time for a new e-reader

So … my dogs stepped on my Nook reader, and the screen cracked. It’s past warranty. I have to buy a new reader, and since old readers (of all stripes) can apparently be “blacklisted” by the original owner, I feel like it’s too chancy to buy one second hand from Craigslist or something.

So I’m looking at another ereader from B&N, but I’m kinda underwhelmed by their choice to move away from ereaders and into tablets. I blame the Microsoft/ Nook merger for that shift in priorities. The only e-ink reader currently available from Barnes & Noble is the Glowlight; otherwise it’s all backlit Samsung tablets. If I wanted to read my ebooks on a tablet, I already have a smartphone and tablet. I want an e-ink device.

I actually wanted to buy the Touch this time, as I didn’t use the light feature of the Glowlight as often as I thought I would. I mean, I liked the Glowlight feature, but I’m not sure if I liked it enough to pay $20 extra for it … of course, that’s a moot point, now, since there’s no Touch at all, $99 or otherwise.

So I’m looking at the Kobo Aura H2O right now, and I’m super tempted. It’s only $60 more than the Nook Glowlight, and it not only has the e-ink and glowlight capabilities that I like, it’s waterproof and dustproof. This is like, the e-reader for people who live in the PNW, I swear. Plus, I think I can get it from Powells Books, and I always enjoy supporting independent booksellers.

The Kobo supports epubs, which (of course), is the file format of 99% of my books (I had to buy like 3 books on the Kindle app for college, because the textbooks weren’t available on the Nook ereader, just the web app, which is stupid). It’s apparently still possible to transfer books among epub readers, too.

the glad game

I’ve been thinking a lot about Pollyanna lately. That’s another film that I watched as a kid, which had a much greater influence on my personality than I think anyone realized at the time. I mean, when I was a kid, I laughed at the cheesy storyline and the happy-go-lucky Pollyanna. I was like the rest of the town, cynical and rolling my eyes at Pollyanna’s determined cheerfulness.

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But things change, and as I’ve matured I’ve come to see the value of maintaining a positive outlook in life. I’m no believer in the “power” of positive thinking to heal people, prevent illness, gain wealth, and so forth. Still, I do think that having a positive attitude (especially when you live in the rainy PNW and are prone to depression) is a good coping tool.

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Keshia Knight Pulliam as Polly in the 1984 TV musical adaptation of Pollyanna, which I love because it’s a musical.

I have a lot of things to be glad about, but (as noted in my last entry) I’ve been feeling kind of glum lately. So I figured I’d play the glad game real quick, and name a couple things I am really glad for today.

I am glad I have more time at home and less stress.

Shortly after we moved to this area 3 years ago, I took on a lot of stress all at once. I had some health issues I was not dealing with in the hopes they’d go away, my family was assaulted by a crazed neighbor and I had to file a restraining report and take care of my husband’s resultant medical issues, and I started attending college as a full-time student. At about the same time, I found full-time employment in a law office. Thought I was excited for the opportunity at the time, it quickly became apparent that it was a very toxic work environment with no clear chain of command.

In short, it was stressful and upsetting. I started taking hormonal birth control to try and manage the pain from my health issues, and because of the hormones, stress, and packed schedule I ended up packing on about 60 lbs over the next two years. I went from 165 to about 210. I’m told I carry it well and don’t look that heavy, but that part doesn’t matter so much to me. The point isn’t whether or not I look fat, the point is whether or not I feel fat.

Like, can I engage in all the activities I enjoy without getting out of breath and sweaty and worn out? Can I kick the soccer ball around with my kid, walk a mile to the grocery store, hike down to the waterfront? Can I row a boat, pull up a crab trap, and clamber over rocks? If I get worn out after only 5 or 10 minutes, then I’m getting too out of shape, too heavy. I feel fat.

I can’t do anything!

Well, this summer I graduated from college. Our medical and legal issues are resolved. I am no longer employed at the toxic work environment. In other words, although I am working on my book and looking for work, my days are still pretty open. So I decided that this was the year I would commit to eating healthier and exercising, which I’ve been documenting on my social media under the hashtag #exercisealifestyle.

I changed my diet, shifting my focus from storebought foods that were rich in carbohydrates, starches, preservatives, and sugars to homemade meals. For snacks, I started eating pickled asparagus and black olives, hoping to encourage the growth of healthier gut bacteria. I don’t believe in ever “banning” a food, because I think that just makes a person crave it more. It seems to be working — since I shifted to foods that encourage different gut bacteria, I’ve noticed a huge reduction how many sweets I actually want (which is way less than you’d think).

Once school started, I decided to incorporate some exercise. So every morning, I put the leash on Azura and head out for a quick 15-20 minute walk around the neighborhood. After a few weeks of this, my 7th grader felt bad that I was walking his dog (which should be his chore) and suggested that instead of waiting until after he left to the bus stop, I walk with him to the bus stop, so he can walk his own dog for a bit. He also joins me on Saturday and Sunday mornings for the weekend walks, which is awesome. I get some quality time with my boy and I walk the dogs and I get exercise! It’s a win-win-win!

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When John got his bonus, he purchased a new bicycle for the boy and (at my request) a bicycle for me. So now when I go shopping, I ride my bicycle and put the groceries in my little basket. Often, Kidling accompanies me on these trips — more quality mom-son time, and a chance to build health habits.

With all these lifestyle changes, I’ve lost 10 lbs since school started in September! I’m pretty excited, and I’m also enjoying the structure and routine these activities add to my day.

I am glad I have a supportive and appreciative husband who is understanding and patient.

I’m pretty privileged in being able to take the time to work on my book and be a little pickier about my job search, though. I don’t have to take another toxic job where I get paid below living wages and get pulled between two employers with conflicting expectations. I have the leisure to spend time applying to positions I really want to work at, positions I know I would do well in and where I would be fairly compensated. I have the leisure to work on my book and do some freelance work, and I have that leisure because of my husband and his employer — mostly my husband, though.

His employer is great, don’t get me wrong. They pay a living wage and provide excellent and affordable benefits. The position is stable, with almost union-style layers of protection for worker’s rights. My husband is a hard worker and has growth potential at the company. As in any position, there are hiccups and work drama that occasionally cause him stress, but overall he’s very lucky to have a well-paying and supportive employer in this economy, and especially in retail. We know that.

When he first starting working with his current employer, he was also working at a big-box retail store we’ll call Trendy Red Dot. It’s similar to Wal-Mart, but redder and trendier. Trendy Red Dot pays minimum wage (like Wal-Mart), discourages unionization (like Wal-Mart) and has faced issues with discrimination due to factors such as gender, race, and sexual orientation (like Wal-Mart). Also like Wal-Mart, Trendy Red Dot tends to have high turnover.

The thing about jobs at Trendy Red Dot and Walmart vs. an employer that pays a living wage, invests in their employees, offers affordable benefits, and provides job security is that all of these jobs can suck sometimes. Even the best employers can get bogged down in the petty drama of inefficient management and personal vendettas, and every job has the occasional issues with personality conflicts or some employees doing less and refusing to pick up the slack. That’s how jobs are.

The biggest difference between these places is that when the workplace at Trendy Red Dot starts sucking balls, you know perfectly well that you can walk out the door and find another crap minimum wage job with awful benefits somewhere else, and maybe those people will be cool. And even if the employee decides to stick it out at their shitty job with their shitty bosses, the fact of the matter is that at-will employment is pretty much the law of the land in most of America. If someone in management takes a petty dislike to an employee or gets offended at some minor interaction, regardless of how well the employee performs their duties, they can (and often will) find themselves suddenly jobless.

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But when the work environment at a Good Employer starts going downhill, the employee has incentive to work with their employer to resolve the issue — retail jobs that pay a living wage and offer benefits are not a dime a dozen. Plus, when job security is written into the job contract, it gives the employee more peace of mind — they know they’re protected from arbitrarily being fired or laid off if management takes a dislike to them. You can’t find this sort of job security and pay easily, and my husband and I are both glad that he was lucky enough to land a job with his current employer.

So with all that in mind, it really is my husband who’s the gold star here. He could insist I go work at Trendy Red Dot and contribute with positive income to the household finances. Even though his income can support our family of three and our menagerie, he could still insist that it is only fair for me to work for money. He could be the type of person who views the money he earns as solely his, instead of income for the family. He could be the type of person who views the work I do as not actually work, because there’s no paycheck to validate the efforts.

What I do — saving money and so forth — I sometimes refer to as negative or neutral income. I use my time as a stay-at-home to reduce costs by handling the budget, shopping, meals, and clothing repairs (yes, I can sew. A little.). Instead of being angry that our finances are about $20k/year less because I am choosing to look for a job with more stability and long-term growth, my husband is supportive of my dreams and goals and grateful for the benefits of having a stay at home parent.

I’m available on his days off so we can enjoy family activities, and I handle the chores, meals, budgeting, childcare, legal, medical, and all household paperwork. If our son calls from school, I can be there in a hot minute to bring him lunch money or homework or pick him up. If my husband forgot his nametag, he just needs to text and I run out to his workplace. It makes life easier for everyone to have a central command, so to speak.

The downside, of course, is that most households can’t survive on a single income. Additionally, the reason I am the stay at home parent instead of my husband is because of social reinforcement. I would very much like to work. I am educated, I have a BA, and I am driven. This summer, I arranged several informational interviews, and received extremely positive feedback. I was praised on my work history, education, and career goals. My work history is spotty, due to the time spent in college and as a stay at home parent. Career counselors tell me the work history spottiness is less of a problem in this depressed economy, but I still have trouble finding work.

When we looked at the incomes from our two jobs a year ago, I was working for a law office at $10/hour with no benefits. I was expected to do all the receptionist work, take on legal secretary duties, train new front desk employees, handle the rent payments for their property management firm, handle marketing and holiday planning, manage the office budget and inventory, shop for my bosses groceries and deliver them to her home, pick up laundry, deposit the checks at the bank, and handle all mailing duties. If my bosses did not provide enough money for an errand, I was expected to pay out of pocket and be reimbursed in my paycheck. I was not allowed to work overtime and was discouraged from taking sick days, even when I had surgery. I have a college degree.

My husband, meanwhile, has a high school diploma and is getting paid double my hourly income. He has benefits, yearly cost-of-living increases, and bi-annual bonuses. He has a chain of command — if his supervisor starts trying to make him pick up her groceries, he can talk to their manager. His job has clearly outlined duties, and if he is called to perform tasks that he isn’t trained on, the manager is the one who will get in trouble.

When we looked at our relative work-life balances and average incomes, my husband’s situation is clearly superior, although we have invested in a degree and white-collar skill set for me. On top of that, I am the one who has consistently lacked the job security provided by a just-cause clause in my employee contract. After my most recent employment experience, it just made sense to have me stay at home and focus on searching for a position that was more lucrative, secure, and offered better work-life balance. The stress a low-income job brought to our family was not worth the financial benefits, such as they were.

And I am so glad that we are in a position that we could make that decision. I am so glad my husband is supportive, understanding, and loving about the reality of social structures that shape our lives, instead of demanding that I just get a job, any job. I am so glad that I have this opportunity to focus on my marriage, my family, and my book. And I know that I am so privileged and lucky to have this opportunity, which makes me even more grateful for it.

lost in truth

I’ve been feeling … tired, I guess. I don’t think tired is the right word, actually. It’s more like exhausted, or asocial. I feel like the last shreds of morning fog, clinging to the shadows in the valley in a vain attempt to hide from the encroaching afternoon sun. I feel soul-thin, brittle and too easily overwhelmed.

Thoughts chase round and about in my head. Flaws, mistakes, problems past. Questions circle, self-doubts rise. I trace the sandbox of my history over and over again with a fine-toothed comb, trying to find that one misplaced grain that threw the whole mess out of whack.

I keep to a schedule to keep the mean reds at bay. Bedtime by 11 pm, wake up at 6:30, make breakfast for the boy at 7 a.m., walk the dogs at 9 a.m. Chores and vacuuming, then work on my book. John comes home, I start dinner. Boy comes home, we eat, start on his homework. Rinse and repeat. It’s soothing, the repetitiveness of it. It settles the jitters in my soul, in my mind.

Even the schedule keeps getting thrown out of whack, though. Half days. Cancelled practices. Rescheduled practices. Friends come over.

I feel so hollow.

My husband and my son are my anchor, the only pieces of peace I have. I am so grateful for them. They are unique among all the world because they accept me as I am. In the house where I grew up, there was a framed calligraphy print on the wall of one of my mom’s favorite quotes, from Dinah Maria Craik:

“Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away.”

That’s the safety I feel with John and Kidling, and it’s a rare safe harbor.

Going out right now — whether it’s shopping or to spend time with a close friend — is exhausting and heartbreaking. I find myself catching and tumbling on my words, overthinking each phrase and stumbling to catch up with my own runaway mouth so that I can take back the words already spoken, explain, extrapolate. I lose myself in speech, and overthink each word. My mind kicks into high gear, parsing each expression, each twist of the lip, each curve of the eyebrow. Sneer or smile? Pity or fondness? Amusement or irritation? I become so disoriented in the signals they lose all meaning.

Intellectually, I know that no-one cares. I am another shadow, a forgotten stranger who briefly inhabited the same sphere of their story. These strangers in the store will not remember me or my hair or outfit or lack of makeup. They see me, but they don’t see me. I am an invisible, unnecessary thread in the fabric of their life.

Even my friends and acquaintances are likely not picking up on the multitude of flaws that I am suddenly sure are exposed. They are unaware of the cascade of panicky thoughts tracing like lightning through my mind, sparking off at each little interaction. Intellectually, I know they are more concerned with their lives and issues and problems than with whether or not I am looking or acting like an idiot.

But emotionally … on an emotional and visceral level, it feels as though 5 minutes before show time, I was told the lead and understudy were both in an accident and now I have to play the lead role and I’ve been thrust out of the curtains onto a stage in front of a packed auditorium with no warning, no chance to learn my lines, and a spotlight blinding down on me. I feel panicked and utterly exposed, terrified that I will say or do something, make some mistake that will utterly ruin everything.

* * *

I wonder if that’s why I blog. Why I write. If this is an attempt to lay bare my flaws, so I have no guilt of a hidden self, no sense of misleading people. I am an open book, I joke (I cry, I scream). I have no secrets. My biggest flaw is too much honesty.

I don’t know how to stop. How to be dishonest. How to hide, how to fabricate, how to obfuscate. As a society, we tell one another that we value honesty. As individuals, we promise that we hold traits like integrity and honesty high on the list of desirable qualities. As friends and coworkers and family members we assure one another that we prefer honesty and integrity above all.

But as it turns out, we are all of us lying. Even me, suffering from a surfeit of honesty, and I still shy away and try to put off that inevitable moment when I must choose between honesty and silence. Honesty is terrifying. It’s hurtful. It’s raw and bare and painful. It’s occasionally cruel. Excessive honesty drives people away as surely as excessive dishonesty does.

Integrity means sometimes means choosing between kindness and discomfort, and it’s a line that is surprisingly hard to walk. There are so many things that seem like they should be black and white, but in reality are a checkerboard in shades of gray and silver.

Like, I was raised mormon. As a mormon, if I heard someone make jokes or false claims about mormons, I was encouraged to engage, to address their misconceptions, to educate and make them aware that mormons are just ordinary people. And maybe there was a risk there, a risk of being teased or mocked or whatever, but that was a risk I was supposed to take on for the greater reward of possibly bringing a soul into the church. The rare times I actually did it, when I was younger and more devout, I got positive feedback from almost everyone, often including the person I called out. I was praised for having the integrity to stand up for my beliefs.

Now I am an atheist. As an atheist, if I hear someone make jokes or false claims about atheists, I usually engage in discussion. I try to address their misconceptions, to educate and make them aware that atheists are demons or lost souls, we’re just ordinary people. It feels … unwanted. Futile. Like, I should accept being preached at, but it is the height of rudeness to reject that preaching. I usually feel as though I’ve crossed some incredible social faux pas by holding to the exact same model of integrity I was once praised for — standing up for my beliefs.

Almost exactly the same situation, but one key difference changes the entire game. There are so many areas in life like this! It’s heartbreaking. There are all these places where if you are honest and exhibit integrity in one situation, it’s okay, even laudable. Then in a somewhat parallel situation, it becomes so offensive and such a faux pas that relationships get destroyed over it. I am adrift in the fear of loss.

* * *

My dad says I march to the beat of a different drum. I am his black sheep. He describes me like this with a laugh, always recounting the story of stubborn Laura — the little 5 year old who ordered (yes, ordered!) her big brother to take his feet off the table. And my brother actually obeyed me! It doesn’t matter how many times he recounts this story, he always sounds surprised and bemused that my older brother — then only 14 — actually obeyed the order coming from his bossy 5 year old sister who didn’t know her place.

The thread that weaves under this story is that I am the disobedient one, the one who bucks expectations. I did not just wander off the beaten path or temporarily release the iron rod, I ripped that damn rod out of the ground and used it to beat the vines of the untamed wilderness aside. I am the odd one out, the one who is family but the family no-one quite knows what to do with. The one who is tolerated, but not quite understood or accepted.

It hurts, a little bit.

My sister once told me that when all the siblings were at a get-together, they were trying to classify each of our communication styles. Apparently, my brothers and sisters agreed that I am the outspoken one, the one unafraid to speak her mind no matter who it hurts.

I was not actually at this meeting of siblings where I was defined as other.

I did not know of it. It is one of many such gatherings. They spend time together on holidays and birthdays and trips, the other four, and I am not invited. I don’t know if I have the right to be hurt about that. Actually, scratch that — I don’t know if I am hurt about that. I more than likely wouldn’t go to a whole-family gathering even if I was invited.

I don’t like my oldest sister’s homophobia or her husband, and my middle brother makes me uncomfortable with his crackling anger and how easily he takes offense. I don’t know how to be around him anymore. Sometimes I think about contacting one or the other of them, but even the thought is emotionally exhausting, so I never move from thought to action.

* * *

I need to learn to lie, to hide behind false smiles. Sometimes when we’re out shopping, the cashier will say, “How are you doing today?

And I will smile and respond, “Could be better, could be worse.

I came up with this response when I was a teenager. I was very proud of it. It seemed, to me, like a compromise — I was not lying and saying, “Fine,” or “good,” when neither were true, but I also wasn’t making strangers uncomfortable by saying something like, “Awful, it’s a really stressful and upsetting day.

One day after just such an interaction, John snapped at me as we left the store. “Why can’t you just say, ‘fine’ like everyone else,” he asked. I was startled, and asked if something was wrong. He said people always looked uncomfortable and didn’t know how to respond when I gave my non-answer.

I thought I had come up with a go-to phrase that was a jokey compromise between raw, painful honesty and dishonesty, but even the compromise was too discomfiting. For a few weeks afterward, I tried to say “fine,” when asked how I was doing. It felt like a lie on my tongue, a falsehood meant to pacify. Even when I was doing well, it felt dishonest, a distillation of complex emotions. I finally fell back on the truth.

Could be better. Could be worse.

worldviews in film, cont. (again)

So far I’ve covered how Robin Hood was influential on my nascent socio-political conscious, while both Beauty & the Beast and Dangerous Beauty acted as key influences on my relationship with feminism and religion. Next we’ll look at the influence of Newsies and Swing Kids on my attitudes toward authority figures, workers rights, and social welfare programs.

So, both Newsies and Swing Kids are Christian Bale vehicles. Oddly enough, this is a total coincidence. I actually thought Bale had a super funny (like funny ha-ha) looking face when I was a teenager.

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Look at that goofy face! | Newsies, Walt Disney Studios (1992)

Newsies

Newsies is about labor rights, freedom of the press, and worker activism. There are also themes of elitism, class stratifications, social mythologies, bribery and corruption, and the harm unregulated social institutions (like the Refuge) can cause. And it’s all told through Christian Bale and the medium of song and dance, so it’s a double win!

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Newsies, Walt Disney Studios (1992)

There’s this one part in Newsies where Davey (David Moscow) is explaining why his dad is unemployed to Cowboy (Bale). Davey and his little brother took the job selling newspapers in part to support his family now that his father has been fired. Davey’s sister and mom are also both working; the entire family is clearly working hard to support themselves, and the loss of their primary income is a significant blow to their financial well-being.He tells Cowboy that his dad was injured on the job while working at the factory, and that, “He’s got no union to protect him,” so they fired him.

In the context of the film, this line is delivered after the Newsies spend a day trying to sell papers covering a local labor strike, and after Cowboy and Davey personally witness a riot with the labor strikers. So it’s not like the line comes out of nowhere–it’s totally in context. It was only years later that I realized how pro-union a line like that actually is.

So, Newsies is another film inspired by a true story: The Newsie Strike of 1899. Now, the way selling newspapers worked back then is that the newsies would buy the papers in bulk, then go out on the streets and hawk them to passerby. If they did well, they would cover the cost of the papers and make a little extra. If they didn’t do well, they had a stack of useless papers and were out the cost of them. And mind you, most of the newsies were, as described in the opening narration, “poor orphans and runaways.” Newsies were often homeless children being exploited for their labor.

Newsies, Walt Disney Studios (1992)

The story really takes off when the newspaper magnates of the day, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, decided to charge the newsies more for their papers. There’s no real reason for it, except that pennies add up and newsies are exploitable. Pulitzer and Hearst, like the other wealthy tycoons of the era (and like many of the modern 1%) were perfectly willing to increase their already substantial wealth by putting the screws to the rank and file … in this case, homeless children living in poverty.

The newsies react with outrage, and led by the character of Cowboy (who’s based off the real-life leader of the newsie strike, Kid Blink), they decide to form a newsie union and go on strike, which they end up winning. There’s obviously more to the story than that, with the usual ups and down of plot, but that’s the essence of the film.

Newsies clearly illustrated the old maxim that power corrupts. They depicted wealthy employers as more interested in consolidating their wealth then in protecting the welfare of their employees, and it was a truth I began to notice reflected in the world around me.

Newsies, Walt Disney Studios

A year after Newsies came out, my dad’s employer downsized and pushed all the non-contracted employees into early retirement. My dad went into private practice, but it wasn’t as financially reliable as his previous gig. When I acquired my first job at the age of 16, I further internalized how little power or influence workers actually have.

Maybe if I hadn’t watched Newsies a dozen times a week since it came out four years earlier, I would have just accepted the employer-employee relationship as a necessary power dynamic. But Newsies had taught me that even the lowliest of employees still has value. My belief that all workers should receive a living wage, health benefits, and unemployment protections were originally inspired by this film.

Swing Kids

Swing Kids, Hollywood Pictures (1993)

Swing Kids is about how adult-trusted and propagated institutions of authority can indoctrinate kids into evil. In the film, Christian Bale plays a 1930s German youth who, with his friends, goes to underground swing dancing clubs in the city. Hitler has spoken out against swing clubs, and they are being subjected to raids. In one of these raids, Bale’s character is picked up by the HJ (Hitler jugen, or Hitler Youth), and begins to attend their meetings.

As a teenager watching this, I was discomfited by the superficial similarities between the HJ and the BSA, which my brothers were both in. I knew the BSA only as a force for good at that time in my life, but I couldn’t escape the reality that both the BSA and the HJ were adult-approved mainstream programs aimed at keeping kids “out of trouble.”

Viewed from a modern lens, the eventual choice of Bales’ character to eschew dance clubs and side with the HJ is a clear fall from grace. He has failed to uphold his moral code, he has “chosen” to become a Nazi. Sure, he did so with the explicit encouragement and approval of the adults around him, but we all know it was the wrong choice. We have the benefit of hindsight. With the context of history, it has become apparent to us that the HJ was way more trouble than swing dancing clubs.

In the context of the era the film takes place, though, there’s a disturbing parallel story. This story is the story of a bad boy gone good — this is the story of a kid who keeps getting in trouble, but manages to cut out the bad influences and get his life in order.

If the same movie was made today, but with kids lying to their parents and sneaking out to smoke weed instead of dance swing clubs and the BSA instead of the HJ, it would be a story of redemption and growth; an inspirational story about a guy who overcame temptation and the bad influence of peers in order to become an upstanding pillar in the community. That’s pretty disturbing, and that parallel message taught teenage me an important lesson about blind trust in authority.

worldviews through film, cont.

Haha, I mixed up my entries. I was writing these in advance and scheduling them, and I accidentally posted worldviews through film, cont. (again) before this one. Durrr. So, this one was supposed to come between that one and examining a worldview through filmThat’s my bad. I left the first entry wondering how films like Beauty & the Beast influenced my feminist values and attitudes on relationships.

Beauty & the Beast

Now, Beauty & the Beast gets a lot of flack these days in Disney Princess critiques as a “classic” tale of Stockholm Syndrome. I disagree. Belle left the Beast. She was like, “Yo, I am not putting up with your abusive B.S. anymore, I am out.” And she left.

Image credit: Disney

I don’t know why absolutely no-one seems to remember this, but Belle chose to stay only because the Beast was injured. Remember? The wolves attacked? Beast fought them off and collapsed in a bloody and injured heap to the ground? Then Belle was like, “Kay, cool, I’m still out –“

Image credit: Fanpop/ Disney

And then she’s like, “Damnit, he just saved my life and he’s laying there all bleeding and stuff. I have to help him back.”

So she takes him back to the palace and ministers to him, and then (because it’s late and it’s dangerous and there are wolves outside), she stays the night. Then what happens? The Beast begins to grow and change. It didn’t happen all at once, but the effort he puts forth in altering his negative habits of interaction is clear.

Image credit: Disney

To me, this was always a story about believing in the essentially good nature/ intentions of others. Belle is compassionate, but strong. She has a spine.

Image credit: Disney

She stands up for herself when she’s really scared, but she’s also accepting and curious and willing to explore a new paradigm. She is kind, and she saves both the Beast and herself by being a genuinely good person.

I’m not saying the movie is flawless, but I do think the biggest flaw with Beauty & the Beast is totally different from some armchair psychoanalysis claim of Stockholm Syndrome. Clearly, the biggest problem with Beauty & the Beast is that it perpetuates the myth that the love of a good woman (or person) can change a bad partner.

This message is (somewhat) mitigated by the presence of Gaston — clearly a “bad boy,” but also just as clearly impervious to the influence of Belle’s good nature, despite the fact that he thinks he loves her. And Belle is clear-eyed enough to see past Gaston’s posturing and recognize that his handsome face and apparent interest in her hide a cruel and dangerous personality.

Image credit: Disney

As a mormon woman, I was supposed to want what Gaston was proposing — to be a little wife, massaging his feet while the little ones play by the fire. Maybe not literally, but the idea, the concept was there. I was supposed to want to subsume my needs to the needs of my husband and family, and I knew that. I had gotten the message loud and clear through numerous lessons and activities from the example of the adult women in my life. I knew that my education and any potential career goals were to come second to family.

This wasn’t something that particularly appealed to me, but then, neither did being a primary teacher. I figured god knew best, or something. Plus, it wasn’t like I was thrilled at the prospect balancing a family and a career — even as a kid, I could see that our culture puts much more pressure on women as parents than men. Since I never questioned my desire for a large family until after my first (and only) child was born, clearly it was the “career” aspect of that equation I was going to have to sacrifice. (clarification: This is all teenage-me rationalizations — clearly my stance on all of these issues has changed).

Belle was the first iteration of a sort of third way, a balance between the caricature of man-hating feminism I was internalizing and the fawning subsumation of self I was supposed to seek out. She was someone who exemplified the traits of loyalty, fidelity, and sacrifice that were lauded by the religious teachings permeating my life, but she also exhibited intelligence, resolve, and independence. She followed her morals, even when everyone around her was pressuring her to stop making waves and just fit in. She stood up for herself. She scowled in the face of danger, and I loved her for that.

In later years, the early lessons instilled in me by Beauty & the Beast would be expanded on in Dangerous Beauty, the incredible story of a woman who chooses to become a courtesan and acquire an education rather than marry or enter a nunnery.

Image credit: Dangerous Beauty

The film is based on the true story of Veronica Franco, one of the first published female authors and a groundbreaking feminist. There is a scene in the film where Veronica, who has been accused of witchcraft by the corrupt and biased court of the Inquisition, “confesses” her sins, saying:

“I confess that as a young girl I loved a man who would not marry me for want of a dowry. I confess I had a mother who taught me a different way of life, one I resisted at first but learned to embrace. I confess I became a courtesan, traded yearning for power, welcomed many rather than be owned by one. I confess I embraced a whore’s freedom over a wife’s obedience. I confess I find more ecstacy in passion than in prayer. Such passion is prayer. … if I had lived any other way-a child to her husband’s will, my soul hardened from lack of touch and lack of love… I confess such endless days and nights would be a punishment far greater than you could ever mete out. You, all of you, you who hunger so for what I give yet cannot bear to see that kind of power in a woman. You call God’s greatest gift — ourselves, our yearning, our need to love-you call it filth and sin and heresy… I repent there was no other way open to me. I do not repent my life.”

To give you an idea of how much this movie meant to me, consider that I first saw it when I was still living at home, and it’s rated R. I was raised in the type of observant LDS home that eschewed all R-rated films because a prophet had, at some point, indicated it was better to avoid that sort of thing. So in order to watch and re-watch my latest film obsession, I had to secretly rent it multiple times and watch it late at night, when no-one knew.

My mom did eventually catch me watching it, and I was able to argue my case to continue watching it based on the historical basis for the film — this is the same argument, by the way, that let me watch Braveheart and Last of the Mohicans, despite their R-ratings. I invoked the history and literary aspects, as well as the fact that if the Bible or the Book of Mormon were made into a film, they would definitely be rated R … but I digress.

Veronica Franco is one of the most inspiring characters I’ve ever come across in film, and I think it’s really sad that Dangerous Beauty is seen as soft-core porn by most people. This is really an amazing film with stunning performances. The character of Veronica Franco is like Belle in that she is intelligent, principled, loyal, compassionate, and strong-willed. She loves wholly and completely, but she doesn’t confused sex with love.

Image credit: Dangerous Beauty

It was also important to sexually-active mormon-girl me that she was unashamed of her sexuality. It sent a really positive message about sexual empowerment and safe sex to young and inexperienced me. I still struggled with my sexuality and temptations, but I didn’t view sex as inherently sinful. I viewed the religious restrictions on sex as a test of self-control, not something that determined my character or value.

I was able to further reconcile this view by scriptures stories ranging from Esther’s sensuous dance to save her people to Jesus defending the prostitute from being stoned. Here was the bible showing sexual empowerment as a means to freedom, and condemnation for those who could not forgive sexual transgressions. I believe it is this reading of the scriptures that allowed me, when I finally left religious traditions, to easily shed the emotional and mental hangups related to sexual shaming that is so common in the religious traditions of my experience.

Dangerous Beauty movie was the first piece of media to introduce the idea to me that sexual monogamy and love were not mutually exclusive. This is also the film that introduced the idea to me that sex/ objectification as commodities can go both ways — that a woman who is willing and able to do so can choose to subvert the patriarchal rules of a male-dominant society to her own benefit.

I also admired the way this film laid out the different choices available to Veronica. It balanced both emotion and pragmatism as it outlined the pros and cons of the futures available to her. As a wife, Veronica would be socially respectable, but her education would be left uncompleted and she would be completely beholden to the wishes of her husband. She would not have much, if any, choice in her suitors, and because of Veronica’s station in life, she would likely not attract the attentions of a wealthy young man — she would either be consigned to a well-off but elderly husband, or a poverty-stricken, dissolute, and handsome young man. Love would not factor into the relationship. She and her husband would essentially be strangers on their wedding night, and the decorum of church-sanctioned relations would stifle their intimacies.

Image credit: Dangerous Beauty

As a nun, Veronica would be free of the demands and control of a husband while still benefiting from the privileges of a respected social position, but she would be subjected to the rules and regulations of a nunnery. Vanity, disobedience, individuality, and curiosity would be discouraged.

As a courtesan, Veronica has access to the world of men. She can continue her education, have access to all the books she likes, participate in politics, and even learn to fence. In exchange she will trade her body, her status as a respectable woman, and her safety. Her success hinges on her looks and youth — if a jealous lover mars her face or figure, she will become a common street whore, destitute and bereft. If she can’t parlay her wit and beauty into success while she’s young, then she will die alone and in poverty.

Image credit: Dangerous Beauty

She knows it’s dangerous. She knows she’s trading stability and respectability for the chance to hold onto freedom, and she chooses intellectual and political freedom at the cost of personal safety. I really admire that about her. Plus, Veronica is smart, sarcastic, and quick-witted. She’s the x-rated version of Belle; the Disney princess all grown up — and unlike Disney’s Belle, Veronica Franco actually existed.

More than that, she actually stood up against the Inquisition and held her own. As I write this, I realize that Dangerous Beauty influenced more than just my feminist tendencies. This film was a key factor in shaping my view of religious institutions as prone to being infiltrated by the weak-minded and jealous, not to mention separated from their humanity by rigid and unyielding interpretations of doctrine that get passed down as moral authority.

Image credit: Dangerous Beauty

Discovering that women like her have been challenging the status quo since time immemorial was incredibly important to me. When everyone you’ve ever known is telling you that feminism is a newfangled modern invention that goes against the intended order of man, it casts the whole notion as a sort of childish rebelliousness. But when you realize that feminists have been objecting to patriarchal structures of power from the beginning, it really changes the tone of the discourse. Belle introduced me to feminist ideals, but Veronica gave those ideals form and history.

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examining a worldview through film

I am realizing as an adult how much the media I consumed as a child shaped my attitudes and worldviews. It’s weird, because I’ve never considered myself much of a movie buff. I could write a much longer entry — reams of entries — on the influences books have had on my character and worldview. A few years ago I took this film studies class, and ever since then there’s been a sort of ongoing realization that films have really influenced and shaped how I see and interact with the world, and I honestly did not realize how much of an impact they had.

I guess I find myself thinking of this at odd moments because of how very diverse the worldviews of my siblings and I are, and I can’t help but wonder how media influenced these differences. I mean, we were all raised in the same household and same religious tradition by the same parents, who provided us with the same opportunities and same discipline styles. We attended the same schools, and shared many of the same teachers. We grew up in the same ward. My two oldest siblings might recall living in Germany, but they were both under 10 years of age when we moved back to the states, so I know that we shared a pretty substantial portion of our upbringing in the same environment.

Yet as adults, we’re wildly diverse in political and religious beliefs. Two of my siblings are TBM’s (true believing mormons). One is a nonbeliever, like me. One is religiously inclined, but not toward mormonism. In terms of politics, my siblings and I range from left-leaning socialist democrat/ progressive (me) to moderate to right-wing conservative leaning libertarian. Is it nature or nurture?

As our differences have become more apparent through our adult lives, I find myself trying to trace the differing influences that shaped our formative years. I know it’s a losing battle, because even if I could point to, say, my love of Newsies and exclaim, “Aha! This is why I’m pro-workers rights, and none of you are!” that doesn’t really explain it, because personality factors in.

Anyway, I’ve determined a few movies that I’m pretty sure had a much bigger effect on me than any of us realized at the time. These are films that I used to watch over and over, and that I adored for reasons I couldn’t always articulate at the time. They’re movies that I continue to have a deep, personal connection to. Movies like …

Disney’s Robin Hood

Image credit: Disney.wikia.com

Robin Hood is the classic tale of robbing the rich to feed the poor. The brave hero faces ostracization, imprisonment, and even death in order to undermine a corrupt government/ social order and spread the wealth. He’s the first anti-hero I learned to love.

Image credit: Fanpop/ Disney

Image credit: Fanpop/ Disney

I shared a room with my sister when I was young, and I recall us once having a whispered night-time argument about how much I liked Robin Hood. At some point, my sister accused my of loving Robin Hood more than I loved Jesus. I heatedly denied it, but was secretly terrified that it might be true.

In my teens, I became really interested in the mythos of Robin Hood. I checked out every book I could find on the history of the legend. I even taught myself some rudimentary Old English and Old French so I could study the images of primary sources included in some of the resource texts. I watched every Robin Hood film and read books like Sherwood, by Parke Godwin.

The story caught me, I think, because so many versions cast him as a person born into privilege who opts out of a corrupt and elitist system. But he doesn’t stop at just eschewing the privileges he was born into, he actively combats those privileges. He fights to undermine the corruption of the social system, and to redistribute the wealth that has concentrated into the hands of an elitist few.

Image credit: Disney

Perhaps in defense against my sister’s childish accusation, I also found parallels between the Jesus and Robin Hood mythos. Both men saw how privileged and inequal the world was, and both chose to address this social disparity by undermining the claims of the powerful. Both took steps to put the power into the hands of the people and redistribute riches. Robin Hood robs the rich to feed the poor, and Jesus specifically tells the wealthy that the only way to get into heaven is to renounce all their possessions and follow him. He actually says it’s easier for a camel to fit through the eye of a needle than for a wealthy person to get into heaven.

That’s some socialist freaking agenda right there, and I love it! This basic story arc, of the rebel going against the social order on behalf of the downtrodden, remains a favorite of mine to this day. As I’ve matured, I’ve come to prefer the narratives that showcase an ordinary person who inspires a community to come together and revolt against an unfair status quo as opposed to the individual-as-savior story arc.

Now, did I develop my stance in favor of democratic socialism and spreading the wealth because of the myths of Robin Hood and Jesus, or was I attracted to those stories because my personality predisposed me to connecting with theses types of stories? I don’t know. It’s a good question. I have similar questions about how films like Beauty & the Beast influenced my view of relationships and feminism, which I’ll explore in a later entry.

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everything is awesome

Everything is Awesome when you’re living out a dreams Everything is better when we stick together, Side by side you and I gonna win forever

These past few weeks have been pretty friggin’ cool. So, first off — John works an 8 hour shift that starts either at 6 or 7 am, depending on projects and whatnot. Kidling leaves for the bus stop around 9 a.m. That means that most weeks (barring schedule changes for John or Kidling) I have, I have the house completely and one hundred percent to myself for about 7 glorious hours a day, four days a week. My schedule on those days goes something like this:

  • 6:45 a.m. — Wake up to John kissing me goodbye.
  • 7:00 a.m. — Wake up Kidling
  • 7:00 – 9:00 a.m. — Morning routine (Kidling packs backpack, unloads dishwasher, feeds dog, does any necessary homework, brushes teeth. I start the day’s baking and feed the other dog.)
  • 9:00 – 10:00 a.m. — Walk the dogs, do at home exercises, vacuum, take shower.
  • 10:00 – 11:00 a.m. — Take care of any household tasks that need to be done (cleaning, bills, laundry, baking)
  • 12:00 – 4:00 p.m.  — Work on my book.
  • 4:00 – 5:00 — Spend time with John, who’s usually home from work about now. Go to Kidling’s soccer game if one is scheduled.
  • 5:00 – 5:30 — either pick up Kidling and his teammate from soccer practice (I’m a soccer mom!) or, if it’s my off-week for carpooling, start preparing dinner.
  • 6:00 – 9:30 — Dinner, homework, family time.
  • 9:30 – 10:00 — Prep coffee for the morning, feed the animals, turn off all the lights, wipe down kitchen cabinets, brush teeth, go to bed.

As a result of all this exercise, quiet time, and the resulting clean house, I’m doing great! I’m feeling chipper and laid-back, and am generally in a pretty low-key yet happy mood. I feel productive, generally emotionally stable, supported by my loved ones, and as though I’m a valued contribution and participant in the family structure. My anxiety levels are at an all-time low, and my tolerance for unscheduled changes of plan is pretty high.

Three days a week, of course, the schedule is upended and the house becomes a mess, but it doesn’t bother me the way it used to. Now it’s just like, eh, whatever. I’ll enjoy the family time today and clean up the house on Tuesday.

I’m not just adding walking/ running into my daily routine, either. Being a sahp means I don’t have to adhere to an employers time clock when running to the store and back — the biggest impediment to walking the 4 miles round trip to Winco is that it cuts into my writing time. So we bought a bike for me (and one for Kidling, who needed a new bike), and now I can bicycle to the grocery store for foodstuffs and exercise! Additionally, with Kidling and I now in possession of bicycles, Sunday family bike rides may become a thing. Woohoo!

Kidling is doing great in school and loving his courses. He continues to do well in soccer, too, and seems set and happy with his friends. I’m a little concerned about the grades of some of the kids in his friend group and the academic influence they may have on him, so I’ve been gently encouraging him to move away from some of the friendships he carried over from elementary school. It helps my case somewhat that the kids with the worst grades didn’t contact or hang out with him much (or at all) over the summer, which means they’re not really invested in the friendship.

Anyway, you’d think I’d be blogging more with all this free time, but as it happens I’m having too much fun with writing, drawing, and working out to blog. Go figure, lol. I will try to pick this back up with more entries. I’m sure I have old essays or something to post.