, gender equality, rich-kid black sheep, politics, agri-awareness, gluten free before most knew what gluten was, I had a roommate from Minnesota, still a dear friend. She came home with me one summer for a few weeks as college roomies tend to. Her very first crossing of the Mason-Dixon line. I quickly discovered she stepped off the plane feeling guarded, ready to step into activist mode just in case she witnessed inevitable acts of racism.

I laughed at her, really. What decade did she think she had deplaned into? What I watched instead was a young woman who had never really experienced integration. Here, she sat on buses, ate in restaurants, walked through galleries where workers and customers alike were black and white, socializing, equal. She liked to view herself as open-minded and completely racial-bias free, though reared in a 99.9% white city, attending the most expensive college in North America, where the only students in the one African American Literary studies class were all of the 27 African-American SLC students and one little white gal from the South, me (not her). It was tough for her to whisper to me in the Peachtree Diner that she just didn’t expect so many black people. She wasn’t a racist; just inexperienced. Easy to judge race relations isn’t it, when you never actually HAVE any yourself, right?

I returned to this theme when my husband took me for my second visit to San Francisco, his home town, famed for always being forward in human rights issues.
Again I found myself defending my South. We had spent the day sight seeing with one of Tony’s closest friends and his wife. Before they collected us at our hotel, we had encountered a completely naked man riding his bicycle around the Embarcadero fountain. Our youngest son who was nine at the time was so utterly shocked. Wasn’t that against the law (as his more modest older brother had threatened each time our youngest  streaked  the house after his baths)? He wanted to report this naked man to the local Mountie, who simply shrugged. Nine year olds are the fonts of Right vs. Wrong, and tattling. We quickly realized that hundreds of naked men, fleshy and taut alike, were straddling bikes for an annual protest of some sort. Hilarious little story we were sharing later with our friends-slash-tour guides.

Somehow this discussion transcended into parenting issues: whether living in SF where men can dangle their testicles out in public is as kid friendly as the South, where they believed racists bloomed on every veranda. Who would ever choose to raise children in the dirty South. . .? I defended this prejudice from folks who had never been to the South except maybe to gas up the family jet on their way to Europe.

I didn’t ingratiate myself when I asked just why they didn’t live or shop in Oakland? Why I didn’t see any African Americans sitting in this, their favorite restaurant, where we were enjoying each other’s company. I shared my observations of my former roommate’s visit. I don’t think they understood my point that they were as segregated as could be, but saw themselves as so evolved. Again, easy to judge when you don’t have any real race relations of your own to reflect upon.

I think what they heard me say was that racism is okay when you actually do have to rub shoulders. No, no. Not at all. My point was that the South in many ways has advanced much beyond where much of the rest of the country has, and one cannot know or praise his or her own metal unless it has been tested.

Last summer another close friend from California came to stay with us. Mike has three sons, two of whom are of mixed race, African-American and Thai. His youngest son and ours are great fast-friends, lego lovers, video game enthusiasts, mud grubbers in general. They see each other as cousins the way sons of good friends do. Again. . .sigh. . .Again, I was faced with that chip-on-shoulder mentality, the second Mike deplaned. He felt defensive in his son’s honor. I am not sure what he expected. Insults? Spit? After taking the boys to Walmart for a squirt gun run, he came home feeling exposed. He believed people were staring at this white Dad and his dark-skinned child.

“Both blacks and whites were looking at me funny.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yes! Man, it was weird.”

“Are you sure?” I laughed at him. “Noooooo. Really?” I was not buying it.

“Well. . .I think so. . .” he waffled.

I launched into the story of my former college roommate, her assumptions. Mike acknowledged that he had never seen so many various races in one suburb before, just like my roomie had noted years ago. My hubby snorted at him, too, and said, “I think you’re just too sensitive.”

I teach at a local school, which is integrated, but majority black. If I was forced to guess, I would say that a good 25% of my kids are of mixed race, with one parent being white or Latino and the other African American. No one is giving each other the stink eye at Open House PTA nights. I can probably look up the stats since census loves to pigeon hole us. But my point to our friend Mike was this: “I’d bet that seeing you and your son is more ‘normal’ to the people you run into here than to the circles you encounter out West.”

Yes, I was right. His son attends a school that is primarily white. Mike knows very few other integrated families. But because being so liberal is knee-jerk there, Mike assumes that his segregated community isn’t nearly as judgmental as my South is. He was projecting his fears onto these Walmart shoppers.

What should we call this prejudice, the South-is-all-Racist-ism? Southernerphobia?

So here I am. . .a history of defending the new South, feeling that we have crossed bridges that other people haven’t even witnessed yet. So when I say I was shocked, but I don’t know why since I am in the deep South, I’m ironic.

This past Sunday, my mother-in-law who retired here from San Carlos, California, five years ago loves to throw St. Paddy’s day parties. She had us, my sister and brother-in-law, and several of her neighbors over for Corned Beef and Cabbage. I finally got to meet the famously sweet, Gloria, a retired baker who had been praying and baking for me for months now. I had eaten some of her most delicious strawberry cakes, lemon pound cakes, and tea cookies, for she knew I had been hospitalized and recuperating from major surgery, and gave to me because she loves her neighbor; it’s what Godly Southern women do. With her elegant upswept hair, her feminine sweater-set and pearls, she bear-hugged me and drawled about how many prayers she had been sending to God just for me to get better.

Somehow, even though we have been taught repeatedly to never discuss religion or politics in social settings, the discussion shifted to politics as it does in a social setting. Started on the topic of beer, shifted to “best beer”, to Yuengling, then to Obama’s favorite beer being Yuengling.

Sweet little old cake baker opens her mouth, “Oh Lord, not Obama. . .”starts to hesitate, but says, “Oh, I’m sure everyone here agrees with my vote. . .” Scary, words, those.

My dear sister-in-law laughs and says, “Oh, I don’t know. A bunch of us are from California. . .heh heh.”  As in Hint. Hint.  Don’t go there, Lady.

This doesn’t stop old lady from saying with such sharpened vitriol, “I just don’t know why somebody hasn’t SHOT that black boy yet!”

My mouth fell open.   She was so Certain we agreed. Probably proud that she had politely said ” boy” instead of the forbidden N word. I HUFFED at her, but she kept talking on and on, and all I could do was say as gently as possible, “Really! Okay, enough of that. We do NOT all agree with you. That is enough of that talk. Stop it now.” And I stormed into the kitchen, well, as fast as my recuperating body can move.

I am not coddled here;  I have experienced and witnessed acts of racism from my peers and students;  (“White people smell like wet dog” to “Oh, I can’t learn here if it’s going to be all black . .. “) BUT I had not heard anything that racist since I was a child stationed with my Dad outside of Boston. I had definitely  never heard anything that unpatriotic, that TREASONOUS in person. Ever.

How could I break bread with this woman in a few minutes and sit down later to a plate full of her cake? I did not want to ruin my sweet Mother-in-law’s dinner simply because a particular breed of bird was singing her breed’s tune. Luckily, my reaction was enough to cow the lady, who was morosely quiet during dinner, and who then skittered away soon after her last bite.

But I felt all my defense of how far we’d come in The South was just a waste of my breath. Was it? Or is she just some old lady squawking what seemed normal to her generation? SHE is why my friends come here with their defenses up; no matter how ivory tower some of my friends might be, there is always some Genteel Christian Racist to help them feel liberal.