Friday, December 23, 2011

Ron Paul Rant: Is Dr. Paul Racist or Just Incompetent?

Let's give Ron Paul the benefit of the doubt. Take him at his word that he didn't know these racist views were communicated in his newsletters. Ok, so maybe he really is not racist. Then he's an incompetent leader. If you're oblivious to and can't control what is written in your own political newsletter, how can you manage our great nation, Dr. Paul? It takes pretty superior communication skills to be president of the United States.

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

One of my fairly liberal friends, tired of Obama's broken promises, has decided to listen to Chicken Little and vote for Ron Paul. His argument is that since civilization is on the brink of collapse, we should ignore Dr. Paul's social conservatism and jump on board his ark before we all drown.

Hold up. I'm not letting fear mongers get to me. This planet has had many civilizations collapse and yet people are still here. Since I was born in 1970 I've heard over and over that our great nation is on the verge of collapse. And yes, it really does look like it this time. But it really did look like it that time too. And that time before. And that time before that.

I'm tired of rich propagandists in both parties freaking everyone out with their extremist statements about how if we don't support their guy civilization will end. No it won't. The ability for them to live in their mansions and to pay for any material thing they want on this earth might end, but humanity will continue no matter who we vote for in November 2012. Humans are pretty good at figuring out this life on Earth thing. I might have to learn how to garden and God forbid shoot a gun, but hey, that sounds better than drinking the koolaid either party is handing out right now.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

In Praise of Debate: I Miss Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens is dead and I am sad.

I never took debate in high school. I regret it. I would have been a go-getter debater. I might have actually bothered showing up to school if I had an activity to participate in as interesting as debate. Instead at school I stewed and at home I argued with my dad. Got myself kicked out of the house when I was eighteen. I wonder where I would be today if I had taken the opportunity to hone my skills for good by joining a debate team rather than for bad by yelling at my dad.

I love to argue but I hate to fight. My problem is I want everyone to like me. I've wisened up a bit as my life has evolved. At forty-one I know it's impossible to please all people. So I've decided to still try to get everyone to like me but not by pleasing them. I want them to like me even when they disagree with me.

Wow. Looking at me you wouldn't suspect I'm the type of person who is very hard on herself. My elastic waist Mom pants and my Ugg boots that are really slippers with a hard sole make me look like someone who enjoys comfort and ease. Not like someone who sets herself up for perfect failure when it comes to something as tricky as interpersonal relationships.

I was recently invited to join a secret group on Facebook. I had been invited to another secret group, which I nearly got myself kicked out of for being so argumentative, but it was easy to figure out why I was invited to that group. It's a parenting advice group and anyone within earshot of me has a pretty good idea I like to talk about my kid and what the heck I'm exactly supposed to DO with her. So that makes sense.

This other group, it took me a minute to figure it out. Lots of bickering. Lots of histrionics. Lots of polticial extremism. I see. One of my friends thinks I'm a loudmouth.

I couldn't have felt more pride. Really? Someone thinks I'm a loudmouth? I'd always admired people like Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, Bill Hicks, Chris Rock, Matt Taibbi. Smart, funny people who are more interested in telling the truth than making you feel comfortable. I don't always agree with any of them. Which is true with everyone. I've never known someone I always agree with. But that doesn't mean I don't want to be around them. I've learned so much and strengthened my own opinions by arguing with other passionate loudmouths.

So here's to polemicists like Christopher Hitchens. I'm sad to see him go. We need more good debaters like him. I'm evidently not the only one who thinks so.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

News You Can Trust

The Onion, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report. Satirical news outlets are among the remaining few telling the truth these days. The court jester was once the only fool in the kingdom who had sense enough to use humor to criticize the ruler.

Take a few minutes to browse The Onion's website, watch a couple clips of "The Daily Show," or "The Colbert Report" online and you'll be infinitely more informed than you'll be watching most 24/7 television news outlets.

Except for "The Rachel Maddow Show." I go to Ms. Maddow when I need a smart, well-researched, and thoughtful civics lessons. Here's one of my recent favorites.

Go, Rachel! Fox News, here's an example of how to intelligently criticize the president.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rest in Peace, Christopher Hitchens

"Only an open conflict of ideas and principles can produce any clarity." -- Christopher Hitchens. Rest in peace. One of my favorite modern thinkers. I didn't always agree with him, but that was kind of the point.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Who Should I Vote For in 2012?

President Obama, you wanted to bring us together, to get Republicans and Democrats to somehow find agreement despite our ideological differences. Congratulations. Mission accomplished. You have brought us together, not to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya," or to solve our dire economic problems, but you've managed to unite us in distrust of you for supporting this horrible bill. I never thought I'd live to see these words, "[Senator Rand] Paul was backed by Senator Dianne Feinstein."

"It's something so radical that it would have been considered crazy had it been pushed by the Bush administration," said Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch. "It establishes precisely the kind of system that the United States has consistently urged other countries not to adopt. At a time when the United States is urging Egypt, for example, to scrap its emergency law and military courts, this is not consistent."

President Obama, it looks like you're trying not to be the next Jimmy Carter. I grew up during Carter's era. You, sir, are no Jimmy Carter. He did what was right, ignoring critics who said he was too weak, regardless of its effect on his winning another election.

President Obama, if you do not veto this bill, you have lost my vote.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Armchair Radical: First Runner Up Person of the Year 2011

Time Magazine

Born in 1970, I was too young to protest the Vietnam War, to burn my bra with fellow feminists, to lock arms with my African-American brothers and sisters during the Civil Rights Era, or to do any meaningful protesting with my LGBTQ friends, other than getting called to the principal's office when I was a sophomore for screaming, "Fuck You!" at a boy for calling my friend a fag as we walked by him in the hallway. The three of us--a nerdy/punkish/hippie girl, an artsy/androgenously dressed boy, and a semi-popular jock--sat with the principal--an African-American woman in charge of a predominately white suburban school. She let us take turns voicing our opinions, allowing us to leave only after the boy apologized to my friend for calling him a viscious name and I apologized to the principal for swearing in her school.

Other than that, I rarely ever publically voiced my opinions about things that matter to me until I joined Facebook a few years ago. I discovered an easy way for me to speak my mind without uttering a word or leaving the comfort of my chair. An introspective lazy person's dream. I took to armchair radicalism like a three-eyed fish to a poisoned pond. I even wrote an essay about it. I need to search for it in my old files so I can share it here, but I don't have time now. I need to leave to pick up my kindergartener from school.

So I'm quite happy Time Magazine has chosen "The Protester" as Person of the Year.

It makes me want to take to the streets and join them. My inner-hippie heart is stoked that radicals are once again relevent. And listened to. And taken seriously. It's no longer just our drugs mainsteam society wants, but our ideas and our practical solutions to personal, family, community, national, and global problems.

Here's what Time editor Richard Stengel thinks:

"For capturing and highlighting a global sense of restless promise, for upending governments and conventional wisdom, for combining the oldest of techniques with the newest of technologies to shine a light on human dignity and, finally, for steering the planet on a more democratic though sometimes more dangerous path for the 21st century, the Protester is Time's 2011 Person of the Year."

I don't have the time or the energy to join them, so I do what I can with my Facebook rants and blog posts. It's not as cool as actually being out there in the streets with them, but I like to think in my small way letting others know that regular people like me--kind, smart, quirky, stubborn, self-centered, empathetic, contradictory people with opinions and the love of words to share them--are not the dirty, crazy lunatics activists are sometimes sterotyped to be, but also moms with dirty houses to clean and crazy schedules to juggle, trying to get by like everyone else--helps the cause.

And I'm far from the only one. It's refreshing to see so many of my friends share their opinions and express their ideas freely. It can only make this world a better place.

We don't all have time to leave the house to join others in protest. I therefore nominate the Armchair Radical as first-runner-up Person of the Year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Don't Go the Cry It Out Route

Just the other day I blogged about my idea for the best way to get a child to go to sleep. And prevent war. Yeah, it's kind of a stretch, but I still stand by my unsupported claims about how to achieve world peace through nurturing parenting.

Then today my friend shared this post from Psychology Today supporting my claims. Well, not the world peace part, but we'll get to that some day. The part where I suggest that leaving infants to cry it out is not the best way to get them to go to sleep at night. Actually, the author has an even more valid argument since she supports her ideas with actual research.

So yeah, what she says.

And as always, remember, whatever any so-called expert, friend, or random blogger tells you, you are the best mom for your family. Not them. Not me. You. Trust your instincts and enjoy!

Defiance: A Review

I finally saw "Defiance" last night. Really good. I hated that scene where the mob uses their rifles to bash in the German's head. I wanted to scream out, "No! No! You are the good guys! You are above vengeance!" But that's the point, isn't it? Good job, Edward Zwick.

Liev Schreiber's character Zus kicks ass in a Han Soloesque, oblivious-to-what-others-think way. It figures I'd link the two. I wanted Han Solo to be my boyfriend when I was in third grade. When I was in my twenties, I wanted Liev Schreiber's character Andrew to be my boyfriend when I saw him in "Walking and Talking," the movie I love but everyone I recommend it to seems to think is just awful. My brother used to tease me when our mom would tell me I should write movie reviews for a living that whenever I'd rave about a movie most sane people would understand that to mean they should absolutely avoid seeing the film.

It looks like my brother was right. While making sure I had the proper spelling of Schreiber's name, I checked the Wikipedia post about the film and discovered many critcs disagree with my opinion of it. Rotton tomatoes gives it only a 57%. Really?

Were those critics all in the bathroom during that scene where Zus waltzes onto the field, climbs aboard the German tank and, despite a huge rivalry between brothers that had previously caused him to abandon his family and their fellow refugees, saves them from slaughter? Did they blink during that scene where his brother Tuvia executes the family of the police officer who murdered their parents, but soon realizes revenge is not as sweet as surviving with your decent human values intact? Did they get up for popcorn during that scene where Lilka, Tuvia's love interest, appeals to his human emotions to spare the rape victim and her child from camp banishment after he discovers the hidden child despite having firmly stated that pregnancies were absolutely forbidden in the camp, even though it was completely impractical to think they could care for an infant when they could barely keep from starving and freezing themselves?

I understand after reading director Zwick's response to critcism of his film why I like it so much, "Defiance is not a simple fight between good and evil. The Bielskis weren't saints. They were flawed heroes, which is what makes them so real and so fascinating. They faced any number of difficult moral dilemmas that the movie seeks to dramatise: Does one have to become a monster to fight monsters? Does one have to sacrifice his humanity to save humanity?"

Ambiguity at its finest. Just like another war film that hasn't gotten the props it deserves.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sweet Jane Three Way

Lou Reed, live in Paris 1974

Cowboy Junkies, 1988 official video

Ian McCulloch, April 2002

So what's your favorite version of this song? Share a link to it in the comments section below.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sex is Natural, Sex is Fun: C-c-c-c-c-c-c'mon!

A friend of mine was giving me shit for being a feminist. He equates feminism with sexism. I'm sure some feminists are sexist penis-haters as he was implying, just as some African-Americans, in particular one of my ex-girlfriends, are racist Afrophobes, but please don't judge me for what some other crazy person thinks. It shocked me the first time my ex told me she'd never consider dating another black person. But I soon realized that was sadly one of the least crazy ideas floating around inside her head and so I shrugged it off as her personal quirk and not a quirk commonly shared by other six foot tall gorgeous black lesbians, and especially not by the African-American community in general.

So yes, I am a feminist. And no, I'm not a man-hater. I think my dating record has clearly shown I am an equal-opportunity annoying girlfriend. It's what comes out of your mouth that pisses me off, not what's in between your legs.

What got my friend's panties in a wad was my comment to his post about how people who can't afford to take care of their kids should stop popping out more as a way to get government handouts. I'm sure he didn't appreciate my know-it-all tone.

"People have an evolutionary imperative to copulate. Human beings are just apes with a voicebox. If we're serious that we want people to be responsible for not bringing unwanted children into the world, free condoms should be available to anyone, anytime. Don't play it like women are conniving sluts trying to rip men off. Sure, there are probably some women in the world like that, but certainly not most. If I'm wrong I guess I just hang out with decent folks. But don't go blaming women for having sex. Sex is as natural as eating, drinking, and breathing. If we don't have sex, our species dies."

He responded that he never made any gender-specific claims and countered with, "My biggest grip with feminists is that they seem to constantly look for a way to be offended."

Now wait a minute. I am constantly looking for ways to be offended, I'll give you that. But I don't think it's because I'm a card carrying feminist. I would like to think I'm socially evolved enough that I would also be an overly sensitive complainer if I were born with what in my mind is merely a very swollen clitoris and a flatter chest. Oh, and a fuzzier body, but in my case that would only be slightly. Check my medicine cabinet for my facial hair grooming implements if you like the next time you're using my john.

So I countered with, "I can't speak for all feminists, but I've always been very pro-penis. And pro-vulva. I am angry about many things in our culture, but I am not angry at men in general or at penises specifically. Penii?

I don't think feminism is equal to sexism. Feminism is not a belief that women are better than men, or deserve more rights than men (including child care laws, which I agree with you have historically been far too slanted in favor of mothers). Feminism is the belief that women, who have historically had fewer rights than men in our culture (except in the areas of child care, as you point out), deserve to have equal rights as men. Not better. Not special. Just equal.

I am a feminist, but even more so, I am a humanist. I believe all people, regardless of secondary sex characteristics, should be treated with the same regard, respect, fairness.

That said, the reason I specifically said, 'Don't play it like women are conniving sluts trying to rip men off' is because often when people blame welfare recipients for popping out babies as a means to gain free money from the government, it's women they're talking about. But you did not specifically mention women in your status update, so let me rephrase my first comment so it's less sexist sounding:

People have an evolutionary imperative to copulate. Human beings are just apes with a voicebox. If we're serious that we want people to be responsible for not bringing unwanted children into the world, free condoms should be available to anyone, anytime. Don't play it like people are conniving sluts trying to rip others off. Sure, there are probably some people in the world like that, but certainly not most. If I'm wrong I guess I just hang out with decent folks. But don't go blaming people for having sex. Sex is as natural as eating, drinking, and breathing. If we don't have sex, our species dies.

How's that?

Also, I was trying to point out that women like sex too, and there's nothing wrong with that. This is a birth control issue, not a sex issue. Often in our culture it's assumed that women just have sex to have babies, but many women have sex because it fucking feels good, not because they want to support a child. Just like men. Just like anyone. Sex is natural, sex is fun. Oh crap, now I'm quoting George Michael."

So I woke up the day after engaging in this fun argument and read these words in the book, "Spontanenous Happiness" by Dr. Andrew Weil:

"For years, oxytocin was thought of only as the hormone that stimulates dilation of the uterine cervix and uterine contractions at the onset of childbirth as well as the production of breast milk soon after. Like all endocrine hormones, however, oxytocin has a broad spectrum of action, including effects on the brain and emotions. It is now commonly referred to as the hormone of love, trust, and pair bonding. Touch promotes the release of oxytocin, which in turn causes the release of dopamine in the brain's reward center...Just as we need to eat diverse nutrients and engage in a range of physical activities, human beings need a variety of touch experiences on a regular basis. These might include friendly handshakes, hugs, physical contact with companion animals, massage sessions, and passionate sex. As long as both participants engage willingly, there are few experiences that offer human beings a more profound opportunity for improving and maintaining emotional well-being." (Pg. 123-124)

I kid George Michael, but now I see he's on to something.

Friday, December 9, 2011

I'm a Better Mom Than You Are: Getting Your Kid to Go the Fuck to Sleep

I'd like to start a new series of posts called "I'm a Better Mom Than You Are". Think Amy Sedaris gets it on with Mr. Rogers. So here we go. The first entry is about how to get your kid to go the fuck to sleep.

We'll start with an homage to the inimitable Samuel L. Jackson, whose work I blatantly stole for this post:

During a Facebook argument over which of us is the best mom, I mean sharing parenting ideas for getting our kids and ourselves to sleep well at night, a friend shared this article that explains the evolutionary reasons why many kids who live in western cultures put up such a fight at bedtime.

If you don't want to read the entire article, here's a good summary:

"When your child screams at being put to bed alone at night, your child is not trying to test your will! Your child is screaming, truly, for dear life. Your child is screaming because we are all genetically hunter-gatherers, and your child's genes contain the information that to lie alone in the dark is suicide."

I'm pleased scientists are finally supporting my hunches. If I were a sociologist and not a slacker, the hypothesis for my first study would be this: Cultures with the least amount of violence have the greatest amount of children who do not sleep alone at night. It makes perfect sense to me, but in order for most westerners to take me seriously I'd have to test it and have it published in a peer-reviewed journal. That's not going to happen. Since I am a slacker, we'll have to make do with my hunches and a haphazard blog post written during potato peeling breaks. By the way, recipes are greatly appreciated for what my family of three might do with a twenty pound sack of potatoes.

I've always thought it was odd that some people think it's odd for a child to not enjoy sleeping alone. To me, it's just common sense. People, especially vulnerable children, want to be close to other people for protection. It doesn't mean they're spoiled. It means they're smart.

We evolved from ancestors who were subject to predation. They had to fight off lions and tigers and bears - oh my - much more often than my little dorothy needs to today, living in suburban Kansas. But that fear, and that instinct to surround ourselves with kin because together we're more powerful than we are alone, is in our genes. When our tired bodies and sleepy brains get ready to go to bed at night, they don't know it's inside a securely locked house within a safe community, and that the only animal higher on the food chain than ourselves we'll probably ever encounter lives at the zoo.

I guess I was lucky that my family didn't have very much money so I shared a bedroom with one or two sisters until I was twelve. I have always slept better with another body in bed, be it sister, dog, cat, husband, kid.

So here's where my hypothesis kicks in. I have noticed I'm a radical pacifist compared to most Americans. My first grade teacher would say I'm a cry baby. I say I'm mindful of my heightened sensitivity and I enjoy expressing myself. But I've noticed whenever I'm talking to someone about violence in general and war specifically, I'm always the weaniest of us both. I guess I need to hang out with more Quakers.

I suspect the reason I'm so squeamish about violence and opposed to war has to do with my feeling of interconnectedness with all living beings. I can't remember ever not feeling connected to everyone around me. As the baby sister to five much older siblings, my mom tells me I was nearly always being held by someone. And sure, sometimes they'd drop me on my head on the concrete sidewalk outside our house, but there were rare moments when I didn't have arms around me. I shared a bedroom with two of my sisters when I was an infant. Every night when I'd wake up, my sister Kit, who is nearly eleven years older than I am, would rise, change my diaper, give me a bottle, and bring me back into her bed with her so we could both get some sleep. Without complaint. As if I were her living doll. I'm very lucky, and I know that. Who wouldn't grow up to have such warm feelings of interconnection with others being raised like that?

I've tried to raise our daughter in a similar, very physically close, affectionate way. Katie goes to sleep in her own bed because we get sleepy later than she does. Usually. But sometimes she starts out in our king sized bed. If she wakes up in the middle of the night in her own room, she comes crawling into bed with us. By us I mean her mom, dad, one of our dogs and our cat. Lots of warm bodies. Yet I often don't even wake up when she climbs in bed with us. I'll awaken in the morning to a snuggle fest. It's really quite nice. Try it.

When she was still a baby, Katie was almost always already asleep when we put her in her laundry baskinette in between us in bed, and later her crib, and then when she woke up we'd bring her to bed with us. It has worked well for us.

Of course I think my own child is God's gift, but I also try to view her personality objectively. It's more interesting to think critically of our loved ones and realize we love them just as much and even more because of the things we find to critique. So objectively speaking, I think Katie's a compassionate kid. Or let's put it this way, because I think all kids are compassionate, just some have been encouraged to express it more than others. Katie has a highly evolved sense of compassion.

For example, today I was the reading helper in her class. One of her classmates had a meltdown, screaming, crying, stomping. He was sent to the safe seat to cry it out. Which is understandable since he was disrupting the class. But what does that teach our children? Ignore the person who is hurting. Let's go about our business. We have better things to do than to be concerned about that crying kid.

Because I went to public school myself and learned to conform somewhat to social norms, I sat there quietly, waiting for him to calm himself. I wanted to rush over, throw my arms around him and tell him it would be ok. But I'm supposed to keep my hands to myself, something I've had trouble doing since it was first reflected on my first grade report card when my teacher gave me a minus in that box.

But I couldn't help but smile when Katie was reprimanded not once, not twice, but five times by the teacher. "Katie, look up here!" "Katie, quit looking at him." "Katie, eyes up here." "Katie, HERE!" "Katie..." I could see Katie champing at the bit to break from the circle and go throw her arms around her hurting classmate.

Later at home, we talked about the situation with her classmate. I asked her how she felt. "I felt sad for him. He didn't want to be in the safe seat. He's a good kid. He just make a mistake."

I see my propaganda is working on her. I felt like a soccer mom watching my kid score the winning goal, only there were no losers in the game.

I have no proof, but it just seems right that if someone is used to having arms around them they'd think hugging and loving others is the most natural thing on earth. And therefore conclude that the opposite of hugging and loving, killing and hating, is an abomination. So there you go: the least warlike cultures have the most physically held children.

Some of the moms on the Facebook forum suggested the Ferber method worked for their family to get their kids to go the fuck to sleep. I don't have it in me to let a child cry it out. I'm 41 and I certainly wouldn't want to be locked in a bed alone crying myself to sleep. I've always found that trying to think of things from my child's perspective has led me to the best answers when I'm struggling with a parenting problem. And better yet, empathy leads to kids going the fuck to sleep.

So mutha, please. I don't really think you're a shitty parent. I'm trying to provoke people with the title of this post because I like to get a rise out of people. And I desperately need to boost my pageviews. I honestly don't think I'm a better mom than anyone, just the best mom for my family. And you're the best mom for your family. Maybe you don't like little feet kicking you in the ribs at night or blowing hot stinky candy breath in your face. Maybe you've found other ways to calm your child's nighttime fears. That's great. My way is not it or the highway. But I'm sick of so-called experts like Ferber telling parents they'll spoil their children if they comfort their normal nighttime fears.

The best parenting advice I have: ignore everyone, including me, but trust your instincts. And trust your child's instincts. They're there to keep our species alive.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Dog is My Co-Pilot

Katie and I were discussing what we'd like to draw on our Christmas cards. A Christmas tree! Santa! A snowman! A star!

"A baby Jesus in a manger!" I suggested.

"What's dat?"

"Jesus' mommy gave birth to him in a stable with all the animals around, and she placed him inside a box called a 'manger' which was used to store the animals' food."

"It's a good thing the animals didn't eat baby Jesus!"

I laughed. I didn't have the heart to say aloud what I thought, "Yes, but I bet Jesus ate them."

Or maybe not. I have no proof of what Jesus ate or didn't eat. I recall my mother telling me that Jesus' last meal before he was executed by the state consisted of bread and wine. Now I'm as much a fan of fresh, warm homemade bread as the next person. And a nice glass of wine among devoted friends, hells yeah. But for my last supper? I'd ask for something a little more substantial, like the veggie combo at my favorite local Ethiopian restaurant.

Although it looks like Jesus had connections since one of the Three Wise Men was probably Ethiopian, I don't think the veggie combo would travel well in the desert, so I can see why they brought gold, frankincense and myrrh instead. And why Jesus stuck with bread for his last supper. Who wants to be up all night with vomiting and diarrhea before saving humanity?

But just because he chose bread for his last meal doesn't prove Jesus was a vegetarian. Even though a big symbol of Christianity is the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ, I'm pretty sure he dabbled in fish too, as is evident from the minivan bumpers driving around my suburban neighborhood. If nothing else, Jesus encouraged the eating of fish flesh when he fed the multitude.

I found this interesting article while I was doing some research to make sure I wasn't feeding Katie a line of bullshit about the whole baby Jesus in a manger story. It argues that Jesus probably wasn't a vegetarian. The weird thing is, Adolph Hitler probably was. Here's someone who sits at the opposite end of Jesus on the compassion spectrum, yet he followed perhaps a more compassionate diet.

Some say Hitler would wince and avert his eyes while watching movies with scenes of animal cruelty. This person who, because he viewed their cultural and religious differences to be so different from his own, oversaw the extermination of 6 million people who shared more DNA in common with him than the animals he could not bear to see suffer.

The creepy thing is I can kind of see his point. God, no. Not the murdering my fellow human beings or segregating groups of people and taking away their human rights based on prejudicial assumptions. But I find myself aghast when I encounter acts of cruelty against animals, and yet I've become rather blasé when the violence is directed against my own species. I was watching "Apocalypse: World War II" with my nephew and Will last night. It's a documentary with actual footage of the war. Gruesome, bloody, horrifying. Everything you'd expect to see.

Except for one scene which about did me in. The scene where Soviet soldiers line up and release their anti-tank dogs. These war dogs were specially trained to run under tanks, detonating the explosive devices attached to their bodies. Kamakazi dogs. Oh wait, I'm mixing up my sides. So let me get this straight? Soviet soldiers fought German tanks using German Shepherd dogs to perform suicide bombing acts similar to their Japanese Kamikaze enemies? Oh my, people are so mixed up.

But look:

Dogs are not mixed up. Which is why I love them so.

With dogs, their paws are muddy, but their morals are not. They bite their enemies, yes, but they're also loyal beyond compare. They'll lick your face and make you laugh, expecting nothing in return but to feel like they're a necessary part of your pack.

I'm a born-again dog lover, so my love for them is fierce and unswaying. I came into dog loving late in life, at age 30, when my girlfriend at the time convinced me to adopt a dog from the pound. We had a family dog when I was a kid, but he lived on a chain next to his dog house the first four years of his life. When we moved to a house with a fenced-in back yard, he at least got to run around outside, but still, rarely with us inside. People live inside. Animals live outside. Those were my dad's rules. He'd bend them slightly if I whined enough, "But Daddy it's sooooooo cold outside," I'd say with my nose pressed up to the sliding-glass door leading to our back yard. We could let the dog in the basement overnight if it was particularly cold, but never in the family room. Dogs are not family.

Yeah right. It's my house now, and when my dad visits I seldom tell them to get down when one of my dogs inevitably ends up sitting right next to Dad on the couch, leaning on him as if to say, "You may pet me now."

I love pack animals, and yet what I respect most about people like Jesus is their ability to get people to think critically and not follow the flock. A liberal Facebook friend of mine posted something about how he's sick of his conservative friends comparing President Obama to Hitler. It got us talking about Godwin's Law, which, because I had seen that documentary about anti-tank dogs, reminded me of the whole Hitler was a vegetarian thing.

As a flexitarian animal lover myself, I find it fascinating that the person modern humans tend to associate with pure evil was a flexitarian too. Actually he called himself a vegetarian, but it sounds like he liked his sausages and caviar a bit too much to abstain from meat entirely. It just baffles me that someone who so willingly promoted the genocide of fellow human beings would turn up his nose to eating animals.

This lead to another Facebook friend, a big Ron Paul supporter, asking, "What's evil?"

I personally think evil is an idea made up to control people into doing what they're told by people in power. I recommend reading Nietzsche's "Beyond Good an Evil". Very mind opening. But I'd better watch out or people will start comparing me to Hitler.

Conservative Friend went on about how US citizens who are deemed threats or sympathizers are subject to getting shot these days.

These days? Not just these days, all days. Shepherds are just as insecure as us sheep and they feel threatened when we don't blindly follow the herd. Just ask Jesus. People in power kill people for espousing radical ideas about loving your enemy.

And then my Facebook friends and I encountered Carleton's Law, the one that states that all good internet discussions must end on a k.d. lang note. In this case, I simply cannot think of herd mentality without this wonderfully goofy song getting stuck in my head. k.d. lang knows how to put it into perspective for us. Remember her? She's the one who got in trouble for her support of those pesky vegetarian proselytizers PETA.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Congo Rapes and Kindergarten Kisses: A Pacifist's Battle

Dr. Andrew Weil is my favorite health advisor, but I disagree with him on one point. He recommends "news fasting" as a way of achieving optimum mental health. But I can't help myself. My husband calls my interest in the horrible aspects of humanity my "Rwandan Genocide Videos". Once, when were were still dating, he came home from work and found me on our couch sobbing. He ran over to me, threw his arms around my shoulders and asked, "What's wrong?"

I choked out between snot and tears streaming down my face, like a five year old whose toy had been snatched away from her, "Why do people have to be so mean to each other?"

He looked at the TV, back at me and asked, "Another Rwandan Genocide Video?"

I nodded cautiously like a child caught doing something she's been told not to do. Life's atrocities are like a car wreck I can't seem to look away from. Like this article about the mass rapes happening in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I don't believe in sin, so it's especially difficult for me to understand why human beings can be so brutal. What makes a person rape an infant girl? What makes a person cut up a husband's genitals and force his wife to eat them in front of her children? Savagery? Sin? Or something else? I don't know.

Sometimes I give up trying to figure it out and just let it go, which I think is what Dr. Weil is suggesting. But when I news-fast, it's because I've become overwhelmed with grief, not because I've figured out a way to get past it. I get too depressed thinking about such apparent evil.

My depression stems from the disconnect I experience since I don't believe the "Devil made me do it." Which makes the responsibility fall on human beings, from something wrong internally, not from any external supernatural force. But why? What makes some people on this planet - like Jesus, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Maya Angelou, Mister Rogers, like countless unnamed healers and nurturers throughout history - what makes these people so special that they can somehow overcome what often seems like our species' violent nature to live so peaceably and wage love instead of war on humanity? What makes other people on this planet rape infants and mutilate each other? I just don't get it.

When I am able to pay attention to news reports of such atrocities, I want to do something. I want to hop in my car, drive through my comfortable suburban neighborhood to the airport and take the next flight to whatever region is in conflict so I can do something to try to stop the insanity. But I have a little girl to walk to school, a husband who needs me to make his lunch, dogs and a cat that need me to entice them off the couch to come into the kitchen and eat their kibble. I have a mortgage. I have laundry. I have dishes and floors and toilets to clean. I don't have time to save the world.

So what can I do? I can news-fast for the sake of my own mental health. But in the long run, that doesn't work. When I accidentally catch a glimpse of headlines alerting me to the world's brutality, it snaps me out of my comfy suburban daze and I feel even worse for having done nothing to help. It seems counter-productive, but I need to worry about the world for the sake of my own mental wellness. Ignoring others' suffering for the sake of my own sanity leads me headlong into the depths of depression far worse than paying attention and trying to do something about it. If I were a Christian I'd say "Fuck you, Devil! Jesus is in charge here!" I wish I were a Christian. It would be so much easier to give it up to God than to take responsibility to improve the world myself.

Last night I was having trouble sleeping after having read this particularly difficult news report. Forty-eight women per HOUR are raped in the Congo. How can I go to bed and fall asleep in the comfort of my own safe home when my fellow sisters across the globe are suffering so? What can I do? Donating money, volunteering my time, any measly thing I could think of seems so futile.

I've been blessed with two particular talents: parenting and writing. How can I incorporate my talents into ways to help this suffering planet?

This. Right here. What I'm doing now. I can raise my daughter and I can write about it. I can teach my daughter that it is wrong to view other human beings as either allies or enemies, which leads to never-ending battles when conflict arises. It is wrong to listen to people in authority tell you it is ok to hurt others because they are on the wrong side. It is wrong to partake of the spoils of war or engage in any action that steals from other people - whether you're robbing them of their goods or their souls. It is wrong to accept that violence is a part of human nature that we can never overcome. We must be strong in our belief that despite hard evidence to the contrary, human beings are basically good.

Damn, it's hard. I know the reason I'm able to flirt with pacifism is because I was born in the wealthiest nation on earth to a middle class, white privileged, educated family. I was born in 1970 in the Western world, during a time when my older sisters were fighting for equal rights for me and my peers. I come from a safe community, with a full belly and little outside obstacles to overcome. My family was far from perfect and I battled my fair share of psychological warfare internally. But I never had to decide between hiding but starving and getting raped while foraging for food. So it's easy for me, in my safe, peaceful world, to think the best of my species and believe we can evolve into kind souls. I suspect if I grew up in the Congo I'd have a different opinion of humanity's ability to spiritually evolve.

But it's what I've got, my optimism. My belief that we can all be Jesuses, Gandhis, Dalai Lamas, Maya Angelous, and Mr. Rogerses if given half a chance. So I wake up each day and raise my daughter to forgive her peers and show them how strong she can be by not participating in such nonsense as "an eye for an eye."

Yesterday Katie informed me that one of the boys in her kindergarten class doesn't like her. I was shocked. "How could anyone not like you? You're such a likeable girl?"

"He doesn't like me, Mama."

"Did he tell you he doesn't like you?" I wanted proof. I felt a rage rising within me. What is his problem? I wanted to hunt down this little punk ass five year old and beat the shit out of him for not liking my girl.

"No, but he says he doesn't want me to hug and kiss him."

I felt my internal rage dissipate and I smiled. As usual, this conflict arose from a simple misunderstanding. "Sweetie, just because he doesn't want you to hug and kiss him doesn't mean he doesn't like you. Some people are just not huggy and kissy people. He just needs his personal space and it probably embarrasses him to have some girl try to kiss in at school. Lots of kids, boys especially, don't like kisses and hugs from girls until they're much older."

"But Aiden likes to hug and kiss me." Katie reminded me. Aiden is her boyfriend, a fellow fan of PDAs at school. When I'm the reading helper for their class on Fridays, I catch glimpses of them holding hands and sitting next to each other during all of the group activities.

"Right. But not everyone is like Aiden and you. Some people need more time to warm up to others before they want to show them how much they love them. Some people don't feel like school is the right place to hug and kiss other people. They're just there to learn and not to spread the love. You have to respect their feelings, Sweetie."

It seems like such a small thing, teaching our children empathy. But the significance of it could change the world. You can't commit acts of violence toward others if you consider things from their point of view. The only thing that can conquer this violent world is the spread of empathy. And it starts right here at home, in school, with our children. Right now.

It's never ending, this pacifist's battle. Yet it's the only one worth fighting.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Fun and Lively

My dad is generally not generous with compliments. He was born in 1927, grew up during the Great Depression, and was drafted into the army during World War II where he helped with the cleanup of Europe. Then, to top off a tough early life, at the age of twenty-two my dad discovered his dad dead in the shower after my grandmother left him for another man.

The only two stories I recall my dad telling me about my grandfather were not flattering. Once when my dad came home from school, when he was just a small boy, my grandfather found out that my dad didn't fight back when a bully attacked him at school. So my grandfather decided to "teach him not to be a coward" by beating him with his belt in the front yard in front of the whole neighborhood. The second story involved the local bar owner calling my dad at the age of fourteen to come pick up his dad, who was too drunk to drive himself home. My dad recalled this story as he was teaching me how to drive when I was sixteen. I remember driving down the road, my dad in the passenger seat explaining to me why he got to learn how to drive when he was only fourteen.

Yeah, I know, most of us had rough childhoods and many of us still manage to be nice. But I'm always reminded of my dad's early years whenever he's being a jerk.

When I was in junior high and my dad informed me that it would from then on be my responsiblity to cook and clean for the family since both my mom and dad worked full time, I wanted to retort, "Hey, my friends don't have those kinds of responsibilities on top of school work," but I knew if I did, Dad would once again remind me that my life was easy compared to his.

So I cooked and cleaned without complaint. But I longed for some kind of reward. I sought validation and was often denied. When I'd dutifully serve dinner, I'd wait for Dad to miraculously turn into one of those caring fathers featured in Father's Day greeting cards or old black and white movies. He'd take a couple bites of dinner. I'd wait. Finally I'd give up and ask, "How is it?" Mom would always say, "Oh, it's delicious." The most I ever got out of dad was "It'll do."

It's funny now. Who says, "It'll do?" But at the time I couldn't understand why I couldn't please my father.

Will likes to tease me now. At 41, my culinary skills peaked in junior high. I think it's psychological. Just as the probablity that I hate math is great due to the rebellion I felt against my two accountant parents, I learned to view cooking as an unrewarding chore. But since I've gone part time at the library, I feel like I need to earn my keep and save the family money by cooking more. So when I do make the effort, as Katie and Will and I sit at the table, we often go through the routine of my asking how it is and Will joking, "It'll do."

I gave up fishing for compliments from my dad years ago. So it was a tremendous surprise when he paid me one on Thanksgiving. He was an hour and a half early, sitting there at our dining room table. I was trying to help Will, the real chef in our family, get our feast together. Will was in the kitchen peeling the potatoes, the one measely task he'd given me after he assigned himself the bird, the gravy, and the stuffing. "No, no, Babe, I'll do that!" I said about five times while I kept getting distracted by the guest.

My dad was talking about his new girlfriend, describing her daughter, "She reminds me of you. She's fun and lively."

Not quite sure I heard him right, I put my hand on his arm and said, "Wait, so what you're telling me is I'm fun and lively?"

He laughed and said, "Yeah, I guess I am."

I have a vague recollection of Dad once telling me that I am smart like my mother. You'd think I would remember more vividly such an unsual thing, my dad paying me a compliment. But it's a murky memory so maybe I'm just making it up.

From what I recall, it was right after Mom had left him. I'd spent as far back as I could remember wishing my parents would get a divorce. When they finally were, I felt oddly sorry for Dad. His temper, his tightwaddery, had always made me side with my mom during their fights when I was growing up. But at that moment, when he finally admitted he had nice things to say about my mom and me, I forgave him for all the times he never did.

After this second compliment, as he sat at my dining table, I gave him a hug. I was startled at how boney his shoulders are. When I was a kid, my dad seemed huge and intimidating. Now he felt small and vulnerable.

I'm happy he's finally realized my good qualities. I'm even happier he's finally learned I won't turn into a coward if he pays me an occasional compliment.

One Nation Under God

Before we dug into our Thanksgiving feast, I asked Katie if she wanted to lead us in prayer. She said, "Sure!" and proceeded to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

I'm sure her confusion over the difference between a prayer to God and the words of Christian Socialist Francis Bellamy used to express loyalty to our republic stem from having Will and me as parents.

We're irreligious. If you look at Will's Facebook profile, he claims to be an atheist, but that's an oversimplification. My Facebook profile says I'm into the "Ethic of Reciprocity/Dudeism," which is close to my core beliefs, but still too simple.

When people ask, I tell them I'm an agnostic who loves Jesus but not organized religion. Which generally garners the same confused looks I get when I label myself as a bisexual who is married to a man, a flexitarian who eats little meat, or a philosophical relativist. I suspect people assume I just can't commit. But really, I'm just more comfortable dwelling somewhere in the middle. I should be a Buddhist, but I enjoy alcohol and other means of achieving non-sobriety too much. And I'd hate to associate myself with people like Richard Gere.

Even though Will claims to be an atheist, he's the one who first suggested to me that since energy cannot be created nor destroyed perhaps that is the case for all living things. Which is exactly how I feel. And although he perceives such an idea from its scientific aspect and I perceive it from its spritual side, we ultimately believe the same thing: we're all connected to the same energy force, aka God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it.

We're not alone. I'm reading an excellent book by Dr. Andrew Weil called "Spontaneous Happiness." It's one of those books I find myself saying, Yes, yes, yes" as I read it. I stumbled upon another yes-inducing quote from Dr. Weil this morning, "By spiritual I mean our nonmaterial essence, that aspect of our being that connects us to the essence of all other beings and to everything in the universe. Spirituality and religion share some common ground, but spirituality is not synonymous with religion." (p.63)

It reminds me of another yes-quote, this one from my favorite living religious leader, Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama:

"Ultimately, humanity is one and this small planet is our only home. If we are to protect this home of ours, each of us needs to experience a vivid sense of universal altruism. It is only this feeling that can remove the self-centered motives that cause people to deceive and misuse one another. If you have a sincere and open heart, you naturally feel self-worth and confidence, and there is no need to be fearful of others. I believe that at every level of society - familial, tribal, national and international - the key to a happier and more successful world is the growth of compassion. We do not need to become religious, nor do we need to believe in an ideology. All that is necessary is for each of us to develop our good human qualities. I try to treat whoever I meet as an old friend. This gives me a genuine feeling of happiness. It is the practice of compassion."

Organized religion is generally too hierarchical and dogmatic for me, but I'm not completely opposed to going to church. Once I caught Katie pretending to belt out some traditional African-American gospel music as we were dining at a soul food restaurant. I asked the owners of the restaurant if they had a recomendation for a church that had good music. They invited us to attend their church. We have several times. We both love the music. Katie loves the crafts and singing they do in "children's church" down in the basement. I love geting hugged by at least fifty of my joyful, soulful black brothers and sisters at the beginning of the service.

We don't attend regularly, mostly because I like to sleep late on Sundays, but also because I get annoyed when the assistant pastor starts guilt-tripping the congregation into offering more than just five or ten dollars when they pass the hat so that we can send the pastor and his wife on a cruise. I'm all for tithing your income to charity if that's your thing. But I'm sorry, giving more money than you can comfortably afford so two human beings can go on vacation seems not very Jesusesque.

I answer Katie's questions about God and Jesus and anything else she asks because I don't want my daughter to be ignorant of the dominant religion in her country. I like to encourage her curiosity and spiritual development. But I always temper my answers with "Some people think..." and "But I think..." I want her to realize there is more than one way to know God and that ultimately no person on this earth has the answers to all quetions. Which can be confusing to a five year old who wants a definite yes or no response to life's complexities.

So I can understand why Katie would think I meant "recite the Pledge" when I asked if she wanted to lead us in prayer. It's one of the few places she regularly hears the words "under God." It's just funny that she learned these words at her public school in a republic that supposedly separates Church and State.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

November 22, 1970

Today is my birthday. In honor of Mom's labor 41 years ago, I'll let her do all the work. Here's my birth story, from the primary source:

What a day for Stacey Anne Burton. She couldn't wait for the doctor so she surprised me at 4:45am, without labor pains, weighing 8lbs 1-1/2oz. Good thing we were spending the night at the hospital awaiting induced labor that morning. When the birth certificate lady asked for your name, she said "That's the third Stacey today." I said "Come back tomorrow." Jay suggested Billie Sue...I liked the Sue part. It was a good thing I had a McCalls magazine with a story about "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier. I found my name Rebecca Sue.

We took you home in a cute pink frilly dress on Thanksgiving Day. The first thing you did was poop on the pink dress. You've since never worn pink much. Your bassinet was in a room off the kitchen & living room painted orange with a piano and playpen I painted yellow. I played music to stifle the noise of your four older siblings using the back door. Everyone wanted to hold you. You were treated like their doll. Kitty was like your second mother because your bed was in her & Jenny's room. She gave you a bottle in the middle of the night and changed your diaper.

Because you were 7 years younger than your nearest sibling, you were like an only child in your teen years. This was difficult to adjust to, but it made you seek a lot of friends & companions, many of whom are still friends today. Your loyalty and empathy to others is one of your most admirable qualities. Another unusual thing about you is your ability to enjoy people of all ages.

What I enjoyed most was your including me in games with your friends and your visits when we lived near each other. You were my closest companion when I was alone, digging into my thoughts. No one asked before. Thank you Beck for being someone I could always depend on. I remember the millennium in the hospital when you spent the night with me, bringing me warm socks and New Years horns & hats. Whenever I was packing to move, you were always by my side.

Have a great 41st year and a very happy birthday today.

I love you, Mom

PS: Your talent as a writer and photographer are keeping me close to you. Good job!

--Guest Blogger Beverly Martinmaas

Monday, November 21, 2011

How to Achieve Immortality; or, Take the Advice of My Friend Dr. Andrew Weil

I ♥ Dr. Beard.

As I read Dr. Andrew Weil's latest book, Spontaneous Happiness, I find myself saying over and over, "yes." The amazing thing about written communication is its ability to connect people with similar values and ideas despite the likelihood they'll never physically meet. Having read most of Dr. Weil's books and using his website as my go-to place for all things health and wellness, I feel like he's my friend. If I met him, I'd throw my arms around him and invite him to sit on my front porch swing with me and catch up, despite the fact he'd have no idea who the hell I am. I have lots of writer friends like that. Harper Lee, Alice Walker, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, all are my friends even though they never return my calls. I don't care that two of them are dead.

I gave a speech on this topic once. I had to take Public Speaking at the community college in order to get my associate's degree. I was in my late-twenties, and despite limiting my consumption of beverages and being far more well-adjusted than I was if I had taken the class right out of high school, I still felt like peeing my pants. I got through it by pretending I had my writer friends by my side.

I was quite pleased with myself for having the gumption to tout the superior nature of written communication over verbal communication in a speech in front of my Public Speaking instructor. I played the song "Virginia Woolf" by the Indigo Girls and talked about its theme of how written communication brings seemingly unsimilar people together through common interests. Here I was, a middle-class suburban young woman living in the middle of the United States in an area known more for its slaughterhouses and barbeque than its literary feed. I would never physically meet Virginia Woolf, but because of my appreciation for a song by two women I'd also likely never meet, I became connected to her words and her life.

When the speech was over, I rejoined my classmates as I took my seat. I could feel my cheeks burning red under the layer of makeup I'd put on to hide the inevitable blushing. I remember breathing out and thinking to myself, "I did it." The instructor validated what I already felt when he stopped me after class and asked if he could have a copy of my speech to share with future students as an example of a good speech.

I was able to overcome my anxiety about public speaking by publically sharing how much I hate to talk to people I don't know very well and arguing that written communication is better at connecting people with each other's ideas.

"If you need to know that you weathered the storm
Of cruel mortality
A hundred years later I'm sittin' here living proof..." --Indigo Girls, "Virginia Woolf"

So let's weather the storm together, friends, even if we never meet. Let me share my friend Dr. Weil's advice about mental wellness so that our ideas and our friendship shall remain immortal:

"If you cultivate emotional resilience, you don't have to resist feeling appropriate sadness; you learn that your moods are dynamic and flexible and that they soon return to the neutral balance point, the zone of contentment, comfort, and serenity."

And here's another good one:

"I suggest that the ability to feel contentment is a key component of emotional well-being. It is also a goal of many religions and philosophies that recognize that the source of human unhappiness is our habit of comparing our experiences to those of others and finding our reality to be wanting. The choice is ours: we can keep on craving what we don't have, and so perpetuate our unhappiness, or we can adjust our attitude toward what we do have so that our expectations conform to our experience."

I'm only on page 18, so expect much more to follow.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Voluntary Poverty

"Thoreau's Cabin" was originally posted to Flickr by Namlhots at

I have an interest in voluntary poverty. The starving artist kind, not the starving Ethiopian kind.

It's good I'm interested since I got my third rejection letter from a literary agent yesterday. This idea of cutting back my paid work hours at the library so I could commit more hours to my unpaid work trying to get my novel published isn't going as planned.

I was feeling low until I managed to rationalize happiness. I reminded myself I'm not in it for the money. I just want people to read my stuff. I want to share it. I don't want to make a profit off it. Anything beyond what I need to support myself and my family is money I don't need or want. I have witnessed nothing achieved with any inessential money but greed. I rationalize, therefore I'm happy. I must write, even if someone doesn't want to pay me to do it, therefore I blog.

"Bedroom in Arles" by Vincent van Gogh

Of course the term poverty is relative. What we in the United States consider poor is normal elsewhere on Earth. Which is interesting. People I know who lived through the Great Depression seem unfazed by the Great Recession we're living through now. People who live around other people who also don't have a lot other than food and shelter and the clothes on their backs don't expect much more. There are no richer Joneses with which to compete. You can't envy someone who is as bad-off or well-off as you. Someone reading this post in Haiti might scoff at my idea of living in poverty. But someone reading this post in Overland Park, Kansas might not understand why anyone would choose to live without a working television or cell phone. How could anyone be happy eating peanut butter sandwiches for lunch nearly every day rather than dining on fine food at a restaurant if they had the opportunity?

It's about having the opportunity but rejecting it. There are literally ten good restaurants within walking distance of my suburban home. Not that anyone around here would walk. So who in her right mind would choose to stay home and eat peanut butter again? Someone who has figured out that free time is more important than more money.

When I use the word "poverty", I mean simply doing without much more than what you need. Not swollen-bellied starving children or malaria epidemics. No one in her right mind would volunteer for that kind of poverty.

The other day Katie and I were talking about what it means to "get fired." She's into understanding idioms lately. She's just now getting that when I say we're going to kill two birds with one stone by my brushing her hair while she eats breakfast, it has nothing to do with dead birds and it helps her get to school on time. So when I mentioned that someone had gotten fired, instead of assuming I was talking about someone getting burned up, she asked me what it means.

"Uh. Um. Well, it's when the place where you work decides they don't want you to work for them anymore."

Katie prodded, "Why they not want you to work for them anymore?"

"Uh. Um. Well, because you made a big mistake and they don't want you around making a lot more big mistakes."

This seemed to satisfy her, until I used the word "unemployed."

"What that mean?"

"That means you don't have a job anymore." We were driving in our ten year old car we still haven't finished paying for. We borrowed the money from my step-father who is fortunately for us but unfortunately for him too nice to send the repo man our way when we miss payments for months.

I could see Katie's face in the rear-view mirror. It was lit up as she gazed out the window. "Unemployed means you stay home and not go to work?"

"Yes. That's what unemployed means." I gripped the steering wheel, glad to have gotten through that little vocabulary skirmish without stumbling too much.

"You wanna be unemployed, Mama?!" Katie looked at my reflection in the rear-view mirror and smiled like it was her best idea yet.

I'm flattered she wants me to be home with her even more than I already do since I switched from forty hours a week to twenty-four hours a week at the library back in July. She's got a point. Twenty-four hours is a whole day. But I explained to her that we need me to work to help pay for our house and our food.

She did the normal kid thing of suggesting I "just go to the bank to get money" and "let Daddy pay for that." I had to break it to her it doesn't quite work like that.

When I had my hand on the front door getting ready to leave for work the next day, Katie's eyes twinkled as she called out, "Don't forget to make a mistake today, Mama!"

I laughed, but I knew she wasn't joking. She doesn't care about our mortgage payment or eating fine food. A roof over her head and some buttered toast would do this kid fine, as long as she has company.

Maybe that's my problem. My writing isn't yet publishable because I've lost that five year old's wisdom. I don't have that starving artist vibe. I bet Thoreau and van Gogh and other impoverished creators didn't worry about such silly frivolities as a ranch on a slab close to the interstate.

"Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind." -- Henry David Thoreau

"Thank God, I have my work, but instead of earning money by it, I need money to be able to work; that is the difficulty...and I have confidence I shall succeed in earning enough to keep myself, not in luxury, but as one who eats his bread in the sweat of his brow." -- Vincent van Gogh

But then again, those guys died under the age of forty-five of bronchitis and suicide. If only creative types could figure out a way to live a healthy life without needing lots of money to do so.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Pledge of Allegiance

I might be the parent who actually hinders her child's education by assisting in her learning.

On our drive to Grandpa's Katie and I passed a forest of about fifty American flags on the side of the highway, next to a sign stating, "Happy Veteran's Day!" Katie began reciting the Pledge of Allegiance:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

"Wow, Sweetie. I can't believe you've already memorized the Pledge since school started."

Katie shrugged it off, excited to have my undivided attention so she could quiz me, "Do you know what indivisible means?"

This is her thing lately. Whenever she learns a new word at school, Katie tests me to see if I know it too.

I play along. "What does indivisible mean?"

"Indivisible means the people in this nation are going to disappear!" She contorted her face like a silent film star staring at the impending train barrelling down the tracks she's tied to.

"I think you're thinking of the word 'invisible.'"

"Oooooh." She sighed, clearly relieved her fellow citizens are not going to up and disappear one day. "What's indivisible mean?"

"Um. Uh. Indivisible means we're not divided." Oh how I hate to lie to my child. My country feels more divided now than it did when I was a kid when we were still fighting in Vietnam. Making up this whole mess about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy already makes my maternal guilt pang. I don't need to be telling her lies about our country too.

"What that mean?" She wasn't giving up.

"It means we're going to work together to find ways to make this country a better place to live."

I didn't have the heart to tell her what the word "propaganda" means.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

P.E. Night

I had no idea P.E. Night at Katie's school included philosophical debate. About half-way through our circuit of games, Katie had a meltdown when she realized she had lost a sticker.

Me: "It's no big deal. Go get another sticker."

Katie: "Nooooooo. The teacher said only ONE STICKER for each game."

Me: "Honey, I think she'd understand you need another sticker to replace the one you lost."

Katie: "Noooooo. Only one per CHILD per GAME."

Me: "Katie, I'm sure your teacher would understa--"

Katie: "No, Mama! That's the RULE."


When I decided to have a child and I envisioned what parenthood would be like, I never imagined some day I'd be inside an elementary school gym yelling at my crying kid to have fun.

We sat at the sidelines and watched the games, watched the kids running around, watched the parents humiliating themselves trying to keep up with their children at the pushup station. We talked. Katie's mood rebounded. I regained my composure. It was time to kick the crap out of some shoes!

Such a simple game, yet it's so fun. Here's how you play: we each loosened one of our shoes, stood behind a line on the floor, and tried to kick our shoes about twenty feet in front of us so they would land on top of a table. Over and over we missed. We had to stop before we both peed our pants.

Definitely something we're going to have to play at home. Our long hallway was meant for a game of Shoe Kick Off.

Katie's favorite activity was dribbling a basketball on a bullseye taped to the floor. She was terrible at it, but for some reason she thought it was hilarious when she'd hit her shoe instead of the bullseye and the ball would shoot off across the room. She'd run after it, giggling all the way back.

I'm terrible at it, but I somehow managed to fight the urge to yell, "See I told you so! THE POINT IS TO HAVE FUN!" and instead enjoyed the rest of the evening with my girl.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Today We Fall Back in Time

Today we fall back in time. Time eludes me. Look at this picture of me when I was fifteen. I don't remember the photo. Back then we didn't have Facebook and YouTube to see images of ourselves uploaded by our friends. People took pictures of you and often you never saw the results of the developed film.

So I don't remember the picture, but I do remember feeling the way I look in it. No cares, giggly, full of what ifs.

Becky, May 1986 (photo by Kristine Matlock)

It's a good reminder that I wasn't always as miserable as my memory leads me to think. I guess my movie buff colleague was right. Maybe I wasn't so Allison Reynolds after all.

Memories are weird. I forget I stuck dinner in the oven an hour ago, but I can recall in vivid detail moments of my life as far back as when I was sitting in my high chair at the dinner table with my big family.

I look at this moment captured of me when I was fifteen. It makes me smile to remember how that moment felt.

Even though time tells me I'm turning forty-one this month, and my joints and energy keep nagging at me too, I still feel fifteen. I look at this picture, and that feels like me. Me now. Not some different me twenty-five years ago.

And to think Katie will be fifteen in another ten years. How can that be? As my mom is fond of saying, "How can my kids be getting so old when I'm so young?"

Friday, November 4, 2011

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

"The most important people in a child’s life are that child’s parents and teachers. That means parents and teachers are the most important people in the world." -- Mister Rogers

You don't need be a breeder to influence children. You don't have to have an education degree to teach children. Children learn at their own pace by observing adults' and older children's example. Anyone who encounters a child has an opportunity to share some wisdom with that child.

If you could teach a child one thing, what would it be? Leave your comment below.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Judge Beats Sixteen Year Old Daughter ***Caution, graphically violent video.***

Tell me how hitting helps teach anyone, regardless of age, anything.

Think back to when you were a kid. If your parents hit you, did you learn not to do whatever it was your parents told you not to do? Or did you learn not to do whatever it was your parents told you not to do when they're around?

I think physical punishment is good for two things, teaching children to fear whoever is hitting them, and teaching children that it's ok to do as you please as long as you don't get caught. If, like the girl in this video, my child stole downloadable music, I would want to teach her that stealing is wrong. I would not do this by hitting her. How is hitting someone going to teach them about morality? Causing someone pain so they don't forget a lesson? Yeah right. Hurt a child and the lesson they learn is that you want them to be in pain. There is no educational value in pain.

If my daughter steals, I'll sit down with her and talk to her about how stealing is wrong. It's morally wrong because think about if you would want someone to steal from you. It's also econcomically illogical because when people steal it causes sellers to raise their prices to compensate for their losses. So even if you don't care about stealing from the music industry, don't you care about some old grandma who doesn't know how to steal downloadable music? She wants to buy a CD to replace her Neil Diamond "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" cassette tape. She ends up paying way more than it's worth (anything over a buck) to cover your ass for ripping off your so-called favorite artists' work. Come on, if you like an artist, support their work by paying for it.

That's what I would say to Katie if I caught her stealing downloadable music. I would not beat her savagely into submission. No pain. Well, there's the pain of listening to your windbag mother explain to you over and over again why stealing is wrong, but that goes away once you understand the concept.

I don't want my child to fear me. How can you learn from someone you fear? If I have something new I need to learn for work, will I learn it any better or any faster if I'm afraid my boss will hit me if I mess up while I'm learning it? Anxiety hampers learning. Being hit produces anxiety. I'm horrible at algebra and even I can solve that equation. Don't hit.

I want Katie to know she has me to fall back on when she stumbles. I want her to feel loved no matter how big her messes can be. Support and love are much more fertile grounds for learning than punishment and pain.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Protozoa People

After our first parent-teacher conference with Katie's kindergarten teacher, Will and I talked about getting her one of those finger positioners you can put on the end of a pencil to teach a child the "correct" position to hold a pencil. I never put much emphasis on forcing Katie to hold a pencil in a way that felt unnatural to her, because I'm that kind of loosey-goosey parent, but also because she's a lefty and I'm a righty, so what do I know? Maybe the way she prefers to hold a pencil, sort of sideways and with all four fingers and her thumb, is a lefty thing?

But when her teacher said Katie might benefit from a pencil positioner, we immediately agreed with her and never questioned her advice. I really like her teacher. I think she has creative and effective ways to teach children, so I respect her opinion. If her teacher thinks holding a pencil correctly, with just two fingers--pointer and tall man--and the thumb, will improve Katie's fine motor skills, why should we question it?

Then I noticed how I hold a pencil. I don't write much anymore. My fingers fly across a computer keyboard, but my hand starts to cramp if I try to hand write much anymore. Then yesterday during a meeting I found myself taking notes. I looked down at my hand and there I was, holding the pencil the way I always hold it, with three fingers--pointer, tall man, ring man--and my thumb. I looked around the table at my colleagues. They were all holding their pencils with just two fingers--pointer, tall man, and a thumb. Oh, so that's where she gets it. I guess our decision to homeschool Katie for preschool might not have panned out the way we planned.

After the meeting, I returned to my desk. My desk that is covered with Katie's artwork. I can count eleven drawings without moving from my chair. From the time Katie picked up a crayon and held it sideways, she's loved to draw. Her artwork first populated with little protozoa people,

it has evolved into houses and flowers and hearts and suns,

as well as brilliantly original favorites such as "Daddy Throwing Up"

and poop sculptures made out of mud from our backyard.

This from the girl who needs to learn how to hold a pencil correctly? You know, I don't see that her technique needs corrected come to think of it.

Elder Eyes

My glasses broke the other day and I'm having trouble finding a replacement pair that lives up to the standards set by these lovely ones I've had for nine years. Fifteen minutes before I had to leave for work, I picked them up after my shower and, huh? The left ear piece remained on the shelf, like a detatched limb. I didn't have time to grieve them. I had to find the contacts I wear when I want to look pretty.

The last time I wanted to look pretty was Valentine's Day. Will and I had gone to a fancy, highly recommended restaurant for dinner. But they had the weirdest menu. Someone must have spilled wine on the printer. It was obviously drunk. Every letter on the menu was wavy and misshapen.

I looked across the candle at Will. He hadn't mentioned the weird font. He appeared to be actually reading it. Figures. Instead of 20/20 his vision is like 20/15. He definitely has a third eye, I'll attest to that.

"Can you read the menu?" I finally asked after watching him peruse it.

He looked up and smiled. "Yeah, you can't?"

I looked down again. I held the menu closer to my face, an action I was used to taking whenever I'd had trouble seeing. The print got blurrier. I looked up at Will. He was smiling even more.

I extended my arm exaggeratedly and read the menu like bad actors do when they're playing someone old. The print became clearer.

Oh shit. I'm forty.

I couldn't figure it out then. My brain was overworked thinking about what the hell I'm going to do now that I'm forty. But now I know why I couldn't read up-close while wearing my contacts. Because I can't read up close while wearing my glasses either. I've gotten in the habit of looking under my glasses whenever I need to see something close. I didn't even realize it until I wore my contacts to work. I kept lowering my eyeballs like I would if were wearing glasses, but it didn't work. There was no lens to look under. It was stuck to my eye.

I had to break out the magnifying glasses to read someone's driver's license. Yes. I did. I have old eyes. I looked it up on Wikipedia, where any respectable librarian finds answers.

I have Presbyopia, which "comes from the word presbys (πρέσβυς), meaning 'old man' or 'elder', and the Neolatin suffix -opia, meaning 'sightedness', giving rise to the laymen's definition often seen in consumer articles or medical glossaries, 'old eyes'".

Why can't we call them "elder eyes"? Why they gotta focus on the pejorative sounding "old man" definition of the word instead of focusing on the "elder" aspect of it? Elder. Elder sounds strong. Elder sounds wise. Elder sounds respected.

Too bad in our culture as we age we tend to get so myopic about our own beauty and wisdom. We lose our ability to smell the bullshit the media feeds us and succumb to uncritical thinking. We forget that beauty and wisdom resides within ourselves, no matter how many years we've been residents of this planet.

So, instead of feeling embarrassed when I use my outstretched arm to read fine print, I'll proudly show off my elder eyes.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


Katie writes, colors, paints, draws, brushes her teeth, combs her hair, and throws a ball with her left hand. But she drop-kicks a ball with her right foot.

She also uses a computer mouse with her right hand. And since she was old enough to have hair on her head, she's twirled the right side of her hair with her right hand.

Today Katie got a paper cut on her right hand while reading a library book about our solar system. Tonight at bedtime, lying under the stars, moon, and planets Will pasted to her ceiling, she called out, "Mother, I twirl my hair with dis hand (holds up her right hand) not dis hand (holds up her left hand)!" She grabbed a handful of hair with her left hand and impatiently jabbed at her head as if she were trying to twirl her hair with absolutely no control over her left hand.

I wanted to laugh at her exaggerated fake incompetence, but I knew hair twirling is her thing. Like sucking my thumb was my thing. Like sleeping with a lovey is some children's thing. So I sat at the edge of her bed and asked, "What can you do to comfort yourself if you can't twirl with your right hand?" She stuck her thumb in her mouth, something she's picked up lately from her kindergarten boyfriend Aiden. A couple days after she announced they were boyfriend and girlfriend, Katie asked me why Aiden sucks his thumb.

"Probably to comfort himself when he feels scared or tired or unsure, like you do when you twirl your hair."

So tonight she tried to suck her thumb, but it lasted about ten seconds before she pulled it out and smiled. She was never big on binkies as a baby either. Just hair twirling.

"Why are you smiling?" I asked.

"You're cute when you care." Katie pulled my face to her and planted a big kiss on my lips.

"I'm cute when I care?" I asked, wondering where she heard something like that.

"Yes!" She laughed. "You're cute when you care about me, Mama."

It seems like such an oddly condescending thing for a five year old to say to her forty year old mother, but I'll take it. It's cute she thinks I'm cute when I care.

I left her room, then peeked on her about two minutes later. Sound asleep. Hair untwirled.