Friday, December 17, 2010

An open letter to Bob Dutko and other right wing Christian spokespeople:

Dear hearts, thank you for all you do for us, but please, stop decrying the Happy Holidays phrase.

Barnes and Noble, for instance, has products lining its shelves plastered with "Merry Christmas" but because the store itself doesn't use the word "christmas" we are told it is not doing right by our society and culture.

We are no longer homogenous. We are not all Christian, and Barnes and Noble is not responsible for the influx of myriads of pilgrims to the American Shore.

Please stop acting like Jews don't get a holiday too. Please recognize that while Hanukkah may not be a biblical holiday, it is indeed celebrated by those without whom we would not exist.

I understand that marketing is a massive force in shaping culture, boy howdy I do. But when a store opts for Happy Holidays instead of Marry Christmas AND Happy Hanukah, I'm sorry, it's more efficient.

I do agree with shopping with those businesses that do say Christmas, but really, let;s not all up inn a huff about those that don't. I'm not going to get mad that an unsaved person is acting unsaved, after all.

Only in Consumerica is this an issue. Why should the stores we buy from be reflecting our values? Because we have made it so- we are defined by where and what we buy.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


It's the holiday season, and we're all thinking about home- whatever that means. I've been perusing my monthly torturous copy of Better Homes and Gardens, which, for December, has a four page spread on setting your table. White dishes, darling, only the most fashionable around.

I've also been looking at houses, like maybe we'll buy one. Don't get excited, the maybe is so big on this it's kind of obscuring the house part. The house hunting led me to a very interesting property out in the boonies- one that reminded me of my grandparents' house in the boonies. A dilapidated two-hundred year old farmhouse with some land and a barn, that woke up this vague and beautiful yearning. I had butterflies in my stomach as we drove out there, like I used to get going out to my grandparents' house. I loved and hated that house as a child. Miles of wooded mountains, farms, and the house full of nooks and crannies brimming with tiny treasures; I was a child surrounded by alien wonder.

Well, long story short, the house was not reminiscent of my grandparents'. I was truly disappointed, really sunken in after all that inflated hope. Because you see, I realized I've been looking for home.

Home, or a house? If I could somehow find that old magic farmhouse nearby...But that house is a product of something like thirty years of living in it and a hundred years of living before that. Someone built that house with four bedrooms and a dirt cellar, wood stoves to cook in and acres of land to live on. There have been human hands stroking the worn banister daily for longer than taxes.

And even more so, are the memories I had tucked into each corner, undusted, unmoved since I last visited. Each time I go back, the mystery and delight of each strange junk filled room rings out like a tolled bell. I reconnect with each moment I left there, making each visit a resonant chorus of memory and feeling. There is no other house that could be such a delight- any house I would purchase would be an empty concert hall, my footsteps on bare floors equal to the hollow thud on a stage and no audience.

I am looking for a symphony in shells, and hearing one lone drumbeat.

How did it come to be, my love for a house I only visited a few weeks out of the year, but not every year? How is it that when talking about home, when looking for home, I am aligning my compass to the Taylor home of my childhood? Why there, and only there, are all my secret little bells hidden?

Of all the twenty-seven years I've been on Earth, I've lived all of them in temporary homes, places I knew I wouldn't stay. There have been 9 apartments(or dorms) that I have moved into and moved out of, each time sacrificing earthly possessions to lesser storage space. In comparison, my grandparents haven't changed their furniture or it's placement since I was ten. When my friend's parents moved from her childhood home, I felt sympathy, but not empathy- I actually could not feel what she was feeling- since I had had three separate childhood homes before puberty. Now, of course, I realize I only needed to imagine my grandparents selling their farmhouse.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Who is my neighbor?

I'm fired up, and have nowhere yet to go. I have plans, outline, drafts and revisions stacked up on the corner of the desk in my head, and my work surface is cluttered with gems, bits, pieces of information that need to get out into the world-

I'm chomping at the bit. I just need to know where to go, I just need that gate to open and the gun to fire, and watch me run.

Buy Local, buy fresh. Farmer's markets, the state of agriculture in America today, the decline of diversification, the modern consumer based lifestyle, the failure of the concept of art in the domestic arts...

You name it, I can tie any aspect of our failing culture to the failure to buy local. It's like six degrees of Kevin Bacon, except it's not an actor, it's a cultural movement.

How do I get this idea out to people? How do i feed them this magnificent feast of possibilities? I'm fired up and ready- please, won't you please put me on stage?

And this isn't just about the local economy- this is about the body of Christ. Who is my neighbor? The small business owner down the block. How do I love my neighbor? By putting food on his table and money in his pocket to spend at his favorite local store, buy enabling him to employ some locals who need the work. They, in turn, buy with the money that has originated from your pocket.

Where do you work? Is your paycheck from a corporate office from far afar away? Why send it back there, when your neighbors need it here in Buffalo? Why not keep the money in house? Every dollar you plunk down at a local business is a seed planted and watered, blessing our town. Why pay companies with poor ethical practices, funding human rights abuses?

We are the hands and feet of Christ, and by doing the most culturally acceptable thing to us - spending money - we can build up entire communities, revitalize local agriculture, make new friends across the counter, and give witness to the fact that we shall be known by our love for one another.

I dream of a church brimming over, teeming with functional applicable ways to love our neighbor, a church where people come because they are impressed with our unyielding commitment to loving in and around and beyond our community. Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. Judea - culturally close, physically close. Buy Local. Samaria. Refugees from Burma and Sudan live on the West Side, by Canisius college, etc. Grow a garden and bring the fruits of your labor, as an offering to God, to food pantries for refugees. Volunteer for one of the many institutions in Buffalo for aiding refugees.

The ends of the earth. Evangel funds missionaries faithfully, one of the biggest mission giving churches in the area, praise God. We've sent people out, we've prayed, we've paid. The ends of the earth are covered. Now go next door.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

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Elmwood glory.

I stalked him for like five blocks in my car. It was so worth it.
He said he wasn't feeling very photogenic.

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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Eating Animals

When I was younger, my mother once asked me about going vegetarian, and I thought about it, and replied, "I can't give up my hamburger." Honest, concise, and pretty funny considering.

I slowly grew quite snobby about the quality of my hamburger- today I will only eat a Bison burger, because the texture and flavor of the meat is the closest thing to good ground meat I can find. But my snobbery about meat led me closer to veggie fare. And the more I learned about it, the more I wanted to cook veg- after all, I was very familiar with the three section plate- meat, starch, green. I thought a vegetarian menu would be quite interesting. But, at that point in time, I also thought one-pot meals were the best ever.

I flirted with vegetarianism. When my husband and I got married, we were pretty tight on money, and meat was expensive. So I didn't buy meat, except the occasional broiler chicken for less than a dollar a pound. Not only was my meat consumption dictated by taste now, but also affordability.
Which is quite funny, since protein is the only price that hasn't gone up in any significant way in the past thirty-ish years. Try that one on for size. We want to pay less for waaaaay more. Does anyone NOT know that we're eating more meat than ever? And that China is starting to catch up to us?

I'm reading Eating Animals by Jonathon Safran-Foer. Let's just say this- you don't need to read it, you already know that you don't want to know what goes on in factory farms, in slaughterhouses approved by the USDA- you don't want to know that working in slaughterhouses cause people to become truly sadistic and torture an animal that is only supposed to have two minutes to live, but may end up living through much of the "processing". Because the guy who was supposed to knock it out chose not to. And that this is widespread, common place, and the USDA knows all about this. We're talking national past time knows about it.

There is nothing good about the system we have now. The cheap meat? You already know it's got antibiotics that you should only take when you're sick. You already know that the growth hormones are causing messed up stuff in our children. You already know that eating meat causes certain kinds of cancer, and you already know that H1N1 came from a pig "farm" in North Carolina- don't you? Did you know that health officials traced the start of MRSA to a pig farm, similar to the one that bred H1N1? That when an official was going to go public, he suddenly became very sick, and died of complications of MRSA?

Yeah, yeah, conspiracy stuff. Read the book, it's all verified, Safran-Foer did the heavy lifting. What I'm concerned with is why people don't want to stop eating meat.


Remember the line "A chicken in every pot." or, "Beef, it's what's for dinner." ? We as Americans believe that a meal isn't complete without meat, that we deserve it, that it is a basic right.

We really really do, because if we didn't, we never would have created a system as messed up as this one. We believe meat is as inalienable as happiness, and isn't that what committed meat-lovers say? Hell, look at the phrase meat-lover. Lover is one who loves, but it is also used as a term to describe one whom you have a very intimate relationship with- and haven't we all met that person? The one who orders their steak rare, who likes it bloody, and who touts the glories of red meat as they dig in?

But the only reason that person can exist in the current system of meat farming and consumerism is that they don't know and they don't want to.

The way we farm animals is now more relatable to concentration camps in Nazi Germany than the American Farm ideal. The farms are out in the country, (destroying the health of nearby townships, I might add) far from centers of population. Almost no one sees the animals alive, and no one sees them die- except the workers of the slaughterhouse. What most of us see is a nice shiny package of meat, wrapped, packed, and chilled, ready for the table.

We cannot see the horrors that went into our meat, the bacteria that is increasingly resistant to the antibiotics we feed them, and in turn feed ourselves, we cannot see the lagoons of liquid feces that are 30 feet deep, up to 120,000 feet wide- feces that contain cyanide, and other terrible things that pollute the waters, that cause nuerological damage to the populations that live nearby...

Where is their Erin Brokovich? Who will fight against the corporations? The USDA, who supplies us with nutritional information, is also responsible for promoting the industry itself. They are complicit. They fight to let the factory farms continue committing crimes against animals and against humanity- the work available in these farms and slaughterhouses are documented human rights violations- or would be, if anyone could get in to investigate.

It is not the farmer, it is not the faceless demonic corporation who is responsible. It is me. I purchased 3 dozen eggs at 99 cents a dozen, never realizing that what that translates to is chickens in a cage no larger than your printer paper, who cannot live past a year old, who lays 300 eggs a year in a room without windows, who will never see the sun. I know that to buy eggs ethically, I have to spend 3 dollars a dozen. But those eggs will be free of antibiotics, those eggs will hopefully come from a chicken who lives the full extent of her ten year life. Ten years. Imagine putting a child to work as soon as they can stand, working them past exhaustion, and then killing them at ten.

99 cents a dozen.

I am complicit. I have been complicit. I knew what was going on was wrong. I knew, and did not want to know. I no longer wish to be that person. When the citizens of German towns were asked if they knew about the concentration camps, they said they didn't know what went on there.

What will you say?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

bipolar husband and his friend

Mania is that friend your husband should have snubbed years ago, but won’t. You know the one- thirty-something, in between shitty jobs, currently between the endless meaningless one night stands, bar hopping jerk who laughs at anything resembling responsibility. He doesn’t laugh at it in a fearless, “I laugh in the face of danger” way. He laughs because he mocks it. Mania is that friend that tells your husband to go out with him, keeps him out for two days on a bender, gambling away your savings on the way.
Entire movies have been dedicated to this wad of adolescent ejaculant. I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, and my favorite, She’s having a Baby. Alec Baldwin’s character is charming and repulsive all at once, and as a wife, I detest him, but I hate Kevin Bacon’s character more.
This character is always spouting the Peter Pan philosophy of wives being the death of a man. Not women, especially not single young women, but wives. The nagging, ever demanding perfectionist wife who cuts a man’s testicles off and wears them like jewelry. Yes, it is always the wife that emasculates.

This is mania. You know, like Manic depressive? Mania, like bi-polar. Mania, who I have come to know somewhat well, loves to lie to my husband. It tells him I’m suffocating him, that he needs to do things his own way. Mania is the invisible antagonist whispering my husband’s lines to him like Tyler Durden at the bottom of the stairs while the main character fights with Marla.
I remember watching that scene for the third or fourth time, thinking she doesn’t see what we see- she only sees this man, stonewalling her, obstinate and ungiving, while he recites these lines from somewhere. The argument ends when she says, “I never can win with you, can I?”
But mania is not Tyler Durden. Tyler, at least, had a plan to redeem humanity. An effed-up plan, sure, but he had the good of mankind as his aim. Chaos as a means to a simpler more wholesome future. Mania don’t give a rat’s ass about humanity. It hops on for the ride, eggs you on until you’re about to crash, and hops off to some other fool willing to buy the lies.
I see it riding on my husband piggy-back style, shiny eyes asparkle. It doesn’t care about consequences, negative outcomes do not apply- because it doesn’t have to suffer them- as soon as the car crashes, the collectors come calling, the wife leaves, the ambulance comes, the police click those handcuffs, mania flits off, unless there seems to be more fun to be had. Delusions of grandeur, great acts of charity, kindness, all in the purpose of self-aggrandizement.

It reminds me of the demon in the movie the Fallen, who enters a person and leaves by breath, and cannot survive outside of a human host longer than a breath. It jumps in, wreaks havoc, and jumps out, just when the fun might end. In it’s wake it leaves murders death destruction, and a very very broken human being.

The last time mania came calling I asked my husband to leave, and he stayed at a fleabag motel (called the Royal Inn oh rich and joyful irony that is) for a week. The shock of it knocked him on his ass, I think. He did start taking more meds, but I think the fear of losing everything kind of got him to change his habit. When the husband loses his family because of the idiot friend, he no longer listens to him rant about responsibility and wives- that all seems pretty empty once he realizes this man is a coward governed by ignorance and hatred.

Or at least, I like to hope so.

I hate mania. I hate that lousy punk, and I can’t really kick it out of the house, and when I try to talk to my husband, mania twists my words against me. It turns my love against me, and uses all my good intentions to show him just how controlling I am. And when mania leaves, there is depression, coddling and empty of hope. It takes forever to get my husband back.

It doesn’t seem to matter what meds he’s on, either, unless he’s heavily medicated with anti-psychotics and sedatives. But then he’s in the hospital, and obviously not working. And that usually takes a week at least.

I hate mania.

The same coin

I have a very very good friend- I say best friend, accepting all the childhood connotations without the childhood fluctuations. For the past ten years, give or take, we have been building on this friendship, and I am often quite amazed at it. We met my freshman year, for all of thirty seconds, when she was singing at a retreat for Campus Crusade for Christ, and I went up to tell her how beautifully she sang. She thanked me rather curtly, and seemed very distracted, so I assumed I was telling her something she already knew very well, thank you, and there were other things to think of. The funny thing is I wasn't really bothered- I had no hard feelings about it.

This girl was, whenever I saw her over the next year, so self-contained. She seemed to be so calm, so detached. She always dressed well, looked put together, presented a very tidy front. It felt like she was smooth-faced, nothing to grab hold of. These kinds of people always fascinated me.

I had a friend in high school who felt similar to this- quiet, seemingly assured, never gave too much away. I always felt calmer in their presence, since I felt like a roiling ball of static electricity and chaotic emotions. I felt like I swung wildly from one extreme to the other, and though I could be comfortable swinging unchecked, I would have loved to have been tidy.

A year after we first met, we were roommates. She had the single attached to the double I shared with another friend- one who was much more my kind of messy and odd. It took us a few months to really talk. I will never forget the bus ride we took together from the dorms to campus. She said something that immediately hooked my attention. "People think I'm a bitch, but I'm really not." I remember that. If you asked me what came before or after, I can't recall. But I remember that. I nodded, even though I hadn't seen much other than the smooth face she presented- I agreed, because I had known and been great friends with girls who were the very same.

We were so different, and found each other intriguing because of it. And beneath our differences, we found this common nature, and all our differences had sprung from different reactions to the same feelings and experiences. My fascination with the fringes of society came from feeling so not normal- and her tidy front came from the same. She wanted to blend in, and I thought I never could.

We became very close, as close as two girls still learning themselves could be, and things happened, life changed course, and we were not so close in contact. We suffered separate woes during the same period of time, and when we started to talk again, we had been...mmm...shall we say battle hardened? More familiar with the ugly things of life. Like two men in a bar will eye each other and know that they are soldiers.

She was not nearly as tidy. And I had had my frayed ends burnt off some. And we were still the counter swing of the same pendulum. It was amazingly wonderful work, to get close again, to climb over all the stupid stuff that got between us before, and to get right down close. God blessed me with a friend who wanted to be understood as much as I did, who understood the desire, and who, like me, wanted to grow, even when it hurt.

Over the past year, through all the difficulties, I knew that while my life seemed to be shaking on rocky terrain, I could call my friend, who still presents a wonderfully calm face to the world. She is loving and wise, and I value her conversation and understanding and all her hurts and worries more than she knows, because she's like me, and we're very good at self-deprecation. I am finally beginning to understand that I can mean that much to someone so wonderful.

The thing is, all of this will still apply, because she's just moving down the coast. It's just that she'll be far. We always met for coffee for hours, at least four hours of talking and coffee. We worked out hard life stuff, face to face, and now I'm gonna have to get good at the phone. She better get a land line because this cell phone static is totally killing me.

I am so getting skype.

Friday, March 19, 2010

El Shaddai and the Shack, or, who's afraid of a genderless God?

Yesterday, I attended a local MOPs meeting, and during the meeting we were handed print outs of the names of God. This print out listed one of the names of God, El Shaddai, as God of the mountains.

I have a problem with this. You see, the translation of El Shaddai is being contested among certain scholars, and there are those that argue that Shaddai comes from the word for mountain, and then there are those that argue it comes from the Hebrew word for breast.
(From wikipedia article on El Shaddai)

"Another theory is that Shaddai is a derivation of a Semitic stem that appears in the Akkadian shadû ("mountain") and shaddā`û or shaddû`a ("mountain-dweller"), one of the names of Amurru. This theory was popularized by W. F. Albright but was somewhat weakened when it was noticed that the doubling of the medial d is first documented only in the Neo-Assyrian period. However, the doubling in Hebrew might possibly be secondary. According to this theory, God is seen as inhabiting a mythical holy mountain, a concept not unknown in ancient West Asian mythology (see El), and also evident in the Syriac Christian writings of Ephrem the Syrian, who places Eden on an inaccessible mountaintop.

Albright also proposed that the name Shaddai is connected to shadayim, the Hebrew word for "breasts". It may thus be connected to the notion of God’s gifts of fertility to human race. In several instances in the Torah the name is connected with fruitfulness: "May God Almighty [El Shaddai] bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers…" (Gen. 28:3). "I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]: be fruitful and increase in number" (Gen. 35:11). "By the Almighty [El Shaddai] who will bless you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts [shadayim] and of the womb [racham]" (Gen. 49:25)."

All Sufficient One is the generally accepted translation of El Shaddai- and as far as I'm concerned, mountains do not nearly fulfill this as breasts do.

Mother's milk is all sufficient for an infant, and the promise inherent in the name is exceedingly comforting. God is All sufficient, giving us all we could ever need to grow. How does a mountain provide?

What bothers me most about the mountain translation is that it removes the feminine from God. If God created all things, then he, by inference, created women with breasts that produce milk for their children. If God made humanity in his image, then women, by inference, are a part of his Image. So why can't God choose to express his sufficiency for us in the picture of a breast producing life-giving food?

Peter, in fact, likens the Word of God to mother's milk:

1 Peter 2:1-3

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.

This takes me immediately to the uproar that continues to rage over The Shack, where the character of God is represented by a big black woman. God, as a black woman, tells the main character to call her Papa. Mind you, thiss is in fact a character in a novel, not God himself, but the uproar over God depicting Himself as a woman is huge. I can barely wrap my mind around it, really. The outrage at this God character choosing to be a woman inflames people.


If woman is the other part of God's image in humanity, than why oh why do we feel that this is wrong? This is not to say that God is a woman- I will tell you that God is not a man OR a woman. God is not female or male, but choosing to refer to Himself in masculine pronouns. Super- He is God, after all, and I am not. But let us not forget, lest we become intellectually lazy, what the Jews have always known. God is Spirit, not flesh. God is neither and both genders, all at the same time. God contains both. Once again, I must remind you all, that God chooses to refer to Himself as a Him.

But we must not exclude his motherly attributes in this. He likens himself to a mother hen, at one point. Now astute readers will say likening is not the same as showing up as a big black woman. Ok, sure. But then again, The Shack is not the Bible, and the character of God is but one author's exploration of an idea.

So why do people get so bothered by it? What is it about breast milk that people refuse to allow it near the name of God? What is it about the expression of God as able to contain both genders and be neither that get some scholars so freaked out? I see in The Shack an attempt at expressing God's transcendence of all our boxes of religion- not universality, no. Please do not assume universality. Even in the book itself, the author makes a point of saying that Jesus is the only way to God. But the author does hint at the fact that any road without Jesus, even a "Christian" one, is insufficient and must risen above. It doesn't matter what denomination you are, if you do not have Jesus. That is exclusionary inn the extreme, because you see, it doesn't matter if your belief system is arranged within the family of so-called "christian" ideologies, if you're off by an inch, you're off by a mile.

So what is the big deal that people see in God choosing to show Himself as a woman to one wounded man? Why do scholars deem it necessary to strive for a distant linguistic cousin as an explanation of Shaddai? Why can't God choose to say he is All Sufficient by using a picture of breast milk?

What are they afraid of?

I'm finally going to talk about Twilight.

Much has been said about the Twilight series, and the feminists are blogging brilliantly (about all the rich dysfunctional gender issues, as well as the racial ones. I have read all but the last book- the first two were swallowed whole, and the third became tiresome quickly.
Stephanie Meyer is a figure I am ambivalent about. Her Twilight series came out while I was in my last months of pregnancy, a time when I was very aware of my lack of writing. The story of a good little housewife writing in the wee morning hours while half-delirious from lack of sleep from breast-feeding a newborn struck a chord with me. I felt that it was possible, then, to write and to be a mother, to write and be successful. Ah, but how I mistook success for talent! I had read articles praising the books, the sexual tension, the purity of the characters, the simplicity of the life, the huge numbers of books sold, and I thought that the writing was good.
I did not read the books until months afterward. I had still not written much of anything- while my son was still very very small I traveled to Barnes and Noble and while he slept in the sling around me I spilled out poems about labor and childbirth and pain and identity. Other than that, my pen was largely unproductive. The idea of a mother of more than one, but most importantly, the mother of an infant, could pound out a four book series in a mad fever dream of inspiration over six months still haunted me. I had no inspiration to speak of.
So there is still a mythic awe of her fecundity, as relates to production of stories. As I continue to write my critiques, please keep in mind that though I never hope to write in her style, I do hope to write like she did. In the dirty hectic midst of children clamoring for attention, and hope that neither the story nor the children suffer any want.

To be fair, one must remember that Stephanie Meyer calls herself a storyteller, not a writer. I am afraid that she has fulfilled that nicely- but she cannot even be called a good storyteller, because if one compares Twilight to the fairy tales of folk lore, it is too wordy, too detailed. If one were to look to a writer of novels, her stories are lacking in depth. Too much one to be any good as the other.
So how could a woman write so poorly and get so rich? Why is her work so well-received? It is in what the characters and plot is not that we find the answer. The characters are sketches of types, not actual people. She does not draw on the power of mythos, it is the type of popular culture that we see in her novels. Teens, Tweens and twentieth century women with shallow educations can seize on the types easily- there are no references to ancient archetypes, no mother or father gods, no labyrinths, nothing to resound in the mind deeply.
There is the good little housewife, Bella, who fulfills her destiny by the end of the novel, there is Edward, the polar opposite of Jacob in the discourses of the male libido. And then there’s everyone else. All other characters serve only as plot mechanisms, they are all the dreaded “side characters”. As Stephen King so aptly said, “It’s also important to remember that no one is ‘the bad guy’ or ‘the best friend’ or ‘the whore with the heart of gold’ in real life; in real life we each of us regard ourselves as the main character, the protagonist, the big cheese; the camera is on us baby. If you can bring this attitude into your fiction, you may not find it easier to create brilliant characters, but it will be harder for you to create the sort of one-dimensional dopes that populate so much fiction.”

In all the whole series, there are truly only three characters, the love triangle of Edward, Bella, and Jacob. But I must reiterate, I use the word character loosely. They are three types sketched in, and Edward feels the closest to real because of his normally reserved, tight laced nature. We are supposed to know all about Bella, since she is our narrator, but sadly there isn’t much to know.

She herself doesn’t quite know who she is- all the feminist takings on it use the actions she describes without much thought, such as cooking dinner and doing laundry- it is in her lack of attention to these daily rituals that we see how she aligns her priorities, the things that make her up. One may try to posit her as the virtuous heroine, the shining white princess of fairy tale, but the truth is, she can’t wear white, she’d spill the spaghetti sauce on it. That banality in her character is glossed over, barely paid attention to in the narrative- it is simply assumed. And this is the most important point to make- it is assumed, taken for granted, that she would rustle about the house, taking care of her father, habits learned from parenting her own flighty mother.

Bella’s entire existence as detailed in the series is filling needs- at first she fills the needs of her mother, by paying the bills, cleaning up and cooking- in short, providing food shelter and security. But this is referenced perhaps in three full sentences in the first book. If any more is said of it, it is only repetition.
She removes herself from her mother’s home to make room for the new man, and heads off to take care of her father in the same way. He, too, seems to take her care-taking for granted. It is seen as a kindness, not as a defense against encroaching chaos, which is the only way I can imagine a sixteen year old girl parenting her own (non-addicted, assumably mentally sound) mother. No one ever notices that this girl is not a girl at all, but a rather empty and friendless adult in a sixteen year old’s body.

In fact, her father urges her to stop care-taking, and go get some friends, a life. Bella is not only not needed as the little mother, but is told to relate to people she cannot relate to- after all, what do 16 and 17 year olds know about caring for your parents?

Here is where I see some serious issues at play. Now, granted, I've come out of a dysfunctional home, and had access to some other seriously dysfunctional family systems, so please believe me when I tell you, taking a tour through Bella's family life looks, well...familiar.

commercials can be so great.

Sometimes I think my point would be far better made by a clever artist on a nineteenth century style advertisement.

“Do you wish to be brave? Noble? Do you have many questions and don’t want to go to the Church with them? Are you dissatisfied with the easy platitudes of “God’s way are not our ways?”
Then become an Atheist! (beams emerging from the text, clouds parting) Join an untold number of noble intellectuals who have bravely stepped out from under the Church’s influence, and are even now reforming our universities for the fair-minded, like yourself!”

And all of that is in bright circus poster colors. Someone could do a whole series on ideologies. That would be hysterical. I’m afraid of what Christian might come out to be, though. Unless it were done in the tone of a laundry ad….

Are you tired of scrubbing at those sin-soaked stains? Have you had enough of leaders and gurus who tell you to do it yourself and mind your manners?
Well now is your salvation! Jesus, the God who cleans your stains for you! No more scrubbing, no more begging! Forgiveness is here, and it is free! Be amazed as Jesus wipes away your sins with an effortless nail-scarred hand! No more guilt or shame!
Come see Jesus, today! Oh, wait, is that Him, knocking at your door?

That would be a hysterical commercial. You can just hear the infomercial voice-over, right? I saw this as a TV ad.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Image sells

"I note what you say about guiding your patient's reading and taking care that he sees a good deal of his materialist friend. But are you not being a trifle naif?.. He doesn't think of doctrines as primarily "true" or "false," but as "academic" or "practical," "outworn" or "contemporary," "conventional" or "ruthless." Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That's the sort of thing he cares about."- C.S Lewis, the Screwtape Letters

We all know the phrase "Sex Sells.", used almost constantly now in advertising. The truth is that sex itself doesn't sell much at all- sex itself is often a let down for those of us raised ona steady diet of the idealization of sex. What our culture acknowledges as sex is a far more sterile and glowy idea, one where sweat is always a good thing, and the moment of passion sweeps away all thought, and the release at the end is never ugly messy or boring.
But here is the import of my argument- the distance between the crafted image and the thing itself. Sex does not sell, my friends. The image of sex sells, and I will go even further than that- image sells. Do not craft a real picture of anything if you want to sell it- craft only it's potential, it's ultimate idealized state.

C.S. Lewis published the Screwtape Letters in 1942, and I am often astonished by how well this quote expresses the truth in our consumerist society today. It is not the argument or it's logic that matters- it is the image.

These days, every ideology has an image. The easiest example of this is given by Richard Dawkins in the preface of his book The God Delusion, in which he states that atheism is "Brave and noble" and goes on to promise just how he will prove his statement and in what chapter. The Preface itself is all about image- he makes vague references to how many people really are atheists, even if they themselves cannot bring themselves to acknowledge it- an impossible statement to prove, since the people in question cannot acknowledge it even to themselves. He also goes on to say that being an atheist in America is equivalent to being gay in the 50's. Not only are they numerous, noble and brave, but they are also downtrodden and misunderstood, as well as persecuted! He paints a very interesting image of the state of atheism in the world today- but never gives any hard facts, never gives any data to back up his claims.

Dawkins is selling atheism, very clearly in his preface to the God Delusion. I must admit that I thought him a giant with awful rhetoric on his side, excellently wielded data and argument, but I have been deeply disappointed by the disparate image and the man. His rhetoric is easy to disarm, it is easy to drive Hummers through the Redwood trees that grow in the holes in his logic. But you see, logic is not important to one who longs to be brave and noble.

I cannot speak so clearly towards other ideologies, but Buddhism's image is an easy one to point out. Immediately, one thinks of serene inscrutable smiles, the lotus blossom, and pacifism. I have heard the Dalai Lama described as a"Beautiful man" more times than I care to count, from people who aren't even Buddhists. The picture he presents is one they enjoy, would hang on their walls, even, but ask them to actually prescribe to the self-denial rigorously upheld by Buddhists...and well...the Dalai Lama is a beautiful man. I think that's the nice way of saying "That's true for you, but-"

Every ideology maintains an image. Once upon a time it was based on the lives of its followers. Now we are surrounded by marketing, and marketing is all about hype, not actuality. Remember the first time you had sex? Was it really any good at all? Were you disappointed? I know I was. The image presented was so much more...everything. Magical, exciting, romantic...clean. MArketing is all about hype, about potential, about the ideal state, and it does not concern itself with the distance between what it shows and what life is like. But we should.

What does it mean to be a responsible consumer of ideas? What does it look like when people truly think about the messages they receive?

Image is fired at us from so many different medias that it's commonplace to think in image-jargon instead of truth. Atheism is brave and noble, Buddhism is serene and compassionate, Christianity is hypocritical, Republicans are corporate, Democrats are philanthropists, etc. And all of these crafted images will shift when you talk to the followers of an opposite ideology.

Abortion is the perfect example. From the Pro-Choice camp: Abortion is a necessary right of a woman to control her life and her body, and denial of that right is cruel. Those that oppose it are referred to as "anti-choice" or even better, "anti-woman".
From the Pro-Life camp: Abortion is the destruction of human life and should not be allowed. It itself is a cruel act that harms all involved. Those that oppose this view are called "pro-abortion".

Now, before anyone gets all up in arms about this narrow very very short run-down of terms, please be aware that I am using terms employed in short essays and articles written by both sides of the issue, and will be glad to hunt down those articles for you if you want them. For quick reference, the pro-choice terms can be found on, and the pro-life terms can be found on

But the truth about image is that it tells us, the audience so much more about it's crafters and the culture that we live in than most would believe. Each image carefully omits very important ugly details. By familiarizing yourself with the details omitted, you begin to see what it is that the proponents of the ideologies struggle with themselves, what our culture tells us we should and should not want out of our ideologies, and in the end, human nature itself. If you follow the rabbit hole, Alice, you will come out the other side of the looking glass, and then my child, you shall be so much fiercer than a Jabberwock.

Be a responsible consumer, and do not blindly swallow the images, but discerningly swallow the image's makers, their fears, their hopes, their secrets exposed in the way they crafted the image, chew them soundly in your mind, and spit out the lies.

See what blows, and how far.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Buffalo, the Queen city

Most native Buffalonians will tell you their fair city has an inferiority complex. Deep in the grassroots interior, I see little of this- at least not directly. It is the grassroots movements here that has so deeply affected me. I can only express to you my own opinions, colored by only the articles, books, and conversations I've had in my years here.

Every depiction of the city I've read and heard invariably makes mention of the city's seedier sides- the waterfront, the immigrant poverty, the characters who populated those areas.

But the thing is that Buffalo has a long, strong and important history- did you know, for instance, that Buffalo was burned by the British forces on Dec 30th, 1813?

I know, right?

By 1825 the Erie canal was finished, and it opened the small town to the world. Over the course of 8 years the population exploded from 2,400 to over 10,000. I think that might be termed a "boom".

Buffalo continued to explode through the mid 1800's, and the Erie canal was the major reason for it. Tourists and travelers passed through the Queen city, and the harbor was a massive source of income. Grain traveled here via the canal, and Buffalo was home to the inventor of a steam powered grain elevator named Joseph Dart. His invention allowed for faster unloading, which meant higher efficiency, and efficient industry is successful industry. For awhile, I heard, Buffalo was the biggest processor of grain in the nation. The Cheerios plant is visible from the 190- currently, all Cheerios shipped to the East Coast are produced in Buffalo.

Because of the hydroelectric power, Buffalo was once named the City of Light- for the same reason, our grain mills ran long and strong.

Buffalo was also a very important site of the Underground Railroad, one of the last stops before freedom in Canada. Since I don't know much about this portion of Buffalo's history, I cannot elaborate without sounding dopey. Sorry guys, don't mean to be exclusionary.

By World War II, Buffalo had hit a high point, low unemployment- railroad cars were being manufactured here as well ass munitions for the war.

Of course, I'm skipping the assassinations. Oh well, it's plenty talked about elsewhere- besides, who wants to be famous for important people dying here? There's so much more to this town.

But then, the first death knell for industry sounded: The Saint Lawrence Seaway, a system of locks and canals that by passed us entirely. It kind of made us moot. The worst part is, an American was a major voice pushing for it- Dr. N.R Danielian fought for it because it would greatly benefit the heartland, the bread basket of the U.S.

Why it was better than the Erie canal, I cannot say. What this development did was make the Erie obsolete, and it was a master stroke against the Buffalo economy.

By the 50's, suburbanization had taken hold. Middle-class white families trucked out the edges of Buffalo and settled en masse. By the seventies, we had become de-industrialized, and firmly ensconced in the Rust Belt.

There are political decisions made that I cannot talk much about here- the decisions not to incorporate the suburban townships around the city, thereby keeping the money they generate out of the city itself.

When I look at a map of Buffalo, I see a rose bush left too long untrimmed, unpruned. At it's edges flowers bloom prolifically, but at it's heart it is dying, ragged stems and thorns slowly browning. (This may be in part due to the radial city plan)

This spread outward has several implications- the one that scares me is the farming problem.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Falling in love with the Queen of the Rust Belt.

I've been living in Buffalo since 2001- almost ten years now, and I've just started to think of myself as a Buffalonian. I've discovered the retro-coolness, the kitsch, the heart, the fierce loyal determination that is the Buffalo vibe.

It's not the kind of city people travel to, not really- it's not NYC, it's not Toronto- but it is homey. It's about neighborhoods and history, and it's about a grassroots movement that sinks their teeth in crouches and growls when bureaucracy threatens.

We've got urban farms on the West Side, garden centers and parks and local artists pitching in to make pretty. People care. I know that there are movements like this in other big cities, but listen, those towns ain't Buffalo.

Buffalo, in my imagination, was the rusty giant of the industrial age, milling, toiling, blue-collar thick fingered Polack workers hunched over beers in dingy bars before going home, it was wide abandoned avenues of empty lots and old buildings painted inappropriate colors. (drive down W. Ferry, you'll see colors no house should EVER be.) It was big and grungy and disheartened. It was swamped with snow, and somewhere under there must be interesting people-overwintering the depression like heart grass under thick insulates of snow drifts.

I came for college, from a small town by the Delaware River. My family called me crazy. My teachers all asked the same damn question. "Do you like snow?" I didn't know how to answer without getting too deep into my theories of Buffalo, so I nodded and said yes. I explained that a city that dealt with it so much sure knew how to keep the roads clean and life moves on.

(I have to say after visiting elsewhere in winter- Buffalo truly is exceptional. Life sure does go on. If you can actually make it somewhere alive, however risky it may be, come on down. It's amazing. Eskimos with dog sleds would be more cautious.)

I would love to go back and tell everyone what I've found here- citizens that give a damn, love their city, fully believe in upholding the name, "The city of Good Neighbors." There are few areas in this city that you can say people have stopped caring- and I really mean that. They may be poor, they may be overworked and overwrought, but they still give a damn about their neighborhood and their city.

I've found a group of people who believe in a vision for Buffalo's future that involves urban farms and sustainable living. A revitalization of the city's empty lots and abandoned homes. And these people are willing to go round for round with city hall,too.

I have such admiration for Buffalonians, old school and new. I love it here.

And with fresh eyes, I take a look at Buffalo in February. Brigitte's theory of Spring coming soon.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


A little while ago I named parts of Tristan's body for him - "This is Tristan's body" (waving my hand over his whole little self), naming neck, back, legs. Well, yesterday, Tristan, while on our bed with Brigitte, touched her and said "body" - touched her back and said "back", touched her neck and said "neck". Holy moly, that is cute and brilliant.

Other new words:

eight (for all numbers)
light (yat)

He also has connected hot and cold as related.

I have another interpretation of the -s thing, with mommies, daddies used instead of mommy and daddy - very many times when speaking of the other, we will say what they're doing - "daddy's home", "mommy's out" - so I believe he hears the "daddy's" and "mommy's" as the nominative form, as a simple name for each of us; he doesn't have the word/concept of "is" on its own yet.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Tristan LD V.3

Tristan is picking things up quite rapidly:

New words:
duck (for all birds, but also just today):
dirty "dody"
booger "buga"

And his first color word: yellow. He has noticed and named yellow things all around and outside the house (toilet paper package, lamplight. He wanted to combine banana and yellow..first he said nana for banana, and then "banawo" (yellow is "yewo").

He's also combining words, as I mentioned before. Brig was grooming his nose, and showed him the results, told him what it was, and he repeated "buga" and then said "dirty". He picks up He's very good with dirty now, and gets that it means it should be not touched or thrown away. He throws things away for us - we ask him "Tristan, will you put this in the garbage?" He marches over, lifts the lid, drops it in, and shuts it, and receives a cascade of accolades.

He touched a puddle from a boot and said "wet...cold".

I want to explain the hyphens in "I-see a-ball". Brig and I heard this as two words, not four, and what I know about stress patterns marking word boundaries in English bears this out. Both I-see and a-ball were two syllable constructs with the same stressed-unstressed pattern, as in a usual two syllable word (like "Ke-vin"). The I part is then like a first person verb prefix, like suffixes that mark conjugations in romance languages, and the a- is a demonstrative prefix, rather than a separate demonstrative word, like the indefinite article "a" that it comes from and will evolve into. This is all my personal conjecture based on what I learned about linguistics while earning my bachelor's...not sure what anyone official would have to say about it.

He already understands a few core grammatical features of English, like V-O (verb-object) sequence as in "read book", S-V (subject-verb, "I sit"), SVO and dem-noun ("I-see a-ball").


Standing in the front door of the brick apartment building is a woman, propping the door open with her extended arm. She feels the wind's pressure against the door in her triceps. The sun is shining through the clouds, lit and relit in the high snow. It has been warm enough that the snow on the walkway is melted. The man and the very small boy stopped and looked back at her, the former smiling, the latter squinting against the ambient bright light.
The boy was wearing his father's hat, folded up in half, so that it fit his head. He listened to her tell him she wasn't coming outside, and had clenched his hand and opened it, in a wave, and said with a lisping little mouth, "Bye-bye." Each word spoken with such specific attention. She laughed and said "bye-bye" back, imitating his stress pattern, and the father laughed. The small boy hesitated, still, and on a whim, she said "Blow me a kiss?" the boy ducked his head and furrowed his brow further. He started trodding back along the walk towards the door. The diffused reflected sunlight brightened his pale face.
She squatted in the doorway, still holding the door open, still resisting the slight wind, smiling. Kisses were special and rare- tokens of delicate affection placed carefully on adult mouths like jewelers place precious stones in settings. Adult kisses were frequent, sometimes slathered on his smooth fat face. They were often greeted with glee, but there had been many times the boy had exercised his right to refuse. She remembered them specifically at first, the smiling and the serious, always his little face swinging quickly away from her. She had given up requesting them, and had as a result, received the two he gave her with surprised tears in her eyes.
Up the short walk he toddles, his coat rustling and twisting as he swings his arms, eyes downcast. He keeps his eyes on the ground, carefully assessing his steps. He takes the small step up and finally looks up, very serious. He tilts his face up and placed his mouth against hers, his skin lit impossibly bright in her memory. Such a careful gesture, a gift, freely given and undertaken with great solemnity. The woman's eyes fill with tears, but the boy is already turned and walking back to his father. The man is laughing, shoulders shaking and eyes squinted up, sharing in her almost crying. They look at one another for a moment longer until the boy reaches his father. The boy waves again, the clench unclench of his little fist, and says with great care, "Bye bye." The adults laugh and nod.
"Bye bye." she repeats, voice a little thicker than before. She finally gives in to the wind, and lets the door swing shut, the flat brown face of it eclipsing slowly the bright snow.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Tristan's Language Development Cont'd

I forgot to mention wow-wow (for all dogs and some non-dog furry beasts, like rabbits, bears, etc.), meow for cats, and hooray.

And, just yesterday, Tristan mastered a few multi-word sentences - daddy bye-bye, read book, want book, want read book, I-see a-ball. COOL

Friday, January 1, 2010

Tristan's Language Development.

Hey this is Kevin, I wanted to give a report on all the words Tristan's been learning lately. He's picking them up fast now, he learned 3 just today - key, coat and shoe.

So here's the collection as of New Year's Day 2010 (somewhat in order of when he started saying them, the first was a few months ago)

Daddy, Mommy, hot, hi, oh (for falling, slipping) wow (mostly for screeens), yay, bye-bye, sit, hise "eyes" yiyi "Lily (Grandma's chihuahua)", a-go "I go", I know (what Brigitte says when he's hurt), up, ball, akako "avocado", bapu "bottle", eat, book, babies, key, coat, shoe. There might be a few more but this is what's coming to mind atm.

(I would have put in the IPA if I had font support and I thought anyone else would be able to read it...)

He also says a-Daddy, a-Mommy, a-Lily (a-yiyi), and today his first morphological rule appeared, he applied the "s" at the end of babies to Daddy "Daddish" and Mommy "Mommies". He doesn't get the plural meaning, but he generalized baby->babies to daddy and mommy, very cool.

And I can't forget the all-important boundary marker and self-assertion tool, NO!

Ok better get off the computer and get him up from his nap, time for dinner.