If you’re reading this, you were probably just browsing Facebook. Get off your computer; grab some people your love; go outside; and go live life so well that Death trembles to take you.
Tendered for your thoughtful consideration,
If you’re reading this, you were probably just browsing Facebook. Get off your computer; grab some people your love; go outside; and go live life so well that Death trembles to take you.
Tendered for your thoughtful consideration,
[Note: I like this title, but I can’t promise that you’ll learn anything about the most famous Chinese military strategist in history. In fact, I just peppered my piece with two of his quotes because I believe that “The Art of War” guides more of our government’s policies than the Bible. Thank you for reading this far.]
Like most Americans, I’m afflicted by economic anxiety. For some, it stems from student debt, which is at an all-time high in this country. But for me, it’s worrying about the unforeseen, as if I’m walking a tightrope without a safety net. I may be bankrupted in a moment by a burst appendix or a root canal, despite the fact that I have both health and dental insurance. This gnawing unease prevents Americans from being productive, happy citizens whether we have coverage or not. And I’m one of the lucky ones: I have zero debt and zero dependents. I should feel financially secure but I have diminishing faith that the American government will safeguard healthcare, education, and the environment into our future.
“All warfare is based on deception.”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Social security—a program I’ve paid into for all of my working life—might not exist when I retire and need it most. Aetna® and Dental Health Services® will take my money, yet they give me no reassurance that services won’t be massively upended when I need care in the future. At 32, I gladly pay my premiums to support those less fortunate but I question why our wealthy country won’t embrace a single payer system or a better subsidized public option. In 2015, my fiancé got into a serious bike accident in Buenos Aires. He rode an ambulance to the hospital and got stitches, services which would have cost him more than $3,000 in the US without insurance; in Argentina, it was all free.
This incident shows that we need to rethink who deserves the power in our American democracy. We’re supposed to have the power. The people. As it stands, there’s often disagreement between what’s best for the public and what’s best for companies. By illustration, if the profit incentive outweighs the costs:
The worst part is that the people who would benefit most from progressive ideas are those who voted for Trump. Red states typically take more federal money than they pay in, meaning that they’re subsidized by the “liberal elites” that they hate. I also believe that red states suffer precisely because their local governments have elevated corporate welfare over the public interest. For example, a Louisiana town recently found out that they have the highest cancer rate in the country due to pollution from the local DuPont neoprene factory. Ironically the Louisiana town is called St. John the Baptist Parish, which reminds me of my favorite line in The Usual Suspects: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” To the citizens of economically depressed areas in the South and Rust Belt: your Devil does exist, and it’s sure as hell not Planned Parenthood, Obamacare, or the EPA. The real Devil is slippery and here’s his secret: he has convinced people that what’s good for Wealth is good for everyone.
I argue that despite what we’ve been told, economic growth is not a real gauge of our progress. I’d always been taught that the best indicator of our country’s success was the growth of our economy. This is usually expressed as an inflation-adjusted percentage of our GDP. Many people don’t question the assumption that we should be striving for ever-higher economic growth—more businesses, more money changing hands, and more investments equals more sweet, greasy American progress. Presidents from both political parties focus squarely on GDP percentages to guide rhetoric, diplomacy, and policy. Like many Americans, I assumed that this figure somehow represented our national well-being, but this overlooks the most important consideration: what’s actually good for people?
We should be using our wealth to help the public meet its potential through investments in healthcare, education, infrastructure, and the environment. Instead, we enrich defense contractors and we’re in perpetual war because it’s good for business.
These days, Fox News and Breitbart incite just enough fear and xenophobia to make some Americans play along. The problem is that rather that doing what’s best for the people, the US is beholden to the interests of powerful corporations which control our government’s policies while channeling wealth into prisons or the military—already larger than the next eight nations combined.
“There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War
How do we fix this? I offer simple solutions:
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that like many Americans, I’m continually on edge. I’m anxious for myself, my loved ones, and the future of our country’s children. Let’s stop scuffling over abortion, Planned Parenthood, and prayer in schools. Those are divide-and-conquer smokescreen issues which obscure the real problems facing us: healthcare, education, infrastructure, and protecting the environment.
Yesterday was International Women’s Day. I participated in the “Day Without a Woman” protest by wearing red, spending money at exclusively female-owned businesses, and not working. I reflected on what it means to be a woman and how my life would be different if I’d been born a man. I’m grateful that now my female friends and I can vote and our career options aren’t limited to stenography or teaching (!!!), but as with any seismic shift in society, other less visible disadvantages of membership in Club Double X are still stifling our potential as humans.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but at my core, I resent being a woman:
And I’m a privileged, white woman from the United States. My experience is just one person’s perspective and like so many women, I’ve never been able to fit the mold of the fairer sex. There’s been just enough social progress that thankfully, I don’t have to. I’m proud to be a feminist, and I hope that these disparities will someday be anachronistic, joining the same graveyard where our ancestors buried feudalism, buried Jim Crow laws, and (more recently) buried the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act. The ghosts of longstanding discrimination still haunt us and public sentiment often changes more slowly than the law, especially as prejudice is passed down to those without the education to know better. I’m grateful for the opportunity to reflect on my own ghosts—those stomach-turning vestiges of legalized discrimination—even if the frigate of social progress is a slow-moving son-of-a-bitch.
I was dumped several times while I was living in San Francisco. To heal, I’d typically enjoy a few wine-drenched nights with friends and leap back into the dating scene with gusto. I’ve only suffered one real broken heart in my life.
It started with OkCupid. For those of you unfamiliar with the service, it beats the hell out of locking eyes with a stranger at the bar and taking several months to realize that the hottie you’re dating is an angry alcoholic or worse—a closeted Trump admirer.
OkCupid boasts several advantages over Tinder, which I hear is popular with the lusty kids these days. Both services offer several user pictures—Joe with arms outspread in the Grand Canyon (OUTDOORSY), Joe reading “War and Peace” under a tree (INTELLIGENT), Joe riding a four-by-four during a friend’s bachelor party (ADVENTUROUS), Joe in his hilarious Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball” costume (FUNNY), Joe holding a baby human with the word “niece” or “nephew” in bold (NURTURING), Joe with a coterie of ethnic children where he volunteered for five days to build a school and get drunk with other do-gooders (SELFLESS), etc.—but OkCupid has the advantage of featuring lengthy profiles and questions which gauge people’s compatibility on multiple levels. In other words, the more questions someone answers, the more likely it is that they’ll get matched with people with similar morals, political leanings, personalities, interests, and other ingredients in the secret sauce of relationships.
In February 2011, I’d just been broken up with by a 23-year-old with the self-described “Belgian gift” (i.e., well-endowed), but I’d gotten back onto OkCupid within the week. Little did I know, user SFZinfandel would reach out and delight me with his wit. SFZinfandel had contacted me before I deactivated my account to enjoy the aforementioned Belgian gift, and apparently he’d held a candle for SFSwampDonkey (me) for all of that time! Let’s call my ex Richard, or “Dick” for short.
Dick and I agreed to meet at the Cafe Soleil in the Lower Haight. He chose the cafe because it was across one of the best Thai food joints in town—my favorite cuisine!—and he thought that if things were going well over beers, we could scoot over there for dinner. It was also just around the corner from his place, which accommodated his (initially endearing) lack of athleticism.
He worked DreamWorks—swoon circa 2011!—and was incredibly intelligent and funny. In addition to his mad computer engineering chops, he explored his sensitive side by writing songs and playing the guitar. He had blue-green eyes and tousled light brown hair. Apart from some minor tooth discoloration and a rather doughy programmer’s body (i.e, dad bod), he was very good-looking. We couldn’t stop talking and we ended up having a four-hour first date. (Note: If that’s not already a Tim Ferris book, it should be.) After an awesome night and a goodbye smooch, we decided pretty quickly to deactivate our OkCupid accounts and give this thing a shot.
Over the next couple of months, we spent nearly every night together. I lived in a shitty SRO studio in Russian Hill with one room and a small bathroom, which cost $1,200 per month. At least it had an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge. I’d usually cruise over his direction into the Lower Haight where he shared an awesome cornflower blue Victorian duplex above a classy marijuana dispensary. As we grew closer and started spending more time together, I grew very fond of watching Dick practice his original songs with a little Death Cab For Cutie thrown in for good measure. I’d lie on my stomach across his bed and stare adoringly into his eyes while he’d sing “I’ll Follow You Into the Dark” or practice Muse’s “Plug In Baby” guitar riff. He’d been in a men’s a cappella comedy troupe at UPenn and he had an incredible voice, although he’d break into a broody, feminine shriek when he’d reach his favorite parts of songs. But that was just his passion! He was an artist, dammit!
We’d attend every Tuesday night open mic at Red Devil Lounge, often staying out until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. I was working as an addiction specialist for Westside Community Services, where I started counseling patients at 7:00 am. Let’s just say that on Wednesday mornings in 2011, I wasn’t always at my finest or most attentive, but it was worth it! I didn’t care. My boyfriend was a performer, and he was amazing! We’d always have a mini-crew of our friends at the RDL and enjoy an awesome night, tossing back cheap beers and well drinks until last call.
Our relationship progressed very quickly. His mom flew us out to Medford, OR where we spent a lovely weekend exploring wine country and kayaking down the Rogue River; we dropped L-bombs within a couple of months; we shared a bag of shrooms in Alamo Square Park and I helped him through a rough trip; I saved up my paltry counselor salary and treated him to a weekend in Carmel for wine-tasting and delicious food; he came to my family Thanksgiving in San Diego where all of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents were in attendance. His mom and brother even joined us! I also had ditched my overpriced apartment in Russian Hill for an affordable room in the Lower Haight with some amazing roommates. I made the move so I wouldn’t have to traverse the city every evening to see Dick, sure, but I was also much closer to my work in Western Addition.
Things were going great. Romance. Poetry. Music. Watching Arrested Development in bed. At least I thought they were going great. We’d been achieving all of these milestones—plenty of family time, saying “I love you” constantly, spending nearly every day together—but I was in for a horrible awakening.
My mom and I have a tradition of taking an international trip every other Christmas. We’d decided to explore New Zealand for two weeks, and I was ecstatic to finally visit the Real-Life Shire where oenophiles and foodies mingled with marathon hikers and adrenaline junkies. We drank sauvignon blanc, ate green-lipped mussels, and explored the south island’s many lakes and world-class hiking. Halfway into my trip, I noticed that Dick had been weirdly incommunicado. I didn’t want any unsubstantiated worries to kill my NZ sauvignon blanc buzz, so I wrote a witty, affectionate email. His response was strangely detached as if a distant friend had written it.
I decided to not let it ruin my trip because nothing was for sure, but I wasn’t really feeling myself by the time my mom and I got to Milford Sound. We were indulging in some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, but I couldn’t quell the pit in my stomach and the feeling that something was really wrong in my relationship.
My mom and I flew back to California on December 30th. We had a grueling, multi-stop journey which we rather enjoyed because it was on Virgin. (Fog machines. Purple light. Plenty of movies. They’re the best.) For the last leg of my trip, I had to sprint from LAX’s Terminal 1 to 3 with my massive backpack to make my connecting flight to San Francisco. The Virgin America folks initially told me that I was shit-out-of-luck because the flight was leaving in 15 minutes and there was no way I’d make it through security. With a little smooth talking, I got the clerk’s manager to escort me personally through security to ensure that I could get back to SF and see my boyfriend for the first time in 16 days. Traveling with mom was great, but I was craving some lovemaking with my broody little doughboy. I was especially excited about the New Years Eve party at Dick’s house planned for the following night.
When I arrived in SFO, I turned on my phone and texted Dick immediately, “Hey! Barely made my last flight and can’t wait to see you, love! Where can we meet?” Several minutes later while I was on BART back into the city, I received a curt response: “Hey. Bro-face is in town. We’re hanging tonight.”
I’d been gone for 16 sexless days and he was opting to hang out with his brother during my heralded return to the city from an exotic kiwi adventure? What the fuck, Dick? That night, I spent time with friends who actually wanted to see me and hear about my trip. I began to suspect the worst, but nothing could really prepare me for what happened the following day.
Dick arranged to grab coffee with me on the afternoon of New Year’s Eve. It was sunny and we walked to Duboce Park and watched ecstatic dogs frolic through the grassy knolls. The whole exchange took maybe 20 minutes. He broke up with me without offering a reason and gave me a small box. He was unable to articulate why he took a meat cleaver to my heart that day and left me there to ponder the news. I walked tearfully back to my house which was now three blocks away from his.
I unwrapped the small token of alimony from Dick—a late Christmas gift. It was his old iPhone box with an Apple gift card containing exactly the amount of money I’d need to upgrade my old, janky Blackberry to an iPhone 4S. (Suffice it to say I was a late tech adopter.)
Rather than attending the New Years party in Dick’s Lower Haight Victorian, I went to an awesome soiree with people who would become my best friends in the city. I slipped into the bathroom countless times to cry my eyes out. I looked like a drunk blond raccoon by the end of evening, but I’d survived the insult of a baseless breakup. I was going to move on! It was now 2012 and I was going to turn over a new leaf, recovering with the support of all of these wonderful people. With enough booze, cigarettes, dancing, and kind words from friends, I almost forgot what had happened to me. That was until I was slingshotted into despair the following day.
I woke up utterly hungover in the early afternoon of New Years Day. I started sobbing, remembering that Dick had broken up with me and I’d no longer get to feel his broody little doughboy body against mine. In an act of self-destruction, I decided to check Dick’s Facebook. I’d half-expected that in his abysmal grief, he’d skipped the NYE party at his own house to weep and look at pictures of us, and it comes as no shock that this was not the case. One of his best friends had posted countless pictures of Dick surrounded by beautiful women with a huge smile, looking like he had just won a Grammy or Bachelor of the Year. He looked thrilled and ecstatic, surrounded by the people I’d called friends for the previous ten months. I was absolutely crushed, and after ten days of drunk/stoned anguish, I thought that sending him a sweet, forgiving email would somehow bring me relief:
1/10/12, 8:13 am
Your Christmas gift was very generous. The phone will make my life easier, more enjoyable and infinitely more stylish. It’s one of the best presents I’ve ever received and the orange case was a thoughtful touch. Thank you so much.
I’ve put a lot of thought into what happened, and from what I’ve gathered, you need time and space for personal and professional growth, and your decision to change careers in particular has been weighing heavily on you. When you stopped working in July, I was hoping that the fear, negativity and uncertainty wouldn’t spill over into other realms of your life and I wanted to support you through this transition.
I celebrate many aspects of our time together: creating delectable dinners and brunches; gazing into each other’s dilated eyes; enjoying in-depth conversations; cuddling up and giggling to Arrested Development; toothpasting each other’s toothbrushes; connecting with each other’s friends; and the list goes on. I felt strongly that the relationship was moving in a positive direction since we had so much fun not just together, but also in the company of our family and friends. I reflect back on what I loved about our time and how I grew, all of the things you taught me, the music you played, the trips we took and the feel of your touch.
I know that what we have is real, and I wish with all my heart that our timing and communication could have been better, that we could have slowed things down. Because I love you, I forgive you and want you to know I’m here as a friend if you need anything during this difficult time.
You’re an incredible person. Never forget that.
Here’s how he responded:
1/10/12, 9:32 pm
You were endlessly supportive of me, unabashedly loving, unabatedly positive, and I was so confused why, with all the happy moments and all your devotion, I should continually feel lacking — not undeserving of your love, just… lacking, in my own right. It took a while to identify that feeling, and to understand why I felt it. Without the self actualization of identifying myself with a true occupation, I felt like I had no personal foundation on which to support my own self worth; and with my mind so consistently preoccupied with decidedly unsexy thoughts of bugs, algorithms, and software architecture, I felt incapable of the mental capacity I expect from myself in a meaningful relationship, in the kind of relationship I would want.
That’s what we call a San Francisco dump, engineer-speak for “I’m just not that into you.”
A few months after we broke up, he posted an intimate picture on Facebook. It was of him, his best friend “Ron,” and a fluffy white dog. It’s one of the most adorable and gayest pictures I’ve ever seen. It reminded me of when we were still together and I witnessed Dick and Ron in a playful sexual pantomime in their living room, an act which lingered a little longer than a joke. They enjoyed toeing the line of gay ambiguity, but I don’t think that was really it; he just wasn’t that into me. And that’s cool.
In any case, it was one of the worst experiences of my life. Being dumped hastily and unexpectedly on NYE after a two-week international trip followed by a large FB photo collection of my ex surrounded by gorgeous women at a party I was supposed to attend was CRUSHING. Did I mention that I developed a gnarly lung inflection from a mold in my new Lower Haight house, the one I’d moved into to be closer to Dick? I had a productive cough for months, which was so bad, it caused one of my coworkers at the clinic to complain that I might infect everyone. I was also managing a caseload of nearly 50 clients at various stages of recovery from heroin addiction. It was a supremely stressful, awful time.
So to the women and men out there who are unhappily single or in the midst of an awful breakup: fuuuuuck. I felt that pain for many miserable months. After five years, I’ve finally been able to write about it. And even laugh about it. My friends and I all remember the fateful day that we were playing volleyball in the Panhandle. Dick hit the ball up into his own face, and it was glorious. That’s how I’ll always remember him.
On November 15th, one week after Hillary gave her concession speech to the Flaming Ball of Id, I bought a plane ticket to attend the Million Women March in Washington DC. Sure, the presidential election served as a catalyst, but I had no idea that I’d be participating in the largest multinational protest in world history.
Let me qualify that: the media reported that the Women’s March might have been the largest US protest in history, but according to Wikipedia’s compendium of peaceful gatherings, it actually proved the largest multinational day of protest ever recorded. The better-attended events were typically funerals (e.g., Ayatollah, Khomeini, CN Annadurai), single-nation gatherings (e.g., the “Democracy and Martyrs’ Rally” in Istanbul, 2016), or celebrations in Southeast Asia welcoming the Pope, not to mention the incredible 5 million-person turnout for the Chicago Cubs World Series Parade. Therefore, the 4.7+ million people who marched across seven continents on January 21, 2017 produced the LARGEST MULTINATIONAL PROTEST IN WORLD HISTORY. I think that’s pretty damn exciting.
I was lucky enough to get a spot on top of a journalist’s black van at Independence and 4th Street in DC , one block away from the main stage while more than a half a million people stood in the vicinity. My partner and I were even featured in the NY Times.
We heard speeches from Dr. Angela Davis, Gloria Steinem, Kamala Harris, Ashley Judd, Madonna, Michael Moore, Scarlett Johansson, and Alicia Keys, among many others. I met an Iranian-American doctor who had attended the Civil Rights March on Washington as a child in 1963, and she mentioned that the Women’s March that day was still the most impressive show of activism she’d seen in her 50+ years living in DC. Above all, I learned that I wasn’t alone in my sense that all wasn’t right with the world in its treatment of women.
To be clear, people across the globe participated in the Women’s March for varying reasons; it wasn’t simply a display of people’s disgust with Trump, although I understand that sentiment; I can’t convey the indignity of having my own country’s president-elect brag about sexual assault. Not talk, but fucking BRAG about sexual assault. Some people don’t understand what it feels like when your eye contact with a man is treated as a sexual invitation, when you’re physically smaller than those who try to take advantage of you, and when all of it is no fault of your own. For me, the Women’s March helped remedy a longstanding ache in my gut that told me things would be easier for me if I’d been born a man. Here’s how I figure:
Women have only very recently earned legal rights and professional privileges I now take for granted. Women couldn’t serve on juries until 1973, get credit cards in their name until 1974, keep their jobs while pregnant until 1987, or legally refuse to have sex with their spouses until 1993. These restrictions continue to have sociopolitical consequences for women’s progress far beyond the scope of this piece. Just as the impact of slavery didn’t end with the 13th Amendment, we all know that that the legacy of injustice ripples outward affecting future generations long after a law has changed.
The Goldberg Paradigm holds that the exact same words coming out of a man’s mouth are perceived much differently coming from a woman. I’ve been frustrated throughout my life by this truism. A man’s assertiveness is my display of aggression; a man’s intelligence is my smugness; a man’s professional success is my anti-children stance; a man’s forgivable anger is my embarrassing emotional outburst; a man’s heroic, kind act is my default behavior as the “fairer sex.” And don’t get me started on my jokes which have fallen flat only to be repeated and adored when my ex-boyfriends cribbed my words and timing.
I should mention that I was raised by a badass, feminist, single mom. I can’t imagine a more fertile ground for this consciousness that helps me see the invaluable, under-appreciated role women play in society. Women have done more unpaid and unrecognized labor than any group in human history and in changing this disparity, there are excruciating growing pains. For every woman who’s grabbed by man with power, for every successful scientist who suffers sexism from her peers, and for all the moments in between: RESIST.
As for the carrot-hued catalyst of the Women’s March: all rational people see that the Trumpass is pointed in the wrong direction. In his first week in office, he’s implemented a racist ban on refugees and immigrants; pushed forward with the expensive and unnecessary Mexican Border Wall; and established fascist gag orders on several government agencies (e.g., EPA/NIH/NPS), to name the top three things that piss me off. (For the record, the “Mexico City Policy” withholding funding for women’s health organizations internationally is a ball that’s been volleyed between conservative and liberal administrations for the past 30 years. It’s nothing new.)
RESIST not only for women or blacks or Mexicans or immigrants or Muslims, but resist because it’s the right thing to do. We’re only as good as we let all people be, and an arrogant tyrant who cares for nobody but himself, his family, and small circle of wealthy cabinet appointees doesn’t have our best interests in mind.
RESIST by calling your senators and house representatives; RESIST by donating to Planned Parenthood; RESIST by correcting media-reporting errors through social media commentary; RESIST by shifting your money to a credit union away from the banks which stand to profit from the Goldman Sachs agenda; RESIST by enjoying peaceful protests and creating art; RESIST by teaching your daughters and sons that this administration is not normal and does not work in the interests of the American people.
I first saw ‘Don’t Diet…RIOT!’ scrawled on a bathroom stall at Laguna Beach High School. It stuck with me because at LBHS, there was immense pressure for girls to be thin, just like many schools today. This constant body-badgering is fed by fashion magazines, celebrity culture, and most recently, social media. In my day, at least my upward self-comparisons with the beautiful girls—almost all of them named Jessica—ended when I left school. For girls on Instagram these days, that’s not the case.
I can’t speak for other parts of the country, but for me, growing up in an environment with so many surgically remodeled mothers and proud size 0 classmates made me feel ugly and inadequate for most of my adolescence. I know my experience isn’t unique and I can’t deny the privileges I enjoyed at LBHS, but I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time fretting about my bad skin and love handles, counting calories, and gorging on products with artificial sweeteners. Most of all, I wish hadn’t bought so many stupid beauty products.
Beauty products. That 80 BILLION dollar industry in the US aimed squarely at making women feel unattractive and self-conscious. For the sake of our sanity, please help put some of these exploitative companies out of business and
For the uninitiated, here are some of the modern things we women are taught we can’t live without:
I’m all for the free market, but the existence of this overpriced garbage highlights the toxic conflation of a woman’s beauty with her self-worth. Let me unpack that: why else would we justify spending $220 on caviar foundation unless it felt validating and essential to our well-being? What else could it be for? Certainly not to attract other people. Call me a plebe, but I doubt the majority of people can tell the difference between a contoured/strobed and a non-contoured/non-strobed feature on a person’s face. (Exception: my dear friends in the drag world. Derek and Robert, you totally know the difference and probably would disagree with every word in this piece. And can you actually strobe a feature? Am I even using that right? Hmm.)
And this year, L’Oréal is releasing a ‘smart hairbrush’ with a companion app to tell us all of the L’Oréal products we need to buy to treat our brush-detected hair issues. As if our socially imposed self-loathing will be fixed by a $200 hairbrush.
In sum, the damn beauty-socio-industrial complex employs a two-pronged strategy:
Makeup can be fun, sure, but a survey of the average woman’s shower or cosmetics case is a real wake-up call. I want to end with a picture of the few products I use—simple, natural things I’ve never seen advertised anywhere:
I guess only time will tell if I end up looking like a leathery old crone at 40 because I didn’t throw down for that palmitoyl oligopeptide. Then again, the thousands of dollars I’ll spend instead on traveling & dining out & guitar lessons & sending boxes of dogshit to the White House once Trump assumes office will make me feel more alive & beautiful than anything I can buy at Sephora.
[Written two hours ago from my cottage]
I’m sitting in a rocking chair by the glow of the fire, listening to the logs crackle and fingers tap-dancing across my laptop keys. The living room window is flanked by a towering case of my favorite books and a Taylor guitar. I see thick snow clusters floating down outside into our garden. I sway my head gently to Macy Gray’s new album, her sensual voice an homage to her roots in jazz. I am utterly at peace because when I’m here at home in Eugene, OR, I’m unplugged from the world.
When I say ‘unplugged,’ let me be clear: not only do I lack internet and cable in the cottage, but I also haven’t had a cell phone plan since 2014. I’d dropped my carrier initially to move to Argentina for 10 months and I never found a reason to reactivate. My friends, family, and employer have long-since grown accustomed to not being able to reach me 24/7; they appreciate that I’ll respond once I’m online at a local cafe or a public library. And with wifi now ubiquitous throughout much of the world, it’s not difficult to find a connection when I need one.
From 2010 to 2014, I lived in San Francisco—ground zero for technological innovation. I loved the city, but I felt overwhelmed with my cell phone constantly at my side. Crushed by information and saturated with media. A gnawing feeling that my attention and time were never really mine to control and that I could be thrust forcibly into the infinite at any moment. The same feelings that people try to escape through digital detox camps and the like.
We’ve all been down that rabbit hole: the one that leads us from a text message to a Facebook vacation photo in Cambodia to a Google search for the name of that pink temple in Angkor to a Wikipedia article about the ancient stone making up the walls to a text message response, and so on. Seven minutes gone. With connectivity comes the possibility of continuous distraction—the pestering flak of text messages, pop-up notifications, electronic calendar reminders, and emails. Oh, the emails.
Constantly drowning in information without limits was taking its toll on me. I never seemed to have enough time to do the things I really wanted to do, the things I’d always included in my New Year’s resolutions: reading more books, playing the guitar, gardening, hiking, cooking for my friends, and writing for pleasure. Now when I come home, those are the only things in front of me, the welcome embrace of my chosen pastimes.
Free from text messages.
Free from checking email.
Free from pop-up notifications.
Free from Google news headlines.
Free from Twitter outrage.
Free from self-aggrandizing Instagram posts.
Free from Facebook check-ins.
Free from Netflix binges.
Free from self-promotion and distractions.
I can breathe again.
When people ask for my phone number, I have to explain that I don’t have one, which usually leads to a lengthier discussion about my lifestyle. Here are some answers to common questions I get about my disconnected home life:
How do you keep in touch with people?
The same way most people do: email, iMessage (for my fellow iPhone-users), WhatsApp, Facebook messenger, Skype, Instagram, etc. I even write letters by hand. I learned that our modern means of communication are not only plentiful but redundant. As tech companies compete for greater market share, there’s never a shortage of cheap, convenient ways to communicate with other people. The difference is that I have access when I choose.
What if somebody is running late and needs to contact you?
I deal with this the same way we all did pre-smartphone: I wait, usually with a podcast downloaded for offline listening. I’ve also noticed that people tend to make more of an effort because they know I can’t be reached; in SF, friends would sometimes cancel at the last minute or text about being late, as if the ability to communicate instantly with me diminished their accountability. That never happens anymore.
What if you can’t find an internet connection?
When cafes and libraries can’t be found, there’s always a Starbucks or McDonalds nearby with open wifi access.
What about all of the useful apps?
When traveling, I’ll download offline Google Maps, Yelp recommendations, or Trip Advisor lists prior to setting out for my destination. I spent most of 2015 road-tripping across the US and had no problems with this strategy.
What about emergencies? What if there’s a global disaster?
If it’s something pertinent to my local community, one of my neighbors will certainly knock on my door. If it’s not, there’s probably nothing I can do about it and I’ll find out soon enough. Dwelling on crises doesn’t help anybody. Case in point: one of the best decisions I ever made was to spend the entire 2016 election day hiking to various waterfalls in central Oregon, totally off the grid. Would it have been better for me to watch the ill-fated polls all day? No way.
What about your work?
I’m managing editor of Sechel Ventures LLC under two fantastic mentors. I’m grateful to have worked for this company for two years. My bosses are aware that they can’t always reach me and have faith that my ability to recharge offline at home ultimately improves the quality of my work. Plus, if the French can pass a ‘right to disconnect’ law establishing off-duty employees’ power to ignore work emails, I’m sure a similar rule could benefit many overworked Americans as well. (Not that it would ever pass in this anti-labor/pro-business country which has yet to establish maternity leave protections, a decent minimum wage, or solid PTO laws.)
What about news stories and other online reading?
I’ll load important reading onto my computer before heading back to the offline sanctuary. On a related note, I’ve always preferred periodicals to newspapers, films to cable TV series. When people take more time to produce something, it broadens the scope and improves the quality. Minute-by-minute media coverage is chewing gum for the brain.
What about Netflix?! What about other great TV shows?!
I get this question a lot, and yes, I’m probably missing out on some popular culture here, although for my must-sees like Samantha Bee, John Oliver, and South Park, I’ll stream them on my computer at the Bier Stein, a local beer bar within walking distance of my cottage with 26 rotating taps, delicious food, and fast wifi. There are worse ways to consume media.
This lifestyle isn’t for everyone, and there are certainly times when I wished I had web or phone access and didn’t. But for me, these sporadic nuisances can’t outweigh the freedom to focus on what’s really important to me: the simplicity and peace of mind at home.
It’s me, Jocelyn. Now I know we’re all feeling anxiety over yesterday’s election of the Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief. Suffice it to say that the Flaming Ball of Id is utterly undeserving of the presidency. His lies and bigotry are well-documented, and there’s no need to rehash his litany of fuckwittage here.
So why did this happen? Personally, I don’t know a single Trump supporter—a factor reflecting the deep division between the coastal progressives and the heartland—although I did see several Trump signs in yards across the country with chainlink fences next to rusted trailers, half-burned garbage, and malnourished dogs. But he couldn’t have risen to prominence based on the ballots cast by the “deplorables” alone. The neo-Nazis and garden-variety misogynists were joined by (mainly) white men who had given up looking for work and felt left out of Obama’s America; by people concerned that “Killary” would start wars or open the borders; by religious conservatives who had never voted for a Democrat; by those who wrongly believe Islam is a terrorist faith; and by people with no college education. Sprinkle in some old-fashioned GOP voter suppression tactics, low turnout, and anti-elite sentiment and boom: here we are. Few saw it coming.
It’s ironic that working class Americans would hurl their support behind a billionaire who has never known want, but as a reality TV star, Trump knew how to sell the dream, riding the tsunami of hate for the establishment. Like my friends here and abroad, I’m gutted over the results of this election, and an incident this morning made me fear for the future in Trump’s America, even in liberal Eugene, OR.
An hour ago, I was waiting in line for coffee and a portly man with a ponytail, grinning widely, stood just a little too close behind me. I turned around to make polite conversation, and then looked me up and down—pausing a little too long on my chest—and exclaimed,
“Wow…you must really work out…”
Disgusted by the way he examined my body, I told him firmly that the way he looked at me made me feel uncomfortable. He soured and said,
“Sheesh. That’s all in YOUR head.”
Sure, the poor ape had meant it as a compliment, but I can’t help thinking that the man was newly emboldened by the prospect of an anti-PC POTUS who bragged about pussy-grabbing.
Like everyone, I’m worried about Trump’s threats to healthcare, education, and basic human decency. He doesn’t represent my views—OUR views—on anything. On the bright side, reactionary regimes have the potential to inspire creativity and protest pieces in music, painting, and other mediums.
So let’s make good art, America. Let’s show the world that we’re not as stupid as they’re all saying we are.
We’ve all had it happen to us, Ladies: we’re walking down the street when some portly ape who never graduated from high school commands you, “Smile! Why are you so serious, girl?” This is one of the more common indignities of being female (i.e., the presumption that we must sweetly acknowledge every rando’s call for attention). Here, the overarching expectation is that women should always be cheerful and positive, and it really chaps my lady-hide. The worst part is that women hardly ever get credit for being prosocial, wonderful people. That behavior is simply expected of us.
Slate Magazine and others have shown that a father simply holding a toddler in a supermarket is likely to be praised by onlookers: “Wow! What an amazing father you must be! Look at that, Jim! Golly gee, this man is holding a child!” By comparison, a woman can be managing her four children in the grocery store—she can be juggling cantaloupes and teaching her enthralled mini-crew about the importance of good nutrition in a catchy song-and-dance routine—and she’ll barely be meeting society’s expectations of motherhood. If she drops one cantaloupe or misses one step in her jingle, a chorus of onlooker disapproval will rise: “Jim, do you see that woman with all those children? No wonder she dropped that cantaloupe.” She has failed as a mother and as a woman.
When men act nurturing, compassionate or selfless, they’re heralded as heroes. These are the very same qualities which are ascribed to the female personality and for us, failing to embody those traits is socially unacceptable. We continually walk a razor’s edge of unwavering standards of propriety. To be good, decent people is not exceptional or praiseworthy—it’s required—and anything less than philanthropic perfection is seen as a deficit.
Furthermore, if women are expected to have a “civilizing influence” over men, why is it that men typically get pegged as the more “rational sex?” This is a contradiction. Society simultaneously expects us to rein in the wild male impulses, but the men who are behaving badly are still assumed to be more analytical and better thinkers. Who’s running the PR on that horseshit? Why would men have the compliment of a reputation for good sense when women are often tasked with cleaning up their messes, literally and metaphorically?
I’ll take that point one step further: women are expected to be the understanding healers for all the male fuck-ups in their lives. Our husbands, sons, brothers, fathers, uncles, grandfathers and male friends are forgiven for any number of sociopathic displays—terrible moods, insensitivity, drunken tirades, piggishness, arrogance, and violence. Boys will be boys, right? Many a man has been forgiven for his hysteria or aggression when someone takes his parking spot. On the other hand, acting hysterically or aggressively got our great-grandmothers institutionalized. Because when women behave immodestly or violently, we’re pegged as insane; when men do it, it’s a mistake. In other words, people will assume antisocial behavior in a woman stems from some internal, unchangeable aspect of her constitution. For men, the same behavior is often seen as externally motivated or influenced by a situation.
This pattern reverses when a behavior is positive or related to competence. In a study titled “He’s Skilled, She’s Lucky,” researchers from Pennsylvania and Washington State Universities found that people are more likely to attribute a solid performance on an exam to a man’s internal characteristic—his competence—and for a woman, an impressive score might be written off as a stroke of good fortune.
These cumulative iniquities actually underscore my main problem: the indignity of domesticity. It’s difficult to feel that becoming a wife and a mother in this country is fair when all of the work that goes into those roles is unpaid and undervalued. I’m not arguing the work isn’t important; I’m arguing that being a mother is not as respected in American society as making money is. The lion’s share of the recognition and credit in the US goes to those who pursue creative, autonomous professions. I find it difficult to imagine sacrificing a majority of my time to activities such as washing clothes, shopping for groceries and changing diapers when these boring, time-consuming tasks aren’t esteemed. And while men today are assuming a larger role in domestic work than in the past, women still do the vast majority of the second shift: the childcare and the house chores. It feels personally devaluing to have to take all of this on with a smile. And this is in addition to the relatively underpaid careers we’re required to have because 1) single-earner families are a thing of the past, and 2) being “only” a housewife and/or mother is frowned upon in the 21st century.
This sexism runs so deep it’s as if women have a polluting influence in the professional world. The NY Times (March 2016) reported that when women enter a career field traditionally dominated by men, the pay drops precipitously. NYU’s Dr. Paula England conducted a comprehensive study on pay across professions which had changed their gender composition between 1950 and 2000. She studied park counselors and ticket clerks—fields historically dominated by men—and found that as women entered these jobs, median hourly wages dropped between 43 and 57 percent. This phenomenon was also observed among designers (34 percent drop) and biologists (18 percent drop), and the reverse was found in computer programming. This is a field which used to be dominated by women and considered menial; as more men became programmers, however, pay and prestige increased substantially.
And the gender disparity doesn’t stop with careers, parenting or housework. It’s built into how our communication is perceived. When women speak with the same knowledge, competence or conviction as men, we’re often seen as shrill, cold, pushy, or aggressive. Sheryl Sandberg hits on it with her discussions of being seen as bossy, but more interesting to me is the Goldberg Paradigm. Studies around the world have yielded the same result: when identical words are uttered by a man and a woman, people consistently evaluate the man more favorably. The same prejudice affects minority groups as well, supporting the old idea that women and non-whites have to several times as good as their white male colleagues to be taken seriously.
We all can admit that a non-white or non-male Donald Trump would have been laughed out of business and politics a long time ago, but there he waddles: basking in the glory of his orange privilege, a torrent of bigoted garbage spewing from his greasy lips. Just try to imagine a woman, a Mexican or an African American getting away with saying, “My IQ is one of the highest—and you all know it! Please don’t feel so stupid or insecure; it’s not your fault.” Arrogance (like many of men’s bad behaviors) is more forgivable when it comes from a rich, white dude. Kind of like raping an unconscious girl or killing four people while driving drunk. Wealthy assholes including Brock Turner and Ethan Couch receive light sentences when they’d be locked away for life if their skin were brown. Affluenza—a diagnosis which conveniently distances the perpetrator of rape or murder from his responsibility—is an exclusively white male privilege.
Of course, there are things that women get away with which men can’t. For instance, I am at liberty to act ignorant or childlike whenever I want! Playing dumb or downplaying one’s real abilities is rarely acceptable behavior among men, but in women, these displays may even be considered attractive. So there’s that!!!
But there is one important physiological arena where women hold a significant advantage: sexual pleasure. As far too many unsatisfied women have learned, men’s capacity for orgasm is finite and they must rest their lumbering, hairy bodies after blowing their loads. Women don’t have this issue. As I heard it put poignantly during the Vagina Monologues: “Who needs a [man’s] handgun when you’ve got a [woman’s] semi-automatic?”
Women’s infinite capacity for sexual pleasure has always frightened men. With the exception of a few matrilineal and goddess-worshipping cultures, male-dominated religions and societies have mandated virginity in women throughout history. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all praise women’s chastity and severely condemn the mere mention of women’s sexuality. And in dealing with the uncomfortable reality of how people are made, all of these faiths preach fairytales about immaculate conception and present them as fact. The truth is that Mary fucked Joseph. Buddha’s parents, Krishna’s parents, Mohammad’s parents…they all fucked. In sum, all of the mothers of people who have existed before the development of in vitro fertilization have fucked someone. In an amusing twist of irony, it has only been with the developments of science—not religion—that immaculate conception has actually become possible. And I digress…
So, to summarize the benefits accorded to each sex in 2016:
The good news is that all aspects of white male privilege are socially constructed and totally reversible! There will come a day—Friday, January 20, 2017, to be exact—when we’ll have a female president, the latest blow against white male supremacy. Sixty years ago, the Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had to get her husband’s permission and signature to apply for a credit card. Now that’s a huge stride.
And Ladies: unlike the unraveling of the patriarchy, our greater capacity for orgasm is innate and will always be with us! Now if we could only get American sex ed classes to stop treating girls as naive damsels—targets of the “dangerous” male libido—rather than as people with their own pleasure to be had. Sigh. Lady steps, lady steps…
Photo credits: NY Times “The Bitch America Needs,” September 10, 2016; and NY Times “As Women Take Over a Male-Dominated Field, the Pay Drops,” March 18, 2016.
The following are two short essays I wrote roughly a year apart. If nothing else, PLEASE VOTE IN NOVEMBER. Thank you for being so interested.
August 2015: The Republican Primary
Have you noticed that American presidential elections begin earlier and earlier, kind of like the Christmas shopping season? It’s August 2015 and already the political parties are adorning their platforms with twinkling lights, hosting festive banquets to woo donors, and of course, doling out goodies to citizens who show their support. ’Tis the season for giving (to your favorite candidates)!
The first Republican primary had more than enough players to field a football team with its members broken into two separate debates: a “happy hour” B-squad (i.e., the kids’ table) and the primetime showdown where all of the good ol’ (mainly white) boys could play. Let’s take a look at some of the questions directed to prospective leaders of the most powerful country in the world:
Progressives view the Republican primaries as reality TV at its finest—a fight between Satan and Goliath set in the Coliseum—an embarrassingly entertaining display of xenophobia, arrogance, and greed. I admit that I take pleasure in watching the Beast of the Right devour its own tail, spewing frothy polemics against women’s rights to reproductive healthcare, immigrants, taxes, and anything Democrats have accomplished or championed. When I remind myself that these people have the power to influence my future and that of my children, it becomes less entertaining and more depressing, as if I’m waving the short sword of my words at a tidal wave of campaign donations which pull the strings of our political leadership.
September 2016: The Orange Gaffe Factory
It’s been more than a year since I wrote the first entry on my malaise with the American electoral system and I was reminded of these previously unpublished thoughts this morning. Something bizarre happened. I was riding my bike through a lush park in South Eugene when a bee flew into my face and wedged its fuzzy thorax between my sunglasses and head. I was still in motion and threw my sunglasses to the ground, slapping at my own face like a self-hating (or half-awake) crazy person. The damn bee stung me in the temple. So here I sit at the Wandering Goat sipping my latte, feeling the throb of bee venom like a railroad spike to the head. Naturally, this brings me to reflect on the current election cycle.
Since I last wrote, the unthinkable happened. There’s a hateful lunatic one step away from becoming the POTUS, and to those who say that Hillary isn’t much better: I don’t think you’re evaluating the situation rationally. Yes, I disapprove of HRC’s hawkish background, shady email practices, and troubling ties to the Wealthy & Powerful, but she’s undeniably the most qualified presidential candidate in our history. I need not remind you that this woman has been not only a supremely badass, activist First Lady—one who championed universal healthcare, the Children’s Defense Fund, improving education, etc—but also a US Senator and Secretary of State. Name another POTUS candidate from the past 200 years with superior political chops. You can’t? Exactly.
The thing is that with so many decades in the public eye, it’s impossible to not have an opinion about HRC, and sadly, many people who despise her are unable to articulate why.
I’ll tell you what it is: it’s a disgust with the establishment mingling with sexism. Is there any other explanation for the media’s unwavering lambast of her purported dishonesty, nepotism, privilege, health ailments, etc.? Need I remind you that these are the exact same qualities which Trump has embraced with gusto and is forgiven daily by Fox News pundits, WSJ editorials, and other anti-HRC voices? Not to mention the fact that her male contemporaries hardly face such scrutiny over these distasteful realities of being an American politician. Can you imagine a female (or minority) presidential candidate getting away with saying the following?
Don’t you miss the gold ole days when a man could be disqualified from public office for an enthusiastic roar? Speaking of the Orange Gaffe Factory, Trump’s continued candidacy is not proof that he’s qualified for office, but rather a testament to something I learned ten years ago at Berkeley: twenty percent of people can always be counted on to do the unthinkable.
I learned this in Professor Dacher Keltner’s social psychology class during a lecture on taking surveys. He joked that in all psychological surveys (despite the topic), one-fifth of respondents will invariably select the terrible answer, the Joe Bloggs choice—that is if JB were a total sociopath.
A survey about how to address children in poverty? Twenty percent will elect to let the snot-nosed tykes die in the streets if they can’t help themselves.
A survey about gun ownership? Twenty percent will elect to provide firearms to every man, woman, and child without background checks and ample ammunition in the spirit of the Second Amendment.
A survey about American foreign relations? Twenty percent will elect to bomb the hell out of those who are jealous of our freedom.
Sure, my examples are hyperbolical, but I’ve seen this model play out repeatedly in the social psych research, and we simply have to accept that right now, that batshit 20 percent contingent is the Trump voters. So take heart! Although it feels like the pain of Trump’s bee sting to the temple will never subside, it will. He’ll lose in November, and resume doing what he does best:
Trump will continue to milk the limelight for business opportunities. I predict he’ll usher his 13 million outraged supporters into the audience of a new media organization, and the GOP will officially flatline. While I’d like to posit a few names for his nascent news programs—“Why Liberals Really Chap my Hide” comes to mind—I think we all know where this is headed: TRUMP. Because that’s what the Orange Gaffe Factory does best. Why would an egomaniac forgo a gilded opportunity to slap his name on yet another venture which exploits the poor and the uneducated?