Saturday, August 01, 2009

Since Hecate Forgot the Boobies Pic... (by Xan)

I hereby provide mammaries. Not exactly human, mind you, although the similarity is remarkable. But the figure depicted is a "pixie." I swear. It sez so right on the wine bottle from which the state of Alabama is forthrightly protecting their citizens: (via The Consumerist)
Sweet magnolia breeze! I do declare! [Clutches petticoat in pre-swoon anticipation.] Alabama is in a dither over a drawing of a nude nymph on a wine bottle label, so they've banned the product from being sold. Their liquor regulations forbid the display of "a person posed in an immoral or sensuous manner" on any alcohol packaging. We have to side with Alabama on this one—after all, we're not sure you can ride a bike naked without eventually doing something immoral, whether you mean to or not.

The owner of the winery that produces Cycles Gladiator says that he won't change the label, so if you live in Alabama it looks like you'll have to pick up your bottles when you go on your sex toy purchasing trips.

You can click the link for the sex toys purchasing trips right from here too. We are a full service blog at Echidne's Inc, and want our readers to have no inconveniences, worries or serious problems that require time and work. In other words we want them to be just like the Alabama legislature.

Blaming women (by Suzie)

A Bloomberg article, reporting on the illegal videotaping of ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews naked, asks "whether Andrews might have unwittingly contributed to the widespread objectification of women." For example, the author, notes "that Andrews willingly associated herself with a part of Sports Illustrated’s Web site called “Hot Clicks,” where, near as I can tell, there always seems to be a photo -- or two or three -- of a woman in something skimpy."

Yeah, I wish women wouldn't participate in this stuff, but the blame needs to be put on the men at the top who sustain a culture that objectifies women.

Guest Bazooms Blogging (by Hecate)

There've been so many interesting posts that I've hesitated to jump in, but here, sans dirty pictures (because echidne is a classy Goddess), is a cross-post of my monthly reminder to women to pay attention to their health.

Ladies! Listen up! Detecting breast cancer early is the key to surviving it! Breast Self Exams (BSEs) can help you to detect breast cancer in its earlier stages. So, on the first of every month, give yourself a breast self-exam. It's easy to do. Here's how. If you prefer to do your BSE at a particular time in your cycle, calendar it now. But, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

And, once a year, get yourself a mammogram. Mammograms cost between $150 and $300. If you have to take a temp job one weekend a year, if you have to sell something on e-Bay, if you have to go cash in all the change in various jars all over the house, if you have to work the holiday season wrapping gifts at Macy's, for the love of the Goddess, please go get a mammogram once a year.

Or: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pays all or some of the cost of breast cancer screening services through its National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. This program provides mammograms and breast exams by a health professional to low-income, underinsured, and underserved women in all 50 states, six U.S. territories, the District of Columbia, and 14 American Indian/Alaska Native organizations. For more information, contact your state health department or call the Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER.

Send me an email after you get your mammogram and I will do an annual free tarot reading for you. Just, please, examine your own breasts once a month and get your sweet, round ass to a mammogram once a year. If you have a deck, pick three cards and e-mail me at I'll email you back your reading. If you don't have a deck, go to Lunea's tarot listed on the right-hand side in my blog links. Pick three cards from her free, on-line tarot and email me at I'll email you back your reading.

Voyage of the Darned (by Xan)

Midsummer is a time when we should be doing happy jolly recreational things (provided we have jobs to vacation from, and jobs that have vacation as a benefit, and that pay enough to enable one to, well, vacate for a bit.) Like maybe taking a nice ocean cruise! Yeah, that sounds like it should be nothing but fun....

MARSEILLES, France, Aug 1 (Reuters) - The majority of passengers on a cruise ship carrying dozens of possible flu victims were allowed to disembark on Saturday after health tests, the local government's office said.
But 146 people -- both passengers and crew members, some of whom showed signs of flu -- remain in quarantine, a spokesman for the local government department said.
There is some dispute whether this is swine/H1N1 flu, "regular" flu, or just something flu-ish. Norovirus is of course notorious for plaguing cruise ships, and there are other pestilences like Legionnaires that can sweep through groups confined in close quarters.

But this provides an opportunity, during the summer lull, to kick the whole H1N1 subject around again. Is this going to be like the last "swine flu" outbreak in 1976, where much bub is hubbed, vaccine is rushed out, a few people have bad reactions, and the health authorities are mocked for exaggerating the threat? Or...not?

The spectre of "Spanish flu" hangs over the question. The scary part is how easily a thought wiggles out of the dark part of the mind that so many problems would be greatly eased by a massive reduction in population. Disease did not get star billing with the Four Horsemen by being wimpy or retiring. Sadly though, the part of the population whose departure would most ease things for the rest of us are the least likely to be carried away. Those undisclosed locations make peachy refuges to wait for the rabble to work things out and then resume their service to their betters.

So consider survival as the Best Revenge. What's your plan for Fall Flu Boogaloo? Gonna get yer shots? If so which one(s)? Regular flu, H1N1 flu, the separate and much longer lasting pneumonia vaccine? How about your kids, spouse, housemates? Are you Prepared, in terms of enough of a stockpile of essentials to wait out a quarantine of a few days or weeks? Made any other plans? Decided it's a load of hooey and ignoring it?

The comment box awaits.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Weekend (by res ipsa loquitur)

Here are some weekend suggestions.

See In the Loop. I saw it last night and laughed like crazy (even though a bunch of B-List state department wankers and press flaks ginning up a war isn't funny at all). I have not seen The Thick of It, but I might have to now, because Peter Capaldi turns cussing into poetry (although I have to admit he doesn't quite rise to R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket levels).

If you find yourself in or around New York, there are film festivals celebrating two actors who couldn't be more different -- John Cazale and Cary Grant -- happening in Brooklyn. If you're not nearby, have your own festival on DVD.

Lay a blanket under a tree, pour yourself a refreshing beverage, and revel in The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Go to All Points West.

Cook. Sometimes I send recipes to Echidne. I tend to cook a bunch of things to eat during the week on the weekend. Lately, I have been using Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian . This thing is a doorstop ... and a great resource. Tomorrow I'll make some peanut sauce to eat over cold noodles and cucumbers from my SO's garden. If you're not in the northeast where local farmers are dealing with late season blight that will probably destroy their tomato crops, here is a recipe into which you can incorporate your first local tomatoes of the summer. (This one is mine, not Bittman's.)

1 lb. angel hair pasta
4 tbl. olive oil
1 tbl. balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. oregano
3 large tomatoes, chopped (or 1-1/2 cups of grape tomatoes, halved)
3 bunches of arugula
1/4 c. Parmesan
2 large shallots, sliced thin
a small handful of oil-cured black olives (optional)
zest of half a lemon
salt and pepper

Sautée the shallots in the olive oil until they just begin to brown. Meanwhile, clean the arugula and cook the pasta. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and then toss the hot pasta in a big bowl with the arugula, olive oil, shallots, and vinegar. Add the zest, oregano, tomatoes, Parmesan, and olives if you are using them. Add salt and pepper to taste (and more Parmesan if that is your preference).

"Mad Bitch" (by res ipsa loquitur)

Just in case there was any question, it remains A-okay to hurl literally any slur at Hillary Clinton, especially if you're an old media dolt grasping for new media relevance from the ossifying remains of the Washington Post.

It was courageous of you to turn off comments at the Post website, boys.

Friday critter blogging (by Suzie)

There's no place better to sunbathe than the roof of a white car in Florida, or so says Missy, the striped auxiliary cat.

Royalty and heroes (by Suzie)

Queen for a Day is a program in which beauty queens go to hospitals to give their tiaras to girls with cancer. The girls dress up and get hair, nails and makeup done. In some cities, boys participate as Kings for a Day, with fewer beauty-salon treatments. Still other cities have the Queen program for girls and a Heroes program for boys. Boys dress up and/or meet law enforcement officers, firefighters or men in superhero costumes. The Boston site explains:
We had make-up and nail polish set up along with a table full of jewelry for the girls and race cars and dress-up attire set aside for the boys. The boys had a great time as they were able to choose between becoming a military man, policeman, or firefighter and the girls were able to dress themselves with as many jewels as their heart desired.
There are repercussions when girls are judged on their looks and boys are judged on their actions. It would seem so easy to offer both boys and girls a shot at both royalty and heroes, and the heroes could include female firefighters and police officers. Some girls may dream of being superheroes, too.

Founder Jenna Edwards writes:
We all know the feeling from dressing up, putting on a little lipstick or wearing our favorite outfit. As a college student, I would dress up for exams because I carried myself differently "fixed up." It was easier to focus and I felt more energetic. That's the concept of QFAD - giving a little pick-me-up to kids in treatment for cancer. Taking care of ourselves reaches beyond treating and preventing our illnesses. Addressing our psychological needs affects our physical well-being, too.
It’s fine if girls with cancer want to get “fixed up.” The problem comes with any suggestion that that they need to do this in order to feel better. Despite its title, I prefer the Look Good, Feel Better program, which gives practical tips to adults and teens coping with changes in their appearance due to cancer. Its Web site makes clear that no one has to do anything. But if you want to draw in eyebrows, for example, or learn to tie scarves, their volunteers can help.

I recently became a poster child for sarcoma. (As the photos flash by, I’m the one with the Eddie Munster hairdo.) Cancer nonprofits often choose cheery photos, in hopes of reassuring readers. Sometimes, however, I think we need photos of people looking really awful, angry or sad, to illustrate that you don’t have to be brave all the time.

That brings me to heroism. I'm not a hero because I'm a cancer survivor. I didn’t run into a burning building to save someone. A better analogy is: I found myself in a burning building and I ran out. For children especially, there can be too much pressure to be brave. Cancer patients need the freedom to express our emotions.

Also, we may want to reconsider our definition of bravery. Last week, I saw my former oncologist, now in Atlanta. I remember hearing how she sat by the bedside of a patient who was dying. Sometimes it is more courageous to stay with someone you cannot save.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

(Other) Stuff I Read (by res ipsa loquitur)

There's more to come on I Don't, but in the interim ...

Two Christmases past, a friend gave me a two-year subscription to Time Out New York. Overall, I don't love the magazine, not because it isn't comprehensive enough in its arts/cultural listings (on the contrary: it's rather exhaustive), but because the feature writing style is sort of rote. It feels to me like writers (and not necessarily local ones) are just adapting a Time Out Template for local markets.

But there are two exceptions: First, I enjoy the Public Eye feature, wherein a TONY writer stops a random person on the street and asks them what they're up or how they're doing or where they got whatever interesting item of clothing they're wearing. Sasheer and Ewa were recent favorites. I think the feature helps me connect, in some small, but not insignificant way, with some of the thousands of seemingly faceless people whom I type or stereotype, consciously or unconsciously, as we whiz by each other every day.

I also like Jamie Bufalino's Get Naked sex and dating advice column: not because Jamie is a snarky smartass (he is), but because he is a mensch. People write him with all sorts of questions and problems and situations, mundane and out there, and he usually responds in a way that encourages them to feel okay about being themselves. He's not always right, and when he's not his readers let him know and he cops to having been wrong. And he'll also calls "Bullshit" when a reader is being a jerk, conning themselves, or especially when they're conning a partner. I suppose he's often compared to Dan Savage. His advice to Monochrome Guy in a Technicolor World and Hot Flash Guy piqued my interest. Check him out and see what you think.

Medieval Times (by res ipsa loquitur)

Continuing to make my way through I Don't ...

Between the eras of Saints Paul and Augustine, men and women were apparently thought to lust after each other in equal measure. Marriage was seen by church fathers as what author Susan Squire calls a "lust containment facility". Best of all was to be an unmarried man, who would presumably devote his life to the lord. (No word on what status was accorded unmarried women, but I suspect it was the convent or worse.) Second best was to be part of a "spiritual" (read: sexless) marriage, wherein both husband and wife devote themselves to prayer. Less good was a marriage with sex on the menu, with mitigation if such sex was solely for procreative purposes. "Immoderate intercourse" (i.e., sex for fun) in marriage was a disaster, but fornication without marriage was the worst of all worlds. Through it all, various and sundry popes, bishops (arch and otherwise), and priests proscribe all sorts of rules and regs designed to do everything from exhaust (the more energy you devote to deciphering rules, the less you'll devote to pleasure) to punish (periods of self-starvation were often part of penance) would-be pleasure seekers. Example: no sex on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, "during menstruation, pregnancy, 33 days postpartum (for a boy) or 56 (for a girl), and 50 days each before Christmas and Easter."

Then the dark and middle ages hit, and something happens to the church's (and society's) view of equal opportunity lust. Specifically, women become raving nymphomaniacs and men become cuckolds. The author describes all sorts of stories, tales, and fables that feature men who accuse women of wanting them only for their bodies and sexual prowess and over whom the threat of impotence is a perpetually gathering storm. In many stories, women are tested. In one, a man says, "If I had lost my prick ... / You'd never love me". The woman protests. But then, often as part of some elaborate scheme, she's tempted by another man or told that her husband has lost his ability to use said prick to maximum (or any) effectiveness. The result? Overcome by desire, she strays and/or throws her husband over. She always fails the test.

My question is, "Why?" No, not, "Why does she always fail the test?" (that I know) but rather, why was she suddenly being tested in the first place? Why did the view of sexual desire morph during this period? Why were men and women once thought equal-opportunity offenders when it came to lust, but then suddenly, women were Public Enemy No. 1? Why was the woman of this era thought insatiable? And has there been a parallel shift since? At first, that section of the book made me think of the femmes fatales of film noir, of sexy powerhouses like Barbara Stanwyck and Mary Astor leading their men down the road to ruin in "Double Indemnity" and "The Maltese Falcon". Their primary motivation was money, but they put the men around them at similar unease. Is the war the modern analog to the dark and middle ages? Were both a period in which men had to reinvent their place in the world and did the attendant anxiety of that process cause an explosion of "She Done Him Wrong!" type tales?


The Ministry of Truth Vetted My Library Book (by res ipsa loquitur)

When I mentioned that I am reading I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage, I neglected to say that I discovered something astonishing about this book -- well, about the copy I got from the library, anyway -- before I'd read even a few pages.

Someone -- a previous borrorower, I assume, and not someone at the library, I pray -- "edited" the library's copy. It was as though somewhere, some little true believer at the Ministry of Truth had pored over I Don't and "corrected" it to conform to some Wingnuttia Manual of Style. A few examples:

  • The author uses "Before the Common Era" and "Common Era" in place of "Before Christ" and "Anno Domini" respectively, because "Jewish tradition and current standards of political correctness" require the use of religiously neutral terms. (We'll table the author's capitulation to the wingnut trope of "political correctness".) So throughout the book, our little propagandist has blacked out the "E" in "BCE" and blacked out "AD" and substituted it with "BC". Even the footnotes have been edited! That's a lot of work in a book of history.
  • All references to god that rely on a personal pronoun have been capitalized, i.e., "he" to "He".
  • Lots of ominous underlining of passages, for example:
"Suppose you allow [women] to acquire or extort one right after another, and in the end to achieve complete equality with men, do you think that you will find them bearable? Nonsense. Once they have achieved equality, they will be your masters."
(That's Cato, by the way.) And this:
Through it all, Augustus proselytizes "family values" as tirelessly as any Republican politician in America today, with the same old goal in mind: to encourage reproduction.

What with the BCE/BC and god stuff, above, I assume the vandal is nodding in agreement with the first passage and tsk-tsking the author's "liberal bias" with regard to the second.
  • To be fair, our editor has also marked actual non-controversial typographical errors, of which there are several.
All of this editing was done in ink, which is a bummer, because I could easily have been as obsessive and thorough in erasing the "corrections" as the editor had been in making them. So because this editorializing irritated me, last night I bought a new copy of the book and will return that unmolested one to the library on the due date.

Take that, Wingnut!

(Who defaces library books? Sheesh.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

An out of order introduction (by Prometheus 6)

Hi. I'm Earl Dunovant...never mind the brand name in the title, everyone who reads my site knows who I am. I don't expect you good folk to know me, though, so though my first post was promised for Monday I thought I'd bust in and give you a handle by which to grasp whatever it is I wind up doing.

No, I am not at all clear what I will be writing for you at this point. I'm not a feminist, though I tend to fall on what you'd consider the correct side of things by being honest. I'm a Black partisan with a particular lens on history and current events. Part of my intent is to make the world I see through that lens understandable; that requires me to understand at least the framework in which folks are operating. Having never operated in a feminist framework, I would get the most personal value out of getting to understand what you all think that framework is. For that, though, I would probably do better reading around the site than trying to inspire some conversation that will reveal all.

So I'm going to do that for the rest of the week. What would help is if folks could drop a couple of links to the fundamentals into the comments. Also, it you got topics you think a Black partisan, conscious but otherwise fairly typical guy ought to address, I'd like to know about them, too.


Gender & Gates’ arrest (by Suzie)

Tomorrow, Obama is scheduled to have a beer at the White House with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the man who arrested him, Sgt. James Crowley. It strikes me as a quintessentially masculine gesture that would be hard to imagine if one of the three were female.

I'm not saying Obama shouldn't do this. But I want to tease out the role of masculinity in this "teachable moment."

Because men commit crimes disproportionately, many people practice gender profiling. In other words, they are more suspicious of men than women in regard to crime. If I’m walking at night, for example, I worry less if a woman is walking behind me than if a man is.

Thus, it’s not surprising that a woman called the police when she saw two men forcing their way into a home. The woman says she didn’t describe them as black. Although she has been described as white, her lawyer says she has “olive-colored skin and is of Portuguese descent." Apparently, this matters because people have suggested she's racist.

Gates doesn’t blame her for calling the police, however.
I would want the police to come. What I would not want is to be presumed to be guilty. That's what the deal was. It didn't matter how I was dressed. It didn't matter how I talked. It didn't matter how I comported myself. That man [Crowley] was convinced that I was guilty.
Perhaps Gates was suggesting that it doesn't matter how successful a black man becomes in America; he's still subject to racism. I hope he wasn’t suggesting that police should profile people based on class markers, such as how they dress and talk.

When a man of means faces discrimination, the insult to his manhood is greater. Thus, some articles on Gates’ arrest are written as if it’s worse that it happened to a well-to-do black man as opposed to a poor one. (The reverse seems to be true for white women, in which class privilege seems to mitigate sexism.)

In our society, when a man attacks another man, the victim is supposed to strike back in order to preserve his dignity as a man. Gates said he was treated badly and then arrested because of his race. Perhaps Crowley felt he was not getting the respect due a police officer, or that he was being maligned as a racist. I’m not saying that justified his arrest of Gates; I’m noting that hitting back is a time-honored part of masculinity.

Gates said he wasn’t causing a disturbance; Crowley said he was. When a woman yells, she may be seen as “hysterical” or low class. Depending on her color, she may be seen as trashy, too angry, hot-blooded, etc. But a man is standing his ground.

Crowley reported that Gates said, "I'll speak with your mama outside." Gates denies this, but if it’s true, it would be a sexist comment, part of the tradition in which men fight men over the bodies of women.

Gates is concerned with the way the criminal justice system treats men. “How many black and brown men and poor white men are the victims of police officers who are carrying racist thoughts?" This quote is interesting in its conflation of race and class, but I understand: In poor neighborhoods, plenty of people (including whites) see the criminal justice system as their tormentor, not their protector. As an older sister used to chide me: "The system is not your friend." I've given lectures similar to this one to my nephews.

If there is to be a national dialogue on the criminal justice system, let’s examine the role that masculinity plays. And let us not forget how women fare.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Greek Life (by res ipsa loquitur)

Hello, and thank you, Echidne, for the welcome and the opportunity to contribute to your blog. While you're gone, I'll be reading (among other things).

What will I read? Well, right now: this. Toting around I Don't has provoked some interesting reactions. Examples: Today I had my annual mammogram, and the radiologist, une femme d' un certain age who somehow managed to charm me while she painfully smushed my breasts between two super-thick pieces of plastic, laughed uproariously when she saw it sticking out of my bag. "Don't get married, dear heart! I was married! You're much better off on your own. Did I tell you I'm going gambling this weekend?" Then there's my cousin, who saw it when I met her for sushi one evening and said, "What the hell do you mean, 'I Don't'? What if your mother had said, 'I Don't?' You always overthink everything!" Finally there's my SO, a fine gentleman (and feminist) who glanced at the cover, raised one eyebrow, and said, "Interesting artwork. So who messed up this institution? It had to be the Christians, right?" Well, honey, it was flawed from the get-go, but the Christians certainly did their part!

In any case, about halfway through the book, my initial thought is this: the Greeks had it all figured out. Well, not Greek women, but the Greek men, who set up a seemingly perfect closed system to serve their need for care, companionship, and carnality. Your basic Greek guy -- no, not slaves, I'm talking Greek men of privilege -- had at least three women in his life:
  1. Gynaekes (wives) to keep the home fires burning, bear and raise children
  2. Hetaerae (courtesans) to stimulate mind and body. Educated, cultured, talented, beautiful: their conversation was sought, their opinions valued, their talents appreciated -- but they were still tossed when they lost their looks.
  3. Pallakae (prostitutes) to sate one's day-to-day lust.
Excellent system (if you were a privileged guy) -- and one I'd like to try myself -- if I could be sure it wouldn't get me thrown in jail, exiled to St. Helena, or burnt at the stake.

But it also occurs to me that modern wives -- American ones, anyway -- are expected to possess the characteristics of all three classes of Greek companions -- and that that's way too much pressure for any one woman. A wife is supposed to make a home, maintain her own career or interests so that she can talk about something other than that home she's worked so hard to make, and be a vixen in the sack. (To be fair, modern husbands don't get off easily, either. You've got to simultaneously be SuperProvider, SuperDad, and SuperStud.) But back to those Greek guys ... well, the knee-jerk reaction is, "Sexists! How dare they be so piggy and so self-centered!" But then I think, "Wait. Maybe they were onto something, specifically, that being all three things simultaneously was going to be extraordinarily difficult."

So how did we go from isolating these functions into three separate roles to combining them into one single superwoman (or superman, as the case may be)? (Hint: Martin Luther is partly responsible) And does anyone really buy into the idea that a spouse -- female or male -- can or must even be all three? Or is such belief the provenance of the young and naive spouse? Is two out of three so bad? If so, which two? Would one out of three make a marriage?

I have questions. Do you have answers? Put 'em in comments.

The New Ms. Magazine Is Out

From my e-mail:

Top stories in the Summer Ms.:

-COVER STORY - "CYBERHOOD IS POWERFUL"- Ms. pays tribute to feminist mommybloggers and the online movement for mother's rights. Can they make the U.S. finally pay attention to demands for better work/life policy?

-EXCLUSIVE: "BAGHDAD UNDERGROUND" - Rape and violence against women are so prevalent in today's war-torn Iraq that local women's rights groups have started an "underground railroad" of shelters to save victims. Investigative journalist Anna Badhken was the first U.S. reporter allowed access to the hidden shelters; read her findings in a Ms. special report.

-"A MAN WHO TRUSTED WOMEN": Ms. magazine Senior Editor Michele Kort spoke extensively with those close to Dr. Tiller to create an intimate portrait of the murdered abortion doctor.

-"WHAT A DIFFERENCE A LATINA MAKES" Contrary to MSM reports, Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment was based in solid research: there are cases in which justices' race and gender do matter. And therefore it's especially troubling that the lack of judicial diversity goes much further than the Supreme Court.

-"STONES CAN'T STOP THEM": Coverage of Afghan women often neglects to credit the hardworking women's rights movement there. The new Ms. covers Afghan feminists' victory in fighting the recent repressive Sharia law passed by Karzai. A revised version of the law was proposed July 9 --though Afghan women's rights activists are still demanding better.

Subscribing to feminist magazines is one of those things I do as a political act, by the way. It's not a bad thing to spend money on if you can afford it.

Vacation For Me

Starts today. I'm going to be gone for four weeks, exactly, give or take a few posts each week. In the meantime, you will be well cared for by Suzie, Xan, Liz, Prometheus6, res ipsa loquitur, Hecate and ProfWombat.

My warmest thanks for all these great writers and thinkers. I'm so pleased to have them help me out so that I can sun my scales and replenish my creative reservoirs.

I shall miss you all, sniff, until I come back.
Picture of Widget and Sasha by Doug.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Great Murkan Marriage!!!!

I'm listening to this program on the local public radio. It's all about whether marriage is dying or not, whether it should or not and so on. The two women discussing it are my personal favorite female misogynist Caitlyn Flanagan and a comedian called Sandra Tsing Loh. Both of these women have written essays on marriage, and their views are presented as opposite ones and the listeners are asked to take sides! Sandra Tsing Loh thinks that marriage is no good for women (but she'd like to have a 1950s type husband who wouldn't know how to boil water) and Caitlyn Flanagan thinks everything wrong about marriage is up to women, men don't even exist as the objects of the women's choices).

Fuck it. I'm going to have a debate here between two people, one of whom thinks that broccoli is an alien from outer space and the other thinks that broccoli is a cancer on earth. You must take sides.

I hate badly framed debates. I also hate the kind of setup where neither of the so-called experts actually appears to know much about the history of marriage in general or how long the average marriage used to last (hint: not that long in many cases as mortality rates were rather different).

OK. My wrath is probably misplaced, because what's being said isn't that extreme. I just hate the idea that real information is not provided. For instance, Flanagan keeps on talking about the poor not marrying as if being poor isn't part of the reason for that. And then there's the final caller to the show who argues that men are looking for Mom2.0 in their wives and that women are looking for a better mother than theirs was in their husbands!!!! Notice how fathers just disappeared there altogether.

May I Just Say

That all the attention paid to the "birther movement" of the wingnuts is not only silly but very boring. I understand the rules of the game, and I also understand that if Obama's citizenship status wasn't attacked then something else would be. But surely the journalists don't have to cooperate. Or the bloggers.

If life is too short to stuff a mushroom (which it is), it is also too short for all this crap.

Poetry Club: An Interview With Katha Pollitt

You probably know Katha Pollitt best for her often-humorous but always-wonderful political columns in the Nation magazine or the collections of those columns. But she is also a poet, and has recently published a new book of poetry: The Mind-Body Problem (Random House 2009). She has kindly agreed to talk about her book here. She will even answer further questions which you can put into the comments!

Here are Katha's answers (marked by KP) to my six questions about her latest book and her poems in general:

1. Which poets have most influenced you as a poet? Which new poets do you find most interesting and why?

KP: My favorite living poet has to be Wyslawa Symborska, the Polish Nobel Prize-winner. I love her irony, her wit, the way she brings the grand sweep of history down to the smallest moment. I long to be influenced by her! I should be so lucky.

Other living poets I admire --Sharon Olds, Charlie Simic, Robert Pinsky, Marilyn Hacker, who has done so much to revitalize formal poetry and give it some zing. Right now I'm reading Brenda Shaughnessy's Human Dark with Sugar, which is wild and funny and extravagant and sexy.

Do you write poetry 'from a different place' inside you than prose?

KP: As I was writing the poems, I didn't see them as all that political. I kept that voice for my columns. But of course there are plenty of poems in the book that are political in a broad sense, and there's even a topical one: 'Trying to Write a Poem against the War,' which I wrote for the Poets Against the War anthology edited by Sam Hamill. 'Rapture' is another -- it's about the Christian fundamentalists who believe their going to be taken up bodily into heaven any day now, while the rest of us suffer all kinds of awful things here below. In my poem, their heaven is a kind of old-fashioned sea side resort, rather boring. All the action is down on earth.

2. Kay Ryan says about the book: "It's awfully good to have such a great-hearted poet as Katha Pollitt take on mortality's darkest themes. Again and again she finds a human-sized crack of light and squeezes us through with her." Do you agree with this assessment of the darkest themes? I'm asking because I found the book ultimately an optimistic one, ending with 'Lunaria,' in which you write of your desire to be "A paper lantern/lit within/and shining in/the fallen leaves."

KP: I try to give both light and dark, the bittersweet. I love to make a kind of shimmering between major and minor keys, sorrow and joy, loss and acceptance. Humor can do that -- if you say a sad thing in a funny or ironic way, you're complicating it, changing the frame. So in 'Collectibles' I write about the illusion of childhood happiness, which is very sad, but I do it through a description of finding in a flea market kitschy, funny items that used to be in my parents' kitchen: I give the memory and destroy the memory at the same time. ' Lunaria' is about the three phases of the plant of that name, also called Honesty or Money Plant, which has purple flowers in spring, green discs in summer, and, in autumn, silvery seedpods, which are very beautiful and translucent. It's my Three Ages of Woman poem. Not that I have reached the silvery seedpod stage quite yet!

3. Would you call yourself an urban poet? A Brooklyn poet (as one reviewer states)?

KP: I would be honored to be thought of as a Brooklyn poet. I grew up in Brooklyn and, in fact, my mother was born there, which makes me a Brooklynite of considerable ancestry. I've lived in New York City for most of my life. My landscape and people-scape is definitely urban. I'm not that interested in "nature poetry" or nature writing. I mean I'm all for nature! I just don't want to read about it much. When I write about the natural world, I'm really using nature as a metaphor, as in 'Lilacs in September': the hurricane-struck lilac producing out of season flowers is a kind of challenge to the reader (and the writer): 'what will unleash/itself in you/when your storm comes?'

4. Section II of the book is called After the Bible, with poems drawn from both Old and New Testaments: Adam and Eve, Lot's wife, Martha and Mary ("Well did he think the food would cook itself?/Naturally he preferred the sexy one,/the one who leaned forward with velvet eyes and asked/ clever questions that showed she'd done the reading"). How do these themes fit into your view of the world? Who are you speaking to in these poems?

KP: I'm not a believer -- far from it. The Bible is interesting to me because the stories are so strange and ambiguous and have so many odd gaps and because they deal with deep questions . I try to retell the stories with a twist of my own. In 'the Expulsion,' everyone, even God, is glad that Adam and Eve are leaving Eden-- in other words, beginning their real human lives of struggle, and choice, and conflict and creation. In 'Cities of the Plain,' God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah but then he misses them, because what's a moralist without a sinner? In 'Martha,' the speaker (the patron saint of housewives, by the way) is angry and depressed and resentful: she does the cooking and cleaning, and somebody has to do that, but Jesus tells her she should by like her sister and just listen to his words of wisdom. Not helpful!

5. The Poet As A Feminist. Your ideas about how feminism affects your poetry or not? "As girls they were awkward and peculiar,/wept in church or refused to go at all." How does this link to the Biblical theme?

KP: There are a number of poems in the book about the unfreedom of women. The poem you quote, "Lives of the 19th Century Poetesses," uses that horrible word "poetess" to emphasize the restrictions under which women, including gifted women writers, have labored-- the entrapment within the family, the confined life leading to eccentricity and even madness, or what is seen by others as madness, the marginalization and fundamental lack of respect. Lot's wife is a version of this woman -- she's "trudging behind the broad backside of God," away from Sodom with her awful husband, feverishly remembering an intense affair that ended badly. There is no place for her in the new life God is arranging for her supposedly oh-so-virtuous family, so she has to turn into a pillar of salt.

Any woman writer has some kind of relation to feminism, even if it's conflicted, because feminism is what lets them write at all, and to be published and taken seriously as artists. Without some kind of feminist consciousness-- or maybe I should say feminist unconsciousness --it would not be possible for a woman to write her own truth. Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton, Muriel Rukeyser and a host of other women poets of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, changed the whole landscape of poetry for women. Suddenly, things that could not be said were speakable.

6. 'The Heron in the Marsh' is my favorite in the book, both because of its formal beauty and because it seems to condense that looking at the dark themes of life and yet coming to a resolution which is positive. Would you say that this poem is a microcosm of the message of the book? (The poem is reproduced here with Ms. Pollitt's permission.)

The Heron in the Marsh

At the end of summer
stands white and alone
a question mark

among the green reeds
that glow even as they fail.
Wanderer, lordless

with only yourself for armor,
tell me, why is loss real
even when love was not?
The tide seeps in,

the dark sand shines.
You lift your strong wings
and skim away
over the gray

and glittering
open water.

KP: It's interesting that you see the end of poem as hopeful. I see it as ambiguous: the poet asks "why is loss real/ even when love was not?" and instead of responding, the heron takes flight and skims away over " the gray/ and glittering/ open water." No answer there!

In a way, that poem does encapsulate the theme of the book, if it has a theme, which is the conflict or gap or lack of connection between our ideas, hopes, fears, and emotions about the world and, well, the world. That's what the mind-body problem is: the search for that connection. Religion is one way of trying to bridge that gap, trying to make coherent meaning out of what's within us and what's out there. Love is another, especially unrequited love. The attempt to make meaning out of essentially meaningless experience is what being human is all about.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Five Women, Five Accordions

I find this hilarious. The song is in Finnish, but here's a rough translation of the first few verses:

The mouths of girls have long watered for me
but my mama taught me to avoid women -
they are wild and crazy.

The girls grab on to me like burrs
because I've got that which entrances women
but I shall take care that
I die as a bachelor.

Everybody wondered over that
How weird, they said
But I said "I have other things to finger"
even when she comes to sit by my side [strictly: quickly collapses next to me].

The girls have often tried to hook me
but I have never taken the bait
A woman might be like fresh-baked bread
but I have the will-power of a man.

And I'm not lured by silks or nylons,
rouges, lipsticks or powder.
If you fall for those at night
you will feel rotten in the morning.

This boy will never finger a woman
An accordion is enough for my fingers
Even when she comes to sit by my side.

Bad television (by Liz)

Sometimes media consumption can really get me down. Last week was one of those weeks. There was the focus on surgeon general nominee Dr. Regina Benjamin's size. There was the peephole video of ESPN reporter Erin Andrews. There was the character assassination of the woman who accused an NFL star of rape. And then, I heard about Fox's new reality show "More to Love."

Most so-called reality shows are pretty awful to begin with, but this one seems especially awful. I have not seen an episode, nor do I plan to. The marketing alone is bothering me. The premise, according to Fox Broadcasting, is one "regular guy's" search for love among a group of "full-figured women", a "brawny prince" searching for a "curvy Cinderella." Ugh. Some of these women will go on their first dates on camera. Ugh ugh. More exploitation. More emotional manipulation. More focus on size as an "issue." Ugh, ugh, ugh.

This fatigued, feminist blogger has had enough. She needs a break and she will get that break tonight watching "Drop Dead Diva" on Lifetime. Yes, this show also focuses on size. But it is not one-dimensional. The premise is this: a thin, model wannabe dies and comes back to life as a plus-sized attorney. Deb, the main character, is not the stereotypical pretty, thin woman. Nor is she the stereotypical larger, smart woman. She is all of that and none of that and everything in between. What makes the show so compelling is Deb experiences life from multiple vantage points. And that, the ability to appreciate more than one point of view, (along with some witty banter and a few fashion references) is precisely what I need at the end of a long week.