Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Mirror, mirror, on the wall

I didn't want the world to define her; I wanted her to define her world.

I didn't understand then just how challenging this would be, not only vis-à-vis my daughter, but vis-à-vis me. Like many other women, when I got pregnant I was determined to establish a reasonable balance between my work life and my family. My goal while Julia was small was to take care of her as well as write my first book. This equilibrium sounded good in theory — and in e-mails to my friends — but in truth I had a hard time actually doing it, actually ensuring that I had both a child and my own life. I believed in balance on paper but never felt truly entitled to it.

[. . .]

We had been together 10 years before we had children, and they had been lived as equals. Suddenly, this was no longer the case. Suddenly, we had very little time together, and most of it was spent talking about his work and life. My future, my career plans and goals, felt sidelined by fatigue and logistics. The "flexibility" I coveted suddenly meant I was picking up all the slack and getting very little respect in return. Before long, it seemed whenever I raised a qualm or demanded help, he would say, "But I have a job!" I'd get upset in return, of course, but my voice always seemed to fall flat. Mostly I'll never forget how degraded those words made me feel, nor how I stood there just praying that Julia wasn't old enough to understand them.

[. . .]

In a sense, I have always lived life as if I were a character in a movie — perhaps every woman does. One of the strongest memories I have of being pregnant is not how it felt to be poked from the inside by my little girls, but of walking down the street, large and slow, and feeling an overwhelming sense of pride in the satisfied and sentimental looks of strangers as I passed by them. It's the feeling of someone else's approval, and it's probably one of the most powerful things in the world.

My daughter knows that look; I know she does. She has a pair of fairy wings that she loves to wear about town. She almost always flutters in front of me when she does, and I do love the look of joy and abandon on her face as she jumps about, arms spread wide. I want to say there is a sort of freedom there nestled in her curly blond hair, bouncing off her round baby cheeks, and perhaps there is — the freedom you find in fantasy and imagination. I only wish that sometimes she could stay in that little world, eliminate, that is, the bystanders who walk by and smile, innocently enough, at her in such a way that she beams and winks her irresistible wink.

[. . .]

She knows her mother's been going through a hard time. Sometimes, without warning, I cry in supermarkets and on sidewalks, uncharacteristically unconcerned if others see me without makeup on, or with it somewhere down around my chin. I always mutter "Sorry, sweetie, sorry" to Julia whenever I do this, though I'm beginning to realize it may not be the worst thing for a daughter to see her mother being human, having an interiority, struggling to regain a self she let go.

In the past few months, she's been understandably more needy and prone to tantrums and fits of her own. The other day, during one of her meltdowns, she did something I found so disturbing that my shoulders tighten just thinking about it. She ran to her room and stared at herself in the mirror as she cried. I followed behind her and sat by her side as she did, but that only upset her more. With a glassy stare somewhere between fear and confusion, she took to looking frantically back and forth between the mirror and me, and it was at this point that I started crying too.

[. . .]

I gave her a little tickle, and we both chuckled. I don't mind her knowing that I'm struggling — that sometimes you have to go through hard times to get to honest times — but I also want her to know that I'll be OK too. Leaning back and giving me a kiss, she seemed to intuit this. For a blissful moment, we weren't talking in funny, fake voices. We were just Mommy and Julia. And I knew then that if anything could make us happily ever after, it was that. (Ashley Sayeau, “Help! My daughter’s a girl girl,” Salon, 21 March 2010)

Mirror, mirror, on the wall: "What do the princess's sparklings portend for me?"

You ARE failing her. You clearly WANT her to feel the TORNNESS that every women necessarily feels in this degrading, patriarch-laden world, 'cause after all, YOU could never come to feel yourself entitled to an uncompromised world of promise, so why should she? And besides, what is she doing being so persistently fairy-merry and self-pleasing when before her so often is the one in so much real due need of fun and relief-from-pain, with you being so broken-down, narrative-ridden, husband-disparaged, and only human and all.

When she broke down, dazed, fazed, and in dismay, and you knew that that look of joy and abandon and freedom would likely only thereafter be occasional and unsure, never fully unprotected yet always mother-breachable, OF COURSE you reached out to her: What a good girl!!! Her buckling proved your "wearerings" could own her, and that she may never really stray -- that you'll have her maybe forever in your mother-pleasing paddock, staying in line with whatever your current mood holds is all she need know of the right lessons of daughterhood.

Damn being beholden to what other people expect from you! Damn the patriarchy!(?)

Link: Help! My daugher’s a girly girl (Salon)


Frankly, as a YouPorn masturbator, I was pretty offended by this. (By the way, you can also hit me up on Chatroulette.) What's more, the last part kind of makes him sound like serial killer: "My local life is clean. I am more focused than they are. Stronger and better suited to what is near me -- my family, my wife, my job." It almost feels like his next sentence could easily be, "No one would ever dream of looking in my shed."

But the other weird part about this is that he says, "you don't fight men over stuff like this" -- yet he goes and does just that. He fights with men (with me) about it, he just does so in flaccid anonymity.

[. . .]

First of all, I would never, never describe making love to my wife as "sweet." There is actually a lot of grunting, if you must know.

[. . .]

This is not a cheating piece, this is a revenge piece; society isn't nice with all its fancy expectations for little Prince Anonymous, so I will treat my wife passive aggressively -- no, make that cruelly -- and I'll do so in complete anonymity (just like this article). I will use my wife and these women to get back at the big bad modern world that doesn't appreciate me. Performance reviews, training, 401K, too much work, deadening career, flawed and antiquated apparatus of marriage.

This is not a cheating piece. It's more of this Nouvelle American Man Poor Me bullshit. This is just a retread article by a guy with no sense of humor about himself, who is too soft to take any real responsibility in his life. Don't like your boring job? Quit, and learn how to live with less, or find something that interests you more. Living too long? Get a heroin problem. Don't like being married? Don't get married. Or man up and get a divorce. Fix just one aspect of your miserable life and stop giving me shit about masturbating to YouPorn. Don't act like some jaded character resigned to his fate, don't be an anonymous guru who purports to have some deep insight into what men really think, because ultimately, while there are a bunch of guys over the age of 30 who think and act like this, most of us got over this angsty stuff a long time ago. The only thing this particular anonymous has any insight into is the way spoiled little boys think. (Aaron Traister, “Explaining Tiger Woods and Jesse James, badly,” Salon, 19 March 2010)


When we sense that Morgana, not Arthur, rules the realm, the most obnoxious -- for sensing themselves so obnoxiously-backed/empowered -- are the Mordreds of the world, those who have offered up their scrotums and their souls to their mother-wives.

Why does Aaron so often repeat that he's a YouPorn watcher -- put this fact before us, not so much as if he was owning-up to his clownishness, but as if he was muscling his balls before our face? Because it posits him the teen boy whose bathroom grunts are to be understood by mom as but natural -- that "that's what little boys do" -- not someone who is contesting her centrality of interest to, her ownership over, him. His juvenile grunts show he has retreated away from any claim to adult self-possession; he becomes the adolescent who proves daily in his ostensible adulthood that he will never in fact defy or move on.

This is a rewarding but also humiliating place to be. You do feel some wife-revenge in his making clear "we're up to grunting, not just petting" -- a way of covering with the mutual his intention we know how daily HE makes HER grunt -- but it is well diverted toward some other intention, toward the primary "out" for his revenge. For in the age of Morgana, the wife-fidelitous YouPorner feels -- and actually can -- make mince-meat of any ranging 'squire, and so frustration finds release primarily in OUR carnage. He needn't even argue or write well: it's enough for him to show off his branding for us to know that our God, our Lady, has ordained the day for him.

Link: Explaining Tiger Woods and Jesse James, badly (Salon)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bye-bye, Kucinich

Kucinich knows as well as anyone that the president is far from a socialist; he's a centrist corporatist Democrat, and that was clear back when Kucinich stood well to his left during the 2008 primaries. And even though the Cleveland progressive normally avoids partisan calculations about power and opportunity, and votes his conscience and ideology, Kucinich decided to support Obama's healthcare reform plan because right now, partisan calculations about power and opportunity actually serve his left-wing conscience and ideology.

Kucinich understands that there will be no healthcare reform for another generation if this bill doesn't pass. There will be no second Obama term either (and don't dream about lefty primary challenges -- there won't be a Democrat in the White House in 2013 if his name isn't Obama). The only thing worse than being an alleged socialist in American politics is being a weak, ineffectual socialist, and if the president and his party can't get this package passed, despite controlling the White House and a healthy majority in both houses of Congress, they will be rebuked by the voters. And maybe rightly rebuked. What better sign that a party isn't ready to govern? (Joan Walsh, “Dennis Kucinich speaks for me,” Salon, 17 March 2010)

Bye-bye, Kucinich

You read GG and you get a sense that Obama is slowly paving way to wage war against select numbers of the American people. And it is, for me, very difficult to trust the hand-extended, when I know the other is clenching into a fist. YOU support the bill because you care; Kucinich now does so because he saw the fist, and was aroused by the possibility of it. The little dwarf has proven himself no good at all. He will hurt people.

Speaking of Speaking for People

It's nice you printed a response of one of the subjects of "Hipsters on Food Stamps" article, who disputes Mr. Bleyer's reporting. But since Salon set itself up as the main source on "Food Stamp Hipsters" I think you need to do more.

For once, don't act like other media outlets - starting a questionable uproar, then letting it drop with a single perfunctory follow up. Instead actually doing that "larger conversation" journalists so often use to justify their choices and which Salon so often flogs.

You have done multiple articles and follow-ups and responses on Sara Palin, and if Lord of the Rings is a classic. You spent months on every aspect of Hilary Clinton's campaign.

Why not go beyond the occasonal "Pinched" article and spend at least a week scrutinizing Food Stamps, myth and reality, and the ethics and rhetoric of economic trend pieces?

It doesn't involve celebrities, but impacts all of us. And it would be something few journalists are willing to do.

I'm cross posting this letter here in hopes of getting a real genuine response. I think you could do something special here, something which Salon was allegedly created to do. (softdog, response to post)


I agree, softdog. That article may well have worked toward creating a new underclass of people for the Newt Gingrichs (on the right AND the left, apparently) to wage war on. We're about to pass healthcare, and those least likely to find coverage under the bill -- students, part-time workers -- are being set up by Salon as deserving less, not more; as worthy of punishment, not assistance. (Akin to what Gingrich did to welfare-"queens.") "They" should not want to play any part in encouraging that evil. It has not yet been remedied.

When we feel a society needs punishment for its previous wickedness, you might think all attention drifts toward the self-indulgent rich. In truth, it goes there, but it is toward the youth that it settles most; for the young represent OUR OWN striving selves, what we at heart most believe brought us into a situation where somewhere above someone menacing is calling for merciless crackdown and tributary sacrifice.

@Patrick McEvoy-Halston

You said...

"...those least likely to find coverage under the bill -- students, part-time workers... "

I would be interested, do you have a link to back this up?

My daughter (a student and a part time worker ) was kicked off of our policy when she hit 22. Now we have to help her pay for an expensive "hit by a bus" policy.

Right now...

"a third of Americans age 19 to 29 are uninsured, the largest and fastest-growing segment of the population lacking health insurance. For those who aren't full-time students, it climbs to 39 percent.

But the new HCB would let parents keep their kids on their insurance until age 27, isn't that a big improvement? (ECHO LEFT, response to post)


Admittedly, I was going on what I've heard other people say, and, to be honest, an overall intuition that young people are not just not last in line but strapped to tracks ahead of the Obama's societal-renewal express. Glad you chimed in: It would be nice for kids to sense that out there if they lapse or fall, isn't the boogie-man, but a kind catcher in the rye.

All this said, I was for the healthcare passage earlier, primarily -- if you can believe it -- because I think earlier it was passed through the hands of an Obama with still, to us, some 60's progressive effervescence, while now I feel that it has gone, and that the bill will pass because somehow, despite it being about "health" and "care," it'll be part of a conversation that would appeal to Moses as he espied the heathens.

@Patrick McEvoy-Halston

What a lovely reply. You have a gift. (ECHO LEFT, response to post)

Link: Dennis Kucinich speaks for me (Salon)

America the beautiful

Think of it as the effect of a grinding recession crossed with the epicurean tastes of young people as obsessed with food as previous generations were with music and sex. Faced with lingering unemployment, 20- and 30-somethings with college degrees and foodie standards are shaking off old taboos about who should get government assistance and discovering that government benefits can indeed be used for just about anything edible, including wild-caught fish, organic asparagus and triple-crème cheese. (Jennifer Bleyer, “Hipsters on food stamps,” Salon, 15 March 2010)

The more spirited always look sick to the more beaten-over: sex, drugs, and rock and roll

As someone who believes depressions are self-willed phenomena that arise owing to mass discomfort with prosperity, I think the author here is playing with fire in her baiting us into considering students'/recent graduates' foodie-habits as akin to a previous generations' "self-indulgent" immersion in sex and music. When we're looking for scapegoats for societal selfishness, our first thought is already to turn to the youth, owing to their so well representing/essentializing growth, presumption, ambition (or if you prefer, rampant self-indulgence, elder-disrespect, and narcissism).

Still, THIS IS the kind of forum to manifest -- if weren't already aware of it -- that we've become obsessed with explaining any seeming extravagance as MOSTLY really about responsibility and clear thinking: It's a good thing, 'cause it means they care about their health, and will prove less of a burden in the long-term; It's good, 'cause it means they care about the environment, responsible engagement with fragile earth.

Why it is (primarily) good, to me, IS actually that it means kids won't default too readily to eating food they don't enjoy. They take as much pleasure in their ongoing food adventures as the more sickly do in their (in truth -- and whatever the poverty) mostly masochistically motivated, revenge-avoidance moved consumption of gruel. They can't be cowed/reprimanded away from enjoying life, and it is in THIS spirit that we might one day find that such things like depressions cease to be. I really believe this.

If we won't let them have their 60s, may they at least ably find their way through us.

- - - - -

I am one of the subjects of Jennifer Bleyer's recent article about hipsters on food stamps. I am writing to address the particular sort of ire that this article drew toward people like me -- educated, unemployed, 20- to 30-somethings who work in creative industries. Much of this vitriol is based on certain assumptions that I would like to address.

While organic and local foods seem like luxury items to many, it's important to understand that cheap food is the result of government subsidies while local farmers get little to no assistance. Cheap food is the real extravagance. My interest in food stems from my having to care for a diabetic father, and good food is the only form of healthcare I have access to. Even when I was working full time for a publishing company, I received no benefits, and paid an average of $2,500 to Uncle Sam every tax season despite wages that were meager by any American standard.

[. . .]

I can tell you that many of the artists I know in Baltimore work as dishwashers, baby sitters, house cleaners, movers and dog walkers. They temp, sling coffee and freelance. They teach inner-city kids and counsel rape victims to make ends meet. They come from all walks of life and from all parts of the country, they are black, white, Asian and Latino, and all of them struggle to varying degrees. What makes them less deserving of assistance when they need it than anyone else who qualifies, and why is it such a travesty that food stamp recipients have access to quality, healthy food?

[. . .]

By the way, a whole rabbit at Lexington Market is $10, feeds at least four people, and is healthier than factory-farmed chicken (around $6 for a whole one at the same market).

(Gerry Mak, “A hipster on food stamps responds,” Salon, 17 March 2010)

Full Disclosure

I have reported all of my income. I receive no significant help from my parents (they paid for college, so I wouldn't expect any more from them even if they had the means). The Department of Human Resources in Baltimore has my social security number, and they know my employment history.

As for food, I generally don't even buy organic or local. I try when I can, and usually that's with my own cash. Mostly though, I eat sardines out of a can, which are sustainable and high in omega-3s. I eat sweet potatoes, which are cheap and nutritious. I sometimes eat chicken that I buy at the halal market for about $2.99/lb. I eat a lot of vegetables, mostly not organic, but I try to get stuff that looks good and fresh.

I am only a hipster in that I make art in my spare time. I am not good enough to have sold anything yet. For most of my professional career, I have been paid to write and edit. Unfortunately, the publishing industry is in dire straits, which is why I find myself barely employed. (Gerry Mak, response to post)

This is how you portray yourself here:

“My interest in food stems from my having to care for a diabetic father, and good food is the only form of health care I have access to.”

Further, you now make clear that you eat food that is "cheap and nutritious"-- rather than cheap, nutritious, and DELICIOUS.

This is how you are portrayed in the article:

"I'm sort of a foodie, and I'm not going to do the 'living off ramen' thing," he said, fondly remembering a recent meal he'd prepared of roasted rabbit with butter, tarragon and sweet potatoes. ‘I used to think that you could only get processed food and government cheese on food stamps, but it's great that you can get anything."

That is, in your response you're all of a sudden EXCLUSIVELY a foodie out of necessity/responsibility, whereas in the article we had you as a foodie in good part out of a disdain for the paltry and a preference for the magnificient -- you were in it for its music and sex, that is.

You might be well protecting yourself, but I really wish you'd left room for challenging people to question if finding every means to enjoy life is a sign that you are spoiled, that you are in some way irresponsible for dining on rabbit, sweet potatoes and butter, while so many wish you'd content yourself with 100% life-discomfort and gruel. For some of us, the best way to be socially responsible is to show that YOU NEED NOT let regressing, punishment-minded elders bully you into demonstrating you're just as wary of lust-for-life, of seeming spoiled, as everyone else these days. And don't kid yourself: even if your in-truth only occasional hipster ways lead you away from being an embarrassing failure as an artist toward some one-day considerable success, don't think "we" still won't expect to see you repentant and modest. "We" want all youth now to be ready to surrender themselves to our own needs, not consolidating themselves firmly away in their own uniquely rich way of life, and this is why we're in the business of trying to starve you out right now. If your instinct is not to tell us to fuck off right now, to protect your right to life of HAPPINESS AND PLEASURE!, you'll eventually find someone else more spoiled than you to single out and bully, and so America becomes one more person toward the barren, mean, and grasping.

- - - - -

The Entitlement Generation

Food stamps and other forms of public assistance are intended to be a last-ditch safety net for people truly in need. California's food stamp statute, for example (Welf. & Inst. Code 18900) states in the first line that its purpose is to combat "hunger, undernutrition, and malnutrition" among low-income people. In other words, food stamps (and welfare) are supposed to provide truly needy people with a last line of defense. College-educated 20- and 30-somethings hardly fit into that scheme.

I'm guessing that most of the "hipsters" who are using food stamps have a lot more options in life than the average food stamp applicant. They have parents they can move back in with. They are mobile enough that if they can't find work as a light technician in a Manhattan art house, they can move to Jersey and sling coffee or tend bar. They could even (gasp!) get one of those jobs that we're always told Americans won't take, like janitor, hotel maid, etc.

It's the idea that our tax dollars are being used to subsidize a lifestyle that bothers people, not the use of food stamps for healthy food. The idea that some people feel that they're entitled to live in the hip enclaves of their chosing, work in their ideal field, and live their lifestyle no matter what the cost, even if it means suckling off the public teat to do it. That's not how the real world works. You lose a job, sometimes you gotta move, change fields, downgrade, scrimp, and yes, eat ramen for a few months.

It's deeply troubling that we have raised a generation that views it as their right to burden already overstressed systems in order to continue to live in the style to which they've grown accustomed (or, more likely, into which they were born).

One final point: it is the height of arrogant ignorance for a 20-something art student to assert that "food stamp-using foodies might be applauded for demonstrating that one can, indeed, eat healthy and make delicious home-cooked meals on a tight budget." I'm sure struggling families around the country are deeply grateful to Autumn and Skyler for showing them the folly of their ways. (N1063W, response to post)

Sex, drugs, and rock and roll!: where art thy former (drop-out) defenders now?

And I saw in my path a many-mouthed beast, which went by the name of GLUTTONY; and another draped-over in silk, pearls, and toy-poodle encumbrances, which went by the name of EXTRAVAGANCE; and another adrift in endless hours of artful posings, set for endless hours more, that went by the name of IDLENESS -- and I knew God would be displeased if I failed to ground to the dirt, every last spoiled-rotten one of them.

The American left? Who knew?

Links: Hipsters on food stamps (Salon)

A hipster on food stamps responds (Salon)

My books at Amazon.com

Essays on the Lord of the Rings Draining the Amazon's Swamp Wendy and Lucy, Star Trek, and The Lord of the Rings (and free at scribd...