dark humor and controversial comedy

I’ve been watching some comedy specials on Netflix, and I’ve seen a few comedians lately complaining about how they can’t joke about dark and complex topics anymore because people are too sensitive and stupid. This pretty much always precedes a rape joke or riff on language/ why we can’t say the n-word but should be allowed to.

It’s kinda starting to get on my nerves, because I’ll be liking the comedian and getting into his bit, and then all of a sudden this white guy is whining about how he can’t make jokes about race and rape, and it’s … dude, it’s just not a good look. It’s just not.

First off, I think all white guys need to stop with trying to reclaim the n-word. I saw that bit referenced in the linked article by Dave Foley on Netflix, and … yeah, no. It just doesn’t work. Yes, we’ve heard the arguments. Yes, you’ve made some interesting points with the, “it’s just a word,” and “we all think the slur when we read n-word anyway, so we should just say it,” arguments. But no.

It’s like the swastika, guys. The swastika is an Eastern religious symbol with a long and proud history meaning unity and peace, but Hitler fucked that shit up ’round our parts, and now in the West we look at it and immediately think, “Okay, racist shitheads.” So it isn’t getting reclaimed in the West any time soon. The Confederate flag isn’t getting reclaimed any time soon. And the n-word isn’t getting reclaimed (especially not by whites!) anytime soon.

Also, I’m kind of baffled as to why these guys are so adamant about trying to reclaim use of a recognized hate slur, anyway? What the fuck is that about? Like, black people said, “Hey. This term has historically been used to address our people in a really hateful, derogatory, vicious and demeaning manner, often tied to violence and humiliation. The history of that word is weighted with blood. Don’t call us that word,” and collectively, most people were like, “Okay. Gotcha. Fair point.”

I don’t think I’m alone in saying the majority of us are okay with it being absent from our vocabulary. So it’s really embarrassing when a few white guys keep insisting on using it, or trying to “reclaim” it. Like, why the fuck are you trying to reclaim a hate slur?! Stop trying to make it happen, you’re embarrassing the rest of us!

By the way, the arguments they always make? That it’s “just a word,” and that we “heard the word in our head when we read/ hear the n-word, anyway, so why not use the correct word”?

  1. It’s not “just a word”. It’s a hate slur. Words mean things. They communicate things, important things about our intentions and our values and our beliefs, and choosing to use a hate slur communicates something about you.
  2. I actually hear and read “n-word” when I see “n-word”. I can’t speak for how everyone else in the world hears and reads, but for me personally, I do not automatically substitute in the hate slur in question. Also, you could try … not using the slur and/ or substitutions for the slur?

There is one case where I think it might be okay for a white person to use the n-word in its original form, and that is when they are obviously quoting the work of a black artist who chose to use those words. I’ve gone back and forth on that stance, but I’ve landed on it being better to preserve the black artist’s voice than erasing it due to white discomfort.

By the way, there are hilarious comics who address issues of race in really funny, thought-provoking ways. Key & Peele’s Negrotown and Slave Auction (hell, all their stuff is worth watching). Hari Kondabolu on white privilege. Trevor Noah’s bit on how his race is perceived in America and Africa. And here is a list of badass female comedians of color.

The next point is the rape thing. So, again, this is a thing a lot of (white male) comics who are otherwise pretty funny seem to be offended they “can’t talk about.” Specifically, I was watching Netflix specials by Jim Jefferies and Pete Johansson, and they were both killing it, and then they both had this moment where they addressed like rape/ women’s rights issues as a whole, and it kind of hit a flat note.

Not because of their jokes, mind you, or because I thought for a moment either of them were actually condoning abuse or rape. They were both very clear about the fact that they did not condone violence against women or rape, and both came across as pretty feminist. Well, Pete Johansson moreso than Jim Jefferies … you did kind of get the sense from Jefferies bit that he could be a low-key misogynist, but the sort that gets a pass in our society.

By that I mean he’s not the disturbing extremist type of misogynist who wants to shoot up a campus full of women, or believes in biblical head of household/ leadership family structures.

I mean he’s the kind of mainstream misogynist–I guess “soft sexist” who kind of generally assumes the average women is less competent than the average man. Like, if a woman has proven she’s more competent than him, by means of acquiring some sort of accreditation or degree, then yeah. He’s fine agreeing she’s probably more knowledgeable or competent in that area. But from his set, I definitely got the vibe that he’s the type of guy who assumes if you take any average woman and any average guy and give them the same task to do, he thinks the guy will perform it better.

However! I also recognize that might’ve just been his bit–maybe he was relying on stereotypical, gendered material because it gets big laughs from his usual audience. He did reference in the special that his audience was different from normal because of his gun bit, which had gotten him new fans after making the rounds on YouTube. So maybe he’s built his career mining gender jokes to appeal to/ build an audience who does believe women are, generally speaking, more incompetent than men, but he himself doesn’t think that way.

Would that be better, or worse? For a comedian who maybe personally believes that men and women are equally competent to mine gendered material for an audience who buys into the stereotypes? Is it still “just a joke” if they’re not laughing at it, but with it? Anyway, I guess it doesn’t matter, because the point is, whether or not Jefferies thinks women are generally slightly more incompetent than men, he’s also clearly against rape, against domestic violence, and okay with female professionals giving him advice.

Anyway, the thing is, both these comics did spent a fair amount of time complaining about not being able to make rape jokes. Like a good bit of their acts were structured around the rise of “p.c. culture” and how sensitive and whiny people were these days and how they couldn’t even say the word rape without people getting outraged and they’re just so stifling and annoying. This is nothing new. Comics, actors, authors, and artists have been complaining about censorship and critics since time immemorable.

I do think the internet has changed things, honestly. People seem to be whining a lot more about “pc culture” these days, and I suspect it has to do with the immediacy of the internet. A decade ago, when a comic did a piece or gave an interview, it could take hours or weeks for the response to filter in through the lens of critics. Now, comics perform a bit, air a show, or tweet something, and the response from their fans is immediate. Pete Johansson recounts a story about a (former) fan getting some geography wrong in a tweet, being teased by his other fans, and in anger calling them all rapists and flouncing out of the interaction.

I appreciate dark humor, I really do. I also get tired of people whining about pc culture, because, to me, pc culture basically comes down to this: A group of people who are, for whatever reason, a minority in our society, joined their voices and in majority said, “Yeah, could you stop with the thing? We’re really not liking it. It is super offensive for reasons x, y, and z.”

And the rest of us should have said, “Oh, what? We were being offensive with the thing? Fuck, sorry, I didn’t know. Man, I feel like a dick. My bad.” And then we stop.

But instead, as a culture, our response has collectively been something more like, what the fuck. We can’t have the Redskins?! What the fuuuuuuuuuck. Whhhhhyyyyyy. What the fuuuuuck. We can’t use diagnosable illnesses as verbs? You’re telling me mentally ill people have feelings now? Well fuck you, who cares about the crazies anyway? What the fuck. What the fuuuucckkkkkk. Ugh. You people are so unreasonable. 

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Granted, this reaction is probably exacerbated by people such as the former fan described by Johannson–apparently, she described herself as a progressive and feminist (which means, naturally, that people who dislike or are unfamiliar with feminism will slot her and her behavior in as representative of all of us). So there is, admittedly, a problem because:

  1. Minority communities who have experienced systemic discrimination and cultural appropriation at the hands of a dominating and colonizing culture should be respected when a majority of their community agrees, “That thing? Offensive. Stop it.”
  2. Easily offended people of all political stripes ruin things for everyone by being whiny and oversensitive. 

I think the conservative equivalent of the whiny “you can’t say that,” “trigger warning” reactionaries is probably the evangelical bible literalists who’ve got everyone convinced Christianity suuuuucks.

There’s a subtle nuance on the rape joke thing a lot of the comediens don’t seem to get for some reason, and I’m not really sure why.  

I was thinking about that watching Pete Johansson the other night, doing his hilarious bit where he talked about how he and his wife role-played a sexual fantasy. His wife asked him to “rape” her, which he found repellent, but for his wife’s safe agreed. The punchline was that he was an awful rapist.

After finishing the bit, he confessed that he was worried about telling the joke because people are stupid and have knee-jerk reactions, and he’s a white male, blah blah blah. 

I was rolling my eyes a bit, kinda amused at him insulting his audiences’ intelligence, but mostly irritated that he didn’t seem to realize it’s not some knee-jerk reaction to the word “rape”. 

It’s not like feminists react to the word “rape” like vampires do to garlic and religious artifacts. 

I know there are plenty of stupid people out there, but I think the majority of audiences do grasp “context.”

I know male comediens have been tying to “edgily” joke about rape for ages, but I think a lot of the current kerfluffle over “pc rape jokes” is still reverbrating from the Daniel Tosh comedy club moment a few years back, when he literally pointed at a girl heckling him about a rape joke and said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if she was raped by like five guys right now?”

He later tried to pass it off as a joke. Said he was trying to show anything can be funny. I suspect he was inspired by George Carlin, who did that bit about how rape jokes can be funny by telling the audience to imagine Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd. At the shocked/laughing reaction of the audience, Carlin mimes/vocalizes a moment of the imagined cartoon rape, rolling his eyes exaggeratedly, then drops the character to joke that “you know” Elmer Fudd “wanted it,” and he was “asking for it,” because of the way he dressed. 

It wasn’t particularly funny to me., personally. Not Tosh’s, not Carlins. I like both those comediens, normally. I “got” their rape jokes. 

I understood what they were trying to say–the dark humor of it, the juxtaposition of reality and expectation, what they thought was a subversion of expectations and witty commentary.  

I just didn’t find it funny, in large part because it wasn’t subversive, witty, or even original commentary. 

When Carlin joked about Elmer Fudd “asking for it” because of the way he was dressed, it’s not funny because this mindset is so deeply ingrained in our society that judges actually regularly blame pre-teen victims for being raped because of the way they were dressed. That’s not funny. That’s tragic. Oh, you say. That bit is 20, 30, 40 years old. 

That makes it, if anything, more tragic. That the same justifactions Carlin was using to defend rape jokes in the late 70s and early 80s are still in use. That he–an otherwise transfomative, great comedian who spoke to very complex and difficult issues–perpetuated through his humor a popular culture of victim blaming.

When Tosh stood on stage and looked down at a woman heckling him and said, in a roomful of men who admired him, “Wouldn’t it be funny if five guys raped her right now?” and everyone laughed in agreement, I bet it didn’t sound like a joke to her. I bet that sounded scary. Like a threat. Like predators. Like hyenas, cackling in the dark. 

When I watched the video, I felt ice run through my veins. I imagined being her, sitting in that room as a man on stage asks the men in the room how funny it would be if I was gang-raped and they laughed in response, and I would have been scared.

Btw, I’m not defending heckling for a moment. But a bouncer was the solution there, or hell, some cracks about kitchens and sandwiches. Not a rape threat.

When a man jokes about a woman being so attractive he wants to rape her, it’s not funny or a compliment. Phrases like, “I will rape you,” or, “She’s so hot I could rape her,” or, “Which one of these hotties would you rape tonight?” … those aren’t jokes. Those aren’t funny. Those aren’t “dark humor”. That’s the vein of “rape joke” I’m talking about–and I think most women are talking about–when it comes to rape jokes.

I’d add that prison and military rape jokes aren’t funny, either–these things are real, unaddressed, and happening. The attitudes of victim-blaming and silencing that perpetuate rape culture are deeply ingrained in our society and trying to pretend that “everyone accepts” rape is wrong and “everyone is disgusted by it,” when we live in a culture where people happily anticipate people getting raped in prison as “payback” for crimes? Like what the fuck?

Or where the potential of women being raped by their fellow soldiers was an actual argument used against putting them in combat, ignoring the facts that a) they’re already serving with these men, often in unauthorized combat roles, and b) way more men are raped in the military than women, because there are so many more men than women!

ALL THAT BEING SAID. People tell funny rape jokes all the time! The Nation article linked above gave some great examples. Pete Johansson and Jim Jefferies actually both told hilarious rape jokes in their bites, before they went on their whiny rants about how unfair it is that they can’t say rape.

Sarah Silverman, Wanda Sykes, even Louis C.K., after walking back his initial misstep of defending Tosh, have done some really great jokes about rape. Look at this!

Most rapes and sexual assaults are not violent assaults by strangers, but perpetuated by acquaintances, people known to the victim. Louis C.K. is right– statistically, a woman is far more likely to be hurt by a man she knows and trusts than a stranger. Men are more violent than women. We don’t know why, but they are. Is it nature, nurture, biology, socialization? Who knows? For some fuckin’ reason, we aren’t studying it. Sure, women murder and commit violence, but they do it at a fraction of the rate men do.

In the United States, 98% of those who commit mass shootings are male; 98% of the officers who have shot and killed civilians are male; 90% of those who commit homicide by any means are male; and 80% of those arrested for all violent crimes — murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault — are male. — One group is responsible for America’s culture of violence, and it isn’t cops, black Americans, Muslims or rednecks. It’s men (LA Times)

Mind you, I bring this up not because I’m anti-man, or because I think violence is inherent to the gender. I’m one of those who tends to believe the role of biology/ genetics is maybe 45%, 50% of the equation in our personality formation over a lifetime, while things like environment, social location, socialization, nurture/ discipline style, education, and neuroplasticity play the other half. It’s like … eh, basically I don’t really believe in binary sexualities or genders, right? Like, a lot of people seem to think biology is an exact science, like the ingredients mix the same every single time, which is obviously wrong–if that was the case, we wouldn’t have mutations and genetic illnesses and kids with different hair/ skin/ eye color than their parents. We’re not clones.

So sometimes–maybe because of diet or temperature, or stress, or age, or other factors we don’t even know–something happens during conception or pregnancy. Maybe it’s the sperm–maybe it develops a little slow or funny. Or maybe the mom’s body releases a certain hormone a little later or earlier than necessary, or in a higher or lower dose than needed. Whatever the case, something happens and the baby’s genitals form one way–BOY! and the brain another way-GIRL!

I think this is pretty much how it happens for both gender and sexual attraction, to be honest–though for sexual attraction, I tend to think most people are generally kind of capable of being fluid. I think the Kinsey scale has got the sexuality bit pretty well marked, but because humans like categories we tried to divide people into neat sections of “gay” and “straight,” then got really upset and confused when people kept stepping in and out of their boxes, and screaming, “So what are you? Gay? Straight? What? What?”

But people are just people, and sex is fun.

But I really do think it’s a balance. Biology isn’t an exact recipe, it’s a process with all these external factors influencing it, and the end result is influenced heavily by socialization. There was a time when pink and high heels and crying were all seen as manly, but at this particular social moment, they’re coded as effeminate and undesirable traits.

Culture and socialization is weird and complex, I agree, but for some reasons comedians don’t like to focus on those weirdnesses. Instead they want to talk about how weird it is that they can’t say the n-word and misconstrue the ways they’re allowed to talk about rape. I dunno, mang.

I suppose if these comedians really want to joke about rape that badly, they could trying writing their bits solely around male-on-male rape, like joking about how they would handle male rape in prison, or they could watch the video of the Navy guy who was dishonorably discharged for being raped and do a bit about how they would respond if they were the victim in that situation–how they would find the silver lining in being raped out of the military. Or talk about those humiliation rapes done to African men by guerilla troops, some bit about “getting out of the fighting, anyway,” and see how their jokes work then. I would guess they would be less funny to them and more deeply uncomfortable and upsetting, because these are actually happening to other men right now in the world, but maybe I’m wrong. I dunno.

I just feel like there’s a wealth fucked up, and uncomfortable material to mine in gender inequality, even for white men, and a wealth of ways to mine it without relying on tired, sexist stereotypes and victim-blaming, and then defending it as humor and getting angry because the audience didn’t “get the joke.” Maybe the audience got the joke, and it wasn’t very funny.

 

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same song, different tune

A few weeks back, I met this guy who–long story short–told me I couldn’t have an opinion on Lupe Fiasco because I hadn’t bought all his albums.

Yeah.

So, story (slightly) lengthened, the comment came about because I’d indicated that I thought Eminem was a good lyricist, but I disliked listening to him due to his misogyny. The guy–who we’ll call Guy–became extremely agitated and dismissive at this statement. Another Fella in the bar, a mutual acquaintance, supported my statement, and Guy began arguing with me/ him, and it was  kind of weird conversation that’s been bothering me, so I decided to write about it.

Specifically, I said that Eminem was, while a talented lyricist, not among the best rappers out there, and his misogyny bothered me so much I couldn’t even listen to his music.

Guy got really upset at this statement–like, really upset–and proceeded to spend about the next 30-45 minutes insisting that it was irrational and stupid to discount an artist because of a little thing like a stage persona or personal opinion (ie: misogyny). He repeatedly defended Eminem’s misogyny as:

  • An act
  • A result of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother/ ex-girlfriends
  • A stage persona
  • Not taken seriously by his fans
  • Not a problem because his (female) fans–the type of women who listen to rap music–don’t care about women’s rights

After his friend, Fella, chimed in about two sentences into the conversation in order to support my stance that it could be difficult for a woman to listen to sustained lyrics about violence towards women, and say that misogyny in rap/ hip-hop is problematic and needs to be addressed moving forward, Guy stopped talking to me completely (although he continued to respond to statements I made; he simply spoke past me to Fella instead) and, in fact, began to refer to me in the third person (as in, “I bet she doesn’t listen to Lil’ Kim!” and, “I bet she doesn’t have all his albums!”), even though I was sitting right there.

It was weird.

The ironic thing was, the only reason I brought up the Eminem thing was because one of my son’s (white) teachers had told the class that Eminem was the greatest rapper who ever was, and the only one worth listening to. My son repeated it to me, and I–not knowing much about rap, but knowing enough to know that there had to be black artists as good or better than Eminem in a genre pioneered and created by black artists–had told my son, “I seriously doubt that. I think that’s probably a thing white people who only listen to rap on popular radio stations say.”

So I’d actually only brought up the whole Eminem conversation–along with my distaste for him–as a segue to ask about their recommendations for excellent black artists, since Fella is a rap/ hip-hop artist and Guy apparently professionally reviews rap/ hip-hop. Unfortunately, once I said the thing about misogyny, I (ironically) couldn’t seem to find a place to turn his angry-train pro-misogyny rant back to the station.

Near the end of the conversation, I was getting so frustrated at him talking past me and over me, as well as interrupting me, that I finally asked with a kind of embarrassed half-laugh, “Hey, why are you looking at him? Why are you talking to him? I’m the one who asked you the question. I’m the one who made the statement you’re responding to.”

Guy looked at me, then, kind of startled, and I saw Fella cover a grin. Guy tried to defend himself–say he was responding to both of us, that we were both arguing against Eminem and he was responding to both our arguments. I said, “But you’re not–you’re not even listening to what I said.”

“Yes I was,” he argued back. “You don’t listen to Eminem because he’s a misogynist, but that’s not even giving him a chance, when he’s one of the most talented–“

“No,” I interrupted, frustrated. I don’t like to interrupt, it’s rude, but he’d been doing it to me nonstop and I was tired of it. “No, I specifically said he’s a great lyricist and very talented but I cannot handle his misogyny. So I did recognize his talent, but I cannot handle the misogyny that accompanies that talent.”

He paused, staring at me, and then said, “Okay, okay. That’s valid. I think it’s dumb, but that’s valid.”

Fella spoke up then, to decry misogyny in rap/ hip-hop, and Guy refocused all his attention on Fella. A bit later, Guy said the bit about the type of women who listen to rap/ hip-hop don’t care about all that women’s rights shit, and said women rappers are some of the worst for derogatory, sexist language, he pointed at me and said something like, “I bet she doesn’t buy any rap music,” and I said defensively, “I don’t buy whoever that girl you’re talking about is, but I buy Lupe Fiasco!”

He laughed derisively and said, “Lupe Fiasco believes in aliens!”

I just laughed at that. Like, wtf. Like that somehow discredits him? I mean, most grown-ass adults I know not only believe in an imaginary friend, but pay this imaginary friend money, talk to him, credit all their success to him, and even build him houses that stand empty 6 days a week. I’m supposed to accept that without a flicker of my eyelid, but a famous guy believing he had an alien visitation when he was 8 (I looked it up) is a bridge too far? Wtf, dude?

It’s even more hilarious to me that he dismisses one rapper based on a harmless belief, but elevates another rapper who espouses a demonstrably harmful belief. Like, that’s … what? What?

Anyway, then a friend of theirs came in and said the blacklivesmatter protestors were coming back and blockading the street, so our conversation ended. Guy finally looked at me and shook my hand and said something about a good conversation, and it being nice to talk to people who didn’t know much about the genre because at least it showed we were starting to listen and pay attention. Very condescending.

The whole encounter left a sour taste in my mouth. I couldn’t tell if Guy was treating me shitty because I was ignorant about music, white, or female. My money was on female, mostly, although I was leaning a little toward the ignorant about music angle–but he seemed like he was really passionate about music; the type who would’ve talk the ear off a mannequin if you got him going on some esoteric piece of musical trivia.

I mean, I can see how someone could say I couldn’t have an opinion on rap/ hip-hop because of my race/ culture/ upbringing–like, that would make more sense to me, right? I wouldn’t necessarily agree with that assumption in every case, because I’m sure there are plenty of white Western-European-descended middle-class people who have just buried themselves in the history and trivia of rap/ hip-hop and are quite versed in the genre, but for my specific case? Yeah, I’ll admit I am not generally a musically inclined person, and my cultural background and upbringing did not predispose me to listening to rap. Here in the PNW, alternative was more common on the radio stations.

Truth is, I’m not just musically illiterate with rap/ hip-hop, as it happens–although Guy did indicate numerous times his assumption that I was a fan of country, pop, and/ or punk/ alternative. Sad truth is, I’m pretty much equally ignorant of all genres. I am the audience the “Top 40” lists are geared to. I don’t care about music history or music trivia, or even fuckin’ what genres things are in. I listen to what I like, and that’s that.

I first listened to rap in middle school, which is also when I first recall having black classmates. There was a black boy named Travis in one of my classes. He sat in front of me, and he used to turn around and sing, “Then I step through the fog and I creep through the smog/ Cuz I’m Snoop Doggy (who?) Doggy (what?) Doggy [Dogg]“, then point at me. That was my cue to sing the next lyric, “Snoop doggy, doo-ooooo-ooog,” but instead I would turn red and sink into my seat, certain it was a set-up.

See, Travis was cool, and I was decidedly un-cool. Travis seemed nice–always joking with me in class, teasing me, helping me with my work. But Travis was cool. He played football and walked with the jocks in between classes. He didn’t eat with them at lunch, but that’s because he ate with the black kids, and the black kids were even cooler than the jocks. I’d spent Kindergarten through sixth being teased by the popular kids in elementary school, who’d become the jocks in middle school, where the teasing had just gotten worse. Travis had never teased me–none of the black kids had–but I was terrified of their niceness because they were so cool, and every time a cool kid was nice to me it turned into gut-wrenching humiliation.

In 8th grade, at the time Travis, Deon, and Shaun (be still my beating heart, art-class crush!) were making their overtures of friendship to me, the jocks/ popular crowd were hounding me through the halls, singing “A horse is a horse, of course of course,” between classes. Because I had buck teeth. Get it? And then, someone told them (the jocks) I was seeing a therapist, and that’s when the straightjacket/ psych-ward/ psychopath questions started.

Then 8th grade ended and the summer started. Away from the bullying, and with the clarity of distance, I realized that Travis, Deon, and Shaun hadn’t actually been friends with the jocks. They didn’t eat lunch with them or hang out with them voluntarily. They’d never yelled at me in the halls. I regretted being suspicious of their motivations. I regretted losing the chance to make some friends. Over the summer and during the first few months of 9th grade, I started listening to more rap. I kind of had this notion that we’d run into each other again, and Travis would do that thing where he would sing a line from a song, and this time I’d be able to sing the next line back. That’s the period when I got into the Geto Boys, Coolio, Shaggy, and the Notorious B.I.G.

When I started high school, I didn’t see Travis, Deon, and Shaun again. A new high school had been built, and my 8th grade class divided into new zones. Most of the black kids in my 8th grade class were zoned to the new high school, while I went to the old high school with my tormentors for the next four years. Freshmen year, I made friends with a bunch of stoners and started listening to Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Garbage.

Back to the present … for a few days after my conversation with Guy, I kinda played with the idea that–since he was a person of color (someone referred to him as hispanic, but I thought he was black)–and we were at a blacklivesmatter protest, he was fuckin’ with me because I was white; like forcing me to step outside the privileged comfort zone of my race and deal with being “othered”, which was an interesting and discomfiting thought. Except I realized that theory didn’t really fly because there were other white allies at the protest that night–and the bartender was white–who were male, and he conversed with them as though they were social and intellectual equals.

No, it really just seemed to come down to that as soon as I’d said the dreaded word, “misogyny,” I ceased to exist for Guy. It was especially weird to me because we met at a #blacklivesmatter protest. I’m always blown away when civil rights activists for one cause are completely dismissive of another. I know I shouldn’t be–I’ve met radfems who are just utterly transmisogynistic, and I’ve met plenty of lesbians and gays who are completely biphobic, but it still always catches me off-guard. Like, wait, what?

So … you’re all for equality, but not for everyone? Oh, you are for equality for everyone, you just … don’t believe this specific group is facing discrimination? You think they’re exaggerating? You think their stories are overblown, they’re over-reacting? You think it’s more of a perception problem, or more about the way they’re presenting themselves/ dressing/ interacting with the structures of power in our society than that they’re actually … experiencing the issues they’re dealing with and living through?

Sounds so familiar.

Funny how that works.

The Myth of Manufacturing in America

Personally, I think the next president was decided ages ago, by people with far more money and influence than the average American. She’ll oversee the next 8 years of (yes, eight) increasing wealth divisions in America. There will probably be a brief economic uptick at the half-way mark of her terms. Things won’t change much.

(edit: how tragically wrong that prediction was. USA didn’t go with the status quo, or populism, or progressivism; but with racism, fear, and capitalism on steroids.)

The US will continue to decline as a world power, primarily because we do not invest in strong social nets that benefit our citizens through tax funded programs such as equal-opportunity education, social aid for needy families, on-the-job training and in-company promotion, paid vacation policies, requisite living wages, and labor protections for all residents regardless of citizenship documentation (if you protect all workers, regardless of their citizenship status, then it makes it easier for workers to organize and increase their wages and protect their benefits, which makes it harder for employers to fuck them over).

According to the July 2016 report from the International Monetary Fund, US growth is lower than before the Great Recession, and the USA needs to invest in policies that incentivize work, raise productivity by investing in infrastructure and innovation, and reverse the wealth income disparity.

Although the IMF survey says the US economic forecast is good in the short-term, in the long-run our decreasing labor force participation, low productivity gains, and increasing wealth disparity/ high poverty levels is going to fuck us over. The IMF report did not say “fuck us over.” It said, “solid continued growth hinges on addressing long-term issues of falling labor force participation, weak productivity, rising income polarization, and high poverty rates.”

Basically, if we want our economy to continue to grow, we have to stop fucking over the working class.

One problem (as noted in the IMF) is the lack of production/ innovation. Although we’re slowly rebuilding (largely machinated industries, now), the USA doesn’t have the infrastructure for manufacturing that it used to. Our factories, long unused and fallen into disrepair, are out of code and filled with machinery that’s out of date. We outsourced manufacturing to other countries for lower costs, and as a result are two generations behind every other manufacturing country.

I’ve heard people say the solution is to bring manufacturing back, and sure, I agree. That’s definitely one solution, and one we do need to invest in over the long term. What bothers me is when its presented as the only solution, or as though manufacturing alone is a panacea–like manufacturing and high wages go hand in hand. As though service work, retail work, domestic labor, restaurant labor–these things are somehow not “worth” high wages, benefits, and secure hours in the way manufacturing is. See, service labor is here, now. These jobs are available here, now. They don’t have to be “brought back”. The infrastructure doesn’t have to be rebuilt. All that has to happen is:

  • Increase wages to a living wage
  • Write schedules two weeks in advance–no more of this on-call shit. They’re service workers, not medics.
  • Provide benefits and paid vacations.

But manufacturing/ factory work is hard, and dangerous! It’s skilled labor! That’s why they got living wages, and benefits, and protections!–is usually how the arguments goes.

I kind of want to scream when I hear it. Because first off–that wasn’t manufacturing. That was unions. Employers didn’t give those benefits out of the compassionate goodness of their hearts. Workers fought for those benefits! They were dying in the factories and mines–they lived in corporate towns, where the employers paid them in “company money” that could only be spent on company grounds and on company goods! The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory was an industrial disaster that helped launched the workplace rights campaign into the mainstream US consciousness!

Hell, since Reagan broke the unions, a lot of manufacturing jobs today are shit-work! Employers abuse their workersdeny them breaks, and nowadays will even outright sell the company and void the union contract/ gut the pension. It’s not like manufacturing work has some special protection from employer abuses.

Once, manufacturing was seen much like service work is today–as something low-skilled, that uneducated people did when they had no other options in life; not as a means to a middle class life or long-term job security. When contemplating the history (and present) of manufacturing, and the attitudes of people toward so-called unskilled labor, it’s almost laughable (in the laugh or cry way) that people look at our current situation–having outsourced all our productivity infrastructure and set our manufacturing tech back by generations–our national response is to say, “You know what? Instead of giving service workers living wages, predictable schedules, and benefits, I think we should do our damndest to get manufacturing back over here,” like that’ll help. Like it’s a magic wand that we can wave and make everything better. Like we’re not still actively fucking over manufacturing workers right now, in this day and age.

The manufacturing industry isn’t a magical bean that equals living wages and a middle class life! That was unions. It’s unions people are really thinking of when they say “manufacturing.” They’re thinking of organized labor, of all the things unions won in the manufacturing industries. They’re thinking of pensions that allowed their grandfathers to retire at 50, their bodies bent and broken from years of labor, but their finances secure. They’re thinking of affordable healthcare plans, of companies that trained their own workers (instead of requiring them to go outsource training, and pay for it out of pocket), and then promoted from within, and raised their wages annually according to cost-of-living increases. That’s what they’re thinking of.

But instead, they say, “manufacturing,” and think they mean factories and skilled labor, as though people who stand over boiling oil or work on warehouse floors with electric pallet jacks and forklifts aren’t doing skilled labor. As though people who deal with the daily psychological abuse of entitled customers aren’t engaged in skilled labor. As though the presumed lack of a college degree somehow, someway means the person behind the counter deserves poverty wages, unstable hours, and no benefits.

Fuck that. All labor has value. Someone who thinks that burger slinger at the fast food place doesn’t deserve a living wage? They need to go home and make their own goddamn burger. Spend their own precious time and materials making their own food. Don’t demand the labor of other people if you’re incapable of even respecting or valuing the fact that it is labor–human labor–that is being purchased.

All labor has value. Any labor purchased is purchased because, for whatever reason, the customer does not or cannot do it on their own. They don’t have the skill, the materials, or the knowledge, so they are buy the labor/ skill/ knowledge of someone else. People denigrate service workers all the time, but I tell you what–service workers are the fucking backbone of our society.

Service workers dominate the labor industry. Nearly every US household is touched by service work–someone in their family has worked, is working, or will work in the service industry. They face psychological abuse on a regular basis from entitled asshole customers, and often lack protection from management. Worse, service workers often find themselves on the receiving end of bullying and abuse from coworkers and management, as well, without any sort of substansive corporate infrastructure set up to help mediate the situation.

We’re told this is a “new, mobile workforce,” and that people don’t “like” to stay in one place, with one company anymore. Meanwhile, HR representatives in reddit threads discuss the problems with hiring and promotion: Companies will offer large entry offers, but small or nonexistent wage increases over time. They don’t tie wage increases to performance, either–the most effective way for an employee to increase their wages over the course of a career is to bounce from company to company, as an employer will “match and increase” with their entry offer the salary of the previous company.

Obviously, that doesn’t really work at the service labor level, where wages are set according to state hourly wages, and employees are hired and fired at the whim of management rather than moving according to their own needs or desires.

I smile darkly at the assertions that we in the US are a new and mobile workforce. It seems to me that our employers just stopped investing in us, and got the right to fire us when-the-fuck ever. It’s not that the American worker is “mobile,” (which sounds so free and breezy), it’s that we’re cast adrift.

We were told to get college diplomas to enter the middle class, and now people with Masters and PhDs are applying to service-level jobs. College diplomas are the new form of job training. Now most jobs have substantial job training; just an afternoon or a day with a more experienced employee who shows you the ropes and then abandons you to find your footing.

Bonus for the employer: They don’t bear the costs of job training. Too bad for the employee: They are thousands in debt for a degree they don’t need, because they’ll learn on the job.

We were told 401ks were better than pensions, and employers all shifted into 401k/ stocks, and now we’re all fucked for retirement. Bonus for employers and the banking industry: Modest cost savings! Too bad for the workers: No security for retirement.

We were told unions were stealing our wages, and employers want to give us our whole paycheck; that they want to negotiate employer-to-employee. Bonus for employers: No unions to negotiate with! Too bad for workers: No consolidated power and voice to negotiate with the powers that be.

We were told at-will employment was beneficial to both parties, because it allowed either the worker or employer to terminate an employment contract for better opportunities at a moments notice, for no reason whatsoever. It allows for a more mobile society, see? But in practice, workers don’t have quite the access employers do. Workers provide 2 weeks notice, and train their replacements. Employers fire, and escort their discarded employee out with guards.

This is a mobile society, yes, but largely not by the choice of workers. It was because, for the most part, employers chose to stop investing in workers. They chose to stop training them–requiring, instead, that workers bear the cost of their own training. They chose to stop promoting from within and offering good benefits–forcing workers who wanted higher wages to seek work elsewhere, bouncing around their industry in an attempt to increase their wages and benefits.

Basically, USA employers (by and large) chose to stop investing in their employees, and then have been shocked by decreasing labor participation, an increasingly unstable/ mobile labor market, and an ever-growing wealth disparity, then scratch their heads and pout at each other as they hrrrm and huuuuuhhhh over how on earth such a thing could have possibly happened.

Like, wtf? Big picture, people! Do you ever step back and look big picture? Ever? For a moment?

How Not to Explore Your Feelings

I recently read this article by Evan Porter, I spent a week sharing my feelings with everyone. Here’s what happened.

Initially, I was like, yeah! You go, guy! Share your feelings! Open up! Woot! In the first section, he shares this anecdote that made me actually laugh out loud, because I immediately related to it and thought of relevant examples from my own life. I love this quote:

“Ronald Levant, a professor of counseling psychology at Akron University, told me a story about a man he once treated early in his career that sums up this whole thing pretty nicely:

“[He] came in complaining about how his son had stood him up for a father son hockey game. Being relatively naive back then, I said, ‘So, how did you feel about that?’ His answer was ‘Well, he shouldn’t have done it!’ I said again, ‘Yeah, he shouldn’t have done it, but how did you feel?’
“He just looked at me blankly.”
Levant recalled similar sessions where women, by contrast, were able to walk him — in detail — through their emotional reaction to a situation: how anger turned to disappointment turned to worry, and so on.

“Among the men I was treating or working with there was a singular inability for many of them to put their emotions into words,” Levant said.”

I spent a week, by Evan Porter

Porter goes on to talk about Ryan Mckelley, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin La Crosse and Tedx presenter on gender research. In his research, McKelley has found boys actually tend to show a broader range of more intense emotions in infancy and young childhood than girls of the same age, and the change in displayed emotion comes later.

Porter talks about the studies McKelley has looked at, which polled American attitudes on which emotions are culturally acceptable for each of the genders to show, and how McKelley found that generally speaking, Americans are comfortable with women displaying pretty much every emotion across the spectrum, while men are expected to express only pride, contempt, and anger.

Interestingly, Porter also says McKelley’s research found our brains process emotions approximately the same, despite these cultural expectations. McKelley found that when both genders are hooked up to equipment measuring our physiological responses (breathing rates, sweat, heart rates, etc) and shown images that inspire strong emotions, there’s no gender difference in physical responses. On gender and personality, Porter quotes McKelley as saying, “I do not deny there are biological differences. However, the degree to which it influences all that other stuff, I believe, is overblown.”

All very cool stuff, which I like. So far, woot! On board! Yeah, man! You rock, Porter!–Get in touch with your feels, upset the gender binary, destroy the patriarchy! Great research!

~*~

Then he gets into his actual, personal “experiment”, and that’s when things began to get a little …. ehhh. Basically, a pretty upsetting pattern became evident fairly quickly, just in the one week of his attempt to emote to strangers. I’ll make it easy by quoting the relevant sections.

Day One

On my way home, I stopped off at a grocery store to grab an energy drink and, potentially, to share this happy moment with a stranger.

I chose the line manned by a fast-talking, bubbly woman. And when I got to the front, she teed me up perfectly with a sincere: “How are you?”

Day Two

I walked inside and stood in line at the customer service counter for what felt like an eternity. Finally, one of the tellers called me up. She had a shock of white curly hair and kind eyes. A grandmotherly type. “How can I help you?” she asked. Not the exact question I wanted, but we’ll see where it goes. “I have some returns,” I said.

Day Three

I headed out to grab a coffee at a local establishment (OK, it was a McDonald’s, but I really don’t need your judgment right now). There was a young, freckle-faced girl working the counter. She was probably 19. When it was my turn, she gave me a shy “Hello.”

“How are you?” I started. “Good. How are you?” she responded, on cue.

Since I hadn’t had any major emotional breakthroughs at that point, I just … told her the truth. “I just had to get out of the house a little bit. It’s so gray and crappy today and I just needed a break. You know?”

She gave me possibly the blankest stare I had ever seen in my life. I quickly filled the silence with my order — a large iced coffee. To go.

Day Four

When I reached the cashier at the Walgreens down the street from my house, a small pack of size-five Pampers clutched to my side, I saw she was a young black girl. She asked how I was doing. And I told her, with all honesty, that I was sad

On day five, he decided not to talk about his feelings to anyone, saying, “I didn’t want to be the guy at the fast food restaurant telling the cashier about his knee replacement or his swollen feet or his bunions or whatever, totally unprompted.” Then, as it happens, his wife IM’s him and asks about his day, so he emoted to her instead.

D’ya see the common trend here? Guy decides to get in touch with his emotions by, “opening up to strangers,” but doesn’t choose social peers or males to open up to. Instead, he chooses female cashiers in retail establishments. Pretty much the definition of emotional labor.

Break it down real quick. He didn’t choose, say, a stranger shopping in the aisle. He didn’t approach a fellow parent, selecting a similar brand of cereal. He didn’t approach one of the other parents in the pick-up line at daycare, who would (presumably) be of a similar social location to him.

Instead, he specifically chose non-threatening (bubbly, kindly, or young) female (not male) cashiers– individuals held captive by their employment situation, required to engage with him as customer service representatives of the establishment– relying, implicitly and perhaps unconsciously, on the customer is always right fallacy. This belief, common in USian culture, originates from a 1920s marketing slogan and now permeates nearly all retail/ service interactions, often in incredibly toxic ways.

In my opinion, one of the worst ways is the way it intersects with job security. The lack of just cause employment protections in most states and/ or employment contracts means it is not uncommon for managers or supervisors to placate an angry customer by simply firing the employee in question– a practice that is perfectly legal in states with at-will employment.

As a result, low-wage retail and service sector employees are all too aware their job security relies not only on job performance, but their ability to skillfully massage the egos of emotionally fragile and difficult customers. Since on-the-job/ worker training is more and more a thing of the past, such skills (which a therapist, counselor, and psychologist pay good money to learn in higher education) are, for retail and service workers, either innate or skills the employee has learned over a period of trial and error from dealing with years of emotionally difficult and needy customers.

So, in that context, when a customer comes through the line of a cashier wanting to chat about his day– realize the cashier doesn’t have a choice. They’re stuck between a rock and a hard place. They have a job to do– metrics to meet, numbers to match up to. The customers in line behind might complain if they malinger too long talking with Mr. Chattypants, but Mr. Chattypants might complain to management if they brush him efficiently through. See the problem here?

He comes through wanting one thing– emotional breakthroughs, to get in touch with his internal emotions, to break the social conditioning laid down by the patriarchy which has restricted him to expressing three basic emotions.

The cashier is expecting a different interaction. They’re at work. They’re in work-mode. They’re solving-work problems. They just want to do their job, collect their paycheck, and go home. At home, they have their own families and problems and emotional breakthroughs to deal with, but this right now? This is work. They’re in work-mode. They just want to take your order, sir.

Look at it, day by day– day one, at the grocery store. The kindy, bubbly woman who teed Porter up with a “perfectly sincere,” greeting of, “How are you?” as she rang up his energy drink, then in the “next instant” cut the interaction short by summoning over another customer. Dude! You had one item! You weren’t buying a conversation, you were buying an energy drink! She wasn’t actually trying to initiate heartfelt conversation, she was being polite and efficient, because that’s her job!

The day two customer service teller, she of the kind, grandmotherly face and white-hair. She literally asked, “How can I help you today?” instead of “How are you?” and Porter still tried to misread a customer service experience as an opportunity for emotional interaction between two people freely choosing to engage/ converse with one another, as he gripes, Not the exact question I wanted, but we’ll see where it goes, and details the specifics of his customer service return experience. Basically, the transaction took awhile because a large storm almost knocked out the store’s power, and all the computers were malfunctioning.

From his perspective, the length of the transaction– due to the malfunctioning equipment– was nothing more than an opportunity for conversation. He seems irritated by the customer service representative not asking how his day is going, even when the transaction runs long, and says he “takes the initiative,” which is how he “stumbles” into a pleasant conversation, which turns out to be about weather and computers rather than the one he wanted about emotions. He leaves feeling okay about the interaction, and thinking that talking about your own feelings is pretty weird even when you’re trying.

Apparently, it doesn’t occur to him that she was working, not socializing, and the transaction was taking longer because the equipment was malfunctioning– requiring more rather than less of her concentration. All in all, the worse set of circumstances to talk about anyone’s feelings. The whole thing was clearly (from her perspective) a customer service interaction between a client in a place of business seeking services from a customer service representative; whereas he was seeking something entirely different, something the business doesn’t even sell.

The day three cashier, the 19 year old McDonald’s server, was the one Porter blurted out his bad day line to, and got a blank stare in response.

For a minute, put yourself in the server’s shoes. Just, imagine yourself in that age range, somewhere between the ages of 18 and 23. The things you were concerned about at that age. College classes, relationship drama, your parents health scares, paying bills your roommates had flaked on, your stupid co-worker who didn’t complete their tasks so you always ended up doing extra work, all that kind of shit. Maybe you had a kid, or were into drugs, or had your own health issues, or had siblings you were responsible for. Point is, everyone’s the star of their own story, and we all got our own stuff going on– that McD’s cashier had something important to them on their mind.

Also, the cashier is probably, unfortunately, all too used to customers mistaking her situational requisite politeness for something else. So when the interaction between the strange guy she’s never met abruptly and without warning veers into the personal, she’s responding in the way often advised as the least likely to encourage him and the least likely to get her fired.

Let me be clear. I know–because I’ve read Porter’s article–that his intentions were pure. I know he’s married and has a kid and wasn’t hitting on that 19 year old at McD’s. But she had no way of knowing that. From her perspective, if was very likely that responding to his crappy gray day line with, “Yeah, I do know what you mean–I’ve had a really bad day myself,” could have been read (and perhaps in the past had been read) as an “invitation” for more–like an “invitation” to ask for her number, or an “invitation” to ask her out for coffee.

From her perspective, staring blankly at him instead of engaging in polite conversation may have been the most politic response, because commiserating with him could have been seen (by him and many, many others) as an “invitation” and encouragement for his attention; while replying with a joke or sarcasm to deflect him, like saying, “And would you like prozac with your order, sir? Oh, wait, I can’t prescribe, because I’m not a doctor. Go to a therapist,” could end with a complaint and termination. There’s no assurance management would have her back in either situation.

She was staring, frozen, because she was stuck like a rabbit come unexpectedly face to face with a wolf. Sure, Porter is a vegetarian wolf in this analogy; friendly to rabbits, not planning on any hunts. He doesn’t want her to get fired, or ask her out. No plans to flirt. All he wants to do is go along, exploring his own internal emotions.

What he doesn’t realize none of that is apparent, externally, to rabbits. None of it can be communicated in the time of that interaction. All that exists between them is the customer-client dynamic, and he’s trying (unfairly, because he’s the one with all the power in this situation) to force it into a different mold, one that he wants.

On day four, his interaction with the young black Walgreens cashier (side note–does he know any of their names? He doesn’t note in the article, and I’m not sure if that’s because he didn’t bother to look, or because he’s protecting their privacy) is troubling not only in the context of gender and class, but in the context of race.

The day Porter interacted with her was the day Philando Castile was shot. However, because the cashier had been at work all day, she hadn’t been able to access the news yet. So Porter (a white male customer) talks to her (a black female cashier) about his grief, his reaction to the news of yet another incident of police brutality against a black person– clearly not considering the potential emotional impact this conversation could have on her while she is on shift, or how she might have a need to process it, or whether or not her management would be sympathetic to her taking a break to gather herself.

It’s obvious it never occurs to him that the black retail cashier might have had a strong negative emotional response she had to hide behind a bright smile; forced to suppress for the comfort of her customers and unable to deal with until the end of her shift, because she was all too aware that her managers wouldn’t be sympathetic to her taking a break to gather herself.

I wonder how white collar workers would feel, sitting in offices and working on projects, if retail and service workers treated them with the same breezy disregard. They’re in the zone, focused on their work, tip-tapping away at their keyboards, when suddenly and unexpectedly, the cashier from the grocery store, or barista from their coffee shop, or server from their favorite restaurant pops in and sits down beside them, no interview or appointments scheduled, to chat about their feelings and thoughts with cozy familiarity, expecting genuine interest and a warm welcome despite any lack of personal relationship.

How would they respond? Especially if was a daily occurrence?

How would their responses change if they knew there was a possibility they could lose their jobs, or future assignments, if they upset these chatty intruders?

Now, I applaud, absolutely, Porter’s desire to explore his emotions and upset the status quo. I think that’s fantastic. Near the end of his piece, he says,

“Many of us are risk-takers. We go skydiving, wakeboarding, speedboating, or even shopping-cart-riding (full-speed into a thorn bush on a rowdy Saturday night, amiright?).

But we won’t tell our best friend that we love them.”

— I spent a week, by Evan Porter

I wish he’d done that instead. That would’ve been great. He posited a week telling strangers, which he didn’t actually do. He very specifically (although I believe unconsciously) chose a class of “strangers” bound by their social location (economic class/ employment situation + gender/ social conditioning) to respond gently to his attempts at self-exploration.

Remember, there are male cashiers–but he didn’t choose male cashiers. He selected women. There are male and female shoppers and diners, but he didn’t choose shopper or diners, he chose cashiers. Four days in a row, he ignored all the other people in a store or restaurant to specifically seek out conversation with women sequestered behind a counter and register–an audience held captive by their employment situation, and a gender automatically perceived as “safe” for confiding in, and whose ages and physical appearances he specifically describes in non-threatening terms.

Porter’s article could have been really fascinating if he’d actually sought out strangers–maybe his little-known coworkers around the office, or other parents at daycare pickup, or shoppers at the market, or engaging in a Pokemon Go outing with his daughter and talking to other players at the park–people whose interactions with him would be voluntary, and not arbitrarily limited by the constraints of a customer service interaction.

If he found it too intimidating to risk rejection by putting himself out there through voluntary spontaneous interactions, he could have tried committing to structured-activity interactions, like going to a Meetup group even a night for a week, or signing up for a daddy-daughter playgroup, or looking up the local college/ community arts/ playhouse schedule for his city and attendings some theater or comedy events. There’s usually a solid crowd, and it seems like everyone ends up discussing their emotions when the arts are involved.

Or maybe he could have tried something closer to him, that doesn’t risk the censure of strangers–he could have tried opening up to the men in his life. Telling his best guy friend he loves him, or talking to his brothers/ brothers-in-law about emotions, or calling up his dad/ father-in-law/ male mentors and telling them honestly about the positive impact they’ve had on his life.

Or, if that’s too much (which, if you’ve had a lifetime being emotionally locked down, I can see how it might be), he could try journaling to get in touch with his inner self, like a gratitude journal.

Or, hell, even dropping acid or shrooms or going on an Ayahuasca trip. Hallucinogenic experiences are supposed to encourage emotional breakthroughs, right? So that could’ve been a super-interesting, offbeat way for him to explore the question with low social risk without all the problematic dynamics of classism and sexism that he ended up stumbling on.

That’s like five ways he could’ve tried his experiment that didn’t involve trying to rope female retail/ service cashiers into unexpected one-sided emotional interactions.

Mind you, I do think Porter was coming from good intentions in examining the limited socialization of emotions–the research he presented was cool, and, I mean, all working parents take the lazy/ easy route sometimes. I bet it was definitely easier to beeline the cashier’s line than try to strike up a conversation in the cereal aisle, and I’m willing to bet he didn’t even realize he was consistently targeting lady cashiers. I suspect this informal little experiment went astray because he stayed in the safe zone, rather than risking rejection. Which I get! Baby steps and all that.

It’s just, as a rule of thumb, if you find you need to utilize paid employees in order to avoid rejection as you explore untapped emotional depths, I’d suggest a therapist or counselor rather than a service/ retail employee.

Therapists are trained to deal with that all that psychological emotive stuff, and went into the line of work of helping people working through their emotion because they have the desire to do it. They want to talk about your feelings with you.

Service/ retail employees are generally being polite because they have to in order to keep their job, and it’s the default human-mode in a civilized society. They just want to complete the customer service interaction without issue, finish the shift, and go home. They’ve got their own lives and their own problems. They don’t care about yours.

Trust me: They don’t get paid enough to care about yours. They don’t even get paid enough to care about the stuff you’re buying. Retail and service work are among the top five industries for job growth, with among the lowest wages. They’re not your untrained, underpaid therapist.

Vent

This article popped up on my feed today. Some mom venting about how mean people are bc she has a large family. Six kids.

image

Having been raised in a family of five kids, I have conflicting reactions to a six-kid family. As someone with four siblings, I find the idea of six children to be perfectly normal–a regular-sized family. Paradoxically, as a parent to an only child who rather thinks we’re facing serious overpopulation issues, I also find such family to be appallingly and irresponsibly large.

To my mind, there’s no need for it. Our global population is straining. People live decades longer. We haven’t even figured out adequate global resource allocation. Humanity is killing the earth–our living environment–and ourselves along with it. We need to stop having so many kids. It’s selfish and irresponsible on a community level.

The mom in the article seems to think it’s about judging her for finances or weird lifestyle choices. Doesn’t seem to realize that many people who look askance at large families are, in part, disgusted by the needless and selfish excess; the greedy consumption of resources exemplified by this one family.

Consider: One individual eats 7,000 animals over a lifetime. An acre of farmland supplies nonmeat sustinence needs, although the acreage needs to be moved/ crops varied so the land doesn’t get exhausted and create another dust bowl situation. Average human is said to consume some 14,600 gallons of water. A human life is measurable in quantified resources.

It is selfish for a person in a first world country with the capability of limiting their family size to opt for a larger family and deprive those in need of valuable resources that have been globally diverted to the prioritized first world countries.

Was frustrated by the article, but it was liked by an acquaintance on her friends page, and didn’t wanna start a pointless argument. Made the mistake of reading the comments.

image

Never read the comments.

Fuckers.

How dare I dedicate all our family resources to the care and upbringing of one child, instead of splitting limited resources between four to six kids? Right? Fuck me for wanting to provide the best possible life for my kid.

WPC Lecture Notes Series | Second Thursday Workshop | Redacted

I’ve had a stressful/ annoying few days. The facilitators of one of the Thursday workshops I attended in 2013 at the WPC-14 saw the tidied up lecture notes I originally posted a few years ago as part of a lecture notes series. I guess they saw the lecture notes regarding their workshop on 8/20/2015, three years after the original workshop had been posted. They contacted me asking me to remove the entry due to copyright violation. It kind of surprised me because I was pretty sure I hadn’t violated any copyright, and because I had properly credited them.

Apparently they believed I had recorded their lecture with a/v equipment. Again, surprise: Washington is a two-party consent state, and that’s against the law, so: No. Also, I think, against WPC regulations, so, again: No.

Also, a waste of my phone battery.

Plus, I studied Journalism, worked for the student newspaper, type an average of 80 wpm, and the WPC allowed laptops. I had no need for a recording device. I had me. I wish I could take it as a compliment to my writing and note-taking skills, but let’s face it: It’s been three years since the workshop in question. Unless they were recording us without permission for their research, their claim is ridiculous and un-provable. Memory is fallible. There’s a three year gap, and I know for a fact that I missed a lot of information in those workshops. It was frustrating.

But maybe it is illegal to post lecture notes? I’ve heard some rumblings in the field of copyright law about professors suing students for posting lecture notes online, so I looked it up. Right now, like a lot of copyright law, you’re generally safe as long as you’re not making any profit, which I am not. The ads seen on this WordPress site are because I am utilizing the free (for me) WordPress platform, which the WordPress company runs ads on to support the ability to provide a free blog platform. At least, that’s how I assume it works.

But still. I was cool with removing the entry. I did respect them as academics at the time they contacted me, and they seemed like nice enough people in the one (professional/ academic setting) I had met them in three years ago.

Plus, there are legitimate reasons for academics/ professors to be concerned about their lecture notes floating around online (students cheating/ plagiarism/ etc.). And when they originally contacted me all of 24 hours earlier, I did genuinely feel badly for overstepping my boundaries.

So I agreed to delete the text of the entry and edit it to reflect that, according to the wishes of the workshop facilitators — who would remain unnamed — I would be removing the detailed notes for Thursday’s workshop, along with an apology for overstepping my boundaries.

I chose to do that because it was efficient/ lazy/ low effort, and also it kept the lecture notes series complete and whole while honoring their wishes for anonymity.

I was in the midst of drafting a rather long entry detailing how I had come to the decision to post the lecture notes, the amusing shorthand mistakes I made that led me to doing deeper google research on the workshop in question, which had led to the lecture notes having the additional advantage of being supported by research (I abbreviated their research topic “SSS” in my notes, which was … confusing when I came back to them later), and an apology for overstepping my boundaries.

The apology basically acknowledged that they’d spent decades investing their lives into this research, and I’d just listened to an inspiring workshop and spent a few hours a week editing and cleaning up the lecture notes to anonymize the work shop participants. I was trying to honor them and amplify their voices, and had clearly overstepped my bounds in doing so, and I was sorry. The apology, like this entry, did not name names or reference the research or name-check the workshop in question. There were several other workshops that day — ah, the anonymity of being one in a crowd of many.

While I was drafting the entry, less than 5 hours after I responded to their most recent e-mail (and less than 24 hours after I responded their first one), I received yet another terse email from the facilitator of the workshop in question, telling me that deleting the original text of the entry and removing the tags, their names, and any reference to their work wasn’t good enough. She then threatened me with a lawsuit and told me that she was glad I could no longer afford to attend the WPC, and that I am a bad ally.

She also told me that it wasn’t about whether or not I was making money on this blog (i.e.: copyright infringement), it was about personal privacy: That this is about the personal rights of the individual and whether or not they were being recorded (which she wasn’t, as I had already assured her, multiple times — unless taking notes on a laptop now counts as recording someone), and whether they consented to their personal information being online.

She referenced (as she had multiple times) a vague WPC policy about privacy. I’m not entirely sure which one she means. I’ve combed the WPC site up and down and haven’t found a specifically worded privacy policy, although I’ve found many other policies, such as the Accountability and Taking Action and Mission and Values, as well as the Community Agreement, all of which are what inspired me to share my lecture notes, in the spirit of collaborative learning and sharing the information we learned at the conference with a wider audience. She did not provide the specific conference policy she was referring to in any of the 6 emails she sent over the 24 hour period.

It may be the Community Agreement one, which is why I edited my notes to remove the identifying information of any of the conference attendees when I posted the workshop notes. I assumed that the workshop facilitators would be proud to stand by their presentations. Unfortunately, because I did not post my lecture notes from the WPC until 6 months (in some cases up to a year after) after the conference itself, I had long since thrown away the handouts from the workshops, and could not find the contact information for most of the facilitators online — including the facilitators in question.

And, as I stated, as soon as the facilitators contacted me, I removed the entry from public view with the intent to edit it to completely remove the original text and replace it with a notation that the (anonymous) facilitators of the (unnamed) workshop had requested removal of the text, and issue an apology for overstepping my boundaries.

Honestly, I really did think that editing the original entry to entirely delete the text they objected to and replacing it with new text that in no way named them or their research would honor their wishes while retaining the integrity of placement in the lecture notes series and keeping everything orderly.

I admit I did not take into consideration that the facilitators in question are … advanced in years and perhaps not as familiar with how internet programs such as blog platforms work.

Even so, I was shocked and stunned by their reaction to what I thought was a very reasonable response. I responded in as timely a manner as I could while engaged with family activities they were interrupting. I locked down public access to the post and responded politely to their e-mails.

Yet they clearly expected me to drop everything without hesitation and respond unquestioningly and uncritically to their demands, bowing and scraping to their authority.

When I did not move fast enough to comply with their exact demands (deleting the entry rather than privatizing and editing it), they became litigious and insulting. Gleefully reveling in the fact that my economic class prevents me from partaking in the same academic opportunities they enjoy? Telling me that a real ally of the WPC would just comply with their demands without hesitation? Who does that?

I don’t want to die on this hill. Deleting the entry is not a battle I care about fighting. I have some … anxiety and mental health issues around organizing things. So I take some extra medication and schedule an extra therapy visit. Whatever. It really doesn’t matter to me in the long run, and it clearly does matter to them.

The edited entry that would have taken its place is also trashed, bc it was a lot more apologetic and even toned, and I’m feeling impatient and pissy right now with how quickly they stepped to pulling class and academic rank. I don’t need this level of stress in my life, and I don’t really want to waste the time and energy on this bs.

These classist elitist tone-policing academics who revel in the poverty of others have already e-mailed me 6 times in a 24 hour period, and have already conceded in that short time frame that this isn’t even about a copyright violation but about their discomfort with their research and name being mentioned on a non-academic public blog and threatened a lawsuit, all because I didn’t “snap to” and “fall in line” with their exact orders quickly enough.

At this point, the only logical conclusion I can draw is that they do not feel comfortable standing publicly by their research, in which case I am doubly happy to honor the wishes I was already acceding to.

Admittedly, my opinion on the quality of their research and their ability to separate academic rigor and emotional bias has taken a rather substantial hit over the past day, and I no longer feel comfortable endorsing them at all. Also my opinion on them as individuals. But they would probably say the same of me, so we’re all even.

So … Thursday’s second workshop lecture notes of the WPC conference that I attended three years ago have been removed at the request of the facilitators. The original entry was completely deleted, not merely edited. So that’s where we’re at.

~*~

Edit: I edited this entry a few days later to correct a few grammatical issues, and wanted to add a few thoughts on the anonymous scholar thing.

When these guys first contacted me, I was excited — as always — to have the opportunity to talk to fellow academics and equals (as I viewed them). I may not have a doctorate, but since I don’t subscribe to that whole degree valuation thing anyway, that doesn’t particularly matter to me. To me, a doctorate indicates that someone has a certain specialization of interest in a field — it does not mean I should automatically bow and scrape to them in all matters, or defer to them as an authority or my social and moral superior.

They were, naturally, reserved and standoffish in their language in the emails, yet polite and professional. Because we are strangers, because they were being professional, because they were irritated with me yet having to ask a favor of me. Although they were polite, and although I am well aware of the effect of projected ‘tone’ in email, I felt I had a reasonable sense of what they thought of me.

I had, after all, had the opportunity to observe them lecture at a workshop for an hour. My original notes on the lecture were peppered with observations on their interactions, (the blonde one stayed in the background, spoke so softly that I didn’t catch her name, and seemed apologetic about her presence at the conference — not sure if because of her race or gender; the woman of color was an older woman used to getting her way and leading the discussion, something of a steamroller in personality, and brought up her religious beliefs frequently, often with an evangelical tone).

It’s true they can read this blog to get a sense of my personality. I suspect that one of them might have the personality to put aside her hurt at our disagreement and do so with an academic, fair eye — although I suspect she would deem it not worth her time. The other, if she read my blog, I suspect would do so only in the hopes of finding some damning piece of evidence that fulfills her expectations about my character, and would quickly grow bored of the exercise and let it go because she has more important things to do.

Anyway, after the whole thing went down and they transitioned so quickly to threatening litigation and taunting me about my inability to enjoy the same opportunities as them, I copy-pasted the e-mails into a word document to work through them and try to figure out what their deal is.

As a note, emails are not considered private, so thank the gods I have no concerns there if they get any freak-out privacy concerns.

As I went through the emails, I realized part of the problem is the age difference. I recall the woman of color, the one leading the correspondence, as being rather elderly. When she was insistent that I “delete it entirely” and got angry about the “right to personal privacy and consenting to her name on the internet” it was the type of angry ranting that 70 year old tea party people who don’t know how to use the internet do. I don’t recall her being that old — I thought she was in her 50s or 60s — but I suppose anywhere over the half-century mark is old enough.

It is possible she didn’t understand that even just removing the post from “published” status would give it the appearance of being deleted, from her point of view, even though it would technically be a “draft” in my blog. Also, in a blog, you can restore “deleted” posts from the trashcan. It seemed clear from the way that they phrased their acceptance of my word that they didn’t actually believe I did not tape record them — so if they actually understand how the internet worked, why would they believe I deleted the blog post?

They had clearly signaled they believed me to be a dishonest person, even though I was doing my best to deal fairly and honestly with them while spending time with family and on a motorcycle trip. With the frequency of her emails, she was also signaling something else to me: That I needed to fall in line and acquiesce without question or hesitation to her social and moral authority in this situation. They have the doctorates, they have the education, and therefore they feel they have the right to dictate what the unwashed masses can and cannot say.

This definitely one of the reasons I decided not to pursue a doctorate path, despite the offers of sponsorship from some of my professors during my final years at Evergreen. I mean, the other huge contributing factors were the stress on the family and the massive student loan debt accrued through higher education.

But the ridiculous degree valuation — this ivory tower academia sense of insularity, that knowledge is to be hoarded instead of shared. This is why I rejected becoming officially one of their peers in academia. I know I have the intelligence to go toe to toe with most doctorates (in the humanities — I don’t pretend to be able to hold court with scientists!); I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me that. If an academic needs a piece of paper to recognize that in someone … that’s a problem. That tells me way more about the supposed academic than it does about me.

I still do not understand where these particular team of professors were coming from — I did feel their research was worthwhile, and if I was an academic with similar research, I would have been happy to stand publicly by it and see it discussed by everyday people. But then again, I do believe that education should be readily accessible to everyone. I frown on ivory-tower academia and disapprove of the economic restrictions and financial debt that are crushing the dream of higher education.

I must accept the cold reality that we are diametrically morally opposed: I believe in collaborative learning, and they believe in restricting information. I believe in freedom of information, it would seem that they do not. I believe in treating all people, regarding of economic situation or education level, equally. Their treatment of me clearly signaled they felt my economic situation and education level made me their inferior.

Then I followed their email address to the website of the college they teach at and a whole new dimension to it opened up. The totally religious lady who was constantly evangelizing her religion at the WPC? She’s Catholic! Dude! They’re Catholics, teaching at a private Catholic university for religious interests! Of course they don’t want their research associated on the blog of a dirty filthy atheist, we’re gross.

Now I’m just amused at the whole thing. Religion is funny and makes people act in weird ways.

… At least, I hope that’s it. Religious discrimination sucks balls, but at least it’s better than wanting the lecture notes removed from the blog due to classism and ivory tower academic insularity.

Because their copyright claim on the lecture notes is debatable at best, especially once I complied with their demands (and then they were just being controlling about how exactly I structured the ensuing content on my blog) and absolutely no-one, anywhere in the USA, has the “right” to have one’s name removed from the internet. You can like it or dislike it, but that’s the way it is.

For Jennifer, a comment continued.

Regarding the housing/ income thing … I know exactly what you mean. I don’t know how much John has shared of our marriage story with you, but the (not-so-brief) version is that when we first got married in April 2001, we were both working minimum wage jobs. I was a hostess at a pie restaurant, and he worked at a plant nursery. In June 2001, I learned I was pregnant, and he was laid off that same week due to a workplace injury. We had to move back to Olympia, which meant I had to quit my job at Shari’s. Over the next year, he looked for work and I … well, I was pregnant. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how difficult it is to get hired when you’re pregnant.

So then we had Kidling, and by then John was working at run-of-the-mill retail place (think Walmart or Target). Soon after, he got a job at his current employer. Starting wages meant we received TANF and EBT benefits, in addition to housing aid and WIC. We were still barely scraping by. I looked for work, but with a high school diploma and no long-term work experience (my parents didn’t want me working during high school; I was supposed to be preparing for college. That did not work out in my favor.), the only jobs I could get paid minimum or barely above minimum wage. And childcare, as it turns out, is expensive. If I had gone back to work, my entire paycheck + a portion of John’s would have had to pay for childcare, and we would no longer qualify for any of the aid we were getting.

So we stayed on welfare for about 18 months after Kidling was born. It paid our medical co-pays, put food in our cupboards, helped keep our rent down, and meant that we could afford to put gas in the car and diapers on Kidling’s bum until John was promoted to full time and his wages started going up.

Over the next few years, I was the sahp, doing everything I’d been taught growing up in the LDS church to save money — canning and home-cooking and cleaning and childcare and cloth diapering and sewing/ mending clothing. John worked and (briefly) went to school full-time (a decision we disagreed on, given the nature of the school, but it was grant-funded), sometimes two jobs. In 2005, we bought a house.

When we bought it, the mortgage + taxes + homeowners insurance cost less than our monthly rent. We were really excited. We were doing everything right. We were on our way up. We were finally getting out of the early years of poverty and enjoying financial security.

Then the housing meltdown. Then the motorcycle injury — a car hit John one day when he was riding to work. Then the flood. Turns out, flood insurance does not cover a rental to live in during the time your home is under repair … and it also turns out, we had no family nearby to move in with for months at a time.

I had a brother who was willing to house us overnight, when the house was actually flooding. A friend who let us crash for a month in his basement while John and our motorcycling buddies started the teardown of the flood-damaged floors and walls. But then we had to move into the gutted house and live in it, with space heaters running to keep us warm. And I was working part time and going to college, and John was injured and on disability wages, and we still made too much money to qualify for any sort of welfare aid. I went to the food bank in those months.

As bad as that was, we got past it. Within 6 months, John was back at work, and 6 months later, the house was almost completely repaired. And then it turned out that those grinding months of poverty; of trying to pay for repairs on the house and the mortgage and the $600+ heating bills from using space heaters in an uninsulated house instead of the (flooded) heat pump — those months had a horrible consequence.

Our credit was tanked, the situation didn’t count as a “hardship”, and our mortgage rate skyrocketed. The next thing we knew, we were paying almost double the original mortgage. We started siphoning from John’s retirement just to stay in the house. We applied for hardship reductions, spoke to the housing authorities, visited financial aid counselors, etc. etc. I kept looking for work, but in Centralia work is hard to find — especially work that would pay enough to justify childcare. And for me to work in Olympia, the pay needed to justify childcare and the commute costs.

In the end, I finally convinced John to surrender the house in bankruptcy. It was better to give up that house than mortgage our future.

So I really, really get from a visceral and very emotional place how if feels to buy a house in a good market turned bad. I hope your housing situation has a much better conclusion than ours did.

We lost almost everything to move up to Olympia. We sold our cars, most of our stuff, and surrendered our home. We intentionally and knowingly tanked our credit for the next 7 years. We did all this so we could live comfortably within our means. Now we pay less than $1000 for housing, we don’t have any car payments, and we have no commute costs. When we moved here in 2012, we were living paycheck to paycheck and were often in the red. Since then, we’ve been lucky enough to build some small savings, send me to college, and even help out some loved ones in need.

When I write passionately about poverty and pain and humiliation, I write from the perspective of someone who did everything “right” according to the social mores perpetuated in our society. My husband works full time. We didn’t have more children than we could afford. We owned a home. I was going to college and working part time. We did everything “right,” and we still struggled with poverty. And there were times when we didn’t have anything to eat, because everything had gone to bills and commuting costs, and my deepest wish was that the welfare and food stamp programs had enough money in them to encompass needy families like mine, who were a good $20,000 above the poverty line, but still scraping by.

I remember when we were having our budget assessed by the financial counselor, we admitted (shamefully) that we smoked and had an $8 monthly expense of Netflix. Many other well-intentioned people had told us that if we “really” wanted to improve our financial situation, we would cancel expenses like Netflix or smoking or ever buying alcohol. Money, many people told us knowingly, was for bills and food, and that was all.

So I was ridiculously, brought-to-tears grateful by the response of the financial counselor. He looked at us compassionately and said, “Everyone deserves some way to relax. $8 a month isn’t going to even put a dent in your debt … but it will help you take your mind off it for an afternoon. Do what you gotta do.”

It’s funny. After we moved up here and stabilized financially, that’s when we quit smoking. Before, we smoked because we couldn’t afford date nights or family activities, and smoking was an excuse to step outside and get a 15 min break from the kid and some adult-only conversation. But after we moved up here and filed bankruptcy and stabilized our finances, we didn’t need that. Now we go to movies and fairs and festivals and on long drives and short day trips together. We have regular date nights and family time.

So all of this together sort of coalesces to explain why I feel like limiting the choices of the many because of the behavior of the few is damaging … not only to those who meet the Federal guidelines for poverty, but for all those families who need government aid and never even come close to qualifying because we’ve so gutted and de-funded the system.

thoughts on accidental racism and passing as “normal”

Someone in my FB feed posted this Sun Magazine article, “Some Thoughts on Mercy,” by Ross Gay. It’s a poetic and gripping read; both relatable and thought-provoking.

I especially like his points about how suspicion — of ourselves, of others — taints our daily interactions. He calls it suspicion, I think of it more as the white fear of accidentally appearing discriminatory — the microaggression perceived, rather then intended. What is interesting is that he points out that this suspicion (of self, of others) seems to be pervasive in all interactions, regardless of skin tone.

For example, when we lived in Centralia, there were a series of robberies. During that time, John and I went to the reservation store to buy smokes (because cigs were cheaper at the rez). While we were at the store, John and the cashier were making small talk about the robberies, and John made an off-handed comment about, “Well, what else do you expect around here?”

The cashier slammed the cigarettes and change down on the counter and snapped, “The robberies were committed by white guys.”

John blinked, confused by her sudden change in demeanor, took the smokes, and walked out of the store with me. As we got in the car, he wondered at her sudden bad attitude, and we realized she thought when he said “around here,” he meant specifically the reservation (and the Chehalis tribe residents). In fact, he meant the predominantly poor white tweakers that Centralia is sort of infamous for.

That’s the type of situation I call “accidental racism,” and I believe it occurs because we live in a cultural moment that — as this article explores — perpetuates suspicion of ourselves and others.

I do not have a solution or idea on how to address this. I wouldn’t for a moment even dream of suggesting that people should “just stop being so sensitive.” It is absolutely necessary that we speak out against discriminatory language and behaviors, even the ones that are often performed by rote and not out of a desire to be discriminatory. I mean, if we didn’t point out and object to discriminatory language and behavior, things would be a hell of a lot worse in our society right now.

Btw, I know some people complain about this change in language as too “p.c. (politically correct). I’m always amused by that, because as far as I can see, so-called “p.c.” language is just polite language. It’s a teensy bit like how I don’t see any problem with swearing and I think religious strictures against it are childish and silly … but I am still respectful to my religious friends and family who abhor swearing by choosing to abstain from the language they deem offensive while in their presence.

Anyway, back to accidental discriminations … I may enjoy the privileges society affords cis-gender straight educated white women, but I have also run into my fair share of stereotypes. After all, I am still a woman, and I did grow up diagnosed as having bipolar (and being treated for it).

I’m lucky. All I have to do is cut my hair and shut my mouth, and I start to disappear into the crowd, androgynous and unnoticeable. Small-breasted and short-haired, I am often mistaken for a young man. If I keep quiet and keep my head down, I don’t get hassled for being female, or for being a mental health ally. I can glide through life almost invisible, untouched by the stereotypes that swirl around about women and mental illness. On my motorcycle, with my full-face helmet, gear, and tall frame, I am even more androgynous. I can hide in my blandness, however temporarily, escape the stereotypes that define women and the mentally ill.

I do not wear cultural markers of “otherness” in the texture of my hair and the color of my skin. A cop will not pull me over for being bipolar while driving — a cop will not even realize I am bipolar. I have this respite from the discriminatory beliefs our culture still holds about people like me. Yet the tastes I have had of being stereotypes and “othered” have allowed me the space to imagine and empathize how awful it would be to deal with that every single day; to expect it. To have it be so common that it becomes a default understanding of the world, read even into neutral or benevolent interactions.

More times than I can count, I learned that if I shared my family background with mental illness, I would be told that mental illnesses aren’t real. I would be told to just focus on being happy, to sleep more, to eat right. To go on a strict fruitarian diet. To buy lights that mimic the sun. I would be told that medications and therapy are useless, that it’s all just a state of mind. Implicitly and explicitly, I would be told that mentally ill people are weak and selfish — that my mom, who was the greatest mom ever, was a bad mom. Weak and selfish for having bipolar, for committing suicide, for giving in.

When mom was alive, she told me never to tell anyone I was diagnosed with bipolar. She said people wouldn’t understand. She said they would treat me differently. She was right, but I didn’t care. I figured it was a test. Anyone who learned mental illness ran in my family and shunned me for it wasn’t someone I wanted as a friend anyway.

I didn’t learn to shut my mouth about bipolar until my mom died. I can handle the slings and arrows and suspicions when they’re hurled at me. But there’s no cause, no reason, no heart in speaking ill of my mom. She suffered enough. We suffered enough. There’s no need to hear people call her weak, call her selfish. She was the strongest woman I’ve ever known. She battled bipolar for 20 years. She was amazing.

All I have to do is shut my mouth, and I don’t have to hear it. I listen, I observe, I decide if the person to whom I am speaking is compassionate about mental illness or not, and then I can decide whether or not to risk it. Whether or not opening up will result in being lashed at with idiocy and discrimination, or met with compassion. It’s like my own version of a closet. I pull the door shut time and “pass” as normal for a little bit, just long enough not to deal with uneducated bigots.

But people of color, they don’t have a closet to hide in. They can’t pull down their melanin and shake their hair free of texture in order to slide by uneducated bigots. They have to face it all head on, the bad, the neutral, and the good. And I know I have a hard time reading neutral or well-intended jokes/ sarcasm as harmless or teasing when I’m having a bad day. When my period cramps are acting up, and I’m on edge from noise, and I just want the world to recede for 30 goddamn minutes, but I have to go to the store to get this stupid thing I forgot. I can only imagine what it would be like to be having an already fucking shitty day, and then you go to work and some white guy makes a crack about crime in the neighborhood … yeah. I can see how sometimes when the world sucks balls, miscommunications like that happen, and its no-ones fault.

All I know is that sometimes I spout things without realizing possible alternate interpretations, and that I am grateful when grace and understanding is extended to me — so I feel it is only right that I extend grace and understanding when I speak clumsily or in ignorance and am met with frustration and anger.

the thankful post

I don’t believe in god(s) or whatever, but I do believe in expressing thanks and gratitude for the good things in your life. I think this is psychologically healthy, and helps us focus on and appreciate the positive. Although Thanksgiving as an American holiday has a deeply problematic history, the tradition of a harvest festival predates the colonisation of America. I also like the idea of a day set aside to recognize and celebrate that which we are grateful for. So with all that said, I would like to express my gratitude(s).

I am grateful for my husband, who is my best friend and lover and partner in crime. He makes me laugh, he has my back, and he’s the coolest and most intelligent person I know.

Of course we have our disagreements and ups/downs, like every couple, but that is yet another thing I am grateful for. Over the course of our marriage, we have both committed to improving our communication skills. Thanks to John’s commitment to our relationship and his willingness to participate fully in the often-difficult work of introspection and addressing his role in our mutual disagreements, we have both experienced a level of personal growth, maturity, and commitment that I used to think was a myth.

To get mushy and direct (instead of hiding behind increasingly verbose descriptives: Being married to John has made me a better person. Watching John push himself to be a better person has inspired me. John makes me believe in the innate goodness of the human spirit. Also, he’s sexy and hilarious.

I am grateful for our son, who is a clever, quick-witted, and intelligent child full of compassion, grace, and affection.

Rolling the genetic dice is always chancy. Aside from issues of mental or physical abilities, there are issues of personality. I’m sure everyone has had the experience of dealing with a difficult family member; someone it’s hard to believe you share a gene pool with. If it happens with siblings and cousins and parents, it can clearly happen with children. I feel very lucky and thankful that we have a kid I get along with, and whose company I (generally) enjoy.

I am further grateful that both of us get along with our son — I cannot imagine the pain and heartache some parents must deal with when an unlucky role of the genetic dice means their partner and their child are forever at odds.

I am grateful for my friends.

I have always considered friendship to be a special notion. In our modern culture, the term “friend” is often casually applied to everyone we have semi-regular positive or neutral interactions with. Under this litmus test, I am “friends” with former coworkers or classmates that I haven’t seen in years, but keep in touch with on  social media. “Friends,” in the colloquial modern parlance also encompasses acquaintances that I see or interact through social media with on a regular basis, or people whose company I enjoy and have the potential to be actual friends, but we are prevented by life circumstances and scheduling from investing in the real work of a mutual friendship.

Taking the above paragraph into account, I have (outside my family) a very small handful of friends. To me, a friend is a platonic relationship that is otherwise akin to that I share with my husband. My closest friends are people who “get” my quirks and accept them, who are there for me (as I am for them) in times both difficult and happy. I value these relationships beyond measure, and am very grateful to have these generous and wonderful people in my life.

Continuing thoughts …

There are many other things I am grateful for, as well. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to attend Evergreen, and for all the wonderful experiences I had there. I am grateful for my acquaintances, who enact a different yet also valuable influence into my daily life. I am grateful for my living situation — I live in a beautiful state with a wonderful family in financial comfort and good health. I did not do anything in particular to deserve all this — I happened to be born into a situation and family that positioned me in a financial and educationally stable position. I happen to have been lucky enough to be born in a society where my race, sexual identity, and gender identity are valued.

Because of this background, I was ideally positioned to have a high probability of having a happy life unless I consciously made some really serious fuck-ups, like trying cocaine or meth as a teenager. I didn’t do that. So even though I had some minor fuck-ups and run-ins with the law as a teenager, my race and class status shielded me from any disparately egregious consequences. I didn’t do anything to deserve this luck, and I am both very aware and very grateful for the role chance and family background has played in my current happiness.

My heart is with those families in Ferguson and across the nation who are dealing with the unfair cruelties the cards of fate and society has dealt with them through the social hardships bestowed by their economic status, race, gender identity, or sexual orientation. On this day of gratitude, as we ponder on all that we are grateful for, I would also encourage everyone to consider how we can reach out to repair the social wrongs that perpetuate such massive inequalities and how we can work toward a better world not just for our children, but for all children.

Talking about it is good. It’s a start. It’s necessary. People will say that talk solves nothing, but that’s not true. Ending slavery started with talking. Gaining suffrage for non-propertied men, black men, and eventually women started with talking. Democracy started with talking. All great social movements, all change starts with an idea, a notion. And we share that idea, that notion. We talk about it. We expand on it. We educate. We lecture and share and grow, and eventually talking becomes action but we also keep talking — we explain why we’re acting, we explain the necessity of action.

So talk about it. Spread the word. Acknowledge and learn about social inequality. Educate yourself and others. Brainstorm ideas for change, and then move forward with them. Change is possible. The tides of history have shown us how to carve out new shorelines, so don’t listen to the naysayers who claim there is no inequality, or there is no point to trying. Don’t be afraid of the possibilities. Be grateful for the opportunity. We live in a transformative historical moment — grasp it with both hands and move gleefully into our shared future.

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, which is pretty similar to this other Big Mart retailer, but trendier and with better marketing. Both TRD and Big Mart pay minimum wage, discourage unionization, and have faced issues with discrimination due to factors such as gender, race, and sexual orientation. They also have high employee turnover due to the poor employment conditions, pay, and beneits.

The thing about jobs at TRD and Big Mart vs. an employer which pays a living wage, invests in their employees, offers affordable benefits, and provides job security is that a job at any of these places can suck sometimes. Even the best employers hire managers who 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 three places is that when work at TRD or Big Mart starts sucking balls, the employee knows perfectly well they can walk out the door and find another crap minimum wage job with awful benefits somewhere else, and maybe, just maybe, those people will be cool (although, lets face facts: even if the employee decides to stick it out at their shitty job with their shitty bosses, at-will employment is pretty much the law of the land in most of America, and the job is never secure).

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But when the work environment at a Good Employer starts going downhill, the employee has real incentive to work with the employer to resolve the issue– retail jobs paying a living wage with good benefits and job security are not exactly a dime a dozen. 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 TRD 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, budgeting, managing household appointments and necessities– 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.