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The Hotel I’m Not Bonking

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Department Of The Fail-Safe Therapy Tool For Kids Of All Ages

 

 

Before I commence to deal with some Serious Subjects ® , I’m going to play for a few seconds with the farty putty (aka, “noise putty”) device MH got me as a Christmas stocking stuffer.  ‘Tis such a primal amusement, and also an effective stress reliever.  I think the American Psychological Association should recommend it to their counselors, to have on hand for sessions that get really intense:  “It’s time for a farty putty break.”  😉

Lest you think moiself  jests about its therapeutic applications, feast your eyes on this, from the National Autism Resources website (my emphases):

“Kids of all ages love to play with noise putty! It has an unusual squishy texture that you can squeeze between your fingers. Push it back into its jar and listen to it make funny, gastronomical sounds. Use it to work on fine motor skills….”

And not to worry, for y’all who consider yourselves to be technically-challenged.  It even has handy-dandy instructions:

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Not Up To Their Previous Standards

Moiself  is referring to the latest installment of Serial, the Peabody award-winning investigative journalism podcast (developed by This American Life)  which made a name for itself in the past ten or so years with its episodic, documentary-style presentation of compelling non-fiction stories.  Past seasons included an investigation of the 1999 murder an 18-year-old student at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, and an in-depth look at what happened to Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, an American Army soldier who was held for five years by the Taliban, then charged with desertion.

The Trojan Horse Affair, Serial’s latest installment, claims to take a closer look at the 2013 scandal in England which involved claims of a conspiracy to introduce Islamist tenets into several schools in Birmingham – claims which were set out in an anonymous letter  [1] sent to Birmingham City Council.  TTHF is hosted and reported by American veteran producer Brian Reed and a novice journalist, Hamza Syed, a British doctor-turned-reporter from Birmingham, England.

 

 

“This is my first story as a journalist. I don’t plan for it to be my last story as well, but given what’s happened in the years I’ve been working on this, it probably will be.”
( Hamza Syed, from his interview on NPR’s Fresh Air 2-15-22)

Syed’s provocative quote, and my enjoyment of Serial’s previous installments, got me interested in listening to the series. After having done so, I’ve concluded that if, indeed, TTHA turns out to be Syed’s last story as a journalist it won’t be because of his concerns, both overt and implied, of anti-Muslim prejudice against him.  It will be because he proved to be a lousy reporter.

Besides displaying a rather volatile temper, Syed made a major faux pas which cast doubt on the integrity of his methods and motives, and on his ability to distinguish between his personal identity and an investigation’s subject matter.

“Long story short” territory:  In a latter episode of the TTHA series (# five or six, I think, of eight total episodes) it was revealed that, at one point in Syed’s and Redd’s investigation, Syed, frustrated with being unable to get sources to confide in him, played the Muslim card:  [2]    Syed wrote a letter to a potential interviewee (a Muslim man), saying he has never believed the accepted narrative around the case, nor many of the people involved in the investigations around it, and that his (Syed’s) identity as a Muslim takes precedence for him in his investigation.

MH and I each (separately) listened to the podcast, and each of us had similar, jaw-dropping reactions to what Syed had done.  Given the opportunity to provide feedback to Syed, I’d have phrased my reaction thusly:

Why should I take *anything* from you seriously, when you’ve just admitted that you do *not* have journalistic integrity at heart, in a story that especially demands it?

Like the evangelical creationist who admits he views science through the lens of how he interprets Christian scriptures, you have told a person – from whom you are trying to get information – that, like him, you are ultimately and firstly a Muslim.

Now, were you lying to get him to trust you? Or were you telling the truth?  Either way, I can take nothing you say or do as if it were coming from a serious journalist striving for truth, integrity, and objectivity.

Despite our respective shock and disgust at what the reporter had done, both MH and I found the TTHA story intriguing, and continued to listen to the rest of the series. But we weren’t the only ones to have an issue with it, and with more matters than its rookie journalist’s whopping boner of a tactic. There was also the assumption the series seemed to take, from the beginning of the podcast: that anti-Islamic sentiment was behind and/or ultimately responsible for  *everything* in the scandal.  Accusations (including incidents of verifiable and disturbing behaviors   [3]  )  about sexism, anti-LGBTQ teachings, and child abuse on the part of some Muslim men – alarms raised by Muslim women – were mentioned in several TTHA episodes, in marginal ways, then dropped.

We weren’t the only ones who were disturbed by this. To quote only one critique:

“The Trojan Horse Affair presents a one-sided account that minimizes child protection concerns, misogyny and homophobia in order to exonerate the podcast’s hero…  In doing so, it breaches the standards the public have the right to expect of journalists, with cruel consequences for those it uses and abuses along the way.”

( “The Trojan Horse Affair: How Serial Podcast Got It So Wrong,”
Sonia Sohad, The Guardian 2-20-22

 

Shaka Ssali is a (recently retired) Uganda-born journalist.

 

*   *   *

Department Of How Other Journalists Are Getting It So Right

What comes to mind when you read the words of a critic and writer at The Washington Post, who called an Academy Award-nominated film “…the most inspiring journalism movie — maybe ever”?

Are you thinking of the award-winning  All The President’s Men, or Spotlight?  Or The Post, or The Killing Fields, or….?

Nope.  The WAPO writer refers to a documentary (among five nominees for this year’s Academy Award for best documentary feature) which takes place in India.

 

 

Indian politicians would have you believe that their country is a major power in the modern, 21st century world, yet they do the bare minimum to change aspects of their culture which hark back to 1500 BCE, when the caste system was established.

 

 

The good news:  in India, one of the most dangerous countries in which to practice journalism,   [4]   there is an astoundingly brave and persistent group of reporters committed to the ultimate tenet of good journalism: holding the powerful to account.  What’s amazing about this group is that is it composed of people with inarguably the least amount of power in their country:  Dalit (the lowest caste, aka “untouchables”) women.

Writing With Fire is the documentary which tells the story of these reporters and their newspaper/news outlet, Khabar Lahariya (translation: “News wave”).  Moiself   urges you to see it (streaming on Amazon, and available via other venues).

 

 

” In India’s millennia-old caste system, Dalits fall entirely outside the structure. Once pejoratively referred to as ‘untouchables’…over centuries Dalits have remained oppressed by tradition and the rest of Indian society.

‘I tell my daughters, their caste identity will always follow them. This is how our society is structured, but it’s important to keep challenging the system,’ says Meera Devi, the outlet’s chief reporter who is the main protagonist of the film.

But day after day, the women defiantly expose sexual violence against women and the corruption of illegal mining operations in rural India.

‘We don’t trust anyone except you. Khabar Lahariya is our only hope,’ the husband of a woman who has been repeatedly raped by a group of men in their village tells Devi in one of the rare moments in the film in which a man acknowledges the organization’s value and impact.”

(“Opinion: The most inspiring journalism movie — maybe ever”
Jason Rezian, The Washington Post, 2-1-22 )

Writing With Fire has a bajillion   [5]   story levels to it (other than that of the newspaper itself and the stories it covers), including the reporters’ uphill battle against centuries of patriarchy, and gender and caste prejudice.  It’s also an excellent briefing on what makes a good journalist, in any culture.

Some standout moments of the film, for moiself , include:

* Two of the reporters, while preparing a meal, are discussing questions they will be asking of participants in an upcoming election. One reporter asks the other,“Tell me something honestly, why do we call our country ‘mother India?’ Why celebrate the country as a mother?…. I get very irritated watching the celebrations on TV glorifying our democracy. But where is the democracy? Neither are we a democracy, nor are the women free.”

* Later in the documentary one of the more the most promising young journalists of Khabar Lahariya is interviewed about her having to leave the newspaper. She’d spoken earlier about not wanting to succumb to the pressure to get married, and about what happens to women in her society.  And then…

“What can I say? At one point I thought of not getting married at all. Many things were on my mind. So I thought, why get married? But I’m under a lot of pressure. I need to protect my parents, because being a single woman is not an option here.

People are questioning my integrity as well as my family’s. They were saying that they (her family) want to live off my earnings, ‘…and at night your daughter…’
 It tortures the family and creates a lot of tension. So I realize marriage is inevitable. I don’t want to be the cause of my family suffering.
Let’s think that whatever will happen will be for the best. Things have a way of working out, and that’s what I’m hoping for….”
  (She pauses, shakes her head, holds back tears)
“I’m finding it difficult to speak anymore.”    [6]

 

 

The film depicted scenarios both horrendous, and uplifting, depressing and emboldening, What affected me the most? It wasn’t…

* the husbands and families of these brave journalists showing lackluster (if any) support for their work;

*  the frustrations of the reporters trying to learn and use digital technologies when most of them have never been able to afford a cell phone, and then, when they are issued smart phones and/or touchscreen tablets by the newspaper, they can’t charge the equipment because their homes lack electricity;

* the rising influence of the Anti-Muslim bigot Hindu nationalist, Prime Minister Modi, and the prevalence of his inflammatory rhetoric using that most unholy of alliances – politics and religion;

* the danger and threats (physical, emotional, and sexual) the women face; nor the way way sexual slurs are used to try to cow and humiliate them and their families…  

One small, domestic scene really got to me, probably because I took it to be illustrative of what these reporters, as women in a seemingly women-denigrating culture, have to deal with: with the should and should not limitations all women face, in a world still dominated by patriarchal attitudes.

The scene took place early in the morning.  Meera Devi, who like her Khabar Lahariya peers has worked all the previous day (and well into the night), is braiding her daughter’s long hair before school.  Like all of her married reporter peers, the vast majority (if not all) of household tasks fall upon Devi, even as she works full-time out of the home.  Her daughter is insisting on two braids (“plaits”), as Devi wearily (if good-humoredly) grumbles about not having time for that…one plait should be enough.  But the daughter pleads, telling her mother that she will be (and has been) scolded at school if her mother doesn’t do her hair in two plaits, “…because teacher says all girls should have two plaits.”

All girls should….
All girls are ….
All girls must…
All girls should never….

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of International Relations

MH and moiself  are doing some much anticipated traveling overseas this summer.  For some of the travel we’ll be in a Scandinavian tour group.  The tour begins in Stockholm; following savvy traveler advice, I booked us rooms in a Stockholm hotel two days ahead of when the tour begins, so that we can adjust to the time difference and all that pickled herring and Swedish chefs, etc.

Moiself  got an English translation while booking online, but the confirmation the hotel emailed to us was in Swedish.  It began with a cheery greeting which I was mostly able to figure out, except that I transposed two letters in the fourth word, which made for an interesting impression/translation: “Tak För Din Bokning!”

Me, to Moiself:
” ‘Thanks for the bonking ?!?!? ‘
Wow – this really is an all-service hotel!”

Moiself:
Ahem, that’s, bokning.  [7]

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Swedish Edition

Swedish inventors have created cyborgs which are hard to distinguish from real humans.
Critics are concerned about the use of artificial Swedeners.

Why does the Swedish military put barcodes on their ships?
So when the ships return to port they can scan da navy in.

My neighbor drones on and on about his notoriously unreliable Swedish sports car…
It seems like a great big Saab story to me.

Did you hear about a new Broadway show that combines magic with Swedish pop songs?
It’s called ABBA-Cadabra.

 

Mamma Mia, there she goes again.

 

*   *   *

May you enjoy the therapeutic applications of “funny, gastronomic sounds;”
May you watch Writing With Fire (then maybe Spotlight and other journalism-themed movies) and appreciate the absolute necessity of a free press to a vital democracy;
May you put on ABBA’s “Waterloo” and dance around your living room
(you know you want to);
…and may the hijinks ensue.

 

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

*   *   *

[1] Which was later deemed to be a hoax.

[2] About which he was confronted, and chastised, by Reed.

[3] Including sexual abuse of a 14 year old girl by one of her male teachers.

[4] Over forty journalists in India have been killed since 2014.

[5] Fortunately, the reporters of Khabar Lahariya, constrained as they are by sound journalistic principles, would never stoop to using such sensationalistic exaggerations as those employed by moiself.

[6] Later still there is footage of her at her wedding, in her wedding finery.  Moiself wanted to cry; I’ve never seen a more downhearted looking bride…or woman in almost any situation, for that matter.  But, in the documentary postscript, it was reported that she had rejoined the newspaper several months after her marriage.

[7] Uh, that would be, booking, as in, booking a room with them.  Nudge Nudge wink wink.

The FREE (All caps! Must be legit! ) Opportunity I’m Not Pursuing

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Department Of Sometimes The Blog Just Writes Itself

Dateline:  3-14 (Pi day).
First thing in the morning, moiself  receives this email (my emphases):

Hi Robyn!  My name is Raine    [1]
and I’m an Executive Assistant from Craniumz Magazine.   [2]

I came across your profile and find what you do both inspiring and in line with our topics and audience.

 

 

Excusez-moi for this diversion…I just can’t help but pause for a bullshit snort. What I do is so not in line with their “topics and audience.”

Back to the email:

We’re currently sourcing entrepreneurs for the opportunity to be registered as potential guest writers for free publicity opportunities, or to invite them as contributors for Craniumz Magazine. We’re also looking for inspiring coaches, leaders, and entrepreneurs who could be featured on The Craniumz Global Award List 2022 – a global list that will be released in June, and has featured names like Oprah Winfrey, Robin Sharma and Marisa Peer, to name a few.
Is any of this something you would be interested in being considered for?

Best regards, Raine Latte

 

 

OMG, my chance to have my name be somehow associated with Oprah’s!!  And two WTF  people I know nothing about!  I, of course, will drop everything, including common sense and any vestige of self-respect, to be exploited by have the honor of working with the Craniumz people who, according to their website, are a

“…Global Media Brand operated by ____  [3], a branding and digital media brand, with a focus on interviews, articles and information about business, mindset, innovation, leadership and lifestyles.”,

 

 

 

Holy bald-faced and obsequious ignorance. Indeed, if Ms. Raine came across my profile, she evidently didn’t follow it to/bother to check out my blog, which would clue her in as to how little I think of the concept of branding

 

 

Nevertheless, moiself  could not pass up the (FREE) opportunity to respond:

Hello Raine,
What is the compensation for guest writers
and/or contributors to Craniumz Magazine?
And if you came across my profile,
did you note that I am primarily a writer of fiction?
Curiously,
Robyn Parnell

The reply:

Hi
Great to hear from you. My first email serves as an invitation for you to be one of our potential Guest Writers.

Our Guest Writers get FREE access to opportunities that we have in the group such as free articles, podcast hosting, interviews and a chance to be on the list of awards – Craniumz 500 Global List & Global Award. Guest writers are encouraged to participate in the opportunities posted every week for them to get selected for free publicity. They may also opt to submit their proposed topic, quote or article through content@brainzmagazine.com. If the Content Team find it interesting and matched the theme for the month, they will surely approach you for information.

Hope this helps.  Best regards, Raine

 

 

I couldn’t just leave it at that:

Hi yourself.

Congratulations on your outstanding job of not answering my questions.
Since the proverbial picture paints a thousand (FREE) words,
I’ll express my opinion on this matter via the pictorial presentation of the artist/writer known as The Oatmeal:    [4]

 

*    *   *

Department Of How To Spot A Bot

I did not expect a response to the obvious disinterest – and inherent if not overt dis – contained in my last reply.  Yet the artist formerly known as Bot program pretending to be a human called Raine sent me one more oblivious/form reply:

“I’m happy to hear you’re interested!
If you have a spare minute now, it would be great if you could fill in your information in our contributor form, so that ____  [5] can review your details for the publicity opportunities. It’s just a couple of quick questions….

Once your information has been reviewed, you’ll receive an email within 24 hours with the headline ‘Publicity in Craniumz Magazine’ with instructions and information about the opportunities. (This email sometimes ends up in the spam folder, so don’t forget to check it’s not hiding in there!) 🙂

Just let me know when you’ve submitted, and I’ll try to speed up the process.
Looking forward to hopefully seeing more from you, as I think you would make a great addition to the Craniumz community! “

 

Except that, someone did.

 

*   *   *

Department Of St. Patrick’s Day Party Deferred

Dateline: Tuesday 3-17-20.  At 6 pm the dinner party, with ten people total,  [6]  had been scheduled to commence.   Anyone remember what else happened in mid-March,2020?

 

“I’ll take pandemics for $1000, Alex.”

 

I left the dining table as it was set – including moiself’s  lavish centerpiece (a very large – we’re talking four pounds – potato sporting a green crown) – for many months after, in hope, or defiance?   Come Autumn, when This Thing Looks Like It’s Going To Stick Around ® began to settle in my brain, I put away the plates and the cutlery, the napkins and the décor.  The centerpiece, by then, had begun to mutate, much like the virus which caused its dethronement.

 

She took away my crown, so I’m growing my own.

 

If I were to throw a party now, it would be one to celebrate the foreign troops’ withdrawal from Ukraine.  But seeing as how that Tin of Poo in charge of the Russian kleptocracy has an ego as large and skin as thin as those of our own #45…well, odds are he’s not going to leave quietly, ya know?

Moiself  is not hopeful for either a quick or peaceful resolution to the mess the Russians have made in the Ukraine.  I dread what Putin’s nose-thumbing, ass-licking, face-saving strategies could ultimately entail.  But in my dreams, all things are possible:

 

“Oops, my bad!  We’re leaving now.”

 

In the meantime, in an action about as effective in the long (or short) run as saying to the Ukrainians, “I’ll pray for you,” I’ve done the bare minimum to keep up the consciousness in my ‘hood.

 

 

And I hope readers, if you haven’t done so already, will join me in checking Charity Navigator    [7]   for an above-board relief organization to aid the Ukrainians, and make a contribution.  CN currently lists thirty-five organizations funneling relief aid to “The Ukrainian-Russian Crisis.”  The organizations are grouped under the following headings:  Medical Services; Medical Supplies; Non-Medical Supplies; Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH); Emergency Housing Long-Term Assistance; Other (inc. cash/cash vouchers, logistic supply, animals).    [8]

 

*   *   *

*   *   *

Department Of Nostalgia: Recalling My First Instruction In Deductive Reasoning

♫   Beans, Beans, the musical fruit
The more you eat; the more you toot
The more you toot, the better you feel
So let’s have beans for every meal!   ♫

 

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Musical Fruit Edition

Why did everyone notice when Bill Gates farted in the Apple store?
Because the store didn’t have any Windows.

I didn’t pass gas in front of my husband until we got married.
His family wasn’t impressed.

Life is so unfair – I just called the Flatulence Incontinence Hotline,
and the woman who answered said, “Can you hold, please?”

Why doesn’t Chuck Norris fart?
Because nothing escapes Chuck Norris.

When a clown farts, does it smell funny?

 

Clowns are NOT funny.

*   *   *

May you be entertained by bogus offers to link your name with Oprah’s;
May you appreciate your first lesson in deductive reasoning;
May you accept my belated slainté on behalf of March 17;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] A real person, according to the magazines website staff listing, (I checked), but not her real name…although I have a feeling she is a bot/creation.

[2] A supposedly real magazine (I checked), but not its real title.

[3] Some parent company headquartered in Sweden.

[4] The incomparable Matthew Inman.  Who, I imagine, would also not be impressed to be on a “global awards” list that may have once had Oprah’s name on it.

[5] Another ostensibly real person’s name, but likely not a Real Person ® .

[6] Including MH and I and son K.

[7] Charity Navigator is the world’s largest and probably best-known “nonprofit evaluator.” Itself a non-profit, CN analyses the integrity of a non-profit organization in financial terms, focusing on how much of contributed funds are used for the purpose(s) claimed by the charity, with an emphasis on the cost effectiveness (or impact) of the charity, its financial stability, adherence to best practices for accountability and transparency, and results reporting.

[8] Moiself  chose International Relief Teams, which has a “100%” rating from CN.

The Job I’m Not Dressing For

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Department Of Preview Of Coming Attractions

I went to a career advancement program at work, where I was advised,
“Dress for the job you *want,* not the job you *have.*”
Great!” I thought.
The next day, they fired me for violating the dress code at the bank.
Hypocrites.  How am I ever going to become a sumo wrestler now?

 

*   *   *

Department Of Mysteries Of The Mind
Chapter 82 In An Ongoing Series.

How is it possible for me to love the song, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” even as moiself  loathes the supposedly classic movie it references?

Admittedly, it’s been years since I watched the film.  I recall finding it an overrated snooze fest; also, the inclusion of an appalling ethnic stereotype character erased, for moiself, any possibility of enjoying the performance of the gamin-like ®  Audrey Hepburn.  [1]

And, yes indeedy-doo, I am aware of the pitfalls of employing the standards of today to judge the art of yesterday.  But, holy fortune cookie on a chopstick! – the movie was release in 1961, not 1916, and it had Mickey Rooney playing Hepburn’s buck-toothed, nearsighted, Japanese landlord (“Mr. Yunioshi”).

Effin’ MICKEY ROONEY?

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Classic Bits Of Advice That Are Soooooo Not True

Such as the following, from a great English writer and social critic who wrote so movingly about the human condition, you think he’d know better.

“Ask no questions and you’ll be told no lies.”
( Charles Dickens )

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Do You Think They’ll Even Care (Or Read It)?   [2]

Dateline: last week, Thursday.  After listening again, to a repeat episode of one of my regular/favorite “science info” podcasts,  and being, annoyed, again, by the same thing that annoyed moiself the first (and second) time I heard it, I had to write to the podcast hosts.  [3]  Except that the podcast website provides no way to do that.  Thus….

Dear Curiosity Daily Hosts Cody Gough and Ashley Hamer,

Regular listener of CD here. Love the science; loathe the hyperbole.

As in: CD’s recent rebroadcast of the episode, Giant Cheese Race, “Morning You,” Consciousness-Altering Eye Contact. Specifically, the script for the Morning You segment.  It bothered me then (when it originally ran, in 2018), and it bothers me now:

“…A massive new study says…that you are a totally different person in the morning than you are at night.”

No. And, no no no.

I am certain that’s not what the study (if it claims any relation to scientific validity) says.  Remember, words impart meaning, which is why we argue over their usage.

A “Tweet analysis” study (geesh; really?), even a so-called massive one, did not discover a “total” change in personhood. Rather, it indicated that there could be a difference in some peoples’ moods, focuses, and vocabulary usage over the course of a day.

No earth-shattering discovery there. Altering interests and focuses over the day do not transform you into a “totally different person.”

If you were a *totally* different person, that would be something along the lines of, you woke up as a lonely 50-year-old male Ukrainian airline pilot obsessed with learning to play the didgeridoo, and went to bed as a gregarious 13-year-old female Guatemalan ballet dancer who’s planning to run for 8th grade class president.

Sincerely (if not totally) yours,

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Memory Lane
Sub-Department Of Not My Finest Moment of Being A Supportive Sibling

Recently I had cause to think back upon a childhood memory: the one big rebellion of my older sister (N).  I shared it with daughter Belle…and now, with y’all.

 

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…okay, in Santa Ana, CA.  I was in the second grade, my sister, your Aunt “N,” was in grade 4.

One night, with our family at the kitchen table, N did something astonishing (for her): she cleaned *most* of her plate (she always ate everything on it), but refused to eat a certain portion of her dinner.

I can’t remember exactly what it was that she didn’t eat – a new vegetable, or side dish?   [4]   The thing was, N, the stereotypically good/obedient first child, refused to take a bite and try it.  And that was sooo un-N-like, which is probably what irritated my parents the most.  They decreed that N had to remain at the kitchen table; she had to stay seated until she sampled __ (whatever it was).  She stayed at the table, but refused to take a bite.

I was fascinated by this.  I remained sitting at my usual place beside her on the table, while Mom and Dad and my younger sister RA (this was before your uncle, RS, was born) cleared their plates and went to the living room to watch Gilligan’s Island, which just happened to be one of N’s favorite TV shows. The following conversation ensued (transcript approximate; not verbatim):

Moiself:
Gilligan’s Island is about to start.”

N:
“I don’t care.”

Moiself:
“Mom and Dad said you have to stay at the table until you finish eating.”

N:
“Then I’ll sit here, all night.”

Moiself:
“You’re really gonna sit there, all night?”

N:
“I’m gonna sit here forever.”

Moiself:
“Oh, okay.”  (a pause of several seconds.)
“Then, can I have your room?    [5]

N:
“Fine; I don’t care.”

I can’t remember all the details of the aftermath; indeed, N was still sitting at the kitchen table when my parents informed RA and I that it was our bedtime (earlier than usual, and I was pissed by that.  I thought that they were going to argue with N or something and didn’t want us to see).  I had to go to bed in my own room; in the morning, it was obvious N had gone to bed at some point and did not stay at the table all night.

Years later, when I asked N about the incident, she said she didn’t remember it, and Mom and Dad are both gone so I can’t ask them:  Well, did she take a bite, or didn’t she?  It certainly made an impression on me – N  (not me, for once) getting in trouble and being willfully disobedient.  What I also remember is how much power it gave N, even if only temporary.  Her refusing to take even one measly, No Thank You Bite ® drove my parents nuts.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Faith-Based Lack-of-Initiative

“Portland mayor’s top adviser proposed massive, militarized group shelters as step in ending homeless camping….”
( The Oregonian, 2-11-22 )

Moiself  recently saw the above headline about the latest proposal possibly being considered by Portland’s mayor – a proposal that likely will go nowhere/do nothing re the city’s ongoing homeless/street camping problem.

There is a seeming intractability to this multifaceted issue, where no one can agree on what to do without infringing on someone’s “rights.”  Moiself  leans toward the rights of taxpaying homeowners and renters to *not* have to live next to, and among, hazardous waste sites, [6]  nor abide pollution and fires and destruction of wetlands, wildlife corridors and other protected wildlife habitats directly resulting from homeless encampments.  [7]

I am not impressed with the assertion, made by well-meaning but ultimately misguided (IMO) folks, that a mentally ill and/or addicted/substance-abusing person has the “right” to wander the streets, muttering gibberish, panhandling ( which can devolve into threats and aggression, demand and extortion   [8]  ) eating from dumpsters, defecating on the streets, and dying of hypothermia.

And it got me to thinking…about all those churches.  Specifically, all those church buildings and the real estate they own and (occasionally) occupy.

 

 

Some religious buildings are rather modest; others, particularly those belonging to the evangelical “mega” churches, are more like compounds which could house a small country.  Speaking of housing – the majority of churches buildings, no matter their size, lie unused most of the time. Except for a few Sunday services and a couple of mid-week bible studies, youth group meeting or other gatherings, they basically serve as a social hall for their members.

 

 Ariel photo of Pastor Joel Osteen’s $10.5 million dollar home, which is a 17,000 square foot compound on 1.86 acres.in River Oaks, a wealthy Houston suburb (Osteen also has another house, a $2.9 million mansion in Tanglewood, another Houston suburb).
“The property boasts loads of unique and luxurious features which span across the large mansion, including 6 bedrooms, 6 bathrooms, 5 open wood fireplaces, 3 elevators, a 1 bedroom guest house, a pool, and a pool house.”
( Backstage: Joel Osteen’s house)

Criticizing the hypocrisy of the wealthy evangelical preachers is like shooting low-hanging fish in a fruit barrel. Preachers like Joel Osteen, known for peddling the Christianity “prosperity gospel” (translation: high on prosperity – for the leader/preacher, and low on gospel), is one of the wealthiest, and thus, lowest…uh, hanging.

But I’m holding all Christian churches, and Christians, responsible for the following observation of moiself:

If Christians took their faith seriously, there would be no homeless problem.    [9]

(I’m not ragging on dealing with other religions right now, although regular/longtime readers of this blog know that I do not hesitate to do so.  But the subject here is homelessness in the USA, where Christianity is the dominant religion among those who claim a religious affiliation. )

 

 

Christians, in particular those prone to a conservative, evangelizing theology, like to proclaim to non-Christians that, “Jesus/god loves you and has a plan for your life!” even as they conveniently ignore the plans that *their* god supposedly gave to believers in their own so-called holy book:    [10]

“Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’
‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.’
‘Which ones?’ he inquired.
Jesus replied, ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.’
 “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
( Matthew 19:15-21 )

“…For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ …Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
(Matt: 25 42-45 )

 

 

Jesus could identify with the homeless in His itinerant ministry.
In Matthew 8:20, Jesus states that even animals have a place to call home, but He had nowhere to lay His head.
He stayed in the homes of whoever would welcome Him and sometimes outside.

God expects His people to help those who are homeless. The Law directly addressed care for those in need. In Leviticus 25:35 God commands His people to help support those who have no home and cannot support themselves: “If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them as you would a foreigner and stranger, so they can continue to live among you.” (see also Deuteronomy 15:7–11). The Lord rebuked those who kept the outward form of religion yet did not care for the poor: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen . . . to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6–7).
(“What does the bible say about the homeless/homelessness.” Gotquestions.org )

Conservative/prosperity gospel practitioners of Christianity seem to take literally only a few scriptural injunctions which have to do with sex (i.e. those which they think don’t apply to themselves).  But Jesus’ many admonitions to his followers re helping the poor and not amassing treasures on earth?  Nah; those have nothing to do with them.  Obviously, JC meant for his followers to take *those* commands figuratively, as in this amazing rationalization, which I’ve actually heard from more than one Christian (when I’ve questioned them re their obvious comfort with acquiring wealth while so many in their community are impoverished):

“What the Bible means is that we should tend to a person’s *spiritual* (not financial) poverty, since material possessions ultimately don’t matter.”

Cool story, bro. Just one problem:

“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’
but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?”
(James 2:15-16)

 

 

*   *   *

Punz/Jokez For The Day
Hypocrisy Edition

My pastor told me that my generation can’t live without technology.
I called him a hypocrite and unplugged his life support machine.

When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bike,
until I realized the Lord doesn’t work that way.
So I stole one and asked him to forgive me instead.

My priest is such a hypocrite.
He called my friend a hero for donating a kidney,
but when I turned tried to donate ten, he called me a monster.

 

 

*   *   *

May the job you want be the one you’re dressing for;
May you not rely upon iron age scriptures to discern and solve
 twenty-first century problems;
May you watch a better, if lesser-known, Audrey Hepburn film    [11]
(than “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”);
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Gamin is the word many movie critics seem to think one is required by law to use4 when commenting on Audrey Hepburn.

[2] I mean, would *you*?

[3] Who are also the writers of many (but not all) of the show’s segments.

[4]  Which hardly seems likely, as I can count on the fingers of less than one hand the times my mother added anything new to the standard rotation of dinners she cooked.

[5]  RA and I shared a bedroom; I dreamed of having my own.

[6] When homeless encampments move and/or are relocated, the resulting cleanup, with the combination of human waste, drugs, needles and other drug paraphernalia, has been likened to dealing with EPA toxic sites.

[7] “…the environmental impacts of homeless encampments in parks and green spaces…include erosion, destruction of native vegetation, debris accumulation, water quality issues, habitat destruction, public health issues (including hypodermic needles and possibly E. coli fecal coliform bacterial contamination of the creek and its tributaries), and discouragement of public use of parks and green spaces. ” (Environmental Damage and Homeless Camps, Thornton Creek Alliance )

” Environmental experts say, in the case of multiple protected Portland habitats, the damage is done, and it could take years to repair….because, months ago, those habitats went from safe havens for wildlife to hotspots for homeless campers.”( “Homeless campers damaging protected wildlife habitats, experts say,”)

[8] Some street beggars set themselves in such a way as to block your passage unless you give them money, or essentially extort nearby businesses – e.g., setting themselves up by the entrance to a café, and letting the cafe staff know that they will be there, harassing and scaring away would be customers, unless they get a certain “contribution” (read: unless the café staff pays them what amounts to a toll). 

[9] and not even, “literally.”

[10] Unless otherwise specified, the wording in the biblical passages is from the English language “The New International Version” of the Christian bible.

[11] Like, “Wait Until Dark.”

The Date I’m Not Commemorating

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That would be yesterday, January 6. 

Why do I keep hearing Chopin’s Funeral March (Piano Sonata No 2) playing in my head, when I even think of the events of one year ago?

Department of Fee! Fie! Foe! Fum!

“The wheels of justice turn slowly but grind exceedingly fine.”

Or so the old saw says.  Moiself  can only hope the wheels will speed up when it comes to grinding the bones of the USA’s most recent, grievous traitor, whose name shall not sully this space, but which can be fittingly acronymed as Damn Turd Pol.

Speaking of acronyms for the names of treasonous snakes, Donald Be Cretin = Benedict Arnold.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of See You Next Year    [1]

Christmas cleanup.

 

Before.

 

After.

 

*    *   *

Department Of It Was The Best Of Times; It Was The Worst Of Times

Well, *that* was a bit hyperbolic.  Still, going through the file cabinets in my office – MH and I determined to whittle down the various stored documents from eight to four file drawers – proved to be more draining than I anticipated.

Dateline: Monday afternoon…which soon turned into Monday evening. Sorting through most of the files’ contents was surprisingly easy (decision-wise, when it came to what to keep and what to shred), if tedious.  It turns out we really don’t need the receipt and owner’s manual for a big ass TV we had 20 years ago… and given our own experiences of going through our respective parents’ files,  it is safe to assume we won’t have any interest in neither our offspring’s old report cards nor the seemingly 10,000 colored pen drawings they did of the same spaceship.   [2] 

 

But K’s early attempts at comics – definitely keepers.

 

It was also a somewhat educational experience.  Or, rather re-educational.  As in, re-learning the dangers of having too much storage space – yes, that’s a thing – which we did last year when we went through the attics.    [3]   If you’ve a big attic and lots of file cabinets, you can just throw stuff in there and say, I’ll deal with it later, instead of making the decision on the spot.  What with online access to almost everything these days, we don’t need to hang onto back copies of utility bills or checking account statements or maps from our various travels, or copies of every veterinary visit summary, or even user’s manuals for appliances.  With a few Important Financial Stuff ® exceptions,   [4]  most of what we kept are papers that have sentimental value.

We checked with our offspring; indeed, they’ve no interest in their K-12 report cards, projects, etc.  But perusing the kid’s folders, from old artwork, letters, school files (special projects; grades; awards; certificates; teacher’s conference notes; school pix and other memorabilia) – ay yi yi. 

 

This ominously labeled envelope contained a very young but determined Belle’s letter to MH and moiself, detailing the reasons why she should be allowed to have a pet tarantula.

 

Even the “fun stuff” was occasionally challenging to go through (read: emotionally sapping).  More than one letter or other document triggered moiself  into reliving times when one child or the other was being picked on (and in a couple of cases, outright bullied) and/or having a hard time socially. There were also a couple of hilarious-in-hindsight teacher evaluation reports, from our son K’s teachers, on K’s beneficial – and problematic– traits and tendencies, some of which MH and moiself  still see today, in how K approaches and reacts to certain situations.

The reminders of our offspring’s’ social dilemmas   [5]  were the most heart-tugging.  How did we all get through that? I found moiself  wondering.  And yet, we did.

On the plus side, moiself  got to relive the pride I’d had in my daughter’s tenacity, intelligence, and gumption, when I came across a letter Belle wrote in the sixth grade, to her teacher.  In the letter Belle stated her case on why she should be allowed to bring her cat to the class show-and-tell pets day. Tamping down her anger over the unfairness of a classmate’s (false, as it turned out) claims as to why Belle’s pet should be excluded, Belle managed to compose a calm, clear-eyed statement of the facts.  Using kick-ass deductive reasoning skills any district attorney would be proud of, Belle listed objective evidence to show that Belle’s classmate Cruella   [6]  was not in fact deathly (nor even mildly) allergic to cats, as Cruella had claimed.   [7]

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of I Still Miss Siskel & Ebert

Movie theaters in Oregon began reopening on a limited basis in late April-early May 2021.  Starting in May, moiself  did my best to see a movie in a theater, at least once a week.  The following is a chronological list of these movies.  My favorites are starred.

Confession: the list includes three movies (marked with a zzz) which I did not watch all the way through. Translation: the movies I walked out of – not in disgust (that hasn’t happened in years), but in disappointment.  To bastardize a book title of long ago, those are movies which I put in the category,  *I’m Just Not That Into You.*   Yep, moiself  paid for the tickets, but my hours and even minutes are important, and if I’m disappointed and don’t feel like sitting through it to See If It Gets Better ®, I’m outta there.

Pig gets my vote for picture of the year.  Despite its WTF/why-is-this-in-here?  “fight club” scene, I found the movie remarkable, and kept thinking about it days later.   Will the critics remember to think of it, come awards time ( movies released early in the year always seem to be at a disadvantage)?  Plus, all the recognizable Portland area settings – delightful.

 

 

– Those Who Wish Me Dead

– A Quiet Place II

– Cruella

– Dream Horse

– In The Heights    ( zzz )    [8]

– Queen Bees

– Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard

– Black Widow

– Pig  ****

– Joe Bell

– Green Knight

– Stillwater

– Free Guy

– Chang Chi and…the very long title, something about rings.

– The Alpinist   ****

– Queenpins

– Dear Evan Hansen

– No Time To Die  ****

– The Last Duel

– Dune

– Spencer

– Belfast ****

– The French Dispatch

– Ghostbusters: Afterlife    ( zzz )     [9] 

– House of Gucci   ( zzz )   

– C’mon C’mon  ****

– West Side Story  ****

– Don’t Look Up  ****

– Licorice Pizza  ****   [10]

 

House of Gucci was one of the zzzs. Given the subject matter, and the dynamic actors – Lady Gaga and Adam Driver could hold my attention reading electric can opener instructions – it should’ve been more interesting.  But Jared Leto, playing whatever role he was playing (some Gucci brother)….eeeeeewwwww.  I’m not sure whether to hold him or the director responsible for Leto’s channeling of so many cringeworthy Italian stereotypes.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Because, Why Not?

There is a yoga pose   [11]  for, and named after, just about anything.  And, especially at the beginning of a new year, why wouldn’t you want to try “… a whimsical lateral bend that stretches and balances superficial and deep back muscles to simultaneously improve shoulder mobility and address one of the most common causes of lower back pain. “

Especially when it’s nicknamed, Banana Pose.

 

*   *   *

 

Punz For The Day
Banana Edition

Did you hear that a banana tried her first case as a district attorney?
She won the conviction but slipped up on the appeal.    [12]

Q.  Why do plantains never slip when they walk down the stairs?
A. 
They hold on to the bananaister.

My husband asked for a pair of slippers for Christmas,
so the kids and I tied banana peels around the soles of his feet.

Q.  Where do bananas go to learn about religion?
A. 
Sundae school.

Q.  What do you call a plantain who gets all the girls?
A.  A banana smoothie.

 

*   *   *

May you try to see a movie every week, in a theater;
May you feel liberated by a files purge;
May your heart be warmed by that which you find in the files
and decide to keep forever;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Eleven months, actually.

[2] If you are a well-adjusted adult, IMHO.

[3] Unfortunately, we have two.

[4] Taxes, insurance and mortgage vitals.

[5] Read; being picked on, snubbed and/or bullied by classmates.

[6] Not the classmate’s real name, however fitting it seems in retrospect.

[7]  Rather, Cruella, who disliked and was jealous of Belle,  was using that claim to have power over Belle.

[8] I was surprised at how…boring…I found this movie, despite (or maybe due to?) all of its frenetic song-and-dance routines. 

[9] The juvenile actors were appealing, but the nostalgia was not enough for me to excuse the retread, reed- thin story/plot.  The return of the same slime ghosts – wow!….NOT.  Been there.

[10] Tried to see it in a theatre, but not playing around here…until the day after MH and I found it on a streaming service. Loved the movie; still don’t get the title.

[11] That phrase could be followed by, “…for truckers who like to sing to hamsters.”  There is a yoga pose for everything.

[12] Moiself  thinks there should be thirteen footnotes, but I only made it to twelve.

The Swedes I’m Not Chasing

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Department Of Shameless Self-Promotion- NOT

Not as in, moiself  be promoting the work of someone else.   [1]

 

 

Life coach and business consultant Suzanne Mathis McQueen, author of Four Seasons in Four Weeks, has a new series of children’s books out: The Seasons in Me; The Sun in Me, and The Moon in Me .  Delightfully illustrated by Pumudi Gardiyawasam, the books are a fun and heartwarming introduction for kids as to the concepts the rhythms (“seasons”) of nature, and those of their own bodies…while also sneaking in a bit of age-appropriate  [2] science about the seasons,   [3]  the solstices, and circadian rhythms.

Check ’em out, for the children (or parents of children) in your life and on your holiday shopping list.

 

 

*   *   *

 

 

 

One of my yoga teachers, Jill Baker, wore this shirt to class two years ago…back when I was attending class in the studio  (I am now streaming classes from the studio).  Moiself  had to have it.  Wearing it puts me in the yule mood.  So does hearing one of my favorite pieces of holiday music – while I was making sandbakkels for my annual lefse-making party dessert, I had to play it   (“…over and over and over…” as MH noted).

 

 

For the non-Norskis, sandbakkels (“sand tarts”) are a traditional Norwegian holiday cookie.  Its dough, a somewhat crumbly  texture due to the proportions of sugars and almond flour, resembles “sand,” (if, like a good Norwegian, you use your imagination, or plenty of Aquavit); thus, the name.  Moiself  does a plant-based version, as I do when making lefse.

 

You can – and I will – place a dollop of fruit jam in the center depression of the sandbakkels just before serving them. My younger sister claims Nutella is also yummy in that capacity; however, she’s well known as the family culinary lunatic, so there’s that.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Variation On A Theme

Dateline: Wednesday, this one (December 8). After the pandemic cancellation of last year, my annual Ladies Lefse Party returned this year…in a somewhat limited and altered format.  The “ladies” – always a questionable modifier, considering the attendees   [4] – were mostly not in attendance.  I kept the number of invitees limited to the two friends nearby who were part of our COVID safe circle, then one had to cancel, so I opened up the party to The Menfolk.  After the last-minute cancellation of our son K, it was just MH and moiself, friend L, and a newbie to the festivities, L’s friend, G.  Somehow, we managed to have enough fun that we sat down at 7p, then all of a sudden it was 10p.

A nuclear fallout of flour still is circulating in the kitchen.  That means we did it right.

 

No children were harmed in the making of this lefse.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Will Someone Please Explain This To Me Before I Die?     [5]

First time lefse party attendee G was an affable addition to the dinner.  As a fellow American with a Norwegian background, it was inevitable that, at some point during the dinner,    [6]   we shared some of the aspects about our family heritage which, as children, we found nonsensical.  In particular, it was hard for us young-uns to understand the fierce rivalry we’d heard about – particularly in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other hotspots    [7] of Norwegian-to-USA migration – between Americans of Norwegian and Swedish heritage.  For example, a marriage between a first generation Norwegian and a first gen Swede was considered a “mixed marriage.”

 

 

Also inevitable was our descent into recollections of the astronomically lame, “Ole and Sven and Lena” jokes, and then G said, “Remember this one?” He repeated a saying that I hadn’t heard in years, but which caused me to stamp size 9 feet with excitement:

“One hundred Swedes
ran through the weeds
chased by one Norwegian.”

 

Remind me again, why are we laughing?

 

Yes yes yes  – and WHY?   My mother told me that her (full blooded Norski) father would occasionally recite that lame “verse,” then chuckle softly to himself.  Okay; Mom, but why did he do that – where did it come from, and why did he think it was funny?  She said he never explained it, and she didn’t want to ask, because that would reveal to her father that she didn’t get it, and she wanted him to think that she did.  [8]  Sure, that’s understandable, Mom, but do you now, today, as an adult, get what you didn’t get at the time?  I never got an answer from her.

Is it just the rhyming of Swedes with weeds ? Why not then,

One hundred Swedes
dressed in their tweeds
tailored by one Norwegian.

To this day, I have never received an explanation (make that, a satisfactory explanation) as to why this Swedes-weeds thang was supposed to be funny. Any takers?

 

You wouldn’t think it was so funny if there were a hundred of us.

 

*   *   *

Department Of I’m Not Naïve But…

I mean, I get around the block, depending on your definition of block. So why was I caught offguard…when I was?

Dateline: last week.  Several days in a row.  After dinner we turn on our Roku feature to see what is on TV, and the clever device lists several ongoing shows it thinks moiself  might like.  I followed its suggestion to an episode of The Waltons, not realizing, until the commercial break, something that came as no surprise to MH – The Waltons reruns were being played on The Hallmark Channel, where it is apparently their “Countdown to Christmas.”

Believe it or not…

 

 

…I had never previously visited that channel.  But for three evenings in a row, I tuned in to see parts of one The Waltons episode, and was tortured by treated to previews of upcoming Hallmark Channel produced “movies.”

I’d been vaguely aware of THC’s schmaltzy reputation; even so, moiself  lacks the family-friendly vocabulary to describe how eye-gouging dreadful the previews were.  And although the commercials were promoting (supposedly) different features with different titles, it seemed to me that THC was going to be airing eight versions of the same movie, repackaged.

 

“You look familiar – weren’t we in this movie last year?”

 

Meet The Plucky Protagonist,®  an attractive white woman estranged from/bored with her family and/or disillusioned with/burnt out by her High Stress Job In The Big City ®, who returns to flyover country her home town where she meets the simple-minded mild-mannered incredibly handsome dude who shows her the holiday sausage fest she’s been missing all her life the real meaning of Christmas.

THC’s moldy cheese Christmas romcoms are likely the same basic plot, recycled with variations in ages of the participants and locales.  I don’t know why THC’s programming executives even bother to give them different names.  Why not just run night after night of,

Hallmark presents:
“A (Heterosexual) Hunk for Christmas.”

In the spirit of it-might-be-so-bad-it-could-be-a-teeny-bit-good, or at least morbidly entertaining, moiself  be considered parking it on the couch with an emergency bottle of insulin and/or a jug of Pepto-Bismol handy, and trying to watch one of those movies. I’m still considering it.

 

*   *   *

Department of Thanks For The Imagery…ooooommmmm….

Dateline: Thursday, circa 6:15 am. I hear the best ever – as in, most evocative – focal point (aka mantra) offered by one of the three meditation apps I regularly use.

I am a thunderbolt of good vibes.

 

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of I Promise Not To Do This At Your House.
Sub Department Of Am I The Only One Who Ever Gets This Feeling?

Sometimes, when I pick up or am holding a large, heavy, porcelain or china or glass or ceramic plate or bowl, I have the urge to fling it across the room like a frisbee. For just a (so far) resistible instant, it seems to moiself  that to see and hear the plate shatter against the wall would be very satisfying.  It’s not a catharsis issue – I don’t get this feeling when I am angry at or irritated by something. Rather, just when I’m feeling… musical?

 

 

*   *   *

Punz For The Day
Norski Heritage Edition

I want to visit Norway soon, but I can’t a fjord it.

How was the Mr. Ed Show theme song adapted for Norwegian television?
♫  A Norse is a Norse of course, of course….♫

I always appreciate a good pun, but never geographical ones.
There’s Norway I’d sink Oslo as that.

Did you hear about the bike race that goes all the way across Norway and Sweden?
It ends at the Finnish line.

 

 

*   *   *

May you never recite deeds of chasing Swedes through the weeds in their tweeds;
May you be a thunderbolt of good vibes;
May you one day just let loose and fling that #@!&%!% plate against the wall;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Disclosure: I do know this person, and like her. So I may be biased…y’all can handle that.

[2]  ages 3-8.  Accessible info for older bipeds as well.  No boring quantum mechanics or string theory.

[3] Remember: axial tilt is the reason for the season – for *all* seasons.

[4] Yeah, I’m talking *you*, JR and JWW.

[5] But I don’t want you to explain it to me, and then I die.

[6] After the first glass of champagne, which followed the gin and tonics.

[7] or should it be cold spots? What is the proper term here, re a country where half of its land lies north of the Arctic Circle?

[8] Which would be blamed on her mother’s contribution – 100% Irish – to her genes.

The Favor I’m Not Granting

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Department Of This May Stop Them From Asking

Moiself refers to Every Writer’s Favorite Situation ®  (insert appropriate, universally understood emojis of sarcasm).    [1]

Dateline: senior year of high school (mine; not yours). I wrote a regular, eponymous op-ed column in our school’s newspaper, in which I took a humorous approach to a variety of school-related issues.    [2]   Toward the end of the year, a school acquaintance approached me, asking for a favor…although, she didn’t exactly phrase it that way.  The way she presented it, it was more of an opportunity, for me.

She had been asked to write and then read something for an upcoming Important Occasion: a work party; a family reunion – for the life of me, I cannot recall *what* it was for, but that’s not pertinent. The thing is, she was supposed to write and deliver an amusing presentation.  And she wanted me to do it for her.

She said that she would give me some basic information – what it needed to be “about’ –  and then I could just whip it out, right?

“I just don’t know how to do that, but you’re so funny.
I can’t be funny, but you can be funny – it’s so easy for you.”

The way she spoke about it, it was if that complement from her would be motivation (and compensation) enough, for moiself – who would know that I had, once again, written something “really clever and funny.”

 

 

In her eyes, moiself  was a “natural” writer.  I’d just sit my witty ass down and the work would flow from my pen to paper. She did not acknowledge the time and effort it might take, and never mind that we were a couple of days from final exams.

Gently but firmly. I declined her brazen solicitation honorable request, in what turned out to be good practice for me, being the first of many such declinations.

Now, I *liked* this person.  She was the first of many people (friends; family; co-workers) over the years who, although they seemed to acknowledge my skills as a writer enough to covet those skills for a project of *theirs,*  did not value those skills enough to offer to compensate me for my work – nor even acknowledge that writing is, in fact, work.  It’s “work” enough that they did not want to do the project themselves or take the time  to acquire and hone the ability to do so, or were intimidated by it (“I just can’t write/I’ve never been able to write, like you can so easily.“)

 

)

 

Y’all probably wouldn’t think of asking your son’s soccer coach, who is a podiatrist, to fix your bunions for free (“I thought it might be fun for you – it’d be easier than our other surgeries, and you’re so good at it”), or try to wrangle a free housecleaning from your neighbor who works for Merry Maids.  But there’s something about knowing that someone works in an “artistic” field which brings out the mooch in otherwise well-mannered people.

Over the years, I’ve compared such stories with other writers (and artist friends).  We’ve come to the conclusion that because writing – particularly fiction writing, but not exclusively   [3] – is seen as one of the arts, and since “art” is perfunctorily lauded yet (the work behind the art) not respected financially, non-artists believe that any time a writer or artist is solicited for their work they should consider it (shudder) an honor to be asked.  Or, even more dreadfully, you get the exposure thing:

“We can’t offer payment, but you’ll get exposure –
we’ll make sure everyone knows it’s your work!”    [4]

 

 

 Noone understands better than Matthew Inman, aka, the mind behind The Oatmeal.

 

It doesn’t even matter to these freeloaders favor-askers, when you protest that you are a writer of fiction, not  ______ (grant proposals/term papers/college essays/office brochures – whatever their project).  In their (non-professional writer) eyes, you can whip up anything, at any time, right? 

 

How I’ve begun every story ever.

 

Moiself, when asked to advise upcoming/wanna be writers, has alerted them to this reality: Your writing and editing skills will be coveted by others, enough that they will ask you to do work  *for* them, yet not enough to be compensated *by* them.   

I can count on the fingers of one hand – if that hand had lost three fingers in a tragic panini press accident – the number of times someone has asked for my writing skills AND let me know the payment they would offer and/or asked what I would charge for the project they had in mind.  In all other cases, I quickly discovered the Favor Asker’s assumption was that I would work for free… (for them; for the honor of being asked; for “the exposure….” y’all get the drill by now).

 

 

What prompted this screed trip down Memory Lane is a recent Carolyn Hax column.  Carolyn   [5]  is the dean and queen of advice columnists, IMO – she could claim those titles from her writing ability alone, but she’s also keenly alert, has a remarkable sense of perspective balanced with compassion, and is excellent at recognizing and pointing out the problems behind the problems advice seekers *think* they are asking her about.

Moiself cringed with weary recognition to read this letter…then my spine straightened in right-on! triumph at Carolyn’s response.

Dear Carolyn: I am a writer by profession — meaning I get paid to do what I do. I am constantly asked to edit someone’s community newsletter, write something about someone’s kid who plays lacrosse to send to college coaches, or write someone’s family Christmas letter. (I hate those things, but anyway.)

When I quote my hourly rate, I get the hurt look and, “Oh, I thought you’d just do it for me as a friend,” or — in the case of a newsletter — “Oh, I just thought it would be fun for you; it is a good cause and probably would not take much time.”

I keep quoting the hourly rate but it is the sad and hurt reactions that bother me. How to draw the line so that people do not see it as a rejection? I have even tried a slightly discounted friends-and-family rate but the problem persists.— Writer

Writer: The sad and hurt reactions bother me, too, but not for the same reason.

These people have just been reminded they’re asking you to work for free, and they think “no” is the wrong answer? Come on, people.

Go ask for free haircuts, housecleaning and brain surgery, and get back to me.

Or don’t. As a society, we’re not exactly at peak manners right now.

Your answer is fine; you are reasonably treating them as polite people looking to hire you for skilled work, and you’re responding accordingly. The burden of their cheek is on them.

But if these exchanges gnaw at you, then, sure, shift your answer a bit: “Thanks for asking. Are you offering a job or asking a favor?” So when they say, “Favor” — blowing through the sawhorse of a hint you just dragged across that road — you can say, kindly, “I’m sorry — if I agreed to those, then that’s all I’d ever do.”

*   *   *

Department Of Oh Yeah, There’s That Holiday Next Week

Ah, yes, and what to cook, which can test the patience of even the most ardent welcomer-of-Thanksgiving.  I’ve been reading that this feeling is common to many if not all contemporary hosts – not  just us plant-based eaters – as we keep in mind our guests’ various dietary preferences, allergies, likes and loathings….

 

 

*   *   *

*   *   *

From Ken Jennings, the man most people know as the winning-est Jeopardy contestant ever, has written several books on humor…the very idea of which, for some reason seems funny in and of itself, to moiself.   I’m currently reading his book Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture.  In the chapter dealing with the history of satire, snark, and ironic detachment (SSI)– specifically the rise, use, and overuse of that and in standup comedy, television shows and other entertainment – and even in protest movements against the government authoritarianism – Jennings has a segment titled “Outgrowing Snark.”  For a lifelong practitioner of SSI,  moiself  found his observations to be both obvious and insightful (my emphases).

Irony as a literary device, as something to observe, is fine. But as a way to live your life? Cloaking every thought, word, action with the implication that you might not mean any of it? That’s a pathology.

Unless ironic distance is the only way to keep government authorities off your back, it shouldn’t be the only pitch in your repertoire. The occasional curveball is only effective if you can throw a fastball and a changeup as well. “A Modest Proposal”    [6] is funny and effective, but let’s not pretend it accomplishes all the same things that a heartfelt plea for starving children would. You don’t always get to the same place by taking the opposite route.

In an age of irony, it will always be a temptation to use it as a cop-out, because it’s easier to smirk at things than solve them.

( excerpt from Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture,
Chapter 7: “Bon Jovi, come Home.”)

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Identifying With A Former Beatle

This something-I-never-thought-I’d-do moment came when I was listening to a recent Fresh Air interview with Paul McCartney.  Sir Paul is making the interview rounds, plugging his  two recent projects: the upcoming release of the Peter Jackson-directed documentary, The Beatles: Get Back, and the book The Lyrics .[7]  

 

 

As McCartney reminisced with FA host Terry Gross, who played clips from some of the Beatles’ well-known songs, I was once again reminded of, inarguably, [8]  the best – as in, the most sheerly unadulteratedly exuberant – opening to a rock n’ roll song ever: McCartney’s count off that begins I Saw Her Standing There.

 

 

Once again, I digress.  Here’s where the identification-with-a-former-Beatle comes in.  Terry Gross was asking McCartney about his age (he’ll be 80 next June), something he says he finds rather astonishing, considering how he feels:

“Hey – I can’t believe I’m a *grandparent.* I mean, like… I’m 25 years old, actually. I just look older and… I think my birth certificate was falsified.”

Bingo.  I have that feeling all the time, as though my age-on-paper has nothing to do with me.  In so many ways, I still “feel” like I’m twenty-five.  I’ve a way to go before I get to Sir Paul’s age, although the “facts” (and my mirror) remind me that I’m most definitely not 25…or even 45, or even….

 

 

*   *   *

PunZ For The Day
Beatles Edition

I’m obsessed with buying old Beatles albums.  My friends say I need help, but
I’ve already got that one.

How did the Beatles’ new skillet introduce itself to them?
“I am the egg pan.”

Did you hear that it’s tricky selling Beatles albums in some Scandinavian countries?
Apparently, when asked if they’d buy any of the group’s albums, a Swede wouldn’t.
But, a Norwegian would.

What did the Beatles eat when they were in India?
Naan, naan, naan, naanaanaanaan….

 

I’d rather poke my bleedin’ eye out than listen to anymore of this.

 

*   *   *

May you never ask artists to work for free;
May you solve as many problems as you smirk at;
May you get up and dance when you hear, One-two-three-FAH!;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] I’m not sure that there are any – hey, you emoji artists, get to it please. And we’ll expect you to do it gratis.

[2] Titled, “Parnal Knowledge.” Yeah, I know.  But what many don’t know is that title was suggested by my paper’s editor, who was also my friend, and who was known for being more…genteel, shall we say, than moiself, which led many mutual acquaintances to refuse to believe that the column’s name was her idea.

[3] I know of writers specializing in journalism and other non-fiction/expository writing who’ve had the same experiences.

[4] Except for that classmate I mentioned – when I questioned her further I found out she’d intended to read what I’d (might have) written, as if it were her own work – with no attribution for moiself   (“I’ll tell someone, if they ask,” she said).

[5] Moiself  likes to think that, had we met, we’d be on a first name basis.

[6] Arguably Irish writer Jonathan Swift’s best known work, “A Modest Proposal” (originally published anonymously in the early 1700s)  was a satirical essay which viciously commented on England’s exploitation of Ireland by using the reasonable tones of an economic treatise to proposes that Ireland could ease poverty by butchering the children of the Irish poor and selling them as food to their wealthy English landlords.

[7] A copy of which now sits on my office desk.

[8] As in, if you’re going to argue with moiself about this, just don’t.

The Coyote I’m Not Leashing

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Department Of The Importance Of Looking At The Warning Sign Head-On

Dateline: Wednesday. Moiself  is visiting a Tillamook County campground, to purchase day use passes for the county’s parks and boat launches.  While waiting at the campground’s registry building I see a bright yellow sign posted to the right of the registry’s service window.  As the camp registry clerk prepares my day use passes, I turn my head to look at the sign, which warns campers of coyote sightings in the vicinity.  From where I am standing I can only see the sign from an angle. This slight but significant limit to my field of vision means that I miss two key words in the warning.  The clerk looks up from her paperwork and eyes me questioningly when I begin laughing.  I point to the sign, and say,

“I don’t know about that requirement – from what I understand, most coyotes are very resistant to leash training.”   [1]

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of All We Religion-Free Folks Ask For Is A Little Perspective

MH’s chuckles as he looked at his phone prepped me for the why-haven’t-I-ever-thought-of-that?  moment that was to come.  I was not disappointed, as he read me a social media rumination from a prominent atheist activist:

Christians claim Jesus “died for their sin” ( whatever that means   [2]  ).  However, they also claim that he rose from the dead after three days – crucified on a Friday, alive again on Sunday.  So, essentially, Jesus gave up a long weekend for their sins.

 

“Goddammit! Sooner or later, someone was bound to notice….”

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Literary Biography I Definitely Won’t Be Reading

“I have a terrible confession to make—I have nothing to say about any of the talented women who write today…. I do not seem able to read them.  Indeed I doubt if there will be a really exciting woman writer until the first whore becomes a call girl and tells her tale.”
( Norman Mailer, Advertisements for Myself )

 

 

I was introduced to the “Beat Generation Writers,” in junior high and high school, via recommendations from both teachers and several classmates.  The Beats (e.g., Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg) influenced the 20th century writers who followed them, practitioners of the aggrieved-male-viewpoint-dominated school of fiction. Exemplars of the latter, who came to prominence in the 1950s and 60s, included Norman Mailer (credited for spawning the creative non-fiction movement, aka, “New Journalism”) , Philip Roth, John Updike ad nauseum et al.  These were the writers, I was told, who were influential, and “happening.”  And, you know, cool.  Because they wrote about the anger and angst of contemporary life (read: sex) and weren’t afraid to tackle controversial issues (more sex).

When I first started reading their works, I thought I must be missing something.   [3]  Not wanting to be thought uncool, I mostly kept those thoughts to moiself …then I just stopped pretending I was interested.  Other than an amusing passage about his father’s constipation that I remember from Portnoy’s Complaint, I loathed Philip Roth, and Mailer as well.  Fairly soon after being introduced to their works (after reading one or two novels, essays, short stories from the authors) I stopped reading them altogether.

I loathed the fact that their alleged “hip contemporary” outlook was a thin veil for their raging misogyny.  Yes, they could string together some impressive sentences, but…ick.  And I didn’t need to know the biographical facts of those writers – for example,  [4]   that Mailer had stabbed his wife (# two in a series that would eventually total six wives) –  to figure out that their raging hetero-masculinity  [5]  hid – or fed – a simmering hatred and fear of women, and of anything they deemed feminine (including homosexuality   [6]  ).

I didn’t have the vocabulary to express it at the time, but I knew what those writers’ works reeked of.  The Beats and “New Literature” works were presented to me – to the world – with the implication that to be “literary” (read: not a prude) you have to appreciate them.  Yet I found little either neither new nor literary in those men’s work.  It was the same old, age old sexism, repackaged in more contemporary (i.e., profane and sexual) language.

Those male authors simply and profoundly didn’t like women.  To them, women were a class (or perhaps, caste?), and were lower than men on the intellectual, moral, and consequential totem pole of humanity.  If you were a female you were in one of two of their thematic camps.  You were either their mothers, whom they resented and blamed, or a girl they wanted to fuck (and, later/eventually, resent and blame).  If you didn’t fit into either of those categories you had no use to them.

Thus, my appreciation of a recent essay in The Washington Post, about the controversy behind the release of the latest Philip Roth biography (the biography’s author is accused of sexual assault).  The following excerpt is from that article, which is titled, “Philip Roth and the sympathetic biographer: This is how misogyny gets cemented in our culture.  Roth’s issues with women are well-documented. One of the prime documenters has been accused of rape.”  The essay is by Monica Hesse, and can be read in its entirety here.

“I can’t help thinking about how readers and viewers have been repeatedly presented narratives as the factual observations of great minds rather than as the ax-grinding of men whose judgment on gender relations might be questionable.
Roth, who died in 2018, was not so much a male writer as an archaeologist of maleness, excavating his own concepts of what men desired, needed and hated….’There is in him a dark distaste for women,’ book critic Linda Grant wrote. ‘A repugnance that can only be described by the word misogyny.’  In her essay, a review of his 2001 work, “The Dying Animal,” Grant describes a particular passage, in which a cancer-stricken woman uses her last day before a mastectomy to visit her former professor/lover so that he may fondle her chest and say goodbye. Grant notes that every woman she discussed this passage with burst out laughing at the preposterousness of this idea.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of And While We’re On The Subject

If women write about their inner lives it is considered “confessional.” When men do the same it is called “literary.”  When men write about their lives and feelings, they are said to be writing for and about the human condition, while women doing the same are accused of navel-gazing.

A recent example of this age-old literary hypocrisy can be found in the New York Times article about the writer Kate Baer, aka “The Mommy Poems author.”  The article deals in part with the criticism that because much (not all) of Baer’s subject matter involves motherhood, her work is not considered serious enough…at least, to some (envious, in my opinion   [7])  literary critics.

 

 

A subject that all of humanity experiences is not universal or relevant or serious enough (to the entrenched bastion of male-lens literary criticism) to write about?  Almost half of the human race will be mothers, at some point in our lives, and *all * of us, no matter our class, nationality, religion, ethnicity, political viewpoints, or gender, have mothers.  But how dare a poet write about it – and, even worse, be successful  (my emphases)!

“Since the pandemic, the 35-year-old mother of four (Kate Baer) has been working from the Panera parking lot, sitting in her Honda minivan with her laptop propped against the steering wheel, attempting to catch a Wi-Fi signal….
It was there that she wrote “What Kind of Woman,” a poetry collection that topped the New York Times best-seller list for paperback trade fiction….

( “Kate Baer Is Speaking Truth. From Her Minivan.
Who says motherhood can’t be literary, even poetic?” NY Times 3-13-21 )

The title of Baer’s collection came from the last line of an Instagram message she received from a (male) freelance book reviewer:

“Hi, my name is ___ …and I’d love to pick your brain about being a mommy writer. …my questions are on content. I find your work well written, but the subject matter was not necessarily what I want to read about. Not unbearable, but also not universal.  I’m wondering if studying some of the classic writers (Poe, Hardy, Thoreau) would help hone in (sic) your work to be more relatable. Also the way we have allowed poetry in any space concerns me.  How can we determine what is good from otherwise? I’d love to take at least an hour on the interview…. Afterward we can shape the piece to include excerpts of your work and perhaps explain what kind of woman you are! 😉   ”  

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Getting COVID Vaccination #2

Which moiself  did, yesterday.  Oh, I feel like dancing.  [8]

 

 

*   *   *

Puns For The Day

(male) Authors’ Edition

The author of Webster’s dictionary committed suicide with the book he wrote.
At least he died on his own terms.

Why did the author suffer writers’ block after rectal surgery?
He was left with only a semicolon.

 

“I’m begging you, make it stop.”

*   *   *

May you rejoice in getting completely vaccinated;
May you trust your own judgement in deciding what kind of literature is truly cool;
May you beware of unleashed coyotes;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] The words I could not see were “All pets” (preceding  ” MUST be kept on leash….”).

[2] Yeah, I know what it’s supposed to mean, but it’s so bizarre and primitive – an appeasement of an angry deity through blood sacrifice…it’s nice to watch believers squirm when they try to explain such antiquated theology in 21st century terms.

[3] And for those writers, I was.  I was missing male anatomy, which to them, was everything.

[4] I did not know this at the time I first read anything by Mailer.  Mailer stabbed wife #2 at a party wherein he’d intended to announce his candidacy for New York City Mayor.  “Mailer appeared the next day (after the stabbing) in a scheduled interview on The Mike Wallace Show, where he spoke of the knife as a symbol of manhood and continued to plug his mayoral bid.” (Wikipedia, quoting the article, “Norman Mailer: Stabbing Your Wife as an Existential Experiment.” )

[5] In the case of Roth and Mailer.  Updike’s sexism was a more laid-back, suburbanite version.

[6] Mailer and Updike were particularly known for their homophobic sentiments and comments, even book reviews.

[7] I mean, a best-selling book of poetry?  That just doesn’t happen.

[8] Even if I am having the not-uncommon reaction of feeling a bit punkish afterwards.  My immune system is working; good to know.

The Subjects I’m Not Avoiding

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Department Of Are You Mortal?

Moiself, too.  So, why do we act as if we think are not?

I highly recommend the latest edition of the podcast Clear + Vivid. In a moving and candid conversation – frequently seasoned by laughter (which might be surprising to some, given the subject matter) – podcast host Alan Alda talks with his guest, author and Rabbi Steve Leder,  about the inevitability of death, and grief. These are subjects people usually avoid, which, Leder says, only adds to the losses people inevitably face in life.

At one point in their conversation, as Alda and Leder discussed the importance of acknowledging our mortality, Alda said,  “Talk some more about this. ‘Cause you still haven’t convinced me to die.”  Leder’s response, which prompted laughter from both men, was, “Well, I don’t have to.”

Leder has written a book (“The Beauty of What Remains: How Our Greatest Fear Becomes Our Greatest Gift”) which Alda describes as “…a moving, inspiring and often funny book about the loss of loved ones.”  Although Leder has officiated at more than 1,000 funerals, he found his own preconceived notions of grief – what it is and “how” to do it – challenged when his beloved father died.

I love it when Someone With Experience And Authority ® confirms a suspicion I’ve had for years.  Thus, thank gawd (sez the atheist) that Leder disagrees with the “Five  [1]   Stages of Grief” mythology.  Leder says we have “been done a terrible disservice” with this idea that there are stages or phases of grief, which implies that grief is a linear process (“First you will deal with Stage A, then you will feel Stage B…”).

Grief is non-liner; Leder declares. It is much more analogous to waves:

“They come very close together and are very large at first. They do spread out, and sometimes you even get beautiful, calm seas for a day, a week, a month, a year…. And then sometimes, when your back is turned, there can be a massive wave of grief that takes you down.  And that is not ‘stages.’

Before my father died, what I used to say to people is, ‘Look, the most honest and helpful think I can say to you right now is that it won’t always hurt so much.’ And I don’t say that anymore.  Now I say, ‘It won’t always hurt so *often.*’ Because when it hurts, it hurts every bit as much.”

 

 

*  It’s who we have, not what we have, that matters.

*The beauty of the flower is that it fades.

*The meaning of life is that it ends.

* Understanding the ephemeral nature of life – choosing to acknowledge that we don’t have forever – makes things great and small (our children and friends; a hot fudge sundae) more precious, not less.

These and other observations which Leder shares and expounds upon are no less profound for their relative simplicity.  Check out the entire interview:  “Make the End a Beginning” Clear + Vivid.

 

Alda and Leder also have an interesting chat about what is revealed by what people put on their gravestones.

 

*   *   *

Department Of Reality Checks

As in, my attempt to provide one.  No doubt I will need one as well, if moiself  thinks that my feedback will either get a response (I doubt it/am not expecting it) or make a difference (I hope it will).

The following feedback was sent by moiself , earlier this week, to Shankar Vedantam, the science journalist and host of one of my favorite podcasts, Hidden Brain.

Dear Mr. Vedantam,

Love your show; regular listener here.  As per your interview on “Useful Delusions,” re your upcoming book of the same name, I cringed to hear you give credence, even in the context of how people respond to stress, to that  “…old proverb, ‘There are no atheists in the foxhole’….”

Yes, it is an old proverb. Old, insulting, and lousy – as in, inaccurate.

I wish you’d do a story on that.

An atheist-themed festival drew hundreds of people to an Army post in North Carolina on Saturday for what was believed to be the first-ever event held on a U.S. military base for service members who do not have religious beliefs.
Signs in support of atheism are seen during the “Rock Beyond Belief” festival at Fort Bragg army base in North Carolina March 31, 2012. The atheist-themed festival drew hundreds of people to Fort Bragg on Saturday for what was believed to be the first-ever event held on a U.S. military base for service members who do not have religious beliefs.
Organizers said they hoped the “Rock Beyond Belief” event at Fort Bragg would spur equal treatment toward nonbelievers in the armed forces and help lift the stigma for approximately 295,000 active duty personnel who consider themselves atheist, agnostic or without a religious preference.
Defense Department policy holds that all service members have the right to believe in any or no religion. But those gathered at the event described being ostracized and harassed in the military community for not believing in God and worried about getting passed over for promotions if their secularist stances were widely known.
( “Military nonbelievers’ event shows there are atheists in foxholes.” (Reuters)

Not only have there *always* been atheists in foxholes, the FFRF   [2]  periodically bestows an award, “Atheists in Foxhole,” to commemorate that fact:

“This award was suggested by Vietnam War vet…Steve Trunk, to combat the ridiculous myth that there are no “atheists in foxholes,” and, in particular, to recognize activism to defend the constitutional principle of separation between state and church which every soldier takes an oath to uphold.”

To repeat: there are and have always been “atheists in foxholes;” however, they often have compelling reasons to remain in the foxhole/closet while they serve in the military. Religion-free soldiers can feel that they face an equal or greater danger from their fellow soldiers and commanding officers than from enemy fire, if their religious comrades discover that they are not religious believers.

“When Specialist Jeremy Hall held a meeting last July for atheists and freethinkers at Camp Speicher in Iraq, he was excited, he said, to see an officer attending.
But minutes into the talk, the officer…began to berate Specialist Hall and another soldier about atheism….
Major Welborn told the soldiers he might bar them from re-enlistment and bring charges against them….
Specialist Hall and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, an advocacy group, filed suit in federal court in Kansas, alleging that Specialist Hall’s right to be free from state endorsement of religion under the First Amendment had been violated and that he had faced retaliation for his views. (Specialist Hall) was sent home early from Iraq because of threats from fellow soldiers.
( “Soldier Sues Army, Saying His Atheism Led to Threats,” NY Times )

Staff Sgt. Richlin Chan, who served in Afghanistan, is an “Atheist in Foxhole” who was profiled in the FFRF’s newsletter, Freethought Today (June/July 2010). Chan told this story:

In 2007, a soldier named Jeremy Hall was threatened and persecuted by fellow soldiers and a higher-ranking officer for holding an atheist meeting in Iraq.  After a firefight in which a protective screen deflected enemy fire, his commander later asked him if he believed in god.  Jeremy responded, “No, but I believe in plexiglass.”

If you’re interested, other resources include the MAAF (Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers); “I was An Atheist in a Foxhole,” (American Humanist Association) ; “The US Military Has a Problem With Atheists,” (The Week);  “Military atheists seeking the rights and benefits offered to religious groups”(Stars and Stripes).

Yours in the never-ending battle to temper inaccurate proverbs with reality checks,

 

 

*   *   *

Lest you think my picking that certain nit   [3]  spoiled the podcast for me, it did not.  I found the (rest of the) episode (Hidden Brain: Useful Delusions) quite enjoyable.  Of particular interest to moiself  was Shankar’s exposition on the adaptive or “useful” effects that delusional thinking can have, as well as the phenomenon of “naive realism.”

Naive realism allows us to judge others for engaging in what we’d call delusional thinking, while we convince ourselves that we, even in the same position as a desperate person, would never, say, vote for a demagogue or buy a snake oil potion/miracle cure, etc.  Vedantam illustrates this with a personal story of his own.  Several months ago, while travelling several hours from his home, Vedantam suffered a retinal detachment.  He had to seek emergency medical care, without having time to check reviews or get recommendations for a doctor or weighs pros and cons of treatment options. He found a doctor who was willing to open his practice up at 9 pm and see him. The doctor said Vedantam had to have emergency surgery ASAP or he would lose his eyesight. And so, Vedantan did….

“…what all of us do, in positions of great vulnerability: I put all my faith and trust in this doctor. Now, as it turned out, he was a brilliant surgeon and he ended up saving my eye, for which I am profoundly grateful. But imagine for a moment that he had not been a brilliant doctor; let’s imagine if he had been a charlatan. Would it have been any less likely for me to put my faith in him? And I would argue the answer is no, because my faith in him did not arise because of what *he* did, my faith arose because of what *I* was going through.

I was going through a period of great vulnerability, a period of great fear. Trusting him made me feel better…. Expand this in all kinds of ways, and you can see why people sometimes gravitate to beliefs that are false, to demagogues and false prophets. It’s not so much because of the demagogues and false prophets, it’s because of their own vulnerabilities.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of My Favorite Euphemisms

Dateline: last weekend, listening to a podcast in which anthropologists discussed the DNA sequences found from human bodies in caves in Siberia, Spain, and Croatia.

What the anthropologists found shows evidence of human-Neanderthal interbreeding as far back as 100,000 years ago. What I found was a delightful, heretofore-unknown-to-moiself, synonym…genteelism…rewording.

According to scientists, early humans and Neanderthals engaged in

“gene flow events.”

Aka, sex.

This substitute term should be a relief to teens everywhere. Despite their legendary taking of delight in shocking their elders by singing along to salacious pop song lyrics, teens are notoriously squeamish, to the point of disgust, when it comes to even thinking about the fact that their parents might have hooked up with one another in order to produce their offspring.  Chill, Ethan and Emma: your mother and father didn’t get it on. They merely engaged in a gene flow event.

 

 

*   *   *

Department of, Bingo!

But when Abby and I announced our relationship, the first article…said, “Abby Wambach in love with Christian mommy blogger.”…So the rest of the world picked up that one  — and now on my tombstone, no matter what else I do, it’ll say Christian mommy blogger…. I feel like it’s the most misogynistic, ridiculous title ever. Because no male activist or New York Times bestseller is described as a daddy…or by his religion.
( Glennon Doyle, from the podcast, Sway, 2-25-21)

I’m somewhat new to Sway, but after listening to a few episodes I’m impressed with the variety of guests and topics.  Hosted by Kara Swisher, “Silicon Valley’s most feared and well-liked journalist,” the podcast’s focus is “power: who has it, who’s been denied it, and who dares to defy it.” In the episode whence the above quote, Swisher interviews Glennon Doyle, best-selling author and activist previously best known – or rather, labeled – as a Christian-LGBTQ-friendly blogger and “confessional” writer, and most recently getting (unwanted) tabloid-type attention in the past few years for divorcing her (cheating) husband and marrying US soccer star Abby Wambach.

The reason for Doyle’s interview On Sway was Doyle having been named by many of Joe Biden’s campaign strategists as the person whose campaign endorsement, they believed, would influence women the most. The part of the interview that interested me the most was when Doyle shared her reactions to the male-values-dominated worlds of publishing and book reviews and publicity.   [4]   Doyle rejects the labels that have been put upon her, including “self-help expert” and “mommy blogger,” as reductive and misogynistic. 

Doyle:
“…I think that it’s very often the case that when a man puts work out into the world, the world looks at the work and says, ‘Is this work worthy?’ And I think that when a woman puts work out into the world, the world looks at the woman and says, ‘Is this woman worthy of putting out work?’
For example, the first big article that was put out about (her new memoir) in a big newspaper, the headline was, ‘Glennon Doyle writes third memoir?’ Question mark, question mark.”

Kara Swisher:
“As if you shouldn’t have many memoirs in you. That’s the suggestion.”

Doyle:
“Like, ‘Jesus Christ, this woman is going to say a *third* thing? We already let her say two things. She said two things, and then she’s going to come back and say a third thing. Who does this person think she is.’  Right?’
Sedaris came out with his new book, and it was like, ‘David Sedaris releases 158th memoir.’  Not, question mark, question mark.”

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of It’s Not My Fault; My Mind Just Goes To These Places

Apropos of nothing I can think of, while coming back from a walk the other day I mused about ways to get junior high school aged students interested in “classic” works of literature. I’ve heard many a teacher say that engaging that age group (particularly for the boys) will determine whether reluctant readers will show interest in, for example, the plays of William Shakespeare.

So, considering the age group, I humbly suggest this approach:

֍   Shakespearean Gas Theater   ֍

English, literature, and drama teachers can search the internet databases for well-known Shakespearean lines which can be altered and/or…uh, illustrated…as per the theme.

From Twelfth Night, the name of character Sir Toby Belch fits right in with those certain enhancements which tween actors could give to the delivery of Sir Toby’s classic lines:

”Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous,
there shall be no more cakes and….Baaaaaaaarrrrrrraaasaaaapppp…ale?

 

And, let’s face it, few 12-year-old boys want to play the lead male role of Romeo and Juliet‘s 14th century lovestruck Italian teen.  But when the line Romeo calls out to Juliet (in the famous balcony scene) is transformed, boys will be jostling for the opportunity to raise their arms in supplication and cut the cheese with romantic gusto while reciting,

“What wind thorough yonder window breaks.”

Then again, maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t pursue a career as an Arts in Education consultant.

 

*   *   *

Pun For The Day

When a road construction worker farts, don’t blame him – it’s his asphalt.

 

“I want no part of this juvenile humor.”

 

*   *   *

May you write as many memoirs as you have in you;    [5]

May you appreciate the beauty of that which will fade;

May you be lucky enough to have an atheist beside you in the foxhole;

…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

[1] Or nine…or seven…or twelve.  Different self-appointed grief experts have different numbers, but most people are familiar with psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross‘s five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

[2] The Freedom From Religion Foundation, a non-profit founded in 1978, is the nation’s largest association of Atheists, Agnostic, Freethinkers, Humanists and Skeptics .

[3] This particular issue is more the size of a glacier than a nit, as the number of the non-religiously affiliated and atheists – and thus the number of people insulted and mischaracterized by such inaccurate adages – continues to grow/be revealed.

[4] A subject about which I have both opinions and experiences, as regular and/or long time readers of this blog may know.

[5] Well, maybe not 158.

The Inflated Modifiers I’m Not Acquiring

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THE  ABSOLUTELY  GRIPPING  AND  TOTALLY  HEART-RENDING,  PAGE-TURNING  STORY  OF  SHOOTING  MYSELF  IN  THE  FOOT

Sub Department of, From The Publisher’s POV,
“This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things…”

Admission: technically, I’m not shooting moiself  in the foot by writing what follows, as my foot is not in this particular door (although it’s sooooo tempting to try to jam it there). Also, it’s just not an apt use of that idiom. But such a hyperbolic statement is apropos, here.  The door I’m referring to is submitting a manuscript to a certain publisher.

In December, after a hiatus of ~ four years (which I may return to), I started re-researching publishers and sending out feelers re some of my unpublished fiction.   [1]  Researching, querying, and submitting material has reaffirmed the reasons why I stopped doing so in the first place,  [2]  with one major exception.  I received a stunningly personal note from a publisher who is one of the few of his ilk who “got” what I was doing with the narrative structure of my manuscript.  Even though what I suspected when I queried him was true – that his imprint’s audience is more avant garde than what my story’s audience would be – ’twas highly gratifying to get his feedback (read: insightful praise).

Little did moiself  know, the best – if by best I mean most unintentionally entertaining, and apparently I do – was yet to come.

 

 

I discovered a new-to-me outlet, a successful, worldwide digital publisher that had been recently acquired by one of the world’s largest traditional publishers.  This publisher, which I’ll call *PubliGush* for reasons that shall soon become clear, was hitherto unknown to me because they specialize in genre works.  As I researched them further I also saw that they are something called a Bespoke Publisher,  [3]  which, depending in your POV, is one step up from self-publishing or merely a new(er) label for hybrid publishing.    [4] 

Obviously, PubliGush is not for me.  For the heck of it, I decided to peruse their titles on internet book selling sites, which confirmed that they are strictly genre.  However, even knowing that my work wasn’t right for them, moiself was tempted to query anyway, just for the chance that, if I fooled ’em for a moment, they might try to offer me a deal with their services of (as per their website):

“quality of editing, packaging and marketing….

Their services, as I examined their books’ listings on Amazon, translate thusly:

PubliGush will give you adjectives!  And, adverbs!

I couldn’t help but wonder, what hyperactive modifiers might they offer to moiself ?

It appears that one of their marketing strategies is to hyperbolize their book blurbs to the max.  I refer to the vocabulary employed to do so, which turns out to be rather manic and somewhat, er, repetitive.  Their “jacket” blurbs run the gamut from…well, from:

* An absolutely jaw-dropping…

* Gripping!

* A real page-turner…

* A gripping emotional page turner!

* An Absolutely Heartbreaking tale of ____!
* Gripping and heartbreaking!

* Beautiful and gripping…

* An absolutely gripping and suspenseful…

* An absolutely gripping and emotional…

* A completely gripping and emotional…

* An utterly heart-wrenching and gripping…

* A gripping emotional page turner…

* An absolutely heartbreaking and gripping emotional page-turner…

* An unputdownable and absolutely gripping psychological thriller…

 

The Dowager Countesss does not approve of all these commoners and their gripping.

 

And, lest there be doubt about the amount of gripping and heartbreak involved:

* A totally gripping and absolutely heartbreaking…

Also, asthmatics be forewarned re this title:

* A gripping emotional page turner with a twist
that will take your breath away…

It was all so amped-up – moiself  felt in need of a sedative after merely perusing these title descriptions.  My pulse was actually racing; I guess you could say I needed to get a grip (absolutely, completely, utterly….).

Moiself’s favorite description of any book, even from publishers and reviewers less prone to hyperbole, is that it is “a page-turner.”  Now, by definition, isn’t every book a page-turner?  Whether you loved a book from intro to index or stopped somewhere in the middle with a, “Meh; I’ve read better,” the prose didn’t just present itself to you all at once.  You had to…ahem…Turn. The. Page. (even with ebooks) to get there.

 

“Are you sure that’s how this thing works?”

 

*   *   *

Department Of What We Talk About When We Talk About Grief And Loss

” ‘Sometimes I’ve heard people talk about losing a child and people say it’s like losing a limb. And as someone who’s lost both things, I just want to say, the realities are very different.’
Musician and writer Christa Couture has experienced way too much of people trying to convey sympathy and instead expressing their discomfort about disability and death.”
(The Allusionist, intro to 3-12-21 episode )

Grief; loss.  I’ve tried to be as direct about the subjects as I can in my own life (no doubt failing spectacularly in certain instances). Thus, I’ve had my share of trouble using the societal conventions some folks prefer. For example, when someone asks me about my parents, I use the terms death or dead to impart the reality of the situation, rather than euphemize with phrases such as, “My mother is no longer with us.”  [5]

I had an odd conversation several years ago, with a fellow parent at a meet-‘n greet event at my son K’s college.  We got to talking about our respective families; she said that her son had recently “lost” his beloved grandfather, then asked about K’s grandparents – were they still living? Only she phrased it as, had any of his grandparents “passed.”  I answered that my mother was alive but in precarious health, which began “when my father died…” She interrupted with, “Oh, when your father passed….”

At least twice more, while eliciting information about what happened to my family after my father died, she steered back to the term, passed.  She seemed uncomfortable with any of the D-word triumvirate (died/dead/death); of course, it was fine for her to use other terms.  Meanwhile, I was deriving petty amusement from her passive-aggressive attempt to steer the speech of a person she’d just met – that would be moiself – toward using a word that *she* preferred, regarding another person (my dead dad) she’d never met.  I remember suppressing the urge to say something along the lines of,

“When my father passed? – Oh yes, that’s right, when he passed the LSAT we were so proud!  No wait, he wasn’t even studying for that. Anyway, we were thrilled when he passed the AP English exam, but when he passed gas, well, that’s another story….”

 

 

I told you Captain Picard, I *suppressed* the urge to respond in that manner.

Once again, I digress.

The subject came to mind as per the thought-provoking reflections on grief and loss I heard while listening to a podcast last week.  The most recent episode of The Allusionist, “Additions and Losses,” consists of an interview with writer and musician Christa Couture, whose book How To Lose Everything: A Memoir about Losing My Children, My Leg, My Marriage, and My Voice has just been released.

Couture might be described as an expert on grief and loss, considering her life experiences, which include:

* developing bone cancer in her leg when she was 11 years old

* the amputation of her leg after two years of grueling chemo treatments

*her first child’s death on the day he was born

* her second child’s death at age 14 months, not long after he had a heart transplant

* her divorce “born of grief”

* undergoing surgery which endangered her career as a professional musician

However, I gathered from the interview that the good-natured, intelligent, and subtly self-deprecating author wouldn’t describe herself as an expert on anything, except that of her own feelings.

Couture admitted to experiencing both sides of the uneasiness which comes from being either the receiver, or the giver, of comfort after death and loss. She and the podcast host mused about those face-palming moments when we, as flawed human beings, employ certain well-meaning if ham-fisted strategies in our attempts to relate to or express sympathy for someone’s tragedy.  One of the more common is, “Scrolling through a Rolodex of doom,” which I found to be a wonderful term for the situation we’ve all either been in or witnessed (e.g., while visiting her friend who is hospitalized after a car crash, well-intentioned Debbie blurts out, “I know what this is like – my uncle Joe died in a car crash, and my college roommate Freda had her arm amputated after her Toyota was t-boned by a drunk driver….“).

 

 

Couture, who identifies as Indigenous, queer, and disabled, talks about person-first versus identity-first language. It is a subject about which she has clear opinions, even as she notes that her thoughts on this and other matters are not shared by everyone, and that she is not “the ambassador for the disabled.”  She’s no language cop – she doesn’t insist that everyone must stop using terms that “the disabled community” finds offensive. [6]   She does have some good suggestions for certain word usage and choices, all presented with her calm, generous, good-humored perspective.  She’d prefer if you don’t use terms she finds “silly” in that they are euphemistic – e. g., “differently-abled” and “handi-capable”  [7]  instead of “handicapped.”

She and podcast host Helen Zaltzman acknowledged the difficulty of knowing what to say:

HZ:
“…the shiftingness  [8]  is one of the things that makes people struggle with it…’I don’t know what to say now, because ten years ago I was told to say this other thing that I’m now not allowed to say. So I’m terrified to say this thing, and now I’ve made this conversation very awkward, and the wrong word has escaped my mouth because I’m so stressed.’ “

Couture:
“Right. And I’ve been that stressed out person, who’s gone, ‘Oh wait, I said the thing and I know or I didn’t know…’ ” Yeah…that speaks to the power of language as well…the impact that it’s having on people or, you know, where people have asked us not to use those words, and then us being afraid of being shamed by them.”

 

 

The most poignant part of the interview for me was when Couture spoke of an existential crisis for her, one which arises almost daily and which she still has not fully resolved:  how to truthfully yet self-protectively respond to the questions which naturally arise when people want to hear about your life.

For most people, “Do you have any children?” is a basic inquiry.  But, two of Couture’s three children died. And when people who don’t know about the deaths of her two sons see her with her daughter, they often ask, “Do you have any other children?”

She still struggles with those questions.  She still doesn’t have a pat response…

“…because it depends on the context, who’s asking. But I don’t feel guilty in the way that I used to about saying, ‘No,’ or, ‘I just don’t want to get into it.’

Sometimes I’ve had to go back and be like, ‘Remember that time I said I don’t have other kids? I now actually want to tell you: I have two sons that died.’ You know, from becoming friends with someone or something, a colleague or something like that. But it’s an interesting choice, when it’s a colleague or at work, because it’ll come up or they’ll hear about it somewhere else, and then I sort of wish that *I* had been the one to tell them….

So, yes or no, do I have children?  It’s a loaded question. I try to never, ever, ever ask it, and not because someone else might have lost a child – maybe they have, but maybe they wanted children and didn’t get to, and that sucks. Or maybe they never wanted kids and they’re so tired of having to justify their decision.

Whatever it is, there’s all of these complexities around kids. And I just feel that’s a question that we shouldn’t ask. It’s a conversation to have with people who want to have it. But…I try to follow other people’s lead on that.”

Also useful to hear is Couture’s take on why she and (most) other disabled people do not view themselves as “an inspiration,” and why you shouldn’t, either (ever heard the term, inspiration porn ?).  But, don’t take it from moiself – listen to the interview and/or get her book…or at least appreciate the picture of her prosthetic leg, which is, as the host noted, the most “glorious” prosthesis you might ever see.

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of Nomination For Arguably The Worst Lyrics Ever

One of the perks of having one of my car radio’s auto select stations set to the local FM oldies station is getting to occasionally hear the amazingly-cringe-worthy crap so-called classics I’d long forgotten.  Prime example: “Music To Watch Girls By,” which, apparently and inexplicably, was a hit in 1967 for that favorite of your grandparents, the whiter-than-mayonnaise crooner, Andy Williams.

♫ The boys watch the girls
while the girls watch the boys who watch the girls go by
Eye to eye, they solemnly convene to make the scene

Which is the name of the game,
watch a guy watch a dame on any street in town
Up and down and over and across, romance is boss… ♫

 

 

Yeah, I know.

Imagine the poet laureate who was drugged and bribed to come up with,

“♫… they solemnly convene to make the scene. ♫” 

If the lyrics themselves aren’t enough to send you running to the regurgitron, try scalding your cornea with these images. It was 1967, but the leering, camera-on-the-female-ass fixation would give the most booty-obsessed rapper a run for his raunchy money:

 

 

 

*   *   *

And Now, From Bad Songs To Bad Puns About Songs

My husband hates songs by Britney Spears and asked me not to sing them.
But oops, I did it again.

I’m writing a song about how much I adore seesaws.
It’s called 50 Ways to Love your Lever.

 

 

*   *   *

May you never be viewed as “an inspiration” for anyone…but if you are…
May the inspiration you provide be Utterly, Completely, and Totally Gripping;
May you not find yourself waking up at 4 am with the earworm, “Music To Watch Girls By” infesting your brain;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] My second and third short story collections and second novel.

[2] Nutshell summary: the publishing business sucks.

[3]  Bespoke Publishers use POD (print-on-demand) technology to adapt an existing title to create a “bespoke book” marketed toward specific readership and uses. This is more common in nonfiction but is also used in fiction, to change, say, the book’s foreword, cover artwork, even some content, to target certain audiences.

[4] Aka author-assisted publishing, indie publishing, partnership publishing, co-publishing, hybrid publishing involve the author paying for some or all services (usually in return for higher royalty rates). Translated, “Hybrid publishing,” is another a form of self-publishing, wherein the author pays for the publication of their book. However, unlike self-publishing and vanity publishing, a hybrid publisher will not accept *every* manuscript presented to them – they do have editorial standards.

Traditional publishing is where the publisher assumes the entire financial burden of bringing a book to market, from editing to cover design to marketing, promotion, distribution…for which they (rightfully, considering their investment) receive the majority of the profits. Traditional publishers pay authors an advance (usually; this varies with the contract), then royalties after the advance has been earned back, in exchange for the exclusive right to publish their work.

[5] Which always makes me think things like, “But hopefully she’ll be back in 45 minutes, with pizza!”

[6] She does use term disabled community, a term which implies a commonality of experience, but not necessarily of not thought and opinion…which reminds me of what I’ve read and heard from members of “the black community” and “the LGBTQ community,” many of whom object to the groupthink implied by such broad labels.

[7] I didn’t even know that was a thing.  I’d be cringing, too. ” Handi-capable”…sheesh.

[8] I love that word – it’s another term the world needs. I hope it makes it into the OED.

The *This* I’m Not Freely Choosing

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Department Of Not Watching The “Royal” Interview

Even in these pandemic times of social isolation, you’d have to have been in a prison secure enough for Hannibal Lecter to *not* have heard that a certain royal couple was recently interviewed by Oprah she-who-needs-no-surname.

 

“Quid pro quo, Clarise. You let me watch Oprah’s interview with Harry and Meghan and I name the killer.”

 

I’ve been a lifelong anti-monarchist –  lifelong as in, when I was old enough to understand the concept of royalty, my five-year old self was like, “WTF is this classist, elitist, endemically racist, anachronistic institution doing in the 20th  (and now, 21st ) century?”  Thus, I had no interest in watching The Recent Royal Interview ®.  From what I saw on FB, the Average Person’s realizations, after watching the interview, were almost hilariously non-spectacular:

“After hearing about Harry’s and Meghan’s experiences, I’m convinced the monarchy is out-of-date and racist!”

 

 

Moiself  was delighted to see the interview produced in op-ed pieces from around the (western) world). I gravitated toward reading articles with titles like, Down With the British Monarchy, whence the following excerpt :

“The existence of a monarchy is an admission that a government can’t, or doesn’t care to, solve people’s problems. Instead, it offers spectacle. It has always been easier to elevate one family to a fairy-tale life of luxury than to do the dreary work of elevating every single family to a decent standard of living. The common people fund the lifestyle of a tiny, exalted and thoroughly unworthy elite, rather than the other way around. Any nation that still has a monarchy in 2021 is proving itself to have a mortifying lack of revolutionary gumption.

America is guilty of many crimes against humanity, but this is one thing we got right. Our presidents may be national embarrassments, but at least Americans are not required to scrape and bow before some utterly random rich wastrel whose claim to legitimacy is being the child of the child of the child of someone who was, centuries ago, the nation’s biggest gangster. Yes, we have our own hypnotic capitalist addiction to celebrity, but monarchy is something altogether more twisted — as if the Bush family, the Kardashians and the Falwells were all rolled into one bejeweled quasi-religious fame cult, topped off with a bracing dose of imperialism.”

I mean, how much right-on fun is that?

 

 

Leave it to the Irish to nail the situation in the most amusing (and snarky) manner:

“Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories.
More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.
Beyond this, it’s the stuff of children’s stories. Having a queen as head of state is like having a pirate or a mermaid or Ewok as head of state. What’s the logic? Bees have queens, but the queen bee lays all of the eggs in the hive. The queen of the Britons has laid just four British eggs, and one of those is the sweatless creep Prince Andrew, so it’s hardly deserving of applause….
The contemporary royals have no real power. They serve entirely to enshrine classism in the British non-constitution. They live in high luxury and low autonomy, cosplaying as their ancestors, and are the subject of constant psychosocial projection from people mourning the loss of empire. They’re basically a Rorschach test that the tabloids hold up in order to gauge what level of hysterical batshittery their readers are capable of at any moment in time.”
(“Harry and Meghan: The union of two great houses, the Windsors and the Celebrities, is complete,” The Irish Times)

cosplaying as their ancestors.  I wish I’d thought of that line.

*   *   *

Speaking of anachronistic institutions still existing in the 21st century…

Department Of “Free To Be You And Me”    [1] … Or Not

Dateline: Tuesday; out for a walk; 7 am-ish (not amish); listening to the latest Clear + Vivid podcast: “Ash Sanders and Sarah Ventre – Life in a Cul‪t.” In this episode host Alan Alda interviews journalists Ventre and Sanders about their podcast series, Unfinished: Short Creek. The two journalists researched their story for four and a half *years,* including embedding themselves in a fundamentalist Mormon community, Short Creek (a town on the border between northern Arizona and southern Utah), and “…wove together the stories of both those in thrall to its all-powerful prophet and others seeking escape.”

Moiself  hasn’t yet decided whether I will listen to the Short Creek podcast. Given the subject matter, it sounds both compelling and repellant. The latter emotion arises in me from the simple/depressing fact of the continued existence of such abhorrent ideologies in the 21st century, and of hearing about how difficult it is for people born into such a life to escape it, and how reluctant too many outsiders are to confront it (“Hey, it’s their religion/their choice…”).  I do know, from the podcast interview, that there is at least one woman who got out, and her story is featured, so that may sway me. Something hopeful to look forward to.

 

 

Halfway through the C+V podcast I flashed back to a conversation I had years ago with an “Exmo” (former Mormon).  Exmo Man   [2]   talked about the “misunderstandings” he felt that outsiders had about his (former) faith. He said that even while he was growing up in a (mainstream, not fundy) Mormon family, with only other Mormon kids allowed to be his friends and playmates, he was told by both his family and church officials that he had “the freedom to choose this.” Emphasis on *this.*  He was assured (by the Mormon adults around him) that all Mormons had freely chosen their beliefs. And he did make his choice, eventually to leave the LDS religion.  He also chose to (well, he attempted to) redirect my questions, when I gently but persistently tried to discern whether or not his choice meant that he lost family and friends, or had such relationships compromised, by his decision to leave the church. His not-so-skillfully avoidant answers indicated to me that, due to his choice, he had been essentially shunned.

A week or so after that conversation I read an article by a Muslim-American Woman who wrote about her freedom to choose whether or not she wore the hijab   [3] (veil or scarf; niqua; burka; or any of the varieties of face or full body coverings prescribed for Muslim women).  Although she considered herself to be a liberal/feminist re many other aspects of her life, this MAW said she chose to wear a head scarf as a symbol of her culture and faith… and also, I gathered from what she wrote, to proclaim identity politics and give a defiant FU to her friends and colleagues (whether Muslim, of other faiths, or religion-free) who were anti-hijab. Within days of reading her essay I came across the social media posts of another MAW, this one in the entertainment industry, who supported Muslim women’s “right” to wear head coverings, even though she herself does not do so.

The Exmo man and the MAWs each spoke of how they had the freedom to choose their own  *this* ( for Exmo, life as a Mormon; for the MAWs, wearing a hijab).  In doing so, they missed the entire fucking point, in moiself’s  opinion, which is that there was only one *this* presented to them as the correct choice.  And a choice of one is no choice at all.

Exmo may have been told he was free to choose *this, * i.e. remaining in Mormonism, but of course his LDS family and church elders and officials seriously didn’t think he would make another choice.  And when he did choose to leave The One True Faith,  [4]  he paid for it with the estrangement from his family and support group.

“You are free to choose *this*” translates as, You are free to choose – and here is your (one) choice.”  I am reminded of the old joke about Russian elections; specifically, a Communist party official countering Western claims that his country’s elections are not open and fair and certainly not democratic:

“Of course our people get to choose their leaders!  They may vote for whomever they chose!” crows the election official, who hands a voter a ballot with pre-selected candidates. “And here is the list of whom you may choose, comrade!”

 

 

If you are a Muslim female who chooses not to don the veil and you are living in a culture/country which requires it,  [5]  you may be considered as immodest and immoral, labeled an apostate or heretic…or worse.

“Iranian Police released an official statement saying that any women found protesting Iran’s compulsory veiling code would be charged with “inciting corruption and prostitution,” which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.”
(“Dozens of women ill-treated and at risk of long jail terms for peacefully protesting compulsory veiling,” Amnesty International)

It’s your choice, you may be told, but know that Muslim men and boys – even members of your own family, and even if you are living in a non-Muslim country – can feel justified in attacking you, verbally and physically for not wearing a veil. You may even be assaulted if you are wearing it, but not “properly.”

“The devout Muslim father of a 16-year-old girl, whose friends say was killed for not wearing a hijab, has been charged with second-degree murder….
Aqsa Parvez died on Monday night in hospital after being attacked in her home in a suburb of Toronto….the girl’s friends said Parvez frequently clashed with her estranged family over her reluctance to wear a traditional Islamic headscarf, or hijab.”
(“Muslim Dad Murders daughter over hijab,” The Age)

“…a woman has been …assaulted by a vigilante for wearing a loose hijab.
(video footage) shows a woman crossing path with a man, who then follows her down the street and appears to threaten her. He then grabs her by the arm and kicks her in the stomach twice, propelling her onto the road….
the police refused to arrest the attacker as he claimed to be “voluntarily enforcing morality codes.”
(National News Opinion, 3-12-20)

“Ruqiya Farah Yarow was killed outside her hut near the southern Somali town of Hosingow….militants had ordered her to put on a veil, and then killed her after returning and finding she was still not wearing one….”
(“Somali woman killed for not wearing veil,” BBC News )

 

Cool story, bro.

 

Yes my dear, you are *free* to choose *this* (the veil).
If you choose *not this* you may be harassed, slandered, discriminated against, assaulted,  even killed.
But hey – don’t listen to  critics and cynics – you are free!  The choice is entirely yours!

If a “choice” I am “free” to make carries with it the very real threat of physical and emotional harm, I am not truly free to make it.  If you are told you are free to choose *this,* but then by not choosing *this* you may be emotionally or literally and physically isolated or estranged or kicked out of your family and/or community (which also affects your ability to earn a living)…well,  a person using those terms in those circumstances has very different ideas from moiself  as to what constitutes freedom, and choice.

It is understandable (although abhorrent) to moiself , to see how someone raised in those kinds of intellectual thought-silos can misunderstand and misuse words and concepts like freedom and choice. And if you would seriously attempt to engage moiself about whether or not, say, most Muslim women are free to wear or not wear the hijab, I’m not even sure we could have a conversation lest we first get out our dictionaries (would you even be allowed to look at all available dictionaries, or would there be one you would be steered toward?) to first establish the vital, common references at issue: namely, the definitions of the words freedom and choice.

*   *   *

Department Of The Take Away Of The Week…Month…Year

This excerpt from the Clear + Vivid podcast applies not only to trying to understand and communicate with someone in a fundamentalist religious life, but also to bridging our current/fractured political divide.  The journalists were speaking about the main challenges they faced in doing their interviews – which are also the challenges when entering into a dialogue with anyone:

How do you balance empathy and accountability?

“…In order to have a conversation with someone, especially someone who you want to come to some kind of understanding with, if you can’t start on the solid ground of accepting the most basic facts with one another then…it’s really hard to get to that point.

How do you listen to somebody, and understand why they believe what they believe, but hold them accountable to facts, hold them accountable to maybe what they’ve done, or to what their beliefs are and the impact of their beliefs – how do we do that?…

What role does forgiveness play; what role does justice play?  How do we do that in America? 

We can tend to go from one extreme to the other, and tend to say, “Oh let’s just empathize,” and not admit the injustices that have happened, or “Let’s only talk about justice,” and not the repair that needs to be done. “

I don’t know about y’all, but I was reminded of a certain issue our country needs to deal with….

 

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Question That Might Take You Years To Answer

At the end of every Clear + Vivid podcast, host Alda asks the guest(s) “Seven quick questions,” all of which relate, on some level, to the subject of interpersonal communication. Question #3 is,

“What is the strangest question anyone has asked you?”

One of the journalists, herself an ExMo (mainstream, not fundy) chose a question she was asked when she was in college, while she was leaving Mormonism. It was not the typical question people considering leaving their religion in general and Mormonism in particular might expect to field (“Why do you believe what you believe?” or “Do you believe in the Prophet“). Rather, this person asked her a question that has “stuck with’ her, one she is still working out.  It was a question I think is relevant for everyone, whether or not we believe in any kind of patriarchal or hierarchical worldview,   [6]  or structure, or monarchies….

This one query, composed of a mere eight words, packs a novel’s worth of existential introspection potential:

Why do you believe in leaders at all?

 

Fascinating.

 

*   *   *

Department Of The Last Three Stanzas I Can’t Stop Thinking About

I’d like to think that someone will read them at my wake, even if I’m not sure that moiself  is worthy of such stirring imagery.  The stanzas are from a Syrian-American poet, Mohja Kahf, whose collection of poetry (Emails from Scheherazade )   [7]   was recommended by journalist, teacher, and fellow blogger George Rede.  Check out Rede’s blog here.  It’s always thought-provoking, personal, and finely written (and as compared to mine, free of those juvenile fart-jokes which far too often sneak past my editor  [8]  ).

The stanzas to which I refer are the closing verses of  Kahf’s The Marvelous Women

Come with me, come with poetry
Jump on this wild chariot, hurry–

Help me with these wayward snorting horses
Together we will pull across the sky
the sun that will make the earth radiant—

or burn in its terrible brilliance,
and that is a good way to die.

 

*   *   *

Puns For The Day – Monarchist’s Edition

My dentist told me that I am a royal descendant. I get my crown next week.

If Harry decided to take up painting now that he’s stepped back from the royal family,
he would be the artist formerly known as Prince.

 

*   *   *

 

May you never be deemed worthy of an Oprah interview;
May you know that if you burn in life’s terrible brilliance, that is a good way to die;
May you learn to balance empathy with accountability;
…and may the hijinks ensue.

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

*   *   *

 

[1] Apologies to the popular and ground-breaking children’s entertainment of the early 1970s, Free To Be You And Me, by “Marlo Thomas and Friends.” The book and record series (and later, tv specials) were an effort to counteract the gender stereotypes in the children’s books of the times.

[2] Pun almost intentional.

[3] Hijab is both a specific and broad-spectrum term, referring to both a particular style of covering and the general principal or religious code behind wearing it.

[4] Of course this is not exclusive to Mormons – many non-Catholic Christians kiddies first heard that phrase (that we were not part of “The One True Church”)  from their Catholics friends or neighbors, and 99.99% of religions proclaim exclusivity of some kind as to why they are the only, or the only “right’ way, to find ___ (god; the afterlife, truth, nirvana, your car keys….).

[5] Head and body coverings for Muslim females vary according to country and culture, in some cases being required by law. Meanwhile, some modern Muslims believe that the Qur’an itself does not mandate that women wear any form of hijab.

[6] Sorry; no footnote here.

[7] After reading that poem, I bought the book…and so should you.  Please always remember to support the author if you read something you enjoy – she receives no financial compensation from her work being shared on the internet.

[8] Which would be moiself.

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