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The Skills I’m Not Listing

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A Harbinger of Spring: The Return of Blue Man Group

This year our boys are sporting primroses.

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Happy belated birthday to comic actor, author, playwright, composer and founding Monty Python  member Eric Idle.

Idle shares a birthday with my mother-in-law (March 29); they both like to sing…and there is where the similarities begin and end.  While my MIL is a devoted Lutheran, Idle composed many of the Python songs and other naughty bits that crack wise at religion.

Idle, as Vivian Smith-Smythe-Smith, contestant for Upperclass Twit of the Year.

As per his own worldview, Idle has described himself, as in this piece he wrote for the Los Angeles Times, as an Alzheimer’s agnostic.

“I am an Alzheimer’s agnostic: I can’t remember whether I don’t believe in anything or not.
“However I do believe religions are the cause of most of the problems in the world today and there should be a moratorium on the use of the G-word. I think it should be replaced by something less controversial that we can all agree on. Like Chocolate.

“I can quite happily confess that I believe in Chocolate without upsetting anyone. No one ever killed anyone else over Chocolate. (All right, outside of Beverly Hills.) ‘One Nation under Chocolate’ is surely something we can all get behind. But I suppose, like all my ideas, it will be dismissed as just too silly.”

In Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life,  Idle’s Oh Lord Please Don’t Burn Us caps a skit illustrating the absurdity of religious worship.

Idle satirically illustrates the  logical consequence/conundrum for those who believe in a creator god – a deity they credit for “All Things Bright and Beautiful” but who somehow gets no responsibility for the parts of creation that are a bit dicey – with his Anglican hymn parody, All Things Dull and Ugly.

All things dull and ugly,
All creatures short and squat,
All things rude and nasty,
The Lord God made the lot…. 

All things scabbed and ulcerous
All pox both great and small
Putrid, foul and gangrenous
The Lord God made them all….[1]

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Happy Trails to You

Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve bid a fond farewell to one of their greatest assets this week, when Sarah Pinnock retired from her position as Wetlands Education Specialist. MH and I have had the privilege of Sarah’s acquaintance for many years. We first met her when we were hiking around the preserve one day, many years ago. Sarah pointed out to us the nesting tree of the JBW Preserve’s resident pair of bald eagles, and showed us bobcat scat on one of the trails and other points of interest.

K graduates in May with a B.S. in Micro and Cellular Biology, and Belle will likely declare her major in Biochemistry or Biology. I attribute my offspring’s interest in the biological sciences in good part to Sarah’s enthusiastic mentoring. She led a series of nature/wildlife biology-themed camps at the preserve, several of which K and Belle attended. My kids adore and admire her, as do MH and I. There aren’t many people who can nurture or appreciate your children’s passion for dissecting owl pellets as well as Sarah.

She has the skill of making the phases of the natural world – from the life cycle of a vole to the water cycle of a wetland – interesting and accessible to adults and children alike. The naturalist who will succeed Sarah Pinnock at JBWP will have some big shoes – knee-high mud boots, actually – to fill.

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Speaking of the natural world…

Spring Language Lexicon
Chapter 32: Doot-Doot vs. Deet-Deet

Doot-Doot: the thin cardboard cylinder around which a roll of toilet paper is wrapped and which, when stripped of all toilet paper, may be raised to the mouth of a human being so as to facilitate that human’s pretense of playing a trumpet or similar wind instrument. [2]

Doot-doot

Deet-Deet: Any of the small, long-legged, narrow-billed shorebirds (e.g. sandpipers, oyster catchers, plovers) which dart to and fro, chasing outgoing waves and in turn being chased by incoming waves, their rapid gait making the deet-deet-deet-deet-deet sound (to discerning ears).

Deet-Deets getting ready to deet-deet-deet-deet.

Now you know.

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Wednesday was my first of what I hope will be a regular gig of volunteer shifts at the Bonnie Hayes Animal Shelter.  I’m happy to return to serving an animal adoption/rescue organization, after a break from 5+ years volunteering, along with Belle, at one of the C.A.T. humane organization’s outreach centers.

I’ve been searching for “suitable” [3] volunteer opportunities, and have noted a similarity in the animal shelter’s and other organizations’ volunteer application forms. At some point in the form after you’ve provided information relevant to the volunteer position, there is a section where you are asked to list interests, hobbies and other skills. Which strikes me as something you’d find on a dating profile.

The trouble with volunteerism is that nonprofits offer plenty of “opportunities” to take on what are essentially jobs – “real” jobs – without being paid.  One example out of many: with my background working for both Planned Parenthood and a private OB/GYN practice, I thought about volunteering for a reproductive health clinic…until I researched volunteer positions available at the local Planned Parenthoods. Most of the descriptions made me think, Volunteer-schmolunteer –the scope and depth of responsibilities and duties – this is a job. Someone needs to get paid to do those things (like I used to).

I’ve had enough of that – of being expected to work without pay – as a writer.  Along those lines, I left blank the interests, hobbies and other skills section of the BHAS application. I did not list my writing skills; experience has taught me what will happen with that. I don’t want to haul out my good-natured-but-firm-smiling-through-gritted-teeth-turndown/explanation: that I do not work for free (nor do I think anyone should).

Yes, I understand that nonprofits need volunteers to thrive, or even survive.  But volunteerism comes at a high cost to women, who, as NPOs from art museums to educational tutoring programs to animal shelters will tell you, constitute the backbone of the volunteer force. The fact that women are often paid less than men for doing the same job (even in “traditionally female” occupations, for FFS!! [4] ), the fact that women are more hesitant/less adept than men when it comes to bargaining for salary raises – these inequalities are directly linked, I believe, to another frustrating fact:  both boys and girls grow up seeing women doing work – from managing a house/raising children to volunteering in key positions in their school/church/community – without being financially compensated for their work. [5]

So.

I’ll gladly sanitize cat kennels and paint my children’s classroom walls, for free.[6] I will not write your organization’s press releases or grant proposals or edit your newsletter for zip.

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My Son, the Micro Aggressor
Aka, This Is How We Lose The Support Of Good People

One of the things that makes me the most proud (or relieved) about my children is that they’ve turned out to be Good People ® . MH and I tried to instill in and model for them the value of applying compassion and reason to all areas of life, including political and social discourse. K and Belle try to think logically, to give people the benefit of the doubt, and look to the natural world for rational explanations of phenomena. Thus, it is no surprise that they support “the good fights” – LGBT rights, civil rights, women’s rights – you know, human rights.

We’ve also tried to teach them, by both example and “decree,” to never assume malice on the part of another person who makes a patently false or absurd statement (or simply a statement with which you disagree) when ignorance or simple difference of opinion would suffice for motive.

Most importantly, we advised them to question everything, even and especially the party line spouted by those whose positions you support.  Errant or exaggerated statements and inappropriate assumptions are to be found errant or exaggerated and inappropriate on their own merits, regardless of the desirable politics or good intentions behind them.

No surprise that both K and Belle have intermittently run into slobbering opposition (read:¨PC attacks and name-calling) when they have questioned some blanket/misleading statements having to do with The Oppressed vs. The Oppressors © .

K had some “interesting” discussions in a Gender and Society [7] class he took at college last year, and I was both bemused and frustrated on his behalf when he recounted the incidents to me.  Stand-up guy that K is, he’s sometimes gotten involved in what he advised me you must never do, Mom, when it comes to online discussions, [8] and I’ve enjoyed being able to tease him about it (You stepped right in that pile, didn’t you?). But his missteps are understandable. For example, he is studying chemistry and biochemistry and organic chemistry, and when he runs across some blatantly whackadoodle statement about the “chemical reactions” that “prove the toxicity” of fluoridated water, he just can’t help but wade in and offer a factual correction. And the fun ensues.

Delusional thinking, by definition, cannot be reasoned with…and yet silence implies acquiescence. You simply can’t reason with some people, and yet you must try [9]  – I hold these seemingly contradictory opinions, a fact K and I have discussed, many, many times. You must learn to choose your battles; you must also learn when the best choice is to say, Cool story, bro, and walk away.

As one wise woman put it,

Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time, and it annoys the pig.

For the hundredth time, Wilbur, there’s no falsetto in the chorus.

Department of Teaching Pigs to Sing

Yesterday K entertained me by relaying the following pig-singing-lesson discussion he waded into, when he commented to a post on FB. [10]

The post began with this excerpt:

“Many white women have said to me, ‘We wanted black women and non-white women to join the movement,’ totally unaware of their perception that they somehow ‘own’ the movement, that they are the ‘hosts’ inviting us as ‘guests.’ “
 – bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin To Center

K: OR maybe they said that because they felt like nonwhite women were not represented by the movement and there were few (nonwhite women that were) a part of it.
Why do people always assume malice behind people’s actions and words? It’s foolish to read into things that damn much.

PDQ [11]: ^^^^ Can somebody please deal with this I can’t

Yes, PDQ, go lie down with a cold compress on your forehead until you can deal with it.  OR, FFS, why bother to respond if all you’ve got is the vapors to offer? OR, FFFFFFS, put on your adult undergarments and deal with it.

Excusez-moi. Back to the transcript. Frail, unable-to-deal-with-it PDQ called upon someone else to respond (I’ll call her SAP), which SAP did.

SAP: 1. Nobody asked you. 2. ______(SAP provided a link to a HufffPo article on the “white savior complex”).

Then there was a lengthy comment by another person, “NAH,” on a tangential topic. K stayed on track, ignoring NAH and responding to SAP.

K: SAP, 1. If you post something publicly about a political topic, you are inviting responses. 2. You seem to think I’m saying that I don’t think this savoir complex exists. That’s not what I’m saying. What I said was that people seem to, tend to, read malice or otherwise hostile intent into quotes, like the one posted.

 NAH: Yeah. Oppressed people tend to be sensitive to the reasonably invisible micro aggressions that reinforce their mistreatment and widespread marginalization. No Shit.

(end of transcript)

Reasonably Invisible Micro Aggressions. Yikes.

As an an uppity woman from the get-go, I’d love to terrify Pat Robertson by leaving my husband to practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and go lesbo, [12] but it’s late and I’ve yet to brush my teeth.  BTW, I cut my feminist teeth on the works of Gloria Steinem, bell hooks, Robin Morgan, Audre Lorde, Kate Millett, Betty Friedan, Alice Walker et al, and I embrace the descriptive legitimacy of the concept of both white and male “privilege.” Reasonably Invisible Micro Aggressions? Never heard of ’em. I feel so…un-PC hip.

That term had my non-thong underwear knotted with laughter. My first thought was, What in the name of Susan B. Anthony are micro aggressions? And if they’re invisible, how can you tell if they’re micro or macro? And WTF is “reasonably” doing in that phrase?

My message to K:

Congratulations – I just found out I am the proud feminist mother of a microagressor.
Even better, one who may be responsible for “invisible” micro aggressions. Sounds like the equivalent of political homeopathy.

Is that your invisible micro aggression or are you just happy to see me?

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Liberty is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
(George Orwell) [13]

 

May all of your aggressions be visibly comprehensive, and may the hijinks ensue.

 

  Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

[1]All Things Dull and Ugly,” by Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Trevor Pka, John Du Prez.               

[2] You know you want to try it: doot-doot-doot-doot.

[3] “Suitable” – there’s the rub. Just try finding something that doesn’t involve meetings and/or committees, which I believe are the scourge of humanity, comparable to alopecia and shingles.

[4] Check out this and other uplifting articles which document how male nurses out earn female nurses.

[5] And also without attaining the respect/cachet that comes from having “a real job” (i.e., a one that pays a salary.

[6] Thank the FSM those days are over.

[7] A straight (but not narrow!) white male in a class with such a name…you can just imagine the traps set for him, by zealously sincere (the worst kind) and humorless “activists.”

[8] Read: do not feed the trolls.

[9] Because sometimes…eventually… good sense will take root.

[10] As usual, I will use acronyms instead of names, to protect the hypersensitive, not-so-innocent.

[11] As in Political Drama Queen. An appropriate acronym for someone who would respond as she did.

[12] In an infamous fundraising letter Roberts described the “feminist agenda” as “a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”

[13] I know SCM is thinking, “More footnotes!”

The Saudis I’m Not (yet) Terrorizing

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It’s been a while since I’ve undocked my laptop from the mother ship and taken it to a coffee shop.  I don’t need the caffeine but I will need the wifi in order to post this.  Our landline/modem are down (as well as my cell phone’s voicemail, a glitch that has no technical relation to the former problems, but it all happened at once, all of a sudden and apropos of nothing, so WTF?).

When informed about my various technical/communications snafus, perspicacious friend SCM asked, “What have you done to piss off the NSA?”

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The Grammar cop is always on her beat.

Tuesday’s New York Times featured a cover story about labor and safety demands made by Nepalese Sherpas in light of the Mt. Everest avalanche tragedy.  The Grammar Cop is issuing a warrant for the arrest of the mountaineering company owner who was quoted in the story.  The charge: illegal (yet admittedly impressive) usage of two torpid terms [1] in a row, thus creating an emphasis redundancy:

“The bottom line is, at the end of the day, if the Sherpas aren’t happy….”

Remember, every time you make a typo, the errorists win.

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Hoping the Terrorists Win This One

 Saudi Arabia has issued a combination of royal decrees and legislation which, according to Human Rights Watch, will serve to criminalize virtually all dissent thought or expression, and which define terrorism as, “Calling for atheist thought in any form, or calling into question the fundamentals of the Islamic religion on which this country is based.”

Oh-so-disturbing, but oh-so-hardly surprising. Saudi Arabia has a dismal, to put it mildly, human rights record. [2]  Its inexorable oppression of women has been likened to gender apartheid, and – imagine this! – the Islamic monarchy remains one of the very few countries in the world not to accept the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yo, King Abdulla and your misogynist, racist, Islamite religionist, Stone Age stooges: this Royal Turd Trophy is for you.

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Dateline: San Francisco, mid-1980’s.  A friend and former college apartment mate, who’d moved to the East Coast to pursue his master’s degree, was back to The Coast for a visit, and arranged for us to meet up at the dive bar of his choice.

Much to the amusement (and sometimes, annoyance) of our other roommates, Yanny [3] and I liked nothing better than to chew the intellectual fat.  That night in SF we were in fine form, chomping far and wide, so to speak.  I can’t remember which one of us brought it up, but the night (and drinks) ended with us gnawing on this proposition: if you could be endowed with tremendous or fantastic abilities/features/talents in one area, what would you choose?  And which trait do you think would have the most impact upon your personal and professional life?

You can have genius intelligence – you could understand at a glance Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity and see where Max Plank should have tweaked his quantum theory.  Or, you have perfect pitch, can sight read music, possess a singing voice that causes Vladmir Putin to embrace kittens and weep with joy when he hears you belt out Time to Say Goodbye.  Or, your athletic ability is such that the decathlon isn’t enough of a challenge for you, and the International  Olympic Committee decides to add a fweptathalon (that would be the term for forty-one events, right?) to showcase your abilities.  Or….

I mentioned the obligatory caveat, that many historical figures deemed genius were not all that content with or successful in their personal lives. Then Yanny and I, almost simultaneously, brought up the idea that one extreme attribute, the one that involved the least amount of aptitude and/or effort, was also the one trait most likely to affect your life in a positive manner:  that of being good-looking.

The world is our oyster…whatever that means.

In various psychology and sociology classes we’d read about the “perks of pretty,” or what was sometimes called the “Beauty Effect.” [4]  Controlled studies show that, absent any behavioral or verbal cues, beautiful people are regarded to be more talented, kind, friendly, competent, honest and intelligent than their less attractive counterparts, and that “people go out of their way to help attractive people — of the same sex and opposite sex —because they want to be liked and accepted by good-looking people.”

Yanny and I, while hardly trolls, had long been aware of our place among the pulchritude-inally challenged.  We swapped the-entire-lecture-hall-snorted-with-duh-osity stories about the times our professors had brought up a Beauty Effect story. Say it ain’t so, prof – beautiful people have an advantage/get special treatment in this world? Stop the presses!  Alert the National Guard!

I don’t recall either Yanny or moiself confessing, screw integrity, we’d take the beauty superpower. I also don’t recall ifI felt we’d lied about that.

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This, of course, brings me to Julia Sweeney.

Segue smackdown!

Sweeney is a comedian/screenwriter/actor/author/essayist/playwright – yes, she’s one of those multiple slash identity people.  Most folks know her as the creator and star of the “It’s Pat”  series of Saturday Night Live sketches.

I greatly admired Letting Go of God, Sweeney’s moving and amusing memoir (and subsequent theatrical monologue show & movie), in which she recounted her journey to letting go of Catholicism and taking hold of a “precarious, messy, cruel, and glorious,” natural worldview.  I’d heard her speak at two Freedom From Religion Foundation annual conventions, most recently during last year’s gathering, at the FFRF home base in Madison, WI.  Sweeney’s speech included an uproarious excerpt from what was to become her latest book, and I made a note to self:  get that one.

If It’s Not One Thing It’s Your Mother is that book.  It contains many interwoven stories, most of which revolve around how Sweeney adopted her daughter Mulan[5] from China, and how she met the man she would later marry via an email solicitation from her future husband’s gay brother.

One of my favorite chapters concerned Mulan’s school experiences.  A friend of Sweeney’s sent his three kids to the same upscale Santa Monica preschool Sweeney’s daughter briefly attended.  [6]  This friend provided Sweeney with a spot-on explanation of the abundance of Young, Beautiful and Thin Mothers ® at the school (in response to Sweeney’s astonishment at the spectacle– “It’s like a beauty pageant around here!”):

 A lot of women come to Hollywood because they are very beautiful…they come here because this is where you can really exploit your luck at being born gorgeous. Maybe they want to be actresses. Maybe the part of being an actress they like most is the part where people admire your beauty. Sometimes they make it in show business. Most, however, do not.

 Then, you have a lot of very successful men in Hollywood. Many of them were overlooked in high school. They have a deep psychological need to be with a knockout. This need is a gasoline that powers their desire to dominate. The women decide that their best bet is to marry these men and seal the deal by having a couple of kids. They’re like anyone assessing their prospects in the face of their declining value because they’re getting older. Can you blame them? It’s a smart move…And many of them do not work outside the home, and they have the time, and the desire, to hang out at the school, parading their beauty for all of us to enjoy.
(from Chapter Twenty-Two, “An Education,” If It’s Not one Thing It’s Your Mother)

I recommend the book for an entertaining read.  If you read it in public – say, during your commute or lunch hour – you will also provide entertainment for those around you.  You’ll laugh; you’ll cry; you’ll retch. The chapter on her daughter discovering the mechanics of sex courtesy of a frog project at school made for laughing-so-hard-I-cried reading.  As for the retching, that came from reading about Sweeney’s encounter at a playground, a few days after Sweeney and Mulan returned from a Hawaiian vacation. A Korean mother approached Sweeney and chided her for the robust tan Mulan had acquired:

“You know, we don’t let our kids get that dark…I mean she looks like she’s black,” the Korean mother said.  Making a disgusted face, she added, “A Korean mother would not let that happen.”

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Simple Pleasures of Spring: the Return of (our) Blue Man Group

Simple Pleasures of Spring, the Sequel

Walking home from lunch at a local Lebanese-Persian café, I got caught in a hailstorm.  I had my trusty rain hat on, but discovered that my favorite “water resistant” pants have apparently adopted the Borg mantra: Resistance is futile.

*   *   *

May all of your man groups be blue, may your resistance be effective, and may the hijinks ensue.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  Au Vendredi!

 

 

 

[1]  Torpid terms are vapid words and phrases used in place of vital ones (e.g. using “the bottom line” instead of conclusion, keynote, upshot, main point), as per the Thesaurus of alternatives to Worn-Out Words and Phrases

[2] I feel kinda dirty even using the words “Saudi Arabia’ and “human rights” in the same sentence.

[3] The etiology of his nickname comes from a long involved story about my implying that there was a Norwegian somewhere in his family’s allegedly exclusive Jewish woodpile…a story I cannot remember in its entirety, for which you should be grateful.

[4]Beautiful people get more of everything positive in life – from pay raises to social status and career and academic opportunities , and probably less crappy stuff, like mosquito bites and bedbug infestations and spam email….

[5] Yes, Mulan is her real/given Chinese name; she was not named after the Disney princess, as Sweeney will be explaining for life.

[6] Sweeney soon realized the school’s fancy, creepily opulent atmosphere was not for her, and enrolled Mulan in public schools.