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Close Reading in Kindergarten
Sep 18th, 2017 by Dr Karma

My kindergarten teacher taught us an old rhyme:
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing;
Wasn’t that a dainty dish,
To set before the king?

A Conversation From My Youth:

Me: What does “dainty” mean?
My teacher: Small.
Me: A pie with 24 blackbirds would be really big. Are we saying this wrong? Should we say “undainty”?
[Long pause.]
My teacher: No one else has ever had a problem with this.

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W3 Story 2: William Tell
Sep 13th, 2017 by Dr Karma

My (Grand)Daddy spent a lot of time on his grandparents’ dairy farm in Michigan. His grandmother only spoke Finnish, and he only spoke English, but he said they still understood each other.

John and Mary Waltonen, my great-great grandparents from Finland

Not surprisingly, he was an adventurous child. Once, after having been to the picture shows, he tried to jump off the barn, thinking that an umbrella would slow his fall, as it had for a cartoon character.

My grandfather as a young man, with his younger sisters and parents.

But my favorite story from his youth is this one.

He played William Tell with one of his sisters–putting an apple on her head–and getting the bow and arrow ready.

He shot her in the cheek.

And then, somehow, he managed to convince his other sister to let him try on her.

And he shot her in the cheek.

The moral of this story: Waltonen women cannot resist that man.

Today, he would have been 89. If there’s an afterlife, I hope he’s with his sisters today and that all arrows shoot straight and that cartoon physics rule the land.

A very bad boy and his trusting sisters

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An Octoroon at CapStage
Sep 12th, 2017 by Dr Karma

An Octoroon won an Obie for Best New Play a couple of years back. It’s now playing in Sacramento, at CapStage.

I love this play and this production.

The Octoroon was an 1859 play/melodrama by Dion Boucicault–it was extremely popular, and was used in the North to further the abolitionist cause. Using the image of the octoroon was common–those who were 1/8ths black could usually pass. Thus, the audience would see a white person being treated like a black one, which hopefully lead them to question such treatment all together. Female educated octoroons were especially sympathetic–and bound for tragedy–no white man was supposed to love them (and laws in some places forbade it), and audiences believed that an almost white woman shouldn’t be with a fully black man.

It’s an old story, one that we don’t tell that much anymore.

That’s not at all to say this new version is dated–it’s completely relevant and terrifyingly familiar.

An Octoroon is a postmodern revision by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins–it’s clever and funny and satiric and heartbreaking. The melodrama–and the octoroon–are still there, but Jacobs-Jenkins gives a voice to the other slaves in peril, asks us to ask why we’re laughing, and thrusts us into contemplative, uncomfortable silence.

The current production (running through October 1st), directed by Judith Moreland, is powerful and has a strong cast (I couldn’t take my eyes off of Alexandra Barthel when she was on stage). The intimacy of this theatre space adds a great deal to the meta aspects of the play. When the actors turn to us, we are only a few feet away. There’s no where to hide–they can see us when we laugh, when we grimace, when we give them their well-deserved applause.

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The Continuing Adventures of Karma’s OnLine Dating: Entry 73
Sep 9th, 2017 by Dr Karma

Last week, a 35 year old messaged me, asking if I dated younger men.

I said that he wasn’t all that younger than I was, and that I date guys older too. I was trying to signal that a 7 year difference isn’t a huge deal, one way or another, at my age.

Him: So you like older as well like daddy?

I explained I didn’t date people my father’s age, no. Didn’t say: and I just buried my 88 year old daddy.

Him: Ever role play invest

That threw me for a loop. My first thought: Banking role play? Loan officer role play?

And then I understood.

He was interested in incest role play.

Not only am I really not into incest play, I am offended that someone only seven years younger thinks I should be playing his mom.

Ewww and ugh.

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A Bad Start: On Growing Up in the South
Aug 30th, 2017 by Dr Karma

I am 14. My beloved (grand)daddy says, “You need to have white babies; our race is dying out.”

Where do I start?

Not “how do I answer that?”

How do I start to tell you this?

My (grand)daddy is recently deceased. I am mourning. Atlas dropped the world.

But he said that.

When I told my mother, she said he didn’t used to be racist. She and Mindy have told me about how when Mindy was a teenager and was working in a store that catered mostly to African-Americans, she was told they wouldn’t be upset if she dated one.

I have heard it so many times.

It’s an alibi.

And now I’m the prosecutor.

Why wouldn’t I have been allowed to?

Why did you hide your non-white boyfriends and lovers (they were roommates) from them?

Why did they have to say it if it were true?

How do I start this?

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

No one in my family would call themselves racists.

Some context: my maternal grandmother was born and raised in the South. She is an official Daughter of the Confederacy. She married my (grand)daddy, who was a Yankee in the Air Force. After he retired, they built a house on the land she inherited and settled in to a very insular, very Southern, existence.

My grandmother would lower her voice when she said the “n” word–even though she lived in the woods where no one would hear her. I presumed she got quiet because she knew what she was doing was wrong.

When I moved to California, my grandmother asked me if there were many black people where I lived. She was relieved when I said my town was mostly white and Asian. “Oh, they’re okay.”

A few years before her death, she stopped lowering her voice when she said the word.

I wanted to blame FOX News, which was convincing her that her President was not hers–that he wasn’t even American.

But that’s not where it started.

And she still would have said she wasn’t racist.

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

My son is 5. I am called into his kindergarten. He has been saying he doesn’t like the janitors because they’re black.

He spends a lot of time with his great-grandparents.

I move to California. My grandparents try to guilt me into leaving him with them. Permanently.

Then, my son is 8. We are watching a show–the teachers on it are talking to the principal about a student who has said “the N word.”

My son finally looks at me, frustrated.

“What are they talking about? Nipple?”

And I have to say it, to explain it to him. Grateful that he hadn’t heard it yet some other way.

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

Where do I start?

I am in kindergarten. It is 99% black.

I come home and tell my mother that I and a boy in my class will get married. He is my boyfriend.

She tells me he can’t be, because my grandmother wouldn’t like it.

It was unlikely that I would have married him. I can’t even remember what we had in common.

But I was transferred to another school–one that was 99% white.

(The South is still pretty segregated, y’all!)

It didn’t occur to me that my mother should have told my grandmother to mind her own business about my boyfriends.

Or that my grandmother was her excuse.

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

I am 13.

I hear my stepfather getting his Great Dane riled up to go outside.

Usually, he says, “Wanna catch a squirrel?!?” and the dog practically pees itself with excitement.

Today, he says, “Wanna catch a nigger?!?”

“What?!?”

He hadn’t known I was behind him, that I’d heard.

He tells me that it was what his parents always said. I make him swear to never say that word in front of my little brother.

Usually, I was punished–severely and physically–for talking back.

This is the only day ever that I give an order and get away with it.

Because he knows it’s wrong.

It’s years later, thinking back on this, when talking to my students about the importance of language and the words we use, that I realize my mother must have known he used that word.

After class, I remember other things he’d said. Like “Cleopatra couldn’t have been the most beautiful woman in the world. She was black.”

And how no one corrected him on Ptolemaic history or racism.

Or talked back.

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

When I was little, I had a Dukes of Hazard night shirt. It said, “My heart belongs to Bo.”

A couple of years ago, in my stand-up, I tried to make the point that racism was alive and well in America. (Until recently, I had white Californian students tell me there was no racism because they’d had multicultural days in high school, where they had an ethnic food fair.)

I asked people to remember The Dukes of Hazard. The Duke brothers are moonshiners–you know, drug dealers, with a slutty-dressing cousin, and they spend every episode running from the cops in a car with the confederate flag on it called The General Lee. It’s a comedy. White America loved it.

“Just some good old boys / Never meaning no harm / Beat all you ever saw / They been in trouble with the law / Since the day they was born.”

If there’s no racism, we can do cross-racial casting.

Imagine that show–except the boys are black. They run illegal drugs. Their cousin dresses like a ho. They run from the cops in the Malcolm X.

“Just some good old . . .”

Bang!

Cause they would have been shot in the credits.

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

My grandma used to say, “Our family didn’t have slaves. We were too poor.”

And thus she was free, she thought, from recrimination. Even though her ancestors had fought for the South.

(My grandfather bought a certificate, from Rush Limbaugh, I think, that absolved him, as a white man, for everything. It was signed by a black man.)

But my grandfather was a genealogist.

One night, he shows me what he’s found–that one of grandma’s ancestors had owned at least one slave.

“But they treated her just like family,” my grandma interjects.

I wonder how she can be so sure, since a moment ago, she was convinced there was no such person.

But this narrative is important. She needs her story to lead to a South without racism that she can see, so she can be proud to be Southern, so she can be Republican. All these things have to be unrelated.

That way, it can be the race’s fault when she doesn’t like them.

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

I am in my thirties. My grandmother and I are sitting in the car, while my mother is in the store, getting my grandmother’s prescription.

I don’t talk about politics with my family at this point. I’ve escaped, after decades of feeling like a misfit, in both my family and my society. I try to enjoy the few times I go home. To ignore the framed pictures of the current and former recent Republican presidents over the dining room table. To ignore the framed picture of a donkey with a red X drawn over it hanging by the washing machine.

Thus, I do not know and have no memory of how this came about–I remember it slapping me:

“All abortion should be illegal unless a white woman gets raped by a black man.”

I try to talk about abortion as necessary, to find common ground about how when it’s illegal, doctors aren’t even trained to take dead babies out of women, how some women who have lost their children have to live with a rotting corpse inside them–to carry it to term.

It is all I can do, because my mind is whirring. It repeats the statement all day.

“All abortion should be illegal unless a white woman gets raped by a black man.”

Is it that the child will be mixed? I know she “feels sorry” for mixed race children, since “they don’t belong anywhere.” In her world.

But no. Because almost all mixed race abortions would still be illegal.

“All abortion should be illegal unless a white woman gets raped by a black man.”

Not a Mexican? No, because she’s probably not even thinking about any other races. Many times, in the South, all ethnicities/races disappear from consciousness. It is literally black and white down there.

“All abortion should be illegal unless a white woman gets raped by a black man.”

But this isn’t about rape. Because a black woman can still be raped by a white man and have to carry it.

“All abortion should be illegal unless a white woman gets raped by a black man.”

I am in bed, not sleeping, when it hits me.

If I were raped by a white guy, she would of course be upset. But the life of that baby would take precedence.

But if I were raped by a black man, and were forced to carry it, and maybe to raise it, then someone might misunderstand–they might think, if they saw me with the child, that I’d had sex with a black guy on purpose.

How would they know I’d been raped, since survivors don’t usually wear t-shirts attesting to the fact?

(In my mind, these t-shirts are airbrushed. Cause it’s the South.)

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

President Obama is running for President.

I ask my mother to send me some instant grits.

(I do not think these things are related.)

When the grits come, they are accompanied by an airbrushed (read: homemade) shirt.

The shirt features a confederate flag.

The call:

“Well, I know you’re not going to wear it inside.”

“I’m not a racist inside the house.”

“It’s not racist; it’s heritage.”

I stop.

I try again, rogerian-style.

“I’m an American. Why would you expect me to wear the symbol of people who didn’t want to be American any more? Who told America to go fuck itself?”

“Alright.”

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

Obama has just been elected.

My mother: Well, now we’re going to lose our rights as white women.

Me: Which ones?

Long pause.

Silence.

Me: Cause as a white, straight, educated American woman, I have more rights than most people have ever had. I have more rights than some of my friends have right now. Which ones can he take?

Silence.

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

Obama is serving his term. My mother is taking care of her parents, my grandparents.

They encourage her to plant her garden. They think they’ll need it, when Obama comes for their guns. When he starts a race war.

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

Here are some things that are true.

1. I miss my (grand)daddy so much. And even though this part of him disappoints me, I am deathly hurt by the thought that I disappointed him, as I know I have.

I have always cried–for hours–at the end of Mulan, when the father expresses pride for his daughter.

2. Now that my grandmother has died, my answer to the Pivot question about what you’d like to hear at the Pearly Gates has changed.

I’d like to hear, “Well, hi, Karma!” in my grandmother’s voice, the way she said it every time I called home.

No one has ever sounded so perfectly and consistently happy to hear my voice.

3. Typing this, now, has made me cry.

4. My family is normal in the South.

And they are polite to people’s faces.

They are not seen as extremists there at all.

They are not the people who start to whisper when you’re at the park having a picnic with a black man, the whispers getting louder, until the air starts to crackle, and you pack up early–carefully, fearful that if you move to fast, they’ll chase you.

5. My mother said that all people were equal when I was young. With some her words.

6. When people wonder where all this racism and hatred have come from, I’m surprised. Didn’t you hear them whispering? Didn’t you see them start to not lower their voices when Obama got elected?

7. When people try to tell me that the alt-right isn’t really racist, that they’re just angry because they’re poor, I shake my head. Did you live with them? Were you taught by them? Were you their neighbors? They, rich and poor, for all they years I’ve been alive, have said all the things at home that you’re just hearing on the internet now.

8. I have benefited from white privilege. When I was treated well the two times I’ve been pulled over. That I’ve only been pulled over two times. That I could walk down the hall in high school and not get asked for my pass. That I wasn’t asked for references when I tried to rent my first apartment. “You don’t need those.” Everyone else in the complex was black.

7. When I tell people these stories, they say, “how are you you?” And I don’t know. But I’m still part of them. And they’re still part of me.

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

The statues need to come down.

My grandmother was a Daughter of the Confederacy. Technically, that means I am too, though I’m not registered. It’s not what I’m proud about–it’s not about who I am.

The statues need to come down.

When my relatives say taking them down is a liberal attempt to erase history, my eyes roll so hard my head hurts.

One of the best field trips in school was to a museum of the Civil War. I liked it because I learned a lot — like where “bite the bullet” comes from. I don’t remember the South being celebrated there–and that’s how this war should be remembered–as a rebellion to study, not to celebrate. Moving the statues to museums isn’t going to erase this history.

(Contrast this to a teacher I had in elementary school–an elderly woman–who told us lots of stories about how the South was better in Plantation days. Yes, this was the 99% white school.)

When my relatives say taking the statues down is an attack on their way of life, I can feel the blood vessels in my chest constrict.

What way of life is in danger? They’ll still be able to put way too much sugar in their tea, to fry absolutely everything, to deny science, to wear confederate clothing, to think racist thoughts and to say racist things.

It’s just that all of those actions have consequences.

When I was younger and I would see a “The South will Rise Again” bumper sticker, I would joke, “And do what?!?”

But it’s not funny at all. They white Southerners are rising again–and what they’re trying to do, by their own admission, is to push an agenda to ensure the prosperity of the white (Christian, straight) race. They want every one else gone or else so subservient that they might as well be. Race traitors like me deserved to be destroyed too, since I’m not helping their cause.

The “American” “way of life” they’re talking about losing is one of state-sanctioned white privilege. It’s the one where your whole state puts on that airbrushed confederate flag t-shirt.

It’s not about being Southern. It’s not about states’ rights. It never was.

That’s why the only “right” talked about in Confederate papers and speeches was the right to own black people.

That’s why black Southerners don’t fly the Confederate flag on their pickups.

And that’s why Nazis fly the Confederate flag in Germany, where Nazi flags are banned.

There’s a meme going around that says liberals think Southern statues “aren’t important.”

They are so important. That’s why they need to come down.

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

The KKK and the Nazis can march with assault rifles, and the cops do nothing. And the President defends them. That way of life will apparently be fine, statues or no statues.

Unless we do something.

Removing the statues is a small step, but a necessary one.

I don’t know how this started.

I just know it has to stop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Adventures of Karma’s Online Dating: Entry 72
Aug 26th, 2017 by Dr Karma

A guy who only had pictures on his profile messaged me this week:

Him: Hi there! How are you?

Me: Hi! Could you fill out your profile and answer some more questions? I’m on OKC instead of Tindr so I’ll have more than a picture to go on.
(Nice pics, by the way.)

Him: Haha no

Me: Fair enough.
Have a great day, and I hope you find what you’re looking for!
🙂

 

[I shake my head, resign myself to celibacy.]

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The Adventures of Karma’s OnLine Dating: Entry 71
Aug 23rd, 2017 by Dr Karma

Recently, I explained to a guy that I wasn’t interested since his profile was blank. This unoriginal guy lashed out with a line I hear frequently.

Just a thought, though:

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The Continuing Adventures of Karma’s OnLine Dating Entry 70: Rejection Rage
Aug 18th, 2017 by Dr Karma

When I first started dating after my long-term partnership ended, I found myself on a first date that seemed promising. Then, at the end, he let me know he was not at all interested in a second date. I was mortified. What clues had I missed? How had I misread it? The next morning, I actually sent an apology email, saying if I hadn’t been so rusty, I wouldn’t have ordered the second drink and wouldn’t have let him pay.

Cause I have manners.

A couple of weeks ago, after a few good dates, a guy wrote me to call the next one off. He said I was amazing but that he just didn’t feel enough of a connection to think it could work long-term. He was right, but of course it hurt my feelings. I wrote him back, saying only that I understood.

Cause I have manners.

Earlier this week, a guy finally stopped bothering me for a date, but did so rudely. I was nice enough to answer him and politely let him know I wasn’t interested–three times. He had to pull a “sour grapes” line: “You’re boring. bye.”

I admit it–I was being boring. I don’t strive to be engaging when I’m saying I won’t engage with someone.

And then I thought about all the guys who I think are boring.

Speaking of, I got a request from a guy with a boring profile and boring messages a little while ago. We had actually messaged before, sometime last year, but I didn’t remember.

He begged and begged for a date, and I relented. I tried to like him on the date–I really did. He was handsome. And he sounded like a good person, a sincere one.

But I somehow had to look at 17 pictures of tractors in various stages of being rebuilt.

And there were two things he said that stood out to me, and not in a good way. I mentioned the failed politician, Sarah Palin. He said that he didn’t know who she was, but that he was surprised all women weren’t supporting her, as she was a woman.

Ummmm.

He wanted another date. I almost let myself get talked into it (c’mon, give the nice farmer a chance!)–but then I thought about my resolutions, about how I didn’t get a little stomach flip when he messaged, about how I saw the prospect of lunch as a chore to do rather than anything I was excited about.

So I sent him a lovely message–one that praised his looks and generous nature, one that told him he deserved someone as excited about him as he was about them.

He told me I couldn’t possibly know if there was a spark since I hadn’t gotten to know him.

Then, with no regard for the irony of admitting we didn’t know each other, he diagnosed me, claiming that I just wanted to date “weak men” so I “can dominant [sic] them.” He said I didn’t “like real men.”

I wanted to insult him back–to tell him how boring he was, how politically uninformed he was, how sexist he sounded, how I’d been mistaken in thinking him nice.

But I didn’t.

Cause I have manners.

I wish more guys did.

We all get rejected.

How we handle it is perhaps a better insight into us than our profiles and our first date chatter.

Guys, mansplaining to me about how much I suck doesn’t make me reconsider my decision not to go on that date. It makes me reconsider ever talking to you in the first place.

 

 

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False Equivalencies
Aug 16th, 2017 by Dr Karma

Today, the world is reeling at Trump’s statement in which he compared the alt-right with anti-fascists. (He tried to coin the phrase “alt-left,” but being anti-fascist has been a mainstream position on both the sides of the political spectrum for almost a hundred years.)
Fascists now think Trump was saying the anti-fascists were worse, even–that we are somehow the terrorists.
By the way, having the KKK praise your speech while no one else is might just be a sign that you’re racist.
This morning, though, I’m thinking about false equivalencies.
Trump’s is obvious.
But the problem of Trump was partially caused by another one–remember all those people who said Clinton and Trump were equally bad?
That seemed absurd to a lot of us during the election.
Now, the absurdity is terrifyingly clear.
First there are two issues we might concede they’re close on:
Clinton was supposed to be bad because she was too cozy with bankers. Trump has, of course, appointed all those people to high positions in his administration.
Clinton was supposed to be bad because she was careless with classified information. Trump has had some problems with this as well.
As for the “she’s a liar!” charge, studies show that she’s better than most politicians. And I doubt we’d have “alternate facts” as a phrase if she’d won.
As for the “she’s a war-monger!” charge, would she be having a penis fight with Kim right now, or would she be trying to de-escalate the threat of nuclear war?
The reason many of us supported her, imperfect as she is, is because she’s on our side. Trump isn’t.
If Clinton were in:
–we wouldn’t have Pence, the guy who wants to torture gay children and who can’t trust himself around girls, as VP
–we would have a much better new justice to the Supreme Court
–most government positions currently vacant would be filled
–qualified people would be in cabinet positions
–the President wouldn’t be attacking trans people in the military
–Planned Parenthood would be better protected (along with our right to choose and with actual sex education)
–we wouldn’t have a President who continually embarrassed us around the world by being ignorant about politics or by doing inappropriate things with female leaders and first wives
–science wouldn’t be considered debatable
I could go on, but let me point out the super-obvious here.
CLINTON WOULD NOT be on the side of the white terrorists, of the KKK, of the alt-right, of the anti-semitic, of the sexists, of the Nazis.

They are not–and have never been–“equally bad.”

Let’s remember that as we think through Trump’s statements about guilt on both sides.

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The Continuing Adventures of Karma’s OnLine Dating: Entry 69: Resolutions
Aug 13th, 2017 by Dr Karma

As I’m on an academic calendar, I’m nearing the start of a new year, and I find myself making resolutions–I want to take more walks, to see more movies, to experiment with document design for my students, etc.

I have a few dating resolutions as well. A recent “meh” first date and a recent awesome first date have brought them into clearer focus.

Nobody is perfect, but . . .
1. If I shy away from giving a guy my phone number when asked, then I don’t really want that next date. I should trust my gut instead of trying to justify another date because he’s nice.
2. If he can’t keep up with me, I’m gonna be so bored, so soon.
3. If I would not recommend him to my friends, because I know what they deserve, then I should pretend to be my own friend, and counsel myself with the same love.
4. Finally (with images from Allie Brosh):

 

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