Monday, July 28, 2008

The Office: The one about gender politics and complex communication around the coffee pot

On a Monday years ago I walked into the office at 8 a.m. like I did every day of the work week. Never mind how many years or which office because it doesn't really matter; it could be any office at almost any time in the last 20 years for almost anyone.

I dropped my things at my desk, and shuffled to the break room for a cup of coffee. This is how we always started our days, especially Mondays, when you needed to ease back into the work "family" and work frame of mind.

Everyone gathered near the coffeepot, always standing, never sitting, that way, if the boss walked in, you could pretend you'd only been there for a minute, just getting a cup of joe, not gabbing over cup number two 10 minutes later.

That morning I walked in and two male colleagues were standing in front of the pot. They were, as usual, speaking in numbers, which meant sports. Then they said stroke, and I knew they meant golf. I didn't give it a second thought.

As usual I had to walk up, pause and hope they'd get the hint and move out of the way. As usual, they didn't and just carried on talking. So as usual I had to say excuse me, and wait for them to shift their bodies at their convenience so I could access the pot.

As usual I wasn't even irritated because this is how things were. Some men, these men, always took the most advantageous position, and embedded themselves in it. I'd arrive, need in, pause hoping they'd let me in, but they usually wouldn't so I'd have to ask, and then they'd maybe give me an inch. I was nearly certain it was completely unconscious, this positioning and defending of position.

Team sports do well teaching boys to position themselves, and to teach other boys how to help their teammates defend the position. Unfortunately, team sports are rarely equally co-ed, so the two sexes don't really learn in childhood how to work this way together.

They never were co-ed when I was growing up, definitely never the Big Sports that carried on through teens and beyond. Girls could play soccer, and softball, but few back then did. And never with the boys.

How carefully we teach children that there is a place in the big leagues for boys, and girls have their own special, separate yet unequal, place on the sideline.

A minute later, a female colleague walked in, "How was your weekend?" she asked.

"Fine, and yours? What did you do?" I replied.

"You know, not much. A little shopping, got this blouse."

"Oooh I noticed that earlier, before the meeting. It's very nice. Flattering."

"Thanks," she said, "I needed a mental health break this weekend. Things have been tough..."

"Yeah, yeah..." I said, "How is your mother doing, now?"

"She's still in the hospital," she said, "I guess...I guess we have to choose, you know, leave her there, bring her home...I don't know that my dad can do it..."

I gave a quick pat and rub to her upper arm, and said, "Yeah, yeah. You know, I'm really glad you took a break, went shopping, got a nice new shirt." We both smiled, in that sort of tight way you do when something is a relief but not happy. She knew I wasn't talking so much about the shopping trip as the giving herself permission to let go of the stress and strain, the constant taking care of her sick mother. I was saying it's good to care for you, too, and glad you overcame the guilt to do so. She knew that's what I meant, because this is how women talk to one another.

We use our hands and our eyes, gestures, subtle nuances, and we speak discreetly at times, often saying one thing, and having it mean so very much more than the words themselves would imply, had someone simply typed them on a page.

So my female colleague, understanding this, said, "Thanks, really, thanks. I'm almost glad to be at work today," and we laughed, again in that tight way you do to break tension rather than to reveal joy.

For some reason, towards the end of our conversation, the Coffee Pot Spot male colleagues had tuned in. They'd apparently only heard the part about taking a shopping break and buying a new shirt, because they began to mimic us.

"Dave, oh Dave, is that a new shirt?" one said.

"Why Bill, yes it is, a new shirt. I got it this weekend. I took a shopping break. I deserved it," the other said, swaying from side to side a bit in a mockery of preening.

My female colleague gasped, stung.

My chest went tight with fury.

"That's not cool," I said, as calmly as possible.

"We're just kidding," Dave said, "You know, a J-O-K-E. You women need to lighten up."

My female colleague turned fast on her heels and left without a word.

"What crawled in her cheerios and died?" Bill asked.

I shook my head. "You guys just acted like jerks," I said.

"What's the big deal?" Bill said, "You guys were talking about blouses. So what? It's silly."

I bit my tongue and said nothing of their conversation, of golf, of double standards. I just shook my head again. Even if we hadn't been talking of more, even if had only been a conversation about a shopping trip and a new blouse, even so, even that didn't deserve to be mocked, dismissed, demeaned.

We also do well teaching our children to tease, and to expect others to accept teasing. Like good sports.

"I hope you two have a nice day," I said, and left. In the hallway, I realized I'd left my coffee on the counter. I hesitated, torn between wanting the coffee, not wanting to leave a mess that someone else might feel compelled to clean up, and not wanting to walk back and see those two again.

"Julie, you look lost," said a coworker, Matt, then he gave a little laugh to make sure I knew he meant his comment kindly. Even men and women together can use nuances and subtle messages beyond verbal.

"My coffee," I said, "I left it in the break room."

"That would make me feel a little confused too," he said, again with that little laugh, and then he lifted his eyebrows high, showing me he understood walking back into the break room must be more complicated than it seemed.

"I'll get it later," I said, "I've got things to do now," and I fell into step beside him as we walked towards our offices. We passed my female colleague's office. His steps slowed. Mine followed suit. We both peered in, but she was busy on the phone.

"How is she holding up?" he asked.

"Hanging in there," I said, my tone conveying that I was worried, but my vague words showed loyalty, belief in her strength.

"Yeah," he said, "Must be so tough. She'll hang in there." And I knew he understood all I had meant, and he knew I understood all he meant. We'd take it away, if we could, for her. We'd support her as we could, but as coworkers, we knew there were lines, and our support would largely be showing interest and displaying support, saying we believed in her.

"Well...have a good day," he said, ducking into his office.

"Yeah, you too," I said, turning the corner towards my own.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.
MOMocrats

Thursday, July 24, 2008

I might be rockin' the stereotype, but that doesn't mean that's all there is

I'm girlie. I worry whether my face is shiny (oops, need to reapply a dusting of mineral powder) and my lipstick is still fresh and not on my teeth (quick glance in mirror, possible fast reapplication). I like my clothes to be flattering, well-coordinated, and au courant. I apologize too much for things that aren't my fault and need no contrition.

I scan the gossip rags in the supermarket aisle, tear up at tender moments, choke up in emotional dramas (such as Hallmark commercials), read chick lit and women's lit, and leave most of the yardwork and tech stuff to my husband.

I am not a big sports fan (excluding hockey, but I don't follow it and store stats in my head like my husband does, and, according to my husband, worst of all, I've been known to applaud a brilliant play even if done by the opposing team).

In short, in many respects, I am a shining model of the female stereotype.

This has been bothering me for a while, and I've been remiss in figuring out why, but over the past few months, it's been slowly coming together for me.

A male reporter was actually instrumental in helping me lay the first brick in the answer wall. New York Times writer David Carr wrote a fairly scathing judgment of women, particularly those on the Internet, based on the success of the Sex & the City movie and a poll about popular Web sites for women.
[Sex & the City], a big-screen take on the long-running HBO series, left critics scrambling for synonyms for the word “vapid” and true believers in a state of bliss.

“I’m coming back like, oh, about 30 times,” said one young woman, tottering out of the premiere on the kind of shoe-like contraptions that suggested she had internalized one of the franchise’s core messages.

. . .

And what are readers interested in? This week, it was wedding trains big enough to require their own ZIP codes, shoes that cost as much as cars and loving loutish men who do a poor job of loving them back. Jezebel live-blogged the public premiere of “Sex and the City,” (in flip-flops no less, how very 2.0), Journal Women looked at the implications of combining cleavage and pinstripes, Glam went wall-to-wall with “Shoes and the City,” Shine had video interviews with the franchise’s four principals. SheZoom had a five-part deconstruction teasing apart the ethos of the show. Some sites sat out the hype, with The XX Factor preferring to focus on the tidy pleasures of a “Daily Show” spoof of the show and Divine Caroline, a West Coast site, focused on issues closer to home and office, such as, “Why do guys think it’s appropriate to adjust themselves in public?”

Quippy flippant comments aside (and he doesn't spare men of his scorn either, in fact, they might fare worse) for some reason, Carr's article stung, largely because of his ending, which read, "After so many years of being on the wrong end of what (male) media executives choose to dish up, women have taken matters into their own able hands. So far, it’s a shallow revolution, but one that carries deep implications."

I wish he had expanded on what he thinks these deep implications are, because at the end of the day, I was left to imagine he meant "ah ha, women are exactly that which male marketing executives have always imagined them to be: that is, to wit, ridiculously obsessed with pointless issues such as shoes."

I imagined that to be the case because he called the women's presence and new dominance on the Web a "shallow revolution."

I wrote to Mr. Carr (oh yes I did) and said:
Sarcasm aside, I agree that in some sectors it has been a shallow revolution, completely replicating the vanity-geared magazines for women. However, it's not exclusively so, and angling in that way ignores a wide variety of additional sites and endeavors on the Web lead by women.

You caught up with Lisa Stone of BlogHer but failed to notice that BlogHer is a powerhouse group much beyond the shallow. In addition to charitable activities and the largest gathering of online women and women in online business, BlogHer offers a wide range of topics of deep and introspective nature, reflecting all types of women.

Then, even though I concluded with the point that I'd like to see him similarly judge men for their hobby and fluff sites, I felt dissatisfied with my response.

What troubled me?

It finally hit me recently that what bothered me about my response was that it was defensive, and through that, appallingly bought into the patriarchal cultural belief that feminine pursuits are frivolous and unworthy.

I didn't need to hold up a placard and inform Mr. Carr that there was much more than fluff on the Web, and he wrote back and told me this himself, "If I gave the impression that those sites were the only thing going on on the web, that's my bad. I know there is plenty else to click from. part of what I was reacting to a list of leading women's sites from ComScore, but I know that a million flowers are blooming, including your sites."

I understood that he was reacting to the fact that the highest scored sites were those that seemed shallow, such as quick fixes for shiny noses and which celebrities broke up last night.

I responded, incorrectly, to the idea that he was missing the Other that was out there, growing, and strong. Places with strong and radical discourse, intense evolution. Things that I thought deserved the props and respect more than slamming the fluff sites.

When I went back recently and re-read the article, I saw how off-base my reply to Mr. Carr was. In his article he conceded the male fluff and that fluff was inevitable and acceptable:
Besides, I realize we are all, like it or not, having a moment with “Sex and the City,” no more or less frivolous than the Super Bowl. It’s just odd that while there has been a significant advance in sites by and for women, much of what is being produced replicates, rather than revolutionizes, the template set down by women’s magazines for decades.

“The lack of evolution is disappointing to me,” said Caterina Fake, one of the founders of Flickr.com. “Back in 1996, it was going to be this brave new world where women were finally going to take control of their stories, and to me, it is often more a crushing sameness.”

When I boiled it down, I realized he wasn't thinking simply, as I accused, that, ". . .the hobby sites were vast in quantity yet insubstantive in quality, and that there was little of substance on the Web when it came to sites created by or for women." he wasn't, as I further accused, missing that there was much of substance and quality by and for women out on the Web.

He got it. He was just disappointed that there was more fluff and the fluff sites scored highest. For a second, I shared his disappointment and the scorn of Caterina Fake.

Women finally got the market control and opportunity to dominate the Web and what did we do? Created fashion slam sites such as fugly.com and frou frou sites "with an edge" such as Jezebel.com (celebrity, sex and fashion for women).

David Carr and Caterina Fake were right, I thought: we blew it. Our radical and awesome sites such as the deep sections and charitable endeavors of BlogHer, Moms Speak Up, MOMocrats, and others were simply overwhelmed by the shopping, fashion, and celebrity gossip sites. We were whispers in an echoing hall of "blah blah blah...wtf? did you say politics? oh la, that's not fun!"

I break with the stereotype of women when it comes to the list of leading women's sites from ComScore. I don't tend to scan fashion or gossip sites. My time is limited, and I'm more likely to hop on alltop to see in one glance what the other politicos are punditing about.

Lately---as much as I love kirtsy and think the entire endeavor and group of people are great---I've even felt alienated by kirtsy because, well, it got too girlie for my tastes. I'm not interested in wedding tips (been married fifteen years), how to green my reception (again with the married forever and a day), how some uber skinny celebrity tells me I can diet to look just like her. At last kirtsy browse, I didn't even see one thing in the most popular items that I wanted to click through, much less vote for, and that seriously depressed me.

Is that all women really want, the most? I worried.

Is kirtsy a microcosm or a larger issue? I went to see what was up on the front page, and popular, as well as what the editors had picked. It seemed to prove Caterina and David right even more:

Botox, fashion, summer makeup, games, gift cards, and celebrity gossip.

But before the big sigh could even leave my mouth, a second thought occurred to me.

At BlogHer, we were doing the usual squee, hug, you look fab, and demurring, "What? Who? Me? With this crazy frizzy hair?" From that came several things.

My friend Sarah said, "I can't believe I flew all the way to BlogHer and we're talking about hair products!"

My friend Maggie said, "Are you getting MADE UP?"

My friend Deb said, "That's it, Julie, I don't want to hear you volley back one more compliment about how you look. Just say thank you! Because you are the one looking good!"

Go ahead, take a minute, put it together.

What do you see?

Many women are, in general, interested in self-care products, things that make them look better, and other areas of interest such as fashion and celebrities. But we aren't supposed to be, and the truth is, this is a limited topic for most of us. It's fine for a bit, but then we're ready to talk about the Rest.

Kirtsy isn't wrong; it's simply reflecting back the major common denominator among the vast majority of women. Frivolous topics are mind candy, and an easy relating point that breaks the ice, like chatting about the weather, only maybe a teensy more interesting to a lot of women who might not happen to be meteorologist buffs. But then comes...the Rest.

The fluff? Is actually...a fluffer.

How diverse and contradictory are the messages, and internal desires.

But not anymore, not for me, not on this subject.

Let me bold this because in a way, it's my lead, and it's very buried:

The botox, the lotions, the fashion advice, and so forth is merely a thing most women are interested in, but it's not necessarily the thing we are most interested in. That last bit varies wildly.


I had a lot of fun fun fun and many intense and insightful discussions and experiences at BlogHer. In my pocket of memories, I cherish most of all:

* the one on one with Cyn in my hotel room where we discussed politics
* the amazing and insightful, honest and sharing conversation Gwen, Deb and I had at a diner while waiting for our flights
* the hurried last minute conversation with Sarah, while we sat, bleary-eyed, on the last day, hair wet, faces void of artifice, and discussed where we'd like to go with our writing art
* the powerful intimate panel with fellow political junkies, and the awesome plank planning session with MOMocrats and Silicon Valley Moms
* the personal discussion about the treacherous trap DIY home remodeling and working with family can be with Backpacking Dad

But I also enjoyed the free makeover, the hair product idea sharing, the fabulous rose pattern jacket at Macy's and pointing out outfits and shoes we'd look spectacular in with Amie, Kelly, Jaelithe, Steph, and Cyn. I had fun joking around and being a silly goofball, trading quips with my fellow BlogHerteers, and so forth.

And why shouldn't we?

The front page of kirtsy and the highest rated ComScore women's sites might relate most to frippery, but that's simply because it's the largest common denominator. Underneath that are vibrant and strong interests that even David Carr would call a deep and significant revolution.

I'm still more likely to scan the political section of alltop on a daily basis, and you're more likely to find me at sites that others might call complicated, but if I have an "issue"---such as a desire for whiter teeth---I'll be Googling or searching in kirtsy, to find the best info I need in that moment, and I'll be awfully glad for it.

The nice thing about getting to be my age, you see, is that you are about ready to drop the shoulds and adopt an attitude of who cares about that sort of thing.

I'm beyond thinking I need to be whatever other people think I need to be: more deep or less deep, more frivolous or less frivolous, think more or think less, more practical or less sensible, more into the nicety gestures like sending gifts to bloggers in the mail, or being the Most Popular on Twitter.

It's been a journey the last month and a half, but I think my absolute favorite souvenir from BlogHer was a staggering realization: I'm simply not that into worrying any more about whether you think me, my life or what I do is worthwhile, and you know, I'm really okay with that. Now that's radical, and that's a deep implication.

In the immortal words of Michele, from Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, one of the best movies ever (and yeah, I like it, a lot, and I'd choose to see it before A Room With a View even):
[ Romy ]
ALL I EVER WANTED WAS FOR PEOPLE TO THINK... THAT WE WERE BETTER
THAN WE WERE IN HIGH SCHOOL. AND NOW WE'RE JUST A STUPID JOKE,
JUST LIKE WE ALWAYS WERE.

[ Michele ]
NO, ROMY.
CAN I TELL YOU THE TRUTH?
I NEVER KNEW THAT WE WEREN'T THAT GREAT IN HIGH SCHOOL.
I MEAN, WE ALWAYS HAD SO MUCH FUN TOGETHER.
I THOUGHT HIGH SCHOOL WAS A BLAST.
AND UNTIL YOU TOLD ME THAT OUR LIVES WEREN'T GOOD ENOUGH, I
THOUGHT EVERYTHING SINCE HIGH SCHOOL WAS A BLAST.
I THINK WE SHOULD GO BACK OUT THERE AS OURSELVES... AND JUST HAVE
FUN LIKE WE ALWAYS DO. THE HELL WITH EVERYONE ELSE.

Amen, Michele.

I might rock the stereotype sometimes, and boost the ComScore of so-called shallow and frivolous Web sites, but I think that's fine. It's not all and it's not even most, it's just the most common.

I grew up in the age of feminism and had it beaten over my head to the point that I get the post-feminist guilt (omg am I capitalizing enough on my freedom and opportunity?) and post-feminism rejection (the hell with that, I'm going to stay home and raise my kids despite the PhD from Harvard because I want to, and I can).

To that end, any article that promises to help me overcome my major obstacles---keeping my house clean enough, green enough and cooking healthy meals---will snag my attention. But so will ones about the current political races, human rights issues, and the state of humanity around the world.

So David Carr, you were on the right track. Women sometimes teeter on high heels and see "vapid" movies more than once, but that doesn't make us shallow. It doesn't mean our revolution failed. It means we know how to indulge our frivolous side. You stopped before you reached the station, Mr. Carr, you needed to expand on the deep implications and realize that the Rest does matter, even if it doesn't cap out at the top of ComScore. Nothing is ever as simple as ranking, and the Rest might very well outweigh the top scorers.

I won't apologize for boosting frivolous rankings because I've rejected the idea that common feminine interests such as fashion are frivolous, and that frivolous equals unworthy. All work and no play would make us all very dull indeed, in fact, a bore. It would make us bores. So I celebrate that we all have our various frivolous indulgences, whatever they are, and encourage you to believe that they are not just worthy, but are, in fact, enriching.

Hump Day Hmm for next week---get your big kid britches on people, because I'm going to ask a lot of you and I hope you join in: what stunning realization has enlightened you recently or at some point in your life and caused you to take a turn, either in your life path or in your thinking? And...what happened next?

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.
MOMocrats

Monday, July 21, 2008

Bygones & Apologies in advance because there will be name dropping (and photos) (the BlogHer '08 recap post, part 1 of ?)

Okay so here is the ultimate irony: Me, aka Wordy Van Wordster, could not use my words due to having no voice. I went to BlogHer '08 with a bad case of the croup. In grownups this is called laryngitis and meant I was often so hoarse I had to use hand signals and sign language. Here are some important and good lessons from that:

a. Women are awesome at interpreting and reading minds. If you have to go without a voice, do so in a group of women. They will know exactly what you mean, and if not?

b. They will have pen and paper in their purse so you can write.

c. Also, women are fabulous at covering for you and keeping up a good conversation so that even if your sole contribution is impassioned nodding, you still feel like it was the best chat ever.

d. All waiters in San Francisco can read lips.


I had a ridiculously good time at BlogHer '08.


Rumors of (silent) girlie squealing and excited hugging were not at all exaggerated.

It's lucky I lack almost any social hangups or filters because that enables me to walk up to anyone (everyone) and say anything (literally).

But I'd like to remind everyone of the following cardinal rule: what happens at BlogHer stays at BlogHer.

With that, I will add in photos (I'll add links later. I'm in a rush for several reason---family in town visiting and hurricanes heading this way---and want to keep happy the kind folks who emailed me asking.)

Can you say you've met these superstars?



Oh l'amour...














P.S. Thanks to all of you for holding down the fort while I was away. Nearly 30 guest post links! That is awesome. I will have to read them all---they look great!

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.
MOMocrats

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What to read for the next week...the one about the Best Blog Posts

Hi friends...I'm traveling for a bit so won't be doing my usual lengthy ruminations about the pursuit of a well-lived life.

So I wanted to use this space to promote other blogs and posts. Add yourself, your friend, a recent or an old post...any post you think other people should read.

Make sure in the text you put a brief description and make sure your link goes to the specific post. Add yourself as the person who made the suggestion and why you're suggesting in the comments, if you want (so everyone make sure to check comments).



Thanks and have a great weekend everyone!

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.
MOMocrats

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Welcome BlogNosh Magazine visitors! Plus! A few points of interest...

Welcome visitors from BlogNosh Magazine! Thanks for dropping by. Feel free to leave your thoughts about my article here or click here to the original. I hope you have a look through my other posts or come back again. If you don't mind, leave a link to your spot and/or your email. I like to get in touch.

Many thanks to Mommytime at Mommy's Martini for her sharp editorial work. :)

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Are you going to BlogHer? Just a day or so away! If you are going to be there Thursday afternoon, some of us are going to the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the SFMOMA and then on to Bicuits & Blues on Geary for dinner and music. Don't worry---we'll make it back in time for the People's Party! We do have to make reservations in advance for the exhibit and dinner, so contact me at j pippert at g mail dot com if you are interested.

*************************************************************************

Tell me something good...

I was inspired by Chaka Khan and a busy schedule this week. So this Wednesday and next Wednesday...we're doing light fare for Hump Day.

Tomorrow I'll put up and leave up a post with Mr. Linky.

Come add in your link, other links, any link to Awesome Posts. Good fare, good topics, good news. You can do more than one, in fact, I encourage you to. Let people know if you've linked them here.

Use a short description, such as, "Melissa's fab post re those veggie saving bags," in the name line. This will let people know the topic.

You won't get bumped by a feed reader to come, so remember to check back to see what people add.

Thanks!

************************************************************************

Music Suggestions:

These are three very different artists with very distinct and fresh (and different) styles. But I think you'll see the thread that binds my mutual appreciation of them all.

Check it out. You'll be glad you did.

Lionel Neykov


Ceu LOVE LOVE LOVE CeU (Brasilian of course)


Lex Land


Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
Moms Speak Up: Talking about the environment, dangerous imports, health care, food safety, media and marketing, education, politics and many other hot topics of concern.
MOMocrats

Friday, July 11, 2008

God bless Tori & Dean for their Home Sweet Hilarity

God bless Tori Spelling, largely for the times she oh-so-unknowingly entertained me.

Let's start back a bit here. The suckitude of this day knows no bounds. It sort of follows a week that steadily drove itself downhill, domino fashion. I started out with great intentions of all I'd accomplish this week only to watch said intentions go up in a flood of water. Just. don't. ask. Suffice it to say, we have to put a new ceiling in our living room. Uh uh! I said just. don't. ask.

So this morning, I went for a bike ride to take a box of vegetables to my friends' house. (Also best to not ask.) She made the mistake of asking me that simple question, "How are you?" I told her. Five minutes later I realized my voice had hit a level only dogs can hear and her kids are staring at me in horror. "Uh uh uh," I stammered, "I'm so, so sorry, um kids, I was just, you know, frustrated..." so the eight year old reached out in sympathy and said, "I know that feeling. It builds up inside you until you think you better just go outside and scream at the moon."

Word to the eight year old.

I rode home rapidly because my friend wisely decided I was in no shape or space to drive a car and thus offered to take my six year old with her crew to the final day of vacation bible school.

(Things you never expect in life: to be really, really sad when you say "last day of vacation bible school.")

So I needed to beat her to my house and get my six year old out the door, seeing as how my insane raving was making her push the clock to not be late. I made it with about five seconds to spare.

One child out, I turned to my husband and said, "Is the *&%^ plumber on his *&%$& way &*^*#@ yet?" Yes, my husband was home this morning. After being home yesterday afternoon. Again with the suggestion to just not ask.

He said yes, I asked another question, the answer to which caused me to re-enact the Elaine dance from Seinfeld in absolute frustration. Apparently my body contorts like an upright seizure when I am so furious I can't even speak.

My husband asked if I plan to finish my bike ride. The distance to and from my friend's house is about a half point for me and since I've been engaging in comfort eating for stress this week (right before big San Francisco trip) (to wit: one donut, one vanilla latte, the rest of my kid's ice cream cup, the rest of my other kid's ice cream cup, half a cookie, nachos, and oh my gosh I can't even continue I am so disgusted...not to mention I haven't included the incalculable number of calories from the steady liquid diet this week has demanded.)

"I can't," I whined, "I am so tired." See, the three year old is a big part of the OMFGWILLTHISWEEKEVERENDness of this week, including but not limited to her new bedtime of midnight and wake up call of 6 a.m. Add to that the antibiotics (just. don't. ask) are making me slightly nauseated and heartburn-y all day and night and you know, I think a little woozy although that could be the "I am so sick I actually hauled myself to a doctor" part.

I flopped in my desk chair and skimmed Twitter and e-mail.

"Oh," my husband said, loitering in the office doorway, "I just thought, you know, maybe you'd like to finish your ride."

I looked suspiciously at him because it sounded suspiciously like he thought I needed to "ride it out." I opened and closed my mouth about five times, while he braced himself. Then I thought the best of it and decide he was right.

"Okay," I said, "I'll go ride."

I swear he sagged in relief.

So the three year old and I headed out to the bike and we began my regular route. I was sailing along, catching bugs in my gritted teeth, riding into the headwind on the long road and riding downwind of the trash truck on the mercifully short road, and I thought, my God this day had better get &^$*&^$ funny &^$*&^$ fast! How in the world did it all get this out of control, I wondered, and I had this flash of Robert DeNiro floating in fire, a la Casino. I decided there was definitely going to be something funny to this day, no matter how many margaritas it took.

So after la la la la and yadda yadda yadda (you don't really want a recitation of kid activities, cleaning my house, errands, conversations with people, and so forth), my mother arrived to save my life and I turned to my favorite mindless activity: early happy hour with reality TV.

This is the part where the title starts to make sense.

What just happened to be on but Tori & Dean! I'd never watched this show but I got two whole episodes in a row and all it cost me was a couple of slices of angel food cake with yogurt and blueberries for the kids.

Okay these people are great. First, I loved how Tori gets all hoppy and shrill when excited, good or bad. Tori, God love you because somehow it made me feel like maybe I just looked ridiculous and maybe even a teensy bit cute and funny when I got fishwifey this morning. Seriously, I'd had this deranged Joan Crawford image in my mind, and your beach episode about the dream house now has you in that image instead. Much, much better.

Second, this dialog in the episode about planning her son's first birthday is pure comedic gold, a la Everybody Loves Raymond. It's just so relate-able.

Okay initially Tori and Dean decided to have a simple backyard barbecue with their closest friends and family for the birthday. But then Tori's friends came over (with a notebook of party ideas!) and the next thing you know, that small and simple backyard party has morphed into a three-ring circus in the Back Garden of a mansion. . .

(In home office, on telephone, computer open to site with bouncy castles. Dean is lurking in the doorway around the corner, eavesdropping.) Tori: Hi, Scoutie, it's T, call me when you get this message. I just booked the moon bounce and wanted to see if you found that chimp place...

(Dean bursts into the room) Dean: A FIFTY FOOT MOONBOUNCE?!?!

(startled) Tori: What!

Dean: A MOONBOUNCE and a CHIMP?!? Are you telling me you're renting a jumpy castle and a chimp?

Tori: Babe...

Dean: This sounds like it's just getting a little crazy!

Tori: Don't be mad but there's going to be a train...

Dean: A TRAIN?!?!

Tori: Yeah, a train. A traaaaiiiiinnnnn. (big smile)

Dean: How much is a train?

Tori: The train wasn't that bad. It's the astroturf we have to put down first...

Dean: WHAT?!?!?!

Tori: It's not that expensive, not that bad...

Dean:

Tori: Come on...

Dean:

(Cut over to Dean talking to the camera: I would hate to throw a $25,000 party...that's insane. Put it in a college fund!)

(cut back to conversation. Dean walks away.)

(Flash back to Tori after meeting with friends, talking to camera: I can't just do a little backyard party. We have to do this right! I owe it to my friends! [giggle])

Why, I cannot say, but that whole scene just cracked me up. I mean, throw my head back and kick my heels up and laugh out loud cracked me up.

Maybe it's because it was someone else's situation escalating out of control but with some sort of hopefully good end. I don't know. I didn't see the end of the episode. I may have been laughing too hard.

So here's the humor.

I will not be laughing too hard when I find ou thow much replacing my ceiling costs so I may as well laugh now.

But let's end this post and this week on a good note.

Either tell me your tale of woe (because seriously, misery loves company---really it helps me feel like this is just one of those things and not some sort of "God hates me and wishes me to live a miserable life" deal) or tell me something really funny (because who doesn't love comic relief?).

And have a great weekend.

(But LA people, sweet jehosephat, how much can that house they bought cost if it is beyond the budget of Aaron Spelling's daughter who hasn't done too shabbily on her own?!?!)

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
Also blogging at:
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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Autism, Deafness, Down's Syndrome, and more: Are these children broken and in need of fixing? A Hump Day Hmm for July 9, 2008

When Patience was a baby, her colic didn't end at three months like everyone promised it would. My mother and sister, both more experienced at mothering than I, insisted I ask about reflux, again, despite my doctor's continual waving of her hand dismissively. I finally got the doctor to listen and we did get a reflux diagnosis. Ah blessed quiet, blessed sleep. Unfortunately it took over six months and by then we were half delusional from stress and exhaustion. But never once did I question medical intervention because something was wrong and that created a quality of life problem, therefore it needed to be fixed.

I watched a friend from playgroup get a patch for a lazy eye for her child, another get glasses for her toddler, another baby needed a helmet for a skull not growing correctly, that baby needed surgery to correct a hernia, this toddler was getting tested for developmental delays...from birth, we learn of human imperfection.

Here, in our culture, we don't rely on superstition or belief to deal with that imperfection. We rely on science and medicine to fix it.

Every now and again, that reliance runs into an ethical snag. I can think of two examples that illustrate this well: Lakshmi's story and autism.

Autism
The big debate in the autistic world is the word fix.

There is a large movement---with Jenny McCarthy as spokeswoman, fortunately or unfortunately depending upon how you look at it---that speaks of curing autism.

For many, this brings hope. For many others, it brings frustration. Some parents believe their child is as he or she is, and the best they should do is help their child learn to manage as they are.

Every parent I know who has an autistic child pursues every therapy that seems reasonable and that they are advised to do to help their child. All parents want to help their child, whether it is minor or major.

The debate point comes when parents have different ideas about when that help and intervention is needed.

I won't go on and on about this, largely because it's its own topic.

But I pause and think of autism, of deafness and the movement to not use Cochlear implants, and also of cosmetic surgery to correct Down's syndrome facial features, when I think of how people define broken, and determine what needs fixing. That involves cultural issues and beliefs, just as Lakshmi's story does.

Lakshmi's story
In the end, it's a matter of Lakshmi's health. The parasitic twin ultimately would have compromised her ability to survive, so they did do the surgery, successfully, and the story is everyone is very happy. She's walking on her own now, and living the life of a pretty normal little kid.

Kyla posed two interesting questions in her comment (some amazing comments, by the way, thanks all): Do her parents want to keep her this way for her own good or because of perceived favor of raising the reincarnation of a goddess?

I replied: I'm not sure her parents distinguish those two questions. I believe, from what I saw and heard in the documentary, that her parents believe the goddess came this way for everyone's good. I believe her parents believe the child was the reincarnation of the goddess and thus was born as she was for good cause, and came as she should be.

Medical science may be able to explain the how, but for them, the why was more important and their faith explained that.

Even in Western culture, we can revere and hold fast to the idea that things happen for a reason.

From a pragmatic point of view, you can argue this child came into a life that was hard, and any other deformity might have meant death instead of reverence.

However, there is no disputing the good her birth brought to those around her, because of faith.

I approach these sorts situations with such a Western mindset that it was intriguing to consider that sometimes the why and the how, and most importantly, the what now? are not always that clear cut, and what might be best for an individual might not be best on the whole. The difficult question is: what weighs more?

I don't have any answers, not clear cut anyway. In fact, the documentary was a bit mind-blowing due to the ethical question and "open your brain up to a broader perspective than your own narrow one" point it conveyed. In fact, I stopped my last post at the philosophical tipping point for me---before the decision had been made and action taken about what to do---for good reason: to provoke discussion without playing the "but it could kill her" card, which ends all pondering since nothing trumps that. In that case, it is life and death, not just welfare or quality, which are elastic to some degree.

In and of itself, I think the clear right thing to do was operate on Lakshmi and do the best thing for her. But the Western mind is truly all about the individual, and sometimes we barely pause to consider these things within the continuum where it does, in fact, fall.

Lakshmi's story made me pause and ponder that continuum. To my mind, in a way, once that happens, it's almost irrelevant what I think about her getting the surgery (I'm glad she did, for the record).

I don't know what happened to the village or the prosperity.

I imagine, in the end, once people believe in her, it might not matter that much that she now has just the normal number of limbs. I think once you let yourself believe something like that it's really mind-opening and even if that thing isn't the belief any longer, you know you are willing to believe.

So the spiritual prosperity probably remains.

It's chicken-egg, but you know, she clearly had a special destiny.

What do you think?

Link to this post or blog, and come add in the link to your post on this topic below:



Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
Also blogging at:
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Monday, July 07, 2008

Lakshmi's Story: The ethics of deciding when someone is broken and needs fixing, and the broader societal implications

Her name is Lakshmi Tatma and she was born in October during the festival for the Hindu goddess Lakshmi. The night before she was born, her mother dreamt of the goddess, who represents prosperity and wealth (worldly and spiritual). She believed it was a sign that her soon-to-be-born child would bring good fortune.

The Tatma family looked forward to good fortune. The rural area of the Indian Behar province where they live is a largely poor region with little access to things we take for granted, such as medical care, stores, and other modern conveniences. Life there is, as National Geographic said, ". . .untouched by the 21st Century."

Due to the poverty and lack of medical care, infants often die or, if sickly or deformed, are sometimes left in fields to die.

This might have been Lakshmi's fate, because she was born with four arms and four legs---the result of an undeveloped parasitic twin.

Her mother was so shocked to see her new daughter that she fainted, but I got the impression, as she told the story, that her faint was brought on by amazement, not horror. Lakshmi's mother was convinced that her daughter was the reincarnation of the goddess Lakshmi. After all, she was born during the festival, after a divine dream, and with eight limbs, just like the goddess.

Her parents decided she had to be cared for exceedingly carefully. Not every family was so blessed as to birth the reincarnation of a goddess. Word of this miracle spread and people traveled from all over the region to see this child. Her father held her in the temple for the goddess, directly across from the statue of the goddess Lakshmi.

Amazed people stood all around, uncomprehending, yet believing. "She is not normal, she is different, she has spare arms and legs like the goddess," a man standing near the girl said, "Clearly she is the reincarnation of the goddess."

Although born in a way that many would call deformed, these people in India instead viewed her as miraculous.

"She has indeed brought good fortune," the village leader said, "People come here from all over, and they spend money, money my village benefits from."

It might be circular proof, but there you have it: born during the festival, eight limbs like the goddess, and bringing prosperity and wealth, both spiritual and worldly.

Who is to say she isn't the reincarnation of the goddess? She's lived up to her promise.

In time, word spread to the cities, and a different kind of pilgrim came to see Lakshmi, now two years old: a medical doctor, in fact, an orthopedic surgeon.

"What kind of life can she have, living like this, with a parasitic twin? She may bring good fortune and cheer to others, but at great cost to herself," the doctor said, "I came to see her, to perform a physical exam, determine if I can fix this, and it appears I can, but first I need to perform more tests back in the city at the hospital."

As he told her parents that he needed the child to come to the city hospital for tests, and told them he believed he could fix their daughter, Lakshmi's parents cast their eyes down, and did not look happy nor grateful.

They believed themselves the parents of a miracle, the reincarnation of a goddess. Their child was a blessing, as she was, for their family and their entire village.

The doctor was thrilled by the medical challenge, and fired by the belief that he could make this child normal.

Meanwhile, friends and relatives in the village and her own family loved her as she was, and relied upon the benefit she brought.

What an ethical quandary, and after he proposed his solution, I believe the doctor began to understand it.

I paused the show at this point. I wanted to think, before I saw what came next. (I was watching the National Geographic show "Girl With Eight Limbs." You can click here to see more information about it, and Google of any of the details will quickly tell you how the story ends. The link goes to a photo of the girl as she was born.)

The drive to fix to normal or supernormal is, in my mind, an offshoot of this incredible strive for perfection we have. Still, sometimes it seems that there can't even be a question. Although, in general, the narrow range of normal and obsession with fixing any deviation from that concerns me, I have always automatically assumed the best interest of the child in a case like this was to perform surgery to correct her to "normal" or as close to normal as possible

But this case made me pause and ponder.

How would I feel in Lakshmi's parent's place? I thought of my own girls and aspects of them, tangible and intangible, that I know will create challenges for them in life. Would I change, or fix, any of those? I've personally had enough rough roads to want to pave a smooth path for my kids, and yet, I don't want them to be clueless or unintentionally heartless. Sometimes, a challenging life can create and open heart and mind that can somehow go beyond sympathy to imagined empathy, even if the person hasn't directly had the experience. I love the idea of my kids having learning times, even as much as I hate it because learning and change can be so very painful and difficult. But what if one was born with a medically correctable defect, either through surgery or medication? If it wasn't life-threatening, would I do it?

In a way, the question becomes: should I give up a goddess to embrace a normal child?

What about this perspective of fixing?

For the Hump Day Hmm this week, share your thoughts about this case or any others regarding some medical or other situation that deviated from the "norm." What do you think about the drive to fix? Do all conditions and situations need fixing? Or do we societally need to consider our need to control, master and manage, and instead spend some time, sometimes, learning how to deal? Or...are those mutually exclusive?

As usual, write your post, link back to here, and come add your link in to Mr. Linky on Wednesday. I highly encourage everyone to visit and comment to all participants. Last week had some awesome posts, so also feel free to archive dive.

In other writing news, I am sponsoring a writing challenge for Moms Speak Up. Everyone is welcome. The question is: how has parenting brought out your political or activist side? Read the entry, but you'll see this could be anything from large to small. There is a prize, and I am hoping to get enough entries to do a nice collection of the essays on the site.

Please feel free to share both of these writing challenges and encourage others to join in. It may sound sappy, but I seriously look forward to reading what you write. I always find a new perspective, get some insight, or enjoy another point of view.

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
Also blogging at:
Julie Pippert REVIEWS: Get a real opinion about BOOKS, MUSIC and MORE
Julie Pippert RECOMMENDS: A real opinion about HELPFUL and TIME-SAVING products
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Friday, July 04, 2008

Not another post about patriotism and July 4th

1976. The red white and blue year. Year every school kid in America could spell and define Bicentennial. Pop rocks in our mouths and fireworks in the sky year. Sneaking Dr. Pepper at Shelley's house because the rest of us weren't allowed to have it---I was never sure if it rotted teeth or stunted growth or both. The year of the rocket and the satellite---rockets in Ireland and satellites to Mars. Rocket fast airplanes shook the clouds and earthquakes and punk rock shook the world. Election year. Leap year. Equal rights. Women's rights. Vietnam was finally over, and back then over meant over to me.

We said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in school, and learned about the Constitution and why we should be proud of the USA. I played Betsy Ross in the school play. Back when schools had plays and social studies.

We shook shook shook our booties, which somehow in our minds meant the little socks we wore on our feet, the ones with balls on the back. This misunderstanding ripped through the neighborhood and no adult ever corrected us, until the aforementioned Shelley's teen brother made fun of us. I loved Captain and Tennille and was proud my mother had that Dorothy Hammill haircut just like Tennille. Afternoon Delight. Fooled Around and Fell in Love. The Bee Gees. Paul McCartney. I wouldn't discover Queen and David Bowie until later.

I hoped Jimmy Carter would win because he seemed nice and people seemed relieved about him, after Tricky Dick and Gerry. Most of all, though, he had a daughter, Amy, who was practically my age. I loved the idea of a girl in the White House.

We had a gas crisis then, too. Prices had been going up. I knew what an embargo was. But there weren't long lines at least, not like a few years before---or like there would be again in a few more years. People talked about conservation and alternative sources of energy then, too.

In 1976 it seemed like the bad days were behind. There was hope, and year-long excitement about being an American.

On July 4th, I organized a musical and skit performance of neighborhood kids. The adults lolled happily in lawn chairs sipping beer from bottles and eating layer dip with chips. Kids danced and sang on a makeshift stage with pulled-together costumes. After our final bow, our audience of indulgent and biased parents applauded madly and wildly and we felt glowy inside. We felt proud that we did it, did it well(supposedly) and that we had honored our country on the most important July 4th ever.

We might not have been able to say, but we felt patriotic.

We felt even more patriotic, later, up late at night, racing around the suburban yard with sparklers stinging our hands and arms, stinking of bug spray, faces burning from heat and too much sun, ankles itching from chiggers. What could be more American than this.

We screamed and shrieked for the fireworks, even the teenagers who were normally too cool.

All of us had declared peace for the day, with each other, and we all got along and had fun. No bossing by Shelley, no wheedling by Charles, no excluding of little kids.

It seemed like the whole world was at peace, under a rain of electric colors in the sky.

In 1976, on July 4th, I slipped out of my Dr. Scholls and spun in circles under the red, white and blue bursts of light. In the dark, I thought my blue jean cutoffs and red and white bandanna top blended with the colors. I felt like the spirit of the 4th.

In 1976, I never heard anyone ask whether a man running for President was a patriot. Back then, as far as I knew, anyone who endeavored to serve his country in any way was known to be a patriot.

In 1976, we might not have been able to say, but we thought patriotism was assumed, handed to each new baby with a birth certificate and citizenship. Wasn't everyone proud to be an American, wasn't everyone a patriot. It just was.

Back in that time when illegal wiretapping brought horror and disgust, when the First Amendment became sacrosanct. Back when people re-enacted the famous tea party the first patriots threw by tossing packages labeled Exxon and Gulf Oil into Boston Harbor.

In 1976, on July 4th, we were uncomplicatedly, uncompromisingly, idealistically proud to be American.

In 1976, when Jimmy Carter won, I sent a note of congratulations. But I sent it to Amy Carter.

Dear Miss Amy Carter,

Congratulations that your father won. I am very happy for your whole family, and mine too. You must be so excited to move into the White House. I have been there and it is very, very nice. I think it is pretty neat that a girl like me lives there now. It is good to have a girl in the White House. I hope you write me back.

Your friend, Julie

Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert. Do not reprint or reproduce without permission.
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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Soul food feast: A Hump Day Hmm for July 2, 2008

For the Hump Day Hmm this week, what do you do to feed your soul? What renews you? How does that fit in with the cultural protocol?

Write about it, link that post back to here, and add your link to the list below.

Old or new, all posts welcome...as long as they are on topic. (Not to be mean but definitely enforcing this boundary, I will delete links not related to the Hump Day Hmm and spammers, review the policy on the right sidebar.)