Wednesday, April 27, 2016

My Own Opinion in My Own Kitchen

I'm better than you because my house is cleaner than yours.

I'm better than you because my SAT scores, IQ, grades, education were better than yours.

I'm better than you because I drive a more expensive, a more in-vogue, a faster car and live in a bigger house in a better neighborhood than you do.

I'm better than you because I work longer hours at a cooler company than you do.

I'm better than you because I'm busier than you, more important, less expendable than you.

Everyone is expendable. That's how it works. If you do things right, love well, care, serve, and provide, you will leave a hole when you die, but you're still ultimately expendable. That hole will fill in with other people who do what you did, love well, care, serve, and provide.

And nothing, not even intelligence or money or your job, makes you better than anyone else. 

I'm living with a person right now who plays one of these games, the one regarding intellectual prowess. I hate that game. He lives in my house yet I'm made to feel stupid so he can feel smarter, better, more worthy. Whatever.

I need to ask him to stop it. I want to have a normal conversation in my kitchen on a Saturday morning as I make pancakes for my family and I don't want to have to cite my sources when I say that commercials are not healthy for a person. I am allowed to have an opinion. It's just a fucking opinion and people are full of lots of them, some logical and some not and I don't care to judge whether or not I'm right, smart, better than you as a result of this opinion, on a Saturday morning as I make pancakes for you in my kitchen.

Thank you for listening, jules

A Racist Term Deleted Fire Drill and Dirty Dishes

I've got a lot to complain about right now. Why won't anyone do the dishes?

I'm supposed to do the dishes? There are other people in this house eating. Why do I have to do it all of the time? I've even got an extra guy here and he does no more dishes than the other two. This morning, he asked where he was supposed to put the dirty cutting board because the sink was full. Well, in the dishwasher, I wanted to tell him. I didn't. I should have. It would have been good to tell him that Mike and I expect him to help out since he's getting a free ride here until he gets his own place.

That has ground to a halt too. At first, he was actively looking for his own place to live. Now? Not so much.

On top of that, our schedule is packed. I know these are the last days of me carting Nick from one place to another. I'm now in the passenger seat much of the time since he has his driver's permit. He's a pretty good driver and I almost checked out yesterday. He's not ready for me to check out while he drives. But right now, the driving just makes our schedule that much more crazy, practicing backing around the corner, lane changes. Why does it seem like it takes longer to get places when Nick drives? And I've never played the Chinese fire drill as much as I have these past weeks.

Do you remember doing a Chinese fire drill? High school pranks. Usually, it was when we were at a stop light in a car. Everyone would jump out of the car and run around to get in another door.

No, Nick and I are not doing our Chinese fire drills at stop lights. We're doing them off the road in a safe place.

So, is it bigoted to say Chinese fire drill? Is it derogatory? I'm not sure why they're called Chinese and not Cherokee fire drills or Hoosier fire drills or teenage fire drills.

There's probably something derogatory about it and I'm just clueless.

Sorry, folks. I didn't mean anything by it. I just looked it up. It was originally a commentary about a fiasco in translation during a fire drill in the early 1900s, but later, the term was used in a demeaning way. So there's one more thing I really shouldn't say if I'm going to be polite. It makes sense for me to be polite, but is it still a bigoted thing to say?

It is.

It's like saying you got gypped, which is rude to gypsies, or calling someone an Indian-giver, which is rude to Native Americans. English is a linguistic minefield, but it's worth taking the time to look at the original meanings of common terms we say so that we're not promoting bigotry.

It is, isn't it?

It reminds me of the statues of Southern civil war leaders that recently had to come down. Now, remind me why these people can't be respected again? Is it racist to maintain a statue of your great great grandfather in the local park if he served in the civil war?

So now I can complain that there are terms I grew up saying that I have to relearn now that I'm old. It's hard to relearn so many things. It's like my mind wants to keep going down the same tracks it always did and language cuts a deep groove. 

I'm getting old, people. And that, by itself, causes more problems than it solves. And it still doesn't solve the problem that I am the only one doing the dishes around here. It doesn't. Maybe if I don't do them for another day or two, someone will step up.


Thank you for listening, jules

Monday, April 18, 2016

Dr. KnowItAll, PhD

"Did you like this book? I asked in the used bookstore.

"Of the genre, this book is rather blah, blah, blah, and it falls in the dark period of blah blah blah something else highly intellectual and isn't it obvious that it sourced from me, the speaker, who by proxy is as cool as the author who wrote it? ..." the guy spoke and I have no idea what it was that he said past the word 'rather' because I kind of tuned out. This was not an opinion but an analysis for which I do not, nor do I ever wish to have, the background. Do you ever ask a question that you know within the first three words of the answer that you should never have asked in the first place? I won't go into that bookstore any more. They should teach their cashiers that it's not nice to analyze people's book choices even if they are leaning on the positive side of their analyses? Even if he was asked his opinion?

I just wanted his opinion, not a dissertation.

I got this treatment over The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. I bought a copy today because Jenny, the Bloggess, said she loved it. She didn't say that I'd love it. She's polite that way, respecting that I'll have my own opinion, but I've loved every other book she's said she likes. Sorry, I couldn't find the post where she listed her favorite books and asked her readers to list their favorite books. If you can find that page, it's a reader's orgy.

No, Jenny didn't analyze The Sandman. She just said she liked it, loved it. That was enough for me since she also loves Christopher Moore and Terry Pratchett, two others of my favorites. I showed Nick my new-used book and told him it was a cult classic. I don't know it is a cult classic, but I suspect it is since I've heard it spoken of in those terms since I first heard about it from Jenny. Does that mean that once I read it, I'm part of a cult? And Jenny likes it.

Jenny is my friend. Well, I like to think that Jenny is my friend, but don't we all wish we were friends with that great, crazy author who wrote the book you just felt in your bones when you read it? Yes, Jenny is that author. 'Let's Pretend This Never Happened' is that book. For that cashier, maybe Neil Gaiman is that author, but he could have just said it kept him from committing suicide when he was fifteen and I would have known better what he was saying. He didn't have to go all Dr. KnowItAll, PhD on me. See, Jenny is a better friend than that cashier, isn't she? Even though I don't know her, not really. I only ever read her books and her blog. And once, she signed my book after I waited in line for an hour.

And that makes me one of those people, the tag-alongs, the wannabes, the I-wish-I-were-as-cool-as-Jenny kind of people. But I never will be as cool as that cashier, now, will I? Never.

Thank you for listening, jules

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Squelched Controversy

There's a teacher who is leaving Nick's school. He's not one of Nick's teachers, but I heard a little about his story. His crime?  He talked in class about something controversial. He's been quietly reprimanded and has decided to leave rather than teach in the proscribed environment.

Wait? What subjects are not tolerated in high school? When Mike got home and settled himself onto the couch to relax, I asked him, "Which controversial subjects would you want teachers not to discuss in school?"

"None. They should talk about everything." Then he went back reading to his magazine. He likes to keep abreast of what's happening in the world. To him, the answer was as simple as that.

When has it become worthy of a reprimand for a teacher to speak, to encourage discourse, to even allow respectful disagreements? Why can't school be a place where kids learn that the world is full of people with varied opinions? Why can't school be a place where kids learn, with respect, to debate their opinions without others losing the right to believe in their own? When did schools become a place in which a narrow view is taught and nothing outside of that is allowed? Are they going to start banning books next? Are our rights to free speech going down? Is it propaganda that's being taught in lieu of open discourse?

I want my son to be educated by people brave enough to talk through controversies, who encourage kids to tolerate people with other viewpoints, who teach enthusiastic debate, to talk about and write about details and possibilities in our universe and in our cultures. I want my son to be free to discuss everything. This is his time to discover the complexities and nuances of the world, its sciences, religions, political climates, and its cultures. More discussion rather than less is in order at his age. When I was in high school, we talked about transcendental meditation, Buddhism, astral projection, LSD as an experience, and psychokinesis. It didn't mean that I believed all of it, but we discussed these things thoroughly. How much further out there can you get? It did me no harm to try to promote my studied opinions. In fact, it made me stronger and smarter to learn how to talk about varied controversial subjects, and to hone my opinions in healthy debate.

So what is happening here?

For every vociferous parent who squelches open discourse, there are fifty, a hundred, maybe a thousand who quietly hope for the continued right to free speech in schools and the ways it can educate our children to becoming open-minded, creative, and thoughtful adults. Apparently, we're going to have to make some noise.

This teacher is funny. He's creative. I wish he'd been my son's teacher. I hope he continues to teach wherever he goes. I hope he continues to discuss anything and everything, especially that which is controversial.

Thank you for listening, jules

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Sharing the Stink

For now, I share a hallway and a bathroom with my nephew. I can't tell you how awkward that is. Oh, he's a good guy. He is. He's thoughtful and relatively neat, but there's something about passing a guy less than half your age in the hall just outside the shitter when one of you has just been in there shitting. And that bathroom, unfortunately, has no fan, only a window that props open and brings in ice-cold fresh air. Afterward, it still smells like your business, just colder.

The worst part is that my nephew is also aware, oh so keenly aware of the awkwardness of our situation. I can imagine him on the other side of his bedroom praying for me to leave the hallway quickly so he can take his morning piss.

So, we've come up with alternate plans for going up and down that short hallway. At ten-thirty, he leaps up to 'go to bed' ten minutes before I might mention it. I've never seen a twenty-something so eager to go to bed. Plus, he's desperately plunging through one apartment or another in an attempt to move out. There are days when it's obvious that the boy should take a break from his search and prop up his feet, but he's on a quest. I don't blame him. I try very hard not to encourage him to a degree that it makes me look like he should be leaving the day after tomorrow, but I've felt my face lighting up whenever he mentions a potential place.

The other day he said, "There's a place I might be able to get into." I'm sure you could see the relief on my face. But he went on to say, "but it doesn't come available until the fifteenth." I tried to keep my face cheerful about ten more days of awkward encounters in the hallway outside the bathroom, but I'm sure the joy left my eyes as the smile stayed plastered to my face.

"Oh, that's no problem," I said. "You can stay as long as you need to." Did you notice that I used the word 'need' instead of 'want?' I'm sure he did. Like I said, he's a sensitive soul and my cheerfulness just seemed to pain him.

A day or two later, he stood towering over me with downcast eyes and said, "That apartment isn't going to be free until the twentieth." He didn't apologize but the boy seemed absolutely small. That's hard for someone who's six foot four with size thirteen shoes. For a moment, I forgot the stupid bathroom/hallway problem and felt the pain of living with your aunt, uncle, and cousin when you are in your twenties. We all know it's only for a few weeks because the job is there, just not the apartment. But somehow it's worse than living with your parents. You can't quite relax into your usual routine. It's more akin to living with your grandma only Grandma is better at making you feel cozy and you can feel like a six year old in her fluffy little house. So, yeah, it's about the worst way you can move out, living with your aunt and uncle and sharing a hallway and a stinky bathroom. 

"Oh hon," I said to him, "just relax. You'll find your own place in good time." I meant it this time. It's going to be okay. I know it will. I keep telling myself that and after my nephew finds his own place, I'm sure the hallway encounters will lose their stink even in my memory.

Thank you for listening, jules