Home

The Style Points I’m Not Getting

Leave a comment

Dateline: last Thursday, ~ 7:30pm, Trivia night at MacGregor’s Whiskey Bar, Manzanita. It is round two of three, and my neighbor/friend/trivia partner JK and I are in a fierce battle for first place.

The category is Greek mythology, and the question is, “Who was the wife of Hades, god of the Underworld?” When I call out, “Melania!” a competitor on another team suggests I should get at least two points “for style.”   [1]

*   *   *

Department of SEE – IT’S NOT JUST ME!

From the Chicago Tribune review of, Godzilla, King of the Monsters (my emphases):

“Key non-human players in “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” include Godzilla, whose head remains touchingly small for his body…

 

Godzilla, from the original movie.

 

Godzilla Shin,  from the 2016 film.

 

The latest. Why is his head shrinking?

 

*   *   *

Department of Complisults

Last week I hear the word used on a podcast, and it sent me down Memory Lane, so to speak: Complisult.

You know what it is, even if your first thought was that it’s just my spellchecker on vacation. You’ve likely had a complisult flung your way a time or two, by a frenemy [2]  or (more likely) a well-meaning, we-just-want-you-to-be-happy parent or other relative. They start out giving you a compliment, or at least saying something positive…which quickly morphs into critique, or even insult.

 

“So good to see you, my little sweetie! Let’s ask Mommy where your older, prettier, smarter sister is.”

 

Both of my parents, despite their otherwise loving natures, were adept at giving me complisults[3]  Two examples immediately spring to mind, even though these happened decades ago.   [4] 

Example the First

Dateline: unsure (the following conversation happened twice, once in person during a visit with my folks at their home, and once during a phone call.  Dialogue almost identical in both instances).

In answer to my parents’ How-is-it-going/anything new being published? query, I said I was happy to have a story of mine accepted for publication in a journal I’d long admired.

Complisulting parents: “That’s nice! Is it something we can actually find…how can we get a copy?”

Moiself (laughing):You should appreciate this – unlike my last six or seven stories, this journal has a national distribution, so you can go to a local bookstore that carries literary journals and ask….”

Complisulting parents: “Hey, did you that Connie Washington had a story in the Reader’s Digest? It’s so great that she’s writing for Reader’s Digest!”

“Connie Washington,” is the daughter of my parents’ neighbors.  I’ve known Connie since junior high school – she is also a writer, in a different field (journalism/nonfiction; mostly science reporting) from mine.

Like 99% of the pieces which appear in Reader’s Digest, Connie’s was an edited reprint, of an article she’d had previously published in a science journal. This is how RD has worked since its 1920s inception: its founder thought it would be a good idea to collect articles on different subjects from a variety of monthly journals, edit and/or condense them, and combine them into one magazine. The RD staff consists of editors; no writer technically “writes for” Reader’s Digest, as in, pens original material for them. No matter how many times I’d remind my parents of this fact, they never seemed to get it.

Moiself : “It’s great that her article is in there – I hear they pay well!  But, you do know Connie’s not actually writing for Reader’s Digest. As I’ve mentioned before, she’s currently a staff writer for Science Weekly and…”

Complisulting parents: “Well, now people will actually read what she’s written. Have you ever thought of writing for Reader’s Digest?”       

Moiself: “Okay; one more time:  no one writes ‘for’ Reader’s Digest. Also, RD doesn’t accept original short fiction….”

Substitute Saturday Evening Post, or other old timey magazines – or even Time and Newsweek – for Reader’s Digest in Have you ever thought of writing for Reader’s Digest?”

With every publication of a story of mine, my parents would offer congratulations, then find ways to remind me that the venues publishing my works weren’t a part of their world (translation: not important).

Complisulting parents: “You really should consider sending stories to Reader’s Digest. And what’s that big magazine we saw at the market the other day – with the glossy cover pictures – Omni or something? That looked interesting.”

My parents were the last people from whom I’d even consider seeking where-I-should-be-sending-my-work advice: their knowledge of the publishing world was bupkis, and their familiarity with literary fiction even less. Naturally, therefore, they were generous (surprise!) with unsolicited ideas as to where I should send my work, suggesting venues which were always inappropriate (and sometimes, unintentionally, amusing non sequiturs)…forcing me to reply with a never-ending series of reality checks:

“Uh…that magazine went out of business five years ago.”

“That journal no longer publishes fiction.”

“That magazine publishes genre fiction; you know I don’t write ____ (sci-fi; Harlequin Romances; vampire murder mysteries….)

“That journal only publishes staff writers or agented writers – no unsolicited material.”

“Holy crap for not paying attention  [5] – since when, as in, never, has US News and World Report  ever published fiction?!”

 

“Yes, honey, Winnie-the-Pooh is a nice story, but if the author was a real writer he’d have chapters of it in Reader’s Digest.”

 

Example The Second

I was a single adult for a long time (I was 31 when I married MH).  Despite having a couple of mostly great beaus along the way   [6]  I thought being a singleton would be my permanent state, which was fine by moiself.  When my parents observed that my goals in life seemingly did not include finding a partner in life, my father took every opportunity to mention to me that his marriage and children were his greatest joy and achievement.

Although they never directly criticized my remaining single, during our weekly phone calls it became evident that such a status – one I viewed as fitting and natural for moiself – was somehow seen by my parents as a loss (or even aberration).

Complisulting parents: “And what did you do this weekend?”

Moiself: “Saturday I went to the San Antonio Wilderness Preserve, and saw….”

Complisulting parents: “Another hike? That sounds fun. We saw Margaret Denton’s parents in church. Did you hear that Margaret and Tom Crocker are engaged?”

Moiself: “I didn’t; no surprise, though. Congratulations to them.”

Complisulting parents: “Have you thought of doing something different with your hair?  There were so many boys who admired you in high school….  [7]

My parents (of course), saw themselves as nothing but loving and supportive, and well-meaning…and they mostly were – moiself was fortunate in that regard, I know. Still, the doubts/insecurities inherent in complisults managed to lodge in a corner of my brain, and came back to haunt me in later years.

Is it something in the parental DNA, a gene for undermining one’s offspring? I imagine Vincent van Gogh   [8]  showing his parents his Sunflowers paintings:

Oh, Vinnie, how nice – so colorful…have you ever thought of trying this and sending it in – you could get into professional art school!

*   *   *

Department Of Firsts

Dateline: Tuesday 6-14-19, 2:41 pm. I got my first Mandarin (or Cantonese?   [9] ) voicemail on my cellphone.

Can you tell this has been an exciting week for me, or what?

*   *   *

Department of Epicurean Excursion   [10]

Featuring this week’s cookbook, author and recipe:

Café Paradiso Seasons, By Denis Cotter

Recipe:  Rigatoni with arugula, broad beans, cherry tomatoes, olives and fresh cheese

My rating:

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Recipe Rating Refresher    [11]

*   *   *

 

May strangers offer to give you style points (but leave no Mandarin messages on your phone);
May your head stay in proportion to your body, should you become a monster movie star;
May your complisults be few, but memorable;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

 

[1] The correct answer was Persephone, which none of the teams got. JK and I took second place, losing by only one point….so those style points would have come in handy.

[2] “Frenemy” is a portmanteau of “friend” and “enemy” – an oxymoron noun meaning a person with whom you remain somewhat friendly, despite said person acting  competitively with you and/or cutting you down, betraying and/or insulting you at  any opportunity.

[3] I can’t speak for my other siblings, but I’m sure they have received at least a few.

[4] Seeing as how both of my parents are deceased, there are no recent examples. But if either were still alive and somewhat cognizant….

[5] Okay, I left that comment out.

[6] And one neurotic headcase… I thought I had escaped that fate which seemed common to so many of my peers, but it seems that there’s always at least one toad you have to kiss….

[7] Those mystery admirers remained unnamed, but I’ve little doubt that, in my parents’ mind, they included the ones who would telephone me in the early evening and have hour long conversations about how they had a crush on one of my friends.

[8] One of the most influential artist the world has seen, who sold only one painting in his life – and since it was his brother who bought it (this was so that van Gogh could honestly say, as per the requirements an art show he was trying to get his works displayed in, that he was a “professional” artist) that doesn’t count.

[9]   Where is my sister-in-law – a native Cantonese speaker – when I need her to translate?

[10] A recurring feature of this blog, since week 2 of April 2019, wherein moiself decided that moiself would go through my cookbooks alphabetically and, one day a week, cook (at least) once recipe from one book.

[11]

* Two Thumbs up:  Liked it

* Two Hamster Thumbs Up :  Loved it

* Thumbs Down – Not even Kevin (a character in The Office, who would eat anything) would like this.  

* Twiddling Thumbs: I was, in due course, bored by this recipe.

* Thumbscrew: It was torture to make this recipe.

* All Thumbs: Good recipe, but I somehow mucked it up.

* Thumby McThumb Face: This recipe was fun to make.

* Thumbing my nose: Yeah, I made this recipe, but I did not respect it.

The After-Life I’m Not Discounting

Comments Off on The After-Life I’m Not Discounting

Dateline: Sunday, May 5. A gusty but magnificent spring afternoon in the Bay Area, on the grounds of the stunning Filoli Gardens . In a gathering which mutual friend MM as so accurately described as “heartbreakingly beautiful,” friends, family, and colleagues gathered to pay tribute Dr. Sarah Elizabeth Hawley.

Heartbreakingly beautifuljust like our memories of Sarah, I thought later.

Sarah is whom I wrote about earlier this year – the “…remarkable young woman whose life was recently and unexpectedly cut short .”   [1]   Iin several posts (including here, here, and here) I mentioned the horror, grief, overwhelming shock, and gob-smacked confusion felt by her friends and family when Sarah was murdered on January 27.

As is my usual policy re this blog, I do not use the full names of people who have not chosen to live their lives in the public eye (e.g., politicians or celebrities).  In previous posts I referred to Sarah using her initials. I will use her name now, because her name and her life – the way Sarah lived, not the way (or the fact that) she died –  deserve to be known.

Filoli Gardens near Woodside, CA

It was difficult to find the right words to compliment Sarah’s family on the memorial gathering they organized for her. Certainly, one’s ability to host any kind of funeral/celebration of life gathering for your loved one is a skill no one wants to employ. Still, it was gracious and lovely event, and a moving tribute to Sarah (as well as, I imagine, an emotionally exhausting – and yet necessary – milestone for her family to have passed).

We gathered to honor and remember Sarah’s life.  The tributes to her, from childhood buddies to medical school friends and colleagues (even the Dean of admissions of her medical school!) were articulate, heartfelt, inspiring, filled with warmth and good humor…and also mind-boggling (for moiself at least), in that they made me consider how Sarah, in her way-too-short lifespan, managed to amass such a large and brilliant group of people who cared so much about her.

Sarah, like her family and mine,   [2] was inspired to do good and walk joyously in this life because of life itself – her worldview was humanity/humanely-based, and religion-free. Sarah believed in living and loving and doing what you can to make life better for others in the here and now, and few people have done it better.  Whether or not you hold ideas/beliefs “going to heaven” or other mythological/supernatural/post-mortality destinations which no one has seen or proved to exist, there is one afterlife we’ve all experienced, whether or not we recognize it as such: how we remember those we know, after they die.

For someone as spirited and beloved as Sarah was – as she IS – her words and deeds live on to impress, refresh, and inspire our lives, and will continue to do so.  Welcome to the after-life, Sarah.

As Sarah herself might have said, with the heel-clicking, jump-in-the-air enthusiasm she was known for…

 

  

Dr. Sarah Hawley was a strong supporter of women’s rights, particularly with regard to health care and reproductive choices. If you’d like to honor Sarah’s life and legacy please consider donating in her memory to the Planned Parenthood Association of Utah, here.

The University of Utah, home of Sarah’s medical residency, has established a memorial fund focusing on Sarah’s interests of women’s health, pediatric care, and wilderness medicine. Donations to the Dr. Sarah Hawley Memorial Fund can be made here.

*   *   *

Department of Epicurean Excursion   [3]

Featuring this week’s cookbook, author and recipe:

Artisan Vegan Cheese, by Miyoko Skinner

 Recipes:

* Meltable Mozzarella
* Eggplant Parmesan (with homemade vegan mozzarella)

Interesting in having to first make a key ingredient (the plant-based mozzarella, to use for the second recipe) several days ahead. 

My rating(s):

For the cheese: taste was good, but texture…(it never quite “jelled.”).  I had to substitute for a main ingredient, which may have been the bugagoo.

 

For the main dish:

 

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

Recipe Rating Refresher   [4]

           *   *   *

Department Of Way Too Cool

Dateline: Tacoma, Wednesday and Thursday, visiting daughter Belle, who works at the newly opened McMenamin’s Elk’s Temple. A whirlwind, last minute visit (Wed-Thurs are Belle’s “weekend”), but after the weekend’s memorial trip…I just wanted to see my daughter, you know?

Trust me, y’all gotta get y’alls selves up/down/over/under, whatever direction works for you, and visit this place.  As with all McMenamin’s hotels it is a beautifully restored historical property with the McM magic touch, including at this location a Spanish tapas bar and cafe, a “secret” vault bar, a game room (with pinball!), an amazing ballroom (for concerts – there is music nightly), a doc’s bar, and…wait for it…a tiki bar to die for.  [5]

A much classier venue than the Disney attraction, and you won’t leave it singing
that damned song (unless, of course, you’ve had too many mai tais).

 

*   *   *

May you, again and always, remember to love ’em while you got ’em;
May you persist in making the fun recipe even after you’ve mucked up a key ingredient;
May you remember that there are (arguably) never “too many” mai tais;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

[1] She was twenty-seven when she died.

[2] As in, the “immediate” family consisting of moiself, MH, Belle and K.  My and MH’s our extended families have religious believers  as well as and those who are religion-free among their numbers.

[3] A recurring feature of this blog, since week 2 of April 2019, wherein moiself decided that moiself would go through my cookbooks alphabetically and, one day a week, cook (at least) one recipe from one book.

 [4]

 * Two Thumbs up:  Liked it
* Two Hamster Thumbs Up :  Loved it
* Thumbs Down – Not even Kevin (a character from The Office, who would eat anything) would like this.
* Twiddling Thumbs: I was, in due course, bored by this recipe.
* Thumbscrew: It was torture to make this recipe.
* All Thumbs: Good recipe, but I somehow mucked it up.
* Thumby McThumb Face: This recipe was fun to make.
* Thumbing my nose: Yeah, I made this recipe, but I did not respect it.

[5] Just ask the bar’s stuffed cobra and mongoose and hyena, who apparently did so.

The Maturity I’m Not Developing

Comments Off on The Maturity I’m Not Developing

Department Of Existential Questions That Cannot Be
(Or Perhaps Are Best Not) Answered

Why didn’t this song get more airplay in its day?  You gotta love almost anything by The Legendary Stardust Cowboy, one of the pioneers of psychobilly   [1] (and the writer of perhaps one of the most misunderstood love songs of that genre, “I’m Standing In A Trash Can (Thinkin’ About You).”

 

*   *   *

Department Of Adventures In Maturation
Sub-Department Of Better Late Than Never

Dateline: Last Saturday morning. MH and I are descending the (not-so) “secret” hillside trail in North Manzanita. He stops to take a picture of a flower, which takes several minutes; moiself continues on ahead of him. I hear fast footsteps coming from behind, step to the side of the trail, and look back to behold a man in his late 70s or so – older looking; very trim and fit – running downhill.  He is wearing something like this on his chest…

 

 

…which appears to be a runner’s hydration vest – a short, lightweight vest with two symmetrical water bottle pockets in the front. Olde Running Man’s vest looks akin to the contraption the above picture, only his has water bottles on both sides, giving him   [2] a glorious approximation of…well…of jiggling man-boobs.

As he passes by, I am ever-so tempted to say, “Nice jugs.”  BUT I DIDN’T.

You’re welcome.

Yes, maturity is a life-long journey for some of us. A few years ago (say, in my late 50s), who knows what moiself would have called out.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Realities That Are Almost To Dreadful To Contemplate

“As horrific as this president is, he is a symptom of much deeper problems. Even foreign influence plays on [national] wounds that we refuse to address: income inequality, racism, corruption, a willingness to excuse bigotry,” she tweeted. “He can stay, he can go. He can be impeached, or voted out in 2020. But removing Trump will not remove the infrastructure of an entire party that embraced him; the dark money that funded him; the online radicalization that drummed his army; nor the racism he amplified and reanimated.”
(From a tweet by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D- NY),
as reported in Newsweek)

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Mystery Solved
Sub-Department Of I’m Not Sure Why This Came To Mind, But It Did

So: in every photo I’ve seen of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II wherein she is making a public appearance, she is holding a pocketbook.  It’s always a discreet little handbag – not festooned with the Crown Jewels or anything equally ostentatious – but, still. Why does the Queen of England – the Queen of anything – carry a purse?

 

I have more pressing matters to attend to, but your query is appreciated.

 

She doesn’t pay for anything; she has no need to carry her id and credit cards in case she wants to visit an ATM, ya know? She has attendants to see to her every need, and it’s not like the dignitaries and various heads of state she meets for tea expect her to whip out her wallet and say, “I’ve got this.”

A couple of Curious About The Inscrutable Ways Of The Universe ® friends and moiself pondered this very question, several years ago. [3]   After applying due diligence, we came up with the only logical assumption: Pragmatic and experienced monarch that she is, QEII’s pocket book contains two items: a flask of Jack Daniels, and a six-pack of condoms.

 

Well, that might explain the enigmatic smiles.

 

*   *   *

Department of Epicurean Excursion   [4]

Featuring this week’s cookbook, author and recipe:

The Arab Table: Recipes and Culinary Traditions, by May Bsisu   

Recipes:

* Musaka Betinjane (Eggplant in Pomegranate Syrup)

*Salatat el Malfoof (Shredded Cabbage Salad)

* Mudardara (Warm Lentils with Rice)

My rating:

 

☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼

See footnotes for Recipe Rating Refresher.  [5]

 

           *   *   *

May you carry only the essentials in your royal handbag;
May you never even think of commenting on what is on an old man’s chest;
May our frightening political realities inspire you to do something other than go through your cookbooks;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Psychobilly, as per Wikipedia’s explanation, is “…is a rock music fusion genre that mixes elements of rockabilly and punk rock.”

[2] In my observant mind, at least.

[3] Yes, we were sober. And employed.

[4] A recurring feature of this blog, since week 2 of April 2019, wherein moiself decided that moiself would go through my cookbooks alphabetically and, one day a week, cook (at least) one recipe from one book.

[5] * Two Thumbs up:  Liked it

* Two Hamster Thumbs Up :  Loved it

* Thumbs Down – Not even Kevin would like this (Kevin, a character from The Office, would eat anything.)

* Twiddling Thumbs: I was, in due course, bored by this recipe.

* Thumbscrew: It was torture to make this recipe.

* All Thumbs: Good recipe, but I somehow mucked it up .

* Thumby McThumb Face: This recipe was fun to make.

* Thumbing my nose: Yeah, I made this recipe, but I did not respect it.

 

The Challenge I’m Not Setting

3 Comments

“I read recipes the same way I read science fiction. I get to the end and say to myself, “Well, that’s not going to happen.”
(Rita Rudner, American comedian)

Similarly to Ms. Rudner, I do read recipes/cookbooks, but in manner akin to how I watch PBS travel shows: for inspiration more than for go-there-and-then-do-this-while-you’re-there advice. I tend to peruse cookbooks as if they were novels/short story collections, more than as a set of how-tos. It is something of a garbled, quasi-literary approach: I “read” through a new cookbook to get an overall feel/feeling for whatever the author is promoting,  [1]  then I put the book down and see if MH feels like being my sous chef.

Except in baking – a culinary discipline moiself and others more knowledgeable and experienced than moiself distinguish from cooking   [2]  and where precise measurements and techniques are called for (to work the chemistry of leavened breads, for example) – I rarely cook from a recipe or follow one   [3] step-by-step, from start to finish.

Counting (and likely missing some of) the books I’ve either lent out or have transferred to another location, moiself currently has somewhere in the vicinity of 60+ cookbooks. At least that many more have been relegated to the retired list.  [4]   The other night, while reaching for the cord to plug in our Dinner Party Festive Lights, ®  I almost knocked one of the books off its shelf.  I felt a twinge of regret to see it there, teetering above the kitchen sink, the dusty volume looking bereft from my neglect.   [5]  

 

 

That was the incident which gave birth    [6] to a project I have set for moiself.

Welcome to the first edition of my Epicurean Excursion. This EE is meant to be a  recurring feature of this blog, from this week on until I complete (or tire of) it, wherein moiself will go through my cookbooks alphabetically and, one day a week, cook one recipe from one book.

Knowing moiself, I’ll tend to treat any “rules” (even if they are totally self-defined and imposed) as guidelines. There will be time outs for travel, vacation, etc.  

What to call it?  I considered cookbook challenge, but it’s not so much a challenge I’ve set for moiself, more like…a suggestion?

Excursion
a short journey or trip, especially one engaged in as a leisure activity.
 (“an excursion to Mount Etna”)
synonyms:       trip, outing, jaunt, expedition, journey, tour;

 

EE nights will be either Monday or Tuesday; I shall catalog the experience on Friday.   Let me assure those of y’all who do not consider y’alls’ selves to be foodie fanatics, – the majority of my blog posts will continue to be devoted to my usual slavering spew thoughtful and erudite commentary on current/events/culture/feminism/politics/religion.

My EE reviews will not be extensive. There are other cooks, professional and amateur, with experiences more vast and palates more refined and adventurous than moiself – you can Google the late great chef Anthony Bourdain for his take on eating roasted warthog anus,   [7]  if that’s what poles your gondola.

 

As a matter of fact, I pole my own gondola…not that there’s anything wrong with that.

 

I’ll just tell you the name of the cookbook I used and the recipe I made, and the rating I’ve assigned to that recipe.  My eight scale rating system will be as follows:

* Two Thumbs Up:  Liked it.

* Two Hamster Thumbs Up :  Loved it!

* Thumbs Down – Not even Kevin would like this recipe. [8]

* Twiddling Thumbs: I was, in due course, bored by this recipe.

* Thumbscrew: It was torture to make this recipe.

* All Thumbs: Good recipe, but I somehow mucked it up.

* Thumby McThumb Face: This recipe was fun to make.

* Thumbing My Nose: I made this recipe, but I did not respect it.

           

*   *   *

Department of Epicurean Excursion

The Inaugural Voyage
(chosen by luck of alphabetical listing in which titles beginning with a number go first),

Featuring this week’s cookbook, author and recipe:

 

15 Minute Vegan, by Katy Beskow

Recipe: Smoky Chickpea Soup

I’m a sucker – a slurper, more accurately – for any soup or stew with a mélange of Moroccan/Mediterranean spice flavors, and this one was a sensory delight.

My rating:  Two Hamster Thumbs Up!

 

 

Mere words cannot describe how bang-on  [9] delighted I am to be able to use that rating for my first outing with this project.  But words aren’t necessary when you have a picture of hamster thumbs.

 

*   *   *

May you find a reason to enjoy some classic Rita Rudner standup routines[10]
May you never take your I’ll try anything once motto or reputation so seriously that
you find yourself eating roasted warthog anus;
May life favor you with an abundance of Two Hamster Thumbs Up experiences;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] A specific cuisine; their family recipe collection; the Netflix cooking show deal they hope to land….

[2] It sometimes gets simplified into cooking = art and baking = science or cooking vs. science…although that distinction tends to imply an adversarial relationship, and there is much overlap between the two.

[3] Except for those I’ve written down moiself, after learning to at least try to do so on a regular basis, after having made something yummers and then trying to recall what was it that I did?

[4] As in, permanently given away, or recycled (think: Goodwill store), due to issues of space or just lack of interest or relevance. For example, a plant-eater don’t need no Barbecuing Big Beef Bones tome.

[5] Yes, books can have facial expressions, and other human attributes as well. They have spines, don’t they?

[6] Fortunately, without the cursing which accompanied the births of my two children.

[7] No matter how much I wish I’d made that up, I didn’t.  See a previous blog post, The Delicacy I’m Not Sampling, about Bourdain’s NPR interview in which he described that experience.

[8] Kevin, a character from The Office, would eat just about anything.

[9] Irish slang for very much, spot on, or accurate.

[10] Especially those that deal with marriage/family life.  Sample: Rudner’s take on being child-free and trying to understand babies; specifically, the atrocious noise a friends’ newborn son makes – a raucous cry her friend explains away with, He’s hungry :  “I thought, that’s the noise he makes when he’s hungry? He’d better pace himself. What kind of noise is he going to make when he gets audited?”

The Label I’m Not Understanding

Comments Off on The Label I’m Not Understanding

Department Of Grief And Relief

I’m thinking about my friends, JWW and MW.  MW’s mother, Molly (a lovely Irish name for a lovely Irish-American lady) died last Monday, after a long physical and mental decline.  Molly was never officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but had significant memory and cognitive problems over the past decade. After her husband died she lived with MW’s sister for several years,  then came to stay with MW and JWW.

 

 

Molly was a sweet woman, and maintained her gentle and loving disposition (she was a favorite at the Memory Care center MW & JWW eventually found for her, in a nearby town), and did not seem to descend into the fear and anger that can affect people with memory problems. It was sweet, watching MW and JWW interact with Molly, showing her unqualified patience and love. But as is often the case with an elderly parent who can no longer live independently, love cannot conquer all. MW & JWW realized they could not provide Molly with the safe, 24/7 care she needed, which was made evident to them in many ways over many months, particularly on the day when JWW came downstairs to discover that Molly had removed her favorite polyester shirt from the dryer, put it on, and realized it was still damp. It seemed perfectly reasonable to Molly to finish drying her shirt – while she was wearing it – by holding her arms over an open flame on the stove…which is how JWW found her (fortunately, before Molly set herself on fire).

Now, MW & JWW find themselves in that odd life stage, as I was with the death of my own mother: between grief and relief.  Such a strange feeling, also – to find yourself feeling both sad and somewhat amused by the fact that you feel like an orphan in your 60s.  All the orphans of classic literature were way younger, right?

 

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Tricky Questions, Trickier Answers

Developmentally delayed.

Dateline: earlier this week, doing an am workout in our family room, listening to a podcast story.  The afore-mentioned description – developmentally delayed  –  was used in the podcast to describe the podcast story narrator’s brother, who had a broad list of cognitive and emotional impediments.  MH entered the room just in time to hear the term DD. He paused for a moment, then posed a question (to the universe, as much as to moiself), “What does that mean?”

He was not exactly being rhetorical.  I knew that he knew what DD meant…then began to think beyond what I thought I knew…and, really, what does it mean?

I told him a few of the emotional and cognitive defects (of the narrator’s brother) which had been mentioned in the podcast ,and offered my opinion that the DD label, in the particular case of that podcast and in what has become its common usage, is it meant to replace an older term which has now entered the retirement home of words-not-to-be-used-due-to-derogatory-potential: “mentally retarded.”

 

 

The concept and label of mental retardation was widely used, by both laypersons and medical professionals, up until relatively recently.   [1]

In the 1950s the word retarded was progressive, an improvement over feebleminded, imbecile, moron. It shares a root with ritardando, a musical term meaning a gradual decrease in tempo. Think: the musicians’ fingers letting the moments stretch between their notes.
To retard, to slow down. As in: Your baby’s growth is retarded.
But retarded soon came to mean dumb or incompetent. As in: I just lost my phone. I’m so retarded.
(from “The R-Word,” by Heather Kirn Lanier, The Sun )

 

MH and I began to wonder aloud with one another (one of our more frequent conversational formats) about the fact that although the term developmentally delayed may be less open to derogatory usage by laypersons, it isn’t very helpful in the way that all terminology is supposed to be: by being specific or descriptive.

Close-to-the-heart example: My friend FP is blind. FP once told me about her scornful objection to the term visually impaired.  In FP’s experience, some Well-Meaning People ®  think the word blind is somehow insulting. One WMP actually corrected FP when FP described herself as blind: “Oh, you mean you’re ‘visually impaired?’ “

 

“Hell no, I mean, I’m BLIND.”

 

To FP, “blind” is merely, vitally factual:  I’m not simply “impaired,” I’m blind, and that is important for people to know. It’s not that I just see things dimly or unclearly – I don’t see them at all, so when I ask for directions to the bathroom and you tell me it’s ten steps ahead but don’t tell me that there is an ottoman in the way I will trip over it and break my #*%!? nose.

Delay, in its various noun/verb/adverb/adjective forms, involves actions or objects that are postponed and hindered. But delay also carries with it the possibility of catching up.  In describing people as having developmental delays, the term is so broad/vague as to provide little functional information: I have heard it applied to a 4th grader with mild dyslexia as well as to a young adult born with such severe brain deficits he has never been able to communicate, much less toilet, feed and care for himself and thus has required 24 hour professional/institutional care since his toddlerhood.

The scope of conditions categorized under the label intellectual disabilities is broad, and with early intervention the outcomes for many developmentally delayed children (who is the past may have been labeled mentally retarded) is much brighter than in decades ago. But it’s not as if, say, the boy with Down Syndrome is merely delayed academically when compared with his older sister, who is taking calculus as a junior in high school.  It’s not as if, Sure, he’s behind now, but he’ll catch up one day and do higher mathematics – it’ll just take him a few years longer.

What would be an alternative, more accurate label: developmentally compromised ?  It doesn’t seem like there could be any term that would be acceptable to all, or even most people   [2] …and maybe that’s the point.  Here’s a realization worthy of a Hallmark Channel movie: treat everyone as individuals; no one label can tell you all of the strengths or disabilities (excuse me, challenges?   [3] ) facing a particular person.

Still…today’s “She has a developmental delay” isn’t ultimately more informative than yesterday’s, “He has a mental retardation.”

And of course, Things Being What They Are ® , MH and moiself both felt somewhat… awkward…even discussing the issue, just the two of us, no language cops in sight.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of A Headline That Is So Evocative Why Bother
Reading The Newspaper Article – Just Use Your Imagination
Because Whatever You Come Up With Is Bound To Be As (If Not More)
 Entertaining Than The Real Story

 

“Children Removed From A Facility That Limited Tampons”

(The Oregonian, 3-29-19)

 

This has nothing to do with the headline, but imagine a picture that did?

 

*   *   *

Department Of No April Foolin’

Yet another story inspired by a story I was listening to – this one on April 1, courtesy of NPR’s All Things Considered:  How Vanity License Plates Are Approved and Denied in California.

Dateline: sometime in 1980; moiself is down in SoCal, visiting my parents. My mother shows me a newspaper clipping, about an employee of the newspaper (The Orange County Register) who had recently won an “argument” with the California DMV.  “Don’t you know this guy?” my mother asks me.

I scan the article. “Peter?!” I burst out laughing. “Yeah, I know that Schmuck.”

 

Peter looks nothing like a baby sloth in pajamas, but I don’t have a recent photo of him.

 

I went to high school with He Who Was To Become sportswriter/columnist Peter Schmuck. He graduated the year before me; we had mutual friends (mostly the high school journalism crew) but didn’t know each other well. Moiself, like some of his peers, I’d guess, initially pitied then almost immediately admired or at least respected Peter, for having to deal with a first-last name combination considered redundant. Many of us who knew him attributed Peter’s sense of humor and in-your-face attitude – a combination of sarcasm and assertiveness sometimes bordering on aggression  [4] – to having grown up with that name.  It seems PS would at least partially agree with that sentiment, as per his interview with fellow journalist Steve Marantz:

“I‘m the only person in the world who thinks it was a big advantage to grow up with the last name Schmuck.. I’m pretty sure the distinctiveness of the name has helped me throughout my career. It also has given me a thicker skin – in a ‘Boy Named Sue’ kind of way – in a business where that isn’t a bad thing to have.”

I am not wandering off on yet another digression. Here comes the newspaper article/DMV story tie-in:

In 1980 Peter (or, his girlfriend at the time, as Peter has said) applied for a vanity license plate with his last name on it. That was the subject of the newspaper article my mother showed me: Peter Schmuck had been denied the vanity plate SCHMUCK because, in a letter the DMV sent to Peter, the DMV claimed schmuck was a Yiddish indecency.

I found that whole incident to be wonderfully WTF-ish to the nth (thank you, NPR, for the memory prod).  I still smile to picture a state government flunkie whose job it was to tell a person that the person’s given/authentic/legal surname was indecent (Dude, you’re the DMV! Look up his driver’s license, IT’S HIS NAME).

As well as his first 15 minutes of fame, Peter Schmuck got his license plate. Yes, the Good Guy prevailed in The Great License Plate Indecency Skirmish. I saw it on Peter’s car (which, if memory serves, he referred to as the Schmuckmobile).  Following his stint at The Register, Peter moved East and landed a long-time gig as a sports reporter and columnist for The Baltimore Sun.  I forgot to ask Peter, when I saw him at a Baltimore Orioles home game oh-so-many years ago, whether he got the state of Maryland to issue him a new plate.

 

Or, in a hitherto unknown (to moiself) assignment, did Peter spend some time covering the great sport of Iditarod?

*   *   *

May you, when it is your turn, find a graceful way to navigate between grief and relief;
May you be careful with your labels and also patient with those who use them;
May your choice of vanity license plates bring joy to the simple-minded masses;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] In 2010 President Barack Obama signed “Rosa’s Bill,” (approved unanimously by Congress), which required the federal government to replace the terms “mental retardation” “and “mentally retarded” with, respectively,  “intellectual disability” and “individual with an intellectual disability” in policy documents.

[2] And trust me, when you get rid of “retard/retardation” it is replaced by turning the supposedly gentler term into a pejorative: “What are you, a special needs” kid?” which I heard, pronounced with multisyllabic sarcasm, along with “learning disabled” et al, on my childrens’ school yard playgrounds. Never doubt the ability of a grade schooler to turn the most well-intentioned label into a slur.

[3] Another adjective I’ve heard both embraced and mocked, and by people supposedly on the same side of the disability rights movement.  “Intellectually Challenged” – that’s me, trying to follow a chess match.

[4] Translation:  in high school, I thought him somewhat of an asshole. I figured he likely held the same opinion about me. Later on, I came to be, and still am, quite fond of him.

The Religion(s) I’m Not Reforming

Comments Off on The Religion(s) I’m Not Reforming

“Where am I going to go, where patriarchy doesn’t exist? Where is this magic island, free of misogyny – I will go there; tell me where it is (laughter).
But it doesn’t exist – it doesn’t exist anywhere. So it makes the most sense to try to reform your own culture and your own place, and the space where you are most fluent in the language.”
(excerpt from Unladylike interview with Kate Kelly)

*   *   *

Department Of Tell Me This Is Not An Oxymoron

Which was one of my first (printable) thoughts upon hearing the title of episode 8 of the podcast Unladylike: How To Be a Mormon Feminist. BTW, the podcast’s website has one of the best logos ever: an image of stereotypically ladylike fingers, with one impeccably groomed fingernail raised in a defiant salute….

 

Back on topic, please.

 

Once again, I digress.

If you think you don’t have time to listen to the podcast but your curiosity is stoked by the episode’s title and you wonder, How does one be a Mormon feminist?, here’s my time-saving answer:

By leaving the Mormon church.

 

 

But seriously, ladies and germs, I recommend taking the time to listen to the entire episode, which is an interview with “Mormon feminist” and attorney, Kate Kelly.  In 2013 Kelly founded Ordain Women, an organization which…wait for it…advocates for the ordination of women to the Mormon priesthood.  That and other feminist/dissident activities got Ms. Kelly a don’t let the door hit you in your temple garments on your way out from LDS church leaders (translation: Kelly was excommunicated).

Ms. Kelly has quite a story to tell.  Despite her passionate interest in gender equality issues she loved her church – she was raised a devout Mormon, and admits during the interview that she might not have left the LDSchurch had she not been thrown out.   [1]  Listening to her astounding account, and despite her sincere and reasonable articulation (the quote which opens this blog post) about why she stayed in her church, I was once again amazed at our human tendency to beat our head against walls; i.e., not see the reality forest for the mythology trees.

During the interview Kelly felt compelled to explain (or was asked) why a 21st century, educated, intelligent woman concerned with justice could stay – or would even want to stay – in such a misogynist, repressive institution. IMHO she did a good job of trying to explain (to non-Mormons) how being in such a group – you’re raised to believe you are one of the chosen people, and you really have no close relationships outside of your family and friends, who are all Mormon –  is compelling, and confers a feeling of being special.

At the point where Kelly talked about how Mormonism had been her most intimate relationship, I had an immediate, visceral, click[2] insight:

It’s like how some battered women “love” – and thus are not able to leave – their abusers.

Kelly mentioned Mitt Romney’s campaign for the presidency, and how people both inside and outside the Mormon church found Romney’s campaign a watershed moment for Mormonism, in that the larger society saw a man who was presented as a nice/normal guy who wasn’t flaunting his own religious beliefs and who had promised to be a leader for all. Meanwhile, Kelly was disturbed that there was little to no media attention paid to/examining the fact that Romney was participating in an institution which discriminates against women at every level and which does not allow women to hold positions of power.

 

 

The battered women analogy kept coming back to me. Yo, Mormon women, and all you women involved in patriarchal religions,  [3] institutions, or worldviews: y’all are married to your abusers.  You are battered wives, intellectually and spiritually.   [4]   You have been emotionally and cognitively kidnapped; you suffer from Stockholm Syndrome :  like an abduction victim, you have developed a psychological alliance with your captors as a survival strategy.

Before I had listened to the interview in its entirety I wanted to ask Kelly, “And so what if you (Mormon feminist women) are able, in the near (ha!) or far future, to baptize people or perform any other of the Mormon priesthood rituals reserved only for men?  That’s not going to change the fact that the LDS church is an institution built on falsehoods and discrimination.”   …As are all religions, BTW, including (what was once) “my own,” which is why moiself has no problemo with critiquing yours.

*   *   *

Department Of As Long As We’re On The Subject Of Religion-Bashing Analysis

Faithful (ahem)  [5]  or even sporadic readers of this blog may know that I was raised in a Christian household/church-going family. However, as long as I can remember thinking about such things, I never really bought into the religion’s tenets and finally  [6] came out as a Humanist/Atheist/Freethinker many years ago.

 

 

Now that I am out as religion-free, whenever I have discussions with friends and family members who are religious believers – and it may interest you to know that these discussions are actually few and far between…in my experience, religious believers do not really want to engage a well-read and articulate person who has been on the inside and then left – we apostates know where the bodies are buried, so to speak (which is yet another subject worthy of a post of its own)….

Ahem. Yet again, please excuse the digression. 

 

Book ’em, Danno. Digression in the second degree.

 

When I have  discussions with a friend or family member who is a religious believer (about why they remain so and why I am not), I often hear some variation of the following statement, in which they try to assert what they think is my opinion about their beliefs:

You probably think I’m an idiot/ignorant
for remaining in the church/being a believer.

This is absolutely not true, and I say so.

Or sometimes I’ll say, “That’s not necessarily true,” and explain, provocatively but with good humor, that I really don’t know their innermost thought processes nor how their mind works; perhaps if I did, then yeah, idiot might apply.  But I never, ever assume that, nor even think it (until they brought it up).

Here’s the thing: despite how close or distant our relationship may be; despite what you claim to know about the origins/history/scriptures of your religion, I cannot know your level of intelligence, nor if you’ve objectively/rationally examined the evidence…etcetera and whatever.  With regard to your holding religious beliefs, here is the only thing I do know about you (and other believers):

Whether or you are intellectually gifted or blissfully ignorant, whether you are a snake-handling Holy Roller or a High Mass-attending electrical engineer, you are credulous.

*   *   *

What is needed is not the will to believe but the will to find out,
which is the exact opposite.
(Bertrand Russell )

 

 

This bears repeating: you are not stupid; you are credulous.

Yep; that’s it. And I dare to speak not only for moiself. Most of us who are religion-free do not think that you-who-are religious believers are stupid. We do think that you are wrong, and also, most importantly, that you are credulous.  Can you understand the difference?

You are credulous, the opposite of incredulous: you want to believe. And Religion with a capital R   [7]  gives you very compelling reasons to do so, to the point that otherwise discerning folk who are eager and able to point out the absurdities/errors/this-cannot-be-a-description-of-reality of other religions are able to set aside their analytical capability when it comes to their own tribe’s practices and beliefs.  I know some very smart and sincere people who are experts at such compartmentalization, and when I’ve pointed out that, for example, they do not practice Iron Age medicine, engineering, politics, etc. yet continue to maintain the alleged relevance of Iron Age spirituality and scriptures…they get…nervous (or incredulous!), to put it mildly.

This compartmentalization/cognitive dissonance is no surprise. Religion has done a very good job convincing people that they cannot ultimately:

* be “good”
* live a worthy life
*take comfort in unanswerable questions
*have the love and respect of family/friends/community…

without subscribing to religious beliefs.

A few religions/religious believers don’t even seem to mind so much if you aren’t a member of their church, just as long as you pick one deity to believe in (“Even though, of course, ours is the best /the One True Faith ® , if you can’t do that, at least pick something, okay?)

I’d recommend picking the one with the best hats.

 

Not only is religion is a main – and in many cases, the only – component of a believer’s social and/or peer group dynamic, there can be severe emotional, social and familial (and even business and professional) consequences for leaving your faith group, or even for remaining in the flock while denying or examining too closely /attempting to reform its traditions and tenets…as per the aforementioned excommunication of Ms. Kelly.

Back to Kelly: my favorite part (read: a jaw-dropping, NOT) of Unladylike‘s interview with her was when she spoke of the aftermath of being kicked out of the LDS church. (my emphasis):

“They can take everything away from you; they can take your family away from you. As soon as I was excommunicated my parents were asked to meet with their (church) leaders, and their leaders took away their callings,   [8]  took away their temple recommends – which means they can’t attend the temple – and really socially ostracized them, to the point that, in the meeting they said that, ‘you’re still permitted to love your daughter, even though you can’t associate with her.’ “    [9]

 

*   *   *

Department Of Can You Just Find One Nice Thing To Say?

 

Although at the end of the day (or the never-ending time period, if you subscribe to the concepts of reincarnation and nirvana   [10] ) the various strains of Buddhism are filled with as many superstitions as other religions. But Buddhism as a philosophy contains ideas/advice based on the observation of reality (as opposed to alleged supernatural revelation or decree).

 

When’s the last – or first – time you heard a religious leader say that?

 

Besides the observation that life is tough and no one gets out alive (my pithy summary of the first of The Four Noble Truths ) —  one of the Buddhist ideas I find helpful and hopeful – not to mention merely and profoundly accurate – is the concept of impermanence.

With regards to human circumstances, impermanence, simply explained, is the acknowledgement that things change. This can be seen as both a caveat and a reassurance, as both warning and comfort.

* So, things are going very well:  you have stable and loving family, good health and close friendships, fulfilling work and hobbies, financial security – everything seems to be going your way and you feel on top of the world!  How wonderful for you! Enjoy this time, even as you keep in mind that things change… This will not always be the case.

* So, things are going very badly: your spouse has abandoned you; friends are absent or seemingly indifferent to your suffering; you have lost a loved one to death or estrangement; you are ill or injured; you were laid off at work and seem to be heading toward bankruptcy and you feel caught in a downward spiral of unbearable despair.  How truly awful for you…but remember, this too, will change.

 

Why do sloths remind me of Buddhist monks?

 

*   *   *

 

May you find the strength to leave your abusers, be they persons, thoughts, or institutions;
May you be both challenged and comforted by the reality of impermanence;
May you find simple pleasure in regarding a sloth’s monk-face;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

 

 

[1] Kelly claims no current religious affiliation.

[2] A term from the 1970s/second wave feminist, describing that moment wherein a woman, usually in listening to/reading about the experiences of other women, realizes she is a feminist and/or understands feminist principles and observations about living in a patriarchal society.

[3] All religions, basically, with arguably some Pagan/Wiccan strains outside the fold.

[4] As per the typical questions asked of battered women about why don’t they leave the relationship – look them up, and you’ll find the same reasoning/fears can apply to fleeing an abusive spouse and leaving such a life-dominating institution.

[5] How we Freethinkers looooove using that word.

[6] Almost 15 years ago.

[7] As in, all of them, and the societies where they dominate.

[8] “Callings” in the Mormon church are assignments or chores to make the church function. Callings can vary widely in capacity and responsibility, such as working on a committee, serving as a Bishop (a male-only calling), being a Sunday School teacher, making a monthly meal for your congregation….

[9] How many times have you heard, from non-Mormons trying to say something nice about the LDS: “Well, you gotta give ’em credit, they do so love the family….”

[10] And I hope you don’t.

Older Entries