Sunday, December 28, 2008
I babysat tonight (for a five year old who had the remarkable ability of transforming into a lunatic at precisely the stroke of bedtime), and other than the hour plus bedtime shenanigans, I had a lovely time. The reason? We watched the movie, E.T. When the parents first put it on before they left, I had my doubts. I had never watched E.T. with a younger child. Would it be too scary, too weird, too sad, too profanity laden (you'd be surprised). I kept expecting to have to dive across the room for the remote, slow-mo style, to stop the movie the second things got dicey. But then something remarkable happened. E.T. was indeed scary and weird and sad and a little profanity laden. But it was perfectly okay for the five year old I was with, because you know what, kids can handle a lot more than we think they can. They can handle scary and weird and sad and a little profanity laden if these things are done the right way.
Yet somehow children's movies have become these sanitized, squeaky clean, capital M message, cartoon cheerful things. When's the last time you watched a kid's flick and actually recognized a human trait in any of the characters? When's the last time you watched a movie aimed at younger viewers that was genuinely scary? Bet your reaction to that last question was, "harumph, well of course not, children's movies shouldn't be scary." Because that would have been mine. But you know what, kids like scary. They don't like slasher flick, zombie scary (and neither do I for that matter), but they like scientists storming Elliot's suburban house in spaceman looking suits scary. I understand wanting to protect kids, but it's one thing to shield your kid from the evening news and it's another to keep them in a bubble. It's like kids today are living in a styrofoam world. Sure there are no sharp edges that way and maybe they won't ever have nightmares or weird, irrational phobias, but aren't those things so much better than bland, boring styrofoam?
If making the choice for my future kids, I would take scary, weird E.T. any day over those shiny happy pod people Disney movies (and I say that despite my love for all things High School Musical, but really as much as I love Zac Efron, I would hate for my kids to grow up thinking these movies were classics). And you want to know why? Because kids act like real kids in E.T. They cuss on occasion and are mean to their siblings and lie to their parents. And if you're worried that the presence of these things in a movie means your kids will turn into hoodlums and eventually felons then you are weighing the importance of movies way to heavily in comparison to the importance of parenting. You want to know what else happens in E.T. other than some harmless childhood bad behavior? Big, wonderful, magical things happen, and these things are made even cooler and more magical because they happen in the context of an identifiable world where moms yell and dads are in Mexico with new girlfriends and teachers drone on and on about killing frogs. And the look on the kid's face tonight confirmed to me how meaningful it is for a kid, especially a young one, to watch a movie like that, a movie that challenges rather than coddles, that instigates imagination rather than suppressing it with heavy handed morality tales and messages. From what I saw, this boy did not suffer severe trauma from the few seconds where the adorable alien appeared to be dead or from any of the other myriad things that would shock a lot of parents. Instead he connected with what was happening on screen, which made that moment where all the kids take off on their bikes above the policemen all the more rewarding.
Which leaves me wondering why people seemed to have stopped making these kinds of movies. When I was a kid I had E.T., The Goonies, The Princess Bride, The Neverending Story, Labyrinth, The Witches all of these wonderfully twisted and dark movies that were nevertheless filled with optimism and kindness and magic. I seem to have made it to adulthood without severe mental scarring despite watching Inigo Montoya kill a man. I don't recall any post traumatic stress associated with multiple viewings of David Bowie as an evil, singing and dancing Goblin king. When I was little I regularly watched movies where terrifying things happened and people died or did bad things. And maybe this is a stretch, but in some ways I credit movies like that for the big, messy imagination I have. Books and stories make an imagination, but movies can sure help prod it along, as long as they're not mindless and vapid and stupid.
So at the moment I'm feeling a little distressed, because what do kids today have? Pixar movies are awesome. I'm not lumping them in here. But animation can only take a kid so far. Children need those live action movies that will stay with them forever, the way E.T. and The Princess Bride have stayed with me. Sure you can find these movies as an adult, but they'll always sort of be an empty shell that way. To watch a movie like E.T. as a child means that even as an adult some part of you will always remember it the way it was the first time you saw it, when you honestly believed that those scary adults would do harm to a poor, defenseless space creature, when you thought that given the right circumstance bikes could fly and friendships with aliens could be formed with just a little help from Reeses Pieces. Kids need those childhood movies, the ones that make them keep the lights on for a little while, the ones that make them peer out their blinds at night, wondering if maybe, just maybe, it could be real. Kids need to gasp in terror at rodents of unusual size and evil witches who congregate in hotels and turn children into mice. Even if it scares them, they're remarkably resilient.
I guess at the end of the day I feel lucky to have come of age in what seems to be a prime period for weird and crazy but remarkably true to life (at least in terms of the kids portrayed on screen) children's movies. But I am still bothered that not all kids growing up today have parents who will seek these kinds of films out. So maybe, all of us 80s kids can make a pact. While other families trek to the theater and pay 15 dollars a ticket to see mindless, candy coated, soul less, drivel, we can stay home, pull out the DVDs and introduce our children to the quirky, expansive worlds we grew up with. Maybe we'll have to spend a little extra time tucking them in or install a new night light, but our reward will be children with imaginations every bit as strange and beautiful as the movies that inspire them.
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
Can you remember what it felt like the last time you put out snacks for Santa or his reindeer? I have a hard time. I know that I did this. I know that at one point in my childhood I believed with all of my heart that the big guy in the suit would munch on the cookies I so carefully set out (usually Oreos, the special Christmas kind covered in white chocolate), that he would quench his thirst with a tall glass of milk, and that he would bring carrots up to the roof for Prancer et. all (I never had the ingenious idea of putting the reindeer snacks outside so the reindeer could snack while Santa does his present thing). But somehow I've forgotten what it really felt like to believe so fervently in something I would never see, to trust so completely without the need for proof or logic (minus the one time I asked Santa for his signature to prove to my brother that he was real; needless to say he complied).
As an adult Christmas is wonderful. There are things you can enjoy as an adult you could never enjoy as a kid; spiked eggnog, Christmas morning mimosas-okay basically just anything alcohol related. But let's be honest for a moment. As wonderful as Christmas still is, as warm and fuzzy as it still can be, we lose something the moment we stop believing in the jolly fat guy. I think we all feel it. Even the cheeriest, seasonal sweater wearing, Christmas addict, if honest with themselves, would have to admit that something goes missing in our Christmases once we reach the age where we no longer believe, where we wake up in the morning and the only thing that's suspensful is what our parents got from our list, not whether Santa came or not. How could it not be different? For the better part of our childhoods, for one night, we get to believe, no questions asked, in magic. No matter how dull or prosaic the rest of our lives are, for one night every year we are privy to greatness, to extraordinary events. Seeing those plates on that porch tonight just forcefully reminded me of how beautiful that is, how beautiful it was, how all of those wonderful childhood things, optimism and hope and innocence all get concentrated into that one powerful, singular belief.
And as much as this blog may seem like a depressing note for Christmas Eve, it's not. I may not put out cookies or believe that the presents under my tree tomorrow will have been delivered via sled. But that doesn't mean Christmas has to lose all of its magic. It may be a more measured, more adult brand, but I still feel something when I look at a lit up Christmas tree in a darkened room. It's a bittersweet kind of hope, a more restrained type of optimism, and maybe, just maybe, if I think about those carrot sticks days of mine hard enough, there might still be a tiny sliver of belief.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
1) Operation USO Care Package-for $25 sponsor a care package that will go to a deployed US soldier
2) St Jude Children's Research Hospital - donate a sum of your choice online, peruse their gift catalog, order holiday tribute cards, visit your local Target store and buy special cards or wrapping paper with proceeds going to the hospital-no matter how you give to this cause, your gift will make an invaluable impact
3) Cookies for Kid's Cancer - started by parents of a child with cancer in order to raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer research, you can donate directly or order cookies with proceeds going directly to the cause-so you can do good and get something yummy in return
4) Save the Children-a charity dedicated to helping children in the US and around the world, recommended by none other than Valentino Achak Deng, one of the Sudanese lost boys who spent years in refugee camps as a child and saw first hand which nonprofits did the most good
5) Pet Helpers-Charleston's local animal rescue and adoption shelter, you can make a one time contribution or for a larger amount, sponsor one of the shelter's pets for a year-this is even more necessary this year because so many people are giving up their animals to shelters because of the recession
6) World Wildlife Fund-adopt an endangered animal (and get a fuzzy stuffed version sent to you) or contribute to any of the huge number of worthwhile efforts this global nonprofit undertakes
7) Lowcountry Food Bank or Central Virginia Food Bank (or any local foodbank around the country)-don't want to haul a bunch of food somewhere? no problem, go to one of these sites and you can virtually donate food-right now food bank are facing critical shortages around the nation, NO ONE should go hungry in the United States, not when there are people left who have even the smallest amount to give
8) South Carolina Aquarium- an awesome place to visit and an even more awesome place to give to-plus you can adopt a Loggerhead Sea Turtle!
9) Deoki Nandan Education Trust, Inc. -can definitely vouch for this one because my sister is the secretary-it was started by her friend and her friend's Indian husband and is aimed to bring education to poor children in rural India-I can not stress how valuable and necessary this kind of thing is in a country like India with areas that are so devastatingly poor
So there you have it. I can not stress how important and valuable these nonprofits are and how much good your help would do. And trust me, this list is for me too, to remind myself that things are great and all, but they just can't compare to hope and compassion and empathy. So if you're rushed and stressed and think you might have a nervous breakdown if you here "Jingle Bell Rock" over a store's loudspeakers one more time, then consider staying in tomorrow and ordering the rest of your gifts from this list.
Goodnight now and Merry Christmas Eve :)
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Saturday, December 20, 2008
-The movie Clue was on tv today and I cannot tell you how obsessed I was with this film when I was little. I have no idea why, because I don't think I could have gotten even half of the jokes. I think I just really liked the part below where Tim Curry runs around like a maniac reenacting how the murders must have went down. Or maybe I just really loved the board game? But I was pleasantly surprised to find that unlike many of my favorite movies from childhood (anything featuring cinematic legend Jonathan Taylor Thomas springs to mind), Clue really stood the test of time. I mean how can a movie not be awesome when it features the brilliance that is Michael McKean (see Spinal Tap, For Your Consideration, Best in Show). Also Tim Curry is freaking hilarious, like so funny it's almost disappointing that not all of his roles have allowed him to show off what an amazing comedic talent he is. Plus there's murder, mystery, death by candlestick, singing telegrams. Really it's just all good, campy, ludicrous fun.
-I made the terrible mistake of walking by PetSmart on my way to Barnes and Noble today. And you know what happens at PetSmart on Saturdays? Poor, adorable puppies from shelters are put on display for the sole intent of breaking every single passerby's heart. Okay well maybe the point is for the poor, adorable puppies to find homes, but it just kills me. Not only were most of these dogs wearing doggie sweaters because of how cold it was but they all had their oh so sad "stories" written up on signs hanging on their cages. And of course every single story just makes you want to adopt every last one of these dogs and make it your sole purpose in life to prevent them from ever having to experience anything unpleasant or painful ever again. There were two beagle-y brothers named Fonzie and Howie and they just destroyed me with their sweetness and cuteness, not to mention they had the saddest story ever that I won't even share because it will break your heart. Let's just say it took a lot to pry myself away, and the second I have the means to take care of a dog I will go to PetSmart on a Saturday and rescue one of these poor little guys. It did make me very happy to see an "adopted" sign on one cage with a cute little boxerish mix, and it is my dearest hope that every single one of those dogs finds a home where they will be loved and pampered and spoiled to within an inch of their lives. And I wish only bad karma on their previous owners who should all be in jail.
-I'm watching Love Actually on tv right now, and no matter how many times I've seen it I can never get over Laura Linney or Emma Thompson. The giddy, hopeful look on Laura Linney's face when she first dances with her office crush, her resigned sorrow at the end, Emma Thompson's moment alone in the bedroom when she realizes her husband is involved on some level with another woman, and then the way she pulls herself together right before she faces her kids-these two women just blow me away with their performances. In a sprawling ensemble of very talented actors, they do so much with only a handful of scenes. Oh and random side note-hello January Jones aka Betty Draper from Mad Men! She's one of the American floozies in the bar in Wisconsin, and it is so weird to see her in this. She's doing that thing with her face, what is it, oh that's right, smiling. You see, it took me a second to place it because it is not an expression that Betty normally or ever wears.
-I'm in the last stages of the Great Flea War of 2008. Now that I'm not in the flea infested Charleston house, I feel like I have gained the upper hand. All that's left is to nurse my dozens of flea bites (which apparently NEVER stop itching) and wash every single thing I own. I am anxiously awaiting Monday when I will pick up my pashmina shawl from India that I was forced to get dry cleaned. I know this makes me very materialistic, but if anything happens to this shawl I will be devastated. Because in my mind, it cannot be replaced. Even in the unlikely event that I manage to make to the Kullu region of the Himalayas in India, even if I track down the exact shop, that shawl will be a reminder of that specific trip. My current shawl reminds me of the trip on which I bought it, and that is priceless. Not to mention that it is magic. Okay maybe it's just the wonder that is pashmina, but it might as well be magic because it is whispy, almost paper thin and every bit as warm as a down comforter. I heart it. It better survive or my war on fleas will wage forever. Also I had to wash my stuffed panda (my sleeping companion because yes, I never outgrew that aspect of childhood), and that was nerve wracking. I kept checking the washing machine, waiting to find a panda carnage, but panda remained intact and now he is super soft and gives off a lovely, fresh laundry scent. I sort of wish I had washed him sooner.
-I have created a nice cocoon of Charleston-ness around me. Since I've been home, the only t-shirts I've worn have been College of Charleston ones or Charleston restaurant ones. I have only drank (drunken, drunk? yes I am an English major, hold your applause) out of my Hominy Grill mug, I've put my shells and sand dollars out and I've propped up my Cooper River Bridge Run poster and gorgeous print from the Tidwell Gallery. I have a thick stack of Charleston Magazines and right next to my bed I have my Sak's Charleston snow globe. Maybe it's not the healthiest way to deal with my homesickness, but I don't care. I like my cocoon.
-I'm going to see Slumdog Millionaire tomorrow and I can't wait. For one it's supposed to be great. Also I have been fascinated with Indian culture since I went over there because it's so crazy and big and complex. But the thing that made me want to see it most was reading in a review that the main character scams tourists at the Taj Mahal as a kid. We were on the receiving ends of many of these scam attempts at the Taj Mahal and throughout India (and occasionally we were stupid enough to fall victim), and I am so excited to see this from the scammer's perspective. Because it is easy to forget that everyone has a story, and questions of morality aside, these kids scam because they live in tremendous poverty and have had to find creative ways to survive.
-Did anyone else choke up slightly during the last episode of Top Chef? Yes they laid on the holiday special thing a little thick (especially when this episode must have been filmed in early fall at the latest), but when all of the cheftestants helped Hosea and Rhadika out after their meat went bad, well it just seemed like a really genuine, human moment. I just like this season of Top Chef a lot because not one of these people seem despicable or cruel (unlike the season where Illan won). Maybe it makes for higher drama, but I always prefer reality shows where people are kind and decent. And this has nothing to do with kindness or decency, but I am obsessed with Fabio. Everything he says cracks me up because broken English=comedy gold. Between his rantings on "bullshit bacon" or his musings on his "evil" childhood and his grandma's discipline trick of making him stir polenta, well I hope he stays till the end just because everything that comes out of his mouth is freaking hilarious. And this isn't me being mean to foreign people, because I fully admit that when I lived in Paris I must have made many, many people laugh with my mangling of the French accent and language.
-I went to the eye doctor yesterday, and no matter how many times I do this, I always get a little flustered during parts of the exam. You know the part where they ask you to read the lowest line you can make out on the chart while covering each eye in turn? For whatever reason, I always feel like I can get this wrong, like it somehow reflects poorly on me if I can't read the last line of letters. Obviously this is completely absurd because the only thing that reflects negatively on is my vision which is the whole point of going to an eye doctor, but I always find myself debating out loud like I'm on a game show or something. Here's me. "Okay the first letter is a V, well no, wait, maybe an X. Yes, okay definitely an X. And umm, well I know the last letter on the right is definitely an O. There might be a P somewhere in the middle. And you know what, I think that first letter is a W. Is it too late to change?" What can I say, I'm a freak. Plus I hate the peripheral vision test because again I always feel like I'm stupid if I get it wrong, and I have a really hard time moving my eyes without moving my head and I just have issues. I can't stand the glaucoma drops because they make my eyes feel like someone put maple syrup in them. Although at least this year they changed the drops so they aren't yellow anymore. It used to freak me out so much after she put the drops in and I'd wipe my eyes because they always water and there would be neon yellow blotches on the tissue. So at least that was a positive thing about this year. But yeah, normal people can do things like go to the eye doctor and not worry they can somehow answer wrongly to the question "does this lens make it clearer?". But me, I bring awkwardness wherever I go, so I end up making my poor eye doctor switch back and forth like ten times while I intensely debate with myself whether A or B is better.
-Okay I feel better now, like my creativity is back on track and I can write about things other than how sad it has been to leave Charleston. Because I know angst gets old in a hurry.
-Oh there is one more thing. I want a hippopotamus for Christmas.
Friday, December 19, 2008
It puts into beautiful words the homesickness that grabbed hold the minute my car pulled onto 26, the homesickness that will linger until like the man says, "my sweet disposition carries me home."
Monday, December 15, 2008
-the glassy water of a giant lagoon in the middle of the beach-so still it acts as a giant mirror, lending to the optical illusion that the sky just keeps on going, right down to the ocean and beyond
- the way the air changed the second I reached the actual ocean-how in just a few feet it became crisper and cooler and fuller somehow
-huge, cotton candy thick puffs of sea foam that reflected the waning sun
-the endless sand-how even with the mansions in the distance you feel like you're in the middle of a coastal desert
-a fog or mist that hung over the sand and blurred everything in sight, a mist so pervasive it even softened the sun, making it seem less like the living world and more like something out of a dream
-that salt air smell that I can't even attempt to describe. I just kept thinking of how when you're little, you have this idea and I'm vaguely remembering it as having something to do with the book, "The BFG", but you have this idea that you can bottle up air, screw the lid on tight until you open it up one day somewhere far away and let it surround you, even though the source of the air may be millions of miles away. I wish I could do that. I wish I could find the biggest jar in the world, carry it out to Sullivan's Island and fill it with that ocean air, not just any ocean air, but distinctly Charleston ocean air. I would close it tightly, and wait to open it until I really needed it, the way I always seem to need the ocean whenever I'm really upset or afraid, and then I'd unscrew the lid and no matter how far away I was, for a moment at least I'd be right back on that shore, breathing in that beautiful salty breeze.
-the sunset over the shore-how sunsets in Charleston just seem bigger, like they take up more of the sky or something. I know it's illogical, but I have never seen a sunset like a Charleston sunset, and I'm not sure I ever will.
-the way I could walk barefoot even though it's December, how good the damp sand felt under my feet-all of the shells and sand dollars left by the tide
-how on walks like the one I took today-I really wonder what I did to deserve this, how saintly I must have been in a former life to have been able to spend four and a half years here, where daily I am surrounded by the kind of natural beauty that some people only see a handful of times in their lives. The one thing I keep telling myself is that I'm lucky that it hurts this much to leave, because that means that Charleston isn't just a vacation for me, Charleston is home. It will always be home. I have had four and a half years of ocean and rivers and tidal marshes. I have had four and a half years of the kind of beauty that for all my reliance on words, really puts them in their place. Because, yes, as a writer it pains me to admit, but sometimes words really do fail. Luckily I happen to own a camera.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
1) 30 Rock (Seasons 1, 2, or 3-preferably all three if you have the time)
2) Harry Potter ( Books, 1, 3-7-for some reason I just can't bring myself to re-read Book 2, again any of these books will do, but preferably all of them if you have serious time on your hands and want your comfort really rich-caution could give you indigestion)
3) Peanut Butter toast at regular intervals (can substitute the toast part with pretty much anything)
4) Cheese-in pretty much any brand, size or shape-but for maximum comfort use Earth Fare's apple wood smoked cheddar
5) A very large glass of Pinot Grigio, more if necessary
6) Season with the following movies according to taste
(when in season)
(can be used in generous portions)
(only if you're prepared to take your recipe up to 11)
(always in season)
(the level of cheese may not be to everyone's taste)
6) For garnish use lots of People Magazine, InStyle, and any other entertainment/fashion magazine available
7) Top with any song ever written by The Format (in their all too brief career)
And there you have it-instant comfort :)
But tonight I couldn't watch it. Because I knew that I would fall apart. Like I said, under normal circumstances this movie gets to me. But right now, when I'm already a basket case, I think that I would have just dissolved into a messy, blubbering, nonsensical puddle (glass case if you will) of emotion. That's right folks, I'm a mess. I might as well come out and say it. I'm leaving Charleston in just a few short days, and well, I knew it would be hard, but it's proving too be very near impossible. I'm not going to bore you with the details of my very fragile emotional state or talk about how many times I day I seem to burst into tears (umm-let's just ballpark it at a lot), but my complete and total inability to watch "It's a Wonderful Life" for legitimate fear of what would happen to me and whether I would physically dehydrate myself from all of those George Bailey provoked tears, should paint a pretty complete picture.
Friday, December 12, 2008
So here, without any further ado, was my reply:
"Hmm, I'm all for supporting our soldiers, but after five years, countless reports (many of them by US generals who served over there) over how many things have gone wrong on our end in Iraq, our president admitting that there was an intellgence failure, not to mention the massive human casualties (i.e. civilian-i.e. men, women and children, a good number of them who have been killed by private contractors like Blackwater hired by our government and paid for with our tax dollars) -I just think it's a little wrong to simplify things to the point where it's the mighty Eagle trampling over the people of Iraq. There's a lot more nuance in this situation is all I'm saying, and I object to something that writes it off as good fighting evil, because it not only simplifies and belittles the very complex mission our soldiers have right now, but it simplifies and belittles the death of so many innocents.
And one HUGE clarification-anyone who read this forward and thought it was in any way accurate-please google Koran verse 911-and you'll see how much has been written about this "hoax"-other people's words-not mine, that was invented to support the US war mission in Iraq. And if that still doesn't convince you-go to any reputable online version of the Koran (like this one from the University of Michigan; http://quod.lib.umich.edu/k/koran/ ) and please type in the word fearsome eagle or just plain eagle in the search section. Yup, it doesn't appear anywhere in the Koran. Still not convinced, keep looking at various translations (like this one from the University of Southern California; http://www.usc.edu/schools/college/crcc/engagement/resources/texts/muslim/quran/), and you will find that this "verse" is completely untrue. So in summary-whether or not you support the war in Iraq or not, we should all be able to agree that this forward is complete and total propaganda. And you should be insulted that the person who originally wrote this email just assumed that no one who read it would investigage its veracity.
Oh and if anyone is curious, what Chapter 9, verse 11 of the Koran, actually does say. Here are three different translations given by USC:
YUSUFALI: But (even so), if they repent, establish regular prayers, and practise regular charity,- they are your brethren in Faith: (thus) do We explain the Signs in detail, for those who understand.
PICKTHAL: But if they repent and establish worship and pay the poor-due, then are they your brethren in religion. We detail Our revelations for a people who have knowledge.
SHAKIR: But if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, they are your brethren in faith; and We make the communications clear for a people who know.
Hmm- no mention I can see of fearsome eagles or wrath or trembling in despair.
Sorry to get all intense about this-but I have a really big problem when people oversimplify something as massive and complex and intricate as the Iraq war. And I get even more upset when people attempt to use religion to justify war. If you want to justify the war in Iraq, fine. I fully admit that not everone shares my viewpoints that the war was mishandled and that we went into it under false pretenses. But to try and justify it by saying that it is a mission from God-that I can't understand. We as Americans talk all the time about Muslim fundamentalism-how these terrorists kill because they think it is God's will. We talk about how terrifying and incomprehensible that is. And I'm not saying that the war in Iraq is tantamount to terrorism, but we're using the same basic principle that God should dictate foreign policy. And you know, God has dictated foreign policy in the past and continues to in modern day. How did those Crusades go? Look at India-Pakistan right now-how deeply that conflict is fueled by religion. How about Iran? How about the Sudan where an attempt by the government in the North to put into place religious law resulted in a devastating, years long civil war. Why is it so easy for so many Americans to criticize and look down on these places, while still clinging to the idea that everything America does is okay becase we are on God's side. Do we honestly want to be that kind of nation, one where religion and government have no distinction?
It's not supporting our soldiers to stand from afar, refuse to investigate, and say that the war in Iraq is a holy mission. You can believe that God is with our soldiers, you can believe that He is watching over them, but I have a really big problem if you say that God sent them there. Because unless God is GW Bush (and I don't think even his biggest supporter loves him that much) then no, God did not start the war in Iraq. I'm not an expert on Iraq or this war by any means. But I've tried to look deeper, I've read and I've studied (we spent a huge chunk of time on Iraq in my Middle East politics class), because I want to understand more. And if you really want to support our troops, if you really want to do something more meaningful than an email forward containing blatant and offensive lies, then please just make that same effort. You can't fight along side them. But you can fight misinformation and try to understand the world they are fighting in."
And then, after I replied, because my friends are opinionated and strong-there was a teensy bit of friction, not much, but some. And that got me thinking even more, about the title of this blog post.
WHY CAN'T WE TALK ABOUT THIS?
Whew, sorry, I know the all-caps makes me sound like a ranting, raving crazy lady. But seriously? What went wrong? What happened to our discourse where you bring something up like Iraq or any of the myriad issues present in the Middle East or just Islam in general, bring anything like this up outside of a classroom (or even in some classrooms depending on the mood of the room), and people get very upset and very unwilling to listen. People get called things like unpatriotic. And I'm not talking about just this forward anymore because luckily I don't have the kind of friends who would call me unpatriotic for responding honestly to an e-mail forward. But there have been times when I've tried to have rational discussions about Islam, where all I attempt to do is suggest that as a religion, Islam is not made up of just a bunch of Christian and Western hating vitriol-and people get really offended. It's like there's this raw nerve around certain topics. And I get it. The raw nerve has a name and it's 9/11. The terrorists who carried out those attacks happened to be a part of an Islamic extremist network-and no one has or ever will forget that association. And again, I get it. I get how drastically that changed people's perceptions of Islam and of parts of the Middle East for the worse. And if you've read my post on 9/11 you know I would never suggest that we forget and move on. But what we have to do is stop letting this rawness in our hearts prevent us from listening, prevent us from even trying to understand a world and a religion different from our own. We can't write off Islam because of the actions of one group. We can't write off the Middle East because of the actions of certain governments. There's just so much complexity and nuance in everything in this world, particularly the current political environments in so many Middle Eastern nations, that simplicity doesn't work. Good and evil, black and white, those things are easy, and when innocent people die, we as humans crave them. We cling to them, because the alternative makes it hard to sleep at night, that every single person in this world has the capacity inside of them for both tremendous good and terrible evil. But when you get right down to it, those things, good and evil, black and white, well as easy as it would be if they did exist, they just don't. This isn't me being a hippie, thinking that there is no evil in this world, but I can sure as hell tell you that people don't just fall into two categories-good and evil. People don't. Religions don't. Nations don't. It's just not that simple.
So can we please stop treating these things like they are that simple. Can we please talk about them? I want to be able to talk openly and honestly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without being called a terrorist sympathizer if I even suggest that the Palestinians aren't necessarily the bad guys. I grew up being taught basically until college that there were good guys and bad guys in that conflict, that Israel was the victim and Palestinians were blood thirsty criminals who would never stop until all Israelis were killed. But my God, no matter what your politics, just look a little bit further into that situation and you'll see how vastly more complex it is than that. Do you want to know what happens when you deny a group like Palestinians nuance and complexity, when you call them villains, when you refuse to even question whether or not they have legitimacy to their cause (and I'm saying cause, not necessarily all of their methods-and that's the part that sucks, that I have to put in this little disclaimer because I actively anticipate someone reading this and calling me a terrorist sympathizer). What happens is that the second you cast people in these rolls, good and bad, well then you are actively participating in the halting of progress, in coming closer to a solution, to peace. Because we will never arrive at peace if both sides refuse to understand each other.
And the first step to understanding is to be able to talk about this. Talking doesn't mean agreeing, it doesn't mean conceding. Hold onto your preconceived notions all you want, but at least talk about it. We need to be able to talk about these things. Islam, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Palestine; these places, these things-they seem so scary when you refuse to call them by name, when you leave them in a dark place in your mind that never sees the light of day. And sure, parts of all of those things are genuinely scary, just like parts of America are scary (I mean have you ever been to West Virginia-JOKING! kind of). But the second we start to talk about all this, without yelling or calling names, the second we as a nation allow ourselves to dig a little deeper, to search for the complexity and the nuance, well I firmly believe that we're going to be a lot less scared. We cling to simplicity because we think we need it to survive in this world. But the truth is simplicity only holds us back, from ourselves, from each other, from an understanding that the world we live in is never black and white. Besides what hope or beauty is there in black and white? I much prefer the real, multi-colored, multi-faceted, much more challenging truth.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Today while I was furiously applying to online nanny agencies (when I move back to Richmond it is of the utmost importance that I work nonstop to save up for a possible foray to teach English abroad, because plane tickets to Thailand-not so cheap-and as the protagonist of one of my all time favorite books, "The Nanny Diaries" so rightly put it-being a nanny is probably the best I can get paid at this point in my life without taking my clothes off). But I digress (I seem to always digress whenever I put in a parenthesis, note to self, stop straying into the dangerously tangential world of parenthesis).
So as I was online applying and agreeing to various background checks and drug screenings or what not, I put the television on Bravo because there was a Real Housewives of Orange County marathon, and I thought, "now there's a show that won't really distract me." Because up until now I had never watched this show. I resisted with all my might, because I was convinced I would hate it. I was completely addicted to the Real Housewives of NYC and that should have tipped me off to the fact that these shows, no matter the locale, are television crack. Yet I told myself that the only reason I loved the NYC Housewives is because it was filmed in NYC and I pretty much love anything filmed in NYC (filmed and set are very different things) i.e. Gossip Girl, Sex and the City, 30 Rock, etc. and etc. But I was very, very wrong, because after one episode of the Orange County housewives, I am hooked. Like it's going to be a problem how hooked I am. And yes I'm ashamed and guilty about the whole thing, and I know I should run screaming from reality programming that follows around rich, Botoxing women and their fake hair and boobs. But I can't help it. These peopleare compelling. I mean there are kids in juvie and dissaproving mothers. And that one lady (don't really know all the names yet), has the world's hottest son (he's 18 okay!). And there was a moment when he talked to the camera about sex and how he wasn't having sex despite his hottness and the fact that many people his age were having sex, and he said this verbatim, "I mean I'm not really a sex person."
Any show that has someone in all sincerity declaring how they are not a "sex person", well how can you not love that?
Monday, December 8, 2008
Because we have trees like this.
Same tree. It's just that huge.
And we have trees like this.
And a few miles away we have a place like this. And every time I come here, unfailingly, there is a moment where I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with that cool, sweet, salty ocean air, and realize that this is breathing. That inhale, exhale thing I do the rest of the time-that's merely a pale imitation. I can say with absolute certainty that the only time I truly, honest to God, breathe, not just to stay alive or because my body involuntarily does it, but breathe in the way breathing is meant to be, is when I'm by the sea.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
The only things that may solve my Sunday blues-Chinese food (sorry diet-crab fried wontons and dumplings from Chopsticks downtown are calling my name); good television (maybe not as good as when Grey's Anatomy came on Sundays and was actually good-but there's Brothers and Sisters plus the weekly House marathon on USA), a nice glass of super chilled Pinot Grigio, and the very beginning stages of a plan I really and truly hope comes to fruition-I won't give too much away until it's closer to being real, but let's just say it involves a beautiful and far away country to the East that I have never been to, but which has been hovering in my thoughts for some time.
PS. I finally went to the Angel Oak today because it was way too gorgeous to stay inside all afternoon. And yeah, it's pretty darn cool. Sure, it may just be a giant tree-but as far as giant trees go this one was kinda awesome. Although it would have been even cooler if I had been able to climb it.
(from the Angel Oak website and thus not my own picture-I took ones but was too lazy to upload them)
PPS. Watched the Parade of Boats on Saturday from the deck of Fleet Landing. And I've decided that humans really do lose their souls when in a crowd. Me and my friend stood back by the bar, away from where people were you know, paying good money to sit at a table and eat, a table which they had reserved expressly for the purpose of watching the boat parade. Despite the fact that our view was partially obstructed, we kept our distance because we have a little thing called self control and a sense of propriety. Yet when the parade started a horde of people pushed past us and crowded all of those poor people at tables. Like they might as well have just pulled up a chair and a fork and dug right in. So even though the parade was lovely and Christmasy, we were a little distracted by all the big jerk faces (all adults mind you), who decided it was worth a better view to ruin someone else's dining experience and make it impossible for the waiters to get by with food. I came to the conclusion that these people must have been from out of town (as in not from the south-and I'm not counting Florida as being a part of the south). Now this might offend some, but let me assure you that I am the first to admit that Southerners have our faults. However a lack of manners is not one of them. But I digress. It was a very nice parade and I'm glad I'm fully taking advantage of my (at least for a little while) last Christmas in Charleston. My favorite out of all the boats-the canoes with the light up paddles. Simple, understated, awesome.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
So I was flipping channels while I was babysitting tonight, and I came across "Meet Me in St. Louis," the 1944 Judy Garland film. I hadn't seen it in years, but there was one scene that had always stuck firmly in my mind. I couldn't have told you the plot of this movie really, or the other things that happened, but I remembered with absolute clarity the scene where Judy Garland sings to her little sister, Tootie. The scene takes place near the end of the film and it's Christmas Eve and Judy Garland is wearing a red dress, and her face is beautiful in that soft, out of focus, 40s film star kind of way. Her baby sister is upset because the family is going to move away from St. Louis (something having to do with their father and financial stuff-again I don't really remember most of the movie), and Judy Garland sits with her by the window and sings "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Tootie cries while her sister sings and at the end of Tootie rushes downstairs and outside into the snow and proceeds to demolish all of the perfect little snow people that the family had built together. And I think I remember this scene so well, because it broke my heart in a way that perhaps no other film scene ever has.
Here's how sad it is. Until tonight I had no idea if the family actually moved or not. Turns out they stay and everyone is happy and joyous and merry. Yet despite the fact that I had seen the movie in its entirety once upon a time, the only thing I really remembered was how sad it was when Judy sings and Tootie cries. First of all, I don't think Judy Garland could sing a song without making it at least a little bit sad. And that's not a bad thing. Her voice, that voice, is so wonderful and memorable because every note sounds like a barely contained sob. And again, not a bad thing. She just sings in this way where you can't help but ache. And "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" is one of the most beautifully sad songs ever written. And then you add snow and those adorable little snow people on top of that; and I couldn't really tell you why it makes me sad, but in this case it just does. Plus there's the whole Christmas thing and Tootie asking Judy if Santa will still be able to find them when they move and then the sight of this little, heartbroken girl literally kicking the crap out of those poor, defenseless snow people, and my God, you'd have to be made of stone not to at least get a little misty. And well tonight I was reduced to the same blubbering mess I was the first time I watched it.
And I think what makes it even more sad this time is that I can relate to Tootie. I'm about to move away from Charleston (at least for a little while), and just thinking about it makes me immensely upset. And unlike Tootie, I don't have Judy Garland to sing beautiful, sad, perfect songs to me or a little family of snowpeople to take out all of my feelings on. But there are moments when I really wish I did. But instead I'll just do like Judy says, muddle through somehow, and even though my heart may be broken, I'll find a way to have a merry, little christmas.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Sure I don't want to be a nanny forever, or even for much longer. But every once in a while, I wonder what other job I could possibly have where I encounter something as renewing and rewarding and beautiful as a face like this. I am thankful that for the last ten years I have more often than not been a babysitter. Because it is simply impossible to think negatively towards the overall world when you spend a significant amount of time with the miracle that is a child (minus the pooping in their pants part of course). Sure that sounds cheesy, a little hokey if you will, but I don't even care. That's the best part about being a babysitter/nanny. You're allowed to be cheesy and silly and goofy. You can't help but be anything but. Cynicism, bitterness, irony-they're hard to avoid sometimes. But I much prefer the version of myself when I'm hanging out with a one and a half year old (minus the aforementioned pooping in pants part (not a fan of diapers))
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Times 5 gazillion. Well not really, but it might as well be. These lovely little creatures literally invaded our house. We had a cat staying with us (long story), and this cat did not go outside. Nope, apparently in Charleston animals don't even need to go into the great outdoors to pick up fleas. Fleas are so aggressive that they leap into your house when you're not watching and then proceed to have 10,000 babies who then have babies of their own, and it's just a never ending cycle of flea baby making. And so we thought we took care of our little flea problem by 1), getting rid of the cat (don't worry we didn't throw him into the marsh as we were sometimes tempted to do-he's just with a new mommy) 2) buying up Wal-Mart's entire stock of anti flea sprays and powders and shampoos (for the cat, not us) and 3) washing everything. And we left for Thanksgiving thinking our townhouse would be just as flea free when we returned as it appeared to be when we left. But as I now know, Charleston fleas are a lot like their insect couterparts, Palmetto bugs. They simply refuse to die. Coat your entire house in chemicals that would kill a small horse, and somehow these miniscule little bugs find a way to keep kicking. My roomate, Laura, came home to a full scale flea war. Before we rarely actually saw the things, but the bites all over me told me they were there. But poor Laura returned to a house fully taken over by tons of very hungry fleas that had hatched when we were gone. Gross right?
So the first thing I did the next morning was call an exterminator, because I am able to recognize when something is completely out of my league. And the exterminator guy told me on the phone that no matter how loudly all of those store bought sprays and foggers proclaim, nothing kills flea eggs. They are surrounded by an impentrable cacoon that can not be broached by any man or chemical. I really wish I were kidding, but that's how freakish and straight out of science fiction fleas apparently are. Mark my words, if anything is going to bring on the apocalypse it would be a baby boom of fleas. So the only way really to get rid of fleas from your home is with repeat treatments, the first of which I could only schedule on Thursday at the earliest. So yes, for now I am homeless. I haven't been able to unload my car from my Thanksgiving trip to Richmond, so I am driving around like a crazy person who lives in their car. I have no internet at my dad's Summerville apartment where I've been staying, so I have been forced to seek shelter in the Wi-Fi world of Starbucks.
Other news in my life?
I bought a sparkly cardigan. If you don't know me that might not seem like that big of a deal, but I have been dreaming of owning a sparkly cardigan for some time now (I know, I dream big). And my new one is black and shiny and I love it.
I'm still in the midst of research to try and figure out how to go abroad (volunteering or teaching) without having to plop down a several thousand dollar program fee. If anyone has any ideas or the name of good programs or just a desire to give me 5,000 dollars I'd much appreciate it.
This isn't really news, but I thought I'd share the article and accompanying video from the New York Times magazine website, because it made me almost giggle out loud in a mostly silent Starbucks, and it put into words exactly my own thoughts after watching this segment of 60 minutes on Sunday.
Anderson Cooper’s Astounding Arms
Attached to Equally Stupendous Shoulders
12/1/08 at 10:40 AM
Okay, how many of you watched 60 Minutes last night only to see the segment where Anderson Cooper put on a bathing suit and raced Michael Phelps across a pool? And of that group, how many of you replayed the brief segment where Anderson was shirtless on the diving block in slow motion? And of that group, how many of you yelled aloud "come on, board shorts??"
Though we were disappointed with the brevity of Manderson's shirtless star turn (his second since the unfortunate spray-tanning incident of 2005), we did learn a couple of things. First, Anderson, like that dog/monster the Peruvians want to give to Barack Obama, is completely hairless from the ears down. Like, if you happened to rub your face on his chest, it would squeak. Unless it was oiled up, of course. Anyway! The second thing we learned is that Anderson has surprisingly delightful deltoids in addition to his bodacious biceps. Clearly he's overworking his arms in comparison to the rest of his body, but he's still paying attention to those less camera-friendly muscle zones. We want the number of T.J., his trainer! No, seriously, we have some questions. We promise not to call after 1 a.m.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
As I watch this awful news, I keep thinking of a conversation we had with our Indian guide in Manali, a sleepy mountain town in the Himalayas. Our guide was my age, and he had lived in India his whole life. He spoke about his homeland, and he spoke frankly about India's flaws; the remnants of the caste system, the history of religious discord and terrorism. Whereas we Americans had only experienced terrorism a couple of times in our lives, he and his fellow country men had always known it. It was simply a fact of life. Yet despite these things he was deeply proud to be Indian. He spoke about his country with love and pride and hope. He talked about the importance of family so intrinsic to Indian society. He extolled on the virtues of India's beloved cricket, not just a sport but, as he referred to it, a "way of life" . Tonight as I watch parts of India's largest city burn and hear reports of fatalities and hostages, I think back to that conversation we had in Manali, on our way back down a mountain on a clear, cool day. I think of this man, or kid really, and I think of the look in his eyes as he talked about his home. I think of the news coverage of India's first ever gold medalist. Here was the least likely sports hero ever, a thirty something guy in glasses who had won his medal in rifelry. And the entire country went nuts over him. There was such pride and such joy in the fact that he had brought a single gold medal home. It didn't matter that it wasn't a glamorous sport or a high profile win. And that's how it was covered, like the guy had just walked on Mars or something. It wasn't just a medal won by an athlete for himself. It was a victory for all of India.
Tonight I think of the thousand other moments over the course of two weeks when India revealed itself to me, little by little, as a country so much more than what I had read about or seen on the news And when I go to sleep, I'm going to close my eyes, and search for the India I remember, the one underneath all of the current images of chaos and senseless violence. I'm going to close my eyes, and send all of my own hope east.
At a Hindu shrine outside of a temple in Manali
Outside of the same shrine
In the desert of Rajahstan
Monday, November 24, 2008
I mean who doesn't love a sexy, sensual song about nutmeg?
For me Christmas really isn't Christmas without an intelligent discussion of the cultural differences between Christmas and Hanukkah as expressed through song.
So despite all of our differences, can't the spirit of a Colbert Christmas unite us as one, if even for just a little while? So tonight I'd like to sign off by saying,
Merry Colbert Christmas to all, and to all a good night.