Friday, December 23, 2005

It's the hap-happiest season of all

Yesterday afternoon, I got a phone call that really pissed me off. It was the student who had been harassed by Dookie the other week. She was calling to let me know that her complaint about Dookie had finally been "resolved", at least to the satisfaction of the university. After meetings with Dookie and his advisor, the university official in charge of this case decreed that Dookie should not interact with the student he verbally assaulted, unless it's in an academic setting. Apparently the university officials forgot the initial cause for complaint occurred in an academic setting. And that there was at least one other student who wanted to file a complaint. What the fuck were they thinking? Holy shit.

I was so mad when I heard about this "resolution". So mad it seemed likely my plans for the evening were going to start crashing down. I had errands to run: stop at my favorite local herb farm before it closed, visit one of the first years to get her key and cat sitting instructions, and possibly, if time and mood permitted, do some holiday light sight seeing. After the call, I was seethingly angry though and started seeing things in that "fuck it" kind of way. You know, the one that gets you into the mode of "Fuck it. The herb farm is probably already closed anyhow." I started getting angrier at the thought of my errands being all messed up, basically I started having an internal tantrum. Rrrrrg. I told myself that if I didn't get out and at least try to get my shit done, then I was letting Dookie do even more damage. "Come on, git!" I told myself, "Get out there and do what you were going to do! No falling apart now. He has no right to this big a chunk of you." It is not always easy or warranted, but being able to kick yourself in the butt is a useful thing now and then.

Running late then, it was nearly dark when my friend A___ and I took off in a rush with 20 minutes til the herb farm closed. I ranted about Dookie nearly all the way, then finally said "Man I have GOT to talk about something else. This is pissing me off way too much."
About a minute later, we pulled into the parking lot. My heart looked like the gift barn part of the herb farm was all closed up. Too late. Fuck. Fucking Dookie, I started thinking again. Fucking university. Fuck.

We parked and knocked at the farm house anyhow. A woman opened the door, already putting on her coat to lead us down to the gift barn. As she turned on a few more lights in the barn, two beautiful and extremely friendly orange striped cats dislodged themselves from corners and drifted out to greet us. I have to say, I really do love this herb farm. It's a little run down, but it is one of the few things about this god forsaken state that I loved immediately. When I first moved here in 1998, my ex husband and I owned a house that was a little over a mile from the herb farm. I used to go there often, walk the grounds, look at the gardens, listen to the goats, and pat the various cats (then it was Crow and Patches). It has always been a place of peace, beauty, and healing for me.

The two orange cats are relatively new additions. Their mother, Agate, was a stray who wandered onto the grounds some years back. Obviously pregnant, Agate was so sweet and gorgeous that people were asking to be put on a list to adopt her kittens. A few months later, I came by again and found Agate teaching her group of orange kittens how to hunt. The two orange cats who greeted me yesterday night were from this litter. Miaow and Tigger, a female and male, practically assaulted me and A___ with purring, insistent kitty love. Miaow knocked over the essential oils in her attempt to show me how agile she was. Tigger got A___ to kneel down on the floor for pats, then latched onto the zipper of A___'s coat and would not let go. At one point when I was on the floor patting both cats they got so enthusiastic about the patting that they started nuzzling eachother as well as my hands. Ahhhh...kitty therapy to the rescue!

Miaow and Tigger's mom, Agate

We left. I could still feel the outrage over the Dookie situation, but was much calmer. We called the first year student (call her Sharon for simplicity's sake) to see if she was ready for us to swing by. Sharon is in her 40s and is a strong although somewhat traditionally feminine woman. She left her "real job" and sold her house to come to grad school, an act of immense bravery I think. Sharon was married for many years. After her marriage ended (quite some time ago) she fell in love with someone named Donald. Donald was diagnosed with Huntington's disease...I'm not sure on the timeline for that. I hope that they had some years together without this hanging over them. Sharon had told me how Donald had deteriorated to the point where he recently had to go into an assisted living facility. She's been a little weepy when she's talked about him in the past, understandably so. When I got Sharon on the phone last night, she was sobbing. She told me she just got news Donald is in what sounds like multi-system failure and will quite likely die within the next few days. She wanted to go to him, but had to spend the holidays with her family.

A___ and I stayed for a little while at Sharon's house. She was doing laundry in preparation for her weekend away. We talked about Donald, we talked about Dookie, about christmases past that we didn't celebrate much and why. This year, Sharon has no tree but got a poinsettia so her mom wouldn't think she needed antidepressants, she told me laughing a little. I don't bother with that kind of external, and I start to express this. Then I realize as it's coming out of my mouth that Sharon probably bought the plant to convince herself she didn't need antidepressants. Sometimes I am a complete idiot.

A___ and I left Sharon to her laundry and her grief. A___ told me about his dad who has T cell lymphoma leukemia. A___'s dad is immunocompromised and can't shake a months long respiratory infection. From what A___ has told me, the approach his dad's doctors are taking seems very, oh what's the word? STUPID? Phone conversations between his dad and either to PCP or oncologist go like this: "What you again? I don't know what else you want to do. I mean, it's just an antibiotic resistant respiratory infection. Go home, take some more antibiotics and try not to give this to your wife and grandchildren." I guess they don't want to be bothered to treat anything less than an utterly destroyed immune system. A___ says "So if I'm a little quiet or not here or something, it's probably because I'm thinking about this still." I appreciate the notice. We drove. "You wanna go find some decorations?" A___ asked.
Hell yes.

The first one we came across by accident. We were en route to a house of mythically gaudy christmas decor, but as we drove down a connecting back road, I spied puffy cartoon x-mas splendor hulking on the lawn of a modest ranch house. "Turn around" I said calmy but firmly to A___. He swung the car back without even asking why. "Oh my god!" he said as we cruised the lawn. We pulled in across the street, A___ readying his camera and me pulling off my coat as I walked. "Are you ready? Here I go...."
We snapped two photos then ran back to the car hooting with laughter. On to the next one. We scanned the radio for bad christmas music that we sang along with, tunelessly and loud.

As we pulled up to our destination, we saw cars pulled over on the road near the house. Families were walkingthrough this strange suburban christmasland yard, admiring sights like Huge Panda and Candycane and panoramas with animatronic dolls in victorian garb "singing" christmas carols. We took several pictures here. The hard part was trying to get my t-shirt in the shots without exposing the children and wholesome families to my profane christmas sentiment.

On our way out of town, we found a lovely sleigh I wanted to try to get in....

...but I nearly broke it. We left in a hurry, driving north towards campus.

Before we got to campus, we pulled in for a quick shot at a local baptist church's nativity scene. We called Sharon from campus to invite her over to watch Christmas Vacation and Bad Santa. She declined, but said it was nice to know she had the option.

Why do people say christmas is the "most wonderful time of the year"? The news is as disturbing as ever, possibly more so (e.g., violence at the walmarts (1, 2)). The president is unapologetically spying on US citizens and I am not entirely sure the citizens know or care. I'm not the only one who is agitated and angry - The local police department has announced that it will be targetting aggressive drivers and speeders due to the recent rise in aggressive driving incidents. This week, my brother did crystal again, my friends - torn between "celebration" and grief over sick or dying family and loved ones - are fighting valiantly to stay afloat, and I find myself with spontaneous thoughts of vandalism, mayhem, and asswhuppings I'd love to hand out like fruit cakes.

No, this is not the most wonderful time of the year. Any genuine cheer you find should be cherished, even if it is slightly skewed, warped cheer. Real "christmas magic" isn't getting sales on all your holiday needs, decorating your lawn with huge air filled rippling cartoon christmas icons, or setting up the lights so they flash in perfect time. The joy of the holiday season is not guaranteed by forcing everyone in the family, no matter how much they hate each other, to sit down together for the traditional holiday rituals. The real magic is finding genuine happiness in these darkest hours of the year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"We were thinking of running them over..."

New York transit workers' strike. In the mainstream media, it's hard to find the precise details of the issues the union ordered the strike over. I recall reading a story last week where the issues of raises was botched in the reporting and an extremely careful reading suggests that the rejected contract included raises that did not even cover cost of living increases. This was not exactly clear in the report though. So based on what's coming through the mainstream media, it seems difficult to assess whether the cause for strike is warranted. However if you consider the penalties that the workers and union will be subjected to, it is hard to believe they are striking for minor reasons.

Aside from the fines to the union ($1 million per day of the strike) and threats to imprison union leaders, the individual workers will lose two days of pay for each day they are on strike. A lawyer for NYC has also recently asked the state supreme court to impose a $25,000 on each worker for each day they are on strike. How can anyone look at this and assume that the reasons for the strike are frivolous? I guess some people could, as the following passage from a much run AP report indicates:

Isaac Flores, who works at a law firm in midtown, was part of a complicated, four-person car pool to get to work Wednesday morning. "They're too spoiled," Flores said of the transit workers. "They want to retire at age 55. They're making more money than a cop."
Flores traveled in a car pool with Myra Sanoguet, who saw a group of pickets in upper Manhattan as their car drove past. "We were thinking about running them over just now," Sanoguet said.

It kind of makes me wonder when Mr. Flores and Ms. Sanoguet plan to retire and how much money they make. I am picturing them riding in a lexus SUV, drinking starbucks crappacinos, and tapping away at their handhelds in a rush to dump stock that will devalue their portfolios to the point where they can't afford the home in the Hamptons and christmas ski trips with their part time children, Jaycen-Leighenne and Millet Alabaster Froederick, this year.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


I'm spending money. I feel so fucking christmasy. I think providing I don't need to go near a mall, I should be ok.

Here's a sample from my online mall:

Store 1: Patriotic presents
Bumper stickers, t-shirts, thongs, posters, mugs, magnets, etc. from the Whitehouse Officious Gift Shop at

Store 2: from Archie McPhee
It's as if these people can see right into my soul.

Monday, December 19, 2005


I woke up this morning to the sound of a beer truck unloading below the window. I think they slam the flats extra hard because they are beer truck drivers. I'm not sure the one follows from the other for all, but for me it is a completely valid implication. It's cold outside. Not bitter, I remind myself as I retrive my coffee from my friend A___'s apartment. Just cold. It smells like it will snow.

Yesterday I got my electric bill for mid November through mid December. It's $129.89. Let me write that out a different way: My electricity bill is one hundred and twenty-nine dollars and eighty-nine cents. Nope, it still sounds bad. Keep in mind that I live in a three room apartment folks, that's three counting the bathroom.

So what do I want for christmas this year? I think a nice toasty barrel fire.

Can we get someone working on that? Fuck the development stage, we can go straight to marketing. First thing we'd need is a nice name for it. The chimenita? A barrelorro? Barreletta?

I think this could be a big money maker. Look at the popularity of those outdoor fireplace things. There wasn't even a functional need for those, certainly not a need as dire as what people will be experiencing this winter when it does get bitterly cold out. Ah, chimineas, that's what they were. My ex's brother got one for their dad last year. Perfect present for the manly manlike man on your shopping list, btw. Hey Dad, do you long for the summertime when you have a socially acceptable excuse to start a fire outside? Do you miss being able to burn trash or piss into a fire on any given night? Then you need a chiminea!

But I digress.

Oh there's the snow. It's snow globe snow, hovering slow swirling dots.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Tangled up

I recently ran across some pictures. You know the kind, the ones you wish someone else could deal with in the months after a breakup? Depending on the length and overall quality of the relationship, there are many pictures of you and your ex back when you were happy. I have five fucking years of pictures, most of those years were happy. So many pix were of my ex's family, ugh. I knew I was going to have to deal with this box of unfiled memories at some point, and I decided that since I dislike this time of year already, why not just bite the bullet and sort through them now?
Oh yeah.
'Cause I have my period, it's about a week before christmas...what better time to do this?
This was not a great idea.

But I am done now. The pictures, the windchime he bought me for christmas in 2002, rocks we picked up when we escaped from his family during summer trips to the beach, beads I had set aside for a bracelet I was going to make for him, the tiny bronze charm that held a lump of amber resin which he gave me when we first were dating, it's all packed up in a big white trash bag in a corner of my living room. I'm sending the pictures to him, or I will eventually. I wasn't a bitch. I only put in the pictures of him or his family that didn't have me in them. I figured I don't have a right to decide what to do with those because it is really just by accident that I have them in the first place. The accident being my tendency to be the one to store, organize, and arrange the day to day details of the relationships I am in.I did find some nice pictures that made me smile in there. Pictures of the neighborhood kids one halloween when we carved pumpkins. Pictures of my brother and sister goofing around with a thanksgiving turkey decoration made out of a pineapple. Pictures of my wonderful cat Max. Pictures of old friends who have moved away but who I still think of fondly. Pictures of me to remind me I am the reliable constant in my life, that I was worthy of such an amazing and great love and was capable of feeling complete joy. It gives me hope that I will be trusting enough at some point to be able to feel these things again without so many sharp and pointy reservations.

Addendum (6:00 PM): Just talked to little brother. He's coming down for christmas he says. I warned him "Look I'm probably not doing a tree this year." He replied "No bush?" "Yeah, no bush. I don't think I can this year..." I said, quickly weighing whether or not to blame it on my tiny apartment or tell him of my fear that a tree and/or the ornaments will give me a complete breakdown. He interrupted my musings to say "It's ok. I understand. Sometimes it's a pain to have to pick your bush." Then he promised to call me later, hustling off the phone to finish cooking dinner for a friend whose mother just died. Oh I do love my little brother.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Too far?

How far is "too far"? This is a question that is on the table in my department. If you read this blog regularly (all two of you), you might have seen some references to a student I call Dookie. Dookie is a problem just waiting to happen. He's a malignantly arrogant first year student with antisocial tendencies.

It began almost immediately with lab space issues. Dookie took over a very large chunk of the lab he was to share with three other grads. The other grads are a mid-40s white American woman, a mid-20s Asian man, and a 30ish white American man. Dookie and the woman are both first years. The mid 20s male student is in his second year, and the 30ish male student is an upper year. Before classes had even started, the others from Dookie's lab were complaining bitterly about his space use. Not only had he staked out a large and prime bit of lab real estate as "his desk", he had also moved several pieces of large equipment onto the small work areas left for the female and Asian grad student to share. I identify them this way intentionally, because I believe it was why Dookie chose to shove the shit onto their desks and not onto the white American man's desk.

The students complained to one another and to other grads. But they didn't complain to the faculty member whose lab it was, their advisor, or our department head. Eventually the complaints got back to Dookie. Dookie responded to the person who brought the issue to his attention by saying that I (yes, me, PFG, your beloved blogger) must have been relating untrue rumors about him, rousing the rabble, etc. When I heard this, I immediately went to Dookie to set him straight, to let him know that he had pissed off so many people it would be impossible to tell who had said what to whom at this point. We had a chat that left me feeling like I had to take a shower. His position was that if people didn't voice an objection even to what is generally considered poor and antisocial behavior (even in kindergarten), then they deserved to be used. I finally ended the conversation, abruptly because there is no other way to end a conversation like this. As I was leaving, Dookie said "I can see you and I will not be best friends, but it's good to know we can speak civilly to one another." I made a noncommital sound like agreement so I would not reinforce his mistaken notion that I wanted to continue a conversation with him as I proceded out of the building.

He then asked me out to dinner.

Fast forward....
Dookie stories kept coming.
The older female grad no longer feels comfortable working in the lab. A female international student mentioned that he had been hitting on her and had said something about women having the best place to keep a man's sperm. Dookie fell behind in his research and when he was called to task about it, he blamed his Asian lab mate for not being available to help him. My lab mate recounted Dookie's attempts to talk about his lecture to his lab on "the significance of the female orgasm". "It was disgusting!" my lab mate shouted, They shouldn't have to hear that!". A cross campus teaching assistant e-mail list practically shut down over Dookie's callous, personal attacks on other students who had used the list to discuss their distaste for a racist campus paper cartoon about international teaching assistants.

And now it has happened. He finally went "too far". Last week, Dookie lost his shit on another first year, a rather young white, middle class, suburb raised female. She happened into Dookie's lab looking for the Asian grad student so they could talk about class. The older white male grad was there alone when she arrived, and he said the Asian grad student would be back in a minute. She sat down at the Asian grad's desk to wait. Dookie returned and asked her to get out of his chair. When the female grad student said "But I thought this was ___'s chair..." Dookie told her he wanted to use the computer on the desk the chair was at (the desk Dookie had effectivly designated the Asian student's desk months ago). The young female grad moved to the chair next to it and said "Ok, I'll sit over here then," or something similar. And that's when Dookie called her a bitch. He addressed several statements about her to the older white male grad student, calling her a "little bitch" and "fucking bitch" repeatedly, saying she had "given him lip" in a class while he was proctoring the end of the semester evaluations. He accused her of flirting and using her feminine wiles to get other people to do her work for her, and said she couldn't think for herself.

She is bringing harassment charges against him. She sent an e-mail to several students in our department who have been so vocal with their complaints to ask if they would be willing to sign on to a group complaint with the dean of students' office. Among other things, this is what she got back:
I don't feel that I have one specific event that warrants some sort of "prosecution." I have had which he has acted completely unprofessionally and has been a total jackass, but he has not said anything derogatory that would warrant a specific complaint.
Another response was similar. While these women will admit to having had problems with him, will refuse to work with him, will avoid him even if that means avoiding their common areas, they seem to feel his behavior is not reportable. In short, the responses were "I support your stand but refuse to stand with you because what happened with me and him was bad but not officially bad".

Where the fuck do they get this from? It's not from the harassment policies, I am sure of that. In both the workplace and education federal antidiscrimination laws, the terms are "severe, persistent, or pervasive". Meaning a pattern of what might appear as "isolated" encounters across several individuals can be argued to be pervasive. Further, sexual behavior is not a requisit. The guidelines on Title IX protection state: "It is also important to recognize that gender-based harassment, which may include acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex, but not involving conduct of a sexual nature, may be a form of sex discrimination that violates Title IX if it is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive and directed at individuals because of their sex."

What is driving these expressions of what counts as "too far"? I looked up "sexual harassment" and "reluctance" on google. I found this paper by a college undergrad. Yes, an undergrad. I wish she would come and lecture to my graduate peers. I can't fact check all of it, but her exposition calls attention to one factor that has been proposed to account for the reporting reluctance of the type my peers are displaying:

Brooks and Perot (1991) and Fitzgerald et al. (1988) agree that another contributing factor is that women need to view the behavior as offensive and serious before she [sic] will report sexual harassment. Jensen & Gutek (1982) suggest...that...women who believe that it is their fault that things "went too far" may not report incidents of sexual harassment unless they believe that the acts were very offensive and serious.

While this segment of the paper is couched in terms that suggest sexualized harassment as opposed to sexist mistreatment, it seems the underlying point is quite relevant here. How far is "too far" for an exchange that has progressed into incivility? If it goes there, if it goes too far, who is to blame? And what is the blame that is to be had?

If you have a sense of self worth, if there is nothing in your core that suggests you deserve shame, ridicule, derision, scorn, objectification, beratement, then when you are subjected to this in an exchange that has all the conventional assumptions of being a professional or polite social encounter, you are SHOCKED and horrified. If you do not believe you deserve this or that someone has an unspoken right to casual displays of this sort of behavior, when someone who makes a habit of shitting on people casually chooses to shit on you, the questions you might ask yourself shouldn't start with "well does this really count as shit?" For christ's sake, of course it's shit! And it's on you! And he put it there! Now make a fuss! Get angry! It's ok to not want to be shit on!

Why would graduate student aged women not understand this? Let's ask the undergrad.

Fitzgerald et al. (1995) reviewed research on behavioral responses to sexual harassment… Internally-focused responses included: ignoring the harassment and doing nothing to arrest it (endurance); pretending that the situation was not happening or had no effect (denial); reinterpreting the situation or interpreting the intentions of the harasser as non-negative (reattribution); and perceiving the harassment as self-induced (self-blame)...

Internal responses are victims' attempts to handle the situation on their own due to fears of retaliation, not being believed, hurting one's career, or reluctance to cause problems for the harasser. The study concluded that victims most often practice avoidance, emphasize the positives, and endure, hoping that the situation will disappear without the embarrassment or retaliation that often accompanies a formal complaint....Women will continue to use these mechanisms inadvertently perpetuating the problem of sexual harassment as long as real organizational protection from stigma and retaliation fails to exist (Fitzgerald et al., 1995).

One thing I must add to this (really comprehensive) discussion of motivation for the responses to harassment is that the "internal" responses may arise not just from a sense of helplessness. They could be interpretted as a dysfunctional attempt to establish control while denying the reality of the harm that the behavior has done. I see this kind of response as a logical outcome of the post-second wave feminist backlash of the late 70s and 80s. Popular strategies of invalidating feminist social complaint and critique entailed a variety of tactics, mostly involving ad femme attacks which portrayed the dissenter as pathologically disposed to chronic discontent, as a miserable, malicious, individual who whips up hysterical responses to even the "teensiest" behavior she finds personally nonadvantageous. These stereotypes made their way into our mainstream culture, as new terms like "feminazi" can attest to. A whole generation's acceptance of such portrayals and a concomitant desire to want to avoid not simply being labeled as but actually becoming such a hideously unacceptable (and unlovable!) monster is wrapped up in the bigger lie that the members of our society are equal. This is the monsterous gold leaf letter Lie that encompasses notions like institutionalized racism ended in the 60s; homocidal bigotry is not condoned or encouraged by our current social values; sexualized aggression is not sold side by side with all our favorite name brands; people from underdeveloped nations will benefit from "investment" by foreign (US) owned industry; and there is no gender or sex role war being waged on the battle fields of women's bodies and consenting adults' desires to openly love and be loved by each other.

If we unquestioningly accept key pieces of The Big Fat Lie, which so many of us do, we have a hard time extracting ourselves from it even when it threatens us quite directly. If we are threatened but refuse or can't let go of this lie, we have two clear paths.
a) We can acknowledge the afront, which brings the very real social threat of becoming (through being labled as) an unsympathetic perpetual victim or a troublemaking feminazi.
b) We can refuse to acknowledge the level, scope, or degree of the offense. We can put on a good face, be a team player, go on with the show. We can be feminine about this. We can acknowledge that there are real problems, real instances of harassment, but that our encounters do not even come close to those indisputably overt ones, like when a guy who shoves his hands up co-workers' skirts is elected governor of California. We might express sympathy for the women in those obviously clear cut circumstances of legally valid or at least highly publicized sexual harassment, cluck our tongues disapprovingly. We each can keep pushing how far "too far" is in our own lives until we wake up someday and there is nothing more than empty open space where there used to be a person.

Myself? I choose to reject the lie. I know that I will be called a troublemaker (been there, done that), a feminazi, and a perpetual victim. But those will be labels that others apply, and I will be me.

So how far is "too far"?
It's here.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Evil "ex-mas"

It's not sugar plums but evil thoughts that dance in my head as we head into the stretch for christmas. I keep returning to a sort of vengance fantasy (oh I just wrote "family" by accident, that's funny) about xmas. See, I don't like the holiday but during my time with my ex T___, I had to do way too much christmas reveling on demand for his family.

I recall liking christmas as a child. I recall wanting to continue liking it but feeling so, I don't know, overwrought about it all as a teen. By my 20s I was abashedly phobic about the season. Now I simply acknowledge that this holiday isn't for everyone, and I'm one of the not everyone. I don't generally wish to spoil it for the people who seem to enjoy it. I do even sometimes find myself wistfully smelling pine from wreaths outside the grocery store and nodding happily at twinkling lights on bare frosted branches outside the less garishly decorated houses. These bursts of pleasant sentiment come and go until about December 20th or so, by which point everything starts to look too much like broken promises, lost hope, and other sorts of politely inexpressable disappointment for me to feel unambivalently happy about any of it.

By the actual celebration, I want to avoid big social occasions since I feel like the jaded divorcee at a wedding (hey one year I got to combine both of those at once...that sure was swell!). By December 23rd, it's hard for me to keep my growing cynicism in check although I dislike the feeling that comes from inflicting it on others who are still waiting for their post christmas dinner drunkeness to unwrap the year's failed intentions.

Despite all this, for the last few years I found myself in the position of feeling I should make the most of it and try not to act on my desire to run and hide. I tried because my boyfriend T___ liked christmas. And I liked him. It's easy to find enjoyment in something that someone you love enjoys. I could enjoy the small private moments of the season with him, and that helped. T___'s family liked christmas. I supposed the artifice and materialism were not even remotely problematic for them. So although I disliked The Family in increasing degrees, because I cared for T___, I liked christmas by transitive circumstance. Further, attending at least some of his family's numerous christmas celebrations (including the swell christmas ski trip wedding, did I mention I hate skiing?) was required lest I bring the disapproval of his family down not just on me but on him as well, with repercussions throughout the year. So I did as much as I could stand* without feeling like I was massively betraying myself.

And now it's christmas time again! My then boyfriend T___ is now ex boyfriend T___. One nice perk that I remind myself of at least once a week is that I don't have to deal with The Family anymore. But, well, habits die hard I guess since I find myself really wanting to include T___ and his family in my holiday plans somehow. I have an urge to do something special that expresses the feelings the words "You suck" just can't totally convey. Yes, I know this is evil, rotten, and wrong. I do. Hence the title of this post. Please allow me to assure you that at least my vengance fantasies are not of a ghastly type. In fact, most of the time they are not even criminally tinged. Possibly a little vandalistic. I did wonder what would happen if I put some bread dough in my former landlady's mailbox during a hot day, for example**.

My "ex-mas" list:
- Making a donation to MADD in The Family's name and/or...

- Getting several dozen MADD bumpers stickers and slapping them on everyone's cars while they are inside getting plastered on whiskey sours during the christmas eve party (before they leave to drive all over the rural, unlit, icey countryside). Those people are going to kill someome someday.

- Sending T___ a butt plug. A little backstory here: T___ was one of those guys who liked to have a certain kind of, uh, stimulation during sex. I was going to buy him one for fun, 'cause like I said, things that make your lover happy....well, you know. Plus it would save me the wash up. A butt plug would be a reminder that I was not only one of the smartest, funniest, most romantic, loving, tolerant, and competent women he'll ever have the priviledge to have been involved with but I was also sexually active, willing, and very understanding. Women he'll date in the future might put up with his family's intrusions into their relationship with T__, but I'll wager real money that they wouldn't be the kind of women who would unflinchingly offer an obliging digit occasionally while being able to maintain a sense of dignity and allure afterwards.

- I told my sister about the butt plug. She had a brilliant idea: Get a family pack! Butt plugs all around!

- Go "nogging" on christmas night. "Nogging" is an idea my dear friend A___ and I came up with recently. It's like egging, except you use rancid egg nog. What to put it in, we wondered. Glass bottles seems too violent - big, heavy, and liable to not just break but break things. We've considered balloons and possibly plain red and green christmas ornaments. They shatter so nicely.

Other things that might make my christmas merry and bright:
- Give that whole "gay apparel" thing a linguistically modern interpretation. Do a fashion show/drag christmas parade down main street. Or a drag nativity scene. It's not like there isn't a precedent. Another girl and I were two of the three "kings" in the Sacred Heart christmas pageant. See what that sort of gender confusing catholic bullshit can do to a person? My sister was Mary. I'll bet she never stuck her finger up a guy's ass.

- Find the most ostentatious christmas decorations in the area. Get dressed up and go out for a photo shoot. Originally I was thinking of dressing in High Goth and pose in the yard holding a big glittery sign saying "Merry Fucking Christmas!" My most recent favorite involves a guy in a bell studded leather harness as my steed. If I were to do that, I would have to dress in some kind of old fashioned high collared christmas blouse and a knee length plaid skirt, like in the Sears christmas family portraits. Ho ho ho. I want pictures and I want to use them as my holiday cards next year.

- Host an "antichristmas" movie fest. Bad Santa, The Ref ("Connecticut is the fifth ring of hell"), National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. This will actually happen I think.

- Go to Walmart with an audio recorder. Interview shoppers about the most violent or inhumane act they have witnessed or been a part of during their christmas shopping. Edit, mix into a traditional rendition of a christmas song, and play on the radio.

- Go to Walmart or the mall with a camcorder. Wait and videotape people verbally or physically attacking one another for parking spaces. Sell the footage to local news networks, or post it on the web with close ups of the license plates. These people need to be publicly shamed.

Any other unreasonable ideas will be accepted.

* = Christmas wedding ski trip was more than I could stand, but it was an extenuating circumstance. How can you not go to your live in boyfriend of three years' brother's wedding?
** = I didn't do it though. In fact, the worst thing I did was sign her up to get more info about one of those "dream vacation" things online.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Christmas nuts

I just got an e-mail from my sister. At the very end was something that made me laugh out loud.
She wrote:
P.S. Are you O.K. with nuts? Like walnuts not Christians although this question does pertain to Christmas.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


I'm wired, literally, for the next few weeks. Why? A few weeks ago I started having some disconcerting symptoms. I waited and they didn't go away. I cut down the coffee and they didn't go away. I decided that activities like playing with my cat or walking from the garage to my building shouldn't give me palpitations, chest pain, and light headedness.

In all probability, it's just this friggin' drug I have to take. If I stop the drug, I stop digesting my food, start passing out from intestinal cramping, and lose more weight. The problem is, it can cause some not so great cardiac side effects sometimes. Sounds like one of those catch 22 things, doesn't it? My choices may well be digest or fibrillate. Hence I am wired to a gadget called a cardiac event monitor. It's a non-invasive and relatively cheap test that can help identify or rule out transient arrhythmia.

It's not horrible. The cons: I feel stupid wearing it. You need to call in "events" on a corded phone. The sticky parts are itchy. It makes god awful screechy noises when it's recording and playing back. And it's high tech circa Atari 2600.

(Guess which one I'm wearing!)

Here's how it works. The gadget has two electrodes that connect to sticky pads on your chest (like a two lead EKG). You push a button on the gadget to record your heart rhythm when you are having symptoms (an "event"). It screeches and whines and records your heart rhythm for something like the next minute. Then you call the testing company on a corded phone and tell the operator at the testing company you have an "event" to send. They make a note of what your symptoms were and what you were doing when they started. You then play the "event" recording into the mouthpiece of the phone. The phone with a cord. Doesn't it seem like we should have some slighty more advanced form of data transmission?

I guess some kind of noise serves a purpose. I suspect elderly folks who are the most frequent users of these gadgets need the immediate feedback that something is happening when they hit the record button. If it did its job in silent efficiency, they might think it was broken and keep hitting the button. But I gotta say, a less ear splitting noise would be, well, better. My cell phone can play Ode to Joy but my event monitor has to sound like a retro modem played through a bullhorn.

So yesterday I had a strange moment with the test center operator. I was cleaning my apartment when I had an "event". I sat down and recorded, then I called.

"And what were you doing?" the operator asked.
"Housework" I said.
"Well, no more of that!" she said lightly "You'll have to tell your husband to do it himself!" She actually giggled when she said that last part.
This gave me pause. Does a woman doing housework somehow imply that she is married? Do people believe women do not clean their homes if they don't have a hubby to clean for? I wanted to ask her this and several other things.
Instead I said "That might be hard since we're divorced"

Then I played the screeching noises that will be transformed, through the wonders of cutting edge 1970s' technology, into a rhythm strip on the other end of the phone.

Assuming I'm not having some life threatening arrhythmia or something (which you'd think would be obvious by the being passed out or dead), I won't hear about the results for a while. If it 's not bad on the heart front, we either say "fuck it" and I put up with it or we discuss stuff that's worse than wearing than a screeching atari-like gadget and reporting symptoms to June Cleaver. So for now, I'll just sit tight, record and send my "events", and imagine I'm blasting all those nasty aliens before they take out my missile bases.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

"In other words, I had a life"

Richard Pryor died today.
"I had some great things and I had some bad things. The best and the worst... In other words, I had a life."

Here's how a story at BBC News summed him up:
"US film and stand-up comedian Richard Pryor has died after a long illness. His unflinching, frequently foul-mouthed observations on his life and his race made him famous."

I have a feeling he would have been amused by that fucking description.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Tidings of comfort

The weather says "This band of snow showers will move rapidly across all of Connecticut..and eastern Hampden and southern Worcester counties in Massachusetts through 930 am." Well it's after ten thirty and still snowing. Flurries of big fluffy snow flakes alternating with the much more serious specks, the ones in the business of whiting out roads and stinging any skin left exposed. Yesterday, Ruth told me that she heard Band-Aid's "Feed the World" christmas song on the radio. "It's official. Christmas is here" she told me. Waking up to the winter wonderland that used to be downtown has reaffirmed that point. It's here....

Even my sister, who usually likes christmas, said this year she has heard so much holiday cheer on her local radio that she began December overwhelmed and underpleased. Being smacked over the head for weeks already with the HAVE A MERRY FUCKING XMAS AND oh yeah, BUY THINGS! message can make anyone lose their taste for the holiday I think. So many people express a distaste for this level of commercialism at christmas, and yet you have to wonder why it is not rejected en masse. I suspect it is because there are many built in mechanisms to discredit and invalidate any sentiment that betrays anything less than deep, driving, retail oriented enthusiasm for our western winter gift giving bash. I swear if I had stayed in Anthropology, I would study this (and weddings). In the words of one of my favorite teachers, "it's a rich mine to, uh....mine"

Have I mentioned why I believe things like "Merry/Happy christmas" and "Be of good cheer" are codified and frozen seasonal sayings, why they could quite reasonably be considered incantations rather than the more functional communicative events a naive listener might suppose them to be? Why the word "joy" written in large ornate letters is a seasonal decoration? I believe it linked to the fact that this is inherently a bad time of year if you live in the north (geographic, not political). Consider these practices in a pre-industrial context, when winter very well might have meant death. In that light, these phrases might be better interpreted as reassurance to the listener that although winter was coming, friends, family, and neighbors would help them get through alive. Granted, it is only marginally less bad now in our modern society. If you are not affluent, winter means unpayable energy bills, risks of health problems (with medical bills and probably no or bad insurance), and dangerous slowed travel in what is probably a less than great vehicle (if you can even afford that). Basically, winter still sucks for us moderns unless we have the money to insulate ourselves against it. If we do, presumably it can be all winter wonderland and ice capades. Interwoven with this disparity and dual implication of coming winter is one of our most pervasive of cultural values, the "land of opportunity" one - that is the one that says "anyone can be rich" and which enforces the "american dream" myth. One could argue that it is not merely treasonous but essentially sacreligous to acknowledge that there are massive disparities in access to resources which have the direst of consequences for those with less or no access. This is the mechanism of invalidation. And the realization goes something like this: "Don't like christmas? How dare you suggest that something is wrong with being so fucking jolly you spend more than all your money on crap?"

In our modern consumer culture haze, we have dropped the security through communalism elements that might have originally underlay expressions of "christmas spirit" and have replaced them with the commercial ones (btw, it seems this had to have started happening pre-20th century). What was christmas spirit? Possibly, it used to be the reassuring glow you felt as a participant in community wide interactive expressions that were marked by "tidings of joy", sharing goods and resources with one another, and shit like that. Now that reassurance is gained by assuming the pretense of disposable wealth. It makes sense since such wealth, in the modern context, would provide at least some protection from the more frightening aspects of winter. It certainly would explain why christmas is marked by excessive displays of giving. I mean, the more presents you buy, wrap, and give, the more cheer. That seems to be the equation. And giving is better than receiving, right? Why? Because by giving, giving, and more giving (even when you have little, fewer, and less) you are acting as if you have the protective luxury level income rather than one that is subsistence level (or less).

Ultimately it is dysfunctional because the american dream is a nightmare of poverty and want for too many. And yet you will see the working poor families lining up to spend like they have a Trump sized bank account. I used to listen to my neighbors fight every year about what they could and couldn't afford to buy for the kids. Last year, I listened to the emotionally troubled teenage son of my neighbor R__. I listened as he screamed "You never cared about me!", pounded the doors and walls, and then took off to get high in the woods while the snow fell. All this because R___ had told him they couldn't afford the video game hardware the kid had hoped for. Later, I sat at my kitchen table with R___'s partner L___. She held their baby, who had Down's syndrome and diabetes, and told me about the horrible fight she had with R___ because he intends to spend too much of their money on his son, that R___'s company is moving all their manufacturing jobs to China, and that the state is cutting off her health insurance. Meanwhile, her 8 year old daughter spins around my living room, high on the sugar from cookies I've baked, frenetically reciting all the presents she believes her father, who is divorced from L___ and will be showing up any minute with his new wife, new baby, and new pick up truck, will get her this year.

What was a celebration to reassure people that they had the strength, hope, and social bonds to make it through the coming winter months has been turned into something that is in and of itself bad. Well intended reminders to be hopeful and not forget life's joy are now commands "Celebrate!" "Be Merry!" "Deck the halls!" No wonder there are folks who can't see these as anything other than orders to engage in the nearly ubiquitous and necessarily insincere appearance of sentiment.

Despite all this, I do like the first snow. It is beautiful.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Super-Duper DeLay

I got this list of Tom DeLay quotes in my e-mail today. I apologize for the reposting of stuff some of you might have already seen elsewhere. My reasons are that this is some interesting shit on DeLay and that I am doing my time out and thus will not be posting a homegrown blog entry at the moment. I did take a moment to check some of the DeLay quotes below, typed a few into Google and got, among many other sources, this hit from Wikipedia (god damn I love them). I removed one quote that didn't have a citation, and added another that did (10).

1) "So many minority youths had volunteered that there was literally no room for patriotic folks like myself." --Tom DeLay, explaining at the 1988 GOP convention why he and vice presidential nominee Dan Quayle did not fight in the Vietnam War.

2) "Now tell me the truth boys, is this kind of fun?" --Tom Delay, to three young hurricane evacuees from New Orleans at the Astrodome in Houston, Sept. 9, 2005.

3) "I AM the federal government" --Tom DeLay, to the owner of Ruth's Chris Steak House, after being told to put out his cigar because of federal government regulations banning smoking in the building, May 14, 2003.

4)"I am not a federal employee. I am a constitutional officer. My job is the Constitution of the United States, I am not a government employee. I am in the Constitution." --Tom DeLay, in a CNN interview, Dec. 19, 1995.

5) "Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes." --Tom DeLay, March 12, 2003.

6) "Guns have little or nothing to do with juvenile violence. The causes of youth violence are working parents who put their kids into daycare, the teaching of evolution in the schools, and working mothers who take birth control pills." --Tom DeLay, on causes of the Columbine High School massacre, 1999.

7) "A woman can take care of the family. It takes a man to provide structure. To provide stability. Not that a woman can't provide stability, I'm not saying that... It does take a father, though." --Tom DeLay, in a radio interview, Feb. 10, 2004.

8) "Emotional appeals about working families trying to get by on $4.25 an hour [the minimum wage in 1996] are hard to resist. Fortunately, such families do not exist." --Tom DeLay, during a debate in Congress on increasing the minimum wage, April 23, 1996.

9) "We're no longer a superpower. We're a super-duper power." --Tom DeLay, in a 2002 interview with Fox News, explaining why America must topple Saddam Hussein.

10) "The judges need to be intimidated. They need to uphold the Constitution. (If they don't behave) we're going to go after them in a big way." – Tom DeLay, in the Washington Post September 14, 1997

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Cosmic Time Out

I have been issued a cosmic time out. I think I knew this was coming. More details on that later. Yes, there is more than me literally screaming at a fellow student for tailgating me en route to a party. More than me shaking with rage for hours over one grad's arrogant choice of offensive lecture material. More than foolishly going to the mall the weekend after Thanksgiving. More than my brother calling me at midnight Sunday from LAX airport to tell me he has done crystal again and is breaking up with his boyfriend (again) right now, in the airport.

More than that and it can wait until later. For now, I refer you to my horoscope.
"While I don't usually recommend that you pursue this kind of escapism, Virgo, it's perfectly fine--maybe even healthy--to do so now. Please feel free to disappear from the grind for a few days. If necessary, flee into an alternate reality."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Polenta and other local academic disasters

Here is a picture of the polenta. The cigarette pack was put in the picture for scale by a friend of mine. Unfortunately, he took the picture from such an angle that you really don't get a sense of the size of that bowl. Had it been a "head on" picture, you would see that this was a gianormous bowl of nasty polenta. And this is the leftovers.

My friend Sandra (name changed to protect the guilty), one of the co-hosts of the party at which this massive amount of polenta was served, called me the next day to give me the update on the polenta.
"It's still in the woods" she confided to me over the phone. "No animal even went near it."
"How do you know? What, you were expecting to go out and find a saber toothed tiger trapped in it or something?"
Sandra and I laughed. She threw it out. We will never tell the person who made it that it was revolting because how can you do that? You just hide it in the woods until the party is over, then you dispose of it.

I like Sandra. I like most of the people in my program. Unfortunately, at the moment I do not like grad school. I do acknowledge that the general distaste for things around me has some part in this, probably as an amplifier. Any kind of disphoric state is likely to make the bad seem so much worse. But back to what's irking me.

It's that asshole, Dookie. The one from the Walmart day. I never did continue that story. It was too annoying to think about. I wanted to move on. So here's the short introduction to Dookie. He is a new student in my department who is just noxious. I know of no grad student who he has not offended within the first hour of their knowing him, and I know a fair number of grad students. I know many grads who actively dislike Dookie and a few who will go far out of their way to avoid him. One is the woman he tried to pick up by telling her that "women have the best place to store a man's sperm". I know of several faculty and staff members who find him unctuous at best.

The man is just a fucking asshole, plain and simple. Granted, this is an opinion, but it is one that is shared by so many people and so many different kinds of people that it almost seems it could be argued to be an objective quality.

So that asshole, Dookie, has decided that he can use the intro level lab he TAs to teach his pet theory. His pet theory is racist, sexist, and foul. That's another one of those "shared opinions". Even if one didn't see it as an oppressive social philosophy (preferred by people like David Duke and Hitler) masquerading as various forms of scientific inquiry, the point remains the topics in Dookie's lectures are not even remotely close to what the undergrads are doing in their lecture - the lecture the lab is supposed to go with. Nor are they remotely close to the topics undergrads enrolled in other sections of the same class are covering.

Put a different way, this would be a little like me teaching radical feminist theory in a discussion section for a general introductory linguistics class. I could focus it on language, how lexical choices actively threaten women, homosexuals, and members of other historically exploited and abused groups, how men's discourse styles reflect entitlement attitudes which are related to rape and other antisocial behavior, or how the dominant academic paradigms still work to keep women shut out of the higher levels of research. But I wouldn't, not in that context, because (a) I am not an experienced instructor and I really don't feel confident teaching an extremely controversial topic to first year intro students; (b) It would be a massive departure from what the other students were getting in their other discussion sections but all the students' grades would be based on an assumption of some uniformity across sections; (c) It would in no or very little way support or connect to the material and content of the lecture the section grade is ultimately a part of; (d) Such a dramatic change in curriculum is not one I as a TA for a lab/discussion section am allowed to make (in fact, faculty aren't either, not without review by the College).

But Dookie made a choice that was at least as dramatic, because he's Dookie and he's an asshole (sing along!)

And what did Dookie present to his lab? He presented rape as an adaptation. And what seemed like a lengthy section on child abuse as a good (inverse) measure of parental investment. Let me break that latter one down a bit. Presumably, if a parent is invested in the offspring, that is genetically invested, then that investment overrides the apparently otherwise normal, evolutionarily adaptive human desire to kill, beat, or rape a child. The presence of a non-biological parent (step-parent) in a household is highly correlated with child abuse, according to one (methodologically flawed) records analysis. While Dookie downplays any overt causality of the correlation, the only reason the issue is relevant is that in Dookie's pet theory, that correlation is the basis for speculation (which presupposes a causal link) that the non-biological parent will engage in more harm or risk behavior with a child in their household.

Keep in mind that while there are people, real degree carrying scientists even, who publish in this theoretic orientation, the theory and the findings which are said to support it are strongly contested by numerous other scientists (and have been historically, like back when it was called "eugenics"). It is popular in pop culture and major media, e.g., "we found a gene for intelligence/music ability/diaper changing" (see Pinker et al for good examples), but those people are marketing to, well, idiots who mostly want to sound smart at dinner and cocktail parties and who don't really know or care about the validity of conclusions or the soundness of a research program.

So here's Dookie. A first year, first semester TA who decides he is skilled enough to present this material, which can turn the dryest discussions between the most proper of scientists into what is sometimes referred to as a screaming match, to a lab full of mostly first year, first semester undergrads. The emotional stress that an untrained inexperienced teacher could cause by presenting this material in an insensitive and non-comprehensive manner is immense.

This evening, I read Dookie's lecture. It was sent to me by another (horrified) grad student. I nearly broke the monitor it was open on. I read Dookie's lecture and I screamed. I hollered. I stared blankly at it, read more, yelled more, punched my friend A (I asked first), and literally shook with anger at his arrogance, his presumption.

Then I called my division head and said we would meet tomorrow to talk about what his newest student is doing in his lab section. My division head admitted this assgoblin, so I see this as his mistake to deal with.

It took me several hours to stop twitching. I am still angry at the presumption, the possibility of damage to students in his lab who might have been victimized in life and then had to suffer a second possible victimization because of this arrogant puffed up asshole wanted to put some "spice" in his lab lecture. I am angry because that is what these topics are to people like him. It's not about human suffering, real pain, real threat. It's just a device for livening up a lecture.

Monday, November 28, 2005

T & A

I'm on a quest. I want to find my underwear. This is no simple task.

Many many years ago, I used to wear Danskin cotton, but it seems they stopped making them. Then I went for the very similar Jockey, but I am allergic to the elastic they use in the trim. Let me tell you, that is NOT an ok allergy - welts in bad places. A couple of years ago, I switched to Maidenform. They had a couple of cute, cheap, mostly cotton designs that could be ordered online. But now they're getting all fancy. It seems my only choices are nylon ass floss or granny panties, also mostly nylon or some new fabric or another that "reduces jiggles". What? Yeah, that's what it said, I'm not making this up.

I noticed in my undewear search results that they're really pushing the bras. Big padded wired bras. Whatever happened to the bra-free days? When did bras become mandatory? Underwear is understandably more necessary I think, and on yet page after page I open, I am greeted by boobs squashed into the satiny tit-masher du jour. I understand bras are somewhat functionally necessary if you're breasty, but for women like me bras are mostly optional and quite often more ornamental than anything else. One thing I don't need is the usual scaffolding that is now, like the ass floss, standard. Hence, they are not as necessary as underwear, and yet they do dominate the undergarment scene.

I was bitching about my underwear discontent to a friend. He remarked that perhaps the next phase in women's underthings would be just a wad of silk that is worn by wedging it between one's cheeks. After searching hopelessly through the thongs, the tongas, and the string bikinis, I am thinking he might be correct.

Currently, he and I are debating how the boob song goes. As in the one that starts with "Do your boobs hang low?"

Any assistance, whether it's sightings of New England or internet retailers selling non-granny non-flossing cotton underwear or your version of how the song goes, would be welcome.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Pain in the...

Today I did a little shopping. Strange thing for someone who loathes christmastime to do, shopping the weekend after thanksgiving. I know. I realize this. I thought, as I usually do, that I could be in and out, quick and painless. Ah, I was wrong. My horoscope said I should not make decisions that lead me to do things which are against my instincts this week, but I did anyhow. It wasn't too bad, just odd. So while I will acknowledge other truths and paths, I'll consider today a lesson to act based on what I know is true for me.

While I was walking through TJMaxx with an armload of possible purchases (winter coat and a heavy skirt in two sizes since god only knows which one I am today), my chest started hurting, again. This sort of freaked me out. I considered whether I was having some kind of anxiety/panic episode. I have had some mild ones over the last few years, but there was no telltale "Eeeeeeeeeek!" heebeejeebee feelings going on, no swirling head, none of that "I gotta get out of here!" feeling. Not that this would pass for a good self assessment in an ER, I mean, I am female afterall. I must be prone to unconscious bouts of somatic hysteria, right? Sure.

When the unpleasant sensation of bubbling and flip flopping in my chest began happening with some regularity not long ago, I was a little concerned but not too bad. I know there are relatively non-serious cardiac symptoms too much caffeine or dehydrating medications can cause. I reasoned that I can't stop my stomach meds unless I want to starve, but I could cut down the coffee. So I did. Over the last few weeks, I got down to two cups of coffee in the morning. The flip flopping continued, although I was quite sure I still didn't drink enough water. This is an easy solution and I tried to get more fluids in me over the last few days. But what's this shit? Now my chest has started to hurt when I'm doing anything remotely strenuous. Playing with the cat. Going up stairs. This sort of puts a wrench in my self diagnosis and treatment plan. I vacillate between feeling like I am being a hypochondriac and an irresponsible idiot, but the one constant is that I am really not feeling like dealing with another round of Diagnose This! with the docs.

Today I told myself that it was probably muscle strain induced by walking around with the heavy load in my arms. This meant it was time to get out of the store. I put the coat away and bought the larger skirt since I hope to grow into it.

Then I went into the MALL. (insert "Ewww" here)

While browsing the fiction section at the book store, I stepped back ever so slightly and tripped a salesperson who was ducking behind me in a big pre-christmas rush. "Excuse me, I'm so sorry" I said to him. He had managed to recover without falling over, gave me a bitchy look, and then scrambled away. Um...ok, I guess I should have said Fuck you!

This sort of shopping slapstick is standard for me. My brother and I can destroy entire displays practically just by looking at them. We are not allowed to go shopping together. One of our last last shopping trips involved taking down a huge display table at Urban Outfitters in Ann Arbor. Sometimes for fun, I walk very slowly through the glassware section at places like Filene's home store. It's a thrill, kind of like looking over the railing on top of a high building. I might catch the edge of that handblown swan on my jacket, dragging it into the display of cut crystal sherry glasses, and before I even notice I'm snagged - CRASH BANG SMASH! That would SUCK! I only do this with a friend to "spot" me and I walk carefully past the displays, holding my breath while I go through, releasing it in a fit of laughter when I get to the end of the isle.

Today I was not in the cheap thrill mood. When I am shopping alone, I try for very targeted and very efficient. On top of my usual shopping displeasure, ignoring the chest pain was taking up too much resource. So no loafing around or strolling through the breakables. I didn't find what I was looking for at the bookstore, but bought Four Souls by Louise Erdrich. At the register, I waited uncomfortably while the woman ran my card. Behind me, I heard I a young woman's voice saying "That's a journal. You don't want that."
Then a boy said "Why?"
The young woman said "Because it's a journal," as if this were all the explanation he needed. I swear if I had been feeling better, I would have bought it for him. It troubles me to witness what I see as damaging gender socialization in action. But it was time to go. If I stayed, god only knows what I might break or knock over. So I said "Thank you" to the saleswoman and drifted out of the store thinking about how wrong it is that boys are actively discouraged from self expression. I wondered if I had bought it for him, what would his family's reaction be? If he came by a journal somehow, would they think it was weird? Would they read it because they couldn't even imagine what he might be writing in it? Why does it sometimes feel like we are moving backwards socially?

I passed the guy playing Santa on my way to the mall exit. All the children were busy riding the various machines in the coin operated corral and Santa was all alone in his Santa house. He waved at me through the fake glassless window and said "Merry Christmas!" Right. I muttered "Thanks". What else do you do? It seemed polite.

And then I was in my car. Waiting for it to stop making the noise it makes when it is cold. Waiting. Waiting. Playing with my new cordless headset. This ear? No. That one. No...wait, better over here...oops, ow...there! "Call home!" I told it and marvelled when it dialed my apartment. While I was punching in the code to play my answering machine messages, somewhat chagrined since this defeated the whole "hands free" purpose of this new toy, someone knocked on my car. I turned and saw a short man standing a respectable distance away. He was speaking with an accent and it sounded like he said "Was there a death in the family?"
I rolled down my window a couple of inches. "Excuse me?" I said, my foot on the brake and hand ready to put the car in gear if he said anything crazier.
"Your black flag. Was there a death in the family?" he said, gesturing towards the back of my car.
Oh. That.
"It's an, um, I put it on when President Bush was re-elected. I'll take it off when he's out of office," I explained.
The man looked amused and said "It has been on for a very long time then."
I said "No, just over a year now actually. I put it on when he was RE-elected. When he's out of office, I'll remove it." I smiled and started to roll up the window.
The man asked "When he dies?" eyeing me as if I were the crazy one.
"No, no." I said hastily. "When he leaves office, whether he's impeached, indicted, or just voted out."
He smiled and said "I am very glad you have this. Not because I agree with you though. I am from that part of the world and I am very happy (something unintelligible). You do not know the things that happened over there..."
I interrupted him. "It's really not just that. I don't like what he's done domestically either. His administration has set policies and pushed through laws that cut taxes on corporations without making any provisions to ensure those companies kept jobs in this country..."
He interrupted me. "Ah, everyone blames the president for the economy. But it is not the president. When Clinton was president, he takes all the credit for the good economy. But he is not the one responsible. The ones who make the economy good or bad are the ones with the money in their hands!" he held out a fist to emphasize this point.
I said "Right. Exactly. And the Bush administration's policies take that money out of the hands of the people and the workers and put it in the hands of corporations who send jobs out of this country and destroy the economy. As a matter of fact, I blame congress as much or more for most of this, but the Bush administration pushed through those tax cuts last year...and since then we've lost so many jobs...Ford, GM..."
He interrupted me again. "I think that what we need is for everyone to be sincere," I nodded. He continued, "To act as they should, to think about what is good and what is right. And I think also we need for more people to be on their knees, to pray to god to help them know what is the right thing to do."

I'm not a religious person, and religious people kind of freak me out. But I do think if more people spent time reflecting seriously on what, as my parking lot philosopher said "is good and right" and less time listening to what other people say their god thinks is good and right, then most of the crazy fuck fundamentalist movements would lose quite a bit of steam. I am not sure this is how my new friend meant it, but I decided this was the interpretation that I could live with. More importantly, this was one I could leave with.
"I agree. People should be more sincere. And I have to go home now," I said smiling again.
He said "You are so beautiful! Go. Be well."

That was just too fucked up.

So what have I learned? No mall for me for a while. As for the pain in my ass of the pain in my chest, I think I'll wait it out a day more but I will talk about it with my doctor. She's pretty understanding and I think we can have a decent chat about this without me feeling like I'm over or under reacting. Just trusting my instincts.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Thanks giving

I need to remind myself that there are things in my life that I am genuinely grateful for. I've been in and out of a rather shitty mood the past week. So here's my reminder to myself that there are things that are good and which I should celebrate.

I am thankful for my health, which hasn't been stellar but which is much better than when I had acute Lyme disease. I remind myself at least once a week to rejoice in this.
I am thankful for the people I love in my life, my sister and brother, my dear friends.
I am thankful for my friends who let me rant at them or send ill tempered e-mails to them instead of to the people who provoked the ill temper. This has saved me quite a bit of grief.
I am thankful for my cat.
I am thankful that I have my own apartment near a wonderful friend and 4 miles away from campus. Hole in the ceiling, yes, but there is still alot about this place that I love.
I am thankful that I do not take shit from people.
I am thankful that the clerk at the video store I was at Sunday night noticed my driver's license had been expired for two months. Really. I am so unbelievably thankful for that because I had NO IDEA and while it was a little embarassing to be denied a video store account because of it, I can imagine it would have been much worse to have been stopped by a cop while driving with an invalid license.
I am thankful that I can still laugh hard about something at least once a day, like my new driver's license picture.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Etiquette Shock Therapy

I looked up RSVP and etiquette today after sending ANOTHER message to the stragglers from the Thanksgiving invite. I wanted to know was someone out there telling people "RSVP? Fuck it!" I saw with the exception of a twit from Elle magazine on Oprah that there was near unanimous opinion in my google sample that you must RSVP or you're an asshole. Ok, Emily Post didn't use that word. But the sentiment's the same. You will be seen as unreliable and if you make a habit of it, you will be left off guest lists.

Contrary to the apparent opinions of most people my age and under, RSVP does not mean "reply if you feel like it". Nor does it mean "reply only if you are coming", "reply if you want to try to negotiate the event for a time that better fits your schedule", "reply if you are planning to bring an univited guest who you think might offend everyone", "reply if you are not coming", "reply to request accomodations if you are allergic to nuts, milk, fish, berries, wheat products, or the chicken polka", or whatever it is people seem to think it means these days. There is no "only" and there is no "if" unless the host specifies that.

It means reply, say whether you are or aren't coming, at the very least. It might also mean reply and say whether you're bringing that guy no one can stand and if you wouldn't mind brining some chips to go with the dip. It's very simple - it means reply by phone, mail, or message to your host. Replying is not the polite thing to do. It is the not unspeakably rude thing to do. Replying as soon as possible is polite. Replying by the date given for RSVP should be considered mandatory. And if the host has gone out of his or her way to contact you because you haven't replied, you should feel kind of like an idiot and reply immediately, even if your response is "I want to come but my schedule's chaotic and I can't commit to anything right now. Is this something that's flexible, and if so, does it become unflexible at any point?", reply. As a matter of fact, that is my frequent response when I am invited to out of state engagements or academic dinners which happen after academic talks, which means talk + dinner = about 5 hours of what is usually my most productive time of day. My point is you have options. If you're worried about violating a social norm or point of etiquette, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out that violating it by giving your hosts too much information with an on time reply is the lesser of two possibly poor behaviors. By not RSVPing in time for your hosts to plan food and other items that add up means you may have just wasted not only their time but their money as well. And unless the invite was to a Kwakiutl potlatch where your hosts' whole reason for throwing the party was to give them a chance to show how much they have by giving and even throwing it away, you're an asshole.

If you happen to hear in pop culture that these days people don't expect an RSVP (like the twit from Elle), realize that the source of it is assuming or wants to project the idea that their audiences have large disposable incomes. People with lots of moola are at worst imposed and put upon when more guests show up than RSVPed (because they have the money to make a last minute expansion) and they are not quite so literally heart broken when only half the number of people they shopped for show up. I know, I've been rich and I've been poor. It makes a difference. An expense that seems reasonably ok in light of the idea of a nice party seems exorbitant when it ends up being for food you probably end up throwing out at the end of the week because there's so much of it it's going bad before you can eat it.

So here's my etiquette. Didn't anyone wonder what would happen when the kids who grew up saturated in an environment of punk and protest started hosting Thanksgiving dinner? Here's my version of it. If you are someone who makes a habit of not replying to invitations, you will be repaid with public ridicule and humiliation. And I am the kind of person who really wants to give you that. It's like etiquette shock therapy. So be on notice non RSVPers. Either shape up or PRAY that your host isn't as fed up as me.

For Thanksgiving, for each person who took their sweet time RSVPing, or who made jokes about "oh I guess I'm the last usual!", I'm thinking of various annoying things to do to them.

- I am considering asking the other guests to hide when the late RSVPer arrives, then acting surprised and embarassed to see a guest at my door. "Um....I guess you didn't get the message I sent saying dinner's off. I have a nail fungus and I'm not allowed to prepare food."

- I am also thinking of pretending not to have enough food or something. I could make note of all the stuff no one signed up for and announce we ran out about half way through dinner. Alternatively, I could make a note of what my non and late RSVPers signed up for and pretend I bought some too since I didn't know if anyone was bringing it. "Shit. You brought cranberry sauce? We already have a dozen cans. Oh well. You can never have...enough...whole berry cranberry sauce, I guess"

That last one requires a qualification because if this hadn't been planned and discussed (with the guests) as a potluck type dinner in advance, I would NOT do this. For the people I invited who are not American (nearly all) and/or have not hosted or been a guest at a home Thanksgiving dinner before (most), I was careful to send an e-mail with info about how thanksgiving dinners usually work. I know I did a decent job because one of my non-native english speaking peers, the Chinese grad student whose English is good but not spectacular, completely got it.

I have to admit, I do feel a bit evil plotting how to humiliate my guests. Mostly because I wonder how to prevent the "good" guests from not feeling threatened? I like my idea but there is always the larger social context which includes (if not only then at least in a great part) the other people's beliefs and expectations.

Odds are I'll say pointed things to a few people and do Thanksgiving for just two or three next year. We'll see. I did just call one of my friends to bitch him out about not RSVPing until he was literally harassed into it, and even then he paid so little attention to the invite that he didn't see the list to sign up for stuff, instead saying "just tell me what to bring". Right. Be my mommie. I don't really feel much better for having bitched at him. Lest you think I am feeling guilty, allow me to correct that gross misconception. I'm actually still mad and would really like to call him back and bitch at him more. He was driving and couldn't give me his full attention while I was telling him how rude it was and that he should call the one last non-responder to explain to her why it would be bad for her to continue to not reply.

Days like today I wonder if I could make a living as a professional dom. I think I might enjoy punishing someone who truly deserves and wants it. Providing I don't have to fuck them. Without delving too deeply into this, I think it might not be an over generalization to say that people who carry around the particular kind of baggage that makes them need to be humiliated to get off are not people I want to fuck.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Be glad and young

It was a long week. At least I was dressed appropriately. My dear friend A___ ordered this t-shirt for me a little while ago. It arrived just in time for me to wear it proudly Friday. (image is gone now - I'll put a new one up if I find it again)

To my great surprise, I went to a party last night. To my even greater surprise, I had a reasonably good time. It started with a last minute invite to dinner from another grad on Thursday. During the day Friday, I watched via e-mail with increasing trepidation as the hostess wrote "you might want to bring your own chair", then "and your own dishes", and finally issued an entire change of venue from her itty bitty apartment to a large faculty house which was being house sat by a friend of mine.

Initially, I had thought the change of venue was a swell idea since the hostess's apartment was about a half a "block" (I use this term with thick sarcasm) away from where I had lived for the last three years with my now ex-S.O. I wasn't looking forward to a literal drive down memory lane to top off my week. Little did I know the change of venue meant it had become the fucking party at Twelve Oaks. The smallish dinner I had accepted an invitation to had exploded into a party with too many people, after too much week, and on top of too little hormone for me.

Just before leaving for the party, I started getting cramps. I stopped and got some food so I could take a space shuttle sized Motrin. As I drove to the big party, I was desperately trying to cram as much of a chocolate croissant into my mouth so I could take said pill before the cramps got ahold of me. I nearly wrecked because some asshole was tailgating me the last couple of miles to the party (yes, it was all his fault. It had nothing to do with my dropping flakey croissant bits everywhere and pawing about for my water bottle while trying to watch for suicidal deer in the road). Finally, I pulled over and managed to choke down the pill. While I sat at the roadside spluttering water and croissant everywhere, I watched the tailgater pull into the driveway of the house I was also going to. "Perfect" I thought. Upon arriving at the party, I tried to figure out whose car it had been riding up my ass. An acquaintance from school greeted me, booming "Hey! Was that you I was tailgating?" as if this were just about the funniest thing in the world. This provoked me to a Courtney Love like moment of screaming Zen. At least it was Zen for me, not so much for the acquaintance. I felt sheepish, but much better afterwards.

Overall, I had a good time. This was acheived mostly by allowing myself to have no filter whatsoever on my mouth. I don't like acting this way a lot, but I had to blow off some steam or I'll lose my mind by Christmas. I don't drink and I figure I get some inappropriate behavior credits I can cash in now and then. There was a lot of strange sexual and romantic tension at the party and I was thankfully not a part of of it. (My own sexual/romantic tension is not at all strange. Indeed, it is familiar to the point where it is barely even tension.) The food wasn't great, but it was ok and it was a meal I didn't have to cook or prepare or be responsible for. Homemade macaroni and cheese, salad, and an extremely unappetizing and frighteningly large pot of polenta.

The motrin started fading around 10:30. I caught up with my house-sitting friend in the driveway as I was leaving. With some guilt, I listened as she repeated dismally "Ayava howsh-fulluv peeep-pulll...whaddamI gonna do witha fukkin howsh full uv peeep-pull?" During my pre-drive cigarette, my friend and I shivered in the driveway not far from the ten pounds of left over cement-like polenta she had snuck out to abandon in the woods. We watched through the window while the original hostess flirted badly with nearly everyone in the room in a desperate attempt to console herself that the man she was interested in, the man she had invited (several weeks ago) to her apartment for dinner that night, the man she had gotten carried away wanting to impress with her graceful hostessing skills, the man it seems she threw this whole party for, had left without saying goodbye. While this was not exactly a pleasant moment, I felt some kind of kinship with these women who were burning so close to the ends of their social fuses.

I sit at home now on a Saturday afternoon. Dearest A___ just left for an overnight road trip. My house sitter friend called to cancel our laundry/movie/dinner plans because she needs to get laid and, towards that end, has invited her ambiguously ex-boyfriend down. Good to see she's working through that tension. Ah...this is not bad in fact. I'm getting to like spending the first day of my period alone. I'm bleeding but feeding myself left-over halloween candy and motrin shuttles. I got an unexpected e-mail from one of the first year grad students at the party. Fall out from the sexual tension shit, which is not my problem. Trying to keep myself sane and free of shit I don't need right now, I replied to him with an ee cummings poem. I'll post a couple here. One for me and one for the party people. It seems like it should be clear which is which, although on second thought it could well be that both are both.

you shall above all things be glad and young

you shall above all things be glad and young
For if you're young,whatever life you wear

it will become you;and if you are glad
whatever's living will yourself become.
Girlboys may nothing more than boygirls need:
i can entirely her only love

whose any mystery makes every man's
flesh put space on;and his mind take off time

that you should ever think,may god forbid
and (in his mercy) your true lover spare:
for that way knowledge lies,the foetal grave
called progress,and negation's dead undoom.

I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance

all which isn't singing is mere talking

all which isn't singing is mere talking
and all talking's talking to oneself
(whether that oneself be sought or seeking
master or disciple sheep or wolf)

gush to it as diety or devil
-toss in sobs and reasons threats and smiles
name it cruel fair or blessed evil-
it is you (ne i)nobody else

drive dumb mankind dizzy with haranguing
-you are deafened every mother's son-
all is merely talk which isn't singing
and all talking's to oneself alone

but the very song of(as mountains
feel and lovers)singing is silence