Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Teen Toxemia

As my mother always says, be careful what you wish for, it might come true. My teenaged twins - the darling chubby dumpling babies that I travelled across the world to adopt, that I coaxed and nurtured through deeply debilitating shyness, that I worried would never have more than one friend - are, all of a sudden, very popular in school. They are popular enough that some of the girls they hang with are really popular. And you know what that means. Mean girls. Toxic teens.

To clarify (which I spent much of the weekend doing with various teens and mothers of teens), my daughters don't actually do any bullying or soul destroying. But they are good friends with people who do. And I know they're not five anymore and I can't plan playdates for them and be in control of who they're friends with. This is a sin of omission rather than commision. But there's still the troubling little part about the sin.... Isn't there a poem about this?

First they came for the math nerds, but I was not a math nerd so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the potheads, but I was not a pothead out so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the fashion challenged, but I was not fashion challenged so I did not speak out.
And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out (except my mom and dad, but I'd rather die than have them show up at school).

So I'm relieved that my kids aren't the ones saying mean-spirited, cutting remarks to girls they've known since they were six. But I'm also saddened that they're not fighting at the barricades of highschool decency, dumping the queen bees and defending the wanna bees. But they're 14, and that's more than a lot of grown ups can manage. Still....

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Dumbledore is gay? Part II

My husband heard a comentary on NPR on Rowlings belated "outing" of Dumbledore. It's funny and poignant.

click here to listen.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Dumbledore is gay?

Full disclosure here: I've written a young adult fantasy novel, which I will submit to my publsher soon, in which a young girl runs away from home and washes up on the sparkling shores of pre-AIDS Castro street. She and the gay man who takes her in are the two main characters in the book, the heroes. Though I think the book is very good, I have some concerns that a major publishing house with a family-values reputation (hint: it's the same one that published Harry Potter) will be reluctant to publish a young peoples book, however good it may be, that not only accepts, but heroizes gay men and the culture of joy and openness they created, in that time and place.

So back to the good professor Dumbledore. How is it that, in seven books and four gazillion pages of text, Rowling neglected to tell us that, as she said last night in Carnegie Hall, "Dumbledore is gay," and that he was "smitten" with Gellert Grindlewald, who he fought in a battle between good and evil. She went on to add that "his love was his great tragedy." There are so many things I want to say here: homosexual love = great tragedy?; his great love also happens to be a stand-in for evil?; if his love, and loss of it, are his great tragedy, then would the grief of that not somehow have motivated, or at least informed, his self sacrifice at the end of the series?; did the fear of losing, say, 5% of your richer-than-god sales to a few homophobes keep you from telling us, your many fans? These are all deep questions that, no doubt, Rowling will have to answer somehow, somewhere. But really, my main and completely self-interested question is: Why didn't you step up to the plate, show Dumbledore in all his multiplicity of selves - hero, Christ figure, teacher, protector, gay man - so that generations of little witches and wizards and readers could have had him as a fully fleshed out character? And - in very open self interest here - perhaps, if she had, my little book would be a little less scary to publish.

A few final notes. If Dumbledore is gay, then McGonigle's definitely a lesbian and I don't buy for a minute that he would have had that desperately shaggy beard. Though the dress was good.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

OK, but only if I can have my big hair back too.

What a relief! Finally the New York Times Style section has announced that shoulder pads are back in style. They write, "At Balenciaga, shoulders of tops rise into stiff peaks or explode into fuzzy pompoms of fabric." I can't wait to get to my neighborhood Goodwill store and buy those faulous 80s big-shouldered shirts before the super models snap them all up. Because I think exploding "fuzzy pompoms of fabric" on my shoulders are just what my larger-than-it-used-to-be figure needs to acheive that "female linebacker" look I've been dying for. But if I add these hot new shoes

by Marc Jacobs to the ensemble - Lucky me! - I can look like this!

Friday, October 19, 2007

The ugly past creeps in, part 2

So what did I hear when I finally emerged from the pile of crumpled Kleenex I was buried under?

Nobel-prize-winning scientist James Watson told The Sunday Times that he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really."

So my grandmother has some distinguished company. To continue on from my earlier post, "Radical Compassion," the past seeps up, like toxic ground water, to taint the present. Unless we examine our individual pasts, our national past, the flawed assumptions and assertions that those in the past called truth will find their way into the so-called "truths" of today. In the 19th century, "scientists" measured human skulls and made declarations about intelligence and ability based on these measurements. (See the lovely chart, above.) Guess who came out as superior?

It's an absolute wonder to me that - with all the dangerous, discredited theories (humors, skull shape, bleeding the sick) that we have gone through in the name of Science - scientists don't have a deeper sense of humility about what they do. And how can ANYONE make such sweeping statements about an entire continent, with its multiplicity of peoples? Which also just happens to be the continent responsible for the development of all human life. What standards are they using and who invented those standards? "Western" scientists, of course, with their deep cultural biases.

You'd think with a Nobel, he'd show signs of intelligence. whereas all the evidence says, "not really."

There, I've vented. Think I'll go hide my head again.

Thursday, October 18, 2007


"With violence you can solve one problem, but you sow the seeds for another."
Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama

(Still sick and too pooped out to come up with my own words or images. But the Dalai Lama won the congressional medal of honor today, so at least it's topical.)

God it sucks being sick when you have kids

because you can't just fall apart and not function. Little pests need to eat, and wear clothes, and go to school and stuff. So below, for your pleasure, and for my relaxation, are some of my favorite moments from the Wooster Collective site. They document street art all over the world and it's amazing stuff. Enjoy.

These amazing images are made by farmers in Japan planting two different colors of rice. Yow! that's some commitment to art!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Radical Compassion

I've been thinking about the climate of vitriolic extremes gripping our country - a lot of judgement is being splashed around, a lot of stones being thrown. And it makes me think of one of the Bible's best, yet least heeded, moments. The one when Jesus said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

So who among us is blameless? Not me. There are things I've done in my life that I think are shameful. OK, admittedly, I've never started a war, or ordered torture, but I've done hurtful things to people who deserved better. And yet I think I'm a good, kind person. So both of those things exist within me, but neither defines me entirely.

And I think about my family: My mother is a truly sweet person, adored by almost anyone who meets her. But she also believes that our ancestors, who were slave owners, were "good" slave owners (!) because the records show that they bought their slaves shoes. I have fussed at her endlessly about this: told her that the shoes were, no doubt, bought to increase productivity; that there can be no "good" ever in the enslavement of another person. She shuts up about it now, which is something. But I think, in her heart, she wants to believe that our kin were better than those other, bad slave owners. Good woman, silly woman, self-deluding woman all in one person.

Then there was her mother, an activist in getting women the right to vote, who worked on the campaigns of every democratic presidential candidate since women got the right to vote. She knew FDR and JFK, who appointed her to the UN as ambassador for women's rights. But she was a Democrat by way of our family being Dixicrats. Dixicrats were the lovely folks who, after the Civil War, worked to divide the suddenly mixed-race working/farming-class vote by racial fear mongering. In North Carolina my kin did this by starting the Klu Klux Kan. So, back to my Grandmother, the admirable suffragette. When I was in college, visiting her, she asked me to make ONE sandwich for the gardener, who was black. He'd been working hard all morning, so I said I thought two would better. "Just one," she says. "Because if you make more, he'll always want more. Also, don't invite him in to eat." Ouch. The ugly past finds its way into the present.

My past, everyone's, is an unwieldy mix of pride and shame. I come from crofters (subsistence farmers), who were driven off the Isle of Skye by greedy lords in "The Clearances." The children of these abused and disposessed crofters later became slaveholders and Klansmen, abusing and dispossessing others. I'm sure that I have black "cousins" whose great great grandmothers were raped by my kin. but I also come from the Cherokee (dna test proven!) who were murdered and driven off their lands by the U.S. government. All of them inform but, I hope, don't define who I am.

So I've been pondering all this as I listen to pundits skewering people, left and right (yes, pun intended). Because I have friends who are (gasp) Republican. We disagree entirely on the solutions to most of the problems facing the world today. But we share our experience of those problems. We have the same worries and goals: we want our children to be safe, to be educated; we ache over their missteps and worry that we are not doing our jobs as mothers well enough; we pinch pennies and do without things ourselves, so our kids can have the things they need; we hope that when we retire we'll be able to get by. We might see eachother as misguided fools, but not as irretrievably evil because we've shared our fear and exhasution, rallied each other to keep going. My knowing them helps me to not dehumanize others who share their views. I hope that knowing me, an openly pinko, knee-jerk, bleeding-heart liberal, does the same for them. Because it's the dehumanization of others that allows us to abuse them, and so become less fully human ourselves. Now, I loathe George Bush and Dick Cheney as much as anyone (who is a pinko bleeding heart liberal) does. but I also feel, in some vague way, that that's a failing in me. I want to be able to judge the actions of the human, but leave their (and my) humanity intact. It's hard. I'm working on it.

In Buddhism there is the concept of "Radical compassion," using love like a sword to break the chains of misery and rage that bind most humans to rebirth. I don't know what I think about rebirth, but I like the strength implied in radical compassion. We certainly need to be strong, to rebuke and repudiate the evil acts of those around us. But we also need to break the "chains of rage" that bind and dehumanize us all by seeing the essential humanity, especially, perhaps, of those we rebuke most strongly.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Love letter

Oh Al. You're such an adorable boy scout of a geek. I truly love a man who over explains things (after all I married an academic). And even when I thought to myself "Shut up and land the plane already. Get to the point, man!"; even when you were V.P. and neutered by the limits of the office; even when you were dimmed by the dazzle of Bill's 500 watt charisma; even when you lost the election that you won, you, the good boy, had my heart. I knew you'd never get or need a blow job from an intern to feel like a man. And look at you now! Saying fearlessly what you really think (and I won't dwell on how you could have done a teeny tiny bit more of that when you were campaigning), winning your Oscars and Nobels, jetting off into the sunset like the Alan Cummings ubergeek at the end of "Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion."

Now maybe I can stop aching about what our country would have been like if you had actually taken office after you won that election, and get on with my life. Being on the fringes myself, I was always a George (occasionally even Ringo) Beatle girl. It's wonderful to see a nice guy kicking some ass.

So Congratulations and Love always, your #2 fan (because, of course, you're married and I'm married, so Tipper has to be #1. Sigh.)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pledge to speak out against bias

I read in this morning's paper that "A majority of U.S. citizens support equal treatment for gay people," and I thought, 'Alright America! We're on the right track!' Then I read that it's only 56% of Americans, which means that 44% are still in the soul-darkness of fear and bigotry. Oh well, at least it's a majority..... Anyway, here's a link to the Straight For Equality website:


You can pledge to challenge anti-gay sentiments and download a guide to help you do so. I'm pledging!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Homecoming and then coming home

Last week we were all aflutter getting the twins (14) ready for their first high school dance. The list of necessities was long:

Dresses - Much research, mall treking, and negotiation was involved in this most-critical element of all. They wanted lovely and VERY expensive Jessica McClintock dresses. We countered with discout store, craig's list, or ebay dresses. We acheived a truce at new, but affordable mail order.
Accesories to the dresses were:
Dates- check. Two Tenth (!) graders had asked and been accepted. They were told to wear ties that matched the girl's dresses.
Shoes - Must "go" but not "match," and "I don't know, Mom! But I'll know it when I see it. Also, they can't be the same as Tina's or she'll get mad at me for copying."
Jewelry - Mom's heirlooms anyone? No, way too outre. It's got to be cheap crap from the hot store at the mall.
Makeup - All I can say is thank God for Target.

Finally the big night came. The boys, driven by a mom in a minivan, arrived. Let me just say here, because I only have girls and haven't observed the young male of the species closely for quite some time: fifteen year old boys are like great gangly uncoordinated puppies! Cute, but in a sort of silly way. The mom was great. She kept saying "Stand up straight! Her dress isn't apple red. It's cranberry. Why did you tell me it was Apple red? Now you don't match!"

Humiliation by camera was endured. They had been delighted for me to buy them all this stuff, but were horrified that we might actually want to record the event (and our purchases) for posterity. But she who holds the credit card holds the power.

When the great, longed-for event was all over and the girls came home, I asked, "Did you have fun?" The answer was a dull, "I guess." And in that answer I heard the crashing sound of dreams meeting reality. I don't know exactly what they expected, but it wasn't provided by lovely dresses and fifteen-year-old dorks.

I remember going to a prom in tenth grade (my first and last!). I had a lovely red velvet dress. I was nominated and (to my surprise) won Sophomore princess, so I got a tiarra too. A dress, an actual boy as a date, and a tiarra! We're talking serious little girl (me at least) fantasy territory. But, after the prom we went for drinks (this was in Taiwan. No drinking age or carding.) I got a Singapore sling, which had a maraschino cherry in it. I hate maraschino cherries. So innocently and stupidly, I held it out to my date and asked, "Do you want the cherry?" To which he, OF COURSE, replied. "That's not the cherry I want." Yuck! Which is, I recall, what I actually said to him. And all around me was the icky squelching sound of fantasy sliding into the gutter. As I said, it was my last prom.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Cynicism and secret hope

I just figured out why I don't post about politics and politicians directly (though, of course, the personal is political....). It's because I grew up in the lap of the US government, surrounded by politics and politicians and nothing they do, no matter how dishonest, two-faced, self-serving, or powerhungry, surprises me. Functioning as part of a large organization of almost any sort - but especially one that gnaws and fights over the bones of power - depersonalizes and dehumanizes. It's not complete, but it's enough. I once listened to my own father talk to a reporter for fifteen minutes without saying anything. It was stunning and almost admirable to watch him seeming so friendly and forthright, while being so entirely evasive. Many of my friends fathers were spies who had lied successfully and endlessly to their families till congress outed them. Then suddenly it all crumbled and my shell-shocked friends were unmoored, adrift in a sea of lies. Just doing my job, dear.

So when the husband rants about George Bush, Dick Cheney, Larry Craig, I just give him my Diplomatic-corps-bred world-weary sigh, and ask, "Really? You're surprised by this?" Me, short of murder or genocide, I'm never surprised by anything the powerful or the power seekers do. Disgusted, yes, surprised, no.

Oddly enough, or maybe it's just what I do to maintain my sanity, I'm entirely optimistic to the point of being Pollyanna-ish, about individuals. I really do believe that each of us always has the capacity for change, for goodness, that it's never to late, or at the very least, that trying is better than the alternative. And somewhere in me I hope that if each of us is as true and brave and kind as we can be, if each of us takes our little inch of the world and, within it, fights against racism, homophobia, lying, greed - all those soul-deforming behaviors - then our inches will meet and our transformations will become social change. Oh dear, I've exposed the soft spot in my armour. Be kind.

Ok. What the hell. Since I'm exposing my ill-advised lapses in cynicism, I'll let it all hang out. There is one living human in a position of power that, I hope, is as good and he appears to be. The Dali Lama. I will be so bummed if Kitty Kelly writes a tell-all book about how he parties with hookers, does drugs, doesn't wear underpants, and needs to go to celebrity rehab.

But then, I guess, I'd just have to pick myself up, dust myself off, and weed on my own little garden again.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Empty Alms Bowls in Myanmar

I don't usually blog about politics. I don't know why exactly, because I care passionately. It might be because I feel that other people do it so much better than I can, or perhaps it's sadness and distaste for the idiotic and increasingly destructive polarization of our country.... But, as a person who spent her childhood in many Buddhist countries, as a person who is always reaching toward (and never reaching) the Buddhist ideal of not judging, of compassion, I have to mark this.

The photos express more than I can ever say, so I will just add this. In Southeast Asian Buddhist countries (where I grew up), people can earn merit (and so move closer to stepping off the wheel of rebirth, Samsara) by giving food to the monks. The monks, in their bright colors - saffron or cinnamon red - walk through towns and villages with their empty bowls and people give what they can. This is what the monks eat for the day and this simple daily giving and receiving is one of the pillars that supports the entire structure of these societies. So for the monks to walk, in mass, with their alms bowls turned upside down, was a huge statement. It said that this government had become so corrupted that it had gone beyond any possible redemption. I think, again, of the Buddhist monks in Vietnam who set themselves on fire to protest the war and how that inched us all toward rightness. I hope that, for these monks, it will be the same.

Namaste - The light in me honors the light in you.