The words we forget to say

It's that time of year, as we move through the solstice, celebrate the many winter holidays, and wrap up the past 365 days in a nice little package called last year, when we turn around and see the people we see everyday with new and appreciative eyes.  I am so grateful to count as my friends and coworkers some of the most intelligent, dedicated, innovative people I know.  So often I grumble my way through my days, consumed by my stress, and anxiety, and irritation.  Yet, in the midst of all of that, amazing people are making amazing things happen.  Everyday.

So here's to taking a deep breath and a step back and remembering to see and to acknowledge all the awesome in this life.  To all of my dear friends, incredible colleagues, wonderful classmates, and brilliant family: all my love to you this Holiday Season, and every auspicious wish for the New Year.



The conversation that brought me back from hiatus

You may have noticed I've not been in the writerly way for a while.  Turns out that full-time teaching and grad school topped off with student teaching makes for an exhausted RMS.  I've had things to say, but I've mostly been saying them to the pot of soup cooking on the stove, or the towel rack.  But the other day I had a conversation with a colleague at work that had the rusty gears in my head turning for quite some time.  It started out about Twilight, but ended up about so much more.

She wanted to know if, in my professional opinion, I thought Twilight was appropriate for her 8th grade daughter.  After letting me know that her daughter is not terribly mature, she let me weigh in.  I didn't get all Twi-ranty because, well really, that wasn't the point now was it?  And I came down firmly on Twilight's side.  Not because it's a great piece of literature, but because it is a largely innocuous and incredibly popular one.  By this point every tween and teen in America has read it (or so it seems to me) and to deny her the chance to participate in the popular culture phenomenon of her adolescence is just cruel and necessary.

As we continued talking it became clear that her mother's concern was really sex and drugs.  Not a problem, since Twilight is, after all, abstinence porn.  Turns out that at the root of her strict policing of her teen daughter's reading habits, was a very real fear of books being a source of negative peer pressure.

"Sometimes, I think, that they read about it and they they want to try it.  Right?" she asked me.

I've written before on how I think the exact opposite is true, and that was the conversation I delved into.  About how teens read about things that they would never do because they want to understand them.  About how drinking, drugs, and sex are a real part of the world.  About credibility.  About how the world is a place full of dangers and I'd rather my kids read about them than experience them first-hand.  And finally, about how if anything is going to send your by-all-accounts-good-and-decent-kid down the rabbit hole it's going to be her peer group, not the library.  In the end, it's about building your relationship with your teen.  About having that conversation about myth and reality, fact and fiction, fun and dangerous fun.  And about never turning away from that conversation, no matter how much you may want to.

What do you think?


Native who, now?

While discussing the Civil Rights Movement in class the other day, a student accidentally said "Native Americans" instead of "African Americans."  We were discussing some core concept words (segregation, integration, power, powerless, persecute) and one of my co-teachers took this opportunity to bring Native Americans into the discussion.  

"Who are the Native Americans?" she asked.

"Stone Age!" comes a reply from a bright student in the back of the class.
"Native Americans are still alive?!" quickly followed.

So taken aback, we stared at each other - eyes wide, mouths gaping - for a good 15 seconds (which sounds like no time at all, but leading a discussion of 30 sixth graders, it is an eternity).  Finally, we continued the conversation, explaining that Native Americans live today in cities, towns, and reservations, and struggling in this off-the-cuff context to do justice to the history of our country's first people.

I've spent a great deal of time reading about Native representation in children's books and texts, especially Debbie Reese's excellent blog, American Indians in Children's Literature and the resources published by Oyate press.  I've written extensively on race and representation in books for children and young adults.  Yet, I've never seen first hand the effects of this Native erasure so clearly displayed.  It was horrifying.  I don't expect my students to know much about the Native genocide, AIM, the forced sterilization, and modern life on say, Pine Ridge Reservation.  But I do expect them to know that Native people exist.  I'm terrified of an education system that so fully disappears the more unsavory aspects of our history.



Oh how time, she flies right by, eh?  And now here we are - mid-October.  I'm still savoring my summer reading list, and putting off reading Mockingjay as long as possible.  To supplement the feminist YA I've been immersed in, I went up to Cambridge, MA last weekend to see Amanda Fucking Palmer in the American Repertory Theater's production of Cabaret.

*****If you've never seen or listened to Cabaret, the rest of this review/discussion may be hard to follow.  Solution?  Go watch it!  Or listen to it!******

Now, normally, I wouldn't consider Cabaret an at all feminist piece.  Then the A.R.T. got a hold of it and turned the gender and sexuality all to sexy, twisty, salty pretzel pieces.  As far as I'm concerned, it was just what the musical needed.  There was a lot to love about the production - the interactive Kit Kat Klub venue, the sing-alongs and table service, the sheer talent on display, the sick hollow feeling when you turn around in act II and notice the Nazi soldier, stony faced and at attention, two feet from your happy cabaret table, the gut-wrenching ending designed to remind a generation that doesn't know anyone who lived through the Nazi regime, just what was in store for their new friends at the Kit Kat Klub.  The insidious fascism is there all along, and as the production moves forward it peels off the layers of leather, lace, and greasepaint . . . to great effect.

So all that said, perhaps what I loved most was the way this production respected Sally Bowles.  When she makes the decision to stay in Berlin, without Cliff, her rendition of Cabaret is not a piece of triumphant denial.  Rather it is a painful, heartbreaking, bitter acknowledgment of the future to come.  It will stay with me for a long, long while.



I realize I've been on and on about consumption choices lately, but I think it's incredibly important and I've started straying from my sphere of like-minded bloggery goodness and I'm baffled by the lack of scope displayed in so many me-centric posts and comments.  So I'd just like to say again, "Your choices affect others."  Say it with me, one more time,

"Your choices affect others."

The cloth for your clothing was grown and processed by someone.  Your clothes were made and shipped and sold by someone.  Your food was grown and picked and shipped by someone.  If you're not veg*n - your food used to be someone.  And it was raised, slaughtered, butchered, packaged, shipped, and sold by someone.  The same goes for your shoes, your music, your books, your toys, your knickknacks and pots and pans . . . . your everything.  Our choices have far-reaching consequences. 

So when someone comments on a post asking if people buy organic produce by asking, "Like, does it really matter if your banana, whose peel you're throwing away, is organic?" I say, yes.  Yes, it does.

You can certainly argue that a sweatshop job is better than no job, or that migrant farm work is still work.  However, the results of the United Farm Workers Take Our Jobs campaign seem to speak for themselves.  With national unemployment still at nearly 10%, the UFW has not been overwhelmed with applications.  Maybe because a bad job is a bad job?  With a net worth of $8.2 billion , Phillip Knight (the CEO of Nike) is the 52nd richest man in the world  He could probably afford to make sure his workers are paid a decent wage.

And that's the thing - yes a job and a wage is better than nothing.  But this working for pennies an hour, without any rights or privileges, no sick time, no vacation, no bathroom breaks, in horrible, poisonous conditions . . . it's making other people incredibly wealthy.  The choice isn't a terrible job or no job.  That's a false dichotomy.  There exists the third option of  . . . a good job. 

We are complicit in this and we, as consumers, can help to effect change.  Every little bit helps.  We can throw stones and make ripples.  Enough of us can make waves.


Speaking Out

I've written before on the death penalty and our prison system as it pertains to children and people of color.  Anti-death penalty is another label (like vegan and pro-choice) that I am happy to use, a mantle I wear proudly.  I have more experience with the justice and prison systems than most who know me would expect, and I think that this experience informs and shapes my veganism-as-anti-oppression philosophy.  It is part of the reason I strive to buy organic and fairly traded produce and clothing, avoid retailers that rely on sweatshop and child labor, and buy handmade and local when possible.  It's all connected and in this imperfect, hyper-commodified, capitalist world, I want my dollars to do good work.

I mention all of this only because of a disturbing dream I had last night.  I was a lawyer working a trial in some German Expressionist courtroom.  I have no idea the whys or wherefores, or even the outcome of the trial.  The only thing that is still stark and clear in my mind is this moment: the judge, wild haired and crazy-eyed, stands and leans cartoonishly out over the bench at me.  He points at me, all imperiousness.  "Sometimes the only thing to speak to a man's innocence is that man.  That does not negate the fact of his innocence.  Ten years from now, when the lies are revealed and the truth is known, the world will look at you."

It was terrifying . . . and true

I realized as I awoke, that I am far too much the armchair activist and, that I need to start speaking my mind more.  Amongst friends, family, and colleagues, I often hold my tongue (which may seem surprising to those who know me!) in an effort to keep the peace.  Sometimes in an effort to keep a powerful conversation from being derailed, sometimes in an effort to just let something hurtful, ignorant, or wrong-headed slip on by because I am too tired, anxious, or angry to deal with it.  When it is the latter, I am not being honest with myself or with those I love.  And I am certainly not doing all I can to make my small slice of the world a better place.  So less commiserating with the converted in empty halls and behind closed doors and more honest engagement on issues that matter to me (in real and internet life).


Summer Reading

After Bechdel-ing my movie, TV on DVD, and book collections (recognizing that the Bechdel test is woefully inadequate for TV and books, given the general span of their story/character arcs), I decided to up the awesome chick quotient in my summer reading by focusing on books about girls (but not necessarily for girls).  So after a couple of weeks in Italy, I returned home eager to get reading.  I turned to my old friend, Bitch magazine for help.  With the assistance of the awesome Bitch community, Miss Print's Chicklit Reviews and the Amelia Bloomer project, I crafted a summer reading list that looked something like this:

Gravity by Leanne Lieberman
Down to the Bone by Mayra Lazara Dole
Celine by Brock Cole
Kendra by Coe Booth
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Andromeda Klein by Frank Portma
Kiki Strike ("butt-kicking girl superspy") series by Kirsten Miller
Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, Valiant: A Modern Tale of Faerie, Ironside: A Modern Faery's Tale by Holly Black
After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson
For the Win by Cory Doctorow
Anything by Tamora Pierce
The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
The Alchemyst (sequels The Magician, The Sorceress, The Necromancer) by Michael Scott
Cut, Sold by Patricia McCormack
The Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld
Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines
Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
NoMANsland by Lesley Hauge
In a gilded cage by Rhys Bowen
Libyrinth by Pearl North
The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan by Nancy Springer
A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott
The Burning Time by Robin Morgan
Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare
Generation Dead by Daniel Waters (the first book to be discussed by my dear friend Miss Print's new online bookclub!)

and to round out the YA binge,  Enlightened Sexism : The Seductive Message That Feminism’s Work is Done by Susan J. Douglas

While some of these are re-reads (the joys of re-reading an excellent book, I cannot put into words), I'm approximately 1/3 of the way through the list (in no particular order) and I could not be happier to have spent the last couple of weeks immersed in stories about well-developed, three dimensional, young women.  I've said it before and I'll say it again, kids need to see themselves realistically, lovingly, and empoweringly portrayed in the fiction they read.  As a teacher, if I'm to be able to recommend excellent, powerful, and just plain good books to young women, kids of color, poor kids, gay kids, trans kids . . . I need to make sure that I am actively searching them out.  Lazy reading means shoddy readers' advisory and a frustrated RMS.

As a side note to this . . . a blurb about internalized anti-feminist rhetoric: I haves it.  I realized sitting in Logan airport, on my way home from a weekend up in Boston, that I was thinking, as I read Enlightened Sexism, "I wonder what these people think of me."  Which is absurd and a tad ego-maniacal, because waiting to board a plane, people have a lot to think about besides me and whether or not I am a rabid, frigid misandrist.  But for more than a second, I wondered. 

I'm going to work on that.


Unity of Thought

I have a problem . . . yes, I know, I have many problems, but only one that I feel like addressing today so let's just go with "I have a problem," okay?  I tend to assume that people agree with me, or have any idea what I'm talking about at all.  I know the proverb about assuming and donkeys, but I have trouble internalizing lessons learned from pithy sayings.  So I'm generally quite surprised when I stumble upon discussions like the comments thread at this wonderful blog post over on Bitch's website.  Tasha Fierce write a great piece on positive portrayals of fat women on TV.  She cited Sara Ramirez's Dr. Callie Torres from Grey's Anatomy at the top of her list (having suffered through seen about 7 episodes of that show I have this to say: I hate Grey's Anatomy but, man, I love Callie!  If only the rest of the show could be as awesome as she is.)  What followed was a thread of fat-shaming (e.g., Sara Ramirez isn't fat because she's not gross!  Sara Ramirez is healthy, not fat!), fat-policing (e.g., Sara Ramirez isn't fat enough to count as actually fat!), and various and sundry other forms of utterly offensive derailment.

Which, seeing as how this is Bitch, an awesome feminist media outlet, left me completely shocked and awed.  If you know me, then you know my stance on body acceptance (see my review of Body Drama) and I did not expect to see the conversation take such a negative turn.  Color me naive.

Luckily, Tasha up and wrote another post giving a little Fat Acceptance 101 to the Bitch audience.  Enjoy, it's awesome.

So have you noticed a trend lately?  The last few posts have all been me saying, essentially, "Hey, why isn't everyone on my page, here?  What the heck?"


Following up on Labels

There's a great blog I read, Love Veggies and Yoga that featured a review of some raw vegan bars yesterday.  Before I had even finished reading the post I hopped over to Amazon to see if I could order some.  I could!

Product features:
  • Raw Crunch Bars are a delicious nut based uncooked, unprocessed nutrition boost bar,
  • No Artificial Ingredients
  • Stabilizes Blood Sugar
  • High Protein
  • Vegan
Sounds awesome . . . except they are full of honey.  Honey is not vegan.  Come on, Amazon, or Raw Crunch people, or whoever wrote that up.  Mislabeling isn't cool.

**I promise to return to books and media shortly.  Sorry for the long-cut through the dietary ethics woods.**


A somewhat disjointed rambling on food ethics

My summer is halfway over . . . that's not as depressing a thought as it could be.  I've done some traveling, seen some old friends, seen my family, and rediscovered both the library (oh lord, that's embarrassing) and my kitchen (slightly less embarrassing, after all, I've been busy).  I've spent the better part of the last month getting into raw food.  I figure if I start out now, I'll be well-equipped once winter sets in.  We'll see how that works out for me.  As I've worked my way towards 60% raw, I've noticed some interesting trends in the blogs, forums, and communities I've stalked for information.

As a vegan I label.  I label myself, I label foods and products, I label others.  Mostly I label them "vegan" and "not vegan."  I don't eat honey.  I don't eat oysters.  I don't buy leather/silk/wool goods.  These things are "not vegan."  While there may be debate around them (honey, mostly, unless you are an idiot) there is none for me and every vegan I know.  When honey was the only animal product I ate, I was "not vegan."  I got sick of explaining that I was vegan except for honey, and eventually the arguments I was using to except honey didn't hold water with me anymore.

That said, I acknowledge that veganism is a journey and a process and that I cannot live a life free from harm.  Bugs are killed in the production of fruits and vegetables, small rodents are killed in the harvest of grains.  Jetblue's seats are leather.  But just because animals die in the harvest of grain does not mean that I should also eat a cow.  After all, all of those animals died in the harvest of that cow's feed, and the cow suffered and died as well.  If I'm working towards doing no harm, there is an obvious choice there. But I do acknowledge that there may be no vegan perfection.

I've noticed a distinct disdain for labels in the raw food communities I've been perusing.  There's definitely a sense of "you do what you can do" and "we each do our best."  And I respect that to a point.  But when you make the conscious decision to eat an animal product, how is that doing your best?  If you disdain labels, but call yourself vegan (for convenience's sake?) and eat honey, you mislabel me.  You mislabel veganism.  You spread the idea that vegans eat honey, or (for those fish-nomming veggies out there) that vegetarians eat fish, and I can no longer rely on that label to help me move through this omnivorous world a little more smoothly.  Hello, Tom's of Maine.  So while you may call yourself vegan and eat honey and be totally okay with that, when you spread that idea around you make other vegans' lives just that much more difficult.

Which brings me to my actual point . . . organics.

The difference boils down to, I think, whether you see your food choices as a personal matter.  For me, my ethical veganism is not personal.  It's not about me.  It's about this world we all share.  It's about doing what is right and best for everyone.  Going vegan is one of (if not the) best things you can do the environment.  Choosing local, fairly traded, and organic goods is the best way that I can support sustainable agriculture and the rights of farm workers.  I do not pay attention to those lists that tell you which produce gets an organic pass because I buy organic not to stop myself from ingesting pesticides, but to stop them from being used.  Many of the fruits and veggies get a pass because they are thick skinned and pesticides do not penetrate.  That doesn't help the people growing, picking, and packaging that fruit.  It doesn't help the fields and forests.  It doesn't help the insects and wildlife.  My food choices affect other people and living things.  I can't ignore that.  Do I only buy organic?  No, of course not.  Sometimes it's not available, sometimes I can't afford it, sometimes it's the choice between organic or local.  But I do try to make the best decision for everyone, not just for me.

It all comes down to intersectionality and social justice.  If I want to work against oppression, I want to work against it in all of its forms.  I have no problem with everyone doing what little they can because every good decision helps.  It's the fact that this discussion is largely absent from the raw food communities I've been participating in that gets me.  It's absent from a lot of vegan communities, too.  But I've found places like Vegans of Color and the Post Punk Kitchen forums that take a much wider view.

As I discussed this with Patrick Eamonn the other day he looked at me expectantly, silent when I finished.  "Oh, I see," I said.  "I should start that conversation."



Numbers Numbers

A while ago I promised to Bechdel Test my book collection.  My currently accessible book collection is not large, and yet, it took me weeks.  Why, you ask?  What was the holdup?  Well, see, it's in three different bookcases and I just didn't know where to start.  You know how these things go.  But it's done and took about an hour.  Mostly because I can't remember anything anymore and spent a great deal of time thumbing through books looking for conversations.

The results?  I counted only straight fiction novels, so I did not include graphic novels, poetry, or non-fiction.  Of my 167 remaining books, 28 failed.  So about 16.7% of my collection does not pass the test.  Not too shabby.  However when broken down by bookcase, things changed drastically.  My bookcases are as follows: Adult Lit, Sci-Fi, YA Lit.  Sci-Fi and YA combined account for 100 books, only 8 of which failed the Bechdel Test.  Of the remaining 67 adult lit nooks, 20 failed.  To sum up, 8% of my Sci-Fi and YA collection failed, while 29% of my adult lit collection failed . . . urm . . .

So, to recap:
  • 80% of my movie collection fails the Bechdel Test
  • 16.7% of my total fiction collection fails
  • 8% of my Sci-Fi and YA fail
  • 29% of my Adult Lit fails
I fully expected my book collection to fare better than my movie collection because the longer you have to tell a story, the more developed and nuanced the characters and their interactions.  Books usually take place over days, weeks, months, years - plenty of time to allow to women to talk about something besides a man.  However the discrepancy between genres is fascinating.  Am I more careful curator of YA Lit than Adult Lit?  Probably.  Do I gravitate to certain authors who write women well?  Well hello Terry Pratchett!  Is my Adult Lit collection full of male authors and "classics?"  Yes, yes it is.

Thoughts, anyone?



I have always measured my life in summers.  They bookend the school years of my youth and those of my adult life.  Hot, languid summers -- sweat dripping down your back and brow, the smell of rain in the air and the dark, musty smell of earth deep in sweltering New England woods.  Hot gardens full of ripe strawberries and tomatoes.  I am full of these scent memories gazing at the gray, muggy Brooklyn skyline.  For all that I hate the heat (and the sweat!), I am full of love for Summer.

Last summer I began a blog as a requirement for a class.  I found I liked it.  This summer, I hope to really renew my commitment to "writing."  Starting with Bechdel-ing my personal library!

Welcome summer!


Bechdel and Me

Well hello there!  I suppose this is the place where I offer all my sincerest apologies for not writing in ages and, by way of defense, list the myriad responsibilities, obligations, projects, major and minor catastrophes, and sundry timesucks that have plagued me these last eight weeks.

I'm terribly sorry.  Can we ever move past this?  What's that?  It was nothing?  You've already forgiven me?  Fantastic!

Because today I want to talk about women.  Specifically women in film.

Recently I learned all about the Bechdel Test (And by learned all about, I mean watched this video) -  three simple questions to gauge a film's treatment of women.  Are there at least two women in it?  Do they talk to each other?  Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?

Fascinating stuff, right?  Now I love movies.  Deeply.  Passionately.  But not, apparently, vaginally.  Because after going through my approximately 200 movies, I counted about 20 who passed the test, and some of those quite dubiously.  I'm not sure a thirty second conversation about medication should qualify No Country for Old Men, but that is a conversation between two women that is not about a man.

With standards like that, only 10% of the movies I own (not the movies I've seen, but the ones I liked enough to want to watch again and again) pass?  Over at The Bechdel Test Movie List their list of 854 movies has about 50% passing the test.  Discrepancy, much?

Now, I've come up with a few plausible explanations . . .
  • Their list may have more passing movies because people are eager to add passing films to the list.  
  • A passing movie =/= a feminist movie and many films that pass are full of damaging, painful stereotypes (hello SATC!).
  • It's quite possible to make a movie that does not pass but still treats women as real, important people (Strange Days).
  • My collection might be devoid as all hell of passing movies because I have internalized a lot of misogyny and gravitate towards male-centric films and male characters.
  • A nice clusterfuck of all of the above.
Interestingly, my extensive collection of television on DVD all passes the Bechdel Test.  I guess when you have years to tell a story, instead of 90-120 minutes, you can spend time on the unimportant - like women.  I've yet to analyze my book collection and, frankly, I'm scared to.  But if we are to grow, we must do the thing that scares us . . . so stay tuned for a deeper look at ladies in books.  My books.


Doubt and Writing

I don't fancy myself a writer, though I enjoy the act of writing very much.  I love crafting a sentence, reading and rereading it, tooling around with structure and word choice until it vibrates in just the right way.  I love the act of forcing myself to organize an argument, to choose a position, to detail an idea, to pin down an emotion.  However, I am plagued by the knowledge that no one, anywhere, at any time, is interested in anything I have to say; that I'm wasting valuable time and resources pretending that they do.  In short, I have The Doubt.

Jay Smooth would say my Little Hater is in full effect.  He would not be wrong.

When I was younger I entertained the notion of writing as a career - but the words in my head simply were not clamoring for release and I chose a different route.  I'm immensely happy in that.  I made the right decision.  I do something I love, something that enables me to spend a good deal of time writing for myself, and sometimes for you.

I've never since thought that I was meant to be a writer and I am doubly sure of this after having devoured the posts on Patrick Eamonn's nascent blog, The Last of the Carter Babies.  I know this because when I read Patrick Eamonn's blog about writing - I realize that I never felt 1/100th of the passion and drive that fuels his artistic fire.  I urge you to check it out, whether or not you write.  Because we all have passions and a fire to fuel.


Parental Units

In response to a (ridiculous and pointless) NY Times article on the epidemic of "bad" parenting in YA lit, Miss Print has opened a challenge to all YA lit readers, lovers, reviewers, &c out there . . . find the "good" parents!  As Miss Print states,
I want a list of “good” parents, “real” parents, parents who could be role models instead of horrible examples, parents readers will like as characters even if they might not identify with them (because, hey, YA books are written for teens not parents).
So let's help her out!

I'm all about this challenge and plan on getting right to it . . . after I snag on to that parenthetical comment and roll my eyes at adults everywhere who are reading books for young adults and getting bent out of shape by the depiction of parents.  YA books are not written for you!  They are written for teens.  They are written from the teen's point of view.  Their conflict and drama and adventure is of the YA world - not the adult world.  Parents are often incidental, even detrimental . . . and that's okay.  It's not an indictment of parenting, it's not a sign of the decline of the teen-adult relationship, it's a way for the teen protagonists to solve their own problems, make their own decisions, develop their independence and grow up.  Coming of age is not a family games night event.

So, in closing, I'd like to offer Julie Just the same advice I dole out daily to my middle-schoolers: Take it easy, killer.  It's not always about you.


Off Topic

Going back to my (Episcopal) roots with this one . . .

Lent has begun in earnest (does Lent ever begin in-earnestly?) and that means that the coffee and lunch table discussion among Catholics and Episcopalians (of whom I know a great deal) will turn to What I'm Giving Up For Lent.  Inevitably the focus will be on food.  With each Lenten conversation my mental list of these forbidden foods will grow: chocolate, cookies, cakes, sweets in general, candy, soda, chips, fried food, carbs . . . and I will stare at my friends, coworkers, and loved ones and silently wonder, "Savior or diet guru?"  Because I'm pretty darn sure that the point of Lenten forbearance is to practice meaningful self-sacrifice, to reflect on our weaknesses and our privilege, and work to live a more charitable and thoughtful life.  If we give up dessert, shouldn't it be to help us remember all those for whom dessert is not an option?  Not because pie is bad (in the interest of full disclosure - I just baked a pie).  The goal of any fast is spiritual renewal and a turning away from worldly things.  Does God want me to be a better, kinder, more patient and giving person?  Or does he want me to drop five pounds?  I'm betting on the former. 

True, self-sacrifice of even the smallest variety can teach us about discipline and self-control, and can help us to think outside ourselves for the moment.  The problem with giving up is that it only lasts for forty days.  Once Hallelujah is sung again, the fast is broken and, often, forgotten.  This is the problem with so much religious showmanship - the meaning and essence are watered down and washed away until it's just another motion you go through because you're supposed to.  There's no (pardon me) meat in it.

So this Lenten season I'm not Giving Up - I'm fixing up.  I'm going to really work on . . . wait for it . . . being less quick to judge.  This is so hard for me, so please bear with me.  Step 1: when someone tells me What They Are Giving Up for Lent, I will engage in actual meaningful dialogue instead of snarking in my head.  It's a start.


Amusing, no?

In another life and time, Postman and I would have had a great deal to discuss. Perhaps we would have done so publicly, in large arenas, complete with cheering audience and five-hour time limit. Alas, destiny precludes it, so I am left to read and digest and respond to no one and everyone all at once. This blog, it is literary - steeped in typography. In its own way, it is also another piece of (mostly irrelevant) information contributing to our culture's information glut. It may even be entertainment.

I suppose, at my core, I am a relativist. My essential quarrel with Postman is not that television has reshaped our public discourse, our sense of truth and knowledge, our definitions of intelligence and information, but that we are in any place to pass a judgment on these changes. Things are not as they were 100-200 years ago. Much has changed, for the better and the worse (e.g. while I bemoan the heaps of irrelevant "news" trumpeted from every corner of the world, I embrace the mind-opening exchange of information and culture). I do not believe that it is possible to get enough perspective from inside today to accurately judge it against yesterday. We need a little distance.

But distance is a luxury that we will never have, for we are here right now, teaching and learning in this quagmire of headlines, tweets, texts, hypertext, moving images, and typography. Sure we can lament the "fall" of print, the "rise" of imagery, the shorter attention spans, the perceived decrease in complexity of thought and lack of exposition, the "reading problems" and learning disorders that Postman argues did not plague the students and educators of yester-century. Or we can work diligently and thoughtfully to provide kids today the best ways and means to process, analyze, reflect on, and thrive in and shape (for the better, the meaningful-er, the serious-er!) our culture.


On Media and Messages

A medium, by definition, is "an intervening agency, means, or instrument by which something is conveyed or accomplished; one of the means or channels of general communication, information, or entertainment in society, as newspapers, radio, or television."  Since it is impossible to transmit our ideas and emotions directly from mind to mind, we are are forced to use a carrier substance - language.  Often that language is then floated along in a secondary carrier, paper and pen, radio waves, cathode ray tube, tweet, text . . . . so that in the end the essence of what was thought or felt or dreamt is squished and squeezed and folded and deconstructed and reconstructed to fit the confines and purposes of the conveyor.  Thank you, Mr. McLuhan.

I love language.  I love polysemous words, the nuance of context, the subtle shift between shiver and quiver that opens up a whole new world of understanding and interpretation.  I love that we are unable to directly convey our thoughts and must pour them messily into linguistic containers and carry them on media's shaky cafeteria trays from table to table.  I love the work of analysis and interpretation that comes with deeply reading a text and I work everyday to pass that love on to the students I work with.

This love translates directly into a love of graphic novels.  Talk about nuance!  There is so much to synthesize!  As McCloud discusses in Understanding Comics, comics require the very active participation of the reader.  The reader must buy-in and construct meaning from the myriad linguistic and artistic tools employed by the author/illustrator - from words to pictures, from blank space to camera angles.

Perhaps because I love a good double-entendre, I take no issue with the idea of media impregnating our messages with their own.  Two messages for the price of one!  It is when we stop recognizing this that problems arise.  When we take for granted that the containers and conveyances are passive and idle, then we fall into the trap of assuming (wrongly) that we can use tools without them using us.  Thank you, Mr. Postman.  Tricky stuff, indeed.



I'm not about to go a rant about Pat Robertson or David Brooks, in particular, or victim-blaming, in general.  I just don't have it in me right now. 

I'm simply urging anyone and everyone to help.  Here's a list of NGOs currently working in the disaster relief effort.

And I'm hoping.