Sunday, April 26, 2009

For two songs, my favorite band was back

On Friday night I went to the National to see a new band named Fun. (don't worry, as they informed us during the show, the name is temporary). The band was an opener and only played for 20-30 minutes, but I waited through two insanely painful pre-openers (dark and moody and shouty) just to see this band. The reason: the lead singer of Fun is the former lead singer of my dearly departed All Time Favorite Band, the Format. You may not have heard of them. They only put out two full length albums and were never hugely famous or even relatively famous outside of their intensely devoted cult of fans. But I loved them. To quote from my All Time Favorite Movie, Almost Famous, I loved them like a true fan, which means to love a "band or a silly little piece of music so much that it hurts." I could listen to their songs every single day. I saw them live three times which in retrospect was not nearly enough. And to pay them a very strange compliment, their live shows were the closest I've come to the two N'Sync shows I went to as a kid. This is not to say their music is in any way similar. Nor did the Format dangle from giant puppet strings in their shows or perform coordinated, highly choreographed dance numbers. What I'm trying to say is that even as a (kind of) adult, I went to a Format show and sang at the top of my lungs. I didn't need to be drinking. I didn't need to be cool. For the entire length of the show, I didn't think about anything else. Their could be a war going on outside the doors of the concert halls, and I wouldn't know it. It was like tunnel vision, where the only thing I could see was that stage. Hearing those songs live, the songs I knew by heart, the songs I loved so much it hurt, being able to be surrounded by those songs for an hour or two hours, was a religious experience. It was a high, and the moment the show ended all I could think about was the next time I could see them live. And then, on a horrible day last year I read an email from the band (yes I was on their e-mail list) that said very simply and very plainly that they would not continue to make music together. And my heart broke in a very small but very definite way. Not because I wouldn't still have the songs to listen to because I would. And even though I wanted new music from them, I could subsist on the two brilliant albums they did put out. My heart broke because I thought I would never hear these songs live again, that I would never have that pure, beautiful experience. I was excited when I heard that Nate was in a new band (despite my apprehensions about that name) and I was even more excited when I heard the new band was going to play in Richmond. But even in my excitement, I didn't really expect to hear any of the Format songs. Fun started playing and I bobbed along to their songs which I enjoy a lot and could one day love. And then after about four songs, I heard a familar chord. My heart started racing, but I was sure I imagined it. And then they went right into "Snails" and there it was again, that concert tunnel vision, but made even purer and sweeter by the fact that it was completely unexpected. "Snails" ended. I grinned from ear to ear. And then it happened again. But this time they played my all time favorite Format song, probably my all time favorite song period, "The First Single". And for about four minutes, I was in heaven. Nothing else mattered. The stress from Thailand planning faded away. The sadness from ending my nanny job disappeared. All that mattered was that song and that band and that unmistakable but rare concert moment where live music cuts right through your defenses to the very core of your being.

almost published

Back in October I took on a freelance assignment for a local Charleston magazine start-up. I interviewed the subject, completed the article, sent it to my editor and received a check in return for my services. But then the economy took a nosedive and the start-up never well, started up. I emailed the editor when the magazine's start date came and went with no sign of it on newsstands or online, but never heard back. And after a while I kind of forgot about the whole thing, until today when I was scrolling through Word documents and there it was, staring back at me, that paid for but never seen article I wrote what felt like a million years ago. And I felt bad, bad for the very nice editor who must of lost a fair amount of money on this whole thing, and who was always so enthusiastic about the project when I spoke with him on the phone. I felt bad about the article never being seen. Trust me I don't think it's some journalistic masterpiece. It's not groundbreaking or even particularly newsworthy. But writing it meant something to me. It was the first (and so far only) paid journalistic assignment I've ever received. I worked hard on it. I mountain biked for it (which if you know me you know is a lot). So this may seem a little self-indulgent and it may not interest anyone else, but I guess I'm just going to put this up here for me. Because I think no matter what direction my life goes in, this little, flawed article will always be important to me, and despite it's lack of actual publication, I want to remember it. And who knows, maybe someone from Charleston will enjoy it or get some use of it, because that's what it was supposed to do in the first place. So without further ado:

Getting Back on the Bike

For most, an average weekday morning begins with coffee, traffic, and meetings. Adam DeWitt, 25, begins his days with a 12 mile ride on the twisting dirt bike paths at Marrington Plantation, part of the Charleston Naval Weapons Station.

DeWitt, the Sales Manager at Trek Bicycle Store in Mount Pleasant, good-naturedly invited me along on one of these early morning rides, despite my confession that it had been some time since I had last ridden a bike. I arrived at Marrington Plantation on an unseasonably warm October morning with an apprehensive feeling in the pit of my stomach. Even the sight of the bicycle that DeWitt took down from the hood of his car seemed alien and imposing, with its mud caked tires and complicated looking gears. Mountain biking is one of those sports that appears intimidating from far away, an activity not for the out of shape or faint of heart. If I hadn’t ridden a bike, period, in several years how would I ever survive mountain biking through woods with all kinds of obstacles in my path-tree trunks, creeks, ditches, small animals? Yet my journalistic integrity was at stake, so I hopped on the bike, strapped on my helmet, and set off with Adam leading the way. What I discovered is that, as so often happens in life, the old adages prove true. Once you’ve ridden a bike, you can’t really forget how to do it. And according to DeWitt, the reasons for mountain biking are endless.

“There’s technology in it, art in it, simplicity in it. It’s good for the environment,” explains Adam at the end of our bike ride as he loads the bikes back onto the top of his car. Despite earlier apprehensions, after several miles on a bike it’s difficult to disagree.

Mountain biking has taken DeWitt, a Clemson native, far from South Carolina. He regularly competes in races in the United States, and has even traveled as far as South Africa for the Cape Epic mountain biking race, an eight-day, 600-mile stage race that has been cited as one of the world’s great endurance events. DeWitt cites Cape Epic as his favorite race despite “only really sleeping the first few nights.” He explains that these kinds of multi-day, endurance-testing races have grown a great deal within the sport of mountain biking, cropping up everywhere from Australia to Vancouver.

Yet for those whose mountain biking ambitions extend no further than the Charleston area, there are still great outlets for the sport. The epicenter of the mountain biking world may not be in the mostly flat lands of the Lowcountry, but according to DeWitt, there are several great trails in the area including the West Ashley Greenway in southwest Charleston and the Francis Marion National Forest’s Swamp Fox Trail, one of the Lowcountry’s oldest. DeWitt cites Marrington Plantation, in particular, as one the best in the area. As one piece of the 17,000 acre Charleston Naval Weapons Station in Goose Creek, Marrington Plantation offers 12 miles of mostly flat, singletrack trails that cross through scenic Lowcountry terrain. Like the West Ashley Greenway and the Swamp Fox trail, it’s open to the public with no membership required. Helmets are required.

If these convenient and beautiful trails aren’t temptation enough to figuratively and literally get back on the bike, DeWitt offers other incentives. “It’s relaxing. You can go at your own pace. It’s great for your health. It’s challenging.” And for those who can’t tell a break from a gear, there are resources a plenty in the Charleston area for mountain biking newbies. The Trek Bicycle Store offers the very latest bicycles and technology, as well as clothing, accessories and gear. If solo biking seems too daunting a task, the store offers group rides at Marrington Plantation as well as rides departing from the store’s Mount Pleasant location. For online support, the Lowcountry Fat Tire Freaks ( provide advice, tech talk, race updates, forums and more for “like-minded riders who enjoy riding off-road bikes on any trail they can.” Clearly both mountain biking veterans and rookies alike have a wealth of information and resources accessible to them in the Charleston area.

Albert Einstein famously said that “life is like riding a bicycle; to keep your balance you must keep moving.” All of our sports represent something to us, whether it’s the Zen-like calm of yoga, the brute strength of football, the elegant finesse of tennis. Biking, whether it’s a physically demanding mountain biking race or a leisurely ride through a town, is all about forward movement. Like Einstein noted, if you stop moving on a bike, you fall over. But according to bike enthusiasts like Adam DeWitt, the absence of biking from a life would result in a similar loss of balance. So if for no other reason, bike to keep moving forward-toward a healthier lifestyle, toward more environmentally conscious routines, toward a greater appreciation of the natural beauty of the Lowcountry, the beauty found on quiet trails and silent marshes. It may be a figure of speech, but getting back on the bike, taken literally, is anything but an empty metaphor.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

last nanny day

Tomorrow is my last day as a nanny to this little girl, after three plus months, Mon-Fri, 9-5. And I sort of wish I could put her in my suitcase and take her to Thailand. Because she's perfect and she loves bananas and she's insanely ticklish under her arms and she loves to boogie. And for a million other reasons this baby girl has attached herself to my heart. Being a nanny can be hard and frustrating and utterly exhausting, but because of faces like this, it can, in certain brief moments, be one of the best jobs on the planet.

i heart southland

I really like the new NBC show Southland, but it took a couple of episodes for me to realize just how much I liked it. Which is kind of awesome and refreshing. Because the trend now is for high concept shows that suck you in with sheer craziness and oh my god moments the first episode and which almost always go downhill from there. Like Heroes, a show I loved for a brief moment of time. The Heroes pilot was flashy and cool and new and whiz bang. People teleported and flew and painted the future. But after a few episodes the show just lost it. Because it wasn't built on a sturdy foundation. It was built on a particularly shiny and nifty house of cards. It was all smoke and mirrors and when that went away, well there wasn't much of a show underneath. But Southland is the polar opposite. It's the definiton of sturdy. There's really nothing flashy or shiny about it. But what it's revealed itself to be with each successive episode is a really good, solid show about cops and detectives working in Los Angeles. It's a show that could stay good and solid for years which is kind of rare nowadays. Plus it has Ryan from the OC and I will always remain loyal to any castmember from that show (except for Marissa and that surfer kid Marissa dated in season 3, Lord I hated him). And they bleep out cuss words which alone provides entertainment value. So if you haven't already, watch an episode. But better yet watch more than one. Because this show, like a lot of good entertainment, takes a little while to get a hold of you. But when it's got you, it's got you, no smoke and mirrors included.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


So apparently the company Metrobus, which runs advertising on Paris' trains and buses has banned the above ad because, wait for it, Coco Chanel, as played by the lovely Audrey Tautou, is smoking. Now, this may not seem all that hilarious if you've never been to Paris, but if that is the case then let me tell you that the second you walk out of Charles de Gaulle airport you literally enter tobacco land. Everyone smokes. They smoke at bars, they smoke in public, they smoke throughout meals, I'm talking in between every bite. I wouldn't have been surprised to see a baby smoking while I was there. It's just this ubiquitous part of French culture. I might as well have chain-smoked for the entire four months I was there, because for all extents and purposes a walk through that beautiful city filled my lungs full of cigarette smoke each and every time. So for this company to get all a flutter about the corrputing potential of Ms. Tautou smoking in an advertisement is more than a little hysterical. And the second inadverdently hillarious part about them banning this rather tasteful and elegant ad is that the rest of the ads floating around Paris are legitimately twisted and dirty and would make most Americans shriek and clutch their pearls. I distinctly remember a Dolce and Gabbana ad where half naked women lay prostrate on the floor, their eyes expressionless and blank and pretty much drugged out, while similarly half naked men crouched over them in menacing stances. They have ads like that which as far as I can tell are trying to sell roofies as much as fancy clothing, and ads with topless women (like in broad daylight at metro stops) and yet an ad that shows a cigarette, well zut alors and mon dieu! (and that's pretty much all the French that's left in me after eight plus years of study)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

seriously texas?

Had to share this op-ed column from the NY Times, about those tea parties (which I might have delicately and very politely touched on in an earlier post) and the Texas governor's talk of secession. Because there are people out there who applaud this kind of talk, who think it's patriotic to openly consider breaking off from one's country and abandoning one's citizenship and homeland. And that confuses and saddens me, because it's one thing to disagree with a leader and it's another thing to take that disagreement and bitterness and anger and turn it into something ugly and cowardly, something fueled by this mob mentality and a tide of complete and unnecessary hysteria. And what saddens me even more are the people, the leaders, who egg this kind of feeling on. So governor of Texas, in true Colbertian fashion, I'm putting you on notice. And I could not explain why in any better words than this column by Gail Collins does. Here's a taste of it and the link to read the whole thing.

"And what about my country, right or wrong? Weren’t there complaints, some from Texan quarters, during the last election that Barack Obama seemed insufficiently up front about his love of country? Isn’t threatening to dissolve the union over the stimulus package a little less American than failure to wear a flag pin?

Remember the time when Michelle Obama said, in a moment she spent an entire campaign trying to take back, that 2008 was the first time she could remember ever feeling really proud of her country? Can you imagine how the conservative base would have reacted if she said that it was the first time she didn’t feel like renouncing her citizenship?

And how, by the way, can you stand at a rally waving the American flag while yelling “Secede”? It’s like an employer handing out “worker of the week” certificates to employees who just learned that he was moving the plant to Mexico."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

this week I loved:

This week I loved:

(Mondays at 8pm on NBC)-sweet, goofy, funny, warm, quirky, clever-this awesomely casted and generally awesome show is all of those things and it makes me incredibly sad that it isn't insanely popular. I can safely say it's one of about three shows currently on television that I truly and deeply love. Plus Zachary Levi is possibly the cutest thing on television (well apart from Kris Allen, but more on him in a second)

The start of the clay court tennis season. It's hard to catch this live because most of the clay court tournaments are in Europe, and not all of my favorite players excel on the dirt, but on a purely visual level there is something so singularly arresting about the sight of tennis played on a red clay court. The crisp whites of shirts and shoes, the yellow pop of the balls, the straight white lines, all of it becomes bolder and more defined against the backdrop of burnt orange earth. And there are few still images that more simply or quietly define the nature of a sport than the sight of a tennis player's socks after a clay court match, the once spotless white covered in red. It's more telling than sweat or a scoreline. Right there, written on their socks, is the entire narrative of the game.

Deadliest Catch. The most recent season premiered on Tuesday and like all the seasons before it, it's freaking awesome. I have no idea why this show works. On paper a documentary about crab fishing sounds a little well, dull. But then you watch and you see what these guys actually do and the conditions they do it in. And it's not just the drama and the danger and the giant Bering Sea waves or massive chunks of ice. It's the stories of these hardened, weathered, salty, foul mouthed guys and the way they create lives and relationships amidst all those things. Last season I watched in utter captivation as Captain Phil grew sick on the boat and deliberated about whether or not he should turn back to seek medical care and jeopardize the earning potential of his boat. I cared about this big old bear of a man and it wasn't The Real Housewives of NYC (which I do watch incidentally) and women arguing about a tennis match. It was this guy's life and his livelihood. It was about his two boys who were on the boat and his fear of leaving them and letting them and the rest of the crew down. And on Tuesday night I teared up when Phil got news from his doctor that he still wasn't ready to fish and he had to stand on the dock and watch his boat, the Cornelia Marie, and his boys and his fellow fishermen, sail away without him, not knowing if he would ever sail again. And it's pretty incredible that we as viewers get to witness a moment like that. This show is just 100% human drama in a way that no other "reality" show is. There's nothing fake or forced or contrived. You're just on this journey with people who are working and living their lives with absolutely authenticity, and the camera is doing what it's supposed to do but which it rarely ever does, witness with interfering, observe without creating artifice. And that's art. Plus it's pretty damn entertaining.

And Kris Allen on American Idol. Without a doubt he is my favorite contestant this season and one of my favorites of any season. Except for one Don Henly related mistep, he has been flawless. When he sang the song "Falling Slowly" from Once this past week I got chills it was so effortlessly, sparsely beautiful. Now I know what you're probaby thinking. I only like him because he's as cute as a puppy times baby pandas divided by rainbows and sunshine. And the fact that he is adorable has not gone unnoticed. But, and I'm being honest here, his cuteness is only one tiny reason I love him. I just think he's incredibly talented and I think he hasnt been as heralded as Adam (I like his slow songs but his fast songs kind of scare me) or even Danny because he doesn't feel the need to sing every note as though he's trying to strangle it into submission with the force of his lungs. He's subtle and restrained and he doesn't sing like he's in a high school talent show (ahem Lil Rounds and Danny Gokey) where the biggest voice wins. And maybe that means he gets overlooked and underestimated by the judges, but I think he's wonderful. If he put out an album tomorrow I would go out and buy it based solely on the strength of his AI performances. And okay, fine, he's so cute I just want to squeeze him.

If you want to see for yourself go here. I couldn't find an embeddable video because the American Idol legal nazis have been working extra hard this season on Youtube. But this is off the official site and well worth the click.

So all in all, a lot of things to love this past week. And I have tomorrow off, the first day off in a while and one that is supposed to be absolutely gorgeous. So my plan is basically a patio somewhere, drinks, and lots of sunshine :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

because I didn't want to end tonight on an angry note

I present you with this, something absolutely beautiful.

Here's the article I first heard about it through, from

Susanboyletalent_l "I'm still stuck on Susan Boyle, and still weeping. I suppose that's so 24 hours ago, and I should be thinking instead about how Mel Gibson's divorce might affect his box-office cred with conservative Catholics. Instead, I play the YouTube clip over and over of Boyle, the frumpy, middle-aged British lady who marched out on the stage of the national TV show Britain’s Got Talent this past weekend. She bided her time through the judgmental hoots and snickers of the studio audience and judges (headed by international snickerer-in-chief Simon Cowell). She sang "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miserables. And she brought a worldwide audience to their feet -- to her feet -- with the grandeur of her voice.

I'll get back to pondering how Vin Diesel's future might change with the success of Fast & Furious soon enough, but right now I'm pondering why the experience of watching and listening to Ms. Boyle makes so many viewers cry, me among them. And I think I've got a simple answer, at least for me: In our pop-minded culture so slavishly obsessed with packaging -- the right face, the right clothes, the right attitudes, the right Facebook posts -- the unpackaged artistic power of the unstyled, un-hip, un-kissed Ms. Boyle let me feel, for the duration of one blazing showstopping ballad, the meaning of human grace. She pierced my defenses. She reordered the measure of beauty. And I had no idea until tears sprang how desperately I need that corrective from time to time.

Yep. Simple as that. That's why I weep. What's your excuse?"

And here's the link:

(couldn't embed but it's worth the click)

shut up

So apparently tomorrow, on April 15th, Tax Day, all across the nation, small groups of people will be holding tea parties to protest the "'outrageous spending using the economic stimulus money and federal spending on bailouts by the Obama administration" (from an article by a local Palm Beach NBC affiliate).

Okay. Hmm. How do I phrase this politely? Let me try to formulate my thoughts into the most cordial of terms. Taking deep breaths. Counting to ten.

Okay, I'm ready.

Dear "Tea Party" Protesters,


Now, I do not say this because I think it's ridiculous to have serious qualms about how bailout/stumulus money is spent. By all means have your qualms. We as tax payers should all have qualms when billions of dollars are thrown around.

The reason I so delicately say, what was it now, oh yeah, SHUT UP! is for two reasons.

1) The tea party theme is stupid. No, stupid is too mild a word. It's mind numbingly, soul destroyingly idiotic. Yeah, I get that you're trying to play on the whole Boston Tea party thing, cast yourself in the role of brave patriots standing up to a "tyrannical" government. I'm sure tomorrow you, hypothetical tea partier, when you leave your house, will have a smug little smile on your face because you think the tea party idea is so clever and witty. But that's okay. What makes my skin crawl, what makes me want to die a little inside, is that you think what you're doing is noble and patriotic and in the tradition of our founding fathers. Basically what you have in common is TEA. And that's about it. They were protesting taxation yes, but here's the important part if you were paying attention in history class, taxation WITHOUT REPRESENTATION. You have represention you dumb farts. You're protesting the fact that your taxes might be raised and you have that right, but the reason this "protest" is absolutely ridiculous is because things like taxes and government spending, that's up to our democratically elected leaders who we DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED. So don't try to lump this in with people who were protesting an absolute monarch who denied them any kind of say in their government. Your little protest basically just amounts to whining. So yeah, shut up!

2) The fact that you're protesting the stimulus under this new "tyrannical" Obama administration. I object to this for one simple reason. You may not remember, but only a few short months ago, under the Bush administration, you know the one that wasn't evil and socialist, that president passed a huge spending bill called the bailout. So if you're going to protest the idea of a government stimulus, then at least get your facts right, and at least get off this whole Obama is a socialist kick because really, it's just tired and cliched and makes me think you can't come up with anything more original. Why not try calling President Obama a fascist or an anarchist? Any kind of ist really. Get out of this cold war mentality and spice up your rhetoric a little.

And yeah I get that you're angry because if Senator McCain had won I would be angry too. And there are a ton of legitimate reasons to be angry with our government in general and with bailout or stiumuls plans in principle. But if you're going to get angry, then at least come up with a better way of protesting than dumb ass, ill concieved tea parties. Why not wait until the next election, whether it's local or midterm or whatever, use the best tool at your disposal for change and vote.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

I just watched the most amazing thing ever.

" Pax (the dog in the prison program) gave me freedom. He made me feel normal and alive again. He gave me freedom inside these walls."
-one of the inmates involved in the Puppies Behind Bars prison program

Okay, so I just watched the most amazing thing ever. But first a preface: you know in the movie Juno, how the step-mom (played by the wonderful Allison Janney) is obsessed with dogs but since she can't have a dog in her house she just spends all of her time cutting out pictures of them from magazines and making collages? Well, I think that's kind of who I'm becoming. I haven't made any collages (not yet-give me time) but I am absolutely starving for dogs in my life . I had dogs when I was really little, but from age nine on, my family didn't own a dog. And after a while, I sort of forgot what it was like to be around dogs all the time. I convinced myself I might even be a cat person, despite the fact that the cat I begged for and was given for Christmas sort of became my mom's cat by default because well, I'm not a cat person. I've never been. I realized this my senior year of college when my roomie got a dog, a wonderful, loving, silly, sweet dog named Summer who I fell in love with. Despite the fact that she ate (two) of my phones, several sweaters (including the only 100% cashmere sweater I've ever owned) and pooped on my floor on a couple of occasions, I loved her. She made my senior year warmer and fuzzier and happier just by the virtue of her floppy eared, drooling presence in my apartment.

And then senior year ended, I moved to a different apartment, one without a dog, and the withdrawal started. It was moderate at first. I might have found myself staring a little too long at dogs on the street on a few occasions. Perhaps I went on a few times, just for fun, of course. But as time has gone on, the withdrawal has grown more and more severe, to the point where if I see a particularly adorable puppy on the street, I have to physically restrain myself from dog-napping it. I can't walk past those little SPCA sidewalk thingies on Saturdays anymore because if I read one more of those sad, little dog life stories, I'm just going to end up adopting them all on the spot. And that's not good, because as much as I want a dog, as much as my soul is begging for a dog, I'm not in the place in my life where I can get one. I'm going to Thailand, for God's sake. That alone should slap some sense into me. But despite all of my mind's logical arguments, my heart just wants a sweet, furry animal to curl up with at night. And so to at least partially fulfill some of my dog obession, I've been watching a lot of dog shows on TV, like a lot of them.

I've previously mentioned my Cesar Milan habit on this blog. I could never get my fill of his calm and heavily accented wisdom on the ways of pooches. I love watching him go into a house with berserk, hyperactive dogs and within hours completely change their behavior. I love his position that there are no bad dogs, no dogs beyond saving, that "problem" dogs are more often than anything the victims of humans who don't know how to handle them. Same goes for It's Me or the Dog and the British dog-trainer, Victoria. I love the show, Dogtown, about a shelter that takes in last resort dogs and no matter how much damage has been done to them, refuses to give up on them. It makes me cry every single time. The last episode I saw featured a former Ethiopian street dog named Haley who had been horribly abused but who was well on her way to being adoptable again. And if anything proves how amazing dogs are, it's that. Take a human, treat he or she the way some dogs have been treated, and they would be broken forever. They'll never trust again or love the same way. But dogs' hearts are never completely closed. They want to love and trust and the only thing standing in the way are stupid people who take advantage of that loyalty and helplessness.

But I digress. All of this talk of dogs and my dog obsession came up because of another dog show I saw for the first time tonight. It was on Animal Planet and it's called Cell Dogs. And it's basically about dogs who go to prison. Now at first glance that might sound awful and sad and weird, but it's the opposite. It's absolutely amazing. Apparently, and I didn't know this, there are these programs all over the country where dogs are put into prisons for the benefit of the dogs and the prisoners. The show focused on several of these programs. Some of them took puppies, put them in a prison for a year to a year and half with the ultimate purpose of training them to be guide dogs for deaf or blind people. Or as seen in the clip at the bottom, these puppies might one day go to wounded war veterans. The puppies are matched up with an inmate and they live in their cells and are their responsibility until the training is done. And these are tough guys, like one of them had full facial tatoos and some of them have murdered people or have done really horrible things. And you just expect them to be these monsters. But then these guys open their mouth to talk about the dogs and the program and what it's meant to them, and it's unbelievable. It's literally changed their lives and given them a new kind of purpose and hope in the bleakest of environments. In this horrible place, where so many people turn hard and cruel, these men are going in the opposite direction because of dogs. They're opening themselves up and taking care of another life and recieving unconditional love in return. Because the dogs could care less what these guys have done. All the dog cares about is kindness and someone who will scratch their belly and keep their food dish full and let them snuggle with them. And for someone who the rest of society sees only as a criminal to recieve that kind of love and affection, well it obviously makes a tremendous impact.

There were these other programs in youth detention centers dogs had been returned to shelters because of behavior problems or were in shelters because they had been abandoned or abused or neglected. And these poor dogs were put in the prisons to learn how to be around people again, to either learn to behave or learn to trust again and get to the point where they could get adopted. These kids who were all in gangs, who in the outside world were all about toughness and respect and violence, were given dogs to teach and train. And that sounds like such a simple thing, and maybe if I hadn't seen this with my own eyes I wouldn't believe that it could really make a change, but just in the few short clips I saw, you could see the change. This one kid who had been in a gang talked about how hard it was for him to praise the dog at first, because that outward show of emotion just wasn't allowed in the world outside the youth detention center. But he talked about how he had gotten used to it and then grown to love it, how he could see the change in himself because of his work with the dogs. And whoever thought of this program or any of these programs deserves some kind of award because just think of how much good they do. First of all take the dogs-these are dogs who would have been euthanized, who were deemed unfit to be around people, but they're getting a second chance and learning how to be good. And this is corny as hell, but it's the same thing with these kids. They're getting another chance to be good again.

And it's the same with the adult jails. Yes, jail is punishment. Yes, it should be hard. But it shouldn't turn people into monsters. And in a lot of prisons, that's what it does. The most horrific crimes I've ever heard about have usually been carried out by people who have already served jail time. Jail, this institution that's supposed to take a criminal, let them serve their time, and then put them back into society as better people, instead turns people hard. It shreds whatever tie these criminals have to humanity. It wrecks them and spits them back out as far more dangerous members of society than they were when the went in. And that's screwed up and it's awful and it has to be fixed. Prison shouldn't be a picnic, but a part of prison, especially for inmates due to be released back into society, a necessary and intrinsic part has to be rehabilitation. And I know that's not easy, but these dog programs really seem to be a viable answer. You take someone who is in an institution, surrounded by walls, separated from all family and friends, and you give them a life to take care of, you give them a life to be responsible for, and you enable them to stay human. They're still serving time, but now there's a good chance that time isn't going to twist them and distort them and change them for the worse. And while they're training and taking care of these dogs, they're making an impact, giving back to society, which is the whole point isnt it? From these programs you get guide dogs which can vastly improve someone's quality of life. You get dogs that were going to be euthanized but which now can be adopted and which are obedient and well trained and full of love. And the whole thing is just wonderful.

I wish I could describe these tough looking men and women and kids, people who talked about the murders they had done or the crimes they had committed, and the way these dogs just heal them. I know that's going back to the corny talk, but I can't help it. This show made me a corny person. It made me see how powerful true rehabilitation can be. And the thing is, prisoners might not listen to a therapist. They could probably care less what a trained psychologist has to say about their issues. But take a dog, with their wet noses and big eyes and wagging tales, and entrust the responsiblity for that dog's training to the prisoners and tell them that these dogs will one day change someone else's life, and that's recovery. In this worldess way, dogs allow these people to access the empathy and kindness that has in some cases been buried for years underneath toughness and anger and selfishness. It's the simplest kind of relationship, but it does something for these people that no amount of complex therapy could ever do. And it makes me hopeful and it makes me eager to find out more about these programs and do whatever I can do to support them. Prisons shouldnt take broken people and break them further and right now I think most of them do just that. Prison shouldn't just be a place where people lift weights all day and stew and grow more and more isolated. Prisons, in the best possibe world, should teach people to be good. It should punish but it should never damage. It should allow inmates the chance to contribute to society in a positive way and do good as step toward atonement. And irony of ironies, it seems that the responsibility of teaching a dog to be good might just be a viable answer. Put dogs in prison and you just might just make the place human enough to fix someone now and again.

If you don't believe me watch either of these clips and see for yourself how unbelievable these programs are. You'll probably cry a little but you're also going to feel really hopeful and good inside at the end of it.

Monday, April 6, 2009

thank God for Rachel Maddow

I'm surrounded by conservatives. And that's okay. My family is conservative, some of my best friends are conservative and I live in a conservative city. I respect conservatives. I respect their view points. But the truth is, ever since I graduated from college, I've really missed being around other like-minded people. I've missed being young and passionate and liberal without having to constantly defend myself. I like debating. I like to argue. But sometimes I feel like that's all I do now whenever politics come up. So rarely in my current life do I just get to talk and agree. Sometimes I don't want to be one against multitudes. Sometimes I don't want to be seen as the lone liberal or democrat in a group of people. Sometimes I just want to fit in and not have to argue. Maybe nannying just makes me too tired to have that much fight in me right now.

And that's why I just have to say thank God for Rachel Maddow. Today in particular I found my political leanings under attack. And I get it. I get that conservatives don't like President Obama and are still stung that he won and blah di blah. And so they lash out and attack his wife for being popular and wearing (gasp) dresses that show off her arms. They attack him for (again gasp) admitting that the US has at some points in our history acted arrogantly (because God forbid that after Iraq and Vietnam we ever admit any kind of mistake) .They attack anything and everything and I get it, because I would probably do the same if Senator McCain had won. But right now I see so many of President Obama's choices and actions and feel even more sure of my decision to vote for him and fight for him and believe in him. He's talking to the Muslim world like they're humans instead of cartoon villains. He's talking about a future without nuclear weapons, a future where we don't have to worry that one of our cities could just be blown off the map. He's talking about opening up our world instead of continuing to close it. He's talking about all of these things and I'm just so hopeful, despite the bumps and bruises thus far in his presidency. And that's not because I'm positive everything will work out. But I think he's making bold and big of enough choices where maybe for the first time in a long time things could work out. They could fall apart of course. But I hope, I hope and I hope and I hope, that things will change for the better. And I just need to be able to think that without having this constant barrage of negativity.

And I can think that way when the Rachel Maddow Show is on. Because she puts into incredibly articulate words all of the thoughts that are just mumbo jumbo in my own disoriented head. She's funny and her show is thoughtful and smart and calm (and calm is a rarity in this hysterical cable news world of ours-I mean come on Glenn Beck). And I feel like I'm back in college (yes all of you Republicans, your worst fears are confimed-college campuses are havens for liberals and hippies and hooligans) and I don't have to be angry and fight and argue. I can just be happy and hopeful and surrounded by voices that feel the same way.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...