I Still Can't Believe It

In my lifetime…

…a black man became President-Elect of the United States of America.

…same-sex couples are now legally married.

That is all I have to say. I want to just revel in the success for a while.

And both of them gifts. Requiring just the most minor amount of effort on my own part.

Both of them worthy of crying tears of joy.

Neither of them did I expect to see in my lifetime.

Don’t Just Vote. Vote for Obama.

This year I’ve come to realize something so important, so fundamental, about the way people vote, that it’s going to sound stupid when I say it out loud. The decision for a candidate is not made in a rational way.

Not usually, anyway.

People vote with their hearts as much as with their heads. People–myself included–respond much more strongly to irrational calls on their fears, their prejudices, their own personal and subconscious leanings, than they ever do to the realities of policy, or issues.

How else can you explain the thousands of Hillary Clinton supporters who have decided to vote for John McCain? The only thing the two candidates have in common is skin tone. What self-respecting feminist could possibly vote for a man whose record on women’s issues is abominable as McCain? Regardless of what he called his wife (that’s his second wife the hieress, not his first wife the disabled woman), just take a look at his voting record.

And take a look at McCain’s economic policy. Is it the folks making more than $250,000 a year who really need help in these tough economic times?

People come up with all kinds of reasons not to vote for Barack Obama, but the main one, the one that no one wants to talk about, is the one that AFL-CIO’s Richard Trumka pinpointed in a recent speech. In his words:

Continue reading “Don’t Just Vote. Vote for Obama.”

All I Want for Christmas Is a Robot Friend

My downstairs neighbor and I hit it off almost as soon as he moved in. Turns out we’re both huge geeks with just enough of an overlap in interests to loan each other books we don’t actually own. Yesterday, he loaned me something way better, though:

Widdershins, the singing, vaccuum-cleaning robot.

I know Roombas aren’t new, but it’s the first time I’ve had one in my own house, merrily chugging away. When you push the little button, it sings a happy little I’m-going-to-clean-your-floors song. When it chokes on an item of clothing you forgot to pick up off the floor, it sings a little HALP! song. When it’s all done making your floors shiny and clean, it sings a happy little I’m-done-cleaning-now song. And when it runs out of juice, it sings a sad little I’m-all-run-down song.

A few months ago, when they installed the new super-duper security gates in the downstairs lobby of my office building, I had an epiphany. We have little robot friends everywhere! The robots in the lobby read my RFID card, think a little while, and then beep and let me in. They’re posh robots, all stainless steel with some wood detailing and frosted-glass gates.

More and more people have little robot friends in their houses, chugging away sucking up dirt, mopping floors, or reading them their email. And the designers have wisely made them as cute as the DRDs from Farscape.

I can has robot frienz?

Dear Tony Perkins, Head of the Family Research Council

I can’t get the Family Research Council (a.k.a. family fearmongers’ council) to take me off their damn spam list. What began as a way to keep track of what the other side was up to has turned into a daily dose of hate in my inbox. Faithful America is a nice antidote — a PAC that reclaims religious values from the far right.

I got fed up enough to send a strongly worded response to a particularly egregious email full of lies and half-truths. I’m sure it’s falling on deaf ears over in Tony’s inbox, but maybe it will amuse you, dear Intarwebs.

From a personal appeal for dough from Tony Perkins, President of this “Christian” organization:

I want you to hear something a California pastor said to me recently:

“If we lose, we go to jail.”

It’s just that simple, says Pastor Jim Garlow–if marriage loses in California, religious liberties everywhere will be next. [Funny thing, that: here in Sodom Massachusetts, religious liberties seem to be alive and well for Christians, Muslims, Jews, pagans, and others alike, gays can get married, and marriage as we know it is still intact.]

The fight for marriage in the states is our first priority.

But we can’t take our eye off Washington, D.C. politicians. Your support is vital as we stand up to liberals who want to criminalize your religious speech . . . threaten the religious liberties of employers . . . silence conservative and Christian broadcasting . . . raise taxes . . . and impose taxpayer funding of abortion and embryonic stem cell research.

And my response:

Tony, this is an incredibly offensive letter. Christians have never been sent to jail in this country for practicing the teachings of Christ. Untold numbers of homosexuals, though, have been rounded up by police, beaten, raped, and returned to the street without charges ever being placed. Recognizing a loving, stable union between two people is not an affront to marriage. Preaching hatred and intolerance is, however, an affront to Christ’s teachings. Shame on you, and shame on your organization. Turn off your computer and read your bible.

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

1 CORINTHIANS 13:1–3 (NASB)

Sexism Doesn't Have a Party

I just love those girls at Feministing. My initial impression of the blog was that it focused too much on the negative side of the current state of gender politics: all the shit that women still have to put with, in spite of all our gains. But they do also feature positive celebrations of women in power. And every once in a while, they have moments of writerific genius eloquence. Like so:

The real sexism against Palin, like the designs above, has been the flip-side of the sexism against Hillary Clinton. A sadly perfect illustration of the Catch-22 women face. You’re either a scary, ugly, old, mannish harpy. Or a ditzy, perky, fuckable bimbo. You’re either cracking nuts between your thighs or dressed up like Britney Spears. The sexist remarks about Clinton and Palin are like our hate mail (“you ugly man-hater!” followed by “gimme a blow job!”) writ large. It doesn’t matter that, in reality, neither Hillary Clinton nor Sarah Palin fits these stereotypes. Both are attractive women who have made their fair share of political enemies. But reality doesn’t matter much in terms of how they’re portrayed.

Word.

Link to full article

Ten Moments in Northern California

  1. All alone in San Francisco. In the early morning, the line for the cable cars is much shorter. A family from Ohio sits next to me on the wooden step. I don’t take pictures. I look. At each intersection, the cable car stops for a moment, hovering there on the side of a hill, and you see down a long avenue, past buildings and cars and streets and people. At the end of the street, there’s the bay, and the bridge arcing gracefully between buildings, and little puffy clouds scooting across the sky.
  2. After wandering through Chinatown I return to my hotel room for a nap and wake up at midnight. The cool moist air of the city surrounds me. I roll over and go back to sleep.
  3. In Petaluma we stay at a Sheraton at the edge of a marsh. I walk the path that skirts the dense, low vegetation and the mudflats. Highway 101 roars nearby and the marsh is ringed with litter and office buildings. It’s a long, long walk, and my muscles, complaining after three days of San Francisco hills, soften and then tighten again. At the farthest point, I see three egrets and two herons. This is one of the last wetlands on the California coast.
  4. The Cathedral Grove at Muir Woods has been designated a “quiet zone.” The redwoods stretch up forever, a thousand, two thousand years old. Determined to make it to the grove, I push on ahead of the rest of my family. My six-year-old niece walks with me, and she is so very good about remaining silent in this silent, sacred place. Other tourists blather on, take photos. She shushes them. In spite of the chatter here and there, I can hear and feel the silence, the weight of these old, old beings, here long before the cars and chips and subdivisions.
  5. On the way to Petaluma, we stopped and took in the perfect view of the bay, the city, Oakland, the hills, and the graceful orange curves of the Golden Gate. On the way back, fog envelops the bridge, the thick suspension cables fading into the mist.
  6. The eucalyptus trees, heavy and shaggy and fragrant. Lining the highway, brought here by missionaries one hundred and fifty years ago.
  7. My brother’s house is an Eickler. The facade is a blank wall, softened by native plants artfully placed. Inside, glass walls and the high, sloped ceiling, draw in the greenery of the atrium and the back garden. It’s like being inside a work of art.
  8. At night in Santa Cruz I cross the boardwalk with my family, then leave them behind and greet the ocean. In the dark, seals bark to each other and the sea practices her endless rush. On the boardwalk, roller coasters and ferris wheels sparkle in the darkness, and people scream on the rides. I walk the strand between the two worlds.
  9. The next afternoon I hike from the boardwalk to West Cliff. Signs remind me to keep right. From time to time I stop and listen to the pounding of the surf, a whump I’ve never heard from the Atlantic. Surfers lay atop their boards, and from time to time one pops up and rides the curving white head of a wave to the edge of the rocks.
  10. At the beach below the Surfer’s Museum, I sit on the sand and watch four teenagers talk about their summer jobs. From the cadence of their speech I can tell they are from Northern California. The sun, the blue oceans, the waves, lull me. I roll over on my side. My niece calls to me across the sand. I sit up and she runs to me. I pick her up and swing her around. Her father and my mother trail behind. Her father, my brother, has lived on this coast for 20 years. He’s a different man now than the boy I grew up with on the opposite side of the continent. And still my brother. Still family.

San Francisco, Open Your Golden Gates

Arrived after 1:00 am on Friday night (Saturday morning, I suppose) and stayed at the Mosser Hotel in downtown San Francisco. It’s located in SoMa (South of Market), an area where a lot of multimedia companies set up shop during the heady days of the 1990s dot-com boom.

I’ve come to realize something about Northern California. It’s a very unsettled place. It’s like the hills of San Francisco: sudden upturns and downturns. Nothing seems quite solid here. The excesses of the 1848 Gold Rush still echo in this place. Fortunes made and lost overnight, glittering towers built and then ruined when the earth turns over in her sleep.

It is my homeland; at some deep level, I will always be a California girl. Not the easygoing, bubble-headed beach bunny that most people think of when you say “California girl.” But a California girl nevertheless. The dry, brown hills that bloom emerald in the winter, the live oaks that dot the crevices of those hills, the eucalyptus that towers and sheds its minty bark, the fog that rolls in and out. My heart swells to think of these things. It feels right to me.

But I’ve come to realize I cannot live here. The sun is too hot. The asphalt stretches on for miles. All the evils of the big box sprawl seem that much more apparent to me. The pockets of old California, the marshes and the forested hills, they call to me, but in the same way that the Cape calls to me. I love the fantasy of living in these places, but if I moved to either place, I’d probably go mad.

I am an Easterner, a Yankee, with Yankee sensibilities. I love the crisp air of September, the golden light that fades against the tops of trees in October. I love the smell of apples and the calmer waters of the Atlantic. The sea belongs in the east, not the west.

Besides, I wasn’t born in San Francisco. I was born in the South Bay, in a valley ringed by mountains and filled with asphalt. Back when I was 12 years old, I came to stay with my grandparents for a month. And I hated it, the flatness of the land and the one-story houses, the claustrophobic privacy fences that portioned off one tiny yard from another. The miles and miles of streets and cars. The valley is one big suburb that stretches on for miles and miles, a wasteland of cars and strip malls. Not that we don’t have these things in the East, but they’re tucked away among hills and rivers and trees. I long for the wide vistas of California, but once I’m here I tire of them quickly.

This land is lovely but it is not, in the long run, home. It is the homeland. I visit the homeland. And then I return to my home, in the East.

Love, Logic, Fear, and Investment

“Do you love me?” I asked him. In the dark. Fearful.

“Yes, I love you,” he said, surprised. “Why would you think I didn’t love you?”

I rose up and kissed him. “I just like to hear it,” I said.

If you spend your whole life dealing with mysterious man-disappearances, with a sudden slippage when you least expect it, perhaps it’s logical to expect it to keep happening.

In finance, past performance is no guarantee of future results.

In psychology, past behavior is the most reliable indicator of future response.

Of course, I’ve never invested in Army Guy before. Nor was he one of those other men who mysteriously disappeared.

Sadness Comes Apart in the Water

I met up with some of my circle sisters last Thursday night at the Forest Hills Lantern Festival. There are actually about three different events of this type in Jamaica Plain every year. It’s inspired by a Japanese Buddhist tradition that honors the spirits of the ancestors and is very well-attended. The image of hundreds of hand-decorated lanterns floating across the waters of the pond as the light leaves the sky is really magical. Lots of people bring cameras on tripods to capture the event. My friend Butterfly took a photo on her camera phone and emailed it to me, but I refrained from taking any myself, partly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get a good shot with my camera phone, and partly because I wanted to experience the event myself without the intervention of technology. There are tons of photos of the lantern festival on the web. I found Innusa‘s and ReallyStrangeGirl‘s flickr sets to be particularly beautiful. Still, nothing captures the experience like being in the middle of it.

I took the Orange Line from Green Street to Forest Hills and followed the stream of people heading toward the festival. It was one of those hot, heavy, dreamlike evenings we get in July, and the grounds around the pond were filled with people on blankets. My circle sisters had camped out right in front of the performance space, and it was such a wonderful feeling to arrive to see a group of women holding a space for me. By the time I arrived, the festival had been going on for about an hour and a half. I attempted to get a lantern for myself, but by the time I got to the tent where you could purchase a lantern and have a calligrapher paint a word on the rice paper, there was a huge crowd. I didn’t feel like waiting in line, so I returned to the blanket to watch the tail end of the Taiko Drummers’ performance. I wish I’d gotten there earlier so I could have watched the entire thing; Japanese culture fascinates me, especially the traditional forms.

My circle sisters made beautiful drawings on their lanterns. Although this tradition is meant to honor the ancestors, people at this festival seem to use it as a way of sending out all kinds of energy and prayers. Each of my sisters has something fairly major to release right now: one of them is going through a divorce, the other just split up with her long-term fiance, one is embarking on a new romance, and the last has been recovering from cancer surgery. But for the first time in a couple of years, I have really nothing to release. I have good news. I am in love, my job is going well, and I am overall very happy. I was nice to have some good news to share with the circle and to be able to listen and give my support about my sisters’ own tragedies. The Wheel keeps turning.

When everyone walked down to the water’s edge to place their lanterns in the water, I stayed on the blanket. I watched the many kinds of people milling around and soaked in the atmosphere of Jamaica Plain. Each neighborhood and community in the Boston Metro Area has its own unique flavor. The prevailing wisdom among people who do not live in Jamaica Plain is that it’s geographically isolated and difficult to get to. There is definitely a truth to that, but in the past few months I’ve found that getting there is not nearly as difficult as people make it out to be. And the neighborhood itself is quite wonderful. I’ve been considering moving there at some point. Of course, I’d hate to give up my lovely and affordable apartment in Cambervilleton (Cambridge/Somerville/Arlington), but I find the atmosphere of the neighborhood much more appealing.

I lay back and looked up at the sky as people milled around me. It was a blue-green, tinged at the edges with the burnt orange of approaching sunset. Trees ringed the edges of my vision.

Once the sun was down completely, the crowds dissipated. The five of us made a circuit of the pond, watching the slowly changing spectacle of the lanterns on the water. They followed the invisible lines of current and wind, and as the daylight faded away they looked like a line of souls marching into the other world.

It would have been nice to paint “forgiveness” on a lantern and send that message off to my father’s spirit beyond the veil. But there will be other opportunities to do so. That night was meant for other people’s releases.

Sadness comes apart in the water. Over the course of the last two years, though, my sadness has come apart on dry land. I have no grieving left to do, and nothing to share but joy.