Sunday, December 28, 2014

Diversity in December

That holiday in December that customarily brings the USA to a grinding halt has passed and I am so relieved. Now, there are nearly a year of days until it rears its head again. I am not a grinch, I am a secular Jew. Certainly, I do not begrudge anyone their religious practices or celebrations, nudism, paganism, polyamory and devout atheism included. Just go for it, whatever it may be!

I almost succeeded in completely ignoring Xmas this year and I am grateful to immigrants for this bliss. Before large groups of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists came here en masse, this place was truly a Christian country. Yes, there existed a meager six percent minority of Jews and a few Buddhist Chinese around in the fifties and sixties while I was growing up. We were thankful to those who kept their restaurants open on that fateful day. Beyond that, there were few dissenting voices within earshot.

My Jewish parents made the decision to bring secular Christmas to my sister and me. We had a Chanukah bush that looked and smelled deceptively like a Christmas tree. We lit candles on the menorah perfunctorily. And, like other Americans celebrated on the 25th. The reason for this was that my parents, like so many Jews, had just felt odd and left out on that day. They wanted their children to be more part of this country’s culture. Why not indulge in some harmless trees, ornaments, lights, reindeers and Santa. American Christmas really has very little to do with old J. C. and besides that, it was fun.

It’s true, secular-Jewish Xmas did make me love the holiday season. But today, something makes me even happier this time of year. It is the fact that many new immigrants do not make these concessions at all! The motel my friends and I stayed in near Monterey California is owned by East Indians. Our small coterie of wandering Jews stayed there right through that holiday with neither a decoration nor a single mention from the very diverse group having coffee and waffles on Christmas day. To me, that was a gift of unbelievable magnitude and spirit.

So keep on coming Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and even, goddess forbid, other Jews. We are broadening the spiritual scope of this country. And I love it!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Organizing Matters

Black lives matter. Women’s lives matter. Queer lives matter. Disabled lives matter. Every member of every ethnic group's lives matter. Working-class lives matter. All lives matter.

I am trying to be inclusive here, not divisive. Murder by law enforcement is appalling and wrong. It happens because the police, increasingly the arm of the new authoritarian state that is struggling for control, are the weapon of the one percent. They have been bought and paid for by the corporate personhood of the sickeningly wealthy. Yes, we must demonstrate against indiscriminate police murder without any accountability.

Getting out in the streets to demonstrate has always been a powerful tool to fight oppression. But now, more and more, the protests become the control group for testing every new military weapon. Sound canons that damage hearing are a new toy. The powers that be now bring strobe lights to make photo or video recording impossible. And, every day, more and more places are making the recording of police an illegal activity thus threatening the very basis of free speech.

This is a rat race and, unfortunately, the rats are winning. We are all potential criminals under constant surveillance. Survival itself has become so much more difficult since the banksters overthrew the economy taking away middle-class jobs and any remaining semblance of workers’ rights. Racism, sexism and ethnic prejudices are running wild. As far as trashing some minority group, anything goes It is no co-incidence that the atmosphere is starting to feel like Germany in the early 1930’s. The conditions are similar.

Massive demonstrations may take us in a different direction and they are worth a shot. It is also possible that we will see repression on a massive scale, unlike any we have seen before.

I’m not arguing for fear, just saying that we have to organize. Single issue struggle is fine but we need much more, a program that encompasses all our issues combined with the unity and commitment of each of us to fight for everyone. We will also need representative democratic structure with leaders we can trust.

Knowing that something is very, very wrong and desiring to fix it is the first step. We are on the tightrope now. On one side is a more egalitarian, compassionate society. Fascism on the other. The direction we will fall remains to be seen.

Monday, November 10, 2014

"Distant Music," Poems by Joan Annsfire

Distant Music
My poetry collection, Distant Music has finally arrived. The poems in this collection span over twenty years of my experience of trying to live fully and honestly. They encompass relationships, illness, travel and coming to terms with lesbian identity. But the main focus here is the time-limited nature of this journey. It is the thread that weaves these poems together to illuminate the complex, painful and wondrous nature of all our short and fragile lives.

Thanks so much to Mary Meriam and Risa Denenberg of Headmistress Press and the four reviewers whose blurbs were excerpted on the cover: Carolyn Boll, G.L.Morrison, Ann Tweedy and Julie R. Enszer.
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Reviewer's Blurbs:

The dance of light and shadow unfolds across each and every page of Joan Annsfire’s Distant Music. Life and death, love and loss, and the shifting patterns of time and memory, hope and regret, all swell, surge and release as steps are taken, hands are held, a face is stroked, a life is lived and examined, and a poet is born again and again, poem by poem, word by word. The movement of a revolution. The revolution of a world. A world within. And without. Distant Music is a compelling and moving collection of poems that draws us forward from beginning to end. And beginning again.
—Carolyn Boll, poet/writer/dancer

Distant Music is no “carnival of disorder...seducing with a wild and discordant song.” There is order to these poems. They become a history, a feral memoir, the travel diary of a revolutionary. A travelogue navigating the white-waters of time through the sharp hazards of health and family and love. These are companionable poems (though sometime reckless companions) that invite you to swim naked or leap from bridges. They sing of geography’s immutability; memory’s flexibility and betrayals of the body; but ultimately these poems sing of survival. While they lay flowers at the side of the road for peoples and things that didn’t survive the journey, these are poems of passionate endurance.
—G.L. Morrison, author of Chiaroscuro Kisses

Distant Music is full of visceral, surprising images. If you’re brave enough to stay the course, Joan Annsfire will take you “joyriding on the rushing rapids,” through the “searing pain” of childhood and a stigmatized youth, through the speaker’s mother’s illness and death from cancer and then her own diagnosis and recovery, finally to land in “an older body, baggy, stretched and / soft as a favorite pair of flannel pajamas . . .” Annsfire’s is a world where “intense, immeasurable hunger” is an “elusive prize” in pursuit of which one must “scour the earth.” The reader who scours these pages will be enriched by Annsfire’s wisdom, her skilled use of metaphor and language, and her jarring honesty.
—Ann Tweedy, author of White Out and Beleaguered Oases

In Distant Music, Joan Annsfire’s poems dance with delicate intimacy and shout their angry love. A long-awaited collection from the widely published, Berkeley poet, Distant Music is filled with poems to savor and enjoy.
—Julie R. Enszer, author of Sisterhood, editor/publisher of Sinister Wisdom

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Ebola: When Poverty Equals Death

Over 2,300 people in West Africa have succumbed to the Ebola epidemic and over 240 of them have been health care workers. Finally, Obama is sending in 3.000 military troops to help deal with the epidemic. It's too bad that the world stood by silently as this epidemic took hold. 

The nations of West Africa are extremely poor. Many “hospitals” there are simply places with beds and a few staffers who may or may not have even gone through medical training. Even before this epidemic, meals were brought in by family members, not provided by the facility.

Training in the handling of contagious disease is haphazard to non-existent but, that is not the reason for the tremendous loss of lives. The majority of deaths of care providers have been due to lack of equipment, understaffing and exhaustion, not negligence. There is not enough protective clothing or personnel to treat, or contain, the infected whose numbers are spiraling out of control.

Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Senegal are not countries that attract the attention of the pharmaceutical drug industry. A majority of their citizens are black and live at a level of poverty unimaginable in the United States. They have no plumbing, running water and much cooking is done with open fires, not stoves. 

People lives can be saved. Research, that should have been done at the first sign of this new disease, is happening. But vaccines for ebola, like all of our medical care, are available only to those from wealthy nations. Two infected an American medical personnel, a doctor and a nurse, were flown out of Liberia and taken to Emory Hospital in Atlanta, quarantined and given the rare, expensive, experimental drug called Z-mapp, which helped them survive the disease.The infected of Africa, even doctors and nurses have been essentially on their own.

The pharmaceutical industry has no interest or desire to manufacture complex and costly vaccines when there is no financial incentive to do so. Poor Africans cannot lay down big money to cure themselves or their relatives. This would not be a profitable enterprise like Statin drugs for high cholesterol or Viagra for erectile dysfunction.

The brutally sad truth of the matter is that what drives the search for cures for diseases is this potential monetary windfall. Even if the big medical think tanks found, say, a cure for cancer, they would make sure that what was required would be that people take a certain amount of medication every day for the rest of their lives.This would provide them with continued financial security.

That insures the continued prosperity of Big Pharma. Stocks rise, doctors get samples and desperate people, without adequate health options, find some way to gather the financial resources required to save their lives.

Finding a cure for Ebola offers none of these remunerations. If it did, the epidemic would have been halted in its tracks before it spiraled out of control. Instead, we all are forced to witness the way the so-called developed nations of the first world allow fellow citizens in Africa to be ravaged by a merciless disease!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Where Ferguson and Occupy Meet...

I watched the coverage of the Ferguson uprising on MSNBC and a lot of what I saw the police doing looked disturbingly familiar to the police riots I experienced when I participated in Occupy Oakland. There were flash-bang grenades, bean-bag projectiles, rubber bullets and plenty of tear gas. The sound cannons were new “toys,”  for our militarized boys in blue.

When I was arrested, as part of a mass arrest in 1991 following the Rodney King excessive police force incident, the cops had little access to all this weaponry. They simply surrounded around the 400 people peacefully participating in the protest, handcuffed us and hauled us away. Today what cops are engaged in is more like a live staging of World of Warcraft.

Let me state unequivocally that racism plays a huge role in out-of-control policing in this country. There exists a rampant, unbridled fear of young, black males in our society. Beyond that, the government and its enforcement arm are tremendously afraid of resistance of any kind and invest everything they have in crushing rebellions before they can spread and take hold. This has been of utmost importance since the economic collapse of 2008.

Sure, the NSA and its defenders will say that heightened security dates back to the September 11th attacks of 2001. But why then has the collection of metadata increased to a loud crescendo at this point in time. Why are racism and all forms of ethnic hatred being constantly and continually promoted just as labor unions, job security and workers’ rights and the right to a living wage are being hammered into non-existence?

It's a simple divide and conquer tactic to perpetuate capitalism. The existence of a cheap, disposable underclass is the foundation that buttresses the wealth of the one percent. Those in power are especially afraid of young, black males but they are afraid of all of us. They know they are sapping our life-blood both as low-wage workers and as an unemployed poverty class.With the highest incarceration rate in the world, the USA is now rounding up folks who can't pay their bills, thus reinstituting debtors' prisons. Economic inequality here has reached an all-time high and that's not going to change anytime soon. The bottom line is:  as long as WE are at each other’s throats, THEY are safe. The second we begin to rise up, they beat us down with ten times the force required to do so.

Racism is a real problem but it is not a "black" issue. It is an American issue that affects all of us. “We must all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately.” That quote is from Ben Franklin at the signing of the declaration of independence. And he wasn’t including women, everyone considered "non-white," immigrants, non-landowners and a whole host of others. But he still has a point. We can all learn from his mistakes and try to do it right this time!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Suicide / Survival

Robin Williams’ suicide is a devastating waste and loss. The shock waves reverberating around the world seem out of proportion for one comedian however brilliant, poignant and universally respected and loved.

This is a reaction to the big question that if someone like Robin Williams could end his life, how can the rest of us poor fools ever manage to trudge on? If wealth, fame and universal adoration aren’t strong enough reasons to compel someone to stay here on earth, what does that say about all our struggles? It compells us to imagine a depth of despair that is truly terrifying. It speaks to the immense difficulty of this life that someone can go against every survival instinct as opposed to just waiting for inevitable, eventual death, an experience guaranteed to every one of us.  

Death in our culture is very scary. In my sixth decade, I currently see more friends taken down against their will than because of it. That was not always the case. I’ve had friends and family members and friends who’ve ended their lives. My grandmother took pills. my high school friend, Jill hung herself with her knee socks when we were in our early twenties. In those years, my friend Liz stole her uncle’s gun and shot herself in the head. As one of those they left behind, I felt grief was overwhelmed by a sense of failure.What could I have done or said that might have made a difference? Couldn't I have talked them into one more pizza, one more movie?

Yet, I have certainly gone through periods in my life when I’ve considered suicide as an option. Fortunately, there is a vast abyss between thought and action. Taking your own life is a violent act that requires a high level of desperation as well as commitment. It demands totally abandoning the idea that things will improve, that tomorrow will be that proverbial new day.

The tragedy of suicide is that violence is perpetrated not only on the departee but on the survivors. I blame my mother leaving me because of ovarian cancer, but if it had been her decision to go it would have made my anger that much stronger. We all want to debrief with the dead but, except for dreams and visions, they are no longer available to us. Anger, frustration and fear are the collateral damage that suicide leaves in its wake.

So grieve for Robin Williams and for everyone who couldn’t bear to wait around for the grim reaper and instead took things into their own hands.It’s okay to mourn. It’s okay to be pissed off. But the best outcome is to support the people you care about right now and make sure each one of them can keep on keepin’ on!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Israeli Government is not the Jewish People

By the time I was born, the Second World War was over and Israel was already a fact. I have been an Anti-Zionist since the seventies when Jews like me were all termed “self-hating.” I do not confuse supporting the struggles of the Palestinian people with prejudice against Jews which is erroneously termed Anti-Semitism, since all people of Middle-Eastern descent are Semites. 

I thoroughly and totally condemn the brutality of the Israeli regime. I despise the whole premise of a religious versus a secular state and I do not think that a person expressing Anti-Israel sentiment necessarily implies will towards Jewish people. Yes, I fervently wish my relatives in Europe had taken Germany instead of Palestine, that the railroad tracks to Auschwitz had been bombed, that the ships taking Jewish refugees to the USA had not been turned away. But those things happened and, just as we are now dealing with the ramifications of slavery, the legacy of the brutal oppression of Jews has left the world with an out-of control “Jewish homeland.”

That having been said, I would like to address something else. The blog entry I wanted to publish this week was about the ancient synagogue and adjoining Jewish Museum in Rhodes, Greece. I am delaying that entry and writing this one because I don’t believe anything about Jewish history would be well-received right now and I find that fact, in and of itself, to be a misguided, biased reaction.

As a Jew, I would like to be proud of my ancestors the way that Italian, Irish, Black, Native American and all other minorities are of theirs. I should be able to post historical articles about my relatives without fearing misinterpretation or worse. Jews are not responsible for each other’s behavior anymore than other members of minority groups are. And the actions of the Israeli government don’t represent the will of the Israeli people just as the actions of the US government, don’t represent our will. But getting carried away with thoughtless generalizations of an entire group of people is destructive and counter-productive.

Here is an example of the problem. A longtime, leftist comrade recently, and I believe inadvertently, posted an article about the violence against the people of Gaza that came directly from a right-wing, Neo-Nazi, propaganda website. This is not okay! Read what you post before you hit that button! Here are some things to watch out for so you don’t repeat this mistake: references to the Talmud or publications like “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” The use of Yiddish words like “goyim,” concepts like, “Jewish blood,” the substitution of the word, Jews for the word, Israelis and frankly, just plain, nasty, stereotyping.

It is absolutely imperative that we be as critical of Israel as we are of other imperialist, warmongering countries. But, just as drones and smart-bombs turn out to be not all that targeted or smart, we must be mindful of the way we categorize people and precisely how we utilize our words. The keyboard is mightier than the sword! The end result, peace, is vitally important, but so is what we do on that journey to get there. If we are sloppy and compromise our ethics to reach this goal, we will have effectively thrown out the baby with the bathwater!

Monday, July 28, 2014

"Tuvalet" Customs in Turkey

Squat Turkish Toilet
Toilet culture interests me. Perhaps because I'm an older woman with an undersized bladder. Or maybe it's just like the study of anything else, it tells a lot about the people. As in other third world countries, Turkish city streets and bus stations have public bathrooms that, for a small price, usually around the equivalent of 50 cents, a Turk or a tourist can pay for a spray or a slightly longer stay. 

I used to find this money exchange objectionable because it winds up being a tax of sorts on women and older folks, in particular. But, I concluded, it’s not all that expensive and is preferable to having no access at all, like in the majority of cities in the United States.

The pay toilet in Turkey has evolved. It used to be that a patron would have to state her/his intention at the door and defecating was charged at a higher rate than urinating. This proved problematic on many levels. First it was embarassing. Second, one can not always be accurate with these predictions. Could you get some money back if your assessment turned out to involve a bit of wishful thinking? And third, of course there was a huge language barrier for non-Turkish speakers. 


Two Flushes, Large and Small
So now, one rate covers any and all outcomes. As for the commodes themselves, most groups of pay toilets will have at least one “western-style” unit. Newer venues tend to be all of this variety. Turkish toilets of the "eastern style" are flat on the floor, a porcelain bowl in the ground with places on either side for the feet. You must squat to use them.

In Islamic law, males are encouraged to squat rather than just spray, partly because it's more hygenic, but also because there is a toilet ritual that involves not facing Mecca. For women, it’s a little more complicated. Pulling down underwear and pants and successfully peeing without getting anything else wet takes a bit of practice. Maybe a skirt would be easier. But either way, I can't imagine attempting anything more serious than urination under these circumstances.

The western-style toilets in Turkey, however, have become quite advanced. Like the ones in Europe and, increasingly in the States as well, they have two flushes: a smaller button for number one emissions and a larger for number 2, options that are very water conservation-minded and efficient. Since I've been back in the USA I have noticed more of this divided flush thing happening, often with an up or down option.

Strategically-Placed Spray Valve
The other thing that I discovered, by happy accident, about the Turkish toilet is that a valve control on the lower right side of the toilet can be turned on with interesting results. What a surprise it was to recieve an expertly directed anal-wash by simply turning this faucet. This butt-hole bidet evolved partly as a paper-saving device. It shows that the Turks are indeed a fastidious people. I would love to purchase one of these commodes for use in my home.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Two Separate Societies: Gender in Turkey

Turkish Men Outside a Cafe
The men in Turkey sit in cafes, play dominoes, smoke and converse intensely. To look at two men involved in such a connection, you would swear they were gay. The men are predominantly the folks we dealt with, they run the great majority of restaurants, pensions and shops. Some hotels have women at the front desk and you may find a shopkeeper or two but the overwhelming percentage of workers are male.

It is hard to make genuine connections in a country where you don't speak any of the native language but the following information is based solely on personal observation and experience.

Some restaurants are "family" places which cater more to women and children. Bars and places that serve raki (an alcoholic beverage) and other alcoholic drinks are men's domain. As foreign women, we were treated as honorary men and welcomed almost everywhere. The one exception was mosques, where we had to cover as Turkish women do, although sometimes at mosques I passed for male, in which case covering did not apply.

The men are good friends with one another and women are very peripheral to this picture. In the raki restaurant in Izmir, we saw intense, animated talking male duos and groups. On a boat trip in Kas, we met four Turkish college students, in two heterosexual couples. The men spoke to us in English. The women didn't speak to us. During the entire trip, the two male friends talked non-stop. The women sat at the far ends of the group and were silent. At swim stops, in the water, we occasionally heard them giggle or speak softly.

At one point when we tired of hearing the guys hold forth, we descended to the lower deck where we found one of their two women friends who had perhaps also tired of listening. She had ordered a beer, was smoking a cigarette and was actively communicating on her smartphone.

We visited a private home in Pamukkale. The guy who worked at our hotel drove us to his uncle's place. We sat on a beautiful carpeted porch overlooking the dry, cactus and scrub-speckeled mountains. A welcome cool breeze was blowing. The uncle's wife wore a scarf and spoke no English. She smiled and brought us all tea and almond cookies which she did not serve herself. I noticed that inside she removed her headscarf, but repositioned it when she came back to the group. Mostly, the two men spoke Turkish with each other and Deborah and I did the same in English.

In Izmir, we inadvertently booked a hotel in the red light district which was conveniently located between the bus and the train station. It was a lively neighborhood with reasonably priced bars and restaurants and not at all scary. Next to our hotel was a brothel. The women in the open front of the place wore tiny, gold lame bikinis. One had died blonde hair and loads of interesting, tribal style tattoos. I smiled at her warmly and she smiled back, surprised.

We sat on the chairs outside the front of our hotel. It had been a sizzlingly hot day, so many people, read "men," were  sitting out on the street too. A man from the brothel came over to me and asked in broken English, "Do you want to be with sister?" I laughed and told him we were staying in this hotel and just getting some air but it was clear that I could have purchased some face (or other bodily part) time with the blonde if that's what I'd desired.

Later that evening the police were called to the place because a screaming fight broke out between one of the girls and a john. She was going after him and definitely landed a few punches. Most of the men on the street stepped in to intervene and try to keep them apart. 

The Secret Sisterhood
Turkey is a world of whores and madonnas, similar to the USA of the sixties before the women's movement. It is a place of great warmth and compassion but also a country plagued by gender division and women's second-class status. The rate of domestic violence against women is higher in Turkey than anywhere else in Europe. Islamic fundamentalism is growing and I saw many more covered women this trip than when I visited in 2002. At that juncture, it was illegal for women to wear their scarves in universities or government buildings.

Now, even the Prime Minister's wife is covered. It was heartbreaking for me to see these women wearing headscarves, long sleeves, and loose-fitting black coats over their clothes in temperatures that often reached the high nineties and low hundreds. In general, these women were sweet to us and we often went to them for directions. We joked that they ran a secret sisterhood, and whenever we had the opportunity to patronize a business that they ran, bakeries often fell in this category, we did. These interractions made us feel cared for and welcomed in a way in which the male-run establishments could not equal.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Cats of Turkey

Rooftop Cats in Istanbul
I am a true cat lover and, in this respect, the country of Turkey doesn’t disappoint. Feral but friendly cats have the run of the streets everywhere, especially in Istanbul. All kinds of people scatter dry food and cut big plastic bottles in half to make large dishes of water for them and their imperial feline presence can be felt everywhere.

At first I assumed that they were bred for rodent control because, not surprisingly, I didn’t see one mouse or rat on the streets during the month of my stay. But I later discovered that Islam has a high regard for them and there is a saying that anyone who harms or kills a cat must build a mosque to ask for forgiveness for this transgression.

In museums the dioramas depicting life in the past almost always include a cat or kitten keeping the people company. The glass cases are full of ancient sculptures of the creatures as well.

Can cats interpret this sign? I can't!

Most of the street cats will exchange meaningful looks or possibly engage in a meowing conversation that I refer to as Catonese, their native tongue. English actually seems to make them a bit suspicious and uneasy. And, since they are wild, any attempt to pet or touch them will send them scurrying away.

When I asked a man feeding them in a park, “What is the Turkish word for cat? “he just said what sounded like kitty and I thought he was joking. Well, I found out later that the word is “kedi” and that is exactly how it sounds! 

Now, even though I am back in the U.S., I will see movement out of the corner of my eye and expect a furry feline and feel a bit let down to find only a bird or a scampering squirrel. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Protective Masks

I am an impostor. From my family, I learned that appearances are everything. From the bullies in my neighborhood, who took every opportunity to attempt to pound me into the pavement, I learned that a huge helping of bravado mixed with bluster can be a life-saving strategy.

So, I perfected my impersonation of a tough girl. This ruse involved walking like an axe murderer and talking like a sailor. Not that I’d actually met axe murderers or sailors but an active imagination is the most essential trait of a successful impostor.

My rough and ready persona kept me safe in that deepest circle of hell, commonly known as high school. It came with its own rewards, especially after I expanded it to include the use of interesting drugs, cutting school and shoplifting.

In the mid-seventies I migrated to California to be out as a lesbian and away from Ohio, my father, and his new wife and life that he'd taken up after my mother’s death. These were hard times for me both financially and emotionally. The Mission neighborhood of San Francisco was crime-ridden and I didn’t own a car. Being young and into the bar scene, I was often on the streets late at night. My walk in combination with my leather bomber jacket served me well.

One night on my way back to my flat I ran into a sleazy looking dude who began with a slightly menacing, “Babe, what are you doing out on the street this time of night?”

“What are YOU doing out here, hon?” was my response. He kind of chuckled and we walked together for a bit, me trying to show him my take-no-prisoners pose. I suppose he was sort of intrigued by this odd woman with an antagonistic attitude and a butch stride.

Before we parted ways he asked, “Tell me, what do you really have in your pocket?” This question caught me off guard. On the street at night, I would always walk with my hands in my pockets. The fact that people might think I am carrying a weapon had never even occurred to me.

            “You don’t want to know!” was all I said as I moved on into the night.

It dawned on me that if I could make people give me a wide berth, perhaps I could also use my skill set to land a job I really wanted.

I had always dreamed of being a graphic artist, even took a course in it at City College. I decided that I would try to pass myself off as an experienced layout and paste-up person at my next job interview. It didn’t go all that well. I had to actually perform the task at the end of the interview. I was slow, clumsy and didn’t know a thing about the latest time-saving techniques, which they then showed me. Of course, I didn’t get that job.

But during my next interview, I really sounded like a pro and, it turned out that they didn’t even require a demonstration. I was hired.

When the graphic arts gig became a bit frenetic and boring, I wanted to move on. I succeeded in convincing a job training panel that my experience in design was perfectly suited for their program to learn drafting.

I then wormed my way into an Architectural firm and later branched out into Civil Engineering. When it came time to learn the new technology, CADD (computer-aided design drafting), I knew exactly what to do: Just claim that I know how to use the program until, in fact, I did.

When the entire field of drafting died with the advent of computers, It was time to go back to school and get some real training. I interviewed all my friends to see if they were doing anything I might find interesting. Since one of my primary pleasures was reading I decided to become a librarian.

I called professors in the Library accredidation program to find out what exactly they were looking for in a Master’s Degree candidate. After duly noting their emphasis on technology, I wrote two recommendation letters tailored to their needs, in different voices, of course. The third, my best friend penned for me. Then, wonder of wonders, I was accepted into the Library and Information Studies program at Berkeley and once armed with that degree, I became more able to make my way with safety and competence through the dark streets of life.  

I have been retired from my librarian job for over two years now. In my present incarnation, I blog and send out my epistles in the form of poems, articles and stories. I still have no weapon in my pocket, no magic up my sleeve. But when people ask me what I do, I just look them straight in the eye and state with utmost sincerity, “I’m a writer.”

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Book Publishing in the Technological Age

E-Book and Older Relatives
I just watched an interesting PBS documentary called “Out of Print” that examines the changes the publishing and writing world have undergone due to the advent of digital technology.

POD or print-on-demand publishing is the rule nowadays. Just as an on demand water heater only produces hot water when you need it, on demand printing synchonizes the book with the order. No more huge piles of remainders or, on the other side, coming up short on orders. It’s a more cost-effective choice.

The question of format is now a main concern in the publishing field. Printed books are just a small share of a market that has expanded to include e-books as well as other electronic formats that are easy and cheap to reproduce.

Self-publishing is another option that currently has come into its own. The documentary interviewed a lawyer and part-time writer, Darcie Chan who self-published her novel,”The Mill River Recluse” and sold it for 99 cents in order to get a maximum readership. She expected to maybe sell a couple hundred copies, if she was lucky. She wound up making the New York Times Bestseller List and her second novel is being picked up by Random House. And, though these stories are the exception and not the rule, she is not alone.

One downside of digital publishing is only format obsolescence. Another is the simple question of whether the digital work will hold up physically for future generations. Now, it’s hard to even find floppy disk readers, imagine locating them in the future. They have followed the path of vinyl records, where only a few vintage fanatics still have record players.

Another problem, authors, journalists and bloggers have a lot more difficulty now getting paid for their work. Exposure is good but especially for young writers starting out, this lack of pay will mean that almost all of them will have to work day jobs.

The positive side is that more people, especially folks who represent minorities in ethnicity, orientation and opinion can get exposure. Technology is more egalitarian because its access, at this point, has not been restricted.

So, it’s a mixed bag. But like all the new inventions and developments of the Technological Age, ready-or-not, here it is. And, as we have done with everything that has come before, for better or for worse, we will deal with it.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Zen of Travel

Hmong girls in Sapa
Traveling is one of those activities most people either love or hate. I don’t mean the kind of travel where you become part of a group of tourists running through the ruins. I’m referring to backpack-type exploration in which you have no set itinerary, just an idea of what you’d like to see and where you might go. The rest is left to fate.

My partner and I travel this way in various third-world countries during her summer vacation from teaching. We have assiduously avoided the first world partly because it tends to be less interesting but mostly because it’s incredibly expensive.

All those years I spent as cubicle fodder, a dedicated wage slave, I thought that travel was a waste of money. Except for a few souvenirs, you wound up with nothing concrete to show for it. But when I was forty, I was diagnosed with cancer and didn’t know whether or not my story was ending. I recovered completely. But when my destiny was uncertain, I made myself two promises. One was to write and try to get my work published.The second was to see the world.  

Travel is a Buddhist experience. Even a somewhat-lapsed Buddhist like me is aware of this. When you descend on a place you’ve never seen before you are completely in the present moment. You arrive knowing not a soul and with no idea of what you will eat or where you will sleep. Chances are you only possess a sketchy idea of the meaning and depth of the culture. You are at the mercy of experience, the full range of potential occurrences.

These are sometimes wonderful beyond belief like dining with an extended Hmong family in Sapa Vietnam, having tea and cookies with Turkish women lace-makers inside their volcanic ash cave home in Cappadocia, going to an earth goddess Pachamama ceremony on a remote Peruvian hillside or simply drinking a mango smoothie in the night market in Chiang-Mai Thailand as dancing girls take the stage.

The experiences sometimes can be not-so-pleasant: like running out of water on a bus on the Raya Pass in Peru at 15,000 feet above sea level because the road running into Cuzco had been blockaded by strikers. Or being detained for six hours and eventually extorted for about 120 dollars each because of a “visa re-entry” problem in Vietnam.

Yes, anything can happen when you venture out into the world. The people you meet will be wonderful or awful just like those at home. But only they can show you how to turn the crystal in a new direction allowing you to see life in a way you could never have previously imagined. The value of that cannot be measured.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

They Should Have Given Us Bavaria!

Holocaust Remembrance Day has just passed and May 14th will be the 66th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel and all that I am able to say about this is how much it saddens me to be a Jew in this world.

When thinking of my grandparents, I could begin with the Russian Czar and the Cossacks. There is nothing left now of the huge Jewish community that flourished there, the Pale of Settlement, the shtetls where rural poverty was a fact of life along with a tribal culture where folks took care of each other. These villages were, for the most part, dirt poor and isolated. They had a daily life that now can only be glimpsed in a few rare photographs and paintings. Shtetl residents were ghettoized from the regional Russian and Polish populations by religion and culture but, most of all, by language.

In Western as well as Eastern Europe, Yiddish, the language of the Ashkenazi-Jewish people is now dead. In the colonialist state of Israel, the founders and survivors chose to resurrect Hebrew, a long-extinct biblical language whose correct pronunciation and inflection was totally unknown. They improvised and now Hebrew is a living tongue.

When it comes to Europe, the fact is that Hitler did what he set out to do. The results were just not immediate. European, Jewish culture has been obliterated. Not only do American secular and religious Jews no longer have a homeland, we are a dying breed. Folks like me in the USA are dinosaurs. In a couple of generations, like so many Native tribes, we will cease to exist. Specifically, people with two Jewish parents, raised in Jewish neighborhoods, not necessarily by choice but by covenant, will not have a square in our multi-ethnic, American tapestry.

I believe that this is a great loss, for Jews specifically, as well as for Americans in general.

Yes, the religion will continue to flourish as Jews intermarry and assimilate. Some rebellious couples will take up Judaism as a faith but, those who are ethnically identified/identifiable by descent, by cultural style, inflection, humor, introspection and a wide range of neuroses will go the way of so many other endangered species.

And now there is Israel, the most distressing component of the equation. The whole “land without a people for a people without a land,” is so obscene. The forced displacement and collective punishment of the Palestinian people by imperialist expansion, the bulldozing of homes, the checkpoints, the walls…I could go on and on but in this forum I know I don’t have to. I know you know.

It seems so unfair that a people so brutalized by history would now have to be victimized even further by those fighting oppression. But the atrocities of Israel are real. How childish it seems to state that I wish the whole thing never happened, and by that I mean the WHOLE thing starting with the persecution of Jews in all countries of the world.

But given that horrendous genocide transpired, they should have, at least, given us Bavaria!

Did you know that many of the laws used against the Palestinians involved in revolt against the occupiers bear an astounding resemblance to the Nuremberg Laws? To me, that says it all. The child whose parents beat him grows up to beat his own child. There is no excuse for it, but it happens all the time. And it breaks my heart.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Lesbians, Women and Equality

As the endless struggle for equal pay has illustrated, women we have a long journey ahead of us before we can see any semblance of equality. After much struggle, women are now citizens of the USA who can vote and try for almost any job as long as it is not too high profile like being president or hosting a late night talk show. But we are still limited by sexism which defines us by gender, appearance, social agility and acceptability to those males in power.  

Just yesterday I was searching the database NewPages for anthology and literary journal submission venues.The first “feminist” one I found had just run a special issue that contained the voices of male writers expounding on the subject of women. The second one was soliciting for an upcoming issue on women’s relationships to “the men in our lives.” Seriously?

Let me make this clear: women are not to blame for sexism. Having said that, it is also imperative that we stop being collaborators! As Judy Grahn said in her poem, A Woman is Talking to Death, “We do each other in, that’s a fact!” Lesbians can be guilty of this just like our bib-dyke sisters, but since we have so much less power in society it hardly matters.

And there is the crux of the problem. When it comes to the big picture, our existence, our struggles are most often not even footnotes. The female equivalent of the male gay civil rights spokesperson doesn’t really exist. Harvey Milk, Tennessee Williams, Bayard Rustin, James Baldwin, Tony Kushner, all these are names that come to mind historically when thinking about notable LGBTs. I know that Audre Lorde, Gertrude Stein and Adrienne Rich are notable lesbians, but as far as name recognition they are undoubtedly second tier.

The “problem” of the unapologetic lesbian is being dealt with inside the LGBT community where the word “queer” is now touted as a substitute for “lesbian” because it is more “inclusive.” I’m all for inclusion, but I also have to post the question, what exactly is being lost?

As that old movie “Tootsie” posited and the transgender MTF movement seems to express: men believe that they are better at absolutely everything and that includes being women! The truth is that yes, a less oppressed person has more distance from an issue and that makes both your self-image and everything you undertake, less fraught and therefore a bit easier.  

And, for many of us bio-broads, “being a woman” is not a set of feelings or behaviors. It is just a genetic fact, an anatomical category!

I respect transgender women. But they are raised with the privilege of growing up and being treated as males. Due to class issues, I am used to working alongside people of greater privilege. I don’t hate them. I just think that we all must acknowledge these differences and, as class warriors, fight the tendency to relinquish our power to those with greater access to theirs.

Women have come a great distance since acquiring the vote in 1920. Lesbians have made huge strides since Stonewall. But genuine equality is still a distant dream and ignoring this fact will not make it go away.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Consciousness, Drugs and Dying

Whether any trace of our human essence survives during and after dying process is, for science, uncharted territory. In some documented instances, the essence of consciousness continues on without the biological support of a living body. Severe physical damage throws the body into shock, so it seems logical that the same thing could happen to the conscious mind, triggering a physical reaction that causes it to take refuge elsewhere.

My partner, Deborah had an out-of body experience as a student in college. In her case, she woke up in her own bed, in the middle of the night with a stranger on top of her trying to strangle her. What happens next she describes as a scream so powerful it emanated from her mouth as a filament of light that went straight up to the ceiling of the room. That light contained the essence of her consciousness. From the ceiling of her bedroom, she watched the attack on her physical being with a sense of peace and detachment that would not have been possible had she remained present in her besieged body.

Deborah was not murdered and returned to her body at a point when she was able to communicate with and escape her attacker. In true instances of near-death experience, when the body is badly wounded or killed, some essence is perceived to proceed onward to a dimension most describe as one of boundless peace and connectedness.

Now I tend to believe that religion is not only the opiate of the people but the scourge of humankind. Still, I try keep an open mind especially when it comes to science, biology and physics. I don’t pretend to comprehend of the universe, but since all these people worldwide have had oddly similar experiences, that there might be something to this that science does not yet understand.

In the surgical profession, there have been numerous reports of people who have flat-lined on the operating table yet were able to recall conversations, music and exactly what transpired during the period when they were technically dead.

I have to admit a large part of the reason I remain open to the existence of other dimensions is the fact that I did a lot of hallucinogenic drugs as a young person. While tripping on various psychedelics, I witnessed the universe broken down to a molecular level where mathematical pattern and incredible geometric design prevailed.

In that vein, I just read an article, Five Amazing Things ScientistsHave Discovered About Psychedelics , posted a few days ago on Alternet. This piece notes that besides helping the dying let go of their fear of death, psychedelic drugs such as psilocybin actually suppress certain parts of our brains. It is this more limited capacity that opens up our brains to new information, not the other way around. It’s as though the filter breaks causing incredible hallucinogenic sensations to rush in.

Possibly, this is the state that autistic people and, assuredly cats, inhabit their entire lives.  The filter ruptures, the world rushes in. The mind continues without the body. The universe breaks down into connection and light.

It all sounds remarkably similar to brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s electrifying Ted Talk, “My Stroke of Insight,” in which she recreates her amazing sensory journey, conveying the intensity, beauty and transcendent serenity she experienced when a stroke shut down her brain functions one by one.

No one really knows happens when we die. A dying brain could produce many experiences, but can a dead one? These questions remain unanswered. By the time we are sure, it seems we are no longer able to pass on this information. We know only that the trajectory leading out of this life is one that each of us must follow. Rest assured, if I get there before you, and I can, I will send you a sign!

Friday, March 28, 2014

In Defense of Negativity

Sisyphus Couldn't Do It Either!
I’ve seen a lot of online posts and lately defaming a segment of the population blithely referred to as “negative people” Naturally, I’ve come to wonder what these folks have done to incur this disproportionate load of cultural wrath?

Doesn’t each individual have a right to a wide array of personal traits and characteristics?  What some people call negative, others simply consider realistic. Researchers have recently discovered that a healthy dose of cynicism in a turbulent, often intensely distressing world, just may be the most prudent, self-nurturing stance a person can take when it comes to enduring and fielding those “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

Dark-sided people have lower expectations of the world and, for that reason, are less often disappointed with their fate. Sunny-bunny types face continual disillusionment aside from being a real pain in the butt. At times, I may enjoy a chocolate-covered ├ęclair with gooey custard inside, but if I ate one for every meal, it would make me quite ill. However, due to the preponderance of happy posts, I have to assume that many people genuinely delight in continual sweetness, that perpetually bright-sided mind in all its soul-shattering glory.

Maybe I’m just paranoid about this because I’m Jewish. Jews have a long, hard-earned tradition of big portions of negativity with a heaping side of humor a la self-deprecation. It’s a survival tool as ancient and well-documented as the history of stand-up comedy.

All underdogs experience negative emotions. They are a natural response to institutionalized, omnipresent oppression. The word “negative” conjures up the word “edgy” which connotes walking a line close to the edge of acceptability, pushing the envelope of propriety. This is the domain of outliers, outsiders, a group of people who contribute the lion’s share of creative work to any given culture: people who doubt, who question, who refuse to sit back and smile. 

And meditate on this music fans: how would a room without a roof truly feel? Inadequate? Like a failure?

Now wipe that insipid grin off your face and tell me, once and for all, what’s so bad about a little correctly perceived and appropriately directed realism, er, negativity?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Lesbian Movement Comes of Age

Those of us now referred to as boomers share a common history. We cut our teeth in a tumultuous era of love and war, protest and upheaval. The freedom riders fighting and dying to fight racial segregation and restore voting rights paved the way. The outcry against the draft and the Vietnam War galvanized massive numbers of young people.

Then the Women’s Liberation Movement descended with a vengeance and split organizations such as Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) wide open. When women stopped taking notes and fetching coffee the patriarchal left began to crumble.
 
It was a time of relative prosperity. Drugs were widely available. The birth control pill had hit the market. Taboos were being exploded. Free love and sexual experimentation was everywhere. The rules of the old order were no longer applicable.

In 1970, at Ohio State University, I joined a consciousness-raising (CR) group. There was one lesbian among us when the group began. Two years later, when it ended, there was only one woman left who still considered herself straight.

It was as if a wall of shame and fear had fallen. All our wildest fantasies, sexual and otherwise, were suddenly okay. I made new friends in a group that called itself, Radicalesbians. These women were fearless. With proud names like Debbie Dyke and Lisa Lesbian and none of them looked scary or predatory like the old British “bulldaggers” in the movie, “The Killing of Sister George,”or suicidal like Martha in “The Children’s Hour.” Young and hip and angry about oppression, they looked a lot like me. Groups like the Lavender Menace and the Lesbian Avengers and became the persistent thorn in the side of the mainstream women’s movement, the specter of what heterosexual women feared most.

Today, we lesbians seem to be making grand leaps in LGBT civil rights. When folks claim it is all happening so fast, I want to smack them. Fast? The Stonewall riots were in 1969 so 45 years is not exactly the blink of an eye. But it’s relatively rapid when you consider the duration of slavery or how long it took women to get the vote.

Political change always feel geologic in its pace because we are sacrificing our very lives when we are denied full human status. Living to see some of the new dwellings rise over the foundations we laid is gratifying but no excuse to lay back and rest before the job is completed.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Former Classmates and Mortality

I carry so much baggage around with me that, if you could see it, I would look like a bag-lady with the biggest shopping cart ever. A sizable percentage of that baggage comes from the experiences of youth, those formative years when everything seemed daunting and overwhelming. Family is a large component of this weight but high school and junior high loom large in my legend.

That’s why I was caught off guard when I looked at a web page of my high school classmates from the class of ’69 and saw the large number of folks who have already died (about 50 out of around 650). While this percentage isn’t huge, it still seems like a lot for folks in their early sixties. I know it will grow larger with each passing year. That really hit home with concrete evidence of my own mortality.

I remember hearing about Kim’s death in the late seventies. She was found hanging in a jail cell tripping her brains out on acid. She had hung herself with her belt. Neil was killed in a car accident. But these recent deaths were from more natural causes. I googled them for their obits and found out a little about their lives as well as their deaths. Studious David had run a bookstore in Seattle before his number came up and sexy Sarah had worked for a lumber company for 40 years then finally retired and died the same year.
 
These facts are neither earth-shattering nor startling. In fact, of the other living classmates I found online some moved away and some stayed in Ohio, had gotten married, divorced, had kids or didn’t, were prominent or impossible to find. Some others, like me, had even come out as queer. 

The ways they died weren’t particularly noteworthy either. They include the ways all of us will probably go. Marcia died from breast cancer, Donna succumbed to complications of lupus and with Carol it was Crohn’s disease.

Then I realized the truth: the kids who made my life a living hell as well as those who made it worth living were simply people, totally blown out of rational proportion because of the pressures and lack of perspective that are part and parcel of youth.

None of these folks caused me to feel inferior or less than the person I truly was. Even my misguided, neglectful parents didn’t do that intentionally. I still can’t figure out exactly what it is about being young that can make some people mean and heartless. When I read about the bullying that still happens at that age, I don’t find more clarity.

But I can find greater compassion. We all do the best we can with the tools that are available to us at the time. Can I humanize and forgive those who were imperfect actors in this short, one-act play called life? At this point, I think so.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Living Apart Together: Another Option

Getting married didn’t change my life at all. My partner (please don’t call either of us “wife”) and I still live in different cities. My house is in Berkeley, hers is in Oakland. We talk by phone every day but spend only about three days a week together. We have separate and joint friends, separate bank accounts, separate and joint lives. And it’s not just a stage we are going through. Last year we celebrated our anniversary of fifteen years as a couple.

In Scandinavian countries my relationship with Deborah is called LAT, short for living apart together.  We consider ourselves really fortunate that we are financially able to do this. Deborah is still teaching and I am a retired librarian. We both have, or in my case had, civil service jobs with pensions and health benefits, as well as life-long work histories. It is definitely more expensive to maintain two individual residences than to live together. As we both age out of our working years, who knows what the future holds? But I can unequivocally say that, for the past fifteen years, having a relationship that includes a certain degree of separation been great.

Still, this past summer we tied the knot. Both of us are sixty-something so we wanted the legal protection that marriage brings. In this way each of us are protected in case of death or serious injury. Her family is predatory, mine mostly non-existent. This year we will fill out our first married but filing individually tax return, so we’ll see more concretely what our new financial relationship entails.

The city of Oakland forced us to pay, not only 100 dollars for the marriage application, but around 80 dollars more for a ridiculous ceremony with some judge who took the whole thing far more seriously than we did. We had trouble trying to keep from cracking up with all that somber sanctity of marriage crap. And we needed witnesses so we brought along two friends, a heterosexual old hippie couple who have the same ambivalent relationship the m-word that we do. It was a contrived formality containing a dose of pathos and ridiculousness in equal measure.

It’s not that Deborah and I don’t love each other, it’s just that queer marriage, like gays in the military, is not a struggle to which either of us have hitched our proverbial wagon. As folks who want to transform society, including marriage, trumpeting its virtues is not the place I want to begin. And both Deborah and I are unimpressed by consumerist occasions that turn out to be meaningless, gift-grabbing Hallmark moments.

The marriage industry in this country is massive with tremendous financial power and influence. It is part of the reason that the sustained drive for marriage equality is finally meeting with some success. Little girls are brainwashed from birth that the most wonderful day of their lives will be their wedding day. Working-class people who are barely keeping their heads above water in this economy are persuaded to call out all the stops and spend money they don’t have for a big blowout wedding. 

So how does living apart together work for us? For one thing, we don’t have to have the same cleanliness style or personal habits. I am free to be disorganized but clean, and Deborah is free to be a total neat freak. We have a more urban home, mine, and a more suburban option. When we go to events together, we can stay at the closest place. We can stay together when friends come in from out of town and give them the privacy of their own place. We can entertain at either house or have private meetings without disturbing the other but the main advantage is, we can take breaks from each other when we need to and enjoy each other’s company only when we choose.
           
There is also a level of solitude that allows each of us to pursue our creative interests. I am a writer. Deborah is a photographer, collagist and ceramicist. Having separate spaces helps us each get more accomplished in our chosen work lives.

We share one cat, Luna, who lives with Deborah. That way, when we travel during the summer, we only need house sitters for one place. I love the access to cat energy as well as the freedom to leave my house for long periods of time without having to worry about a pet. During our various travels, and teachers with summers off love to travel, we do inhabit the same space and it has always gone well.

Of course living apart together has a down side. When the weather is bad it takes more effort to visit. Coming home alone from sustained time together on trips can be disorienting. But the added expense is the biggest drawback.

Friends used to continually inquire when we’d be taking that famous lesbian U-Haul trip. Today, for the most part, they have given up that line of questioning. Many couples we know, even ones who live together, no longer have one single answer for that eternal question, what did you do today?

So, I am technically married now. It hasn’t changed my life at all save for the fact that if I get seriously ill or die suddenly, my non-traditional partner who is now my spouse, will have the legal right to make decisions or to inherit my house. That gives me a sense of security. We are also about to complete our first tax return together: married filing separately.

But let’s face reality. No matter how we delude ourselves with spouses, children and flowery promises of love that lasts forever each one of us is traveling through this world alone. Still, it can be quite nice to have company on the journey. And only the two individuals that comprise a couple can decide the form that joining will take. I’m only sure that commitment is something that must be done by choice not by contract.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Friends and Cohorts: Small Talk and Big


According to the Washington Post, the Inuit people have approximately 50 words for snow and the Sami people who live in Northern Scandinavia and Russia have over 1,000 words for reindeer. These language differences expose the relative importance of snow and reindeer in the lives of the speakers. Unfortunately, the English speaking world has a dearth of words for friendly relationships that are neither romantic nor sexual.

We are limited to the words acquaintance and friend. Friend implies a whole range of intimacy from catching a movie together, to the kind of genuine soul mate that can help make the world a less lonely, unforgiving place. I feel compelled to add another category, the label of cohort. Cohorts are important but not as intimate as friends. They are folks we have genuine connections with, often meeting in places like political organizations, classes or support groups, but they fall on a different level of intimacy than friends. You might call a cohort to help process an issue but you probably wouldn’t call her if you just found out really terrible or very wonderful personal news.

Cohorts have always been important in my life, but they are not the cogs it turns on. Those cogs are friends. Friend is a word that gets thrown around recklessly in our society. In the span of a lifetime, I have had few friends at any given moment but have cycled through many of them over periods of time. When paths diverge and interests shift many times friends are left behind, leaving deep memory traces and inevitable feelings of regret and nostalgia. Friends are precious. Cohorts are valuable. Acquaintances are nice. Folks who don’t care one way or another are numerous and enemies, well, I’m not even going to go there right now.

The division between cohorts and friends is often one of small talk versus big talk. Small talk is just filler in life, like popcorn it can be fun to consume but lacking in nutritional value. This fiber aids personality digestion, but is completely devoid of in protein. An acquired skill and a staple at larger parties and gatherings, it is often goes hand in hand with the word mingle.

Big talk goes beyond simple observation into connection. It reflects back into personal experience. Big talk can cause people at parties who are looking for more superficial interaction to recoil, make polite excuses and walk away. The new online initials for big talk can be TMI (too much information). To some, it is the exclusive domain of lovers and college students, a tacky tendency left behind in youth. But to weirdos like me it is the first step to making friends.

So, some folks find probing parlance threatening or just mildly irritating. Others find it interesting and ingratiating. I guess it all just depends on the perspective of the speaker and whether she wishes to become your acquaintance, cohort or friend.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Do Women Undermine Each Other?

I have been an ardent feminist since I first read Simone DeBeauvoir’s, “The Second Sex” around 1966. So, it took me many years of being a low-level lackey in the capitalist pecking order to come to the contradictory realization that male bosses tend to be easier to work under than female ones.

This makes sense only in the illogical world of exploitation. Yes, it is a hoop we have all grown accustomed to jumping through and by hoop I mean Heritage of Oppression. As Bob Marley sang: “they take the chains off your body and put the chains on your mind,”Clearly once our minds are conquered, the rulers no longer need actual chains.

Women as bosses are usually harder to work for, especially for other women. They tend feel less secure in positions of power to begin with, so, when they get there, they exert more of a need to prove themselves. Being hard-nosed and to-the-letter strict is a natural outgrowth of this attitude.

I have experienced this with women physicians who have been to say, modifying a prescription slightly to make it more affordable and cost effective, while the male doctors I have gone to don’t even blink at suggestions like this. Of course, men are subjected to a lot less personal scrutiny and are inclined to possess a indefatigable sense of entitlement.

As women we have survived by learning to read the small print of other people’s psychology. Because marriage was the goal for our gender for so many years, we learned, Darwin style, to master the art of passive-aggressive manipulation. While your average heterosexual man, may be a bit thick and a bit of a buffoon, there is a what you see is what you get quality to him that allows, for example, male lawyers to vehemently argue two opposing sides of a legal case in a courtroom and then go to the gym and play racket ball together as though it were the most natural thing in the world. For women with conflicting views, it is more likely that they would dismiss each other coolly when passing in the hall, than to even consider going out for a drink together.

The other huge problem is that everyone is raised to think less of women so both women and men prefer men. Just as every person is socialized to prefer straight folks, and all races conditioned to prefer white people, women consciously or unconsciously assign more status, more credibility to men even when they don’t particularly like them. Female bosses are inclined to be harder on women employees, often subjecting them to a different standard or infantilizing them with micromanagement pettiness that they are embarrassed to apply to males

Sometimes simply the potential friendship model just gets in the way. When I worked at the library, I had a boss who was a part of several communities of which I was also a member. We had been equals in the lesbian community but when she was appointed to head the Gay and Lesbian center at the library, all traces of our human connection vanished.

Of course my boss had to prove herself. And when it comes to love, war or livelihood, fear is firmly in place. Yes, we have to humanize the way we live and it must begin in the family and move to the workplace, an environment in which we spend so many hours of our lives. 

We are not all that far from the world of the 1950s in which I was raised. It was a place where women were sexualized and our opportunities for employment were severely circumscribed. The legacy of our history persists in spite of our best efforts to change it.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Creative Work Versus Personal Life

Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris
If filmakers, writers, musicians or visual artists are jerks can we still respect their work? It’s a question that has come up recently on Facebook about Woody Allen’s history of sexual abuse, but it could apply to anyone.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that tomorrow your favorite lesbian writer commits a cold-blooded murder. Or your favorite straight male playwright molests his seven year old daughter. Should these folks face the consequences of their actions and go to jail? Of course they should. Do these actions make all their creative work null and void as though it never existed? My answer happens to be a resounding no!

I don’t need to like and admire the way a person conducts his or her personal life to appreciate their work. I condemn child molestation. I abhor murder but I can still respect a  creative end product that transcends an individual's personal failures, even criminal ones. It doesn't mean that I am fine with anti-social behavior. If Adam Lanza, the Newtown Connecticut mass murderer had written a beautiful poem before shooting 20 schoolchildren, would it still be a thing of beauty afterwards?

I used to idolize Louise Erdrich and Michael Dorris as the ideal couple of heterosexual writers. I loved Erdrich’s “Tracks” and “The Beet Queen.” I found myself particularly moved by Dorris’ book, “A Yellow Raft in Blue Water.” To me he did an amazing job of taking on the voice of a woman as well as incorporating the struggles of Native women into his narrative.

When Dorris was accused of molesting his three daughters (one adopted and two biological) I thought that was a horrific thing that crossed the line of acceptable behavior.

But I still will continue to admire his writing.