Sunday, January 30, 2005

Den of iniquity

I always knew those dolls were a bad influence. Posted by Hello

Truly, they just ended up like this on the play table. No one posed them, at least not on purpose. It's weird.

Time for Sugartime

This nonsense really steams me. To be honest, I don't even like to read about it; it just makes me frustrated at the stupidity of the leaders in this country in which I live and pay taxes and vote and raise my child. I know it's just a TV show, but still.

Lots of other people have been covering the Great Buster Sugartime Controversy in their blogs, with more eloquence than I can muster. All I can say is: Go read their posts, and then, if you're inclined, write scathing e-mails to PBS and the Department of Education.

My own contribution to this brouhaha? The suggestion that you also shoot a quick e-mail to your local PBS station, as soon as possible. Write and tell them that you value diversity of all kinds in the programming your children or your community's children watch, and urge them to air the "Sugartime!" episode of "Postcards from Buster." I know that the Seattle PBS station is reviewing phone and e-mail messages before deciding whether they will air the episode.

Here's the e-mail I sent to our local station, KCTS, earlier today. It's far from the most eloquent thing I've ever written, but I pounded it out in 10 minutes, rather than doing what I usually do, which is to think I should write something perfect and then write nothing. I challenge everyone to do better than I did--or just to do what I did and write something quick and unpolished--and post your effort in comments below after you send it.

I urge KCTS to fulfil its mission of providing relevant and educational programming by airing the upcoming "Sugartime!" episode of "Postcards from Buster," despite Margaret Spellings' statements in the press and the capitulation of national PBS.

As a Jewish lesbian parent, I want my daughter's television viewing to help expand her world, not narrow it; I want her to learn about many different ways of living in the world, not just ours. Thousands of other Seattle-area parents--whether gay or straight, Jewish, Christian or Muslim--want the same for their children.

As the only public television station in the Seattle area, KCTS has an obligation to all families, not just the Christian right wing. Please fulfil that obligation by airing "Sugartime."

Now, go! Write!

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Bourgeois Blues

Two kindergarten tours in the past week. I'm beat.

This morning we saw the school that seems to be getting all the buzz this year. It is hot, hot, hot, and I can see why. Innnovative programs, terrific kid work displayed in the hallways, lots of hands-on group work in every classroom we saw, small class sizes, lots of fun before-and-after-school programs, a great library. Newly-renovated building. And a smart, charismatic principal who's retiring next year.

The school's a mile or two away from us, in an old Scandinavian neighborhood that's recently been overrun by young professionals with young kids. There were easily fifty parents there, maybe more. All with kids who might be in Mermaid Girl's class. All hyperventilating at the unpredictabilities of school choice and the stress of the recent announcement that the city school system has a several-million-dollar budget shortfall and will probably be closing some schools starting the year after next. But who knows which schools? At every school we visit, the PTA people swear that theirs will not be one of them.

My favorite moment today, a classic of Seattle Weirdness: The PTA president, very noticeably the only Person of Color in the room aside from the principal, at the wrap-up of the tour, running through some of the questions she'd heard over the course of the morning. Math program, check. Anti-bullying policies, check. And--"Someone wanted to know, how many biracial students there are?" She didn't miss a beat. "Well, this is the neighborhood we're in. It's a mostly white neighborhood, and there's not much we can do about it," she apologized. "I mean, yeah, there's a few of us in this sea of white faces, and that's just the way it is." Uncomfortable laughter from the crowd.

"She's Canadian," said the principal, a big Black guy, apparently by way of explanation of the PTA president’s bluntness. (Oh, those famously blunt Canadians…)

PTA Woman forged bravely on: "But we do try to... um..."

"Celebrate diversity!" the principal put in.

"Oh, right." She brightened. "We do. We really do celebrate diversity! And there are some adopted Chinese kids!"

It was funny, but it was bizarre. Okay, I take their point: the school administrators and PTA can't help the neighborhood the school is in, can't help that Seattle is an extremely racially segregated city, can't bring back the cross-town desegregative [is that a word?] busing system that was dismantled several years ago. But if all these parents (including us) really valued racial and cultural diversity so much, wouldn’t we have bought houses in the South End, where there are lots of African-Americans and East African and Asian immigrants and poor people?

The white, middle-class parents I know who live in the more racially-and economically-mixed neighborhood, in the middle of the city, are all freaking out that their kid might get sent to the Bad School. On our side of town, our Reference Area School (not the one we saw today) is considered the Bad School, and it’s not so bad, and I’m glad it’s not.

Is it hypocritical to complain, then, about the whiteness of everything up here? Who knows? I just want this whole decision process to be over, so we know where Mermaid Girl will be going to school next year and can make plans. I mean, I'm glad we have choices, but if they're not going to integrate I'd almost rather they just have neighborhood schools and be done with it.

Where are the Protests of Yesteryear? And why can't we remember them properly?

An update to/expansion of this post, being in the e-mail epistiolary form:

From: elswhere
Subject: Important! Urgent!


From: Angela
To: elswhere
Subject: Re. Important! Urgent!

You were there! You described the events leading up to it--JS studying Greek--remember that we were going to trap all the trustees in the meetingroom and demand that they hear from us, but they climbed out the windows instead, and we were too nice to leave only the wheel-chair-bound trustees to hear our demands so we let them out too?

From: elswhere
To: Angela
Subject: Re. Re. Important! Urgent!

Really??? I have this vague memory of them all walking past us as we stood resolutely with our backs to them. They climbed out the window? How nimble of them!

From: Angela
To: elswhere
Subject: Re. Re. Re. Important! Urgent!

Wow, I can't believe that I've forgotten an entire attempt to take over [Admin bldg.] but I remember their climbing out the window as the greatest humiliation of my activist career, and you've forgotten it. How could this be????

From: elswhere
To: Angela
Subject: Re. Re. Re. Re. Important! Urgent!

Can I blog this? Pretty please?

Monday, January 24, 2005

But wait, there's still more!

If you click now, you get this fabulous meme! Not available in stores!

RedHeadDread tagged me and I am it! Here goes:

1. Total amount of music files on your computer:
On this computer? The one I'm writing on? None. I'm not even sure if it lets me download. RW's computer does, but there's not much music on there either. We are old-fashioned girls and listen to music via CD, cassette, and occasionally vinyl. (RW works at an arts college, though, and is a sound designer and editor, so between home and work she can dub music from any medium to just about any other, including things I don't understand like 4-track and MIDI.)

I do listen to This American Life via their website on this computer, though. Does that count? *Sigh* Thought not.

2. The last CD you bought was:

I bought RW The Best of Nina Simone for Jul. And Skaterboy just gave us KD Lang's Hymns of the 49th Parallel, I think in hopes of luring us up to Canada. But I can't remember the last time I bought a CD for myself. I think it was Apology by Uncle Bonsai. But that was over two years ago, so it can't be right.

3. What is the song you last listened to before reading this message?

The very last song I listened to was "Pay Me My Money Down," which tops Mermaid Girl's play-over-and-over hit parade at the moment. It's on her current bedtime CD, Night Time! by Dan Zanes. She grabbed my arm and made me stay after I tucked her in so I could re-start it in case it skipped, which it sometimes does because she's listened to it so much. I like it too.

But that's before writing this message, not reading it. I read it at lunch time, so I think the last song I'd listened to then was "Nowhere Man" from the Beatles Red Album. It was in the CD player in the car-- another Mermaid Girl request (the album, not that song in particular).

4. Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.

This is hard-- my whole life, or big chunks of it, are one big musical soundtrack. I'll just write down 5 that come to mind:

1--"The Christians and the Pagans" by Dar Williams reminds me of a really nice dinner I had with some relatives this past December. Actually I've been listening to the whole Mortal City CD in the car this fall and winter, almost obsessively. It's a very wintery album, plus, who can resist a CD that contains not one but two songs about city planning?

2--"Morning Morgantown" by Joni Mitchell. This was the first song I ever sang to Mermaid Girl, right after she was born. It always makes me choke up. (Well, it did before I sang it twenty zillion times.) Come to think of it, I could answer this question four or five times over with various Joni Mitchell songs and the particular moments or events I flash on when I hear them. I'm a folkie girl that way.

3--"All the Way from America," by Joan Armatrading always takes me back to the thrill of discovering her at the A-school when I was 16, and also of my lovelorn early 20's.

4--"[Everyone's Your Friend in] New York City." It's by Cub but the They Might Be Giants recording is what I own and listen to over and over and that Mermaid Girl and I dance around to in the kitchen.

5--"Tango Till They're Sore" by Tom Waits. I hardly ever listen to my one Tom Waits cassette, but when I am raw and miserable with grief or fury or whatever, his whiskey voice is the one I want to hear.

Can I do this one again? so I can put in some show tunes? And Billy Joel? (sad, but true.) And ballads and stuff?

5. Who are you going to pass this stick to? (3 persons) and why?

Ohh... this is tough. Okay. I pick Anna, because so much of our taste is eerily similar, I'm curious to see how far it extends and where it diverges. And Jo because she is such the writer and artist, I want to know what the aural part of her imagination is like. And Shannon because she once asked for suggestions for posting topics, so she might like this one.

But, like RHD, I'd like to tag everyone reading this. Because my nosiness knows no bounds. Leave a comment and let me know, and I'll come comment on your list.

Tag! You're it!

More fun things found on the Internet

I ran across this year-old post while nosing around my statcounter referrals and am citing it here partly so that I can always find it again if I'm ever feeling too sad.

That makes twice in one day that the California Contingent has caused me to laugh so hard I almost hurt myself.

Maybe it's all the pies you folks keep hurling at each other.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Warning to All Kids of Bloggers

...including my own kid, I guess.

If your mom has a blog, be prepared for these to end up on the Internet for all to see.

I am very touched that my mom kept them for all these years (after retrieving them from the Relevant Flying Personage, that is). On the other hand... ack!

Thursday, January 20, 2005

How Activism Taught Me the Zen of Failure

I'm not a leader, i'm not a left-wing rhetoric mobilizing force of one,
But there was a time way back, many years ago in college, don't laugh,
But I thought I was a radical.
--Dar Williams, "The Pointless, Yet Poignant, Crisis of a Co-Ed"

Like a zillion other people who went to college in the late 1980's, I was an anti-apartheid activist, trying to pressure the Board of Directors at my college to divest the college's financial holdings from companies that did business with South Africa. It was heady and exciting: we held demonstrations, wrote letters, and stayed up late in countless meetings, planning strategy. We even wrote our own protest songs; I remember one sung to the tune of "Down by the Riverside" that went, in part, "We won't rest till we divest/Out of South Africa[3X]/We ain't paying for hate no more." You get the picture.

I was completely caught up in it, fired with the feeling that this was actually important,that we were part of a huge international movement trying to do something that really mattered. Also, frankly, (and this seems to be a continuing theme of this blog) I was thrilled to be part of what was definitely the Cool Group to Be In. The two leaders of our campus movement were seniors who had been to the International Women's Conference in South Africa the year before on a college grant; they were smart, savvy, and totally intimidating, and could be quite cutting and sarcastic. I was only a sophomore, on the outer edge of the inner circle: not one of the leaders, but one of the people who went to all the meetings and helped draft the protest letters and put up the leaflets. I really, really wanted to change the world and end apartheid. I also really wanted the Cool Kids to like me.

I remember only snippets of the whole protest movement; I think most of it took place over the course of one semester. There was the silent vigil outside the Board meeting; when the rumor went out that they'd decided not to divest, we agreed to stand silently with our backs to them when they came out of the meeting. The only problem was, we didn't know when the meeting was going to end, so we had to stand with our backs to the door for a looooong time. I was standing facing a window ledge, next to a junior nicknamed Jane Eyre. She'd brought her flash cards for Greek class, and was drilling through them while we waited in silence. Ancient Greek words in green marker, shuffled and reshuffled on the white windowsill that long afternoon as the Board met.

It was decided that we needed to do a Big Action. We made fliers announcing a campus-wide action on a particular date, but keeping the actual event and venue secret until the day of the action. Because we were going to... oh, guess. Go on, guess!

I bet you didn't guess that we were going to take over the Administration Building, did you? Because that's so wild and unpredictable, and no one else ever does it when they have a big college-campus protest.

Well, we thought it was a big secret, anyway. Our meetings were extremely hush-hush. We planned events for the day: There was going to be a teach-in, and we would get volunteers to make symbolic coffins of people who had died under the Apartheid regime and put them out on the green, and... oh, I don't remember what else, but there was lots. And we would BRING THE COLLEGE TO ITS KNEES!

The group brought in professional activists from Philadelphia to do a workshop in protest-organization and civil disobedience. The main thing I absorbed was that we should never lie or try to weasel out of anything when confronted by authority: it was imperative that we stand up for our principles, that we stick to what would now be called our talking points. That sounded a little scary-- I was no good at standing up to authority-- but on the other hand, I was doing everything in a pack of other students, so chances were I would never have to deal with that sort of thing on my own.

The night before the takeover I packed a backpack with necessities: flashlight, leaflets, masking tape, pens. I woke up in the dark early morning, totally wired. We were supposed to converge on the Administration Building at 7 AM, but I was so eager not to be late that I got there at 6:45.
It was still dark, and completely quiet. I stood outside the building and thought, well, maybe they're inside already. I'd better go in and see.

This may not be true any more, but at that time the public buildings at this small liberal arts college were rarely locked, even at night. Students roamed around at all hours like we owned the place. One night the year before, feeling restless, I had strolled over to the cathedral-like Great Hall at 2 AM to study, and flipped on the lights so I could do my homework. It hadn't for a moment crossed my mind that I was lighting up half the campus out of the row of huge, three-story-high windows so I was very surprised when a security person showed up fifteen minutes later to find out what was up.

So it didn't even occur to me that the Administration Building might be locked that early morning. And indeed, it wasn't. I opened the door, as I'd done so many times before to go to classes. This building wasn't huge or intimidating; it was one of the oldest buildings on campus, but small, with a breezy, informal feeling. It always felt to me like a summer-camp office. The first floor was all classrooms; the administrative offices were on the second floor, so I wasn't that surprised that none of my comrades were immediately audible inside.

There was someone there, though: a security guard, with a flashlight. She glared at me and asked, "Now, what are you doing here?"

I panicked. My first impulse was to apologize and flee, but how could I? We were taking over the building, and here I was, in the building! I couldn't leave! She might call other security people and barricade it and not let anyone else in, and then our whole day would be blown! The entire enterprise rested on my shoulders!

I hesitated. I stammered. "I...I..." what could I say? What if I told the truth and she kicked me out? All that civil disobedience stuff, that was supposed to work if you were in a group! But what should one lone, dorky protester do?

"I...I think I left a pen in the classroom."

She didn't quite snort, but it was close. "Okay, then," she said. "Go get it." She followed me into the classroom, where I performed a frenzied, bogus search for the imaginary pen, all the while wishing I could sink into the floor because I had just lied! We weren't supposed to lie! And the security guard was African-American! What kind of twisted activism was this, lying to a Black person in the name of anti-racism? What the hell was I doing? Now I'd just compromised the integrity of the entire action! And maybe the anti-Apartheid movement! Plus, now everyone would be mad at me!

"Um... I didn't lose a pen," I admitted after I'd skittered past all the tables.

"Well, what are you doing here, then?"

And I said, in the smallest, meekest mumble imaginable, "I'm here to take over the building."

She didn't look surprised. "I knew that," she said. "You didn't have to lie. What did you lie to me for?"

"I know," I said. "I'm sorry."

It was just about then that the others walked in, loud with talk and surety and purpose. They ignored the security guard, who made no effort to stop them--in retrospect she'd probably been briefed to just let us do our thing, which is its own ugly irony. They brushed off my babbled apologies, and put me to work upstairs leading the coffin-making project.

And that was where my friend Em found me, a few hours later. Em was a senior; the year before, she'd been the unofficial freshman advisor for me and my friends, and she still looked out for us. I was huddled in the corner of the room. Half a dozen volunteers were taping cardboard coffins together and writing slogans on them. A Poly-Sci professor was leading a teach-in in the hallway. Everywhere students milled around, reading leaflets, doing homework, signing petitions. The day was shaping up to be a huge success.

"Els, this is great!" Em cried. "You guys really did it! Congratulations!"

"No, it wasn't me, I almost blew it, I'm a terrible activist!" I wailed, and spilled the whole story of the early morning.

Em shrugged. "So, next time you take over a building, you'll know better," she said in a lilting singsong, channelling an imaginary common-sense Jewish mother.

I blinked. I breathed. Oh! Next time! I know it sounds trite, but in all my nineteen years it had never occurred to me that I could learn from failure, that anything useful could come from a massive fuck-up. I stood up and hugged her and started working on the coffins.

I don't fool myself that my college escapade had any real impact on the end of apartheid, though maybe, maybe it helped a little. Like a lot of activism, it was flawed--what about that security guard? And the Housekeeping staff who had to clean up after our candlelight protests? We agonized about that even then, but kept doing what we were doing anyway, trying to pick up after ourselves.

Also like a lot of activism it changed the participants as well as the intended beneficiaries. Several of those anti-apartheid students went on to become professional or part-time activists in their post-college life, and have made a real difference in people's lives, and I'm proud that I knew them when.

I didn't become a professional radical or anything like it. I didn't protest the inauguration; I haven't done anything like that in a long time. But like Dar Williams, I am older now and know the rise and gradual fall of a daily victory: Bush is here today, but our day will come, and I'll do my part to see that it does, however small and bourgeois that part might be right now.

And Em was right: if I ever take over a building again--and who knows, I might--I'll know just what to do.

Thanks to my non-blogging college friend Alice for reminding me of this story.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Such a Refined Child

My turn to do bedtime tonight. Mermaid Girl decided the fun thing would be to LICK me, or at least threaten to, when I tried to tuck her in.

Me: No, no, no, don't lick me!
Her: Yes, I'm going to lick you! *sticks tongue out threateningly*
Me: No, no, licking is for puppies!
Her: I'm a puppy! Arf! Arf! Arf! *pants and lolls tongue in a bright-eyed puppyish way*

[break while I refill her glass of water]

Her: Can I give you a smooch on the nose?
Me: Um...
Her: *smick* [giving me a cute little peck on the nose]
Me: Oh!
Her: Did you think I was going to lick you? Well, I didn't!
Me: No, it was a nice kiss on the nose.
Her: A little bit of slobber tried to come out, but I stopped it.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Who's Your Daddy?

Travel tip of the day: everyone will be much happier in the car if you teach your kid to ask "Where are we?" instead of "Are we there yet?" Since "where are we?" is a question that can actually be answered ("We're in Mount Vernon...we're near the border...we're stuck in traffic..") and the only answer to "Are we there yet?" is "No! No! NOOOOO! If we were there, would we still be driving???"

It's one adventure after another around here these days. We zipped up to Vancouver yesterday and back this evening, and we're all beat. Mermaid Girl got to see her (second) cousin B., who gleefully showed her all his new cars and trucks and lego creations, and also her beloved Uncle Skaterboy, who always makes her completely giddy. For him, she pulls out all the stops, getting cuter and cuter and goofier and goofier until she collapses from sheer exhaustion.

Uncle Skaterboy is no relation to Cousin B. Actually, he's not even Mermaid Girl's uncle-- he's her bio-dad, and one of the Renaissance Woman's oldest friends. I've noticed most people use the term "donor," but we started with "bio-dad" when MG was a wee thing; it seems to describe their relationship better. And Mermaid Girl likes it; we've overheard her, when some other kid comments that MG doesn't have a dad, retorting, "I have a bio-dad." It seems to work for her.

In the beginning, the very very beginning, when Mermaid Girl was but a fetus, we refused to answer That Question. And people asked! You'd be surprised how many people we didn't even know that well asked, or hinted. Or maybe you wouldn't. We came up with stock answers. My favorite was, "Well, it's not David Crosby." Renaissance Woman preferred to counter the query "Where'd you get that baby?" with a wide-eyed, "Heaven."

The second-parent adoption went through when Mermaid Girl was six weeks old, and after that we started to relax a little. Not that we'd ever worried that he, or his parents, would rush in with a custody claim, but somehow being legally declared a family took some of the pressure off. After a few months we told Skaterboy he could tell his parents. And were they ever thrilled. They have a few grandchildren, but they never thought they'd get one out of Skaterboy (Actually, back when he and RW were in high school, his mom used to worry that Skaterboy was going to get RW knocked up...I guess she was right after all).

We also told our parents, who had all guessed already, not being complete idiots. But we still had the foolish idea that we weren't going to tell Mermaid Girl until she was older, three or so. I think we had this vision of sitting her down and having A Little Talk with her, wherein we would unveil the secrets of her genetic heritage, and she would gape in silent amazement, never having thought to wonder about it before.

Hah! Is all I can say. What on earth did we think we were going to do until then? Punt? Because Mermaid Girl has always been hyper-aware of family and social structures, including but not limited to her own family. And as she used to say proudly about herself, "No miss trick."

And the resemblances between Skaterboy and Mermaid Girl were obvious right from the start. For one thing? The guy never sleeps. He's the only person I know who's a morning person and a night person. When Mermaid Girl was a tiny baby, it became apparent that the truism about newborns dropping off anywhere they need to was just not true for her: the girl hated to miss a party, and would force herself to stay up if there was a chance of anything exciting going on, even at the cost of terrible meltdowns later. After a few weeks of this, RW called Skaterboy and said "This is all your fault!" We'd talked about his health history but had forgotten about his sleep history. Also, he's a dancer, and Mermaid Girl showed early gymnastic ability, which she certainly didn't get from RW or from any environmental factors, both of us being complete slugs.

So one day when Mermaid Girl was about a year old and not really talking yet, she and RW were hanging out, nursing, and Mermaid Girl was flailing her legs around and hooking her feet over her shoulders and doing all this baby-gymnast stuff that she was wont to do. RW was used to talking to Mermaid Girl as if she couldn't really understand anything (a mistake, as will soon be apparent), and murmured something like, "Well, it's a good thing you got your athletic ability from your daddy and not from me."

Mermaid Girl stopped nursing, stared at RW, and said, "Dada?!?!"

"Uhhhh, yes," said RW, totally busted. "Uncle Skaterboy is your daddy. Sort of. Yup. Uh-huh."

We filled in the details a little later, after she could talk more and after we got a book from the library about all kinds of families (with pages about the nuclear family, the big extended farm family, the single-mom family, the single-dad family, the family where the dad's in jail, the adoptive family, etc. etc.).

We talked about how there are the parents you are born from, and the parents who take care of you, and sometimes those are different people, and they're special to their kid in different ways. And how even though Uncle Skaterboy didn't want to be a parent who took care of a kid all the time, he helped Mama to make Mermaid Girl, because she and I wanted to have a child together, and then after she was born I adopted her and now she had a mommy and a mama. "So, Uncle Skaterboy used to be my dad, but now he isn't?" she asked, at two or so; not sad, just working it out.

Sort of, we said.

Once, before library story time, I was telling the friendly librarian that Mermaid Girl had a mommy and a mama. "And an Uncle Skaterboy!" she chimed in proudly. The librarian twinkled at the cuteness of the child with the favorite uncle, and I silently gave thanks for the innocuous title "Uncle." Around here it's not unheard-of for a kid to have two moms, but two parents--not three, or two-and-a-half-- is still the norm, and anything else takes more explaining than I had the energy for that day.

She went through a period for a while where she used to ask RW to draw pictures of herself, RW, and Uncle Skaterboy and say that was her family. Sometimes, when pressed, she would put me (and Uncle Skaterboy's partner) in the corners. Once she told us the sad story about how she and Mama would go live with Uncle Skaterboy, and I would be alone in the house, calling "Everyone come have dinner now!" and no one would come, I'd just be alone with the food.

I just couldn't take it personally, because it had nothing to do with our actual daily life, with brushing teeth and picking up toys and reading stories and walking to the park. It was her working out the structure of things. And I knew that while Uncle Skaterboy loved (and loves) Mermaid Girl, loves having her picture on his fridge and showing her off to his friends in the West End and buying her clothes and teaching her to skate, he doesn't want to be a full-time or even a part-time parent. And I do.

These days, Mermaid Girl can reel off the whole story, for us or anyone else she feels like telling: the speck Uncle Skaterboy gave Mama; the adoption; etc. etc. She loves to go up to Vancouver to see him, partly because he's so glamorous and energetic and kid-friendly, and partly because she knows he's so special to her. And while she sometimes seems a little sad that Uncle Skaterboy isn't her "real" day-to-day dad, we've heard much more flack about our stubborn refusal to provide her with a little sibling (which is a story for another time).

Still, even though I've regained center-stage in her family pictures, Uncle Skaterboy has a unique place in her life. And I'm grateful to him, not only for making her existence possible, but for making that special place for her, too. They are lucky to have each other; I've seen how happy she makes him, and as she gets older, he's going to be able to help her in ways that RW and I can't. Her heart is big enough, and our family is big enough, to fit all of us.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Now I admit that I'm going under

For months, I've been reading about bloggers getting together in person and wondering if I'd ever meet someone whose blog I read (besides my mom, I mean). I've even dreamed about meeting other bloggers.

And tonight, while RW kindly stayed home with Mermaid Girl, I went out to meet these folks, who live across the bridge from me. And these folks, who are in town for the weekend. And this folk and her brave non-blogging husband. And a picture of an absent blogger. And boy, was it fun.

I don't know how well this comes across in the blog, but I am not your basic party girl. I can tell a good story with close friends, and I perform in front of classes of kids all the time, but with adults I don't know...well, I'm pretty shy. And nerdy. So meeting a whole bunch of people in person for the first time-- people who would probably be writing about the event (for readerships substantially larger than mine)-- was a little unnerving. (In fact, I'm kind of self-conscious as I write this, knowing that by now they're probably back at the hotel and are typing their own versions as fast as they can.)

But apparently curiosity trumps shyness, because not only did I meet them all for pizza, I stayed for the karaoke portion of the evening.

Yes, Karaoke. A word to strike fear into the hearts of shy persons everywhere. But not for me, not any longer.

I'll let the others tell you about their own experiences in the hot seat, except to say that seeing them sing was an experience I'll treasure forever. (Who knew that Jay knew all the lyrics to "One Week," otherwise known as "That Barenaked Ladies rap song with the Chinese Chicken in it"?)

But as for know that scene in "Fame" where the sweet shy good girl goes to Rocky Horror for the first time, and her friends pull her up front to do the Time Warp, and before she knows it she's dancing and shaking it and laughing in front of a whole crowd of people? It was like that.

It helped that I had a small drink (I'm a teaspoon drunk). And it helped that I picked a song I love. But it helped even more that I was with the most supportive, most ass-kickingly spirited karaoke companions imaginable. (Baring their souls online on a regular basis might have had something to do with that.)

You guys? And anyone else reading this who comes up this way? I'm up for karaoke again any time.

Let's give 'em something to blog about.

P.S. Looking at this a few days later, I can see that the title is pretty obscure. It was very late when I first posted it, and I meant it to be a reference to this song, which seemed to perfectly capture my feelings about (did I mention it was very late? And that I'd been drinking not too long earlier?) the blogosphere: thinking about it every day, dreaming about it every night...oh, no, and here it is past my bedtime once again. Goodnight!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A Scary Story

I started out trying to get this true story down to 55 words for Kate's contest, so it's shorter than my usual rambling style (though still not short enough to qualify). It is a true tale, though maybe not worthy of socks.


Alternative high school, oasis for teenage outcasts, heaven for me. For once to be in the center, not the margins!

One day—it was my idea—a few of us agreed: every time someone walks into the lounge, we’ll laugh on cue and not say why.

It was between classes; people kept wandering in. And hearing us laugh, and looking…anxious. Hunted. One after another, they glanced at our little gang, tensed up and moved as far away from us as possible.

We stopped after a few minutes, eyes shifting uncomfortably at each other. Because we knew. We’d all been on that side of the mirror. It was dangerous, scarily fun in an icky way, to make it happen to someone else, turn our laughter against them.

For five minutes, we turned into the people we’d hated and feared for years. And it was so, so easy.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Canadian Conspiracy--Updated with Even More Canadian Content!

Hi, this is Renaissance Woman. Elswhere asked me to tell you this:

So, we've been watching this trashy lesbian soap called "The L Word" on DVD. The way you can tell it's Showtime & not HBO is that it's Really Cheesy. But it's an ensemble piece, so you get hooked into it despite yourself because you want to know what happens with the characters.

What I love most about it is that, even though it's set in LA, with little sidetrips elsewhere, it's mostly filmed in British Columbia. Not just filmed there but cast there. So, except for 7 of the 8 lead characters, everyone says "mum" and "abouoot" . Imagine... an alternate universe in which all of LA, Santa Rosa, Palm Springs, even the West Village of New York City, are all peopled by CANADIANS!

Stealth Canadians Take Over The WORLD! Heh heh heh, eh?

- RW (formerly resident in, still citizen of, and forever loyal to the True North Strong and Free)

Update a few days later:

So we're watching Season 1 Episode 13 (on a rented DVD, I might add, as we're cheap for cable and it's too cheezy to buy). This episode has a Big Symbolic Theme about the "Language of the Manatees" in Florida (and refers to manatees as "whales", which they aren't).

And we notice that even the manatees are played by Canadians--arctic Canadian beluga whales, frolicking about the Vancouver Aquarium. But, being Canadian, they were too polite to mention it. ("Oh, manatees, eh? Well, actually, we're not manatees, we're...well, we're belugas, but that's okay, you just go on with your show, don't worry about us. Really, it's okay, we're fine. Just fine. Really. ")
--RW again

Weekend Update #3 [belated]: Head Explosions

Home. Sick. Not homesick, that's different. (Mermaid Girl says she's "carsick" when she's sick and tired of being in the car, which can make a person kind of panicky until we remember what she means.) On the one hand? Stomach flu sucks. On the other hand? The worst of it was over last night, and now I get to stay home and munch crackers and write.

I've been meaning to do a head-explosion update for some time, but have been putting it off because it's pretty anti-climatic. But several people expressed concern, and I didn't want you to worry.

A quick recap for new readers (hi, new readers!) and everyone else who has other things to do besides keeping up with the minutiae of my life:

A few months ago, I started getting weird, seemingly random, seemingly allergic reactions involving my head turning bright red and feeling like it was about to explode. Mostly at work, but not all the time. Eventually I went to an allergist, who ordered blood samples taken next time I had an episode. So I got the blood work done, and waited. And waited.

Finally I called the allergist and they called me back to say the results were negative, I appear not to be allergic to anything, I should see an... what's it called if you have a thyroid disorder? Endocrinologist, maybe? Well, I should see one of those. I haven't, yet.

In the meantime, I remembered something one of my co-workers said, back when my exciting reactions first appeared and were the talk of the staff room, about how she was flushing (that's apparently the technical term, and isn't it lovely?) a lot when she first started taking niacin. I've been taking niacin for several months on my doctor's advice as a cholesterol-lowering thing. So as an experiment, I just stopped taking it after my last episode, in late November. And I haven't had a head-explosion since.

I know, I know, I should let my doctor know I've stopped and get on something else to lower my cholesterol. And I will, soon. And I'm not sure why the episodes only started in October when I'd been taking niacin for some time before that. The human body is a strange thing, is all I can conclude.

It does continually amaze me, how much doctors don't know, or don't think about. I mean, my own doctor prescribed the niacin, and if I heard about the connection with flushing in a casual staff-room conversation then she must have known about it, but she didn't say anything about it when I went to her about my episodes. Maybe she's not very good? Or maybe, like with everything else, there's so much to keep track of that she can't remember everything.

P.S. Yesterday's blog-whoring self-promotional post garnered so many votes that I am repeating it:

If you are so inclined, I'd be happy if you'd vote for Travels in Booland in the Best of Blogs awards. You can vote every day between now and January 17th (Not January 14th as originally reported). That's seven more days. If ten people voted for seven days, I could be in, like, sixth place!*

*That is, if the other LBGT finalists got no votes between now and the 17th. Which isn't likely, especially since several of them are way entertaining. But vote anyway, go ahead. And then go vote in some of the other categories, too.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Weekend Update #2: Awards!

Still getting hosed in the BoBs: I'm proud to say that after a week of voting, Travels in Booland is solidly in second-to-last place in the GLBT category. If you want to see if the Readers of Travels in Booland have the power to bump me up a place or two, you could vote here between now and Januray 14th. (And hey! You can vote every day! I checked and it's okay. Okay, stopping before I rhyme any more.)

But I'm not too worked up about winning, because:

1) Even at second-to-last place, I've never seen traffic this good. True to the BoB Founders' intent to bring more attention to little blogs (like this one), I've been getting lots of visits ever since making the finalist list. Of course, most of those are probably people browsing the LBGT list who stop by just long enough to wonder how the *&^%@! one of those Dreaded Mommy Blogs snuck into the category; but hey, I'm not proud. I'll take an ego boost any way it comes.

and speaking of ego boosts...

2) I won a Spanglemonkey Award!


Best Nuclear Family Without a Y Chromosome Among Them in the Seattle Area But So Much More Besides Blog, 2004!

*Sniff* I'm so happy.

Just go visit Jo and you can win one too--she has a garage full and is giving them out to everyone who invites her over! The "I Eat Dinner" Award and so many others are still up for grabs.

Or you can swipe the award button and give yourself an award. What a woman. What a blogger.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Weekend Update #1: 4th Grade Activists

I asked around and found out what was up with the 4th grade feminist activists at my school, according to the front-desk receptionist and one of the teachers involved:

It's a big class, so there are two gym teachers. Teacher M (a man), took one group, which was mostly--but not entirely--boys. Teacher W (a woman) took the other group, which was entirely girls. The groups were self-selected (this is important). Teacher M started his group out right away playing basketball with dribbling, stealing, etc. Teacher W made her group start out with a modified version for a few minutes-- no stealing, she said when I asked, and possibly no dribbling either. The girls in Teacher W's group saw what teacher M's group was doing and demanded to do the same right away; she said no, they had to wait a few minutes; they got fired up and left the class ready to protest, and that's when I saw them.

So it wasn't exactly the way they told it to me: teacher W made no appearance in their version, nor did the fact that there were two self-selected groups or that the "no dribbling" rule was only for a few minutes.

After they left the library, they stormed into the front office with their picket signs, demanding to see the principal. The front-desk receptionist, knowing that the principal hates groups of people (kids, parents, or whoever) storming into his office all at once, asked them to choose a representative to talk with him and for the others to wait outside.

The receptionist said that at first the principal seemed agitated, shooing away the other girls who were gathered at the window outside his office (his office has a glass wall so you can see whoever's in there). After he'd spoken seriously with the representative, though, she said she could see him sort of smiling when the student couldn't see. From what I know of him, I think he was probably pleased (as I was) by their passion and initiative.

The principal sent them back to talk with the gym teachers about it. Teacher W said they did, and that they were originally pretty upset. After she explained her reasoning (which was...? I'm not sure, and didn't get a chance to ask, but since she's a former professional basketball player herself I doubt there was conscious sexism involved), they apologized-- not in a grovelling way, just, "Oh, now I get it, sorry." Teacher W emphasized how polite and respectful they were, even as they were presenting their complaints.

I wanted to talk with some of the students again too, but didn't get a chance because of how the schedule worked this week. So I don't know if they really feel satisfied with what happened, but it sounded as if it ended with everyone on good terms.

The general sense among the adults was sort of along the lines of "Aw, those crazy kids-- they were just looking for something to get worked up about." And I think there was some of that. But the fact that they were precipitous and at least partly mistaken in their protest doesn't change how great the way they did it was. (Hmm... I think I just wrote the most tortured sentence in the history of blogging. Oh, well, forging boldly ahead--)

They were self-possessed and passionate and focused: they went right to it and took action. And they stuck together and spoke truth--well, truth as they saw it-- to power. And when they realized they'd misunderstood what was going on, they were gracious. Not the worst way to start out a life of making change in the world.

One thing I didn't mention in my last post: when the other girls were agitating and making their signs last Wednesday, there was one 4th-grader in the library, a very timid girl, new to the school, who wasn't participating, just sitting by herself drawing a picture. After the others had left, I asked her casually, "you're not involved with any of this?"

"Oh, no," she said. "Because I think that they're going to get in trouble. And I don't want to get in trouble."

I just nodded and moved on, but I felt like giving her a big hug and saying, "Oh, sweetie. You don't know this place. They won't get in trouble. You don't have to be so scared."

That's how I was at her age: I didn't want to get in trouble. Ever. Didn't want anyone mad at me. I'm still like that, more than I'd like to be. I still admire people who act boldly, even at the risk of being wrong and getting egg on their faces, and worry that they think I'm a wuss.

I remember our own 4th grade protest, back before Title IX, when the gym teacher wouldn't let the girls play football and said it was because we were wearing dresses, and the next gym day we all came in our jeans and stood there until he let us play. Even though I don't even like football, and never liked gym, it felt so great.

I hope that scared 4th grader gets to feel like that someday, about something.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Shoulder to Shoulder Into the Fray

I don't usually write about work but this was too good to pass up.

Today at lunch recess a whole passel of 4th grade girls came charging into the library, all talking and gesturing and full of righteousness. There were about a dozen of them but it seemed like more. They lunged at the scrap paper and the markers and the scissors, and a few of them flocked over to the computers and began furiously typing in large font, talking nonstop all the time about what they were going to do and how they were going to do it and how IMPORTANT it was.

I stayed out of their way. It seemed best. But I swung over to check on the two student volunteers who were stamping books, and asked one of them if she knew anything about what was going on.

She drew herself up proudly. "Know about it? I'm part of it!" I noticed that she hadn't been stamping at all, but quietly contributing to the general effort with her own markered sign. "The gym teacher told us that the boys could play basketball one way, but the girls had to play another way! It's not fair and we're going to do something about it!" [Turns out he apparently told the girls they weren't allowed to dribble. To dribble. I'd be pissed, too, and I don't even like sports.]

By this time the picket signs were taking shape. The girls used up all the staples and then went on to the tape. They were swiping my pencils to make the folded-paper handles stand up properly. "WOMEN WANT OUR RIGHTS," the signs read, and "WE TREAT YOU FAIR BUT YOU DON'T TREAT US FAIR." One girl asked me how to make a women's symbol and covered her sign with them, in all different colors. The indignant talk never faltered: "Can't believe he--" "--talk to the principal--" "--all go there together--" "Like Martin Luther King!"

Then they swept out, waving their picket signs, headed for the principal's office to set things right.

I didn't know whether to laugh or choke up with pride. They were so furious and excited (though they wouldn't have called it that) and full of purpose, and almost--no, no almost about it-- comically empowered. If they go on like this, the future might be in some pretty good hands after all.

Click here for an update to this post

Monday, January 03, 2005

Instant Karma, Thy Name is Mermaid Girl

Last week in Florida, we went to a beach with the most gorgeous, varied, and plentiful seashells I have ever seen. Beachcombing is a big pastime there, and we went at it with gusto, especially Mermaid Girl (true to her name), and me. Actually especially me. There were just incredible shells, all over the place. Not all of these different kinds, but at least half of them. There was a big sign at the beach entrance prohibiting the removal of any live animals from the beach. So I checked all the seashells before putting them in the bag, and conscientiously left any that weren't empty of sea creatures.

At least, I thought I was conscientious.

The night before we left, I couldn't sleep, so in the middle of the night I set out to wash my shells at the sink; I'd noticed the bag was starting to smell kind of, um, fishy. I sorted through the dozens of swirly and evocative fragments I'd gathered, rinsing them off and wrapping the most fragile ones in paper towels for the next day's plane trip .

Then I picked up one of the few complete, unblemished, shells I'd found: a small, perfect murex that looked something like this. I was admiring it, as I rinsed it, congratulating myself on the find, when a small claw slipped out of the opening: a hermit crab had made its home in the shell, and had died there while it sat in my plastic bag.

It was a sickening feeling: I felt guilty and creeped-out and disgusted all at once. I'd destoyed one of nature's creatures! (never mind that I eat oysters all the time.) I'd unbalanced the ecosystem! I'd broken a rule written on a big sign! Plus, it was three in the morning, the time of night when every little incident takes on epic proportions. Thoughts about the tsunami might have been somehow feeding into all this, too.

I dithered. This was a crisis of conscience: should I pull out the hermit crab and keep my ill-gotten gains? Or not? How could I right the wrong I had done? I came very close to whipping open my brother's laptop and writing a tortured and eloquent post about it right then and there, but fortunately refrained. In the end, I wrapped the shell up in toilet paper and threw it in the garbage.

I thought I'd be too ashamed to tell anyone about it, but in the morning it didn't seem like such a big deal. I told my sister-in-law, who convinced me to keep the damn thing after all. So I removed the tiny dead crab and put the shell in my carry-on backpack.

And that would have been the end of it. Except that I had to say something about "feeling guilty about that shell" to RW in the car on the way to the airport.


Mermaid Girl jumped on it: What? What hermit crab? Mommy, you should not have done that. You weren't careful! You killed the hermit crab! I'm a little mad at you. I'll always be a little mad at you, Mommy. Forever. Until I'm dead. Don't you know I love the little hermit crab? If I found a little shell like that, I would look at it carefully, carefully, carefully. And if I saw a little creature in it I would put it back down on the beach for a wave to get. Next time you see a swirly shell, just leave it! Don't pick it up. Just in case.

Me, guilty, weary, sleep-deprived: I know, Mermaid Girl. It's true. I'm sorry. I thought I was being careful, but I guess I wasn't careful enough. I'm sorry to hear that. I didn't know you even knew about little hermit crabs. Did you read about them in a book? Oh, you didn't know about them before, you just love them now? Well, you're right. Looking carefully is a good thing to do. I'll do it next time.

And finally, desperately clawing at any way out of this verbal assault: What do you think I should do with the shell, then?

She answered so immediately, so assuredly, it was like a voice from the Oracle. "Give it back to the water. So another hermit crab can find it and move in it and settle down."

So I did. Or rather, I pulled it out of my bag and gave it to my brother, who promised to throw it back in the water next time he was at the beach. And I felt better. Lighter.

But by then the Girl had become totally insufferable, any genuine sorrow overlaid with glee at her moral superiority, and continued to castigate me and grieve for the little dead hermit crab most of the way to the airport. I apologized for a long while, and then, slightly giddy with repentance, said, "Okay, I'm starting to feel a little less sorry now." Which did not go over well.

And the moral of the story is: If you ever do something that you feel guilty about, and subconsciously think you aren't being adequately punished for, just tell a 4-year-old about it.

Or, maybe, don't.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Home again! And still gay!

So, I am totally thrilled, in the giddiest, nerdiest, library-geek-goes-to-the-prom way, to be a finalist in the GLBT category of the Best of Blogs (BoB) Awards. I've also been having a blast nominating other people and reading new blogs I've never seen before, including several of the other GLBT finalists.

It's made me think, though: how much of a queer blog is this, really? I mean, aside from the fact that I'm gay, my partner's gay, and our kid has gay parents (and who knows, maybe the cat's gay too). Mostly I don't write directly about GLBT Issues. I certainly spend much less time thinking about the fact that I'm a lesbian than I did at, say, twenty. Partly, it's just less interesting-- hey, I'm still queer! Aside from protesting about discrimination, it doesn't feel like I have that much to say about it after twenty years or so. I couldn't even think of anyone to come out to this year on National Coming Out Day: my co-workers? They know. The parents at my school? They know, too, and so do lots of the kids. Family? All got invites to our commitment ceremony years ago. My dentist? Yup.

RW and I noticed soon after Mermaid Girl's birth that having a child makes us both more and less visible as lesbians. It's less possible to just elide over the issue: the three of us together are definitely a family, and people have to deal with it, and we have to deal with them dealing with it. On the other hand, either one of us out alone with the Girl is usually assumed to be her mom, and therefore straight, with a husband who's presumably home doing yard work or something. Even me, with the short hair, sensible shoes, and that distinctive dykey lack of fashion sense.

Having a baby brought us into the Great Tribe of Parenthood: I now have way more in common on a day-to-day level with the average Christian Republican mother of a four-year-old than with, say, the average nightclubbing young lesbian without kids. I can easily imagine plonking myself down with that hypothetical mom and having an animated hour-long conversation about sassiness, picky eating, Blue's C1ues, and Gr0ovy Girls dolls, but I haven't been to anything like a club in years. (Whether we'd be friends in the long term is a different question.)

We didn't have a kid as a bid for acceptance, but it's turned out that being parents has made us more acceptable to many people who disapprove of homosexuality in theory, including some of our relatives. Partly, it just gives them something else to do with us: they don't have to get all uncomfortable around us, to try to avoid or work around the subject. ("So, elswhere, how are you and your, uh, er, um, friend?") They can just talk about the kid ("So, elswhere, Mermaid Girl will be in kindergarten next year?"). It makes us seem (gasp!) normal. Now, it's true, queers without kids should seem normal too--but maybe we're the thin edge of the wedge, the infiltrators, you know? If we're so normal and wholesome and, honestly, boring, what does that mean about all those anonymous others with their Gay Agenda? Could it possibly be that they're not so evil either?

So, I guess this is always a queer blog, even when I don't write about it, the same way that I'm always a lesbian, even when my main preoccupation is whether I'm going to be able to get Mermaid Girl's hair brushed without a major screaming incident.

Just in case you clicked over from the BoBs looking for specifically GLBT content on this blog, though, you can find it here and here and here and here. And here. And definitely here. And sort of here.

Enjoy, and happy 2005!