This place matters

This place matters

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Phenomenal woman

We should all be appalled, but should not be surprised by the hate campaign being waged against Comedian Leslie Jones. Jones, who has been making racist man-children cry bitter white tears over her role in the all female Ghostbusters reboot, has faced an organized campaign of cyber-terror in recent weeks. This week, hackers took psychopathy to a whole new level when they hacked her website and iCloud account. They got into her personal photos and published the most intimate ones. They flooded her page with racist memes comparing her to a gorilla. They even posted screen grabs of her passport and driver's license. 
And we shouldn't be surprised. Leslie Jones is everything sexist douchbags want women to be ashamed of, and she is beautifully unapologetic. She is big in a culture in which women are ordered to take up as little space as possible. She doesn't hide her size by slumping or slouching or wearing flats. She doesn't hide her figure under mumsy gowns that scream flattering and sensible - she slays in custom Christian Siriano.
Leslie Jones is a loud voice coming through the televisions of men who think women should sit down and shut up. Her hilariousness makes liars of men who insist that women just aren't as funny as men. She's older in an industry that worships youth, she's openly opinionated in a society that prefers its women, and its people of color, meek and mild. And worst of all, she doesn't care what you think about it.
Leslie Jones doesn't care if you think she's pretty. Leslie Jones doesn't care if you think she's funny. She doesn't care how many bitter white tears you cry over a damn movie remake. She's busy going to movie premiers and covering the Olympics for NBC and performing at feminist events. Leslie Jones is busy being Leslie Jones and the racist, woman-hating weasels of the Internet can't handle it. 
So they tried to chase her off Twitter, even succeeded for a moment, but then she came back to tweet the Olympics - and so well, apparently, that NBC flew her down to cover it live. But the sniveling man children could have that - it was no fun hating her when she couldn't be bothered to care. So they got her attention - and they did it in the most cruel, dehumanizing, and menacing way they could. Congrats, trolls, you've got the news media to stand behind her. Got half of Hollywood standing up for her. Gotten people who didn't even know about her to care about her.
I can't even imagine what holy hell Jones is going through right now. I can't imagine how sick and devastated and violated she is feeling. It is an incredibly shitty time to be Leslie Jones, but I've got a feeling she's gonna rise up and when she does, the whole world's gonna be cheering her on.

Monday, August 22, 2016

and your unpunchable face

Well, it's back to school time, and you know what that means! Time to teach our nation's young girls how to keep from distracting the boys and getting themselves raped and sexually harassed! Recently, a Facebook friend shared a social media post about a school that recently got in hot water when it was found that boys were taking intimate photos of their female classmates without their consent, and then posting those photos on social media. Luckily, the school took quick and decisive action, placing the blame right where it belongs - on the girls, of course!
The school introduced a new dress code policy that requires female students to cover up their filthy bodies so as not to tempt boys into photographing them. Everybody knows that teen boys are completely unable to control their behavior with a shoulder or a thigh in plain view - and it's unfair to ask them to. Girls who wear skirts that don't come down to their knees are a distraction to boys - and male teachers - and it's just not fair. 
I know there will be those among you who think this is "victim blaming" or "body shaming," but this is the safety and integrity of our girls we're talking about. I for one don't think the school's policies go far enough. 

Might this also be a great solution to the problem of bullying? Schools could pull all the unpopular kids aside and give them some guidelines on how to not get beaten up by the popular kids. Everybody knows that popular kids just can't help themselves in the presence of a nerd or a loser, and having to look at nerds and losers is really an unfair distraction. These social lepers can help solve this problem by simply having less punchable faces. 
No one beats this guy up anymore!
Yes, I believe schools should amend their dress codes to require that freaks and geeks hide their faces at all times. I know it seems "cool" and "fun" to go flaunting one's face in public, but honestly, these losers need to have a little self respect and pull on a nice respectable ski mask. Or maybe a snazzy balaklava. Heck, even a clown mask! Sure, it seems unfair that a kid should have to go to such lengths to not get punched in the face, but it's really the only option. You can't exactly expect popular kids to be responsible for their own actions, can you? Preposterous!
Schools need to take a stance against bullying. That's why they should pull the unpopulars aside and measure the eye holes on their masks, just to make sure they're not showing off too much nose or forehead. Losers who don't conform to this dress code can go home or they can wear a school-supplied plastic garbage bag over their faces for the day. Their choice! Everybody wins!
I never leave home without
my purrtection!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Whistling Dixie

I was passing through the downtown shopping district of a small town once. It was one of those pretty little places with brightly lit toy stores and fragrant popcorn shops and grinning shopkeepers and friendly pedestrians. And then I passed a storefront that proudly displayed a Confederate flag in the window. 
Now keep in mind, I live in Ohio. Anybody around here who waves a Confederate flag is doing it for a reason, and that reason is not their war hero of a great grandpappy. And the one word that came into my head when my eyes landed on that flag was unkind. Pretend for a minute that that symbol isn't meant as a star-spangled middle finger in the face of any brown person who drives through town. It is still so damn unkind. Sure, you've got a right to be unkind. Your constitution promises you the right to your unkind words and signs and store displays. But why the hell do you want to expend all that energy on being small and mean and hurtful? What's the point in making a point to be unkind?
To be kind in an unkind world, to be kind when when others are cruel, to be kind when doing so puts you in danger, to be kind and not count the cost... that's heroism. Kindness is the quality I admire most in my folks, my ancestors. That's the kind of flag I want to hang in my window.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Comparative equine dental hygiene

Today I read a blog post subtitled "The 'sibling gift' trend is turning our kids into spoiled brats," in which the author complains about people giving gifts to her children. The author was having a shower for her second child, you see, and objected to the fact that one of the guests bought a gift for her first child, then a toddler.
Now I know exactly two things about the rules of etiquette - one involves forks, and I've never been at a party fancy enough to use it. The other is that you do not get a shower for your second kid. I don't give a crap from etiquette, but I do think that if you're getting showered with gifts when etiquette dictates you shouldn't, you've got no business complaining when some of those gifts splash onto the wrong kid. A beef I'd probably not consider blog-worthy had it not been for this sentence.
Still, the perpetrators of this offense typically don’t have kids of their own and I can’t possibly expect them to see things from my perspective if I am not going to explain it to them.
You have no idea how insulting it is to tell an intelligent, well-meaning person that they are deficient, incomplete just because of her reproductive choices. As if shoving a human being from your nethers gives you some special magical wisdom that those of us without children can never have.  
This woman isn't just looking a gift horse in the mouth, she's sharing pictures of her free horse's teeth on the internet so she can flaunt how much more special and wise she is compared to her poor kid-free friends. She could quite easily say "please don't give my kids gifts because I think it spoils them," but instead she chose to make examples of them online. 
I don't think the children are the spoiled ones in this scenario. The woman's blessed with a bunch of friends and family members who want to do nice stuff for her kids, and she's bitching about how terrible it is.
And here's a little bit of etiquette I do care about: never, ever tell a person that they can't understand something because they're not parents. Recently someone tried to justify her casual bigotry to me using the old "you'd understand if you had kids." And all I could think was that this lady didn't know me. I'm kid-free by choice, but she didn't know that. She didn't know if I was struggling with infertility or if I'd had miscarriages. She spat those words out without knowing a single thing about my story.
Look, gift horse lady, maybe your friends are spoiling your kids because they don't have kids of their own to spoil. Or because they found something they knew your kid would love and couldn't wait to give it to them. Or because they had some beloved aunt who did sibling gifts and they want to carry on the tradition. You're free to ask them not to do it, but don't assume that their decision to buy your kid a gift is the result of some fundamental foolishness or inadequacy. It is rude and insulting.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

You just turn the crank and snap the plank

The Swedish band Wintergatan specializes in creating musical instruments more impractical than you ever thought possible, and they are breathtaking.

Like, just why would you do that? Who even thinks of that? More to the point, who thinks of that and then thinks "Yeah, this is a thing that could clearly exist in real life; where can I buy ten million ball bearings?"
There's also this:
This one in particularly made me think of the book Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut, and how it both did and did not predict the future. Okay, so I don't remember the book all that well. I was living on the road when I read it, and it's possible I read more in the two years I spent on the road than in the rest of my life combined. But I do remember that it expressed Vonnegut's fear that technology would gradually replace human ingenuity, that artists and creators would be crowded out by contraptions and distractions and we'd all be the dumber and the duller for it. 

And he was right; we waste so much of our lives staring at little glowing screens that it's kind of tragic. But yet universal access to these gadgets allows folks like Wintergatan to share their absurdly unnecessary contraptions with the world and possibly make enough money from YouTube ads to cover at least some of their ball bearing expenses.
And yet it's absurdly hard for a truly talented musician to make a living at it, and pirating, underpaying streaming services, and an extremely saturated market are making it so much worse. And as cool as it is that these guys make crazy money doing this:

it's not entirely fair that they're achieving great success while orchestras languish. 
But then, it's not entirely fair that Britney Spears is a gazzillionaire while most of us have never even heard of RenĂ©e Fleming (myself included, I just Googled "greatest opera singers alive"); and that's not the Internet's fault. It has kind of always been that way, hasn't it? It's weird though.

Thursday, August 4, 2016


Little known fact: the Crossword Puzzle Writers Association of America are the world's largest purchaser of size EEE shoes, as their continued existence is vital to their careers.
I'm pretty sure that Will Shortz, puzzlemaster of the New York Times, secretly financed the movie Ulee's Gold so that it could be used as a way to squish more vowels into crossword puzzles for the rest of time. 
All of which is to say that the headline of my post, olio is defined as "a miscellaneous mixture," and was almost certainly made up by crossword writers (not to be confused with oleo, another word for margarine, also made up by crossword writers). 
Dog was actually named Leland Stumbleduck
Oneshoe before the powerful crossword lobby
had their say about it.

A couple days ago the new Miss Teen USA was inexplicably not stripped of her crown after it was found she'd tweeted out the n-word multiple times a while back. Is it any wonder, though, that she'd make value judgments about people based on superficial criteria, considering she spends her life clopping around on a stage like a show pony, begging to be found worthy based on superficial criteria? 
My grad school residency was amazing, exhausting, and a little terrifying. Something I don't get - a few years ago I took a job that had me out of state for months at a time. Now I get crippling homesick after being gone a couple of days. This is definitely probably not a sign that I have a horribly codependent relationship with my cats. 
You'd be codependent too.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

That's show biz

One of my theater profs, back when I was majoring in something even more useless than English, told story about Ed Wynn. Ed Wynn was an old man in the twilight of his career. He'd started out in vaudeville, made a name in Hollywood, but these days it was mostly television and voice acting. One day he was invited to give a lecture to a bunch of young theater students and during the break, he gave them a rare treat - with the grace and agility of a much younger man, he performed one of the physical comedy routines on which he'd built his name. He played a man trying, and failing, to climb a free-standing ladder - up a few steps and back down, climbing and sliding and falling as the students laughed and clapped. When he finished, one student noticed that Wynn was crying. When asked why, Wynn replied that the routine only worked if the audience believed his sorrow.
That story is almost certainly made up, but the message behind it rings true: the things that capture audiences the most are the things that come from artists' deepest pain. Vincent van Gogh painted The Starry Night while in the asylum at Saint Paul-de-Mausole, just a few months after he severed his ear in a violent psychotic break.
Ludwig van Beethoven's string quartet number 15 was inspired by the month he spent bedridden by disease in 1825. Though not an old man, he must have known, by his ever more declining health, that he was reaching the end of his life. He was deaf, in pain, and probably a fairly severe alcoholic by then. The piece marks the triumph of his recovery, but is among the last he wrote - he died, slowly and painfully, two years later.

I've just read Lindy West's Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, which I plan to write more about soon. In one chapter, she writes about her father, saying "I sometimes told people my dad reminded me of Robin Williams, and they would assume I meant the drive to entertain... but really it was that ever-present Pig Pen cloud of kind-eyed sadness." It's funny - there were performances of Williams' - his stand-up in particular - that I simply couldn't stand to watch. All I could see in him was this impossibly infinite well of sadness boiling over into some manic purge - words that brought abject joy to everyone except the one saying them. I could not understand how other people didn't see it - I could not understand how other people could laugh at someone so obviously in agony. Now I know the only reason I could see it was because I was just the same. 
I tell people Springsteen's been my favorite musician since I was five, but that's probably not entirely accurate. The truth is, I don't remember ever not loving him. I've loved Bruce since the first time my sister put on one of his records for me. So many of his songs are so big, so joyful, but he once said that his career has been driven by "pure fear and self-loathing and self-hatred." Bruce has been really forthcoming in recent years about the depression he's lived with all his life - he's been in treatment for the disease for the past 30 years. I used to kind of wonder what drove a kid like me to worship this old man who sang about cars and sex and working for the man, and other stuff I wouldn't understand for decades. But I think that somehow that piece of him reached out to that piece of me - that little germ of madness that would grow one day into pure fear and self-loathing and self-hatred. I think that's why he's been a light for me in my darkest times.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Day 1

This is the first time I've started a first day of school, far as I can remember, without a torrential downpour of tears. The first time I get to see a college campus through something other than a crippling haze of anxiety. It's not entirely fair to say that my faulty brain wiring is what cheated me out of enjoying school - there was plenty of faulty decision making going on there as well. But I'm just so grateful to get to see college with sane eyes. Relatively. 

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Black and blue

Black Lives Matter protesters say that before the shooting started, before the massacre that left five officers dead, police and protesters were laughing and talking, shaking hands and snapping selfies. Police weren't wearing riot gear, and, as Eugene Robinson put it in a Washington Post article, "there was anger, but no rel tension. Certainly there was no sense of danger." 
That was no accident. Ever since David O Brown took over as chief of police in Dallas in 2010, the city had been proactively working to correct the relationship between police and the community - had taken big, bold steps away from the city's racist past. While other police forces defended indefensible violence against minorities, Dallas police officers underwent extensive training in nonviolent crisis intervention, as well as crisis prevention. The Dallas police force is one of the most transparent in the country. In 2012, there were about two dozen police shootings; in 2015, there were less than a dozen. Seven months into 2016, there had been only one police shooting. 
Leonard Pitts, Jr. writing in the Miami Herald had this to say about the violence:
The usual voices of acrimony and confusion are already using this act of despicable evil to delegitimize legitimate protest by conflating it with terrorism, asking us to believe that speaking out against bad cops is the same as shooting cops indiscriminately.
But that argument flies directly in the face of what the DPD has worked so hard for over the last six years. The DPD has been striving to prove that police can do better to respect the lives of the people they serve and protect, that the community and the police can have dialogue, cooperation, and mutual respect. Those brave DPD police officers, those who died and those who live, flew right into the line of fire to protect those protesters, to prove that black lives do matter.
Within hours of the vicious attack, videos and other accounts began appearing online of police getting protesters to safety before running right back toward the gunfire. Pictures show police officers and protesters standing together to shield small children. Those cops died proving that we are so much more than us and them, that what unites us can be so much bigger than what divides us. 
Brent Thompson, Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, and Patrick Zamarripa gave their lives to protect and serve their community. Obviously, nothing we can do, no amount of money can truly repay them for their sacrifice, but if you want to help the officers and their families, you can donate to Assist the Officer. Since Brent Thompson was a DART officer and not a DPD officer, you might consider a separate donation to the GoFundMe account his employers set up for his family. I hope that the BLM movement rallies behind the DPD. I really hope that we all do. 
In Leonard Pitts' Miami Herald article, he quotes Bobby Kennedy in a speech he made just after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. 
What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness but is love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer in our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.
In honor of the fallen DPD officers, and in honor of the too many lives lost to this conflict, let us make this a turning point. Let us make this the event that inspires us to unite instead of factionalize, to embrace love instead of fear, to be one as Americans. It can be done. The DPD and the BLM movement have been working to prove it. Let's all do the same.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Justice for all

Imagine you live in a town of about a thousand people, where about a hundred and thirty of the residents are your relatives. Your family's got a long and bitter history with the local police, and while things have gotten better, maybe, you still know that your family's more likely to be stopped by cops, be searched by cops, be arrested by cops, be killed by cops, than people outside your family, even if they were committing the same crime.
Imagine one day your uncle gets killed by a cop. Your uncle wasn't a perfect man, he committed some crimes. But on the day he died was guilty of a tiny, non-violent misdemeanor. Some guy took a video of your uncle's last moments on earth as he begged for breath, a cop crushing the life from him using an illegal choke hold.
Imagine not even a month later your own brother gets killed by the cops. You grew up with him, you loved him. You sat by his side while you got The Talk from your mom - always be polite, don't run, keep your hands in sight. Your brother didn't have time to do any of that as he stood inside of a suburban shopping center, talking on the phone to his mom, holding a toy gun he'd picked up off the shelf. You watched your brother die in a grainy security camera video, saw how he didn't even have a moment to react to the cops' arrival before they opened fire and shot your brother dead. Your mom listened to his last fading breaths over the cell phone. Cops detained and verbally abused your brothers girlfriend for hours. Those cops didn't even get a slap on the wrist.
Imagine your cousin gets shot for stealing some cigars, and imagine a whole lot of witnesses say the cop who shot him wasn't telling the whole truth. Imagine they left his lifeless body in the street like garbage, like a warning to others, not even allowed the dignity of a sheet or a body bag. Imagine his mother, your aunt, standing on the perimeter, not allowed to see her boy, not sure it even was her boy until she saw a picture on some gawker's phone. 
Imagine your unarmed niece's head split open on the pavement. Imagine your nephew getting shot when cops mistook a pill bottle for a gun. Imagine your god father getting shot in the back as he fled from an officer. And imagine all this time people are coming up with the most outlandish excuses for the cops who treated your relatives like their lives didn't matter. 
Now imagine your son's out playing in a park. You told him not to take that BB gun to the park, but he's 11 and a knuckle-head. The cops give him two seconds to comply before they shoot him dead. One heartbeat he's playing with a toy gun and he's got two heartbeats left to live. The media, the country says your son deserved to die for brandishing a toy. Imagine your little girl sitting handcuffed in a cop car staring at the dead body of her brother laid out like roadkill, like a warning to others. Imagine the media saying your baby boy's death is your fault because you let him have the very same BB gun a million other boys his age have. Your baby boy came out of you, he nursed from you. You walked the floors all night with him while he was teething, you celebrated the As on his report card. You did everything, sacrificed everything so he could have a happy life and a cop - who had been deemed unfit for duty by his previous employer - took it all away in two heartbeats.
Imagine that white America doesn't just refuse to see, doesn't just refuse to act, they say it's your whole family's own fault - because some of your family members are deadbeat dads and a couple of your family members are criminals. Imagine white Americans shrieking about how their lives matter too, white Americans who never got The Talk, who can almost always count on cops to be a force for good, to save the day. Imagine white America accusing your family of hate speech when they dare to speak up against this violence. Imagine their moral outrage as they sign a petition trying to get a guy fired for saying that black lives matter. Even as your sister broadcasts her husband's murder at the hands of cops live over Facebook and white America scrambles to explain why it's okay for a cop to shoot a black man who put his hands up and offered up the information that he had a legally obtained firearm and legal permission to carry it. 
We white folks can imagine, but we'll never truly understand what it is to live in brown skin, but we should damn well try. 

Please check out Campaign Zero, who are trying to fix the problem on every front - from demanding better training for officers, ending stop-and-frisk, demilitarizing, and more.