Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Comedian's Dilemma.

Bloomsbury Coffee House
12oz Soy Mocha w/whip
Zucchini Bread

The best comedy tells the truth.  And because of that, comedy often traffics in uncomfortable taboo topics.  Racism, sexism, war and violence... the bread and butter of many comedians.  You don't have to use "blue humor" to be a master comedian - think Bill Cosby.  But it is often the blunt, crass, shocking comedians who add the most value to our society by their ability to reveal truths about ourselves that have gone unacknowledged.  Think George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Richard Pryor.  However, that doesn't give comedians license to be shocking and vulgar and claim some noble cause, that they're just telling it like it is, holding up a mirror to society.

My husband and I have very different taste in humor.  He is much more fond of the Jackass movies, pranks, and the modern-day Comedy Central roasts.  These are often unwatchable for me.  But we do agree on many things in principle.  He is adamantly anti-censorship, and insists that no subject is taboo as long as the joke is funny.  And I am basically in agreement, but I have to add one caveat, one challenge to the performer: Maybe the subject isn't "off the table," but should the joke be told?

It would probably surprise people to know that all those stereotypes about Jewish people which appear regularly in comedy routines - I didn't know any of them till I was in high school or college.  I learned them from comedians.  And even though I don't believe in racism - in that I don't think there is any behavior that is intrinsic to one group of people or other - those thoughts are there now, whether I want them to be or not.  They pop up like a reflexive twitch of the knee when it is struck by the comedian's hammer, and every time I have to make the effort to correct the thought, lower my foot to the floor again.

Racism, sexism, any kind of prejudice, can only survive through its repetition.  It has to be branded into your thinking, like any marketing campaign. 

So, for a comedian trying to find their voice, make their name, they need to ask themselves also,  "Is the joke worth telling?"  You can come up with some clever turn of phrase, some situational joke that will have a good punch, but does the joke reveal?  Does it enlighten?  Will it bring us to a better place by challenging our previously-held perceptions?  Or will it reinforce the old worn-out prejudices?  Where does the humor of the joke come from?  If you're telling a joke about something horrible happening to someone, does the humor come from exposing the horribleness of the perpetrators, or of society's reaction to the event?  Or does the humor exploit the victim?  Will the joke strengthen the weak or the strong?

At the end of the day, I'm not a comedian, and I'm not for censorship, so this is not directly my dilemma.  But I do not have to partake in that kind of humor, and I feel a responsibility to call it out when I see it, because, so often, those who are telling the joke do not see it. 

Then, it's our turn to hold up the mirror.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Broken Things

Downtown Grounds
12oz soy ...somethin' fancy, I forget the name, but it's got Mayan chocolate and orange zest or something
Peanut butter cookie

The Broken Things

There's duct tape
and glue
and chips off
laminated edges;
but there's no real fix
for the broken things.

There's cigarettes
and pills
and pillars of
empty bottles;
but there's no real fix
for the broken things.

There's spare rooms
and backseats
and other people's
but there's no real fix
for the broken things.

There's second jobs
and food stamps
and maxed out
interest rates;
but there's no real fix
for the broken things.

There's pundits
there's lies -
I'm of no one's
special interest;
and we'll never get fixed
by the broken things.

We'll never be fixed
by the broken things.

-- 8/10/13

So, I went to the college to work out some paperwork crap, and they were closed.  Unfortunately, Greg dropped me off in front and left with the boys before I could signal to him that the doors were locked.  And... guess who's got a home-row and left their phone at home today?  This gal!  So, that's why I'm doing my blog today and just mailin' it in this week.

Also, I uploaded a video to YouTube.  Did I mention I have a YouTube account?  I was originally going to do a video blog, so I started a channel called "RamenistaClass."  Unfortunately, I couldn't blog from home because I didn't have a camera with decent audio at the time, and there was too much baby interference.  So I had to resort to getting myself ye old-fashioned bloggity-blog.  Anyway, this video was prompted by a call from the show "All In" with Chris Hayes on MSNBC.  They wanted stories about life on minimum wage, so I tried to summarize what I had written about in the "Hard Choices" blog.  Check it out, if you like.  And send in your own story while you're at it.  That is all.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The first rule of Consent Club...

Mix Sweet Shop
8oz Soy Mocha
(Huge!) Croissant

Trigger Warning.

Have you seen that phrase popping up more and more?  I have.  I think it's a great thing, but it's such a tragic thing, too.  It's a sad commentary about the presence and pervasiveness of today's topic.  If you are sensitive to this topic - and if you are then you know the topic to which I am referring - you may want to go look at pictures of kitties opening doors and peeing in toilets and then (most importantly) flushing.  Or pour yourself a shot and soldier on...  This is your trigger warning.

Someone posted this article to me about Yale's response to an investigation into on-campus rapes.  They retermed it "Nonconsensual Sex" and "disciplined" the offenders with probation or suspension.  Not even expulsion - suspension.  That's it.  My comment when I reposted the article onto my Wall was:

To be clear... there is no such thing as "Nonconsensual Sex" because Sex is something you do WITH someone not TO someone. You can call it "Nonconsensual Penetration," because if I were to, say, take a pencil and Penetrate the eye socket of one of these college administrators they would in no way confuse that with making sweet, sweet love with a Number 2.

I have been seeing more and more conversations about rape and rape culture.  My first reaction to the term was that it probably went a little too far, because no one is really for rape.  Right?  Then I read more and more and, once my eyes were opened to it, I realized it is everywhere.  These are a couple of articles I reposted recently about what rape culture is and about the objectification of women beyond just the obvious over-sexed advertisements.  To sum up, objectification is more about the way that men are overwhelmingly the subject of the story, the action, and women are the mostly passive object of the story or action.  Even strong female characters tend to be somebody's love interest/trophy/partner on the job, etc.  

And rape culture?  The best explanation of rape culture that I've heard is that is the normalization of rape to the point the people don't recognize it as rape.  Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Steubenville rape case, beyond the rapes, was the audience.  Numerous witnesses said they didn't stop or report the incident because they didn't think it was rape.  An unconscious person - a kid - being dragged from party to party and repeatedly penetrated by multiple people... not rape?  Apparently, these guys thought this was some kind of a party prank.  Like drawing a penis on someone's face is on the same level as forcing one inside them without their consent.

There are too many examples of horrible things.  Too many statistics that will break your heart.  I've heard different figures but most often I hear these: 1 in 4 women will be raped in her lifetime... 1 in 6 men... and most victims before they reach the age of 18.  So about 1 in 5 Americans overall.  The figure that hit me hardest, though, was among black women: 3 out of 5 will be raped in their lifetime.  Sixty percent.  That's "most."

Three-fifths of black women treated like they're not quite human.

I don't know the numbers among black men, but that number - three-fifths - that alone is enough call for black men to be at the vanguard of the feminist movement.

My hope is that we are finally beginning to wake up to this silent epidemic.  We clearly need to do some educating and re-educating across the population.  Apparently, we need to teach people things like, the legal definition of "rape" (despite some politicians' efforts to distinguish between "legitimate" and, what?, "not legitimate" rape) is any penetration of any orifice by any object, animate or inanimate.  We need PSAs.  We need Consent Education as a fundamental part of Sex Education.  We need to cultivate a culture of respect for every person's right to their own body.  

Even the guy(s) who grabbed my ass in the lunch line in junior high was(/were) guilty of sexual assault.  And in hindsight (no pun intended), I should have just picked one of the guys standing behind me and punched him, because if he wasn't the guy who did it - twice - he was the one who allowed it.  And even those seemingly harmless drunk pranks, like dragging someone into some other position/place or drawing a penis on their face when they're passed out, is a form of assault.  I have a right to my body under any circumstance, but especially when I am most vulnerable.

We need a culture that collectively shames those who would violate others, not a society that protects them from consequence and even cheers them on.  We need a culture of consent, not the conflation of rape with seduction or conquest.  We need a culture that treats the non-consensual publication of pictures of nip slips or other nudity as a form of rape.  It doesn't matter if it was during a consensual act or if the person is a natural exhibitionist.  That does not imply that they consent to the perpetual exhibition of their body via whatever kind of visual recording.  Publications that exhibit non-censensual nudity should not be fined - people should go to jail.

In short, we need to bust some memes, people.

So, for the sake of those who need a little clarification, here are the rules for the Culture - the Club, if you will - of Consensual Sex... 

1.  The first rule of Consent Club is... if it's not consensual, it's not sex.
2.  The second rule of Consent Club is... if it's not consensual, IT'S NOT SEX.
3.  If your partner tells you to stop, taps out, or loses consciousness, the sex is over.
4.  Only approved participants can participate, no matter the number of previous partners.
5.  Consent is valid only for the time it is enthusiastically being given, and does not entitle you to Consent at any other time (nor the replaying of recordings of the Consensual Act).
6.  No style, length, or lack of clothing implies Consent.
7.  Sex goes on as long as ALL parties want it to, and not a stroke longer.
8.  You do not HAVE TO have sex with anyone, ever.

Maybe it's not as snappy as Fight Club's list, but it get's the point across...  Even if you're two strokes from glory and she really is "just being a bitch" - you're done.  No excuses, twisted logic, or justifications...  Only Consent equals Consent.  End of story.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Do it anyway.

Cafe 116
Soy Mocha

This last week, I did something I hadn't done in a long time.  I had a pint with some old friends.  I hardly drank before having kids, and almost never went to any kind of bar when I did, so post-babies has been especially dry.  But my littlest has officially been weaned, and some friends were in town that I haven't seen in many years, so a pint of cherry cider at the new local "tavern" was definitely called for.


That's about how I felt at the end of the night.  I miss being around a group of intelligent, creative, fun people.  It reminded me how much I used to laugh with other grown-ups, and it reminded me of a time when ridiculous ideas about what I could do were not only possible, but were downright inevitable.

As a former bookseller, I have witnessed a lot of book death.  A new title would come into my section, and I would try to feature it on an endcap, or face it out.  Maybe we'd sell one copy.  Within a month or two, as new titles came in, I would have to turn the book spine-out and put the extra copies in the overstock shelves.  By six months, those extra copies would be on my pull list, leaving that single copy to vie for attention amongst the multitude of other single spines on the shelf, shifting side to side to make room as other new titles came in.  After 12 to 18 months or so, that single copy would show up on my pull list, relegated to the books in print database, to be ordered on request only.  For the next few years, anyway, till the publisher decided it would not be worth it to keep it around.

This did not mean these were not good books.  Far inferior fare would spend a few glorious weeks - even several weeks - on the best seller displays in the front of the store.  It all came down to attention.  If a book was mentioned on Oprah, on NPR, in passing reference to someone in the news, it automatically got a "bump," and would spend at least a week and a half on the best seller list.  That was about how long it took to find out if the book was all hype or worth telling your friends about it.  If it was worth passing along, it would spend about a month or more on the best seller lists, depending on the nature and readability of the title.  I have seen so many good books die, it's enough to make an aspiring writer give up and never again put pen to paper... or tappity-tap to keyboard.

So what do you do?  You do it anyway.  As Ben Fold's Five would say... (and if you haven't seen that video, oh my god, go to youtube right now and watch it - I'll wait).  And that's what my old friends demanded of me this last weekend - where's the book, damn it?

It makes no sense to try.  It is completely futile and absurd.  It is impossible to get a manuscript read, to get it believed in, to get it produced, to get it promoted, to get it seen - but you do it anyway.  That's what I have been informed I am supposed to do.  And I guess I am going to.  I have talked about book ideas or script ideas off and on for years - I've written 30 whole pages of a screenplay - but I have never seen it through.  There is always some excuse or other to give up on it.  Mostly, interference from the practical day-to-day stuff, from sensibility or self-doubt.  And these blogs may get preempted in the attempt to produce some kind of publishable work, but I'm going to try it again anyway.

Damn it.

I not so much optimistic as resigned.  It's kind of like having faith even when you don't have hope.  I have no reason to expect any sort of success, but I'm at the point that I just kind of have to do it now.  You know what I mean?

Saturday, August 3, 2013


Bloomsbury Coffee House
12oz Coffee
12oz Chocolate Milk (shared)

I'm on a date with my first-born, so this should be short.

When I was pregnant with the darling child across from me, I got a call from my brother informing me that I was having a girl.  He said he had a feeling - he just knew it was a girl.  Don't bother coming up with boy names 'cause it's definitely going to be a girl.  I had had a feeling, too.  I had a flash of insight at the moment of conception knowing that I had conceived and knowing that it was going to be a boy.  A split second later the certainty was disregarded and I had no feeling whatsoever which way it was going to go.

As the ultrasound later confirmed, I was right on both counts.

But did I really know?  My brother knew and he knew wrong.  Did I have the truer knowing because it was my own body, my own child?  Or was it just a statistical certainty (hermaphroditic offspring aside) that one of us was going to be right?

I believe in intuition, especially the spontaneous and inexplicable kind.  I often use the example of driving home from work one night and having a split-second urgent impulse to take the first exit home instead of the closer second exit.  It was so sudden and illogical that I didn't take the exit.  A moment later, as I wondered what in the world that was all about, I rounded the bend of the freeway and had to slam on my brakes to avoid the stopped traffic in front of me.  It took me another half hour to go the one mile to my exit and get home.

So it does seem to me that something is at work.  What?  I don't know.  It could be that we're connecting to some collective unconsciousness, or to some meta-field of energy permeating the Universe, and we can for a moment follow the threads of future events.  Or perhaps we're just processing information we don't even know we've received, and it bursts to the surface in a way that we don't perceive the connections.  As I said, I don't know.  But even if it's there, it seems highly unreliable, especially if it's someone else's certainty. 

And who's to say that future events don't change after we've had some intuitive message about them? 

All I know is that I have learned better than to disregard a gut feeling - especially when it makes no sense.  I've also learned not to read too specifically into a feeling.  If it's not obvious, don't push it, because it's probably something other than you expect.  Perhaps someday my darling son Henry will become my "fabulous" son Henry, and his uncle will have been kind of right, after all.

Who knows?