Sunday, September 28, 2014

Quote (Poem) of the Week

Twenty-eight young men bathe by the shore,
Twenty-eight young men and all so friendly;
Twenty-eight years of womanly life and all so lonesome.

She owns the fine house by the rise of the bank,
She hides handsome and richly drest aft the blinds of the window.

Which of the young men does she like the best?
Ah the homeliest of them is beautiful to her.

Where are you off to, lady? for I see you,
You splash in the water there, yet stay stock still in your room.

Dancing and laughing along the beach came the twenty-ninth bather,
The rest did not see her, but she saw them and loved them.

The beards of the young men glisten’d with wet, it ran from their long
Little streams pass’d over their bodies.

-Walt Whitman

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Saturday Video

Greetings from the Beach!

I once had a girl
Or should I say
she once had me

She showed me her room
Isn't it good, Norwegian wood?

She asked me to stay
And she told me to sit anywhere
So I looked around
And I noticed there wasn't a chair

I sat on a rug biding my time
Drinking her wine
We talked until two and then she said
"It's time for bed"

She told me she worked
In the morning and started to laugh
I told her I didn't
And crawled off to sleep in the bath

And when I awoke I was alone
This bird had flown
So I lit a fire
Isn't it good, Norwegian wood?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Up From Pain

On my last day in town, I wanted to share another writer's work. It is a masterfully written memoir about a life with many conflicts and paradoxes. In The Root, Peniel E. Joseph summarizes this unflinchingly honest account this way.

Every man in America—particularly every black man in America—should read New York Times op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow’s recent essay, “Up From Pain,” adapted from his forthcoming memoir about identity, sexual abuse and coming to terms with his own identity as a man.
This work could be my own life story. I hope you will read it yourself if you feel led. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Doctors and Office Politics

If you’ve ever had to hang around waiting rooms or inside examination rooms as often as often as I have, I know your pain. Later this morning I will have two appointments back to back. Visiting doctors has become a part-time job. I go through the motions, signing in, waiting, having my temperature and blood pressure checked. I sit on a thin sanitary white piece of butcher paper and wait some more. In time, the doctor raps her knuckles against the door and it’s time for me to start talking.

One of my doctors is especially physically attractive. I say that as fact, not as drooling chauvinism. This fact would not be especially notable to everyone if you removed me and my own thoughts completely from the equation. It is likely only important to me and maybe a few others patients, though I inflate the presence of beauty for reasons even I cannot easily understand. Here, I live inside my head, not in rationality.

The primary complaint is that I tend to fall in love with my doctors and caregivers very easily. Responding with logic doesn’t seem to work as well as preventative care. I don’t really know any of these professionals, as much as anyone can innately know someone else who one sees for fifteen minutes at a time, three months a years. Bereft of love and companionship at crucial and formative times in my life, I’m a sucker for a sympathetic ear, presented in soothing maternal tones. I ask redundant questions to keep the doctor in the room, then feel sad when it is time for him or her to leave for their next appointment.

I ascribe being needed to the violence and isolation of my childhood. In those days, I wanted to be saved by someone and I didn’t much care in what package it arrived. A kind face and voice activates something inside me, some primal need carried over from our last evolutionary step. I wanted nothing more than a girlfriend or boyfriend when in high school, and I found them eventually. They are all my lovers to an extent.

But as for doctors, I’m aware that these feelings of mine are not and never will be reciprocated. They can never be, even if they were somehow by luck and dysfunction mutually felt, else careers would be ruined. Other doctors in the city told me that the malpractice laws in the city where I was living were especially punitive. They were written in such a way that it made it especially easy to sue a doctor, which rendered quality of care conservative, exasperating, and inflexible.

And into the middle of this high stress cocktail of paranoia and retribution came me. I was a child from a rough home, an angsty teenager with a hopeless and eternal crush on her English teacher. In fact, I had been so starved for affection that real love in any form was addictive. My imagination ran wild with almost no one's encouragement.  It didn’t take much to push me over the edge. I become Thurber’s Walter Mitty quite easily.

A while ago, I was a patient at a medical center, where every employee was housed under the same roof. My primary care doctor was especially skilled at her profession, but I kept running into the same curious reaction among her co-workers. Though never explicitly spelled out, they implied that the doctor had romantic feelings for me. It was like a huge game of I’ve-got-a-secret. Over time, I surmised that she may have said, in complete harmlessness, that she thought I was cute.

In a gossipy, high stress workplace without adequate leadership, drama thrives. While waiting to get a Hepatitis B booster shot, a clinic worker sized me up in a millisecond, scoffing at my presence at even being there. It wasn’t especially professional conduct, but then again, it had not been from the beginning. The nutritionist and I spent our thirty minute sessions small-talking rather than planning out a menu. Time and time again, the doctor kept being introduced into the conversation. I wondered if the doctor was especially socially awkward without a white coat on and that this behavior was tantamount to teasing.

But then reality came crashing down. The drama this kicked up spilled over into the professional relationship between a nurse and the doctor. Theirs had been a contentious relationship from the beginning. A silly crush on my behalf was overshadowed by egocentric power plays and rivalry. The whole time I felt this must be somehow about me, when really I was only a sideshow to office politics. How easy it is to turn everything into sex or romance, when motives go well beyond it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Square Pegs: A Review

Decades before Sex in the City, Sarah Jessica Parker won a degree of renown for her leading role in the CBS television sitcom Square Pegs. A time capsule of the early Eighties, or at least some version of it, the show is nearly forgotten today. Adding a degree of cred, it was created by former Saturday Night Live writer Anne Beatts. Beatts brought along to her new project the tinted and toned photographic montage she'd used for the first several seasons of SNL’s introduction. She also wrote the screenplay of roughly a third of the first and only season.

Though occasionally willing to think outside the box, Square Pegs in many ways is a conventional teen sitcom. Those that followed in years to come were edgier, tighter, and more realistic. A decade later, the ABC network sitcom My So-Called Life pushed the envelope for the whole genre, focusing on realism rather than easy laughs. Roughly around the same time, MTV gave rise to a popular animated series, Daria. Square Pegs mines similar sitcom territory common during its time, including horrible one-liners, awkward teenaged romantic interludes, and lots of talk about boys.

This series passes the Bechdel test, for the most part. Much conversation involves boys, but its primary obsession is popularity. Daria’s main character and Angela Chase of My-So Called Life could care less about their social status. Popularity is not stressed, or if it is, it is mocked. The anti-hero pose of protagonists reflects the social norms of a different era. In Square Pegs, best friends Patty Greene (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Lauren Hutchinson (Amy Linker), are two awkward teenage girls desperate to fit in at high school.

In this day and age, punks and new wavers circumnavigate the periphery, though most kids dress the same as everyone else. One of the regular cast, Johnny "Slash" Ulasewicz (Merritt Butrick), proudly identifies as new wave, down to the skinny ties and solid color shirts. Arcade games are the showcase of one episode, a reminder that there was a time where Pac Man and Donkey Kong were the obsession of many teenagers.

The band The Waitresses, best known for their song “I Know What Boys Like”, contribute the theme song for the series. During the pilot episode, they are featured in person at the tail end of a school dance. Like this show, The Waitresses are nearly a cultural afterthought today, though at the time they were a promising group. New Wave bands had a relatively short shelf life, even the witty, sarcastic ones.

Only Sarah Jessica Parker rose towards greater fame, and hers did not occur overnight. Here we see her at age sixteen, not yet a scene-stealer, but with great potential. She holds her own with the rest of the cast. She would have fit well into the brat pack of a John Hughes comedy, her immediate contemporaries. Where she would not have fit well is the cornball pre-adolescent Saved by the Bell, which aired a few years after Square Pegs’s twenty episode run was canceled in 1983.

Unusual for its time, the writing of Square Pegs was completed almost exclusively by women. Being that the two main characters were female was part of this unusual distinction, but not all of it. Young women on screen are usually the most active participants, though the roles of male characters are equally crucial to the action on screen. Though at times a few scenarios are silly and fatuous, the show retains just enough veracity to keep the attention of its audience.

The best way to describe Square Pegs, from episode 1 to episode 20, is cute and gentle. A few situations involve race, but these are glancing blows without moral platitudes. Teen melodrama is the show’s bread and butter, as is the convoluted relationships between heterosexual couples, since apparently queer characters didn't exist then. It should be said that the series was filmed 32 years ago. The sweetly jovial is the pervasive mood. There are no best friends with drug addictions or unwanted pregnancies. What we see before us is escapist fun, never intended to be deep and complicated.

Today’s audience might find it a fascinating historical document. I was two years old when Square Pegs was showed, far too young to watch it myself. Speaking honestly, I see us now in a more cynical media age that began in the 1990’s and has continued since then. The same cute jokes were no longer enough, and audiences were no longer willing to suspend their disbelief. We clamored for the real world, and as much as the small screen ever could, it gave it to us.

See for yourself. The full series is released on October 21.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Leave of Absence

I'll finish out blogging this week, then head for the Gulf Coast for a beach trip. Though summer no longer formally exists, it will still be plenty warm, and the hordes of college students will be gone. I fly out Saturday morning and come back the first week of October.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

New Voices

What is divinity if it can come
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
Divinity must live within herself:
Passions of rain, or moods in falling snow;
Grievings in loneliness, or unsubdued
Emotions on wet roads on autumn nights;
These are the measures destined for her soul.-

from “Sunday Morning” by Wallace Stevens

I’m home and not at Meeting. In approximately eight minutes, Worship will begin and I will not be there. Most people with whom I interact and befriend do not understand the guilt I feel for not being present today. Weekly attendance was never stressed for them. If one didn’t feel like going, one didn’t. I can, I admit, be somewhat contemptuous of those who think of Quaker Meeting as a tourist attraction, especially in my very transient, urban Meeting in Washington, DC.

My experience was quite different. Every week, when I was a child, I dressed up in a suit and tie. I could generally manage the suit part of dressing myself, but I could never get the hanging of tying a necktie. My father, who is left-handed, had to show me how to do it in a mirror, backwards. With difficulty, I can manage, but not easily. The next time I have to dress formally, I’m contemplating buying a bow tie. If it makes me look seventy years old, I don’t care.

My Meeting can be emotionally and psychologically draining. Giving every attender the right to speak in Worship means that the message shared can be alternately brilliant and very offensive. One of the long-term members is an autistic woman who gives ministry that can be inspiring, but often rambles, frequently lambasting the Meeting for treating her like a pariah and not incorporating her views. Friends grit their teeth and put up with her. She has no life outside of Quakerism, which is tragic, but despite this, she has no right to verbally berate the rest of us. This is an old issue, and I seek not to fan the fire, only to make a larger point.

I believe that religion ought to be an open avenue for all who seek it, but I can understand why the non-religious see our pacifism and beliefs as naive, impotent, and tolerant to the point of masochism. Inclusivity doesn’t mean getting abused on anyone's behalf. This morning I’m taking a brief break to refresh. When I lived in a different city, I felt excited when I parked outside and walked inside the Meetinghouse. I knew I was going to be greeted with warmth and friendliness. I knew I would be made to feel welcome and loved.

In very different surroundings, I feel loved and appreciated usually by a minority group of members and attenders. It is not the lack of general socializing that gets to me most, it’s the scattershot and undisciplined vocal ministry, even with recent improvements. Some Friends confuse NPR or a Thích Nhất Hạnh with the Holy Spirit, even when they are well-intentioned. I know this is commonplace to liberal Quakerism, especially in an urban setting, but I favor Friends who honor what we denote as Spirit-led vocal ministry. We are given a great gift of freedom to form our own message and honor our own Divinity, but we take it too nonchalant and informally.

An update. Meeting has already started and I am not there. I still feel guilty. When I was a very young child, I was highly anxious and afraid of my own shadow. The Methodist church I attended had an adjacent graveyard where the elders of the church were buried. I would flee and cower behind one of the ancient gravestones because I was deathly afraid of Sunday School. But by the time the service began, I would remove myself from my hiding place and take my place alongside my family. Even then, I knew this to be part of my moral duty, though I would not have put it that way at the time.

Sermons I heard could be of a very high quality or very dull. I happen to think that effective preaching is a gift from God and relatively rare. I think I would have remained a member of a mainline Protestant denomination had the minister been reliably charismatic and inspiring. Since then, I’ve taken on a new standard of ministry, though sometimes I feel that I alone have to keep everyone focused in the same direction with what I share. I listen closely within myself to the messages that are the most powerful and the most inclusive. I see my role as one of enhancing Worship for others, and I see this as my God-given leading.

But when I am not present or I am not led to share, the wheels seem to come off the bus at times. I am not aware of anyone else whose leading and duty to the Meeting corresponds to my own. It is not my responsibility to steer Meeting for Worship in the proper direction. After all, I am a minister, but not the minister. When I was a member and clerk of Ministry and Worship, I was privy to many complaints regarding the quality of vocal ministry. I took these to heart.

In an unprogrammed Meeting, the rules that govern ministry are very open-ended. It is imperative upon the faith and belief of the individual Friend to discern a true leading from one that is not. If we don’t know how to do this, we are often left either with a political diatribe, a public service announcement for Eastern philosophy, or a psychotherapy session. The question then remains as to whether genuine Spirit-led ministry can truly be taught.

Part of it is a question of learned helplessness. We know someone else will take part in a committee, so we don't. We know someone else will give the vocal ministry weighing on our hearts, so we refrain. Learned helplessness is sometimes called the bystander effect. In the middle of a crisis, many hesitate because they know someone else will do the heavy lifting.

We have a few guidebooks along the way, but as religious mystics, much of that inner work is our own. No one said it was easy, but to be Quakers, we must challenge ourselves for the good of everyone. Those who are not Quaker might see this opportunity as something of  direct democracy. Every Friend's voice is valued, but I now have observed years of problems that transpire when there are no checks and balances within reason to resolve crises. More recently, it took us over 10 years to draft plans to build a handicap-accessible campus, for example.

When I was a member of a programmed faith, I never once wanted to intercede and take the place of the minister in the middle of his weekly talk. I had been conditioned to politely listen and hopefully be inspired for twenty minutes. With unprogrammed Worship, we are commanded to think of ministry very differently. At its best, a gathered meeting, our goal, is an extended, harmonious dialogue from every person who stands to speak that can go off the rails or line up perfectly. It has inspired in me a kind of direct communion with God that was never possible before. I do understand why the Early Friends took on this radical form.

We usually take an indirect approach to this concern. We assume if people feed their own spiritual needs, the rest will follow. But I wonder what direct classes and workshops on the subject of vocal ministry would provide those enrolled. At my Meeting, maybe 10-20% of those in attendance regularly share ministry, but this leaves 80% who do not. I think some of us are better at it than others, but I encourage a renewed focus that might bring new voices, enriching others and themselves in the process. Even when there are no official leaders, some speak more loudly and more frequently than others. Others who are less talkative ought not doubt their skill. This may be my leading, but it is not solely my own.

Quote of the Week

“Do not commit the error so common among the young of assuming that if you cannot save the whole of mankind, you have failed.”- Jan de Hartog

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Saturday Video

You can take me to paradise,
And then again you can be as cold ice.
I'm over my head,
Oh but it sure feels nice.

You can take me anytime you like,
I'll be around if you think you might love me baby,
And hold me tight.

Your mood is like a circus wheel,
You're changing all the time,
Sometimes I can't help but feel,
That I'm wasting all of my time.

Your mood is like a circus wheel,
You're changing all the time,
Sometimes I can't help but feel,
That I'm wasting all of my time.

Think I'm looking on the dark side,
But everyday you hurt my pride,
I'm over my head,
Oh but it sure feels nice,
I'm over my head,
But it sure feels nice.
I'm over my head,
But it sure feels nice.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Voyeur Mafioso (Teaser)

I have had a lot of work to do this week, so I thought I'd round out the week by posting another short story excerpt. Here's a teaser, if you will, of a much larger work. I think I posted a work in progress of this story several months back. Now it has been edited and revised considerably.

I envisioned this story as a modern day film noir, a genre that has always intrigued me.  


The Voyeur Mafioso

A work of fiction.

To be honest, I’m not sure what started me along this path. It could have been boredom or the excitement of a new passion. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that many of our sexual thoughts and fantasies are fueled in large part by the basics of voyeurism. Some take it to extremes, and some play it safe. Nevertheless, our private glee and secret arousal often is motivated by observing something supposedly off-limits and forbidden.

With time, those fantasies grow more refined, layered and amplified due of our own advanced personal tastes and rich fantasy life. Both are enhanced considerably by an increase in life experiences. Mine started, as I’m sure is not uncommon, in middle school gym class. I made a game of seeing if I could look up the gym shorts of girls. I rarely succeeded, but when on the odd chance I did, it felt as though I’d had something akin to a religious experience.

In those idyllic days, when puberty was by turns fresh, exciting, but also horrifying, one of my classmates decided to take matters into his own hands. Because he was small of stature and didn’t weight much, he managed to remove a ceiling tile from the boys’ bathroom. From there he climbed into the women’s’ facilities, only a few short yards away. For as long as his weight would hold him, he observed the bathroom habits of several of our female classmates.

With time, however, the flimsy supports gave way, never designed to hold that much weight. He crash-landed somewhere in the neighborhood of one of the sinks. It was fortunate that no girls were present, as he quickly fled the room, feeling aroused and terrified all at once. Of course he told all of us boys about it. Being that his last name was Bates, afterwards someone decided to start calling him Master Bates. The nickname stuck, though he absolutely hated it.

Over time, his story changed a little. Clearly glad to tell it, he embellished a few details here and there. In each subsequent account, the names of the girls he’d viewed from above were a little different from start to finish. Still, we had it on good faith from the girls that their bathroom had to be closed for repair for two days solid. It was too plausible a story to be doubted, though by the hundredth retelling, it was probably not strictly factual.

Each of us wished we’d first thought of what Bates did. In those days of soaring testosterone levels, the only thing girls had to do was play with their hair or bend over In front of their lockers to elicit a response. It was as if a fire hose had been turned on full blast, and we were incapable of shutting it off.

Some years later, I read My Secret Life, an erotic book published by an anonymous author around the end of the 19th Century, shortly before the conclusion of the Victorian Era. It could never be confused as a work of great fiction, or even good fiction, but its veracity could not be questioned. One particular anecdote has always stuck with me.

In the days before mass produced, easy to obtain pornography, men turned to other sources to appease themselves sexually. I recall one section of the work, an extended interlude upon a group trip through the woods. The men were to dress and bathe in one segregated area of the camp. The women were to occupy still another space where they might presumably have privacy.

Several men took vantage points along the top of a hill, directly next to where the women dressed. They witnessed many women changing and taking time for bodily functions. The account was, like the rest of the book, alternately bizarre and uncomfortably graphic. Its author was much kinkier and sexually adventurous than I was or ever would be. He fancied himself a bit of a dandy and was willing to take risks I could not and would not. He was quite wealthy and could afford to play daredevil. I envied his proficiency and access, though some of his behavior was beyond even me.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Mirror's Contemplation, Take 2

Regular readers may be familiar with this story already. I put it in competition once already, a few months back, and had no luck with it. So, as always, back to the revision board. As I often do, here's a teaser, a few pages of a much longer work.


Trading sips of a long-necked beer in brown glass, which we passed back and forth between us, Stephanie and I entered the bathroom to change. She set the bottle on top of the closed toilet seat, a
surface just flat enough for our purposes. A day of sunbathing, people watching, and mostly meaningless flirtation would eventually culminate in a party that night. It had already reached mythic proportions and hadn't even happened yet.

We were both giddy and feeling playful. The two of us were nineteen. Still a year or two from being able to drink legally, this fact somehow did not dissuade our efforts. There were always ways. Someone with a decent fake ID or compliant older brother had purchased an obscene amount of alcohol. The boldest among us could drink for hours without stopping. Neither she nor I were drinkers, lightweights really, but it seemed like the thing to do. We were already feeling buzzed and silly.

In long accustomed fashion, I played foil to Stephanie’s loquaciousness and exaggeration. I was quiet and she was loud. This was the nature of our friendship and it had always been this way. As if to
illustrate the distinction further, today she was clothed completely in black but I was dressed completely in white. She was dressed to kill while I was dressed for comfort, mostly.

And all I gotta say is that Ryan is fine! She gave the word “fine” a particularly strong emphasis, stretching out the vowels and consonants, in addition to slightly increasing the volume to underscore how attractive she thought he was.

Stephanie always talked a good game, but her confidence sometimes deserted her in crucial moments.
In my company, she did not feel restrained to express her true feelings. Among crowds, rivals, and
uncertainty, she overcompensated by way of her vocal cords. Her humor was always goofy and over-
the-top, which disguised a deep need for validation she rarely ever acknowledged. I saw it, but, respecting our friendship, I did not call attention to it. I never wanted to rain on her parade, but I did wonder at times whether I should gently call attention to her flaws.

She was the only person I’d ever known who had gotten a boob job. Her parents paid for the whole thing, as though it was some life-threatening surgery, which was another way that the two of us differed vastly. My folks would have made me save up and completely subsidize myself a procedure they found to be unnecessary and distasteful. Truthfully, I liked them just fine before the surgery, but I held my tongue.

They were really flat before. Stephanie said this while preening in front of a mirror. She was tipsy already after one beer and a little unsteady on her feet.

I need to get one
, I found myself saying this, but without much conviction. Sometimes even in my most self-conscious days I wondered if I’d benefit from breast augmentation. It seemed to work well enough for her. She got four times the attention now, if attention was the entire goal in having them done. When I was in high school, a couple years before, I’d gotten my navel pierced at the request of my then-boyfriend. It was one of the first times I’d done something colossally stupid for a boy, or at least for boys as an entire group. And yet I kept it, mostly as a reminder to think twice before making the same mistake.

I was not quite as adventurous as Stephanie was. She quickly shimmied into a black bikini, while I put on a more modest one-piece. I was an observer more than an active participant. Our friendship was built upon opposites in personality. I rarely made decisions and usually deferred to hers. I felt like a movie camera that never shut off, silently documenting the events placed before it, only documenting, never participating.

It was time to go back out again, as I rubbed suntan lotion onto every exposed patch of skin. I was usually absent when it came time for another carefree mug shot before the camera because I always was the person behind the viewfinder. I couldn’t bring myself to ask Stephanie's motivations. It shocked me how quickly I’d validated her methods by even contemplating the very same thing myself, if only for a few seconds. Peer pressure, even when it isn’t overt, can be a powerful force.

I saw evidence of this earlier when we were walking the beach, the waves lapping against my feet. The number of bad tattoos I saw walking the shore's edge was astonishing. The trend must have started somewhere. The scrapbooks my parents kept of their own summer holidays before I was born showed no evidence of ink. I always felt that tattoos, tastefully placed and limited in number, were acceptable. But few people kept such restraint or discretion.

We paused briefly to prepare ourselves for the sea and sand. Before then, we’d simply dithered along the farthest expanse of the waves, not dressed to jump into the water and swim. In all circumstances, Stephanie enjoyed playing the role of the high femme, the girly girl, and her clothes and behavior reflected it. Aside from a hat to keep out the sun that looked like it had been purchased in the fishing department of a sporting goods store, the rest of her appearance was immaculate. For the moment, she wore a black tank top, tight and revealing shorts, and not much else.

Let’s get obliviated tonight. Stephanie meant obliterated and though I knew she was wrong, I never corrected her. I enjoyed her banter and silly boasting. It was all for show. I’d never seen Stephanie rip-roaring drunk, not even once. She may have been a little buzzed at the moment, but not much. She was more inclined to nurse a solitary beer for hours. She told me, in a rare moment of naked honesty, that she associated intoxication with being out of control. The phobia it produced was intense enough to keep her always more or less sober.

The men’s bathroom was placed only a door down from the women’s facilities. At times, clueless or
disoriented men staggering towards the building from a combination of intense heat and intoxication
would halfway open the wrong door. Realizing immediately their error, they would mumble an apology and then swiftly depart.

There’s a lot of perverts here now, don’t you think?

Stephanie launched into a litany of complaints and minor annoyances about the boys in our group of
friends. It was all for show. One of them had approached her in an unskillful way earlier in the day. He’d come across too strong, something men often did. She liked playing indignant, but relished any dollop of attention and praise she could find.

I’m like, what are you doing? I’m like, what, put that thing back in your pants.

I laughed. She wasn’t really annoyed, as I’d suspected. Truth be told, Stephanie never turned down any man's company, and here was a perfect example of her mock exasperation with men. Some women would take offense to the occasional bad pickup line or the arrogance of a delusional ladies’ man.

Stephanie knew enough to brush them aside, knowing them for what they were. Like many women who got a lot of attention, she’d seen and heard it all. I envied her successes, even when I questioned her tactics. Stephanie got a lot of phone numbers, most of which she quickly discarded. I felt sorry for the worthwhile guys who misunderstood her real intentions. She enjoyed being desired more than she sought a boyfriend or even going to bed. As long as she was single, she had any number of frequent ego boosts at her disposal.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Drugs Don't Work

A candidate for one of the most depressing songs of all time, but the melody is attractive. I abbreviated this version because at 4 minutes plus it's already a long song.

All this talk of getting old
It's getting me down my love
Like a cat in a bag, waiting to drown
This time I'm comin' down

And I hope you're thinking of me
As you lay down on your side
Now the drugs don't work
They just make you worse
But I know I'll see your face again

Now the drugs don't work
They just make you worse
But I know I'll see your face again

But I know I'm on a losing streak
'Cause I passed down my old street
And if you wanna show, then just let me know
And I'll sing in your ear again

Now the drugs don't work
They just make you worse
But I know I'll see your face again

'Cause baby, ooh, if heaven calls, I'm coming, too
Just like you said, you leave my life, I'm better off dead

All this talk of getting old
It's getting me down my love
Like a cat in a bag, waiting to drown
This time I'm comin' down

Now the drugs don't work
They just make you worse
But I know I'll see your face again

'Cause baby, ooh, if heaven calls, I'm coming, too
Just like you said, you leave my life, I'm better off dead

But if you wanna show, just let me know
And I'll sing in your ear again

Now the drugs don't work
They just make you worse
But I know I'll see your face again

Yeah, I know I'll see your face again
Yeah, I know I'll see your face again
Yeah, I know I'll see your face again
Yeah, I know I'll see your face again

Monday, September 15, 2014

Good News for People Who Like Bad News

I was 13 years old. The combined forces of high estrogen and high testosterone had turned my classmates into strange creatures, alien even to ourselves. We had no idea what to expect next from day to day, as we waited for the bus stop. The fact that we spent eight hours a day together in classrooms without windows and painted cinderblock walls made us feel claustrophobic, increasing the already stout pressures each of us felt, though we could barely speak of our feelings. I never quite figured out who I was or what was expected of me. If someone had told me to march in some general cardinal direction, I would have gladly followed, desperate to escape this anarchic struggle.

One of the great peculiarities of my life was my refusal to take part in the prerequisites of jock royalty. I could have had a popular girl or even a cheerleader of my very own. One by one, when each time I was much too shy to take part in a conversation, they vied for my attention. They were silly and teasing. I acted as though my head was about to explode. I was never sure why they or any woman would be interested in me. Because I was a star, albeit a reluctant football player and they were popular girls, I was considered something of a catch by default. I wonder now how many of them were in hot pursuit more for the status of what I represented to others rather any genuine interest.

At the time, I didn’t know what the girls felt about me. I was too shy and self-doubting to believe myself boyfriend material for anyone. And yet they kept trying. What I meant to them could well have been a complete reversal, full of confidence to how I felt about myself. One especially persistent girl kept asking if she could borrow my brain. She was alluding to my unquestioned status as the smartest, most intellectually precocious kid in school. Accordingly, she would pick a large vocabulary word and quiz me on it, desperate for me to parrot the proper answer in her company. She was persuasive, but I always wondered about an ulterior motive on her part.

I could have had any number of sweet Southern Belles, except that sweet Southern Belles bored me to tears. If my priorities were very different, the process could have worked well for me. If I’d started going out with a popular girl, my stature would have risen considerably. It makes me happy that this awkward game is years in my past. What I really wanted were the intelligent girls who were high achievers and a little geeky. Winning the hand of one took a lot of convincing and patience, as I was responding to the very same reservations in someone else that I felt in myself.

Writing this piece was meant to underscore that the decisions we make ought not to be only about a rise in our personal stature. This might be one particularly compelling part of the puzzle, but there is more to romance than ego. I can truthfully say that I never regretted dodging the popular girls. It taught me life lessons. It revealed to me how easy that game is to play for some and how difficult it was for myself when I was looking for something very much outside the box. Some of my classmates were groomed to believe otherwise.

I am not a woman, but I wonder if some lingering aspects of failed, adolescence romance persists into the current day of adulthood. We still rate ourselves based on who we find attractive and who finds us attractive. I do, even though I am in my mid-thirties, though I wish I didn't. Even today one observes the lasting power of hierarchy, especially when it comes down to romance. As Quakers, we seek to be non-hierarchical, but we live in a society which is extremely so.

Fluffy magazines and websites reinforce this notion of worth being simply a matter of physical beauty and the ability to fit a set pattern of attractiveness. I suppose I should have been flattered that I got so much attention earlier in life, but I tossed it aside, voluntarily. As middle school became high school, some overgrown boys I knew dated popular girls because they got the dual benefit of having arm candy and, for some, sex. That could have been me, too, but sex isn’t everything.

This is a post partially in support of men. There are good men and bad men. Men fail when they do not police their own or they let their desire for popularity and belonging to a group become more important than justice. Men fail when they are accessories or guilty of what has been termed in recent years rape culture.

But both men and women find many examples in their own lives and in the lives of other friends and associates of a deplorably sad and greatly commonplace set of problems. This is especially true for those with poor moral character and a manipulative attitude. Every woman seems to have known a man who fooled her, valuing her only for her physical appearance, and that memory is never forgotten. Every man seems to know a woman who is either unfaithful or selfish. We don’t forget them, either.

Looking past our own baggage is a life’s work. And it doesn’t mean stopping the process of identifying the societal problems that are often overlooked. I often think of the title of a Modest Mouse album. It is entitled Good News for People Who Like Bad News. In my day to day work, I feel that I’m always seeking to provide Good News for the People Who Like Bad News. We can fall in love with Bad News, just as soon as we can fall in love with a cloying, optimistic notion that only whitewashes the real problem. Neither discipline can be adequately taught in any form, in my opinion. Ours must be a lived experience that comes from experience and wisdom. Few solutions can be adequately conveyed in a college class, by attending the right conference, or by reading the right book.

We may dwell for a time being part of the Bad News brigade, and find our needs satisfied there. I think all of us go there for a little while, with the right set of circumstances that push our buttons. But if we can’t express our opinions in ways that aren’t merely hurry-up-and-pay-attention-to-me righteous indignation, we’re only seeing part of the problem. For some, this is a just a phase, and the arrival of pending middle age for myself has provided needed insight. The tools we’ve once used to wound others are now kept on our metaphorical mantelpiece, next to other heirlooms, a reminder of a different time where our priorities were very different.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Quote of the Week

"There is no escape — man drags man down, or man lifts man up"- Booker T. Washington.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Saturday Video

Lookin' back on the track for a little green bag
Got to find just a kind or losin' my mind
Outside in the night, outside in the day

Lookin' back on the track gonna do it my way
Outside in the night, outside in the day
Lookin' back on the track gonna do it my way
Lookin' back

Lookin' for some happiness
But there is only  loneliness to find
Turn to the left turn to the right
Lookin' upstairs lookin' behind

Lookin' for some happiness
But there is so a loneliness to find
Turn to the left turn to the right
Lookin' upstairs, lookin' behind

Lookin' back on the track for a little green bag
Got to find just a kind or losin' my mind
Outside in the night, outside in the day
Lookin' back on the track, gonna do it my way

Lookin' back on the track for a little little green bag
Got to find just a kind or losin' my mind
Lookin' for some happiness
But there is only loneliness to find

Turn to the left turn to the right
Lookin' upstairs lookin' behind
Lookin' for some happiness
But there is so a loneliness to find

Turn to the left turn to the right
Lookin' upstairs lookin' behind

Friday, September 12, 2014

Bisexuality and the Real Truth

"Do you have any problems with dating a bisexual?" This is question three, following the ever-popular "Do you want children?" when on a first date with a woman. There's no need to beat around the bush, especially when the answer might be a disqualifying entry. Best to know up front. I'm a blunt person by nature, seeking someone else who speaks the truth without coated by the insincere.

To a woman, they always indicate no. It wouldn't be fair of me to lie on their behalf. This is a particularly sensitive series of inquiries which has caused me considerable pain. I expect honesty from a partner, and though superficially I obtain it, the truth may take longer to work its way to the surface. With all the strides made regarding sexual orientation, women still automatically fear that I might leave them for another man.

At odd moments and in the right circumstance, I find out their true thoughts by sharing my own. At those times, I confess that I have no desire to end up with another man and that I'm quite happy with them as they are. I see them breathe a sign of relief, though I wish they'd never worry about my fidelity. I feel wronged and mistrusted, but being angry doesn't do much good. At best, I try to instruct, to even challenge my partners as to what bisexual really is and how they have nothing about which to worry.

I knew I was bisexual at a very young age.  I realized what I was when I dressed out during middle school gym class. As I prepared to play basketball or whatever creative game the PE teacher had devised, my face was always turned towards my locker, not daring to look around. We only dressed down to our underwear, which was fortunate, because I would have been twice as nervous had everyone stripped down all the way.

By the time I was seventeen, I was open with who I was to almost everyone. Few people were hostile to who I was, but one of my friends was. It had not been his doing. His mother was extremely homophobic and how she found out about me is a mystery. As I've written before, my parents were not particularly accepting, and I spent a summer away from them as punishment. Every time a female partner expressed fear at who I was or what I represented to them, it was like I was reliving the past.

I always believed that tolerance could be reached with enough willful practice and education. It would be easy for to write off my past girlfriends as victims of our still-bigoted culture. I use myself as proof of who LGBTs are and how we're not all that much different from heterosexuals. The behavior and assumptions of past relationship partners were never taken with great offense by me, as I knew their attitudes often took the form of guilt and misunderstanding. Some confused me as homosexual and some weren't sure what to think. Truly cruel behaviors were few and far between. What I mostly received was discomfort.

My mother, upon her recent retirement, has become a cause lady. She observed my struggles with bipolar disorder and has worked with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), speaking to parents with children who have mental illness. In her capacity, she has educated parents who have mentally ill kids, giving them hope that their kids can improve. I am proud of her for transforming her personal pain to give comfort to caregivers. The largest problem in my life has been bipolar disorder first and sexual orientation second.

In my own brutal honesty, the intent is for me to function in much the same way my mother does. What I volunteer to others may be too much too soon, but I know I'm sure that I would make no helpful impact at all if I didn't make an effort to initiate communication. My intent is to share my sexual orientation with someone else with whom I have no desire to keep secrets, regardless of what role they take in my life. I desire a best friend, not a distant partner who has little to no understanding of who I am.

One of the oldest feminist tropes is that it is not the responsibility of the marginalized to educate people of privilege. While I agree with this sentiment on its face, I have found that many people don't take the opportunity unless forced to do so. I may educate, or I may encourage others towards the same direction that I have long understood myself. It may not be wasted time to teach an informal lesson on Bisexuality 101. If that had been the case with the Civil Rights Movement, white people would have gotten it without the need for marches and movements. It would have only been a matter of self-study and simple enlightenment. I'm not sure we're there yet.

Having now been acquainted with of the truth, a real relationship can proceed. Intellectual discussions are hollow and empty, though we may think they have some redeeming benefits. It is too often reconciliation on the cheap. We must risk being wrong, even when those who dare to do so have may speak out of ignorance, though they must keep their tempers in check when questioned. Truth can be jarring, but sanitizing it away does no one much good. I would like to have an honest discussion about bisexuality with an audience who is genuinely uncertain, not trolling to enrage. The same is true for many similar issues, race, class, and wealth being only three.


I've had a lengthy issue with my Internet connection, but I am working on something new at this very moment. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The World May Never Know

I can't remember what is wrong
I've been happy now for way too long
and oh, we got a lot more to go

I put a trash can by the road
and filled it up just to lighten my load
but oh, I got nowhere to go

Someone alone fell asleep by the phone
Waiting like a dog for a bone
How can it be that a fish in the sea
Could feel like it's completely alone?
the world may never know

I know it hurt you, 'cause you cried
I know it killed you, but nobody died
and oh, the city ain't nothin' but show

I found a needle in the hay
I found the sunshine at the end of the day
and oh, I found a pearl in the snow

Someone alone fell asleep by the phone
Waiting like a dog for a bone
How can it be that a fish in the sea
Could feel like it's completely alone?
The world may never know

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Reforming Government Controlled Health Care

When the Affordable Care Act was being considered many progressives clamored for a single payer system or, as they put it, Medicare for all. Medicaid was expanded, at least for the governors of states who agreed to accept it. While the idea sounds good, digging deeper into reimbursement rates reveals the limitations of Medicare and Medicaid. If single-payer is adopted eventually, Medicare will need to be revised substantially. It can be extremely effective in some areas and woefully insufficient in others.

Two years ago, I needed to have bladder surgery. Medicare covered almost all of it, and I'm glad that it did because the total cost was around $20,000. In situations like these, Medicare is a very effective health insurance for certain target areas, but not for others. Should you need surgery, Medicare usually covers most of the cost of the procedure. This is due to the fact that the surgeon’s lobby is very strong, but this is not the case at all for other specialists.

For patients diagnosed with sleep apnea, Medicare covers the cost of CPAP machines almost in totality, and even the very expensive one that I have. Medical supply companies have made lots of money off of CPAP machine. Some believe that CPAP machine have become something of a racket, since a record number of patients have been diagnosed with sleep apnea. My device is extremely expensive and has advanced technology. Though I appreciate how effectively it works, I wonder sometimes if gold standard CPAP devices have become much too commonplace.

Where Medicare fails most is with mental health care. Medicare only covers $65 a session for therapy, and even with a $24 co-pay, many therapists in cities do not take it. Most practices based in cities don’t accept insurance at all, meaning they charge between $200-$250 per session. Catering to wealthy clients means that these therapists make lots of money. The fsame is true with Psychiatry. Psychiatrists don’t make much from Medicare, either, and because of this many simply do not take it. This part of the system must be changed. Those who suffer from depression or bipolar disorder must see a psychiatrist regularly and must be prescribed medications they must take to be well and live a normal life.

We still do not have Universal Health Care. Medicaid is run like rationed care. It will not fill a prescription that is more than four months old, forcing patients to make a special appointment with a doctor that is unnecessary. Medicare and any other health insurance company will fill a prescription as long as there are refills remaining. Only controlled substances will not be filled if the prescription is older than six months in duration, but that’s a special case.

Medicare sends its patients an itemized statement of charges. Medicaid does not. By implication, Medcaid patients have no need for such information. Medicare patients probably complain if they aren’t given information about how their insurance was charged. I regret that Medicaid patients are not given the same essential information. Understanding the medications they are given works is crucial.

There’s an elitist perspective towards poor people, one that assumes that those without financial means don’t deserve to understand the nature of their treatment. Certain clinics for the poor and needy do an excellent job by treating their patients with dignity. But for those practitioners who aim higher and wish only to treat those like them, they often have little to no patience. Our medical system is capitalistic, not socialistic, and anyone who wants to find a psychologist with government insurance like Medicare, you have my sympathy.

I like Obamacare, but it needs an overhaul. Even at the time that it was proposed, the legislators putting the bill together knew that changes needed to be made constantly. We've made a good start, but we can't drop the ball here.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Good News

I submitted a short story to Mud Season Review of Burlington, Vermont. It is staffed by members of the Burlington Writers Workshop, a free writing workshop based in Vermont. Yesterday I received word that I am being seriously considered for publication. I was given two pages' worth of revision via e-mail, when I have been methodically filling in bullet points, chapter headings, and general suggestions.

This morning I have made extensive changes in the draft, but expect to do even more with time. Another publication has indicated that it interested, but Mud Season's response is much more interested. It will be interesting to see what comes next. This draft has been through around five separate edits and I've been working on it for over a year. I'm a big believer in revision.

This week may be devoted primarily to this task, but I could finish up soon than expected. Thank you for letting me sharing this good news with you!

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Quote of the Week

A man can sleep around, no questions asked, but if a woman makes nineteen or twenty mistakes she's a tramp.- Joan Rivers

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Saturday Video

I bet you fall in bed too easily
With the beautiful girls who are shyly brave
And you sell yourself as a man to save
But all the money in the world is not enough

I bet you've long since passed understanding
What it takes to be satisfied
You're like a vine that keeps climbing higher
But all the money in the world is not enough

And all the bridges blown away keep floating up

It's cold
And rough

And I kept standing six-feet-one
Instead of five-feet-two
And I loved my life
And I hated you

It's cold out there
And rough

And I kept standing six-feet-one
Instead of five-feet-two
And I loved my life
And I hated you

Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Fappening and a Right to Privacy

The so-named Fappening that occurred earlier in the week showed the prodigious, but highly unethical skills of internet hackers. A variety of private nude pictures and videos belonging to female celebrities were leaked to the public at once. An invasion of privacy on this grand a scale produced a great variety of homemade naked pictures and videos meant only for a very small, private audience. Often these were meant to be shared with husbands or partners alone. Some of the pictures were vanilla, but others qualified as hardcore pornography.

Despite being admonished to not partake by a variety of sources, I have viewed the full list to see for myself. Knowing what I know now, I can understand why female celebrities are rightly indignant that their private lives have now become public domain. If it had been me, I would have been mortified. The Internet deprives everyone of privacy and those who have become prominent in the public eye need to recognize that crucial fact, even though it is deeply unfair.

Before I go even further, I don’t wish to sound like a hypocrite. I have taken intimate pictures and videos of myself at the request of a partner, but she was good enough to delete them shortly after we broke up. I destroyed the only copies I had on my end. I hope they no longer exist in any form. A more vindictive person might have leaked the pictures and videos I sent her, following our breakup. These situations don’t only occur to celebrities, but when they do, their boosted profile amplifies their severity.

Privacy is only a façade, a fact that is especially true when one is feverishly trying to avoid one’s naked image from being spread all over the Internet. Once, some years ago, while trolling a file sharing program, I had an online conversation with a member of a small English town. The nude images of a female ambulance driver from his village were mysteriously leaked to a file sharing program. It had become the talk of the town. I’m sure situations like these have happened multiple times ever since high-speed internet was introduced

Social media has created conflicts between privacy and a right to publish any person’s image online. Schoolteachers are urged not to keep a Facebook account, since it is likely that curious students will visit and potentially find evidence of private, adult behavior. A friend of mine who is a certified therapist deliberately adopted a pseudonym on social media so that her clients will not be able to access personal information. In today’s information age, we leave increasingly larger and larger footprints.

One of my sisters posed nude for a website. She was paid for her effort, unlike the celebrities I’ve mentioned, but she has come to expect that someday she may be held accountable for her decision, which is approaching ten years ago. No image posted online ever goes away. My sister’s experience is a bit different because she consented to her images being used and was financially reimbursed for them. That said, she now expects to be recognized by total strangers. Though she took an assumed name, she signed away the rights to her image and part of her freedom in the process.

An ex-girlfriend of mine was attacked by a vindictive ex-boyfriend in similar fashion to the Fappening. Enraged that she had terminated their relationship, he created a website with her name as the title. There he posted self-shot photos of her that he had taken in a variety of very compromising sex acts. Her cellphone number was posted on the front page, meaning she received crank calls for a full week until she finally acquiesced and changed phone numbers. He sought to humiliate her, and succeeded.

Celebrity by its very definition means the end of privacy, even though it shouldn’t be. The more well-known we are, the more likely it is that an audience will want to learn more about us. To be safe, it’s probably best to not even take pictures or record videos of a salacious nature. Most of the images I viewed were as part of the Fappening were little more than glorified selfies, but others were much more risqué, crossing the line from soft core to hard core. A few of these documented images were arguably degrading to women, very odd to find in many whose persona is superficially that of empowered womanhood.

I’m not blaming the women who decided to record pictures and videos for the benefit of boyfriends, or husbands. I’m instead inclined to suggest that celebrity means that people will root around in garbage, seeking to uncover details of a personal nature, provided someone wants to view it. Fame means a desire for interest, but no one cares about a person out of the public eye. If the hacked pictures were of women whose ship has sailed, no one would have cared.

Follow the money. If money is involved, one forfeits privacy for all the trappings that celebrity provides. No one could have foreseen the role of technology and the scope of it until the present moment. What we do with our image is ultimately ours to decide. I want to be careful not to be seen as blaming the female celebrities who have now lost some of their privacy.

What I am suggesting instead is to be very careful to avoid the possibility of having private images become public. We all should be cautious at letting any shred of incriminating evidence become everyone’s conversation. As technological advances continue, I suspect that these sorts of leaks will become more and more prominent. Either we live our lives without caring what people think about us, or we need to be cautious of the digital images and videos we produce ourselves.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Cathy's Clown

Don't want your love anymore,
Don't want your kisses that's for sure,
I die each time I hear this sound,
Here he comes, that's Cathy's clown

I gotta stand tall
You know a man can't crawl,
When he knows your tellin' lies and
He hears 'em passing by, he's
Not a man at all

When you see me shed a tear,
And you know that it's sincere
Don't you think it's kinda sad that
You're treating me so bad or don't
You even care?

That's Cathy's clown
That's Cathy's clown

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Pen and Brush: Supporting Women and the Arts

I recently talked with Janice Sands, Executive Director of Pen and Brush, a NYC non-profit that supports the work of women artists. I spoke at length to her about the mission of Pen and Brush and its 120 year history. A new website promoting the organization, the work that it does, and the artists it supports has been recently launched. Sands spoke in detail on a variety of topics, particularly on the subject of its feminist identity. 

KC: When did you first identity as a feminist? Do you remember the circumstances and story behind it?

JS: I don’t remember a time that I wasn’t feminist in my views and attitudes.  All of the women in my immediate family - mother, grandmothers - were very accomplished and worked at professional jobs.  My mother graduated from Case Western Reserve University with combined BA and RN degrees – before WWII.  I was always encouraged to believe that women were strong and capable, intelligent and masters of their lives.

When I went to college in the 60’s, I found very activist communities. It was barely 3 years since the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama, the rise of student activism and Mario Savio’s iconic free speech oration. It was also the beginning of the full-fledged women’s movement, the publication of Women and Their Bodies – later changed to Our Bodies Ourselves, making the clear case that women should know about their bodies, be able to express themselves with their doctors and have the right to make decisions about birth control and abortion.

It was exciting, and to use an overused word, empowering.  Angela Davis was on campus and spoke articulately and passionately about civil – human – rights. This was a time when the emotional and intellectual worlds of women came together and crystalized into the modern day tenets of, I think both the second and third wave of feminism, self-determination, equal opportunity – equal rights.

KC: Third Wave Feminists have often felt excluded from the larger discourse, or believe themselves to be little more than tokens in larger feminist movements. Specifically, they do not always feel welcome in gatherings or initiatives comprised mostly of women a generation above them. Is this desire for inclusion reflected in what you bring to light with the art you display?

JS: We believe that our program – the presentation of art and literary fiction by women – is democratic and entirely merit-based. We are an organization for women in the arts, but our approach is not based on affirmative action which we think perpetuates the idea that women’s accomplishments only stand up if they are not compared to men’s accomplishments.  Our view is actually the opposite, and works to address the misconceptions that have persisted about women and what they have to say, visually or in words.  

The important aspects always present in good art and writing are honesty, proficiency and the capacity to understand and comment on the world, culture and society. So, the perspectives of women from the second or third wave are treated equally. As an organization, we don’t use the creative work of women to express any aspect of feminism. The work, itself, is a signifier of feminism. Providing a platform for women to have opportunities for the unconstrained expression of ideas, experiences, aspirations, or accomplishments is a feminist action.

KC: How do you establish gender parity in the art world?

JS: First, our credibility comes from having accomplished professionals from the visual and literary art worlds be our curators, selecting work we can present to influencers: collectors, gallerists, publishers, agents. Second, we think we can have a real impact on the careers of women with a program designed to counter misconceptions and stereotyping of women in the visual arts and literature, stereotypes that have been used as reasons or excuses for not including work by women and under- or devaluing their work.

Third, we choose to present only work by women because it is a very compelling way to let the numbers - the volume of work –show the diversity and talent. It’s hard to ignore or dismiss a great deal of work deemed exceptional by panels of well-respected professionals. And fourth, it’s our aim to seek parity for any individual woman in the arts, by working for parity for all women in the arts. We think it will take time to penetrate the status quo but we have the means and resources to elevate the status and worth of work by women, with the goal of increasing their numbers in collections and galleries and in publication lists. In a world where parity exists, women in art will have their work recognized and valued according to its merit, and not the gender of its maker.

KC: Why have women always been underrepresented in the arts? How do you convince people that gender inequality still exists, even when many believe otherwise?

JS: Women have been underrepresented in the arts for the same reasons they are underrepresented in many professions.  They were historically denied the ability to acquire necessary skills.  Among the examples of this are the fact that women could not attend life drawing classes because it was deemed inappropriate and only certain subjects were acceptable, such as women, mothers and children.  What’s more, finding patrons or being taken on by agents or galleries was deemed unseemly for both the women and the patrons and agents.  
There is a theory that professions dominated by women – or as some think, “colonized” by women – experience a devaluation of the skills used, with an accompanying lowering of the monetary value of those skills.  That’s why we think it’s critical to have a platform for the work of many women, showing how ill-conceived these beliefs are.  
There are many organizations, groups, and gender equity institutes providing credible research and statistics showing that women are underrepresented, paid less, and have fewer opportunities than their male counterparts.  It’s certainly a good thing that some women don’t feel disadvantaged because of their gender, but survey after survey, study after study irrefutably demonstrates that the majority of women in the arts experience gender-based inequality.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Tolerance Means Escaping Ourselves

If it were my decision to make, I’d make my frame a little less broad, a little less prominent. In group pictures, I stick out prominently as the largest person in the frame. In a recent conference photo, I am visible by the space I take up and the peculiar way my head juts out from a row of smiling faces. Locating me is difficult. Shorter people usually have a greater chance of having most of their front side towards the camera. I’m the sort of person who has to be identified as back row, third from right.

And by large, I don’t mean overweight, I mean big. I’m six feet tall, but my shoulders are broad and massive and my feet are like boat paddles. I weigh around 270 pounds but my body type holds it well. I always knew I’d be this size in the end when I was still growing, but it never seemed like a good fit even then. If I could have made the decision myself, I’d be 100 pounds lighter and more average sized in build, but none of us can escape biology.

Let me put it a different way. I've been told that partners past have found me attractive and appealing because, on a subliminal level, they feel safe with me. I can protect them from harm, or at least they hope I can. When my temper flares, however, I’ve produced a consistent response in others I find I can limit with effort but cannot eliminate. My girth and broadness have led some to form automatic erroneous conclusions. 

I assure you that I’m totally harmless, but without knowing me intimately, I can be easily misunderstood. Some years ago I became a feminist because I believed in gender equality. I still do. But I have learned to manage my anger and frustration, in spite of the guilty-before-proven-innocent culture I confront more than I would like. Attitudes like those are a harsh life lesson that none of us can fully escape ourselves. None of us can escape our outsides, our gender, and all that defines our basic identity. What keeps me safe also constantly reminds me that I feel ill-suited to this frame and this weight. That said, we don’t often engage with others, opening a needed conversation about the various ways anger and conflict affects each of us.  

When I lose my temper, I never resort to name-calling or insults. Though I’m not proud of it, I wound with my presentation of the facts. The truth can be more damning than lies and supposition could ever hope to be. In my religious work, the goals of others and behavior patterns are quite different. I notice many people want to be nice, first and foremost.

My feminist friends and fellow writers take the exact opposite approach, feeling that confrontation should be used with reckless abandon. I’m not sure whether there is any middle ground between the two, but I have most certainly sought to straddle the gap between them.

I take no offense if I end up in a vocal argument with either another man or with a woman. In the past, I’ve been dressed down by Sunday School teachers and grade school educators of both sexes. I can curse a blue streak and fight hostility with hostility, but I’d much rather be engaged in conversation without pyrotechnics. I try to be a good ally to those marginalized groups who need allies, but like everyone else, the life I inhabit is not colored black and white alone.

When problems with communication show up, as they always do, I’ve been understood and misunderstood. I’ve been a source of comfort to many but I know I haven’t always been seen fairly on my own terms. It’s easy to make assumptions when facts are not plain to the eye.

My last really serious argument, I am sad to say, concerned myself and a very jealous boyfriend. His wife was forced, at his insistence, to cease being Facebook friends with me and forbidden to communicate with me in any way. I felt this was unfair on his part, but didn’t want to press my luck. Argument isn’t rational, even though we may think we are being rational.

Maybe we don’t like to hear ourselves and our actions when we are angry. I surely don't. I'm sure what I just wrote, on further contemplation, makes me seem about 14 years old. What felt so justified in the moment may need to be looked at differently. Arguments not based on logic can quickly be transformed into violence. Centuries of societal conditioning and hard work can give way when fear wins the day. 

I grew up hearing the stories of my father, who was a Grade A hell raiser before he settled down, deliberately picking fights with those foolish enough to draw his fire. His broad shoulders and build were transferred to me by way of the miracle of simple genetics. I also acquired his temper, though that came from direct experience, not genes.

The funny thing is that I believe in big vocabulary words like Peace and always will. What is ineffectual and weak, however, always gets pushed around by the strong. Whether it be a matter of race or of sexual orientation, familiar old patterns, more often than not, win the day. Bemoan it if you like, but I'd prefer we find a solution than continue to be pushed around and coerced.

This isn’t to say that I believe in survival of the fittest, either. My faith insists upon a persistent belief that conflict can be removed by the assiduous study and practice of conflict resolution. In my family, I was warned repeatedly to avoid people who were so liberal that their brains were coming out their ears. Now I’m a different kind of liberal with my own belief system, seeking never to be the cultural stereotype about which I was warned. I still measure myself constantly against this standard, whether I seek to do it or not.

Our understanding of ourselves as we are is not cut-and-dried. Our ambitions are always held in tension and in sharp contrast with our limitations. And in the end, we are only a combination between our personal aspirations and how we are perceived by others. We can only define ourselves to a degree, and either we embrace other flawed creatures as they are or we live a life stuck entirely inside our heads. We need a combination between our best face and our worst moment. That is how we live with others. That is how we live together.