Thursday, January 30th 2003

The West Wing makes me sad.
posted @ 1:34 pm in [ ]
I know I’m supposed to like quality television, and that The West Wing is a sort of brainy show, and it’s even about a subset of my field. Everyone expects me to like it and recommends it to me when it comes up in conversation. So okay, it’s a good show, but I still don’t like to watch it, because it makes me sad.

I think it’s sad that we crave real leadership so badly that we recreate it so realistically on television. It’s not entertainment, it’s a desperate cry for help as a society. The President of our hearts and minds is a good man, smart and trustworthy. We haven’t had anyone like that at the head of our country in so long, we couldn’t even pretend it was someone we might recognize–we had to make him up from scratch–and we need him so badly that he’s doing quite well on television. Our real President, well, just look at him! I don’t know a single American Citizen who thinks it’s a good idea to engage Iraq militarily. That includes not only the eggheaded peacenik academics one might expect me to be in contact with on a daily basis, but mechanics and soccer moms and regular folks with regular jobs and even folks who are in or plan to enlist in the military. I don’t think I need to say that attacking Iraq is not about regime change, it’s about oil change.

So in reality, we have an ignorant buffoon who is proud of having been a C student, stole an election, and is proceeding with whatever policies he feels like implementing whether we want them or not. Leaving aside the fact that it’s a puzzle how this putz gets dressed in the morning and gets all the buttons to come out even, if this were going on in any other country, we’d be investigating it if not stepping in and taking over. Think about it: the son of a former head of state decides he wants to be head of state too. The province his brother rules has the deciding votes as to whether or not the son wins, and of course, the brother comes through come hell or high water, even though there are some very shady election practices going on. The son takes the election, and proceeds to run his administration so that his business cronies, not the general populace, benefit. Think I’m being alarmist? Look into the background of Trent Lott’s replacement. His family benefited greatly from a settlement with the government over their string of HMOs, even winning a concession that they will not be financially responsible for the effects of biological warfare on future patients. The only potential beneficiaries of what I can only call the colonization of Iraq are those who require a cheap source of oil to resell. What’s the son’s family’s business? Oh yes, it’s oil. It sounds like a corrupt third world dictatorship, but it’s our beloved republic.

After September 11th, I had my first-ever whiff of patriotism. I was born during Vietnam to parents who actively protested that conflict. I remember Nixon and Watergate, and those were some of my earliest experiences of American politics. I have long been disgusted with the system and have chosen to work outside it for positive change, because I’m not sure it’s possible within it. But September 11th so galvanized the populace that I actually put an American flag sticker in the back window of my car–something I never expected I’d do. I was fiercely proud of the regular Americans who helped each other in the aftermath of the attacks, of the firefighters and police who ran into collapsing buildings to help those who were trapped, and especially of the passengers on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania, who the previous day had been mowing their lawns and balancing their checkbooks, and who chose to die rather than let terrorists hurt any more Americans. Ironically, these most heroic folks are the ones most readily forgotten in the litany of those who sacrificed that day.

It was especially meaningful to me because my father is from that part of Pennsylvania. He came to be from there because his family, recently immigrated to America, worked in the coal mines there. I never met most of them because they were killed, either by the mines themselves, or later by nickel poisoning and blacklung. So beneath the wreckage of that plane, hundreds of feet down, lie the bones of a few of my recent ancestors. They believed in the American Dream so much that they ultimately died for it: working hard, hoping their children would get out of the patch, go further, live better, because here, they could. When I have struggled in my life, in my work, and even in my educational process, I often feel I am being carried by the strong shoulders and sooty hands of those miners, encouraged by their voices, and that my achievements are theirs. The fact that I am two generations removed from the patch and close to being called Doctor is their doing, their victory as well as my own. At its most cynical, my drive is an attempt to make their sacrifice *mean* something, at least to the bloodline. We paid hard for the American Dream.

Of course, the America they came to is not the same one that I live in. The one that I live in has forgotten the lessons of history. It arms itself for greedy conflict as the Athenians armed their ships for war with the Peloponnese. It will not go well, and we don’t even have a decent Pericles to make us feel okay about it.

So today, I’m taking that American flag sticker out of my window. My brief pride at sharing a country with such brave and sacrificing human beings as the victims of the September 11th attacks has been overshadowed by my disgust with the corrupt administration “governing” it. In a way, I was happier before I ever knew what it was like to feel patriotic. I feel like something has been taken away from me, where before, I simply noticed a dearth of recent American heroes. My generation grew up in a sort of dreamless sleep, bereft of true examples. Even Michael Jordan is a pretty poor substitute for Rosa Parks.

So the fantasy of The West Wing, where the President is in charge but human, fair and real and good, it only reminds me of what we don’t have. It’s sort of a taunt. We deserve good leaders and good, trustworthy people running our country. We are entitled to our President listening to us–he works for us, after all, at least by statute. And this time, it wasn’t really that we voted for him. Because this time, we didn’t.

So, my fellow Americans, I urge you to get really pissed off about all this. Write it down and send it, participate in protests, sign petitions, express your outrage. Things are the way they are because we’re letting what’s masquerading as our current leadership get away with it. Don’t. You let that cracker in a $3000 suit know we’re onto him and that he works for US, not his oil buddies. I’ll take him on in a debate, in a wrestling match, any contest he likes other than the Duty Free Shopping competition, and I hope you will join me.

If the Tree of Liberty is meant to be periodically watered by the blood of patriots, this disillusioned patriot is stocking up on Band-Aids.

Friday, January 24th 2003

posted @ 3:34 pm in [ ]
Lately, I’ve been absorbed in getting ready for a conference I’m going to in Vienna, where I’m going to be sharing my nerdiness with the world in the form of a poster. It will be by far the nerdiest thing I’ve ever conveyed to a group of people in my life. May it be supplanted soon!

Needless to say, lots of arrangements. I understand Matilda is also making her preparations to go see Harry.

In the meantime, I’ve been communicating with a new friend. He’s a really wonderful guy who just broke it off with a woman who didn’t deserve him. He’s in his early 30s, so any date is seen by others as some sort of potential lifepartner, and he gets a lot of the same social pressures most of us in this age group get. Get married! Buy a house! Own a minivan! Move to suburbia! Whelp!

Anyway, this friend is a thoughful, examined-life-living sort, fond of the small delights in life, and he’s thinking about what he wants and what’s important. He recently asked me for opinions/answers, and I think I spewed out a stream of Philosophy of Everyday Adventures. As I’m trying to sketch out some of that philosophy here, a respewing follows.


Okay, here’s an answer of sorts: F*ck pressure. It’s much more important to construct a life you would actually want. The house buying thing in my life was really more of a goal of my husband and his family than it was one of mine, so I don’t know if it counts in my case. I would have been okay with renting for the rest of my life, not having a new car, etc. Also, where I’m from it’s not a big deal to be my age and not have any kids, but here in Denver, it’s damned unusual. Might it be nice to breed sometime before I have 3 rubbery eggs left? Sure, but if I’m not ready in time, I’m not going to do it. And the marriage thing, well, I suppose I could very well end up like one of those middle aged sitcom landladies with big hair, dressed in skin-tight jungle prints talking about my endless string of husbands. And I probably won’t die of that either. At times, though, I’m sort of astounded by how conventional my life looks. I expected to be living in a tree or doing something really out there by now.

A wise observation, and you’re right, suburbia sux. You don’t have to go there–you can bail off the suburbia train at any time and get back on if you feel like it–and you don’t have to replace it with anything if you don’t want to. Taking pleasure in the small things is way more important, and it’s harder to master, so you’re far ahead of the game there! I know exactly what you’re talking about. At this stage of our lives, it’s like everyone expects us to have some f*cking Rand McNally Road Atlas of the Next 50 Years folded up in our pockets, ready to whip them out at a moment’s notice and proclaim our plans, and then hop in our minivans and go there. I hate that. Only drones with no imagination who don’t care where they end up or if they had an interesting life like it. Making it up as you go along is much more fun. I don’t know if I have any good answers, but I have a few observations that you can take or make fun of or whatever.

There is nothing more appealing about a person than being comfortable in one’s own skin and nothing more satisfying than being at the helm of one’s own life. Being and doing who and what makes you happy are key, and the belief that it’s happening seems to be more important than whether it’s happening from an objective standpoint. Doing whatever you have to do to feel like it’s all good seems to attract all the right ju-ju. I don’t know why or how it works. Maybe it’s some kinda chaotic increasing returns thing. Travel is definitely a great idea. When you’re in motion, adventures find you like smells find dogs with their heads eagerly and joyfully stuck out the window.

Most of how you do your own accounting about your life has to do with how you look at stuff. For example, I’m 31 years old, I’m still in school, I haven’t whelped, I’m not a size 6, and I can’t cook a damn pot roast to save my life. What a failure! To me, though, I *am* the man I was supposed to marry, so what my husband does and whether I’m even with someone aren’t all that important, I’m in school for a flashy credential and still on the young side for what it is, I’d much rather be strong and voluptuous than breakable and pointy and give up Middle Eastern dance because skinny girls suck at it, there’s plenty of stuff I *can* cook, and f*ck, I can *read* if the desire to make pot roast overwhelms me, and if I do get around to whelping, I’ll be that much better at it for having waited until I was good and ready. I think I’m doing pretty well, even if suburbia doesn’t. Plus, I get to pet ferrets, and drink all the coffee I want, and blissfully eat chocolate ice cream in upscale shopping malls in front of brittle rich ladies who always look miserable and glare jealously at me, and have strange and wonderful experiences with hot nerds in exotic locales, and wear a balloon hat on my birthday and accuse anyone who stares at me of being jealous of it, none of which I would get to do if I gave a rat’s ass about all the conventional stuff I’m supposed to be doing.

So F*CK society! Does society pay my bills, feed my cats, wash my dishes, balance my checkbook, make me a sandwich? Does it comfort me when I’m sad, get me off when I’m horny, chill me out when I’m too pissed off to keep from ramming the car in front of me on the highway, make me coffee when I’m dragging ass? NO! What has society done for me lately? Not a f*cking thing! Lazy bastards. I may not want to go live in a yurt in the middle of nowhere and eat bark, but I sure don’t owe those judgmental wankmonkies a damn thing. Where the hell is my balloon hat?!

I dunno. I often make decisions based on avoiding regret. Will I get another chance to watch the sun set into the ocean anytime soon? Will I always wonder what it would have been like to kiss this hot nerd? If I got to see the World’s Largest Ball of Yarn, will it be worth it to be a couple of hours late? Won’t I wish I could say I had taken the house in Las Vegas, even if it was for some inconsequential amount? Would I rather be called Doctor for the rest of my life or make some f*cking money this year? Ultimately, I’d like to die comfortably, impressed with my life and surrounded by my many attentive lovers. Here’s a weird idea. You could write yourself a really kickass obituary and then try to live up to it. Let me know if you need a balloon hat.

Wednesday, January 8th 2003

posted @ 3:17 pm in [ ]
I can’t believe I forgot to mention:

51. Parallel parking. Sheesh, do I ever suck at *that*! It’s gotten better over the years, but there are still some times when I back up and pull forward about a million times trying to get it right.

52. Not treating men like pieces of meat. It’s true, I objectify them all the time.

53. Restraining inappropriate fantasies accordingly. When I was tutoring (other grad students) last year, I had conferences with some of my tutorees, two of whom were notably attractive and brilliant. I had a really hard time paying attention to what they were saying rather than contemplating clearing the table with a single sweeping gesture and… [insert chik-a-wah-wah style porn flick music here]. I know, it was terrible. I was getting paid to care about their ideas, and I did, but one of them especially I just wanted to kiss hard and get in his lap.

54. Accepting bullshit generalizations about women. Being Such A Guy myself, I just don’t buy most of them. I don’t prefer shopping to football, for example (okay, except if Parcells is coaching one of the teams and winning. F*cker.) I accept generalizations like “women tend to have ovaries,” but even that’s not true all the time, and it can be a tricky assumption to make.


Freaktown elections update:

I reported the Poopy Boy scenario incorrectly. Apparently, Poopy Boy slipped in the dogshit and fell on his ass. Amy, who has great sense of occasion, attempted to use this mishap as a ploy to get him out of his pants (so they could be washed of course). In my mind, he’s still freaky, but I think that puts him behind Harry and Marcelo both.

Speaking of which, Harry and Matilda are reportedly doing quite well. With their movie date fast approaching, Harry has been being very sweet to Matilda. She is starting to feel more cofident about her decision to continue with the plan and beginning to believe that she will probably have a pretty good time with Harry no matter what they see. (No idea what I’m talking about? See Friday, November 8.) She may yet become the First Lady of Freaktown.