Saturday, December 06, 2008

This is not the first time I've wondered about my ancestry...

Last week, my fingers turned a much darker color than usual because of the chemo. My doctor informed me that this is something they usually see in African American women. Add to that the fact that I tend to get keloid scars, also something that Black people tend to get, and that members of my family, including me, have curly kinky hair, and I just wonder.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Going commando.

So. Inspired by beautiful bald woman, and tired of endlessly adjusting scarves and hats, I am going commando. I tried it out first at my oncologist's appt today (and he and the nurse both gushed appropriately at my "gorgeous head," which I'm sure they say to everyone, but still, it gave me confidence) and in the chemo room, and then at lunch afterward. I am ready to try it out in more places. And yeah, I'm ready for questions, too. But somehow, this feels like a style choice more than a "trying to cover up my head and therefore looking vulnerable and sick" choice, you know? So the prospect of questions doesn't bother me quite so much.

Too, my doctor said that everything is going really well. That has certainly improved my mood - as has the fact that chemo this time only took one stick (last time, it took 7 or 8 to find a vein, which wasn't awful, but it sure wasn't fun).

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

People will ask.

I saw a really beautiful bald woman today when I was coming out of an appointment at the alternative health center. Her head was perfectly shaped and just the right amount of shiny - she just glowed. (It occured to me later that she might have used some kind of make up on it to get it to look just right.)

My own scalp is less beautiful. I have weird bumps and lumps all over the back of my head, and the first time I saw them (because one doesn't see the back of one's head all that often, and my head *feels* smooth enough), I was shocked, and had to ask Mr. P. if he thought it looked normal. I've sort of decided that it's gross enough that it doesn't qualify for viewing - as in, I will continue to cover my head in public - but I plan to ask a panel of unbiased judges to weigh in.

I also still have random, stubbly hair, because while 99% of it has fallen out, there is 1% still scattered and still hanging on. I haven't been motivated to shave it, but after seeing this woman today, I'm thinking I should.

I'm thinking a lot about bald heads because yesterday I wore my pseudo-dominatrix cap. This is a cap that I've worn out to clubs sometimes, but mostly not worn as it always seems to change the tone of my outfit significantly. I love it, but I always worry that, on me, it sends the wrong message. (Yesterday, I wore it with a thick, wooly sweater and scarf, which muted the message considerably.)

But the cap, like all caps, sits on top of my head, making it clear that there's no hair there. And so I got a fair amount of stares and a couple of questions.

The questions that upset me came from the cashier when I went to buy my lunch. She's someone I've seen around enough to say "hi" to, but I don't know her name, and I'm sure that she hasn't heard that I have cancer. I saw her *notice*, and I knew that questions were coming, and the thing is, damn it, I just don't always want to have to explain things to people. I don't want to always talk about it, and I definitely do not want to reassure people or even deal with their shocked reaction. I sort of assumed that people would mostly not ask personal questions, and mostly they don't, but when it comes to me not having hair and interacting with a young group of people - well, they probably don't associate it with chemo. I expect they simply think, "oh, she shaved her head - I wonder why," and so they ask.

In this case, though, I stiffened immediately when she said, "wait - is your hair pulled back?" And she kept asking, though I kept deflecting, and she finally said, "oh, you just decided to shave it," and I thanked her for my food and left.

I know that in some ways, by wearing revealing headwear, I am asking for it. Of course, people will ask questions. How could I expect that they not? My colleagues, of course, know better (well, probably word has travelled to them, as well), so I see some of them looking but they don't ask me about my hair. But the students who think I've simply made a fashion decision will ask, and I will keep getting defensive and angry because I don't want to hide, but neither do I want to talk about it.

After I cut most people who ask some slack, though, I wonder about those who persist in asking personal questions. How is it possible to focus so much on one's own curiosity and need to know that the other person becomes invisible? You know what I mean:

"What happened to your (insert body part here)?"
"Did you have an accident?"
"What are you?"

And as if this weren't bad enough, the follow-up questions/comments:

"Did/does it hurt?"
"I can't imagine what I'd do if that happened to me."
"Don't you feel like you have to choose one (race, sexuality, gender)?"

America, some of you are not teaching your children that it is rude to ask personal questions. More frustrating: you are not teaching them that when someone doesn't answer their personal questions, they should stop asking.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanks to a colleague for this reminder about what we're really doing this week...

Link here.

First official document proclaiming "THANKSGIVING" as we know it today came after the event below:

The year was 1637.....700 men, women and children of the Pequot Tribe, gathered for their "Annual Green Corn Dance" in the area that is now known as Groton, Conn. While they were gathered in this place of meeting, they were surrounded and attacked by mercenaries of the English and Dutch. The Indians were ordered from the building and as they came forth, they were shot down. The rest were burned alive in the building. The next day, the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony declared : "A day of Thanksgiving, thanking God that they had eliminated over 700 men, women and children. For the next 100 years, every "Thanksgiving Day" ordained by a Governor or President was to honor that victory, thanking God that the battle had been won.

Source: Documents of Holland , 13 Volume Colonial Documentary History, letters and reports form colonial officials to their superiors and the King in England and the private papers of Sir William Johnson, British Indian agent for the New York colony for 30 years. Researched by William B. Newell (Penobscot Tribe) Former Chairman of the University of Connecticut Anthropology Department

Mistakes, Lies & Misconceptions about American Indian people The Thanksgiving Myth

Let me begin by stating that thousands of years before the 'official' Thanksgiving Day was proclaimed by Governor Winthrop of the Massachussetts Bay Colony in 1637, North American Indigenous people across the continent had celebrated seasons of Thanksgiving. 'Thanksgiving' is a very ancient concept to American Indian nations. The big problem with the American Thanksgiving holiday is its false association with American Indian people. The infamous 'Indians and pilgrims' myth. It is good to celebrate Thanksgiving, to be thankful for your blessings. It is not good to distort history, to falsely portray the origin of this holiday and lie about the truth of its actual inception. Here are some accurate historical facts about the true origin of this American holiday that may interest you:

'Thanksgiving' did not begin as a great loving relationship between the pilgrims and the Wampanoag, Pequot and Narragansett people. In fact, in October of 1621 when the 'pilgrim' survivors of their first winter in Turtle Island sat down to share the first unofficial 'Thanksgiving' meal, the Indians who were there were not even invited! There was no turkey, squash, cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie. A few days before this alleged feast took place, a company of 'pilgrims' led by Miles Standish actively sought the head of a local Indian leader, and an 11 foot high wall was erected around the entire Plymouth settlement for the very purpose of keeping Indians out! Officially, the holiday we know as 'Thanksgiving' actually came into existence in the year 1637. Governor Winthrop of the Massachussetts Bay Colony proclaimed this first official day of Thanksgiving and feasting to celebrate the return of the colony's men who had arrived safely from what is now Mystic, Connecticut. They had gone there to participate in the massacre of over 700 Pequot men, women and children, and Mr. Winthrop decided to dedicate an official day of thanksgiving complete with a feast to 'give thanks' for their great 'victory'....

As hard as it may be to conceive, this is the actual origin of our current Thanksgiving Day holiday. Many American Indian people these days do not observe this holiday, for obvious reasons. I see nothing wrong with gathering with family to give thanks to our Creator for our blessings and sharing a meal. I do, however, hope that Americans as a whole will one day acknowledge the true origin of this holiday, and remember the pain, loss, and agony of the Indigenous people who suffered at the hands of the so-called 'pilgrims'. It is my hope that children's plays about 'the first Thanksgiving', complete with Indians and pilgrims chumming at the dinner table, will someday be a thing of the past. Why perpetuate a lie? Let us face the truths of the past, and give thanks that we are learning to love one another for the rich human diversity we share.

Written by John Two-Hawks

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ren Ev, a beautiful woman.

I have now had the privilege and the pleasure of meeting Renegade Evolution in person, and I hope she won't mind, but I'd like to take a minute to respond to the negative comments and incorrect assumptions about what she looks like that tend to fly around the internet every so often. There are some folks who call themselves radical feminists who want to discredit her and do so by calling her out on her looks (and I provided just one link, but really, this is something that happens fairly regularly and that I've witnessed over the last couple of years that I've been reading her blog). I think that they think that she is some sort of Barbie-doll lookalike, or maybe just that she is someone who looks different than they do, and the fact that she is a sex worker makes it somehow ok to focus their hatred on her body.

In fact, one of the things that continually surprises me (because I, too, fall prey to stereotypes about sex workers) when I meet sex workers is that they look just like everybody else. I think Ren is lovely - you've seen her pictures on her blog, but in person, there is a sparkliness (Ren, has anyone ever described you that way before?) that doesn't come through in the photos. But I also think that Ren looks like a regular person - she could be an ad executive, a college professor (or student), an artist, a health care professional. She may make money off of her looks, but let's not forget that, just as is true for models and actors, there is a lot of work that is done before showing up for the shoot. I say this only to point out that, guess what? Many of those who like to dis Ren's body might well look just like her. Many of those who like to assume that Ren has privilege because of her body might well find they have the same body privilege if they did what she does to prepare.

And also - I find it incredibly distasteful and unfeminist (and I don't really throw around charges of "unfeminist" too often) to talk about other women's bodies in negative ways. More than being unfeminist, it's just uncool. And that's true no matter what they look like, and no matter what they do with their bodies.

...More to follow on Ren's appearance here in the Twin Cities...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Winona LaDuke's house burned down: here is how to help.

I am posting the following message, from a friend/colleague of Winona LaDuke, with permission. Please help to get the word out and do what you can to help. Winona LaDuke's life and work have, for many of us in Women's Studies, Native Studies, and Environmental Studies, been foundational. Her work with Indigenous communities and on renewable energies and food systems has been revolutionary. She is one of many women of color whose work has been absolutely central to feminist scholarship, yet she does her work from outside the academic system. Feminists and radicals within and without the academy, let's help her out!

This past weekend, Winona's house had an electrical fire and the house burnt to the ground. No one was hurt. While the house and its contents are gone, the blessing is that all five kids and three grandchildren are safe.

I'm writing to you because I know Winona won't ask for help, and I also know she really needs our support. Winona bought her house about 20 years ago and it was filled with art, books, music, photos and other collectibles that reflected her story and the story of her family. What will be most missed are these memories, and we can recreate some of them.

Photos: One positive thing about being a public figure is that lots of folks have photos of you and your children. We have a good collection at Honor the Earth but I'm asking if you could go through your pictures and send photos you have of the family, especially the kids. Wasey and Ajuwak were born before the digital age so a lot of the photos of them growing up are gone.
Photos would mean a lot.

Movement T-shirts and Art: The kids all had an amazing collection of movement t-shirts that comprised the bulk of their wardrobe. Winona basically shopped for her kids at the events she attended around the world. If you have any political message shirts or shirts from historic activist
events in sizes Small, Large or X-Large, I know the kids would cherish them. Zapatista shirts are a favorite. Also gone is Winona's amazing collection of posters and art from decades past. I know she would appreciate any no-nukes, safe energy, anti-colonial, no-gmo and Native activist art.

Books: Winona had a library that fed her mind and soul, and that she often turned to for research material. If you can send books, fiction and non-fiction, she can begin her collection again.

Lastly, Winona has a newborn grandson, Little Crow, who along with her two toddler grandchildren lost all of their clothes and blankets. Winter is coming and the family could really use any warm baby clothes along with clothes and outerwear for a two year old girl and a large two year old boy (Giwaadan is a size 4 toddler!).

These are the things -- photos, t-shirts and art, books and baby/toddler clothing that I think would be most helpful right now, and would touch the family most.

Winona and the kids are renting an apartment in Detroit Lakes and will be staying there over the winter while envisioning building a new home. Right now, the best shipping address is White Earth Land Recovery/Honor the Earth office up in Calloway:

Winona LaDuke
White Earth Land Recovery Project
607 Main Avenue
Callaway, MN 56521

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Prayers/Positive Energy for Winona LaDuke and Family.

Winona LaDuke's home burned down the day before yesterday. No one was hurt, but it sounds like she lost everything. That is all the information I have. Please keep her and her family in your thoughts.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Let's hope this doesn't jinx it: "What chemo feels like."

A lot of people have been assuming that I've been going through a hellish experience with chemotherapy, which is certainly what I initially expected. So (and I am knocking on wood as I write) I thought it might be informative to share what my experience has been like so far. As my medical team has told me, everyone reacts differently, so you can't know going in what the experience will be like for you, so my experience will not be the same as everyone else's. Also, there are lots of different chemotherapy drugs, and they have different effects, so while many of us assume that chemotherapy = "lots of nausea and vomiting," that is only even a risk for certain chemo drugs. Further, the anti-nausea drugs have come a LONG way in just the last five years, so the image many of us have of chemo is not an accurate one any longer. They give me three different anti-nausea drugs, total, and they all work to block different receptors (just for example).

Anyway. Here is what my two treatments have been like:

The actual chemotherapy is done on an outpatient basis, in a cheerful room with comfy reclining chairs and tvs and wi-fi. There are also pillows and heated blankets, and a big bin of knitted/crocheted hats (I brought home a cute purple one this last time). Some people have a port put in, which is a surgically implanted device (usually in the chest, I think) that they can plug the IV directly into, which means that you don't have to have a needle stick each time. I do not (yet) have a port - I get my needle stick in the back of my hand, and the needle retracts, leaving a plastic tube that allows the IV to go into the vein. I don't find it uncomfortable, but I do find it more comfortable to keep my hand fairly still.

First they give me saline, then two anti-nausea drugs, all through IV drip. They they give me one of the chemo drugs through two big syringes, and the second through a drip. They finish me off with another saline drip. I really don't feel any of it going in, except for the drug they give me via syringe, which feels slightly cool because it is room temperature (it's also red, so the first time I pee after chemo, my pee is red). The whole thing takes about two hours (though when they switch me to the third drug in a month or so, I have heard through a friend that it could take up to 6 hours - she was getting two drugs then, and I'll be getting one, so it may not take so long, but I will have to wait and see. However, as I've said, it is a pleasant room to be in, and I have plenty of reading/email/writing/t.v. watching to keep me occupied.).

The only thing I've noticed is that the second chemo drug can cause headaches. I have not yet gotten an actual headache, but I do get a sense of pressure in my sinuses. They were able to rectify that immediately by slowing down the drip, so it has not been a problem.

I feel light-headed and kind of woozy after chemo, so I don't drive myself home. I don't really feel tired, just kind of off. I usually take an anti-nausea pill or two that first day, not because I've felt sick, but because my stomach has just felt different than usual, so I take it as a preventative.

The second, third, and fourth day after chemo, I take an anti-nausea pill (a different one from the first) twice a day. I also go back in 24 hours after chemo for a Neulasta shot, which helps my body to produce more white blood cells - this is important, because the chemo, which targets all rapidly-growing cells (hence the hair loss and digestive tract issues), causes white blood cell counts to drop. The shot can cause bone pain - I have not yet had this, but one person who did told me it was unpleasant but easily taken care of with Ibuprofen.

Pretty soon after the chemo treatment, I notice that I get indigestion, and it seems to worsen for a few days and then get better after several days or a week. I'm able to take Tums or Prilosec, and so far, the Tums has been enough for me.

What happened last time is that by Sunday evening (I'd had the chemo on Friday), I was feeling pretty yucky. Again, no stomach upset, but that heavy, cloudy, achy feeling you get when you are getting the flu. By Monday morning, I felt fine, but by about 3pm each day, this feeling returns - I wake up fine, and then the chemo fog descends. I also had trouble reaching for words during that first week. I pretty much came home, ate supper, and got into pajamas and bed, not necessarily to fall asleep, but just to rest. Usually, eating and resting make the foggy/achy cloud lift. I do try to get to sleep earlier on days like this.

I also became a ravenous carnivore, which is good, because protein is something to eat a lot of during chemo. I also get very thirsty - also good, because I'm supposed to drink about 2 liters a day.

Constipation and diarrhea can both be side effects of chemo. For anyone who struggles with constipation, I can recommend Senna-Lax, which is very natural and not at all harsh. I haven't (yet) had to deal with diarrhea, for which I am thankful.

By the beginning of the second week after chemo, though, a lot of these symptoms disappear or lessen. I'm told that the fatigue will increase over time. I have so far not had either nausea or vomiting, and my oncologist assures me that I won't. But I should add, too, that I'm on the lowest level of anti-nausea meds, and there's a whole list of others that they give people who do have problems with this. What I hear repeatedly from many, many people is that most people no longer experience this, and when they do, they have mild nausea that is manageable. In fact, gaining weight during chemo is not uncommon!

I do have sleep disruption, but I'm not sure if that is an effect of the chemo or if it's due to my cold (and ear infection, and bronchitis, which my antibiotics seem to be, happily, wiping out!), or all the liquid I'm drinking that means getting up at night to pee. That's ok - one of the anti-nausea drugs causes drowsiness, so I take it before I go to bed and again when I wake up during the night so that I can ensure enough rest.

So - this is the beginning of my experience with chemotherapy. It is not awful. It's not even especially unpleasant, thus far, except for a couple of days when I just feel under the weather. Mostly, it's an adjustment more than anything else. I'm sure I will have less positive things to say as time goes on and I feel more tired, but for now, it's ok.

Thursday, November 06, 2008


If you have ever found me the least bit attractive, it ends now. If you want to continue the dream, stop reading here.

OK, I warned you.

So, as part of the glamour associated with chemo, my pubic hair is falling out. I first discovered this when I stepped out of the shower this morning and noticed that I had left a little trail. In retrospect, I've been shedding for a couple of days on the toilet seat, as well, but I hadn't really noticed until I saw the shower evidence, and then I put two and two together.

If I could control this process, I would do it the way I imagine SpongeBob would do it, if SpongeBob had pubic hair: I would sneeze, and all the hair would shoot out simultaneously, and that would be that. But no - I get to shed, in a very undignified manner, for however long it takes to shed.

You might be thinking, "that's not so bad. In fact, that's kind of funny."

There's more.

For the past several weeks, I've had some kind of viral bronchitis that subjects me to violent coughing fits every so often. As a woman who has borne a child, that means that these coughing fits force me to "leak" - in other words, to pee my pants ever so slightly. I have peed my pants many, many times in the past couple of weeks, so frequently that I am now permanently sporting a pantiliner. Thankfully, I am not (yet) in need of something with more absorbency (such as Depends), though I do need to change pads after every "episode." I developed a head cold this weekend, and found that sneezing can accomplish this same outcome. If you ever see a woman walking, and she stops walking to cough or sneeze, you can safely assume that she has stopped walking so that she can press her thighs together with every ounce of strength she can muster.

Still here? I haven't gotten to the most disgusting part yet.

So, I get these weird pimples on the backs and inside of my thighs, usually after I shave my legs. They don't clear up like normal pimples do. Instead, they swell up and get really red and disgusting, and then they eventually chill out and fade somewhat, leaving me with dark purple marks forever. I've stopped wearing my swimsuit without shorts because of this. Anyway, so now that I'm on chemo and I have to be worried about all manner of infection, I've had to clean the latest one with alcohol and bandage it up with antibacterial ointment. But first, of course, I had to call my mom, the former nurse, and ask for her advice on disgusting and embarrassing pimple care (the obvious question: to pop or not to pop? We decided not to, since breaking the skin involves a greater risk of infection.), which in itself involved breaking a bit of protocol for me, since I usually don't share this sort of thing (not that you can tell from this post). I sincerely hope that when I wake up tomorrow morning and inspect the area, I don't see anything that means I have to show it to my doctor, since this particular one is quite high up on my inner thigh and therefore in a location I would really prefer to keep to myself (well, I've shared it with you, but enough is enough).

There's nothing else particularly disgusting going on with me right now, but rest assured, I will keep you posted.

Overhead by my friend in Toronto.

"Rosa sat so Martin could march. Martin marched so Obama could run. Obama ran so our children could fly."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Rules for talking to people who have cancer. (Or any serious illness, for that matter.)

I'm new at this, so I only have a couple:

1. Do NOT mention people you know who have died from the disease. I mean, Jesus, do I really even need to say this?! WTF?! I don't care how well-meaning you are. I know that you are trying to make a connection and to tell me that this issue has deeply touched your life. But that is not a connection - that is about *your* needs, not about the other person's needs. Along these same lines, do not hint about people who have not done so well, do not make jokes about the other person's potential life span, just do not allow the specter of death to enter the conversation unless the person with the illness wants to bring it up.

2. Please don't look to the person with the illness to reassure *you*. That means not asking hopeful/panicked questions about the stage of cancer, about how early the disease has been caught, etc. If you want to ask about treatment, only do so if you can take it in stride. That means *not* looking or sounding freaked out. A good rule of thumb: you probably don't know much about this person's specific situation, so don't make assumptions, and please don't look worried when someone is telling you that they're feeling very positive - that is extremely off-putting and, for anyone with anxieties, anxiety-provoking.

I'm sure that there will be more to follow.

Calling all WS practitioners who center race

Since the call for proposals below deals with the same issues that tend to explode in bloglandia pretty regularly, I wanted to highlight this call:

Difficult Dialogues: NWSA 2009 will examine how feminist intellectual, political, and institutional practices cannot be adequately practiced if the politics of gender are conceptualized (overtly or implicitly) as superseding or transcending the politics of race, sexuality, social class, nation, and disability.

Despite claims that "everyone" now "does" (or has always "done") WS from intersectional and transnational perspectives, many of the ways in which the politics of both race and nation have been taken up in the field have been more nominal than transformative. Despite widespread changes in the WS curriculum, in feminist scholarship, and in WS institutional formations, there remains an ongoing struggle over what constitutes the legitimate terrain of feminist theory and inquiry, past and present.

The Difficult Dialogues theme builds on Johnnella Butler's essays (beginning with her 1989 article in the Women's Review of Books) about the contested relationship among and between Black Studies, Ethnic Studies, and Women's Studies in the U.S. academy. Butler pinpointed a reluctance to engage questions of gender and sexuality in Black Studies and Ethnic Studies, and a reluctance to engage with questions of race and class in Women's Studies.

NWSA 2009 identifies several thematic areas in which ongoing and new difficult dialogues across differences are urgently needed but frequently avoided, consciously or unconsciously:

· Thinking, Speaking, and Working Margin to Margin;
· Intersectionality as Theory, Method, and Politics;
· Reconceptualizing Women's Studies within the Transnational;
· Negotiating the Politics of Memory; and
· Women's Studies 40 Years Later: Where Are We Going, Where
Have We Been?

NWSA invites all of those interested to submit proposals for panels, papers, workshops, and performances that represent the wide rage of intersectional and transnational scholarship in the US and beyond.

To see the full CFP and to download it, please visit the NWSA Conference site.

Submission Deadline: February 15, 2009
Proposal submission site will be open soon.

I knew things were going to go well...

...when I first turned on CNN early in the evening and saw all the talking heads saying, "this suggests that Obama is not only going to win, but potentially, win big," and then I flipped it over to FOX where they were running the headline, "too close to call."

Also, the SD abortion ban failed again, which was by no means a sure thing - for months, people working on the inside have been saying that they fully expected it to go the other way. I'm not sure what turned around, but I'm thrilled that it failed.

Now, let's just hope Proposition 8 in CA also fails, and that Al Franken beats out Norm Coleman in the recount...

I am reminded of Michele Obama's comment (used to try to discredit her) about feeling proud to be an American for the first time. I felt some of that on the night that Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, but what I feel now is much more powerful. I have a lot more pride in this country and in its people. I really feel like we are headed for a change, a change that will help us all. And I am delighted to have as a leader someone whom I can respect not only for being an educated and talented leader, but also for being someone with integrity, discipline, and wisdom. I'm grateful that we will have a leader whom other countries will respect, and with whom they will work. And I'm glad that we have finally made it to an era when a Black man can not only become president, but can do so with the substantial support of white voters.

Here's to the next four years! ~clink~

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The West Wing and Obama.

Over the last week, as I've been adjusting to new sleep cycles (from the chemo? Possibly - maybe also just from my cold), I've been watching a lot of cable t.v. In particular, I've been catching reruns of the West Wing, the show I watched during much of Bush's presidency so that I could pretend that things weren't really as bad as they are and that there really was a smart, sane president in charge of the country.

Today, I saw this article in the NY Times about Barack Obama, John McCain, and the fictional campaign race between Democrat Matthew Santos (Jimmy Smits) and Republican Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda). Apparently, writers of the West Wing based Santos' campaign - and, perhaps, his character - on then up-and-coming Barack Obama.

After living vicariously in the West Wing all these years, it's nice to know that this fictional reality seems likely to come true!

Following the Script: Obama, McCain and ‘The West Wing’

Published: October 29, 2008
When Eli Attie, a writer for “The West Wing,” prepared to plot some episodes about a young Democratic congressman’s unlikely presidential bid, he picked up the phone and called David Axelrod.

Mr. Attie, a former speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore, and Mr. Axelrod, a political consultant, had crossed campaign trails before. “I just called him and said, ‘Tell me about Barack Obama,’ ” Mr. Attie said.

Days after Mr. Obama, then an Illinois state senator, delivered an address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the two men held several long conversations about his refusal to be defined by his race and his aspirations to bridge the partisan divide. Mr. Axelrod was then working on Mr. Obama’s campaign for the United States Senate; he is now Mr. Obama’a chief strategist.

Four years later, the writers of “The West Wing” are watching in amazement as the election plays out. The parallels between the final two seasons of the series (it ended its run on NBC in May 2006) and the current political season are unmistakable. Fiction has, once again, foreshadowed reality.

Watching “The West Wing” in retrospect — all seven seasons are available on DVD, and episodes can be seen in syndication — viewers can see allusions to Mr. Obama in almost every facet of Matthew Santos, the Hispanic Democratic candidate played by Jimmy Smits. Santos is a coalition-building Congressional newcomer who feels frustrated by the polarization of Washington. A telegenic and popular fortysomething with two young children, Santos enters the presidential race and eventually beats established candidates in a long primary campaign.

Wearing a flag pin, Santos announces his candidacy by telling supporters, “I am here to tell you that hope is real.” And he adds, “In a life of trial, in a world of challenges, hope is real.” Viewers can almost hear the crowd cheering, “Yes, we can.”

Comparisons between Senator John McCain and the “West Wing” Republican candidate, Arnold Vinick, a white-haired Senate stalwart with an antitax message and a reputation for delivering “straight talk” to the press, also abound. Vinick, played by Alan Alda, is deemed a threat to Democrats because of his ability to woo moderate voters. And he takes great pride in his refusal to pander to voters, telling an aide: “People know where I stand. They may not like it, but they know I’ll stick with it.”

Even the vice-presidential picks are similar: the Democrat picks a Washington veteran as his vice presidential candidate to add foreign policy expertise to the ticket, while the Republican selects a staunchly conservative governor to shore up the base.

Certainly some of the parallels are coincidental. It is unlikely, for example, that the writers knew Mr. Obama had an affection for Bob Dylan when they made Santos a Dylan fan. But it is the unintentional similarities that make the DVDs of the sixth and seventh seasons, which at the time received mixed reviews, so rewarding to watch now. In both “The West Wing” and in real life, for example, the Phillies played in the World Series during the election campaign.

As the primaries unfolded this year, “I saw the similarities right away,” said Lawrence O’Donnell, a producer and writer for the series who has appeared on MSNBC as a political analyst. Mr. O’Donnell had used Mr. McCain as one of the templates for the Vinick character in the episodes he wrote, though he said that “McCain’s resemblance to the Vinick character was much stronger in 2000 than in 2008.”

Echoing the criticism Mr. McCain faced during the primaries, a White House aide in “The West Wing” contends that Vinick is “not conservative enough” for the Republican base. Sometimes the two candidates’ situations are almost identical: when the press starts asking where Vinick attends church, he tells his staff that “I haven’t gone to church for a while.” Asked in July by The New York Times about the frequency of his church attendance, Mr. McCain said, “Not as often as I should.”

Mr. Alda and Mr. McCain are the same age. When a hard-edged strategist played by Janeane Garofalo joins the Santos campaign, she immediately alludes to Vinick’s age. “He’s been in the Senate for like 90 years. He was practically born in a committee room,” she says.

In the same way that Obama surrogates have subtly knocked Mr. McCain’s lack of computer skills, the Garofalo character remarks to the Santos campaign manager, Josh Lyman: “Why are you always talking about high-tech jobs? Because Vinick uses a manual typewriter.”

Conversely, Santos staffers talk about getting video of the candidate with his “adorable young children hugging their hale and vital dad.” The casting of Mr. Smits introduced story lines about the prospect of a minority president. But when an aide suggests a fund-raising drive in a Latino community, Santos snaps: “I don’t want to just be the brown candidate. I want to be the American candidate.” The Obama campaign has made similar assertions.

Still, “The West Wing” — like Mr. Obama — does not ignore racial issues entirely. In the seventh season Santos delivers a speech on race at a critical moment for his campaign, and staffers privately worry that voters will lie about their willingness to vote for a minority candidate.

If the show sometimes seems like a political fantasy — a real debate where politicians are required to answer questions? a candidate rejecting an attack ad? — it also reflects the tenor of the real-life campaign season.

Santos wins the nomination only after a lengthy fight on the convention floor, an inexact parallel to Obama’s extended primary fight with Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Just as the Obama campaign pivoted to the economy this fall, Lyman tells Santos staffers that “this new economic message may be our ticket,” and he winds up being right. An economic crisis does not ensue, but back-to-back emergencies on “The West Wing” — a nuclear power plant malfunction and a dispute in Kazakhstan — bring to mind the election-defining qualities of the actual economic crisis.

“Dramatically, they are exactly the same thing: the unforseeable,” Mr. O’Donnell said.

As President Bush did during the bailout talks, Jed Bartlet, the Democratic “West Wing” president played by Martin Sheen, brings both candidates to the White House for a briefing. Facing the prospect of deploying 150,000 American soldiers to Kazakhstan three weeks before the election, Vinick grumbles, “I can say goodbye to my tax cut.” He tells Santos, “Your education plan’s certainly off the table.”

Santos emerges victorious weeks later, but only after a grueling election night. Online, some “West Wing” fans are wondering whether the show will wind up forecasting the real-life result as well. In Britain, where the series remains popular in syndication, a recent headline on a blog carried by the newspaper The Telegraph declared: “Barack Obama will win: It’s all in ‘The West Wing.’ ”

Friday, October 31, 2008

I am hairless!

So, I beat the chemo to the punch and had my head shaved yesterday. I am pleased to report that the experience of having my hair cut off, as well as the experience of having no hair, are really not such a big deal. (I think I look a tiny bit like Alison Bechdel, or maybe more like one of her characters.) Anyway, Bean is adjusting well - he likes that I have a partial wig that can be worn under a hat, because when I wear that, it looks a lot like my hair used to look. For myself, I prefer leaving my head uncovered or wearing a cotton scarf - I don't like the feeling of anything on my head, although the air itself is now something I can feel and it feels weird trying to get nothing of off one's head. I also like wearing my soft, fuzzy caps (since it is nearly November here, after all).

I've been told I have a nicely-shaped head, which is a good thing - I was a little worried that I was going to look like an egg once the hair came off, but I don't. Nor do I look as good as Demi Moore with a shaved head, either, but I can make this work. My only concern is that I don't want to be mistaken for a skinhead. I suppose that is unlikely...

Friday, October 24, 2008

More about breasts (and wigs).

Specifically, to whom do they belong? It seems to me that we spend a lot of time treating breasts as the property of people other than those to whom they are physically attached. I'm surprised when I hear women's male partners being made part of the equation of whether or not she should have breast reconstruction. It's not that I don't understand that he loves her breasts and will miss them, and that there will be some adjustment period for both partners without them. It's that I see this as similar to a partner gaining or losing weight over time; cutting or growing hair; even losing a limb. These are things that happen. Whether or not we adopt cosmetic responses to these things depend on a lot of factors. I'm certainly not going to say that no one should ever use prostheses for cosmetic reasons. But I do think a woman's decision to have reconstructive breast surgery should not be driven by her male partner's desire for her to have breasts. This is a deeply personal decision. The male partner's role in this case, from the perspective of my admittedly short experience as a woman with breast cancer, is to say, "I will love you no matter what. You will always be beautiful, with or without breasts." (If that's not true, then ladies, you married the wrong guys.)

And you know, I'm sure that this kind of thing happens in lesbian relationships, as well, but when I think back to the Lesbian Nation of radical lesbian feminism, I somehow can't quite envision these discussions taking place in these ways. I can envision women challenging the medical establishment's treatment plans and looking for alternative healing, but I can't quite imagine such focus on breasts on the measure of a woman's sexual worth.

I should also say that I don't really have anything against breast reconstruction. I could argue that I'm a purist, and that it seems disingenuous to me to hide the breast cancer epidemic under implants. But it's not really that for me, although I do think there's a grain of truth there. No, it's more that, while I thought about a boob job a few years ago, it never really seemed worth it to undergo the risks of surgery and anesthesia for something cosmetic. I still feel that way. I may not feel that way in five years - I don't know. But for now, it just doesn't seem worth it to me.

That's kind of how I feel about wigs. I don't really want to wear a hot, itchy wig every day. Mostly, I want something that will cover my head and look good. Hats and scarves fit the bill, as do partial wigs (falls?) that peek out from below the hats and scarves. If I can feel good and avoid scaring Bean, then I'm ahead of the game.

I think what this boils down to is two things: 1) I'm not necessarily looking to pass (outside of certain situations). This is what it is, I'm not the first woman with breast cancer and I won't be the last, and I don't feel I need to make myself look like everyone else to hide it; and 2) I don't want to spend unnecessary money or take unnecessary risks. (I'm more than happy to take reasonable and necessary risks, and to spend money on things I really want, though.)

You know what made me really happy today? My hair is nine inches long in some places, and the wig stylist said that she thinks they can use it for wigs for kids with cancer who have lost their hair permanently. My heart soared when she told me that - it just felt so wasteful and sad to throw my hair away, and I will be so happy if someone else can use it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tomorrow is the day.

I'm probably the only woman in the world who is actually excited to start chemo. I just don't like the idea that right now, in my body, there are rogue cells reproducing. I want them to knock that shit off. No mavericks of any kind, please.

We went for chemo class today, which consisted of a half-hour video about chemotherapy and some Q&A. The whole thing was fine, except that after the video was over, our nurse didn't reappear. After a little while, a second nurse came in to take over until the first nurse (who was actually giving someone chemotherapy) could come back. The second nurse was a trip. As Mr. P put it, with characteristic delicateness, "she seemed to be suffering from some sort of malady. She was tremulous, and she was addressing her comments to people who were not in the room." (Yes, this is true.) But this isn't even the good part. What she did was to talk for about 15 minutes about nausea and vomiting. Nausea and vomiting. Nausea and vomiting. I think that in those 15 minutes, she managed to say the words, "nausea and vomiting," about 27 times.

Now, I'll point out that I've been told several times that the anti-nausea medication has gotten really good, and that most people are not bothered by this anymore. The video mentioned this, as well. And in fact, this weird nurse was trying to say the same thing. Most people in her shoes would have said, "most people are very worried about having nausea and vomiting from chemo; the good news is that we have made some great strides in medication, and we are able to prevent much of this and to alleviate it when it does happen. We give you an IV of this medication when you have the chemo, and then we give you an injection: these are preventative. We also give you medicine to take home; if you feel at all sick, you take this immediately. And if you still have nausea, call us immediately and we can have you come in for another IV."

I think hearing that would have gone a long way toward easing my mind, which in fact was mostly at ease already because this is essentially what I'd heard from my oncologists.

But here's what Weird Nurse said (I'm paraphrasing): "Most people are very worried about having nausea and vomiting from chemo. It's very important to understand *why* chemo can cause nausea and vomiting. Nausea and vomiting happen because there are receptors in this part [pointing] of the brain - *this* is a nausea and vomiting *center*. There are also receptors in the stomach - we have studied these and we know this. But this is very important - it's a big word, on page five - it's a very big word - PREVENTION. We have medicine that targets these centers. Why is it important for us to prevent this? It's a cycle. When you feel nauseous, what happens? Then you throw up. That makes you dehydrated, so you feel more nauseous. Then you throw up again. Nausea and vomiting is a cycle. So we want to prevent this."

By the time she was done talking, I was nauseous AND freaked out. Fortunately, she left soon afterward when the first nurse returned, and the first nurse calmed me down and reassured me. But, holy jeez, I hope they don't ever allow Weird Nurse in chemo class - or anywhere near me - again.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Few things in life are more annoying

than accidentally running a kleenex tissue through the wash. Hate that.

About my breasts... know, I'm not sure I will really miss them. I mean, the truth is, they are heavy and uncomfortable. I don't like the way I sweat underneath them in hot weather, and I don't like the way my bra straps dig into my shoulders and the red marks they leave. I'm tired of checking to make sure that my post-breastfeeding-nipples are both pointing in the same direction. I'm equally tired of wondering how much farther it is possible for boobs to sag.

I'm liking the thought of being able to take them off at the end of the day. It's exciting to think of having breasts that actually fit where my shirts are designed for them to fit, and not two inches lower. (I will definitely go for a smaller cup size, too.)

I'm not that jazzed about reconstruction, to be honest. Sure, I will miss having cleavage, and I wonder how clothes will fit and whether or not I'll feel awkward or exposed in a tank top. But then, I know some drag queens who are able to do a lot with a couple of falsies and a little makeup. And I love the idea of going for a run without worrying about bounce. I love the notion of not having to wear a bra and still being able to look professional and feel comfortable.

And it lends even greater irony to my "got breastmilk?" tank top...

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I've been thinking that there are lots of things worse than being in my situation. I've known four people in the last few years who have been diagnosed with ALS, for example. I saw a few kids at Mayo who looked like they'd already, at their young ages, been through a lot more of the scary poking and probing and testing than I have. And closer to home, an acquaintance of mine was recently assaulted and is so traumatized by this that she is having trouble functioning. Meanwhile, I'm adjusting to having a life-threatening illness that my doctors (at the Holy Grail of Medicine, which my insurance is covering) think they can probably cure.

So - yeah, even in the midst of this, and there have been truly agonizing and despairing moments (like the other day, when I had to have an ultrasound to find out if my liver had benign cysts or if the breast cancer had spread (it was cysts - but even so, just typing this sentence is making me anxious)), I am still pretty damn lucky. I just need to remember that.

Chemo should start this week. I am also grateful for how far anti-nausea medication has come in the last five years - I hear that patients tend to gain weight during chemo, which speaks to the success of this medication.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

...and on a lighter note... strikes me as most unfair that I should have to submit my lumpy boob to a breast exam by a younger-than-me, good-looking British doctor. I mean, really. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Thank you.

Just wanted to say "thanks" to everyone who has been commenting and emailing me. One of the scariest things about this is that, when you hear serious words like "cancer," you feel very alone. And initially, when they were talking about inflammatory breast cancer (which I do not have), they mentioned this when they did the biopsy on Friday and left me to agonize over the weekend - I certainly felt alone then.

But I'm not alone. I have been amazed and humbled and more grateful than words can express at the outpouring of support I've received from old friends, recent acquaintances, colleagues, and all of you online. Thank you for making me feel safer and held in love. It truly makes a difference.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

If only I could feel like this all the time.

Right now, I'm feeling like myself, like I'm not defined by this. Most of the day, though, I spent in bed, too depressed to get up, too worried to feel safe. I need to remember that I feel best when I start doing things like grading papers, which forces me to get outside of myself and think about other things. I am at my worst when I spend time alone worrying, or when I do things other than work (watching t.v. is a good distraction, but it only works for so long).

It feels so good not to be coming apart at the seams. I wish I could feel this way more, and feel like I'm falling into the abyss less often.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Cloudy, with a side of cancer.

So. I have breast cancer. I've spent the last two weeks agonizing over this and worrying that it would be a death sentence. Turns out it's not - turns out that breast cancer has become a survivable cancer. I'm still waiting for my brain to catch up to that idea.

But it's still scary, and it's why I haven't been around for a while. Right now, I'm only at the very beginning of starting to come back to something that resembles my normal self.

(P.S. Please don't share any horror stories or internet information - I don't think I can take it.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Finally, we're talking about inappropriate police force in St. Paul.

...aaand, I thought you all might like to hear some choice quotes (note that whatever appears in quotations marks below is a direct quote, not a scare quote):

Elliot Hughes, who claims that he was "tortured" by police using "pressure point tactics" on him in the Ramsey County jail: "I was screaming, crying, begging God for mercy."

Leah Lane, who was maced at close range by several officers because she would not move (she is, I believe, the one you've probably seen on YouTube who was offering the police a flower):
"I heard them yell, 'Mace her.' I was a little bit scared, but you can't let fear control you. There's more important things at hand than me."

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher, on why he didn't attend the "community conversation" about the convention:
"We're not going to be part of any gathering that implies that we should be sympathetic to the anarchists that were bent on destroying St. Paul." Elsewhere, he is quoted as saying that if the "500 anarchists" had not been stopped on day 1 of the convention, "this town would have been destroyed."

St. Paul Police Federation president, Dave Titus, on public reaction to evidence of police force:
"As the public starts seeing a few frames of video or hearing a few seconds of audio or are looking at still photographs, they have to realize there is a lot more leading up to and surrounding all of these situations. Let's face it: No amount of force, no matter how justified, ever looks pretty."

St. Paul Police Federation president, Dave Titus, on why he didn't attend the "community conversation" about the convention:
"I knew there was going to be a large contingency of people who could care less about the truth and that only wanted to bash the cops."

St. Paul Police Federation president, Dave Titus, on use of force by police:
"I'm going to guess that not everything was done just perfectly, but it was done in good faith, I will guarantee you that. Let's look at the overall picture. A minimal amount of force...was used."

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman:
"St. Paul's police department and its officers are deeply respected by the residents of this city and they deserve to be. Nothing about what happened two weeks ago should change that."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Steinem and Katie battle it out.

Bean had his very first ever sleepover last night, which means that I am exhausted this morning, and in my exhaustion, poking around various blogs I haven't had time to read lately. I checked out BlackAmazon and read her strong response to Steinem's new essay on Sarah Palin. She links to a piece at Katie's place (notice her blog, Historic (p)Reservation, is now on the blogroll) that is really an excellent response to the last nine months or so of feminist primary politics.

Here's a link to the Steinem piece that BA and Katie are responding to. As I post this, I haven't yet read this latest Steinem essay, so picture me with my steaming mug of something on this chilly, damp day, as we read together.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Thoughts on feminist processing.

When I was in graduate school, some of my peers were involved in something called "Collective." This group was, yes, a collective, and it was made up of students who were teaching together - teaching colleagues, one might say. The aim of the group was to use collective process to help grad students, working in teams, to teach sections of the same intro Women's Studies course. The collective would meet each week to go over the readings for the upcoming class sessions and to process issues that were coming up in the group, either within the teaching dyads, within the various class sessions, or within the collective group itself.

The meetings, scheduled for about two hours, frequently ran long. My friends would emerge from Collective looking dazed. I would often hear stories about who had cried in Collective, who had made someone else cry, who had made a patently racist/classist/heterosexist comment, who was oppressing someone else with her privilege.

These exchanges were made possible by the use of Criticism/Self-Criticism, or Crit/Self-Crit, for short. This was, in effect, an open opportunity for anyone to publicly level charges against anyone else in the group, as well as to also note what one has realized about one's own abuse of privilege. The purpose was to allow for people to help each other to recognize their own places of privilege, and to challenge each other when it seemed they were stuck in an "ism."

But this practice quickly meant that a competition for most oppressed/least privileged, as well as least oppressive/best ally, was under way.

The typical pattern was this. Someone would do something to upset another member of the Collective; this very often happened within teaching dyads. The person who was upset would then go to others in (and also those outside of) the Collective and complain. By the time the week's meeting had rolled around, everyone in the Collective was already angry with each other, having taken sides in whatever fight was brewing. Instead of a private discussion, the teaching dyad would now have involved everyone in the Collective, as well as many friends on the outside, in the debate. Stories were spread widely of L.'s classism, of S.'s homophobia. You might think that this was an opportunity for women of color and lesbians and working class women to finally have a voice - and at first, it seemed like it might be. But what happened very quickly was that everyone became subject to a vicious process. Almost no one was protected (I will say more about this in a minute). M. denouncing L.'s classism one week felt like righteous justice, and therefore, was done harshly. But two weeks later, L. was the one harshly denouncing M.'s homophobia. Always, ALWAYS, someone was near tears, someone was enraged, and everyone was exhausted. And all of this was shared in the public forum of the Collective, and often leaked out into the even more public forum of the school at large.

Let's not forget one important reason that people didn't immediately reject such a difficult and painful system: it was likely that, no matter how humiliated or hurt they were one week, they would get to chastise someone the following week. They would be the one who would get to school someone else on appropriate language, behavior, or dress. That opportunity is very tantalizing, folks.

Was there learning? Probably. I do think that everyone learned something about their own privilege and prejudice. But at what cost? Several people lost friends. And no one, it seemed, learned anything about confrontation. No one learned how to say to a working partner, romantic partner, or friend, "hey, I'm really upset about this. Can we discuss it?" The process was tilted toward venting, not toward using "I" language.

There was one instance I recall in which one person seemed, for a time, to remain exempt from criticism. She managed to constantly cast herself as most oppressed in the group, and this was ingenious, because it meant that she had all the power in the group. It meant that she could - and did - make anti-Semitic comments, for example, and that no one would call her on them. It meant that she could - and did - bully other people in the group because everyone was so cowed by her that they were sure that she must be right - until she turned her fury on them. Because what she was after was not justice, but power. (I googled her: she's a grassroots activist, and I'm sure she's very successful at what she does. But I would never want to work with her.)

It reminds me of an earlier post about what happens when you try to dismantle privilege through a concerted effort to oppress someone (i.e., forceably remove what you perceive as their privilege). It doesn't work. It makes a lot of people miserable, and at the end of the day, all that you've proven is that you are a bully.

If we want to see real change, if we want to challenge each other to eradicate the isms that we have hidden inside us, then the route to that is never public shaming. The only route to that is direct dialogue. How many times lately have we seen positive outcomes - for anyone - from public shaming? Seriously?

Sometimes, let's be honest, the goal is not change. Sometimes, when someone is standing on your neck, you don't have the luxury of saying, "hey, you probably didn't mean to, and you maybe don't even notice, but you are standing on my neck right now. Could you step back?" In that case, the proper response is, "get the hell OFF!" But in this case, it really doesn't matter what reaction this receives, as long as the person gets off your neck, right? And the problem with feminist processing is that we confuse our goals. We think that we want to have productive dialogue, when we really want to yell, "get the hell OFF!" And there's certainly a place for that.

Am I saying that people with their feet on other people's necks get a pass? Of course not! If someone tells you to get the hell off, you should immediately jump back. This is not the time to stand there talking about how you didn't mean to put your foot there, and are they sure you're really actually stepping on them because you're pretty sure you're not, and so on. But the reality is that most people are incapable of doing this, or at least are unlikely to do this. And so that means that it's time to strategize. What do you want to happen? What's the most likely way to make that happen?

At the end of the day, "process" has become, at least in some circles, a sort of safe way to gossip: "I need to process what happened" means "I really need to vent about that assholish thing P. did." And if I vent to you about this, then I certainly don't need to talk to P. about it and tell her that she really upset/hurt me. But that's not processing, that's gossiping and venting, and it doesn't move anyone forward, ever.

I don't think many people look back on Collective as a shining example of how to treat each other well as feminists, nor as an example of a useful feminist process. And as for me, when I start to hear Collective-like approaches for dealing with conflict, I run as fast as I can in the other direction. I'll take my conflict direct, please - not behind my back, not in passive-aggressive emails - just honestly, like maybe you respect me a little. Because I respect you. I might not always be able to hear you right away, but I almost always get there. And I am willing to bet that you do, too.

Update on the Lesbian 7.

From Natasha (thank you!!):

"here's an update and info on a benefit taking place next week:

Renata's mother died from an ulcer (and stress, no doubt) and the judge would not let her attend her mothers funeral! The following is from the website: Renata Hill, sentenced to 11 years with the NJ 4, won her appeal this summer and has been given a new trial on September 3, 2008. Her bail was set at $75,000 and has spent her time until now at Riker’s Island Correctional Facility in New York. Last week, her bail was lowered to $5,000. Friends, family, and supporters from all over the country sent donations for Renata’s release.

On August 29, 2008, Renata left Riker’s Island to join her family and friends, including Terrain Daindrige from the NJ 4 released after her successful appeal this summer, in Newark until her court date [in early September].

She and Terrain will be guest speakers, among others, at the Brecht Forum on September 16, 2008 at 7:00 pm to help further fundraising for the New Jersey 7. The benefit will raise support for all of the women who were originally involved in the incident over 2 years ago. The three women that were not incarcerated still face probation and other hardships due to their criminal records. Venice Brown also has a reachable $5,000 bail and Patreese Brown is anticipating her appellate trial sometime in November.
next Tuesday 9.16.08 at 7pm in NYC, there will be a benefit to raise bail money for the girls. I can email a flyer. If you can please forward and put the word out, that would be such a Blessing!"

Monday, September 08, 2008

Friday, September 05, 2008

Thoughts from St. Paul.

Following another day of arrests, and after reflecting on the last week, I have some thoughts:

1) In many ways, the anarchists won. Their goal was apparently to create chaos and anarchy, and this they did. If their plan was to cause chaos for the RNC delegates, however, they missed their mark: what they did was to severely disrupt the civil liberties of the citizens of the Twin Cities and their visitors.

I have not had a whole lot of contact with police at demonstrations. I have marched on Washington a couple of times for queer rights and reproductive rights, and I held a line against "Operation Save America" when they invaded Buffalo a while back. The advantage we had then was that we were not throwing things at the police, nor were we being wantonly destructive. I am pretty sure that those who did these things in St. Paul expected the brutal response they received, and if not, then they should have. I'm quite sure the organizers did, and they are to blame for putting in harm's way any youth who didn't have a good sense of what they were up against.

Yes, I'm playing the middle-aged card. Ignorance of the law is no excuse: neither is ignorance of history. If you are planning to confront police in riot gear, you should at least have learned from the innumberable lessons of the past what will happen next. It's great to be dewy-eyed and committed, but you also need to be shrewd and to educate yourself.

2) I am angry at the anarchist groups that ruined what was otherwise a peaceful demonstration of people who have, many of them, committed their lives to peace. It's easy to disrupt someone else's event, and it probably makes you feel powerful. That doesn't mean that your movement has any substance to it. Know that what you did was to overshadow what would have been a significant showing of peaceful protest, something that would have had an impact on the rest of the nation. Already, because of you, the RNC, most if not all of the Republican Party, and many Democrats have dismissed the entire protest as simply a bunch of hoodlums who wanted to create havoc. You didn't care about stopping the war or the Republican machine. You just wanted to get out there and break things, and this was a great excuse for you to do it. Thanks for nothing.

3) I am angry at the St. Paul police, along with the Minneapolis police, the Dept. of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the Secret Service. In the process of responding to real threats from the anarchist groups, these groups used excessive force, which is a euphemism that means they beat people badly, they used rubber bullets, tasers, tear gas, and pepper spray - and they used this excessive force not only against folks who had weapons, but against folks who were just standing there, who were not part of the anarchist groups, and who were not even in the vicinity of the riots. They also arrested people without cause. They arrested members of the press who had identified themselves and showed the police their id - and some of these were charged with rioting. They shot rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful protestors practicing civil disobedience because the group would not disperse. Their violence was not limited to those few people who were setting fires and attacking delegates (and you can see Bfp for a discussion of whether, in such cases, excessive force is really ok (for some reason, I can't get her page to load, so I can only link you to the blog home and not to the specific piece that I am thinking of)).

How is it that we accept that police may round up peaceful citizens and press - and then shoot rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd? On MPR this morning, Mayor Coleman stated in defense of these brutal acts that took place yesterday that the police had warned the crowd numerous times to disperse. Do we as a society think these tactics are appropriate for dispersing a peaceful crowd? In some cases, police confronted with this scenario have chosen to stand down and allow the crowd to have its sit-in. The only crime here was that the marchers stayed beyond their permit time. Is this a tear gas worthy crime?

4) I am angry at St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman for not standing up for the citizens of his city and for taking sides with the police against them. He seems to see nothing wrong with the police catching up innocent bystanders and peaceful protestors in a sweep, yet stories have been surfacing all week of people asking police for help or being told by the police to head in a certain direction to get away from the protests and leave, but finding that when they got where the police had directed them to go, they were surrounded and arrested.

5) I am angry at the journalists in St. Paul and nationwide who have not covered the stories of the arrests of journalists. That these arrests have gone largely unnoticed is particularly striking, as it suggests a sense that we as a society believe that the police and other law-enforecement officials have absolute power to use as they see fit. In fact, they do not. They are subject to the law, and when they arrest someone without cause, when they arrest members of the press, when they use excessive forece, when they do this on a routine basis, as they appear to have done over the last week, it suggests that they are 1) incompetent; 2) drunk with power; or 3) attempting to suppress free speech. I sincerely hope that what we have seen here is incompetence and that it will be rectified.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

First grade, so far...

...involves daily recitation of the Pledge and the singing of patriotic songs.

...means not being allowed to use the playground equipment, and instead having to play variations of tag (helicopter tag, freeze tag, other forms of tag that I don't know about) with the entire class. Every day. (I suppose I should be grateful that it isn't dodgeball.)

...apparently means doing the same homework every day, and boring homework, at that. (I am not kidding.) therefore so frighteningly close to my own experiences in elementary school OVER THIRTY YEARS AGO that I am a bit put off.

I will keep you posted.

Creepy-crawlies are better than Republicans.

I'm depressed. Between Sarah Palin, "overzealous" Twin Cities cops, the sudden cold snap, and the likelihood that I'm about to get my period, all I want to do is crawl under the covers with hot chocolate and a good book.

Of course, when there's a sudden cold snap like this one, other things want to crawl in and find warmer places to be, as well. Last night, just after midnight, just as I was falling asleep, I saw something in the corner of the room in the light of the t.v. It looked too small to be another centipede, and when I flipped on the light, it was revealed to be a large black spider, the kind that is equally body and legs and so looks strapping and formidable.

I wished Mr. P was here.

The cats were very excited, and stretched themselves out, standing on top of the television, in an unsuccessful attempt to reach it. I shooed them away, worried that their long claws might reach into the vents on the top of the set and get them shocked.

I sat on the edge of the bed, watching Sons of Anarchy with one eye and the spider with the other eye. Eventually, I figured, it would come a little further down the wall where I would be able to reach it with my bug zapper. I've never used the zapper, and while I have seen it used, I was still certain that, when I went to zap it, the spider would come flying out at me like something out of Arachnophobia. But after about a half hour, I realized that I was going to have to get over my fear and deal with it. The thing hadn't moved in all that time, and besides, if it crawled up to the ceiling where I couldn't reach it, I'd be up all night for fear it would fall on me. I dragged in a dining room chair, climbed up on it, pressed the buttons, and zapped it. I was so certain that it was going to suddenly attack me, even though it was pretty clearly dead, that I held the buttons down, watching the corpse spark, until I was worried I might mar the wall. I had so much adrenaline flowing through me that I was shaking, and it took me a while to calm down enough to get back into bed and go to sleep.

Even so, it feels better to write about the spider than to write about Sarah Palin and the RNC.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Please help: urge CNN and NBC to cover the journalists' arrests.

Go to the link below and send your own message. You can also cut and paste this message to anyone you like.

Dear Friend,

Jailing journalists is unacceptable in a democracy. But that's exactly what is happening at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Award winning journalist and host of "Democracy Now" Amy Goodman was arrested by St. Paul police while covering a protest outside the Republican National Convention. Though clearly identified as press, Goodman was charged with "obstruction of a legal process and interference with a 'peace officer.'" Two of her producers were arrested for "suspicion of felony riot."

To tell you that this arrest was brutal and upsetting simply doesn't do it justice. Watch this video to see for yourself. Then take action.

I just e-mailed the presidents of CNN and NBC News (which oversees MSNBC) to demand that their networks cover this important story. I hope you will too.

Please have a look and take action.


Nicole Salazar released - details her arrest

Check this out on YouTube.

Also, listen to this interview with Amy Goodman, which details the arrests, as well, and which reveals that police have been arresting citizens without cause. Goodman also details the raids that took place before the Convention began.

During this show, Democracy Now! producer Sharif Abdel Kouddous tells host Thom Hartmann that he witnessed a New York Post photographer who had been arrested and was cuffed screaming at the police, "for Christ's sakes, I work for a Republican newspaper!"

Welcome to the military state.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

St. Paul cops leave boot prints on your back.

Even if you're only 17.

Police tear gas peaceful demonstrators

See this piece on MPR, which has actually done some good reporting, though they have been nearly ignoring the story of the arrests of the journalists.

Video of unlawful - and violent - arrest of journalist in St. Paul.

Deomcracy Now producer Nicole Salazar's arrest.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Is St. Paul making the news where you are? I'm not talking about the RNC.

I mean, specifically, that the cops have gone apeshit and unlawfully arrested three Democracy Now! journalists. That they pepper-sprayed a woman who was standing in front of them holding a flower.

And this, after two days of raiding homes and several days of detaining and harassing photojournalists.

No, I do not condone the behavior of those who purportedly attacked delegates, slashed tires, set a fire, and basically did teenage bullshit acts of defiance rather than civil disobedience. But the police behavior still is not ok.

America, I hope you're hearing about this.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Twin Cities Police "acting like Nazis" - civil liberties under attack

See Twin Cities Indy Media;

Starhawk on the raids;

Democracy Now (which has several videos from the inside);

More raid coverage (there have apparently been a number of raids).

Although the police are spinning these raids as infiltrations of dangerous criminals who had dangerous materials (home-made pepper spray, for example), they have in fact harassed and arrested citizens dedicated to peaceful protest (and as Starhawk points out, the "home-made pepper spray" was, in fact, soup that included onions and chili powder). Over the last week, several photojournalists have been harassed when walking downtown with cameras. This is an embarrassment to the Twin Cities and a serious blow to civil liberties. If you're in the area, please call the mayors to express your dismay and to demand that civil protest be protected:

St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman
(651) 266-8510

Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak
(612) 673-2100
(612) 673-3000 outside Minneapolis

(Thanks to Ravenm for links - and check out her blog for more on this.)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Can you be a feminist and "pro-life"?

Anna at DakotaWomen has an interesting post up in which she quotes Katha Pollitt to argue "no." My post is mostly in response to this quote. Pollitt writes:

"[Feminists for Life] aren't really feminists--a feminist could not force another woman to bear a child, any more than she could turn a pregnant teenager out into a snowstorm. They are fetalists."

Fetalists they may be - I think that's a fair label. But I don't think it necessarily follows that they aren't feminists. They may indeed not be, but I'm uncomfortable stating flatly that people who aren't pro-choice aren't feminists. This policing of the borders of feminism certainly makes it easy to determine who "we" like, as feminists, and all too often that has meant people who follow the core values (and there are probably more here than I can think to list at the moment) of popular feminism:

- the belief that pornography/prostitution always hurts and exploits women;
- the fear and loathing of transgender;
- the resistance to centering race in ways that decenter white women's experiences;
- the expectation that aborting fetuses with disabilities should be every woman's choice.

I know feminists who work in the sex industry; who are transgendered; whose conception of "women's issues" has little to do with glass ceilings; who see the decision to abort a fetus with a disability as an expression of intolerance (at best) for people with disabilities. I also know feminists who call themselves pro-life, and who spend their lives doing feminist work, teaching Women's Studies, doing work that benefits women. Do I think that forcing a woman to bear a child is a feminist act? Of course not. But I doubt that most pro-life women who call themselves feminists would interpret their actions in this way (nor do most of the pro-life feminists I've known work to actually prevent choice, which, to be fair, I believe Feminists for Life has done).

I don't want Sarah Palin in the White House anymore than I want McCain there, and I'm certainly not claiming her as a feminist. But I don't think drawing the label "feminist" more tightly around our shoulders will serve any purpose in preventing her election - it will only serve to divide feminists.

Instead of looking at the label, it might be more instructive to look at one's actions and at the impact of one's work on women. I'm pretty sure that Sarah Palin doesn't measure up, but I'm also pretty sure that there are some pro-life feminist sisters who do.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

For folks in the Twin Cities who are feeling queasy about next week...

...check this out:

March on the RNC

Mon, Sept 1
St. Paul
Assemble at 11am at the State Capitol
March to the Xcel Energy Center

U.S. Out of Iraq Now!
Say NO to the Republican Agenda!
Money for human needs, not for war!

DEMAND Peace, Justice, and Equality!

Coaltion to March on the RNC and Stop the War:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Yarn stress.

I decided that I don't like the yarn, all 14 skeins of it, that I'm working with for my new afghan. It's 25% wool, which is enough wool to itch, and I just don't like the feeling of it while I'm working with it - it makes my hands feel dry (you know how wool does?). Also, it will definitely show cat hairs. I am torn between dropping another huge wad of cash on fleece yarn - provided I can find anything I like, b/c fleece yarns seem to come most often in really atrocious colors - and finishing this one. I guess there's no harm in finishing it - we can certainly use it, and if I really hate it, I can always give it to someone who likes wool and whose house isn't very hairy.

On the other hand, I'm sure that when I'm knitting this thing in January, I will appreciate it's warmth spread across my lap.


My favorite thing to do in the evenings, now, is to knit and watch episodes of "Eureka" on the web.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ah, knitting.

Since school is starting in a week and my syllabus isn't quite done, I figured I should start knitting again in an effort to prevent the job from taking over my life. Two nights ago, I began what will be our new afghan for the living room. It took me a couple of hours to select just the right yarn from my favorite yarn shop: I settled on this (colorcard 7118), which will match the living room furniture and cushions. I had originally wanted something like this, from which I made Bean's afghan, because it is wonderfully light, soft, and warm, and it doesn't show any cat hairs, but I couldn't find a decent color. I'm afraid that the cat hairs will be pretty visible on this new one. We shall see.

I would post pictures of my progress, only I have no program on this computer for managing photos. The other computer ate a year's worth of photos (actually, ALL of my photos, but the others were backed up), and now it no longer has a photo program for my camera on it. So.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Just making trouble for myself.

You might not know this about me, but I have a wildly overactive imagination and I'm afraid of everything. I used to think that I could never live alone because I would spend all my time taking running jumps onto the bed to avoid the monsters grabbing from underneath, locking and barricading the bathroom doors when I was taking a shower, and making sure all the lights were on all the time. I used to lie awake night after night, terrified of every toy and picture in my room. I even tried my hand at a couple of horror stories, because I liked to write and I enjoyed reading the really good scary stories, the ones that would keep me awake nights - and I managed to scare myself even more.

Sometime in the last decade or so, I managed to get over a lot of my fear. I chalk much of this up to my realization that reading Clive Barker and Stephen King was not likely to help me feel more secure, and consequently cutting horror out of my regular reading material. But it was hard, because there is something truly compelling about a master horror tale, the kind that manages to tap into your earliest memories of fears, the shapeless things that go bump in the night.

Every so often, I find myself yearning for the thrill that this type of fear brings. Usually, I distract myself with other things, and I manage not to go down that road. More often, I end up watching something scary on t.v., fully believing that it is silly enough not to affect me. The more I watch, though, the more I feel my sense of the world changing, not unlike the opening credits for that old t.v. show, "The Darkside," in which you see an idyllic pastoral view shift into a gloomy nightmare scene.


I was never much interested in zombies. I thought the whole idea was stupid, even boring, and I didn't get why so many people seemed to find them so frightening. Granted, I was unable to watch "Night of the Living Dead" because it wigged me out, but I figured that had more to do with the creepiness of the first 10 minutes and not so much with the zombie concept. I saw "28 Days Later," and "Land of the Dead" (the second was much better than the first, I think), and by the time I saw "Land" I was ready to grudgingly admit that zombies could be kind of interesting, after all. I saw several others that I don't remember the names of, and I saw others I do remember, like "I am Legend," "Dawn of the Dead," "Shaun of the Dead" (silly AND scary) and "30 Days of Night," which is a vampire movie, but it is set up like a zombie movie (with pretty good results).

Then I started to dream about zombies.

The thing is, the zombie concept isn't what's so scary. What's scary is the notion of being at war with the majority of the populace and not having nearly the weapons or numbers that they do. I found myself waking up at night wondering if I'd locked the door, and what I would do if there really *were* zombies, and whether or not the locked doors would hold them out and if they could climb to our second-story windows to get in.

The idea of zombies made me feel vulnerable in a way that many of the other scary creatures did not - those other things were scary in a "this could never happen, but what if it did?" way, while the zombies were scary in a "just suppose the neighborhood wanted to come and get me - what then?" kind of way.

And so I've added a new fear to my list of sharks, Cthulu, dolls that live, killer clowns, and whatever might be hiding in the poorly-lit garage that still urges me, somewhat unconsiously, to park my car on the street. I managed to go out and find myself something new to be afraid of.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Plain(s)feminist is...

...typing this with the help of her new wireless router (thank you, Mr. P!) while watching cable with the sound off. Bean ran from room to room shouting out the places from which we could now access the internet: "the living room! the kitchen! the hallway!" ("The toilet!" I shouted out helpfully, not entirely joking.)

The cable I am watching with the sound off is important because I spent two hours driving to Little Canada, which is almost as far away as the name implies, to get a new cable box. Our old one, which was a little number about the size of my hand, suddenly and inexplicably died, and when the Comcast guy came to fix it, he replaced it with a box that is larger than my couple-of-generations-ago VCR. You could fit approximately six of the old boxes into this box. It was so big that we had to push the t.v. way over to the side of the coffee table. The whole setup looked like ass.

So I called Comcast and said that the box was too big. Maybe I was huffy (because, really, I think if you have a subtle, little box to begin with and they bring in something the size of Hal from 2001, you know, that's just not acceptable), or maybe the customer service agent was bored or busy and just wanted to get off the phone. But she sent me downtown and promised me that I would be able to swap the gigantic eyesore out for a smaller model. So, I drove downtown, waited for my number to be called, and learned that that particular Comcast payment center did not have any of the smaller models - just the gigundo ones. Fortunately, the agent who helped me was able to call around and find one for me. Unfortunately, I had to drive out and get it.

But we have cable again, and we have wireless internet, and life is good. Because few things in life are better than websurfing and channel-surfing at the exact same time. The only thing that could make this any better is chocolate.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I'm 40 today.

And I don't mind a bit.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


* My cats woke me up before getting-up-time this morning to point out a big centipede on the wall in my bedroom, which then scurried behind the pile of crap on my dresser. I am choosing to believe that it was not interested in my stuff and instead continued down the wall and out of the apartment. Mr. P was valiantly ready to catch it with a tissue (ick) when it emerged from behind the dresser, but it never did. The fact that I have not already moved out shows just how far I have come in my acceptance of the insect world around me.

* I've watched the Laura Ingraham video that everyone is talking about, but what I see is not a horrible person, but a professional who is trying to do her job and totally, utterly prevented from doing so by a team of incompetents at FOX "News." I probably still hate her, but in this, she has my understanding.

* Why is it that the entire state of Minnesota seems to have shut down all childcare options (except the ones no one can afford, the ones that cost $300+ for two days) for the last two weeks in August when school doesn't start until September 2?!

* I am annoyed beyond belief at the news (rumor?) that Hillary will be nominated at the convention. Bad move.

* Along these same lines, I'm annoyed at 1) a Hillary supporter I met who was incensed that anyone would suggest that some Hillary supporters have said they will vote for McCain and who believes that the very idea is a fabrication made up to discredit Hillary supporters. I know a few of these Hillary-McCain voters. I'm not making it up; and 2) Hillary supporters who are now voting for McCain who are claiming that McCain isn't such a bad guy. Sheesh. Who do you think you're fooling? You want to be spiteful? Go ahead. But don't expect me to buy that you supported Hillary and you are somehow in line with the McCain plan for America.

* I'm horrified by the NPR report I heard yesterday (while driving in my air-conditioned car in the sweltering heat) that in the next century, temperatures in the Midwest and in parts of Europe and the Middle East will reach the ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTIES. And that the solution is to 1) try to cut down on emissions (my emphasis), and 2) to make air conditioning more widely available to poor people. Not that this last isn't vitally important - but isn't "trying" to cut down on emissions a pretty useless response, and doesn't increasing the number of operating air conditioners actually add to the problem? Shouldn't we work on keeping the temperature from rising? (I am feeling self-righteous in my 80-degree (at 11:30pm) apartment. Self-righteous, and hot.)

* I have been told that Colin Ferguson, Thomas Jane (who looks nothing like that photo, by the way), and Mark Valley are not the same person, but I don't believe it. Also, Gary Cole and Marc Singer? Totally the same person.

* I am pretty sure we're hated by the neighbors for letting our lawn die (well, not actually my fault as I was gone for a month). Also, I think I violated the watering restrictions by watering tonight when no one else was - they seemed to all do it last night. We are *that* family. I am going to be a terrible home owner. I need to start saving now for a lawn service.

Friday, July 25, 2008

I'm packed, but I still need to clean the litter boxes.

And it's only 10:30, which means that this week's getting up at 5 to catch a cab will involve having had slightly more sleep than last week's getting up at 5 to catch a cab. And at least this time, I expect not to have to deal with what one fellow participant on my trip to Mexico called "assplosions." (I will leave that to your imagination - but just imagine that happening fifteen minutes before the taxi is due to pick you up. Oy.)

Also, I'll be at my destination city before lunch, so I'll have plenty of time to nap. In theory, anyway.

I am bringing the following reading material:

My Lesbian Husband - Barrie Jean Borich
Nin - Cass Dalglish
Mothering, Sex, and Sexuality Issue - Journal of Assoc. for Research on Mothering
Virginity Lost - Laura Carpenter
Female Circumcision - Rogaia Mustafa Abusharaf
Conquest - Andrea Smith
Creating Significant Learning Experiences - L. Dee Fink

The first two are my fun reading. (I wanted to bring, but couldn't fit, Pinay Power: Peminist Critical Theory, Ed. Melinda L. DeJesus.) The next four are my course books for class this fall, and I'm bringing them so I can plan. The last one is to help me plan the course - we'll see whether or not the learning experience I create is significant.

There are also a couple of file folders of various articles and notes to myself that I will also be using in the course. Planning a course can be a lot of fun, actually, and I'm kind of looking forward to it. What remains to be seen is how much work will actually get done in a hot, humid house surrounded by family members and a Bean who will want to sit on my lap for the duration.

Now, to clean the litter boxes.

Happy Vacation!

P.S. I will upload the rest of the NWSA trans panel post soon. Being on vacation is a good excuse to get stuff like that done. Basically, it's living in the other room on my flash drive, and I'm usually too lazy to get it and bring it back in here, or too forgetful to get it when I've had the flash drive in here in the first place. OK, *now* to the cat poop.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Things I learned in Mexico.

*Pepto Bismol is my friend. Truly.

*Taking migraine meds at a high altitude will make you feel stoned. Even when you don't want to be.

*Americans really are arrogant and entitled. Pointing out the window at the "funny" signs/stores/etc. is a mild example. Asking the taxi driver if his kids go to school is a more serious one.

*Taking toilets seriously is a good idea. Dry (composting) toilets are an excellent invention. Keeping paper out of the sewers isn't a bad idea, either, though I'm not sure it doesn't pose more public health problems. At any rate, I think we're adopting a "if it's yellow, let it mellow" policy in the Plain(s)feminist home.

*My mind is still blown by the existence of homes in which you have to walk outside to get to the kitchen or bathroom (not privvy, but actual bathroom. With running water.) and restaurants which, when you walk around to the back, do not have a back wall. And none of these are overrun with bugs, either. (I know this is common in the U.S. Southwest, as well, but it was new to me, and pretty darn cool!)

*Until now, I haven't properly appreciated Emiliano Zapata.

*There is a radical contingent in Catholicism that might just save the whole thing. (Their existence made me feel better about the annoying, arrogant "Christian" missionaries who flooded the airport.)

*I haven't lost my aptitude for / enjoyment of languages. I really liked trying to learn and pronounce the phrases I needed to get around. (Even if I *had* figured out how to order my dinner, and Halfie offered to order it for me, and I let her. Hmph.)

*The airport bus to Mexico City is a luxury bus, with drinks, even. And video screens for movies.

*It is possible to shower with a cockroach and not mind it.

*Sweetbreads for breakfast - and not the American kind, but actually sweet. breads. - are a wonderful thing, rivaled only by coffee and croissants in Montreal.

*Club music is waaaayyyy better in Cuernavaca than in most U.S. clubs I've been to.

*Taking pictures of people's front doors/laundry/poverty is rude. So is taking pictures of anyone, even your friend, without first asking permission.

*...once you've been there, you have to go back.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I've never really been, but I'd sure like to go.

I'm going to Mexico in a couple of days. I will get the other half of the NWSA piece up later this month, or before I go if I get a chance. I'm going a little crazy getting my stuff together for my trip.

But I did want to post about a weird thing that keeps happening. I'm not going on vacation. This is a work thing, and I'm going to be meeting with local folks for most of the time and hearing about the work they are doing on behalf of women and indigenous communities. I will see some beautiful places, yes, but this is not a party, and I will not be on a beach somewhere. I expect to be completely overwhelmed by the poverty I will see first-hand, and to be very moved by and empathetic toward the struggles that people will be sharing with me. I expect that it will turn my little U. S. American world upside down, and that my frantic shoe-shopping right now (because I don't have any shoes that I can walk in, which in itself speaks volumes about privilege, doesn't it? That my shoes are not made to walk in?) will very shortly seem entirely frivolous. And on an even more selfish note, I expect to feel confused and frustrated and stupid because I am a U.S. citizen who doesn't speak Spanish who is immersed in someone else's culture that I don't really understand and in which I am sure to make mistakes. So, yeah, while I'm sure it will be enjoyable at times, this is not me going on a touristy vacation.

So, first, when I tell people I'm going to Mexico, they all say, "Great! You must be so excited! That's going to be a blast!" and I say, "Well, no, I mean, yes, I am excited to go, but I don't think it's going to be 'fun,' exactly," and I explain why. Which totally brings them down. And then I try to cover over the awkward pause by explaining that I'm running around like crazy trying to find appropriate clothes, at which point they helpfully suggest "shorts and a tank top!" And then I have to say, "no, that's not really appropriate for where I'm going; we've been told to dress more modestly and not to wear those things." And then they get defensive, and tell me that the organization planning my trip, which is actually headquartered in the area I'm visiting (has been there for many years) and has an excellent reputation (locally and internationally, in fact), probably just doesn't know what the local standards are for dress. Because, you know, when they/their boyfriend/their cousin's best friend went to Mexico, they all wore shorts and tank tops, and it was just fine.

As my (well-traveled) friend pointed out to me when I shared this story with her, "There's a reason Americans have the reputation they have."

So anyway, I'm off to pack, and I will see you soon.