Friday, November 11, 2016

How to Raise Grown-Ass Adults: Election Edition!

In the last few days, I’ve run across the same question repeated by parents: how do I explain this election/Donald Trump to my children? It’s simple and can be done in five easy steps (well, the first one isn’t easy and it’ll probably take a minute…)

1. In an age-appropriate way, explain racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, misogyny, classism, ageism, ableism, rape culture, and hatred.**

2. Avoid metaphors, they usually confuse things. Kids are concrete. Be concrete.

3. Don’t sugar-coat it.** Making things softer and more palatable only wraps your child in a bubble of privilege and makes them unable to recognize oppression and injustice when they witness it.

4. Listen to them and answer their questions honestly, even when the answer is “I don’t know” or “because they are motivated by hatred and fear” or “some women are complicit in their own oppression.”

5. Hug them, you will both need it. Step 1 is going to hurt like hell.

We are not raising boys and girls, we are raising Grown-Ass Men and Women. We are raising the future. If things are ever going to get better, we have to stop obscuring ugly truths and start doing the hard work of raising Grown-Ass Adults.

We can not afford to shield our children. If you believe in justice, if you believe in what is right and good, tell your kids the truth. They deserve it and they’re stronger than you know.

And one last step (because with kids there’s always one more thing):

6. REPEAT steps 1-5 as needed. I recommend every month or so. They were probably only listening to ⅔ of what you said the first time. You’re never going to be as interesting as Minecraft. Ever.

Good luck. Parenting was never supposed to be easy.


** If you don’t know how to do this, find a parent who is of a different race, sexuality, gender, religion, or cultural background from your own. Ask them how they did this with their own children because I guarantee they already have. 

The Muslim woman down the block has already told her precocious seven year old tomboy what to do when someone tries to pull off her hijab.

The Black father of the kindergartner in your daughter’s class has already taught his quiet, kind son exactly what to say and do in order to stay alive when he is harassed by the police for the first, second, and hundredth time.

The parents of a shy twelve year-old (trans)girl have already explained the slurs, the names, the hatred their daughter suffered when she was brave enough to show up to junior high dressed as herself.

The undocumented parents of US-born children have already explained how to handle difficult questions from teachers, doctors, neighbors, friends.

The mother who barely survived her rape has already explained rape culture to her four year old daughter. (You bet your ass I did.)

The dads of those adorable twins in your son’s second grade class have already explained what “faggot” means because they heard it for the first time when they were three - that (almost) perfect day with the butterflies and the ice cream cones.

... you get the gist, right? If you don't,  let me know. I can - and will - continue. Because maybe the question you should really be asking is not how do I explain these things to my children but rather, why haven't I explained these things before?

Safety Pins: The latest accessory in White slacktivism

Dear Well-Meaning White People,

Solidarity Safety Pins seem like a good idea. They really do. You want a way to communicate that you care, that you’re an ally, that you are a safe place for all POC, women, the LGBTQ+ community, undocumented neighbors, immigrants, the disabled, and anyone not White. You want to send a silent message of support and solidarity by pinning a safety pin to your lapel, a visual symbol to let Others (and yes, that’s capitalized for a reason) know you’re here for them.

Here’s the problem: when you wear one, the only person who feels safer is YOU.

I’m a straight white middle-aged college-educated woman. That is my demographic. 52% of my demographic voted for Trump. We elected him, this is a verifiable fact. To strangers, I am nothing more than a representative of the demographic that was pivotal is cementing their (and our own) oppression. It doesn’t matter what my personal politics are, who I voted for, how much work I have or haven’t done for The Cause. The world sees me as a straight, white, middle-class woman. And right now, we are ALL suspect.

Wearing a safety pin on my (privileged) lapel communicates a clear message but it isn't the one you think. It goes more like this:

I’m scared.
I’m scared that White people have finally fucked up so bad that we’ve broken the country.
I’m scared of being looked at with suspicion and derision and hatred by strangers.
I’m scared of being made uncomfortable whenever I see anyone different than me.
I’m scared that one of Those People might challenge me, ask me why I didn’t do more, say more, advocate more, fight harder. And I’m scared that Those People have a point.
Please don’t confront me.
Please don’t make me uncomfortable.
Please don’t ask any more of me than this “silent message.”
I’m one of the good ones.
I’m not part of the problem.
I’m not responsible for any of this.

So, please. Please stop with the safety pins. They are the latest accessory of White slacktivism, they are a sign of guilt and fear and privilege. Stop avoiding the awkward conversations, the sideways looks, the suspicion “that seemed to come out of nowhere” and “is so unfair to me as an individual.”

Fairness isn’t relevant. We killed ‘fair’ a long time ago.

White people delivered their “silent message” on Tuesday. If you don’t agree with it, it’s time you got loud. It’s time you did something more than a symbolic gesture. Open your mouth. Open your heart. And open your wallet. That $4.99 you just spent on a 250 pack of safety pins could have been donated to the NAACP, the ACLU, or the SPLC.

And next time someone looks at you with distrust, wariness, or suspicion, live in that. We have earned it. Learn to be uncomfortable; that’s the only way to grow as individuals and the only way we can hope to change things for the better.

And please... for the love of all that is sacred and good, for the chance of ever making it through this next four years, for our friends and neighbors and family still searching for a tiny scrap of hope, for the pioneers and visionaries who fought and died for our few remaining civil rights, for our children and grandchildren, for the last 200 years of progress, please... GET LOUD.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

No, brah, no tempest. Just tea. [for Stacey]

When I get home from work, before I take off my coat and hang it on a dining room chair, before I let in the hangry yowling cat, before I announce my arrival with a "hey, I'm not a burglar"... I put the kettle on for tea. 

Every evening I see the same thing: a clunky glass teapot drying on the counter. And my chest gets tight with the swelling feeling that we have agreed to call love. The teapot is there because of my husband. Every morning before he takes our daughter to school, he cleans out last night's tea leaves, washes the pot, and leaves it on the counter to dry. 

Every morning.
"Yeah, I'm short and stout, I look good!"
It's a small thing: a clean teapot. But it says everything there is to say about our relationship. My knows that this clunky cheap glass teapot is my favorite. He knows I usually prefer glass to ceramic because I monitor steeping time by color and that I like the depth of this particular basket and the way it allows for optimal water circulation to the leaves, he knows that I use this pot for the evening's iced selection because the thin glass walls allow for a faster cooling time. And he knows that for me a cup of tea isn't just a beverage.

My love for tea is both obsessive and promiscuous. I will drink $200/ounce imported white tea as easily and happily as a paper cup of English Breakfast from the break room. I am a purist (no cream, no sugar, sometimes a few drops of lemon to brighten a matcha or pu-erh or to "set" the antioxidants in blacks and greens) but I'm not a snob. I will try anything loose or bagged, iced or hot. I have my favorites and tend towards a clean, bitter palette but I still use bagged Red Rose as a base for most of my sun teas and drink potfuls piping hot when I'm sick. I cook with tea, use it in henna for a brighter red in my hair, mix it with cosmetic mud for masks, and apply it in compresses for sunburns and skin problems. I truly believe that nothing exists in this world that can not be improved with the addition of a nice cup of tea. 

My husband shares my love of tea, but in a quieter, more measured way. For him, tea is delicious and healthy and has multiple uses but it's not a cure-all for him the way it is for me. Still, he accepts my obsessiveness, my fanaticism, even my occasional public evangelizing about the benefits of tea. He doesn't always buy what I'm selling, but he always listens. He accepts these things about me because he accepts me. Truly and completely, in that way we save for those we call family, he accepts me without condition or exception. With my various quirks and weirdnesses, my idiosyncrasies and difficulties, my obsessions and neuroses and wild tangents... he accepts me.

There's a moment in tea making when all activity stops and you must wait for the tea to steep. You have done what you can and now the water and the heat must work their magic. It's three to five minutes of stillness and in these moments I usually warm my hands on the thin glass walls. I'm forced to stop moving, stop planning, stop fidgeting with my phone. I'm allowed three to five minutes to simply think. 

I imagine Stacey at the sink. It's still dark out, his hands are in the soapy water. Zola's running around looking for her missing everything. He's hollering locations and telling her to get her shoes on. He's rinsing the soap off, shaking off the excess water. She runs in, looking for her lunch. He nods toward the counter, the teapot warm in his hands, the towel wiping the outside. They're talking about homework and politics and ancient Sumerians and boys and zits and algebraic equations and she gets her backpack and their coats are on and they leave. And the teapot sits on the counter, clean and waiting, and the house is empty.

When the steeping is over, I come back to now and I pour the first cup of the evening. And I know I'm right: there isn't anything more powerful than this.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Tooth

"Leveling up" is my family's term for those periods in a child's natural maturation when they seem to make a huge leap from one developmental stage to the next, usually brought on by a catalyst of some kind. 

For example, when our kid went to sleep-away camp for the first time, the six year old who returned was remarkably more self-sufficient. She could get hurt and administer her own first aid (I earned a badge for this, mom, I know what I'm doing, I swear). And when, on the second night home from camp, she got up from dinner, cleared her plate, and took a shower without any prompting, my husband turned to me and said "Holy crap, she leveled up." 

It's a weird feeling when your kid levels up. You're proud because they're becoming more human, the savagery and weakness of childhood wears away and you start to see a capable, independent person emerging. It's simultaneously evidence of your success as parents and a reminder of the inevitable obsolescence of parenthood. 

Last night I watched our eight year old (almost nine, mom, I'm nine in like three weeks) worry and wiggle and yank at a loose tooth. The tooth wasn't ready to come out but the kid wouldn't hear that. She's at that age where everything's an argument so I decided to let her win this one. At ten minutes before bedtime I found her in the bathroom, blood was smeared across her face and dripping down her neck, her fingers furiously yanking and flicking the tooth. I could tell she was in pain and told her to stop even though both of us knew she wouldn't. She couldn't. 

It's bugging me! I can't sleep with it wiggling like this! She says this while leaning forward to spit a mouthful of blood and saliva into the sink. We both look away, reflex-gagging at the sight of blood-streaked saliva, while I blindly rinse the sink out. 

It's not the blood that bothers us, it's the saliva. We both have severe gag reflexes to even the mention of certain things and we are both deeply affected by the sight of saliva with any kind of color in it. We know it's probably OCD tendencies but in our house we don't fight that shit, we embrace our weird. 

The kid's in the process of losing what's left of her baby teeth and this particular tooth is absurdly small and chipped from an old fall. So when she tells me the string thing's not going to work because it's too [mumbling] small, I believe her and pretend to not hear her mumbled swearing. I let it slide because I am useless to her right now. 

I'm in the hallway outside her bathroom, stuck in a horrible cycle. It starts with genuine concern, precedes to offers of help, immediately followed by freaking the fuck out brought on by going into the bathroom and seeing my only child covered in blood and trying to rip off a piece of her body. At that point, I flee for the relative safety of pacing and twitching in the hallway until, of course, my motherly concern returns and the cycle repeats. Unfortunately she's old enough to understand exactly what's happening. I can tell by the way she rolls her eyes every time I say "No, really, sweetheart, I'll help. Let me take a look at OH HOLY SHIT! I CAN'T HANDLE THIS!" So when she swears under her breath and our eyes meet in the mirror, we both know she's earned it. 

It's not just the blood-streaked saliva that's making me useless. It's the piece of her body threatening to escape from the whole. A loose tooth, a split fingernail, a partially severed digit: all are equally repulsive because they are neither of the body nor away from the body. They are neither and both and terrible. The sight causes my nerves to sizzle and fire and I must flee. So she understands to a point but that doesn't help her irritation. One of her parents is present but useless and the other, having experienced both of our absurdly sensitive gag reflexes on many occasions, is (wisely) steering clear of the blast radius. 

Mom, I can't even tell you how scared I am right now, spitting more blood. 

Dude, you cannot be as scared as I am right now. You're my baby!

It's in my body! 

I made you in my body! She rinses and spits, eyeing me in the mirror, skeptical. I ignore this. Boom! Maternal trump card! Wilkie out! I walk into my bedroom. 

No way! No "Wilkie out!" I need you for moral support. 

She's twisting the tooth in the socket now, a pale rivulet of blood arcing down her pale wrist. I am overcome, again, as I am throughout every day, at her loveliness. Even now. Even covered in an old tie-dyed t-shirt and pajamas bottoms, blood streaked, and sweaty with exertion. My child. My beautiful strange creature. 

She leans forwards and spits something with substance into the sink. We look down, hopeful of seeing a small white pearl blooded on one side. Instead it's a blood clot floating in a jellyfish scrim of foamy saliva. In unison, our heads turn and the gagging comes. Her hands shoots out toward the hot tap, mine towards the cold. We splash wildly, our faces buried in the crooks of our elbows. I glance at the sink. All clear. 

She looks in the mirror, wipes her face with a washcloth, takes a deep shaky breath, and with more bravery than I have ever seen in one small person, starts to shove the tooth up and away from her gums. The angle is approximately the same as removing a nail from hard wood with the business end of a hammer, if you don't care how fucked up the nail gets in the process. We both know this will work and I know that no matter how much my nerves fire, or how loudly my brain screams at me to leave, I will stay and witness this. There is no fear in her eyes anymore, just a pure angry stubborn determination.  

As soon as I recognize this and think the teenage years are going to suck so bad, she's leaning forward, spitting again and reaching in to rinse off this impossibly small chunk of herself. 

The tooth, now no longer attached, has lost its power over me. I hand the kid a cold washcloth and tell her to bite down. I take the tooth, rinse it off, brush it gently (You gotta wash it, the tooth fairy won't pay if it's all gross), and hand it back. I clean up while she runs down, washcloth crammed in her mouth, and yell/mumbles something like Dad, I did it and didn't hurl! I hear him laugh and say Good job, kid! You just leveled up again!

While she's hugging me goodnight, I tell her I'm proud of her. I tell her she's crazy-brave and my hero. I hold her close and breathe her in, eyes closed. I get the feeling I'm going down on an elevator of scent, floor to floor, seeking something... the sharp copper tang of blood mingles with her lavender lotion... then it's chamomile soap and tea tree shampoo, cappuccino lip balm and sugared vanilla bubble bath... the warm sweet funk of exhausted child and spent adrenaline...and finally, I find it. Her. Just her. The smell that is only one person, my person. My child.

She smiles up at me, gap-toothed and sleepy, and says I am a total bad-ass. I grin back, voice thick with emotion, and tell her: damn right, you are.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

To read when I'm making excuses for why I'm not writing.

Dear Shitty Little Voice In My Head,

I’m sick of you. I’m done listening to the disapproving, negative, creative-mojo-killing fuckery you say to me (ME! A miasmatic ball of electric creativity and throbbing life!) anytime I sit down to write. I am banishing you by doing what I do best: shouting down your most common criticisms with brilliant, carefully considered arguments and enough profanity to make my entire host of ancestors spin in their graves.

Stupid-Ass Statement #1: I have nothing new to say.
Bullshit! You’re always talking/thinking/pontificating/blowing smoke up other people’s asses and a  lot of it is good and interesting and well-thought out and some of it is total and complete shite and you know it while you’re saying it, but goddamnit, you’ve started down a certain path and you’ll see it through. But the beauty of it, the reason you do it is that no one knows when you’re serious. Ever. Most people think you’re fucking with them all the time. And sometimes you’re not sure if you are or not. What?! I know! So write and you’ll figure out how you really feel and then you can decide whether or not you want to fuck with people.
But you’re right in a sense. There isn’t anything new to say, only new ways to saying. And that’s plenty to aim for.

Stupid-Ass Statement #2: I haven’t thought out my idea clearly, I’ll write about nothing.
So fucking what? Start with nothing and then figure out what you sat down to say because THAT’S WHAT WRITING IS! It’s an exploration, a journey, an investigation. It’s an essay, in the oldest Frenchest sense of the word (hat tip, Old Masters) and a journal in the oldest, pillowbookiest sense of the word (deep bow, Old Mistress). It’s Nellie Bly, Truman Capote, bell hooks, Les Gutkind, Barbara Ehrenreich. It’s every writer writing. It’s every person speaking. It’s truth and lies and everything in the middle. It’s fight and struggle and blood and it’s The Written Word and it’s all you’ve ever believed in. It’s been your only constant, your best friend, your lover, your life ring, your child, your sustenance and flesh and breath and blood and bone. It is all there is and it is in every cell of you and how can you deny that? Write nothing because at least you have created something tangible and real and true in this vast, horrible world.
Plus Seinfeld was famously “about nothing” and while that’s more of a dismal statement on the mind-numbingly stupid consumer culture we live in, dude still made mad cash writing about NOTHING. And after all, wouldn’t it at least be fun to try to prove the validity of the adage “mo’ money, mo’ problems?” And while you have no desire to own a house in the Hamptons or a private yacht or any of that shit, taking off for a month or so every year to go write and read and eat and drink and smoke and fuck in a cabin somewhere with your brilliant, sexy husband is, in fact, your version of the American dream and it’s absolutely attainable. So get writing; the cabin is waiting.

Stupid Ass Statement #3: I never finish anything so why start yet another new thing?  
Don’t you fucking “never” me. What’s that shit? Fuck “never.” Fuck “always.” You hate that shit. It’s lazy and dismissive and ridiculous and you’re better than that. And why start something new? Because if you don’t, you’ll forget what you were going to say and then you’re fucked. Plus, if you write more, you’re eventually going to just glue your ass to the chair and get it done (hat tip, Nita Sweeney’s Bum Glue) so stop bitching and write. Computer’s not charged up? Your hand’s not broken, fucker. No paper? What do you think your inner arm is for? WRITE.

Stupid Ass Statement #4: If I turn off the Little Voice, my writing will get sloppy.
Wrong. The Little Voice is never far away. The Little Voice likes to make our life a living hell and criticize everything we do. We’ve tried to get rid of her before and it’s never worked for long. The best we can hope for is temporary banishment.
And yes, your writing will get sloppy but guess what? Your Writing will exist and Your Writing will get better when you sit your ass down to edit. Why? Because you’re fucking good at it and you know it. DON’T FRONT! Modesty is for liars and people who aren’t good at anything. I am a good writer and a good reader and a good editor. I’m not the best, most brilliant, shining little star but for fuck’s sake, I’m not the dimmest one either. Read some samples on Kindle and tell me your shit doesn’t smell a whole lot better than a lot of the shit out there. You can at least crank out some $2.99 pulp novels. Jesus. Who cares? Sell out if you want. Just sell out doing something you love instead of just to pull in a paycheck. You’re better than that.

Stupid Ass Statement #5: What if I fail?
First of all, what does that mean? If you’re writing every day, you’re already succeeding. Period. That should be the ONLY measure of success or failure. Are you creating? Are you doing what you were meant to do? If you are, good job. You’ve won. Keep going. If you aren’t creating every day, you have failed.
Second: publishing? Is that what you’re worried about? Didn’t you have a pretty fucking good ratio of submissions to rejections when you were still sending your shit out? And how did it feel to hold something in your hands that has your name on it? To see people reading your shit and responding to it? To get hate mail? Seriously?! HATE MAIL! That’s the best fucking compliment a writer can get! Why wouldn’t you want that again?

I know there are more (you are nothing if not prolific) but you’ve finally gone silent. When you start whispering again, casting doubt and slowing my fingers, I will address each item in turn. You will not win. I will not let you. Go fuck yourself, Little Shitty Voice.

As ever,

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

J. D. Salinger's "New" Work

Thought Process After Hearing About J. D. Salinger’s “New” Short Stories (because the imp of the perverse is strong within me):
I just spent the last fifteen minutes think/writing (“imagining” if you will) a bitchy op-ed piece in the voice of J. D. Salinger’s college rival, a journalism major at their unnamed but undoubtedly New England private college called either “J.D. Salinger Needs To Get Over Himself Already” or “Nobody’s Going to Care in 70 Years, Mr. Most Likely To Be A Hermit.” 
I was making tea and cracking myself up (because I live a bleary tea-totaling life) when it dawned on me that this may be horribly disrespectful to a master of the short story and since it in no way reflects my true feelings about Mr. Salinger or his work, perhaps I should not be so unkind or disingenuous in my thoughts. I imagined the ghost of J.D. Salinger standing across the counter from me, shaking his head in disappointment with those doleful eyes and slightly jowly Bogart-esque face, disappointed that, as a writer, I would disrespect both him and the very art I love using a voice lacking in authenticity imagining a bitchy/satirical op-ed piece instead of writing said piece because unless you're doing it, it's just bullshit, really. And those eyes, such disappointment!
"You assholes are the reason I took off."
And then I completely lost my shit. 
So, Ghost of Mr Salinger, I should apologize for having a laugh at your expense (sorta) but that would, indeed, be phony. Instead, thank you for giving me this moment to freak the fuck out and realize that I it’s been two days since I wrote (and I had been on such a good streak for awhile, damnit!) because it forced me to sit down a write this… which could be part of a bigger project...sure, that’s how I’ll justify watching another episode of Luther instead of writing.
Fuck you, Salinger. Idris Elba laughs at all my jokes.
Truthfully, I am quite thrilled there is new Salinger in the world! I want to put it in my skull and Cuisinart that shit to a nice juicy pulp so it can flavor my imaginings for weeks. Thank you, O Great (but doleful) One! 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Review: Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Marisha Pessl)

First, an admission: I am a sucker for fiction that includes parenthetical asides, quasi-scholarly annotations, bibliographic references, et al. I take great pleasure (and great humor) in the snobby intellectualism of the overly educated literati and my participation in that world. So Marisha Pessl’s much-lauded first novel, compared favorably to Donna Tartt at her best (which I would argue was not The Secret History but rather The Little Friend, but that’s a different post entirely), would seem, for me, the perfect book. And while it delivered on the pseudo-intellectualism and quasi-scholarly charm (many of the texts referenced in the novel are fictional, I know, I checked) the novel itself was... slightly problematic. For example, Pessl’s (intentionally?) poorly-drawn Visual Aides are weirdly juvenile and off-putting, making the reader briefly suspect this to be a young adult novel (albeit a well-written one). I would like to think this was intentional, that the author was pointing out the fact that our narrator is, in fact, just a teenager despite her sophistication and intelligence.

Our narrator is the gifted only child of a political science professor. She attends a private school and falls in with an odd but popular group of students (whom she nick-names The Bluebloods) and their charming enigmatic teacher. But here’s the rub. The teacher fell flat. She didn’t seem interesting or charming, she just seemed aloof and depressed which is not enough to compel a group of teenagers to hang out at your house on the weekends. Fortunately the other characters make up for her lack of depth and authenticity. 

Just when you think you know where the book is going, it takes a turn. It gets BIG and weird and there’s a murder or a suicide (it’s intentionally unclear) and the narrator is forced to take responsibility for her behavior and her actions which leads the book to its (mostly) satisfying conclusion.

Pessl’s writing leans towards bombasity but this, in itself, is forgivable because of her obvious talent and vision. Her raw voice is compelling and in the instances when her prose is stripped down to its true core, devoid of all the stylistic trickery, the reader is spellbound. There was also an oddly New Southern Gothic tone to the novel. More Flannery O’Connor than William Faulkner [from me, this is HUGE praise, I adore both]. One is left feeling that, in time, Pessl could be an important voice in fiction