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It has not escaped my attention that the extreme majority of what I have posted here lately has been silliness, song lyrics, and pictures of my pets. It's not that I'm brain dead--really!--I'm just...dulled, recently.

That being said, I have an interesting exercise. In my Family Policy class a couple of weeks ago, we were asked to list all of the families (or, if you prefer, households) we've ever lived in. Basically, just make a list of all of our living situations. The point that was being illustrated was about lack of family structure stability, but I sort of found making the list useful in and of itself--I hadn't realized how many situations I've been able to call home.

So here's my list:

ELKTON:
1979, for a few weeks (months?) post-birth: Lived with my mother and my grandparents, at my grandparents' house
Fall 1979-Summer 1983: Lived alone in a house with my mother.
Summer 1983-Spring 1985: Lived in a house with my mother and stepfather.
Spring 1985-Summer 1997: Lived in a house with my mother, stepfather, and brother.

PORTLAND:
Fall 1997-Winter 1998:Lived in a college dorm room with a roommate, C.
Winter 1998-Spring 1998: Lived in a college dorm room alone.
Summer 1998: Lived with mother, stepfather, and brother again.
Fall 1998-Spring 1999: Lived in a college apartment with two roommates, J. and M.
Summer 1999: Lived in a duplex with three roommates, B., S., and K.
Fall 1999-Spring 2000: Lived in an apartment with my then-boyfriend, S.
Summer 2000: Lived in a college apartment with my then-boyfriend, S., and another roommate, J.
Fall 2000-Spring 2001: Lived in a single dorm room by myself.
Summer 2001: Lived in a duplex with two roommates, J. and N.
Fall 2001-Winter 2002: Lived in a duplex with two roommates, J. and N., and Mark.
Winter 2002-Summer 2002: Lived alone in an apartment.
Summer 2002-Summer 2003: Lived in an apartment with Mark, a roommate, E., and a cat, Potter.

AUSTIN:
Summer 2003-Spring 2005: Lived in a house with Mark and Chance.
Spring 2005-Summer 2005: Lived in a different house with Mark and Chance.
Summer 2005: Lived in a house with Mark and Leo.
Summer 2005-present: Lived in a house with Mark, Leo, and Atticus.

So what does this all tell me? I'm not sure, other than I haven't spent much time living alone. I've moved around a good bit. In 26 years, I've lived in three "cities" and 15 different locations, by my count. Two boyfriends and eight roommates. Two dogs and two cats, not counting my childhood pets (which I don't count because they lived outside and weren't really pets). Some of these living situations were good, some had big problems. A few had really big problems, mostly on the neighbor frontier (see Won't You Be My Neighbor?). I'm sure they all taught me something, though I'd be hard-pressed to tell you what.

Actually, maybe I'm not so hard pressed. I think what they've taught me, and what looking back on them is teaching me all over again (because, you know, I can't just learn something once and be done with it), is that there are many, many ways to be home. I still miss Portland, and refer to my upcoming visit there as "going home," but in truth, Austin is home now. Specifically, Mark is home. The house we're buying together is home. My dogs--first Chance, and now Leo--are home. Atticus is rapidly becoming home. And all three stanky dorm rooms I lived in where home, as were both even stankier Reed College Apartments (TM). The studio apartment I rented by myself, so proud and my mom so scared of the "bad neighborhood", was home. And the falling-down house in the little town where I spent my incredibly painful formative years will never be anything but home.

Maybe as we get older we collect concepts of home. Maybe this helps us be more at home where we are, or at home with who we are. I hope so.

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Land of the Living

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I went to see Lucy Kaplansky play last night. It was really good--I've never been a huge fan of her's, but thought her last album, The Red Thread, was pretty exceptional. A lot of my love for the album was situational, however, as my very good friends S. and T. adopted a little girl from China about the same time Kaplansky and her husband did, so a lot of the subject matter on The Red Thread moved me on a personal level when I heard it.

Last night, though, it became clear that it wasn't just situational--they're great songs. Kaplansky also made a joke about Greg Brown being a womanizer, which was fabulous, if you are a folk geek like me.

Given everything that has happened lately, and the anniversary of 9/11, I was surprised she did it, but someone requested this, and she did it. And I cried. Not so much for 9/11, maybe, but for New Orleans. For Iraq. For all of us. So I thought I'd share it.

"Land Of The Living"
(Lyrics by Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Litvin,
Music by Lucy Kaplansky)

Late afternoon back in New York town
Waking up as the wheels touch down
Pick up my guitar and walk away
Wish I was going home to stay

Line of taxis, I wait my turn
Tar and asphalt, exhaust and fumes
Beside the road on a patch of ground
Taxi drivers are kneeling down

Beneath the concrete sky I watch them pray
While the people of the world hurry on their way
I think they're praying for us all today
And the stories that fell from the sky that day

CHORUS:
This is the land of the living
This is the land that's mine
She still watches over Manhattan
She's still holding onto that torch for life

Back home fire's still burning, I can see it in the air
Pictures of faces posted everywhere
They say "hazel eyes, chestnut hair
Mother of two missing down there"

I pass the firemen on duty tonight
Carpets of flowers in candlelight
And thank you in a child's scrawl
Taped to the Third Street firehouse wall

There's shadows of the lost on the faces I see
Brothers and strangers on this island of grief
There's death in the air but there's life on this street
There's life on this street

CHORUS

Then I got in a taxi, said "Hudson Street please"
He started the meter and he looked at me
I glanced at his name on the back of his seat
And I looked out the window at the ghost filled streets

I noticed cuts on his hand and his face
And I said "You're bleeding, are you okay?"
He said "I'm not so good, got beat up today
And I'm not one of them no matter what they say

I'm just worried about my family
My wife's in the house and she's scared to leave"
And I didn't know what to say
I didn't know what to say
But I said a prayer for him anyway

CHORUS

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Aptitude

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Once again and as usual, I am driving myself crazy trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, or at least what I want to be next. So I'm taking online job/career aptitude tests. Which are proving to be 99.9% worthless, as far as I can tell, but maybe you'll see something in them I don't.

My "LiveCareer Profile" has this to say about my aptitudes:

Your highest score was on Writing, which means that you enjoy creative or technical writing. You are also likely to be interested in a broad range subjects, so finding occupations that allow you to exercise these interests would lead to higher work satisfaction for you. You also scored highly on Assertive, indicating that you prefer working situations in which it is appropriate to assert authority over others and to direct and monitor their work. Your high score on the Administration scale means that you enjoy the financial or day-to-day operations of a business or institution, supervising the activities of others, planning work schedules, and maintaining records.

To help illustrate, they give me a handy chart!

Basically, I like to write and I like to be in charge? Gee, I didn't need to answer 100 (or even 10) questions to figured that out...

The Career Focus Inventory tells me that I have "strong" interest in Communication and Social Science careers and "moderate" interest in Business Administration and Management. Again, not exactly rocket science.

Another site, I forget which one, suggested I might love being a technical writer. That's when I gave up.

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The "racism cause"

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Today in my email, from a family member, I received this little gem:

"In Katrina I Didnt See Racism, I Saw Brotherhood"
by Rabbi Aryeh Spero
Posted Sep 7, 2005

In New Orleans, beginning Tuesday morning, August 30, I saw men in helicopters risking their lives to save stranded flood victims from rooftops The rescuers were White, the stranded Black. I saw Caucasians navigating their small, private boats in violent, swirling, toxic floodwaters to find fellow citizens trapped in their houses. Those they saved were Black.

I saw Brotherhood. New York Congressman Charlie Rangel saw Racism.

Yes, there are Two Americas. One is the real America, where virtually every White person I know sends money, food or clothes to those in need -- now and in other crises -- regardless of color. This America is colorblind.

The other is the America fantasized and manufactured by Charlie Rangel, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who constantly cry racism! even in situations where it does not exist, even when undeniable images illustrate love, compassion and concern. These three men, together with todays NAACP, want to continue the notion of Racist America. It is their Mantra, their calling card. Their power, money, and continued media appearances depend on it.

Often, people caught up in accusing others of sin neglect to undergo their own personal introspection. They begin to think they alone inhabit the moral high ground. It is high time these men peered into their own hearts at the dark chamber that causes this unceasing labeling of their fellow Americans as racist. They may find in that chamber their own racism -- against Whites.

There is only one real America. Beginning Friday morning in Houston, thousands of regular citizens poured into the Astrodome offering water, food, clean clothes, personal items, baby diapers and toys, love and even their homes to the evacuees who had been bused in from New Orleans. Most of the givers were White, most of those being helped were Black. But there was Jesse Jackson, busy on TV, accusing the country of not putting Blacks -- i.e., him -- on some type of Commission he is demanding. Where was he early in the week? Not sweating with others from around the country who had scraped their last dollar to come help. With Jesse, its always about Jesse.

After decades of hearing accusations from Jesse, Al, Charlie, the NAACP and certain elitists about how racist America is, it would have been refreshing to hear them for once give thanks to those they for years have been maligning. These self-anointed spokesmen for the Black community lead only when it comes to foisting guilt and condemnation, and not when it comes to acknowledging the good in those they have made a career in castigating.

As a Rabbi I have a message I wish to offer to my fellow members of the cloth, Reverends Jackson and Sharpton: It is time to do some soul searching. Your continued efforts to tear this country apart, even in light of the monumental goodness shown by your White brothers, is a sin.

There are no churches in the world like the American churches. And there are no better parishioners and members of churches anywhere in the world. These churches are saving the day. Their members -- infused by the special and singular teachings of our unique American Judeo-Christian understanding of the Bible -- are, at this moment, writing an historic chapter in giving, initiative, and selflessness. They are opening their homes to strangers. They are doing what government is incapable of doing.

America works because of its faith-based institutions. It always has. That is what makes it America.

So next time the ACLU tries to diminish and marginalize the churches, saying there is no role for religion in American public life, that an impenetrable wall must be erected separating the citizens from their faith, cry out Katrina.

Next time the ACLU goes to court asking that U.S. soldiers not be allowed to say Grace in the Mess Hall and that communities be forbidden from setting up a nativity scene, ask yourself: without the motivation of Goodness sourced in Faith, would people offer such sacrifice? Where else does this Brotherhood come from but the Bible which teaches Thou Shall Love Thy Neighbor as Yourself.

I saw brotherhood on Fox News, where 24/7 reporters used their perch as a clearing-house for search-and-rescue missions and communication between the stranded and those in position to save. In contrast, the Old-line networks continued with their usual foolish, brain-numbing programming. Those who always preach compassion chose profit over people.

The New York Times has utterly failed America. Its columnists could have used their talents and word skills to inspire and unite a nation. Columnists such as Frank Rich and Paul Krugman, however, revealed their true colors by evading their once-in-a-lifetime chance to help and instead chose to divide, condemn, and fuel the fires and poison the waters of Louisiana. In them, I saw no Brotherhood. The newspaper always preaching compassion verifies Shakespeares They protest too much.

Similar elitists here in the northeast and on the west coast have over the years expressed their view of the South as unsophisticated and Texans as cowboys. Well, the South has come through, especially Houston and other parts of Texas, whereas, as I write this on Labor Day, the limousine moralizers are lying on east and west coast beaches thinking theyre doing their part by reading Times editorials and calling George Bush racist. How sanctimonious life becomes when proving you are not a racist depends not on living in a truly integrated neighborhood, but by simply calling others racist.

Like so often in history, facts trump platitudes. Reality reigns. Those who always preach brotherhood, thus far have acted devoid of it. Those who for decades have been accused by elitists of not having compassion are the ones living it. They are: the churches, the military, and the sons and daughters of the South.

Rabbi Spero is a radio talk show host, a pulpit rabbi, and president of Caucus for America.

I wrote back and told the sender that I saw racism, so much racism it made me physically sick, and I'd prefer she stopped sending me these things. But what else? I mean, I can alienate my family members all I want, but people, otherwise good people, actually BELIEVE this shit! How can I convince them otherwise? Is it even worth it to try?

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Atticus: the name, the man

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In the comments to my original post about Atticus, Scand asked me to speak about why I have all-male pets, as feminist. She also asked why I gave Atticus the name I did. So I thought I'd answer those things:

The all-male pet thing has been almost purely coincidental. We were looking for a female dog, and I was skeptical about getting a male dog, when we got Chance. However, I loved Chance on site, so I got over my gender preference. The rescue person from whom we adopted Chance also told us that male dogs are harder to get adopted out than are female dogs, so for me, that's one more reason to consider male dogs. With Leo, we were attracted to him due to his breed makeup and personality, his gender was really an afterthought. Also, both Chance and Leo were altered when we got them, which I guess effects the "maleness" of the personality. In Leo's case, I doubt it made much difference, I'd wager that he was always gentle. In Chance's case, he may have been a real problem had he not been neutered (and I believe he was neutered early on). In any case, I wouldn't consider having a non-altered male dog (but I wouldn't consider having any non-altered pet, so I guess that's sort of neither here nor there).

With Atticus, I didn't even know what his gender was until after I'd decided to adopt him. The tag just said his name was "Sam," which could have gone either way, and you can't tell by looking at him (at least not without a closer inspection than I was willing to perform in Petsmart). I've heard male cats are actually more friendly and less mean-spirited than female cats, but at Atticus' age, I doubt there would be any difference even if that were true. So again, it was pretty much a coincidence that I found a cat that I was draw to and that cat happened to be male.

Mostly, the truth of it is that I don't really think of my pets as gendered at all. It just doesn't really occur to me.

The bigger question, I think, and one that I will try to remember to address here at some point, is why I, as a feminist, am so attracted to "aggressive," stereotypically male breeds of dogs. But that is a whole other discussion.

Atticus is named after Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. I decided a couple of years back, after watching a dog show, that I wanted to get a beagle and name it Atticus Finch. It just seemed like a great beagle name. However, I then learned a bit about beagles and realized that I will never get one (they have a totally wrong personality for my type of lifestyle, and it's sort of mean to get just one, as they are quintessential pack dogs). So I decided I'd hold on to the name for a cat, since it has the added benefit of working with the nickname "Atticus Catticus," which I think is hysterical (I also named a stray neighborhood cat in our old neighborhood Purrsephone, so you see how my tiny brain works here). Mark doesn't like the name much, but he'll live with it.

Incidentally, I also really like Atticus for a child's name, but it's one of those names I like but wouldn't ever actually saddle a kid with, so it's perfect for the cat.

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History

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You know what improves my mood? Reading about Ronald Reagan. It's the only time I believe that yes, things maybe have been somewhere approaching this bad before.

If I'm any kind of academic (which is, of course, questionable), I'm a historian. One of the things I like about being a historian is that knowing a bit about the past gives you perspective. People lived through the Depression, we can live through this; people lived through McCarthy, we can live through this. Or even yeah, not everybody did live thought that, but the country got better, the country recovered. I've always been kind of comforted by social history during times of great stress, because it reminds me that no matter how sucky things get, people keep living their lives. Nothing is too much to bear.

Well, if anybody digs up my diaries and uses them as part of a historical study of this time, let me tell is to you straight: we may moving through our days, living our lives (or those of us who are lucky enough to have that option may be doing so), but it really is that bad. These are dark, dark days.

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A tale of Atticus

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AtticusSo last weekend I finally broke Mark's resolve and he agreed to getting a cat. I went to the Humane Society a couple of times this week, but they were closed due to helping with animal refugees from Katrina. Undeterred, I got in touch with a couple of private rescues locally. I set up an appointment to go look at a kitty after work this evening, and went off to Petsmart on my lunch hour to obtain kitty paraphanelia.

Like all my best laid plans, this one went awry. What was meant to be a quick trip to get a litter box turned into a two-hour cat adoption session.

See, the Petsmart near where I work had a bank of cats in tiny 2'X2' cells pens. They were from the Humane Society in a small town outside Austin. Apparently they hope for greater visibility at the Petsmart, so they rotate some of their cats through there, with the hope they'll be adopted. After I bought my cart full of paraphanelia, I went to glance and them.

And there he was. There was a pen full of kittens, and there were several pens of older adult cats, and between them, there was a cat named "Sam." "Sam" was rumored to be three months old, though I'd guess he's a bit older. He was literally bouncing off the walls of his little cage. He looked like Potter, a little bit. I opened up his pen and he snuggled on me for about 20 seconds, then ran back and forth across the tiny cat room as if he was being chased, then climbed the wall of wire mesh cages and jumped off.

And there was no choice. My cat had found me.

So I went back after work and picked him up. Petsmart isn't exactly rigorous in their adoption process. It took me about 30 minutes all together. Paid them the $75 and now he's part of our pack.

So he's in the laundry room, on one side of the baby gate, and Leo is on the other. So far, so good. Atticus has bailed out and run around a couple of times. Leo has attempted to chase and been far outrun. I think they'll be fine together, but we're going to try to go a bit slow, just to make sure. Leo is very, very interested in Atticus. Atticus is less interested in Leo. Atticus is, however, very interested in toys.

More to come, I'm sure. I've been waiting for this for quite some time.

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Welcome to the pack

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Ladies and gentlemen, I present Atticus (Catticus)!

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Be true to your school

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Though I have always liked school, my excitement about it has waxed and waned over the years. I think I liked early elementary school, probably less so as I got older. I hated the great majority of late elementary/junior high, and I despised high school, though high school at least taught me something occaisionally. I adored college. My first year of grad school had it's moments, but mostly felt like mediocre job training.

But things are looking up.

I am only taking two classes this term, and neither one of them seems, so far, to be bullshit. This is a great improvement over my first year. One of them will be challenging. Really challenging. Challenging like Reed. The other will probably just be not so bad, but the not-so-bad will culminate with a final project on subject matter that is interesting to me, so I'm not complaining.

The challenging class, though, has me thinking thoughts I had assumed were behind me for good. Thought about going back to real school after I finish my Baby Beaurocrat masters degree. Thoughts about having those three magical letters after my name that mean I can force people to call me doctor. Thought about classes that would take me back to the way things were at Reed and even help me move beyond that. Thought about reading thick books with colons in their titles and slaving away on a dissertation.

When I pull my head out of the sky, I realize that that stuff comes at a really high cost. Years more of being broke, for the final result (if I'm lucky) of being given a piece of paper that only qualifies me for jobs I don't want and couldn't get it if I did want them, at least not without moving to BFN. Ending up with a career that competes with Mark, with none of Mark's passion for the career. It is just not responsible to get a Ph.D. for the sake of getting a Ph.D. After I finished my bachelors-for-the-sake-of-a-bachelors, I promised I wouldn't do it again. Why do I want to do it again, and on an even larger scale?

And for what? Why can't I be satisifed with reading the books on my own? Is it really necessary to sit through classes and write papers in search of a degree that I don't need? I'm 26 years old. I have a mortgage. I have a family. I am too old to be in it for the journey.

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Being poor

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Go read this. Then we'll talk about why people didn't just leave.

Thanks to Mayada for the link.

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The ways and means to New Orleans

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I have been uncharacteristically quiet these past days. Not just here--everywhere. The truth is that I don't know what to say. I've been reading a lot--news and editorials and blogs, and pretty much all of my rage and sadness has already been expressed by someone else. There isn't any point in my reiterating it all here, nor do I have the emotional energy to do so. It's not that I don't care--far from it--it's just that I can't form words, and others can, so I leave that to them.

Or at least leave it mostly to them.

When I was 15 or 16, I made a list of the cities in the United States that I felt I *must* visit that I hadn't seen yet. It wasn't all that long. From memory, it went like this:

1. New Orleans
2. New York
3. Philadelphia
4. Boston

Things have changed over the past decade. I've been to New York twice, and to Philadelphia once, and to Boston twice, though the second time was just recently and I was only there for a few hours. Nashville has been added to my list. The one I wanted to see the most, though, the whole time, was New Orleans. When I made the list, my fascination with it was all Anne Rice and Concrete Blonde. Later, I knew people who lived there, and started my own (still growing) obsession with the south. Since I've lived in Austin, which is only a long day's drive, I've meant to go, but never gotten around to it.

And it may well be too late. There is a lot of talk about rebuilding, but I wonder how much rebuilding will really be done. And I wonder if what is rebuilt will in any way resemble what was.

Me not being able to see my dream city, which is entirely my own fault, as I had my chance and let it pass me by, is at the very bottom of the list of horrible things stemming from Katrina and her aftermath. At the very bottom of the list, and yet it brings tears to my eyes. At the very bottom of the list, and it's the only one I can even find words for.

I got the ways and means
To New Orleans
I'm going
Down by the river
Where it's warm and green
I'm gonna have drink, and walk around
I got a lot to think about oh yeah

-Concrete Blonde, "Bloodletting"

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