Friday, October 29, 2010

Fuzzy Bunny Slippers

I've tried to avoid going here. I really did. I hate word definition essays. When my students write them, they pick words like "love" and "beauty" and generally come up with writing that makes me throw up in my own mouth. One group of students worked together and decided the ultimate meaning of the word love was Jesus. I like a lot of christian values but their argument was that if you aren't christian, you'll never have love and will probably burn in a giant lake of fire for all eternity while being raped by Satan and assorted minions, goblins, ghouls and thieves. Like the worst fate is rape. Try reading 125 papers attempting their first rhetorical analysis. After awhile it's like dragging my eyes over broken glass. Bring on the sulfur and light a match. Meanwhile I have to sit back and clap and generally offer encouragement and repeat to myself "baby steps". They're not all bad. Sometimes students will take on concepts with some merit. Intermittently, they will come up with "justice", "freedom", and the odd definition of something like "fraternity". So those are a little better. The best ones I get are typically over social issues like oppression and racism. One student had the balls to write about the word "fuck". He was in love with his own ideas and so didn't do such a great job in the research department. Good visuals though.

Generally, I have my students look up a dictionary definition- something from Oxford and if possible, an older version since definitions tend to change over time. I have them find current connotations and uses of the word, alternative meanings and give examples, synonyms, antonyms and perhaps an image or two to go with it. Sometimes they respond with songs.

Now, because of my big mouth, I have to bite the fucking bullet and pull out a definition of "American values". I couldn't pull out something cute to define, like fuzzy bunny slippers. You know, if I wanted to define something, or analyze it, I think the more interesting subject would be the function of the bathrobe in the movie "The Big Lebowski". Old, musty, comfy and not unattractive- he is even wearing it in the scene just prior to conceiving a child with Julianne Moore. Probably far more pleasant to read than the dusty tear I'm about to embark upon.

I saw a poster online with a caricature of my president as a marionette. It was an older-style of depiction, one that looks , well, racist to me.
So I posted it to my Facebook page and put "These are not American values". And my friend R.E. let that one go for almost five seconds before he replied, "What are American values?".



So the Oxford mentioned words like "democracy, equality and material prosperity". Hmm. Ok, that's a start.

Democracy, then. But democracy for who? When the Native peoples were murdered and their lands added to America's, was that democracy? No? How about when we imported people from Africa and forced atrocities upon them, making them work for free and give up their families and children? And after slavery ended (No, it wasn't Abraham Lincoln who so patronymically freed the slaves out of the goodness of his heart. It was the work of hundreds and thousands of people), it took awhile to get past the 3/5ths rule, Jim Crow laws, then the separate but equal laws. Slave labor built this country, as it did Egypt and Nazi Germany. And the whole women voting thing too. In all these cases, oppressed populations have had to wrest power away from oppressors. It's not like some lawmaker in Washington suddenly grew a conscience and said to everyone, "Hey, those measly blankets and nasty government rations aren't enough. People deserve better." I'm pretty sure that democracy is or was an American value, but I'm also pretty sure that it isn't a value for just anyone. Today, we've got racism working against two groups. The first is the American Muslim population. Back in the day, prior to September 11, 2001, being Muslim meant you were eyed as vaguely suspicious. Now, Muslim is a dirty word because some extremists boarded planes and crashed them into our buildings on our soil. Now all people of this religion get profiled and occasionally for whatever reason, land on the no-fly list. Hispanic Americans are also suffering as a large minority group. Look at Arizona, where you can legally be pulled over for driving while brown and be made to furnish your citizenship papers. What the fuck?! I have never had to prove my citizenship. I'm a fucking American; the end. Do I look more American because I'm white? Apparently so. Perhaps what we fail to recognize is that we annexed part of Mexico into our great vision for the United States and that Texas reserved the right to secede if it wanted to. So excepting all of the legal Hispanic Americans, those who cross illegally do so at great peril, often die, and are vilified. However, there is high demand for illegal labor because it is so inexpensive. If we didn't have such demand, and if it weren't so crazy difficult to become a citizen, there wouldn't be so many illegal immigrants looking for a better life.

So I guess that does away with a demonstration of equality too. Equal if you're of a certain dominant race, or if you can pass for such. But our school system is still bound by race and by income and so those who are rich go to rich schools and the poor go to poor schools and those who are rich are generally White and those who are poor are generally Black and White and Hispanic. Because there can only be so many rich people. Someone has to have the sucky jobs. That's what material prosperity is built on- getting someone else to do all the work while you reap the benefits. The idea of prosperity is also relative, following Maslow's hierarchy of needs first and then if there is something beyond basic need, that can be classified as prosperity.

And don't get me stated on the whole "American values are Christian values" thing either. Bullpucky. Christianity was also used as a tool and rationale for slavery and for keeping women from voting. And also, I think according to the bible, I'm supposed to be stoned to death. And in the Christian version, women don't have any writing credits. So I'm not particularly into being subjugated by a book written in the name of a deity that condemns me for just about everything I do except for staying in my house and bearing children (preferably sons) for my husband.

Let me break here. I bet I know what you're thinking: that I don't love my country. That I'm a Socialist, Marxist, Fascist (cuz all those things mean the same thing, right?) Communist who wants to tear down capitalism. Oh, and that I'm an elitist intellectual with her head up her ass who can only think of rude things to say about My Country 'Tis of thee.. Right?

Ok, probably not. Of the five of you who read my blog, you probably know me well enough to know that I feel it my patriotic duty to bring up the ills of our past and our present so that we may not carry them over to our future. This is true. We've totally fucked some things up in the United States. And I think that we owe it to future generations to start cleaning up the mess. It's part of my job. And besides, there are a few things we do right as a country.

The big one is that jerks like me get to say whatever we want to in a blog and nobody can kill me for it. I can't be imprisoned for my ideas. It's my fundamental right as an American and as a United States citizen to speak out loudly when my government misbehaves. AND I get to practice any friggin' religion I want.

Know what else is cool about being a U.S. citizen? I get to have a gun. We all do. As much as I'm a left wing liberal and a bleeding heart and generally a terribly peaceful person, I believe in responsible gun ownership. Yes, yes I do. You know why? Not because I want to go hunting. I'm a vegetarian. Not because I'm scared of intruders; I'm a black belt in karate for cripes sake. No, it's because a government should fear the people and not the other way around. That's why. It's to protect me from oppression. And besides, what if there is a zombie attack?

I think right now, the U.S. is still redefining it's value system. We're deciding as a country whether or not Gays and Lesbians have the right to marry legally. We're deciding between oil consumption and ecological destruction, we're consuming the shit out of electronics and importing junk from other countries by the bucket load. We only manufacture 11% of our own stuff these days. Are we still a heavily capitalist (ignore the socialized programs like education, fire and police departments and social security) nation with emphasis on the dominant ideology filled with the rhetoric of White, middle class Protestants?

I can tell you what I'd like my country to be like. I'd like my country to be filled with political wrangling of two-term Congress and Senates who don't get a pension and pay raises every other year, without the need for social security payments or parking tickets. I'd like true ombudsmen and trust that the people we send to Washington are doing their jobs and then coming home and being careful with resources. I'd like to have more faith that not all politicians are dirty cheating scoundrels. I'd like to live in a country that values education enough to spend more on it than it does on the prison system. I don't have children but I always vote for school bond issues. I'm glad to pay for education. I'm a home owner and I know that's where some of my taxes go and I'm glad for it. Best investment ever.

I'd like a country that legalizes and taxes the shit out of marijuana. Nobody ever went on a pot rage. I'd love it if two women I know who have been together for 14 years could have a legitimate wedding if they so chose, and health benefits for spouses. Let me tell you, there are no unplanned or unwanted pregnancies in gay and lesbian couples. Just saying. And in my own state of Oklahoma, I'd love to be able to buy wine in the grocery store and to be able to order online from my favorite winery in Washington, because currently that is illegal too.

And a pony. I'd really like a pony. And for people in opposing parties to stop flying off the fucking handle and listen to each other. Move towards the middle already.

So to sum up, I'd like us to stop being a country with a teenager mindset and grow into an adult. I hope that's what American values are. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And a copy of the Big Lebowski's for everyone along with some fuzzy bunny slippers. Cuz that American.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Just Let Go

I enjoy worrying. It's a hobby. I like to plan for disasters. I used to have a worst case scenario in my head. I'd start worrying about things- jobs, money, homes, life, the environment, capitalism, education and the meaning of life. I'd worry about six or seven degrees of separation and in the swirling tornado of my brain, the disaster story so often played in my childhood ended with me living under a bridge with my cat, Eleanor, a shopping cart and a machete. I wouldn't have any teeth because of poor dental care. I wouldn't have good vision for the same reason and maybe I'd have glasses with one lens. But we'd be ok. I could consider it a weight loss plan.

There's something I don't really talk a lot about in my blogs. It's alcoholism. I don't know why; alcoholism has had such a profound effect on my life and on so many of my choices, I'm surprised I haven't written an encyclopedic volume about experience with it.

If you ever wonder if you have a problem with drinking, just read the first 164 pages of the Alcoholics Anonymous book and answer the 20 questions. That should give you a good idea. If you still have doubts or questions, call your local AA hotline. Someone will be very glad to help you and answer your questions. It won't be me though- I don't belong to an AA group and wouldn't want you to think that I'm some sort of authority on the matter. If you're curious, attend an open AA meeting and find out for yourself.

Often, the best people in my life are alcoholics. I like and tend to attract alcoholics as friends or boyfriends. It just works out that way. And they are often the most fun-loving, creative, kind and hilarious people you'll ever meet. They're just sick and need to drink. Alcohol isn't the problem; it's the solution to whatever is going on inside. I'm not sure I relate. I'm just relaying what I've been taught.

It's not a disease that just affects the individual either. It's a family disease and that's how I know of it. I'm not going to out any living person that I love but there this stuff squats like a toad in my family. It killed my father's parents before I was born. They owned a tavern. My dad was an alcoholic, apparently the fun-loving kind who got weepy when he'd had too many. My mom tended to date and marry alcoholics too, though I'm not sure where she got the idea originally. I think my dad just swept her off of her feet. And in my relationships, I seem to find and love people who have a drinking problem. Me, I like wine and dark beer. Probably not as much as I like coffee (which for some inexplicable reason, I'm drinking at 1 a.m.). But not too much because it has too many calories and it makes me feel fuzzy. I don't like to be out of control.

Over the course of my lifetime, I accumulated enough rage to power a small city. On the outside, I was pretty placid and seemed calm and peaceful. On the inside, though, something was just not right. All the time. Whatever I did never seemed enough. And I was (and still tend to be) highly self critical and also critical of others. I try pretty hard to keep that in check by taking good care of myself and practicing kindness to others as well. But I didn't learn to do those things overnight. I used to tell a joke about how the quickest way to a man's heart isn't through his stomach; it was with a small flat blade between the ribs. I guess maybe I was a little, oh, much to handle. There were some rough edges.

I went to years of Alanon meetings and had to take a few very hard looks in the mirror to look at my own fears, anxieties and crazy behaviors. I was used to blaming others and just stuffing my own feelings or not even knowing that it was alright to feel something at all. I needed to learn to stop waiting for my life to start and start participating in the life I had. I had an amazing sponsor who walked me through a program. Even though she is a member of a church, religion was not part of the equation. God, yes. Religious stuff, no. Eventually, it felt better to be responsible for feeling my own feelings and to respond rather than to react. Then I had to learn to draw boundaries and separate what actions and responsibilities belonged to me and what ones were out of my control. Let me be clear: I don't represent a group as I'm writing this. It's purely my thoughts and actions that I'm talking about here. My experiences.

Alcoholics love to drink; I love to control freak-out. I had (and still do have) contingency plans for everything. I bailed people out and cared for them far beyond reasonable limits with time, money and resources. Then I blamed them and punished them and told people how awesome and martyred I was so I could get sympathy. I can say that now with a laugh because while it's true, I know better than to pull that shit anymore. And I divulged more in those meetings than I ever could in a blog. That's how you get rid of the crazy; you gotta stop carrying it around. And I have more money now that I've stopped giving it to people. Bonus! Plus, I know how to not react with anger. I'm much nicer to be around these days.

I made friends with women who were just like me. Only different. Authentic friendships, not like frien-emies. Old, young, rich, poor, and with all sorts of educational and life experiences. We were just like one another. We helped each other and supported one another. We learned to laugh at the crazy stuff we did. Stalking lovers and husbands and ex's, going to great lengths to find and eliminate alcohol and to monitor intake. We laughed at each other. We got better. And when things got bad, we stuck together. A member of our group was killed by her brother (as were two other members of her family) in a drunken blackout. It was my first time to chair a meeting. She'd been a good member and friend. We had our meeting that night. You never know who is going to walk through the door needing help. And as her husband requested, a member was with her around the clock at the funeral home. She was never alone and neither were we.

After almost four years, I drifted away, got busy with other parts of life and stopped attending. I still retain many of those friendships and I know where the door is if I should need it. Or if I feel called. It's a beacon of sanity for people like me. It's my night light in winter.

The biggest lesson I learned is this: If someone is going to drink themselves to death, they are going to do it. My choice is either to get the hell out of the way or grab on and ride that ride until we're both bloody.

And lately, I've been reminded of that choice. Someone I care for drinks. And I know it can kill him. He knows what he is doing is poisonous. There is no question about it. I hate to watch and feel helpless. I think he hates it too. I am reminded of the voices of so many meetings. If he is going to die, he is going to die and the least I can do is respect his choices and the right to make them. I remove someone's dignity by inserting myself in the equation. Yes, I am right. I'm almost always right. It's a condition of my life. That doesn't make me helpful to repeatedly tell someone what to do even if I'm right. It just makes me an asshole. Secondly, the right thing to do for me is to stay out of the way- to not enable or assist and to generally mind my own business and take care of the things on my plate. There is an assumption I have to rely on in this case; that there is something out there greater and more powerful than me and that it alone can do what I cannot. If I truly want what is best, I can stay out of things.

That's why I'm writing this blog entry. For you. If you're still interested, or if you're riveted or think that perhaps I'm telling your story, please know that you're not alone. And you don't have to do this alone. I mean, seriously, how ridiculous is it that people like me don't even get our own disease? We just have a major hobby (obsession, whatever) of co-dependence on people with "real" diseases like alcoholism. I can usually tell if there's alcoholism in one of my student's families not by their writing about someone's drinking, but by their discussions of the control freaks and wet blankets and other people who might benefit from a meeting or twelve. Or even by their own need behaviors and the things they say. Letting go is scary because when you're not focusing on that other person, there's not much left besides a mirror and at first, what a person sees can be more than they can handle alone. So I guess that's the thing: You can let go. You are enough. You don't have to do this alone. It's not shameful. You can learn to laugh again. And yes, he or she may die but you can't control it.

Know when I say this to you, I also say it just as much to myself: It's going to be ok. Just let go.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rough Draft Poem

I sit, reading,
taking notes, considering,
conceptualizing critical pedagogy theory
Giroux dances in my head
McLaren plays the tambourine
fueled by caffeine.

Across the street
students play grab ass after school
a nurse walks past eye level
orders a venti mocha
and squats across from my table,
scrubs stretched across dough thighs

A teacher rushes in an dout again
two pounds of Pike Place
and comfortable shoes
hair she pinned into place early thi smorning
still obediently stays where she willed it.

Sunlight slants in across my
articles, messy, highlighted
with "discuss" and "wow" written
I'm not sure what I"ll use it for.

A woman saunters in.
Mid 30's. Blond highlights,
short bob, easy smile, sunglasses and
tan trousers tailored over Manolo Blahniks.
"Skinny Vanilla Latte"

This will not be me.
I'll never spend $200 on shoes and
I know no tailor. So
I gather my ratty sweater at the elbows,
push my bangs out of my face,
sip my bitter cup
and plan for a better world tomorrow.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Far To The Horizon

Barbara Billingsly died at the age of 94 yesterday. She was June Cleaver on the 1950's show "Leave It To Beaver". June Cleaver was an icon for White women of the time and also the standard by which women were judged. Up with the sun, making pancakes and bacon, rousting her children around to get them to school, taking care of her husband's needs (whatever that meant) and in general doing something known as "keeping house". One assumes that meant cooking, baking, vacuuming, cleaning windows and making beds and doing stacks of laundry from a washer that was located in her own home. I'm pretty sure June had her own car so she could shop at the local market and I'm also sure she did her own canning and didn't use boxes of anything for cooking.

There's something else, though. A few important things to remember about the Cleaver family.

1. They were prosperous. There was never a conversation about lack of money. The children always had nice clothes and June and Ward dressed well too.
2. June didn't work outside of the home, though I'd bet that she theoretically volunteered some of her time to charities.
3. June and Ward were obviously well educated, and their children had easy access to adequate schooling.
4. None of the main characters was an alcoholic, nobody fucked around and nobody hit anyone.
5. Dirt didn't exist.
6. You never see a hair out of place on June's head. Man, that must've been difficult. Jerry Mathers remarked that while Billingsly was a wonderfully talented actress and quite talented, she was often stifled on the set due to the bounds of her character. Oh the irony...

I get the feeling that this family didn't really exist, even in the 1950's, a time when we as a nation were dong fairly well. The middle class was growing and segregation was never addressed on television. Gays and lesbians were left out as well, though we know that more than hetero White people existed in the 50's. This show merely attempted cultural replication- a reaffirmation that everything was ok and that all problems could be solved with a father/son talk in half an hour.

If you fast forward to the 80's, you have a new iconic family: the Cosby's. Now that's a family I wanted to be part of. They had music, their own rooms, secrets, educated parents and kids who did sometimes stupid things and were loved anyway. Claire Huxtable was the head mom of five lively kids. She was worked full time and was somehow a good lawyer, mom, wife and friend. I bet she had a housekeeper. The best part for me was watching Cosby as Cliff Huxtable because he showed me what a normal dad could be like- listening to his kids and taking time for them but also being funny and strict and authoritative rather than authoritarian. And he was really, really funny. Their kids didn't seem a burden but rather a joy (despite Cliff's repeated insistence that all children eventually move out and stay out). That's the family I hoped would exist in real life.

Fast forward to today. We've got "Family Guy", "South Park" and "King of the Hill", and, and, and well, that's about it. Some animated cartoons portraying exactly what not to do- kids with dangerous attitudes and parents who are disconnected and self-absorbed. In fact, our entire nation seems self-absorbed. And I think it's safe to say that our definition of family in 2010 has changed and needs to be somehow acknowledged. More than that, I think that the way we think of an American woman's place in society needs to come back into proportion.

Oklahoma pretends that it's not been hit by the recession. This article in the Oklahoman- a newspaper repeatedly voted worst paper in the U.S.- reports that food stamp recipients rose for a record 30th month in a row in Oklahoma. Yes, even Oklahoma has felt a recession. And we're one of the poor states. Must be part of that trickle-down effect.

Why do we need a new perspective? Because the other day someone posted on Facebook that he was tired of all the jobless welfare mom's sucking off of society. Once I recovered from the shock, I took time to think about this from a perspective that isn't my own. I don't blame him-he works hard for his living and has to pay an enormous tax bill for being middle class. And it's true that some people take advantage of a system that is intended to help people who need it. And when I consider this carefully, this person would probably help someone in need. He's an Okie; that's how we do.

But I don't think that the problem merits such vehemence across the American conscience. We have this image perpetuated of some poor woman- Black, White, whatever, with bad teeth and bad English with four or five children stuck to her hip with a cigarette hanging out of her mouth standing in line at a grocery store in a mink coat, purchasing a cartful of choice cuts of meat with food stamps. Then the same woman trades the leftovers for a 50% markdown of cash so she can buy alcohol, cigarettes and meth. Then she neglects their children and lives in an opium den (ok, trailer park) and either she or her kids or both go to jail in an endless cycle.

Let's get a grip and discuss a real societal ill, mmkay? Let's talk about corporate greed politicians in people's pockets and the astronomical damage to our environment, our economy and the American ways of life. In a minute...

First, let's talk about single moms and single dads. We'll start with my mom.

My mom was pregnant with her fourth child in 1972 when her husband was killed. She was a hosuewife, an acceptable and expected occupation at that time. She moved back to her hometown where her family helped her some for a couple of years. She married off and on and always worked a job or two to help make ends meet. In her first marriage, she was home with the kids. By the time I was growing up, she worked at home and at a part time job. When necessary (especially between marriages) it was two or three part time jobs. Full time wasn't an option because then the employer would have to pay benefits like health insurance. She made less than 10k per year. I remember being an 8 year old latchkey kid. Our income qualified us for food stamps and government health care. We did not apply because my mother was too proud to take what she considered a handout. I didn't go to a dentist until I was in 10th grade. I cracked my pelvis in sixth grade when I was sledding and never even went to the doctor because my mother couldn't afford xrays. I spent several painful months recuperating. She did accept the Social Security income from my dad's passing. I remember distinctly how much it was and that the check came on the first of every month.

I wish my mom had gone on Welfare. I wish the stigma wasn't so prevalent.

I wish society would seek to understand the underlying causes for the need and use of Welfare. I wish we Americans understood poverty as a class issue and not just an economic one.

Think of it- you're a single woman and you get pregnant. The father might stay around and help, at least for awhile, or he might take off. Society doesn't judge him for that; they judge the woman. If she has an abortion she doesn't tell anyone and suffers that pain alone or with one good friend. Incidentally, it's now more difficult than ever in Oklahoma to obtain an abortion. This is why I go to protests.

Or maybe she grows up hearing that abstinence is best and therefore gets married at 18 and divorced at 23 with two children. Her ex may or may not help out. Either way, the daily energy devoted to taking care of the household falls mostly on her shoulders. If you're a single dad, just reverse the roles. Single dads get to be heroes for stepping up and being parents in this situation; it's just expected of women. I know and like several single dads. They're doing what they should but they don't think what they do is extraordinary. In fact, they have to fight twice as hard for custody if that's an issue.

Regardless of the cause, a woman, especially one without an advanced education, will have a hard time making it with children. She's relegated oftentimes to section 8 housing in bad neighborhoods. Childcare while she works her just-above-minimum-wage (so the employer can assuage their conscience while taking advantage of this plentiful workforce) job is equal to or even more expensive than what she makes if she puts her kids in regular day care. Private day care is better; if she takes the government subsidized option, the quality of care is likely to decline and her children will be more likely to need Head Start programs. A shoe-string budget doesn't have room for cars to break down and for expenses like braces and contact lenses. If that car does break down, she must fix it herself, rely on relatives or make friends with those who live close by so that they can form a network to get everyone where they need to be when they need to be there. One thing I have noticed between poverty class and middle class is this: If you're poor and your car breaks, you just knock on your neighbor's door. They will do their best to get you where you're going, to fix the problem or give you a ride. If you're middle class, you're socially inhibited from asking because you're expected to do everything for yourself. Self sufficiency, bootstraps and all of that rot. This was the weirdest transition for me, to not be asked for help or to not be able to rely on the people around me if I need something. It was my grandparent's greatest concern when I bought a house- that I make friends with the neighbors. In return, the woman in question can cook, do laundry or offer home made confections to thank the person who helped her. This is especially great for single men who don't often get home cooked meals.

So she pays all of the bills and once a month gets to go out with her friends. And people criticize her for that because she's not at home playing educational reading games to her kids 24/7 on her off time. Or maybe for three weeks of the month her kids eat macaroni and cheese so on the first she buys meat or takes them to a restaurant that isn't McDonald's. Her teeth may not be great, her accent might be off and maybe eventually she figures out that the only way she can make it is to quit that job and go on Welfare full time. At least she gets to be at home with her kids. And society judges her and punishes her and blames her for all societal ills. For me, my choice is to continue to support and change the amount and type of assistance offered. You can't just offer money (and I know it's not the only type of assistance) or token housing that's often dangerous and unreliable for heat or electricity. There must be a path, a way out; some sort of light and hope for a better life.

Incidentally, I know exactly TWO middle class families with a stay-at-home mom. One family has one child and they're doing alright. The other family has four children and they struggle every month to make sure ends meet.

And on to my secret confession of the day. I'd love to be a mom. I would. Couldn't imagine a higher calling than to populate the earth with little mini-me's, out there reading poetry and using words as leverage for change and acceptance and a world where we stop polluting the shit out of the environment. But I can't. At this point I'd be a single mom. And because I would want to put myself into that endeavor 100% and I can't afford to be a stay-at-home mom. Even if I were married or if I had a life partner, I'd still have to work and take my focus off of home life. And that's just not fair to anyone, including me. I'm busy enough as it is- a full time job and a 144 mile commute every day, plus two graduate courses AND general exams coming up tomorrow. No wonder we're a tired and heavily medicated nation.

The United States is the most overworked society in the world. Moms from two-parent households are more likely to work full time, shoulder the majority of the housework and parenting and must still conform to standards of health and beauty. I can't imagine how a single mom or a single dad must do it. How she or he must sacrifice and when those sacrifices aren't made for a day or two, how much guilt that would bring on.

The U.S. Social Security Administration defines social welfare expenditures as the cost of "cash benefits, services, and the administration of public programs that directly benefit individuals and families." This broad definition includes expenditures for social security (Old-Age, Survivor's, Disability, and Health Insurance, or OASDHI), health and medical programs, education, housing, veterans' programs, and public aid programs.

Let's talk about some real problems. Problems not concerned with individuals who take advantage of a system. Problems that create the environment where we need so much from such a system. I'm not sure how much the nation spends on Welfare programs for single parents. You can find out more here, but that includes all social programs. I do know that in one year, we spent $40 billion on private contractors for the war effort. I know that corporations regularly and repeatedly rape the middle class and exploit the poverty class. I want to know why those people are hailed as captains of industry while stealing billions and single moms are ridiculed and crucified without so much as anyone asking that population what they want, what they're doing or if they have hopes and dreams of their own.

Barbara Billingsly died and may she rest in peace. She sounded like a nice lady.
Perhaps now is the time to move on. Please, America, stop this bit of strange thinking. It makes me tired. Stop hating women. And Oklahoma, do me a personal favor and cut down on the female incarceration rate. We're 300% over the rest of the nation and are #1 in the world in percentage of women locked up. And what the fuck is with private prisons anyway... ah but that's a rant for another day.

At some point soon and hopefully in my lifetime, we're going to have to change our entrenched conservative thinking. We're going to have to change with the times and adapt or else risk the waning of our sun in the sky. I'd like to see a world where Welfare is used for what it's intended to do- to help people when they need it. Look far to the horizon and fix the root cause; then the rest shall fall into place.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


I have had to take some time to think about this. Carefully. I still shake when I think about what happened yesterday and why I had the urge to slap a student so hard that her Grandpa felt it. Even in the prison system, my students didn't speak that way.

Let's set the scene. Every semester, rain or shine, regardless of how many students I have, I take time to meet with them individually about their writing and to allow them to ask questions. We talk about their papers, I offer suggestions for improvement and congratulations on the work they've already done and attempt to look like a human being for fifteen minutes rather than just some professor with a talking head. It works, generally speaking. I have about 120 students.

This week was conference week, and I went home from work every day with eyestrain from going over paper after paper and discussing the same issues. The student doesn't know that I've said it a million times, it's still the first time he or she has heard the part about where it's APA guidelines to use words like "Black", "White", "African-American" (don't forget the hyphen) and "Caucasian" to describe race. And if you're quoting Dr. King directly, you cannot take out the "N-word" where he uses it, even though it makes you uncomfortable. And no, we don't use the words "honky", "cracker" or "colored" either. My classroom is where we make those mistakes and one of the reasons I meet with students on this particular essay is so that those embarrassments can happen in private with low-risk of shame, but still offer the maximum opportunity for the students to learn.

Just for levity and for my own amusement, I follow up on some of our class discussions. I make it a point to say during the course of our class meetings to say that I dislike the use of the word "very" in their papers. It's unnecessary and redundant. We've discussed this many times by now and how it's alright to use in common speech but not in a formal paper (Don't even scan my other blog posts, I'm sure it's in there somewhere!). If I see the word in their paper, I'll pause briefly and draw a little box around the word. Smile a little. Put the pen in my left hand and scratch it out. Then take out a black marker and mark it out while discussing something else. Then finally, I'll get out the white out and make it disappear. I love the looks on student's faces. We usually laugh out loud and then the point is made and everything moves along.

I laugh a lot during conferences anyway. Sometimes my students relate the best stories from class or from life. They'll share trials and tribulations from their first months at college and make the most astute observations. And their writing is improving and they want to share that too, so we celebrate. Often, my students have never performed a rhetorical analysis and they're proud to have accomplished the task. I promise that the next essay will be a lot of fun. This week I've gotten to discuss Elvis (several papers on Elvis' letter to Nixon), Dr. King (two or three speeches), President Obama, JFK, Rhianna, Eminem, the Westboro Baptist Church and The Laramie Project. Overall, I'm pleased with the movement from brand new college writer to more sophisticated and complex projects. Speaking of sophisticated, one of my students writes a blog called Check it out if you get a chance.

A dark spot on this week is the death of my Great Aunt Earline. The identical twin sister of my Grandma, Verline, she had been taken off of life support and passed peacefully with her family (including cousins Lolly and Roy) at her bedside. I'll miss my second Grandma, and worry about the effect of this loss on Grandma. Last week was the first anniversary of the death of my Grandpa and the first wedding anniversary she celebrated without him- their 64th.

That brings us to Friday afternoon at 1:20. I had just three appointments left, then I'd be out the door for the weekend and on my way to Dallas for some fun and also time to read and do homework in preparation for my general exams. I met with D, who had done a particularly nice job on Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech. We discussed in particular the audience and the message of unity and brotherhood and what made his message of well-received. I felt revived despite having read 22 other essays that day. I promised this student, who is an athlete, to come to a game. My second student was right on time and had chosen to do her essay over a White supremacy website. She had written her proposal over it and I had approved. I didn't think that she had approved, but she did.

The essay was not an analysis or discussion of rhetorical strategies. I asked her why. She said she didn't want to sound biased. It's not possible to be unbiased. Plus, this is a hate group under watch by the government. How do you feel about this?, I queried. You mean do I agree or disagree with them?, she asked. She didn't want to say. I was surprised. It's 2010, she's an articulate White kid with multiple tattoos and piercings and a studio art major. I made an assumption about her being a hipster. Apparently it was a bad one. She said "Well, I think they're extreme and extremism is bad in any group (something I'd declared in class), but I'm also proud of my White heritage. I guess that makes me a moderate." She had learned the rhetoric of unity and was using it to further her racist argument. At least she had been paying attention a little bit in class.

My jaw dropped and my face turned as red as a beet. My office door is always open and the students and I are visible to the casual observer just for instances such as these. It was then that I saw the feet and legs of my last appointment- a dark skinned Hispanic student who I knew was writing about a love song. Irony, anger, shame and more anger flooded through me. "Hey," I wanted to say, "Why don't you come in here so she can tell you why your DNA is inferior to hers. Go ahead, young lady, tell this young man why his little girl should never be allowed the same success in society as whatever offspring you produce, even though he works as hard or harder than you and even if it took more for him to get here today than it did you." But I didn't say that. I immediately checked my feelings, lest I shake the racism out of her thick skull. Had she not been paying attention the last four weeks as we dissected hatred, racism, and the dangers of separation and oppression? Bitch slapping wasn't the answer, even though it would be gratifying. Dr. King used the route of peace, love and brotherhood for his tools and I'll be damned if I'll let ignorance, and in this case, willful ignorance, get in the way of my educational objectives.

I got professional. At least the paper didn't have any blatant insults. No way could I have handled that. I explained what being a moderate was after showing her how to do the actual analysis of the website. What was their purpose? What rhetorical strategies did they use to achieve that purpose? How effective are they in their endeavors and how can you tell? I checked her language use, reminded her that there is no such thing as unbiased information and sent her on her way. Smiled broadly at my last student as he sat in her recently vacated chair, and walked into my colleague's office. I put my head on her desk and whispered my confession. She rolled her eyes. "Jesus, you need a drink. What did you say?" I told her. "I'd have kicked her out." It took a full minute to shake off so that I could be of good service to my last student.

I still have to grade her final paper. Our rubric will be decided by the class and hopefully will assist me in a less biased evaluation of her writing. This is America and as much as I disagree with someone's opinions, they have a right to them and a person in authority- in this case me- shouldn't hold power to control what another person thinks. Writing the essay in third person helps with the most flagrant abuses of opinion, but the things they choose to talk about and how they present that material will represent their world views and perceptions.

I'm not sure I handled that well. I'm not sure how to handle people who think so differently and in my strong opinion and experience, so fucking wrong. I sort of feel sorry for her because she's closed off her mind from growth, interaction and enlightenment and will be stuck in the perpetual cycle of restricted discourse and dialog with only those who agree or who have indoctrinated her into that mindset. One of the major benefits of attending college is to open the mind to experience new horizons, viewpoints and thoughts. I'm offended that she would waste such a privilege But then again, if I were being snarky, and just being myself instead of the professional educator and role model that I'd ideally want to be, I'd admit that she's getting what she deserves.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Finally it's Fall. I love this time of year above all others, except perhaps the dead of winter. It's time to put away the lovely summer dresses, pull out sweaters and sweats and corduroy and search the closet for a missing mitten.
Time to leave the windows open at night and put extra blankets on the bed.
Time to make chamomile tea with honey and settle on the sofa with a Jane Austen novel.
Time to write, to reflect, to gain wisdom from knowledge acquired during the year.
Time to rest and listen to the earth song as it turns from life and leaf production to mulching back to soil.
Make some stew, bake a crust of bread and watch a good movie. Light a candle and pray for humanity. Put away youthful exuberance and come study awhile. Write that novel you know you have in you. Practice sewing and baking and home arts; put something away for the winter months. Write a letter to a friend or loved one. Use long hand and pretty paper.
If Spring is the time of youth and vigor and summer is the time of harvest, surely Fall is the time we appreciate what we've been given and prepare for the winter ahead.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Enough Perfection!

I have a new obsession: Single Dad Laughing. I read a post by him about perfection. You can check it out here. He made me think about how imperfect I am, not that I need any reminders.

But I look around me and I see that almost everyone I know is infected with this disease of being perfect. We- collectively as Americans- need to be perfect. I think it stems from some skewed perception of capitalism wherein we have to go big or go home. Large houses with green lawns, big boats, fast cars, expensive clothes and hair and slim thighs and great skin and the right's all part of the American dream.

Why do I sometimes feel ashamed and angry that I don't have all of those things? I'm an educator, for Pete's sake. What I do is important and it matters greatly, to offer other worlds and experiences to students and to take the opportunity to learn from them. I derive a great deal of self-esteem from teaching, from doing anonymous good works, and from looking for ways to be kind- especially to those who would be unkind to me. I live in a house and I have enough to eat. My car goes places. My dog and cat are always happy to see me, especially if they think I have something tasty. My friends are there for me when I need them most of the time and I am there for them, most of the time. So why do I so often compare myself to the appearances of others and feel as though I lack?

But I feel what I feel. Long ago I made a choice to be what and who I am and that means that the American dream with a white picket fence, a couple of kids and the ability to keep up with the Jones' is not in the cards. I could have chosen vet school; I was accepted in the top three of the hundreds of applications. Not that being a veterinarian is so glamorous- it's a lot of poop and blood if the truth were known, but it comes with a nifty white coat. I only applied because I wanted my husband to think I was good enough. When I just couldn't do it, I left behind the man and the life and the lifestyle and became a teacher.

Years later in a fit of anger, my ex husband said that I was his project and that he never really did think I was good enough. At the time it stung, and it made me look long and hard at my own actions. I realized that I am defined by my actions but not my family. More importantly, I am a human and like other humans, I deserve real love, unconditional love. It's a lesson I've never forgotten and try to practice; to try to understand rather than just change others into your image of them.

I cannot tell you my schedule without feeling exhausted. I am actually attempting to learn Italian amongst all other stuff I have to do in a week. I have downloaded language learning audio onto my iPod and listen and repeat in the mornings on my drive to work. I have no other real time during the week. I have this drive to do well in my classes, to teach well, to be a good colleague, daughter, granddaughter, aunt, sister and friend. Fact is, those things often slide. Or at least one or two slide since I do have to sleep sometimes.

It's not just our time and energy that's subject to perfectionism. Our bodies seem to be under the most scrutiny. Everywhere I go I am bombarded with advertisements for rejuvenating treatments "My wife looks ten years younger. I can't believe it!", liposuction "Get the beautiful legs, hips and thighs you've always wanted. You deserve it!", breast augmentation "Imagine how much more confident you will feel!", day spas, salons, gentlemen's clubs, gyms, diet pills and make up commercials just on the radio. I gave up television long ago but the images still haunt me.

Nothing makes me feel more insecure than women's magazines and snickering, whispering teenage girls. The fact is that I went to war with my body sometime in 1999. I could say it's because I was a big girl in high school, with petite and beautiful sisters. I could say it's because when I was 11 years old, my grandma-who was trying to be kind- said "Well, honey, you're not as pretty as your sisters, but you have nice child-bearing hips." I could blame my ex-husband for telling me the truth when I asked if my jeans make my butt look big. He said "I love you, but you've gained twenty pounds since we got married." I went to the gym that day. From that day to this, I cannot see what the scale at my doctor's office tells me. If I know that number, I will immediately go on a crash diet to lose ten pounds. And I'm not too picky about how I do it.

The fact remains though, that every day that I wake up, I make a conscious choice. I choose to just be myself. It's not natural. I want to be a reflection of what people want me to be. Especially since I'm single again. I want to be liked even though I have no fear of being alone. Actually, I prefer to be alone. It's way less complicated. My cat doesn't judge me for eating watermelon for dinner right over the kitchen sink so that I don't have to wash another dish. She just sits on my lap and purrs while I type. That's why I post pictures of me with bad breath, bags under my eyes, acne and no hair brushes... because I need to just be me for awhile. I need that to be enough. I need that to be enough for me.

Dan Pearce, from Single Dad Laughing, struggles with his weight and self-esteem. What we all struggle with is that feeling that we're somehow unlovable since we're imperfect. I'm glad to struggle with this rather than to delude myself that somehow the universe loves me above any others. My imperfections make me feel a part of the human race, rather than apart from it.

Please, please be imperfect. Those imperfections in the people I love are what make them human and therefore, accessible. It takes the pressure off of me too. Nothing is as real as me calling up a friend to say "Boy did I screw this up. Can you help me figure it out?", because I know that next week she's going to call me and say "Oh please help me dig out from under this mountain of laundry!" and together we'll heft the load.