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Step right up and get your grievances!

21 Dec

a6d4a0d43dbea0d42f5d672a570a21e7Once upon a time, I was a loyal Seinfeld viewer; I’m still known to say, “No soup for you!” But eventually, Elaine Benes wore me down. Unable to take anymore of her self-involved whining, I stopped watching. This explains why I am probably the last person in my blogosphere to know about Festivus, the holiday for the rest of us.

While I come to the Festivus party late—far too late to be fashionable—it seems to be a holiday tailor-made for me. Among the holiday’s traditions is the airing of grievances. In my mind, grievances call for a rant, and I do so love a rant, so here we go!

Stop saying you’re “so depressed” when you’re sad. Depression isn’t just being sad. Depression is being unable to get out of bed, thinking the world would be better off without you, wanting to just fade away. Depression is sitting on the couch convinced that life is pointless, not sitting on the couch eating a quart of ice cream crying. Sad is painful but knows that life will get better; depression doesn’t.

If I promise to only use the term “ big beautiful woman” to refer to big beautiful women, can we promise not to call thin women “skinny bitches?” Really, why is it any more politically correct to malign the thin than the overweight? See? I can’t even bring myself to type the f-word, the one that rhymes with “cat,” not that other one.

No more tailgating. Just no. Never. Ok? I sort of understand it in the far left lane on the highway. But in my neighborhood? Where the speed limit is 40 mph? And there are children and golden retrievers running into the street chasing after soccer balls? I’m gonna brake for Lassie, butthole, so just keep your Hummer off my tail.

Christmas lights! Stringing five different colors of lights end to end and then hanging them in a straight line that extends from the edge of the garage, over the top of the front door and then drapes across the row of hedges in front of your living room windows is not decorating. It’s not even redneck; it’s not even Honey Boo Boo redneck. And a string of lights is not an extension cord. We clear on that?

Everyone in my family who empties the kitchen trash: put another bag in the can. And, if you don’t, you don’t get to laugh at Mommy when she swears after dropping a handful of disgusting into the unlined can.

While we’re on family issues . . . darling children, why should Mommy help you clean the toxic waste dumps you call your rooms? You have no idea how little I care if you can’t find your panda pajamas or the T-shirt that your girlfriend likes to wear because it smells like you.  In my time, mothers closed the door on their children’s messes. I am not about to dishonor my mother’s advice and she’s dead so she can’t tell you that her mother cleaned her room every day. I am nobody’s grandmother, though you love reminding me that I’m old enough to have birthed half of your friends’ parents. By the way, this does not make Mommy want to clean your room, either.

And last, but not least, can we put the Christmas/Xmas/Holidays thing to rest? Nobody’s trying to take the Christ out of Christmas by using Xmas. Actually, didn’t Christmas start out without Christ in it? So really, were putting Christ in Christmas every year. I’m just sayin’.

That brings us to holiday greetings. Can’t say “Merry Christmas” because it tends to leave out the people who celebrate Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanza, though I’m not sure that’s supposed to be “merry” so much as meaningful. There’s “Happy Holidays.” While it’s inclusive–probably too inclusive for atheists–it’s kind of wishy-washy. Naturally, we could say “Happy Festivus” but I’m pretty sure that leaves more people than in includes. Besides, most of my friends would just look at me with a blank stare. Okay, I’m kind of used to that, but I don’t like to knowingly solicit it.

I was going to propose we say “Peace be with you,” but that reminds me of that oh-so-uncomfortable moment in church services where you are forced encouraged to greet the people around you. If I wanted to say something to them, I would have. Don’t make me clasp their hand and try to say something sincere when all I can think of is the germs that are getting spread at the height of flu season.

I don’t like to point out a problem and not have a solution, but I don’t have anything witty or profound to say in place of “have a good one” during the holiday season. But I have a great idea for what to think:

Peace on Earth, good will to all. May you live in safety and be happy.

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No More Words

17 Dec

images-4Big Bird will get no support from me. The National Endowments for the Humanities and the Arts aren’t on my charitable donation lists either. And I’m not giving a cent to another politician, not even the liberals.

I am giving my money to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. I am giving them money because dead children can’t watch Sesame Street, study the humanities or create art. I am giving money because I, and other supporters of gun control, have been yapping and moaning for years and nothing has changed. I am putting my money where my mouth is.

Nothing happens in this country without money. The latest presidential election cost more than two billion dollars. That’s a hell of a lot of lettuce with not much sandwich to show for it. If you think money doesn’t matter in the gun control debate, look at what’s happening on the other side. Blake Zeff, at CapitalNewYork.com wrote:

The N.R.A. has an estimated yearly budget of $220 million, and spent $64.5 million over the last decade to influence federal elections, targeting wayward legislators for defeat and providing an implicit threat to others that they mean business.

The leading gun control group, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, spent $3.1 million in 2010, the most recent year for which they have an annual report online. Its spending over the last decade on federal elections? Just over half a million dollars, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In other words, in the last decade, the NRA has out-spent the Brady Campaign by more than 2000% in federal elections. Yes, 2000%. With clout (read: money) like that, is it any wonder candidates are afraid to piss off the gun lobby? Clearly, gun control doesn’t have a big gun in this fight.

I don’t want to debate the fine points of gun control right now. You can read a thought-provoking piece by Nicholas D. Kristoff of the New York Times that addresses the issues and offers some possible solutions.

I don’t want to debate the fine points not because I’m a chicken. I don’t want to debate the fine points because there is no sense debating the fine points if we don’t have the financial backing to scare the crap out of our elected officials.

My dinky donation won’t make a huge dent in the 2000% disparity. Remember, though, that donations of $250 or less make up the greatest part of financing for almost every campaign and non-profit organization.

Right now, the Brady Campaign has a form you can fill out to send condolences to Newtown. Don’t do it. Instead, click to make a donation. Hugs may feel good, but they won’t change policy. In politics, it’s money that talks.

Dear Dave Grohl

6 Dec

522343_506793776000458_45621637_nFirst, let me say this: you are one of my favorite rock stars.

You’re talented. With that guitar/drum/piano playing thing, hell, you could record an album all by yourself. Oh, wait, you did. See what I mean. Tal. En. Ted.

I love your music. No, let me rephrase. I freaking love your music. I don’t have a single running playlist that doesn’t include at least one Foo Fighters song. Your tempos and my cadence are a match made in heaven. That I run to “Walk” puts an “I’ve got a secret” smile on my face that makes the other runners jealous. Ok, they aren’t jealous. They look at me and think I’m nuts.

You would probably get my little inside joke, though, ‘cause you’re hilarious! Most of your videos have me laughing out loud. I love a guy who isn’t afraid to put on some braces, a wig with ponytails, and a dress for his art.

You’re resilient.  That whole Kurt Cobain thing could have really messed you up, but you got on with your life. And Nirvana? Hello! Way to entirely change the face of music in your own time. Good job, dude!

You are practically a rock god. And that’s my problem.

My son adores you. In fact, my son is the reason I know who you are at all. Because I don’t want to be listening to Jackson Brown and the Beatles in the nursing home, I’m up for hearing anything my son brings my way. And he brought you.

In addition to loving your music, my son sees himself in you. You play drums; my son plays drums. You play guitar; my son plays guitar. You care more about the music than the rock star trappings. My son cares more about the music than being a rock star.

You are, in short, my son’s hero, so I’d like you to do something for me. I know I’m about to sound like a narrow-minded suburban mom with a stick up my ass. Well, let me set you straight right now. I am a very broad-minded suburban mom with a stick up my ass. So here goes.

Please stop making jokes about how you dropped out of high school.

My son and I saw you on Chelsea Lately the other night. You were, in fact, the only reason we watched at all. The conversation went like this:

Chelsea: (after some preliminary chat) And you dropped out of high school!

You: Yeah! (that’s when you and Chelsea high-fived, even though Chelsea graduated from Livingston High School in 1993.)

Then you addressed the audience, saying, “Stay in school and don’t do drugs or you’ll end up like me!”

Dave, that is exactly what my son wants to do . . .end up like you. Never mind that you started playing in bands at 13. Never mind that you quit school to join Scream on their European tour at 17. Never mind that my son hasn’t played in a band yet. All he wants to do is play music; he has no interest in homework when he can pass the tests without studying or doing the “stupid busy work.” He has no interest in high school at all.

Dropping out of high school was the right thing for you to do. Your mom told you so. Dropping out of high school is not the right thing for my son.

When my son was younger, he wouldn’t eat vegetables. I told him, “I bet if Dave Grohl told you to eat your vegetables, you would.” “Mom,” he said, “I would eat my plate if Dave Grohl told me to.”

So, Dave, back off the drop out jokes. Whether you want to be or not, you are a role model.

Thanks!

Janice

Welcoming thanks

19 Nov

It’s half way through November and it’s happening again. People all around me are grateful. I have friends who post daily what they are grateful for, everything from goofy co-workers to post-workout meals to husbands returning from out of town trips. One friend is even expressing her gratitude in haiku, but she’s an English professor, so don’t hate.

I asked my grateful friends why they are making these daily gratitudinal adjustments. They said things like, “Gratitude frees me to be a more hopeful, kinder person.” The haiku-writing professor likes being reminded, “to appreciate what I have. I like the daily Facebook project because doing it every day makes me notice the little things. They kind of turn out to be the big things, so I enjoy that irony.”

This professor predicted that I would find all this gratitude annoying. She is right, which is also annoying.

We owe our current focus on thankfulness to the positive psychology movement. Sometime around 2000, researchers found that feeling grateful had a strong and direct correlation to happiness. According to my extensive research on Wikipedia,

Grateful people are happier, less depressed, less stressed, and more satisfied with their lives and social relationships[19][22][23] Grateful people also have higher levels of control of their environments, personal growth, purpose in life, and self acceptance.[24] Grateful people have more positive ways of coping with the difficulties they experience in life, being more likely to seek support from other people, reinterpreted and grow from the experience, and spend more time planning how to deal with the problem.[25]

That all sounds good, and like all things good, it gets perverted.

Corporations get hold of gratitude research and suddenly you’re getting phone calls during dinner thanking you for buying a new dishwasher. Turns out that you’re 70 percent more likely to buy from that dishwasher dealer again if you’re thanked than if you aren’t. My favorite corporate perversion of gratitude is the tech support person who thanks me for calling to report my problem then asks how she can give me excellent service. I’ve never said, “Hm. Well, how about making a product that always works so I don’t ever have to make you grateful again?” I’d be grateful for that.

I’ve frequently been accused of over-intellectualizing and seeing conspiracy around every corner. This is why I keep Professors among my friends. Not one has ever accused me of over-intellectualizing. In fact, I’m quite the lightweight in intellectual terms. So, I know none of them will roll their eyes when I opine that gratitude is the new opiate of the masses.

Constantly being exhorted to be grateful for what we have here and now smacks a little too much of the same philosophy that keeps all disadvantaged peoples happy where they are. Add to the “be happy with what you have” message another one promising reward in the future for contentment today and you’ve got a pretty good recipe for enslaving whole groups of people.

Saying “Thank you” implies that something has been given and while I firmly believe that we should be thankful for our blessings, gifts, or whatever you want to call them, the focus is still on what we have. Gratitude gurus and others selling gratitude keep us caught in the goodies game by having us chasing after more and more gratitude. Now we have to ask not just have we been grateful, but have we been grateful enough. The more grateful we are, the more we will have to be grateful for. It is an infinite loop of gratitude.

And it makes me feel that we’re missing something. When I was a kid, my mother taught me that the proper response to “Thank you”, is “You’re welcome.” But we’re so driven to thanks, that hardly anyone says “You’re welcome” anymore.

These days, the answer to “Thank you” is “Thank you.” I noticed it first in radio interviews, where the host thanks the guest for appearing and the guest thanks the host for hosting. They sign off the same way, thanking each other until every reason for the two of them existing in the same space at the same time—even though it is their jobs to do so—has been thoroughly thanked.

I know my “welcomes” are fewer and I’m betting yours are, too. Listen to yourself the next time you pay for something. The clerk thanks you as she hands back your change; you thank the clerk as you accept it. Hell, I even say “Thank you” instead of “Goodbye” when ending a phone call sometimes.

But what difference does it make if we say “You’re welcome” when we are thanked or if we respond to thanks with more thanks. Aren’t we still spreading the love?

“Thank you” is all about getting goodies, even if, as is the case with getting change back, they are goodies that are yours to begin with. “You’re welcome,” in comparison, is about giving. When we say, “you’re welcome” we acknowledge thanks but avow that there is no indebtedness, nothing to pay back, no need for gratitude at all. “You’re welcome,” opens our lives to a more authentic feeling of bounty. I don’t just give to you; I welcome you to take from what I have.

Every year, family and friends gather at my house for Thanksgiving. I’ve done it so many years that it no longer causes any anxiety. In fact, it’s Monday and I haven’t even bought the turkey yet.

I’ve had anywhere from ten to more than twenty people at my tables, because it usually takes more than one. Not too long ago, I had planned for twenty-two guests. Thanksgiving morning, my niece called begging to bring one more person, an exchange student from Sweden, to the feast.

Much as I love the baking, cooking and decorating for Thanksgiving, I love the gathering. Of course, the exchange student came because, for me, it’s the welcoming that matters when we’re giving thanks.

Solitude, Invading Molecules, and The Scarlet Pimpernel

9 Nov

There is someone in the house. I don’t have to see or hear them. I know by the way my skin prickles and my brain reels. There is someone in the house besides me. I feel his molecules, because I know it’s a man, invading my space making it impossible for me to work. I feel seen, observed. I feel this way every time my husband takes vacation days.

The problem isn’t that he’s in my hair, though it feels like he’s in my hair. The problem is that he’s here at all. He’s actually leaving me alone. Most of the time you wouldn’t even know he’s here. Except that he’s here. When I leave my office to warm my tea or let the dog out or have a snack, there he is. And he’s doing nothing while I’m trying to do something. I go to my office and he doesn’t follow me but I still can’t work. It’s like the molecules he breathes seek me out and watch my every move.

You’d think that feeling observed like this would make me more productive, but it doesn’t. My husband likes my writing, he supports my writing, but I can’t do it in front of him or his molecules. So I check Facebook, then email, then read other bloggers’ posts. I comment and check Facebook again. I go back to email to see if the blogger has responded to my witty comment and the cycle begins again.

This morning, while I was cleaning the kitchen, he woke and came downstairs. I had spent the morning listening to my daughter wail about how she’d ruined her model of the atomic structure of the iron atom. She wailed about it for fifteen minutes then mysteriously stopped wailing. “I didn’t ruin it after all,” she said gaily. I sighed. She went to school.

I had about a half hour in silence. I like silence. Even the dog knows I like silence and only barks when absolutely necessary. Normally, I have hours and hours of silence. But not this week.

I’ve been tolerant of having another human in my silent house. And, really, my husband has been considerate, only engaging me when I’m within a ten-foot radius. He even listens to his music with noise-canceling headphones.

This morning, though, he interrupted my kitchen cleaning ritual with dialogue from 1934’s The Scarlet Pimpernel.

I like the movie; we like the movie. We quote the dialogue to each other, particularly the idiotic poem Leslie Howard pens as the foppish Sir Percy Blakeney, who is actually the infamous Pimpernel, fearless rescuer of French nobility following the Revolution. The poem begins like this:

They seek him here,

They seek him there.

Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.

It goes on, ending with “That damned elusive Pimpernel.”

Today, I rose at 7 a. m. with The Empress of the Fine Chinese Whine. My vacationing husband rose at 10 a.m. and came down for his morning coffee. He was cheerful. He was quoting the Scarlet Pimpernel poem, he thought.

“They seek him high,” he said. “They seek him low. Those Frenchies know not. . .”

“Stop yourself!” I said. “You’re doing it wrong! I think I’ve been pretty good about you being here all week, putting up with your molecules all up in my face, but you have no idea how the poem goes!”

To his credit, he stopped. To my credit, I poured a cup of tea, went to my office, closed the door, and wrote about how my husband’s molecules, supportive and understanding as they are, drive me crazy when they aren’t supposed to be here in my solitude.

Next week, he’ll be back at work and so will I. Alone. In silence. Now, though, my teacup is empty and I’m hoping the Scarlet Pimpernel isn’t waiting for me in the kitchen.

My (sister’s) kids say funny stuff, too 6

2 Oct

My nephew is a design student at Columbia College Chicago. Recently, he lost his wallet. In it was the normal wallet stuff, in addition to a special transit pass, U-Pass, only available to college students. The replacement fee for a lost or stolen pass is $50. Also, for clarification, a Blick card is a discount card for Dick Blick Art Materials. After discovering his loss, my nephew posted the following on his Facebook wall.

Hey, every human in the universe, I lost my wallet, so if you find it make sure you take all of the money out and my IDs, etc. and buy a bunch of crack and ride around Chicago with my U-Pass until you get arrested for using a stolen train card and then just be a crackhead in jail with a bunch of my forms of identification and an atm and Blick card.

This Is My Country, Part 2: We Pledge Allegiance

16 Aug

AP Photo

During my student teaching assignment, I stood every morning with my students and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Every morning, I managed to cough during the “under God” part. I’m sure the kids thought I had a cold or allergies, but the truth was, I couldn’t say the words without feeling like a hypocrite.

See, I don’t believe in big-G god. You know, the white guy on the cloud dispensing justice. The creator of the Universe, the guy who put dinosaurs and people on the Earth together then decided to kill off the dinosaurs and cover that little slip up by making it look like dinosaurs died ever so much longer ago than they really did. I like to think of God playing a little prank on archaeologists. Just his way of having fun. Immortality’s gotta be boring as (wait for it) hell.

I also don’t believe that the United States of America was founded as a Christian nation, but that’s a discussion for another post.

So, my saying “under God” is not going to happen without a fight. I know I could just say the words as if they don’t really matter. Who really knows what all those words mean, anyway? Certainly the children who say them have no idea what they are really saying. But I do. And I can’t make myself say the Pledge the way we currently say it.

But Americans, by and large, love their flag. They love their flag so much that they even get kind of snotty when someone—say, a politician or an athlete—doesn’t wear the flag.

Back when Barack Obama was running for President the first time, some media pundits decided to pick on him for not wearing a flag pin. Everyone else was wearing a flag pin but Barack wasn’t wearing a flag pin. That meant he wasn’t proud of his country. He said some stuff about living American values that didn’t really get anyone to settle down so he started wearing a flag pin.

Recently, some unnamed pundit-y guy on Fox (“unnamed pundit-y guy” means I can’t remember his name) decided that the TeamUSA women gymnasts weren’t American enough because they didn’t have little flags on their $500 custom-made leotards.

Photo: buzzfeed

Now, I watched the gymnastics. I watched a lot of the gymnastics. There were white leotards, red leotards and blue leotards. All of them were encrusted with white Swarovski crystals that twinkled like stars. If you paid even a little bit of attention, you could see that the top of the “V” in their uniforms was actually the top half of a star and radiating out from the star were stripes. Get it? Red. White. Blue. Stars. Stripes. Sounds like the American flag to me. I guess the pundit-y guy missed that ‘cause he was so distracted by Gabby Douglas’ messy hair.

The American value I am most proud of is our freedom of speech, speech in all it’s forms. I am free to not say “under God.” I am free to call my President a spineless wienie if I like. I am free to say that George Bush was not the brightest bulb in the chandelier. I am free to protest anything my government does that I don’t think is American or even humane.

One of the things I am free to do is to burn my flag. When my country does something so heinous—say, expanding a war from Vietnam into surrounding countries—I am free to protest in a way that clearly shows how angry I am. The Supreme Court has ruled, more than once, that constitutionally okay to burn the flag in protest because the burning is protected political speech.

While the Supreme Court would have my back should I decide to burn the flag, there are plenty of Americans who would likely shoot me in the back. Or at least want to.

I understand where the whole idea of pledging allegiance comes from, thanks to reading “Game of Thrones.” Way back when, before anything, kings didn’t have armies. When they needed to go to war, they gathered up other nobles and influentials to “pledge” to be on their side. Every body had their own flags to indentify their group of warriors, so an army might have lots and lots of flags in it, but everyone was pledged to fight for the big guy and gather under his flag.

Wearing a flag doesn’t make you more or less American. Acting like an American—choosing our own leaders, defending the right to free speech and the pursuit of happiness—these are what make us American.

We can imagine no more appropriate response to burning a flag than waving one’s own, no better way to counter a flag burner’s message than by saluting the flag that burns, no surer means of preserving the dignity even of the flag that burned than by – as one witness here did – according its remains a respectful burial. We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.

— Justice William J. Brennan, from his majority opinion in Texas v. Johnson (1989)

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