Friday, October 25, 2013

Day of the Dead vs Halloween

Octavio Paz described Mexican culture as being “seduced by death.” Sugared skulls, and the skeletal figurines (colacas) of humans in every conceivable clothing style and occupation seem to confirm this sentiment. Day of the Dead is primarily a celebration of the ancestors. Unlike Halloween, the goal of the flowers, altars, candy and skeletal array is to pay respects in the more creative, fanciful style of the people who brought us magical realism.

America’s Halloween differs from Day of the Dead in many ways. Number one is that Halloween is scary. In American culture death is not a natural occurence common to all life, but a fearful, traumatic end. When the dead come back, they are not pleased. They haunt and frighten us by making spooky sounds and rattling bones. Like the ever-so-popular vampire and zombie legends, the moral is always that it is preferable for all if the dead remain buried. Our culture gives a high priority to everyone staying in their designated place.

In Dia de Los Muertos, the dead are revered, not as superhuman, but with all the frailties and imperfection of the lives they lived. Altars, the tributes to the departed, often include whiskey bottles and cartons of cigarettes. These are not the trappings of saints. It is a time of memory and celebration. If these deceased returned for a visit, it seems that their friends and families would rejoice not cower.

When my mother was dying of ovarian cancer, the primary emotions she expressed were fear and, more puzzling, shame Fear seems a natural response to the unknown but her shame was trickier to comprehend. In retrospect, I believe it was about relinquishing control in front of her children. Being invulnerable was a necessary part of that definition.

Of course control is also a primary part of our philosophy of rugged individualism. “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul,” was a quote often repeated by my father. To be so ill that you can no longer steer your own ship is not only considered tragic, it is a disgrace.

If my mother had openly acknowledged how sick she was it would have been a relief to all of us. We could have begun initiating closure much sooner; expressing emotion and saying all the things that need to be said.

I don’t know how her death would translate in Mexico. But, on her altar, I would place a copy of Simone De Beauvoir’s, “Second Sex,” a bottle of scotch, and one of Sanka, a can of tomato juice and one of asparagus spears, a slice of rye toast, a pack of Kent cigarettes, a copy of the New Yorker, a steno pad, a credit card and an old typewriter.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Invisibility and Lesbian Experience

The Invisible Lesbian
I read an interesting article in the NYTimes Magazine a couple of weeks ago. It concerned the ways that women are actively discouraged from pursuing careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, what they called the STEM subject group. Unfortunately, a large portion of the article focused on how majoring in STEM  fields frightened off potential male suitors. But one sentence in the article indicated that there was a different point of view expressed by a minority of the interview subjects. The sentence is framed in parentheses and reads as follows: "The lesbian scientists with whom I spoke, at the tea and elsewhere, reported differing reactions to the gender dynamic of the classroom and the lab, but voiced many of the same concerns as the straight women."

Huh? What does this mean? How many lesbian scientists were questioned? How does their experience differ? I was left with these unanswered questions as this sentence contained the only reference to lesbians in the entire piece. Clearly the writers and editors were only concerned with the experiences of genuine women, i.e.: the heterosexual variety.

Recently a poem of mine was included in an anthology about women's experience in the sixties and seventies. My entry was openly queer and dealt with unrequited lesbian love. Reading through the numerous poetry and stories included in the book, I have found only one other out lesbian. 

This is what it means to be part of a minority culture. Your experience is tokenized or erased, your pespective deleted. In capitalist publishing this is just mainstream vs niche market politics. But genuinely good writing should transcend these categories. It seems obvious that inclusion of ethnic and gender minority voices would only improve both the sales and credibility of an article, journal, film or anthology.
But now, at least, they are giving us a little nod. That means we have successfully been a thorn in their side long enough to make them aware of our existence. There is a small hole in the fence that has segregated our experience from that of real women. To make that opening larger, we must all pour through it en masse. Lesbian history is women's history and we are the only ones who can write it. Our experience is an indespensible and necessary component of the liberation of all women, and yes, all people.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Medical Marijuana Subculture

I've lived in California for forty years and if you had told me when I arrived in 1973 that, one day, I'd be a married lesbian and have access to legal marijuana I'd have assumed you were either delusional or quite stoned. But today, both these things are true and yet the earth keeps revolving and the sky remains in place.

I've never been a much of a pothead. Truthfully, back in those hippie days, cocaine and quaaludes were my drugs of choice with an occasional acid trip thrown in for perspective. I hate smoke and the very thought of smoking anything makes my throat ache. But recent eye problems caused me to visit an opthomologist who diagnosed me with high-intraocular pressure, a possilble symptom of, or precursor to, glaucoma.

Of course, as soon as I get a new diagnosis, I do what everyone in the digital age does, that is head straight to my computer for more information. I expected to find health guidelines like cut down on sugar or salt or caffeine but instead, I found the most mentioned folk rememedy was cannabis. In fact, glaucoma was the disease that first propelled the medical marijuana movement into existence.

Armed with a letter from my long-time doctor, who admittedly partakes a bit herself, I ventured toward one of the several dispensaries near my home. The fact is that Berkeley has one pot dispensary for every 28,000 residents, a record number in the world of legalized weed.

To enter the place, I had to pass muster with the security guard, an African-American woman who examined my letter and complimented me on my t-shirt and earrings. After being registered in the waiting room, I proceeded into the purchasing area full of display cases of grass with names like "blueberry haze" and "tangerine dream." I was magically transported back to the days of windowpane and orange sunshine.

After explaining to the counter guy that I wanted something that would help me sleep and last through the night, he introduced me to the world of edibles. There were several choices that encompassed my requirements: capsules, bars, carmel-like chewy things; my mind was boggled. I settled on a chew, a professionally wrapped indica morsel, the sleep inducing variety. The sativa strain is more for those speedy highs that made me so anxious and paranoid many years ago. Because it was my first visit, I was also given a lighter and a free sample of mint chocolate for an entirely different type of high.

It cost twelve dollars and was only supposed to provide four doses. I took about a twentieth of it, instead of a fourth and, after nearly an hour, I became pleasantly tired. I did drifted off to sleep without my usual ambien and was still a bit stoned eight hours later when I awoke.With my super-sensitivity to drugs, this stuff can last me for quite a while.

A couple of days later I tried again to estimate the right amount. But that night I had to take my prescription pill along with the edible. I realized that dispensing with my ambien was proving harder than I'd hoped. And Blue Shield pays for sleeping pills but due to federal law, I cant' use my insurance to buy marijuana.

I will check out a couple more dispensaries and keep trying for the perfect sleep-inducing, ocular-pressure-reducing mix. I feel a bit like Alice now. I've passed through the looking glass but am a bit flummoxed by the wide-array of mind-altering substances here to choose from.