Monday, December 31, 2012

Rita's Rhetoric Rules: Banned Words

Lake Superior State University in Michigan has published its annual list of words to be excommunicated from the English language.  While I agree with every word or derivation of the words presented in this year's list, there are a few more I would add for completeness, namely:
  • Legitimately:  As in, "I legitimately didn't sleep for, like, three days.  Seriously." or "I legitimately wore my bikini for three days."  Oh, thank God.  Illegitimate swimwear use is an unsightly snag in the moral fabric of this country; I'm glad someone is being responsible in their fashion choices.  I'm assuming she meant that she was wearing both the top and the bottom in the correct order, right side out.   
  • Incentivize:  I am incentivized to see this word utterly obliterated from common parlance due to its moronic, jargon tinged sound when spoken.  After reading 140, 10-15 page papers with this word popping up four times per page on average, I refuse to acknowledge its continued existence.
  • Thus:  Of all the transitional words or phrases that might be used, "thus" somehow comes out on top?  To counter its ubiquitous existence and make things interesting, I am going to start randomly replacing "thus" with names such as Mabel, Agnes, and Mortimer. 
  • Erstwhile:  I have yet to see this word followed by something other than "writer" or "artist".   I've deduced that people who use "erstwhile" when referring to themselves really mean they are failed writers or artists, not simply that they were a writer or artist at one time, as the actual connotation would indicate.  Keep trying, sweetie, the internet is great for supporting delusions of grandeur.
     Englebert ends my legitimate list of words to be expunged from the English language.  I can now work toward regaining my erstwhile sanity.        

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Slave of Slaves: Women

The following is a piece I wrote in August, 2009.  It continues to be relevant to me, especially after reading this article today about the rape, beating, and subsequent death of a 23 year-old Indian woman.  Sadly, not much has changed in three years.        

The Slave of Slaves: Women

A facebook friend posted this article on her page.  The author, Bob Herbert, writes about the effect misogyny has on women and girls as well as the violence associated with it.  The main source of his discussion is around George Sodini, a man in Pennsylvania who shot and killed three women while wounding nine others.

Mr. Herbert's article notes that "A girl or woman somewhere in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every couple of minutes or so. The number of seriously battered wives and girlfriends is far beyond the ability of any agency to count."  This particular statement raises a few questions: how can this be happening with such frequency (and if they are unable to keep accurate counts of women and girls who find themselves in such situations, the notion that the frequency increases in almost unbearable) also, what are the issues surrounding accurate reporting of such crimes and what is being done about the inaccuracy (or the inability or unwillingness on the part of the victim to make a report)?  From January to August of this year (2009), eight women in Minnesota have been murdered as a result of domestic violence.  That is one violent female death per month for the year to date; I find that disturbing, in many ways.  I find that it makes me angry as well.   Herbert alludes to the male need for demonstrable manliness as the reason for such drastic action and unfathomable violence.

This manliness issue is involved, very deep, and indubitably it has many factors.  Herbert quotes the perpetrator of the Pennsylvania shootings as offering this as part of his reasoning: "It seems many teenage girls have sex frequently. One 16 year old does it usually three times a day with her boyfriend. So, err, after a month of that, this little [expletive] has had more sex than ME in my LIFE, and I am 48. One more reason.”  Sex; it's unbelievable in so many ways.  I personally find the idea that women deserve to be punished or killed because of their own sexual liberation to be complete, utterly antiquated, unenlightened idiocy.  That is not to say that I support having copious amounts of high risk sex but we should be able to decide with whom we have sex, when, how, and how frequently.  What brings about this particular sentiment, that women should be sexually inhibited and prudish, is of interest to me though.  The thought that women owe men sex or are only around for sex is laughable, ludicrous in the actual sense of the word.  Also, the idea that it is the woman's fault if a man has a bad sexual experience is equally ridiculous (although in some instances it may be accurate).  Part of this is propagated by popular media and current social practices e.g. pornography and unrealistic body image conceptualizations.

Herbert attempts to make the connection between pornography and violence.  While there may be associations between certain types of pornography and higher instances of violence, to make causal inferences from such a connection is not possible, or useful.  Most people who know me are familiar with my ultra-liberal opinion on sexual health so my unwillingness to completely decry all pornography is not surprising.  However, I think there is something worth considering in the argument that men are socialized into believing that women should be perfect, especially physically and sexually.  Equally important to this is the perception that women want perfect men, i.e. strong men, both physically and emotionally.  Societal influences (eg. advertisements and general media) have thoroughly distorted, mainly through sexual exploitation, what men and women are really like.  Now, it is all about the fabricated "ideal" and what "real" men and women should be like, and what we should want.  When these "ideals" are not achieved or obtained, it causes serious problems.  The unsatisfactory fulfillment of deep desires must have some effect on a person's thought process (eg. "I dress good, am clean shaven, bathe, touch of cologne- yet 30 million women reject me...", "A man needs a women for confidence" - George Sodini, Pennsylvania gym killer), expectations are highly influential.  I can't, however, support that as a justification or mitigation of murder, even if it helps me understand it to a degree

The most salient point of the article is the that the violence and hate women experience simply for being women is unacceptable, and something needs to be done about it.  However, we can't do anything until people acknowledge its existence and severity.  I would add that a consequence of our failure to acknowledge violence against women adversely impacts men, and it allows violence against men to continue as well under an added level of shame at being beaten up by a girl.    

Interestingly, I found this video on Youtube last week, I think it ties in nicely with this blog.  I suggest watching it and listening to the song lyrics, thinking about what has really changed since 1972-when the song came out, and finally, gauging your own reaction to what is being said.  

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Family Constants

Visiting my immediate family typically reminds me of a few constants I somehow manage to block out of existence when I am on my own.  The first being, my counseling skills are often no match for interactions with my siblings.  The pretense of being non-judgmental, open, and calm is difficult to maintain when you just want to throttle someone over their flagrant misuse of the words "literally" and "legitimately".  A sub-constant of this is that my siblings have an awe-inspiring ability to get under my skin in ways that make no sense.  This is a professionally useful constant because my brother and sisters push buttons I typically don't know exist; awareness is the ultimate gift for a therapist.  The second constant is that a visit with my family can never be dull.  In fact, some minor catastrophe is a requisite part of any gathering.  For example, when my sister Alisha was to graduate from high school, she was pulled over for speeding 100 yards from the school with something less than 10 minutes until the program started.  Despite being in her cap and gown, the cop was less than sympathetic to her plight.  This leads to the third constant: Dad to the rescue.  This is a newer constant, and it takes the place of an old one: fuck Dad.  Alisha was able to be a part of graduation; Dad charmed to cop into letting him take the ticket.  Ever one to oblige, I supplied the minor catastrophe(s) this go round.  As of yesterday, the car I drive is experiencing the tiny problem that is transmission failure.  Transmission failure + ice-packed, snow covered roads = hitting the ditch (and a small boulder) and spinning out into a meadow off of a somewhat isolated, dirt road.  I did a nice job of not rolling the car, or harming my passengers (with the exception of ceramic snowman filled with M&Ms) but I also did an equally nice job of springing the tire and bending the rear axle...sorry car...and snowman.  Of course, Dad to the rescue in the form of his truck, a tow chain, and most importantly, a golden lab named Sunny.  The fourth constant is the paradox my family creates regarding whether or not I want to stay longer or leave sooner.  I suppose that is one of the perks of having a family like mine, knowing that you could make either choice and it would legitimately be fine.

Today is my last day in the Hills.  This part of the world is partially sunny, snow covered, cold, and slow paced.  Tonight there will be night sledding, a bonfire, and roasted marshmallows.    

Sunny Always Makes Things Better

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Little Cat Named Tumtum

I am not afraid to admit that I am essentially a cat lady.  I love cats to no end, although I melt at the sight of most furry animals.  In fact, I cannot imagine life without a feline or canine the very least a goldfish should be a permanent fixture month to month.

I had to make one of the saddest, most difficult choices two nights ago.  I had to have one of my cats, Tumtum, euthanized.  I have not cried so frequently or intensely in a very long time. She was euthanized the night before I had to make a 10 hour drive back to South Dakota for Christmas.  It is the second time in my life that I have had to make that drive after an important part of my life died, that much quiet time is a challenge in such a state.  For people who do not like pets, or don't have them, I think the pain of losing pets is hard to understand, especially when they come across someone like me who becomes an absolute mess at animal suffering and loss.  Also, non-pet people seem to find animals expendable and they fail to acknowledge the bond that forms.  In a way, this perspective would have been nice to hold while I was at the vet's office trying to decide on a course of action.  The choice would have been much easier, probably quicker, and the emotional fallout non-existent.  At this point, however, I am glad I am not of this frame of mind.  I will likely be wearing waterproof mascara for the next few weeks, but I'm comfortable with being sad about losing Tumtum.  

For me, my pets are an integral part of my life.  I perhaps rely on them unfairly to make life suck less than it typically does.  My cats help me stay sane in a very psychologically and emotionally tumultuous profession, graduate school, and life.  There are few things more centering than a little cat climbing onto your lap, turning around, and collapsing in a fit of purring while you are trying to type a research proposal or grade 70 papers about corporate income tax.  Tumtum excelled at getting my attention when I was hyperfocused on my  academic pursuits; for this I am, and will continue to be, beyond grateful to her.  It was my love for her, and my gratitude that helped me make the choice to have her euthanized.  I could not repay her for all of her love by letting her suffer for my own selfish need to have her in my life, and my cowardice involving making such a choice.

The photo below was taken this summer.  It isn't the greatest photo of her, but it captures her pretty well-- just chilling in the open window, taking in the sun, playing with the cord on the shades, in general being cute.  She was an excellent little cat and a sweet companion, I'll miss her.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Her Name was Linda

This is my mom, Linda, when she was about the age I am now.  She was a hippy to be sure, and these are two of my favorite photos of her.

I wrote this in 2008, on my mother's birthday.  I've had it hanging around cyberspace, looking at it occasionally, and further reflecting on my life, her life, and death:

     Her name was Linda.  She would have been 56 today.  I miss her SO much!  Even after almost three years it's hard to believe she is gone.  I still want to call her and tell her what's happening in my life, she liked hearing about things happening here.  The Black Hills are beautiful but they don't offer much excitement.  I want to tell her about graduation and work, new people I've met.  I'm sure we would be having some excellent discussions about the current state of the US.  I could tell her about some good books I've read recently. 
    She was always reading, just like me.  Sometimes she looked sad sitting alone at the kitchen table with just a book or nursing journal.  I would talk to her then about everything, most of the conversations were one sided.  She was a very good listener but if she had something to say she would let you know.  Actually, the more I think about it, I don't think she was sad when she was reading, she was just absorbed.  It was her time to relax and just be herself.  She didn't have much time for that during the day.  I would give anything for just one more talk at the kitchen table.  Well, even if she were here it wouldn't be, it was destroyed in the fire like everything else, but that's for another depressing blog entry.
    I  can still hear "Bridge Over Troubled Water" playing in the background, it was Mom's favorite.  When she was sick with cancer and losing her hair from chemo, she said hearing it would instantly make her feel better. 
    I remember watching her get ready for work.  Before the VA relaxed on its nurses' dress code she had to wear a very traditional nursing uniform: all white.  Sometimes she would wear a white skirt but usually it was these horrible white polyester pants.  The top was a polyester button up, short sleeved, with big pockets on the front.  I would watch her pull her hair up into a bun and fasten it with a silver clip.  Sometimes she would use the pretty tooled leather one I bought her.  Then she would put her pins on her lapel: an angel, her gold SDSU nursing school pin, and her R.N. certification pin.  Even though no one should ever wear an all white polyester pant suit, I don't care if it is before Labor Day, she always looked nice. 
    When I was about 9, I started to learn to drive, one of the many perks of living in the country.  I was a good driver then, and I'm a great driver now.  However, sometimes I would go a little faster than the "legally acceptable speed" so, when I was in the car Mom wouldn't call me Rita, I was Parnelli.  Alisha was Andretti, and I think Val was Earnhardt.
    My father and brother are in the Big Horns right now celebrating Mom's birthday.  They took some of her ashes along to spread, so maybe she is with them today.  I wish I was.   I don't think I can bring myself to write some trite adage about loss and grief and renewal.  I can say it sucks, basically.  All of them hurt and are time consuming.  Sometimes it is nice to remember though.
    Well Mom, I know you aren't around, and it will do me more good than you but:
"When you're weary, feeling small,
When tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all;
I'm on your side, when times get rough
And friends just cant be found,
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down"

Happy Birthday.

Love Always,
Your Daughter Rita

It's now been seven years since she died, and I am still profoundly sad about it, albeit in a different way.  My sadness has changed from a giant abyss full of numbness to a much more nuanced mix of regret, anger, guilt, and sorrow.  The sadness, at this point, is really the ultimate form of selfishness as it is entirely about my own feelings of being deprived of something special and important.  Despite this, the realization that there has been a change is the important part.  The process of moving from gaping maw to subtle understanding has been long and challenging at times.     

My Pandora station just brought up Here Comes the Sun by The Beatles.  This was the last song we played at her funeral (over the objections of my dear grandmother who didn't want "any hippy music").  I could not see it in 2005, and it was not on the horizon in 2008, but in 2012 the ice is slowly melting, smiles are returning to comes the sun.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Hating on the Holiday Season

I once had a friend comment to me that the thought of this being the most wonderful time of year made him want to "punch Andy Williams right in the mouth."  He was mostly joking; I think in the symbolic sense it's a great idea.  The Christmas season makes me nauseous, and it's not the egg nog.  I genuinely love the idea of people being nice to one another, boundless generosity to all, and fostering relationships with family and friends.  In general, I'm pretty flexible and open to how people express their appreciation for others.  During the "holiday season", however, my tolerance swan dives like the spirit of the kid who just found out reindeer don't fly and elves don't have unions.  I have personal issues with the religious aspect of Christmas but they are not the source of my displeasure at the moment.  I also have problems with some of the family drama that can develop during holidays.  Beyond these, the obligatory, rote traditionalism and pervasive lack of authentic connection is what gets me. 

For example, don't send me a generic, utterly boring photo card without so much as a signature just because it's that time of year.  Not only is this a waste of your time and money, but my time and sanity as well.  I have a difficult time with this every year, constantly asking myself what purpose could it possibly serve to send one of these to people?  This year, I finally figured it out.  When I get a photo card, I get the visual confirmation that you aren't dead, and that other people in your family might still be living too.  Good for you, especially since I could go another 364 days without knowing whether you are dead or alive if it weren't for the yearly check-in. Oh, and it demonstrates that you managed to think about me for about 5 seconds while stuffing the envelope.  Wow, thanks for thinking of me!  Guess what?  Fuck off.  Given that it takes absolutely no thought to Shutterfly your blurry, awkwardly posed image onto a tacky background and click "Order", the photo card receives no points for basic thoughtfulness.  As a result, I just end up rolling my eyes and chucking your "Best Wishes for the New Year" in the garbage.  

Of course, just because I trash your mass produced, completely impersonal card doesn't mean the other end of the spectrum is any more acceptable.  I don't want to hear about the countless hours you spent cutting out each piece of your handmade card down to the individual eyelashes on Rudolph.  Or that you had to visit four different stores to find the exact mix of paper textures and weights to really give your pieces that unique, do-it-yourself feel.  Similarly, the fact that you spent 3 days in the kitchen baking 12 different kinds of cookies after hand-milling the organic, gluten free, unicorn harvested flour doesn't make them more special; it simply means you're an idiot with too much free time.  I refuse to be awed into guilty praise on account of your desperate need for recognition and over-achievement (and I'm a grad student, that's how we survive).           

What's the point of this?  So what if someone doesn't take the time to sign their name on a card, or that Bob Johnson just spent the last 12 hours painstakingly restaging the birth of Jesus with real placenta and shepherds?  For me, it results in a lost opportunity to connect with people and just "be" as a person.  I enjoy giving gifts, and making people things.  I have spent hours in the kitchen baking or cooking for people.  Previous feedback indicates I am overly thoughtful compared to the general population. Certainly, I am not a model of appropriate holiday spirit.  It could be argued that "appropriate" is a relative term and I'm just a judgmental snob, and maybe I am.  As long as I'm an authentic judgmental snob who connects with people, I can live with that.