What would Jesus do?

April 2, 2014

This is an open letter to self-proclaimed Christian men who think oral contraceptives are somehow immoral.

Gentlemen:

Imagine you have a medical condition that causes you to bleed heavily while experiencing a physical sensation similar to being kicked in the lower abdomen five or six times a day, for two or three consecutive days (or more), with these flare-ups occurring every two to four weeks, depending on the severity of your condition.

Accompanying this sensation may be nausea, gastrointestinal distress, migraine headaches, depression and some degree of anemia.

In between these flare-ups, your condition causes pain in one testicle, lasting for several days and ranging in severity and character from a dull, annoying ache to a stabbing pain that takes your breath away.

That’s half of the bad news.

The good news: A drug exists that will alleviate your symptoms almost immediately and eliminate them entirely within a few months, with minimal side effects that generally dissipate within a few weeks of beginning treatment.

The other half of the bad news: Despite its therapeutic value, your employer believes this drug is immoral, so the company health insurance doesn’t cover it. If you can’t afford to pay for it out of pocket, you’ll just have to suffer. Sucks to be you.

Sound reasonable? Is it fair for your boss to use his personal beliefs as an excuse to block your access to medicine you need in order to live without frequent bouts of excruciating pain?

If your answer is “no,” then you need to stop supporting policies that seek to restrict women’s access to oral contraceptives.

Yes, some of the women taking the Pill are doing so to prevent pregnancy. But the majority (58 percent) take it at least partly for medical reasons, many of which are very, very similar to the scenario I outlined above — and 14 percent (including yours truly) take it solely for medical reasons.

Substitute the word “ovary” for “testicle” in that hypothetical situation above, and you have the biblical woman with the issue of blood.

When that woman reached out for help, Christ healed her.

Today, when she reaches out for help, the so-called “Christian” response is something like, “Suck it up, Princess; we’re not paying for your slut pills.”

If that’s your response, you probably need to spend some time studying the difference between Christians and Pharisees, because you’ve clearly mislabeled yourself.

Emily


Kick in a few bucks, please.

January 13, 2014

The Woody Guthrie Festival is pretty much the greatest thing ever. I’ve gone twice — in 2008 and 2012 — and would have gone again last summer if I’d had vacation time and gas money at that point. Joel Rafael plays there every year. So do Jimmy LaFave, Don Conoscenti and the Red Dirt Rangers. Trout Fishing in America showed up last year. Tom Paxton was there in ’98, Pete Seeger in 2000 and 2003, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in 2003, Steve Earle in 2004, and Judy Collins in 2008 and 2012.

According to the website, the festival — which is free except for the $10 parking pass — is still in the hole from last year, and they need about another $2,500 to get this year’s show off the ground. I sent ‘em the price of a couple of Judy Collins tickets tonight. I figured I owed ‘em at least that much.

If you’ve got a buck or two lying around, consider sending it to the folks in Okemah. They’re doing a great thing out there, keeping people aware of Woody Guthrie’s influence and giving folkies a place to feed their hippie souls every summer, and they could use some support to keep the party going.

Emily


Live simply

November 5, 2013

I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that said, “Live simply, that others may simply live.”

I was thinking about taking a road trip this weekend, because I have three days off instead of the usual two, but the more I thought about it, the less appealing it sounded. Tucumcari is a little out of range for a three-day weekend, and there’s nowhere else I really want to go.

I need to work on my novel, finish the coupon books I’m making my niece and nephews for Christmas, go for a couple of training runs, and repaint the hood of my car, which is woefully faded … and if I finish all that, I think I’d like to spend some time sitting around in my Birkenstocks with my guitar on my lap, playing Dylan and Cohen and Guthrie and singing quietly to myself.

While I was thinking about that, I saw this article one of my colleagues wrote, and the picture made me sad.

I bet I could fill at least one of those bare shelves for the price of two nights in a motel and a couple of tanks of gas to go somewhere I don’t particularly want to be at the moment. And really, I think I’d just like to be off by myself somewhere under the sky, singing folk songs and daydreaming. I’m sure I can find a big lichen-covered rock at Giant City or Trail of Tears or Little Grand Canyon that would be suitable for that sort of thing.

Emily


Bullying: Prologue

November 4, 2013

There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about the effect of bullying on kids. I don’t know whether it’s gotten any worse since I was a kid. I do know its consequences have become more apparent, forcing adults to pay more attention to it and make a better effort to intervene when they see it happening. The issue has come up again on my Facebook timeline because a 15-year-old boy in my dad’s hometown committed suicide last month, citing bullying as the reason.

Beginning when I was 7, and continuing for the better end of a decade, I endured near-constant ridicule by my peers.

I don’t think it occurred to me at the time that I was being bullied. In the ’80s and early ’90s, a bully was someone who shoved you down or beat you up. People who called you names weren’t bullies; they were just a pain in the ass. (As a society, we took a while to figure out that sometimes a pain in the ass is a serious injury.)

Admittedly, my ugly-duckling phase was spectacular by any metric, and asking a bunch of immature brats to overlook it would have been a wholly unrealistic request — but regardless of the relative accuracy of their comments, my peers’ tactless behavior left scars, some of which I’m just discovering 20 or 30 years later.

For instance:

I am desperately uncomfortable in social settings that involve large groups.

I rarely trust people when they compliment my appearance — and if I do believe them, my first instinct is to deflect the praise.

I have an extremely self-deprecating sense of humor.

I don’t dance.

I cuss like a sonofabitch.

I would rather chew off my own leg than let anybody see my tears.

That last bit is why I am not particularly looking forward to the project I’m about to do.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to take a closer look at each of these battle scars — partly to satisfy my own curiosity about the shapes they took, but mostly because I’m sick of hearing about kids closing the book before they get to the good parts, and if the story of how I survived a decade of verbal attacks and grew up to have the world by the tail can keep even one kid from killing himself over somebody else’s bullsh*t, then I need to suck it up and tell that story, even if it means giving up some secrets I’d rather keep.

Stay tuned. We’re finna kill some dragons.

Emily


Debunking the Beauty Myth

May 9, 2013

I’m sure by now you’re aware of the latest and most egregious attack on teenage girls’ already fragile self-esteem, but just in case you’re not, click here to find out why you’ll be boycotting Abercrombie & Fitch and its affiliates from now until the Cubs win the Series.

As much as I’d love to believe that the inevitable demise of Mike Jeffries’ career will solve the problem, the sad fact is that it probably won’t; all this hypocritical P.R.-nightmare-in-flip-flops has done for us is put a comically clueless face on a much larger issue.

Jeffries’ tone-deaf misogyny harmonizes perfectly with the other sour notes I’ve heard lately: Disney’s gratuitous attempt to sexualize Merida from Brave; InTouch’s apparent ignorance of biology; the frequent attacks on Hillary Clinton’s appearance; and the ridicule a young friend of mine endures on a daily basis because she is albino and thus has a porcelain complexion, green eyes, and gorgeous golden-red dreadlocks to go with her African-American features.

Jeffries may have articulated it the most brazenly, but his message is no different than the others’: If you are female, your value depends entirely on the extent to which your physical appearance adheres to a narrow set of standards engineered by ad executives for the specific purpose of making the largest possible number of women feel insecure enough about their appearance to want to spend money to change it.

This kind of manipulative marketing is detrimental to women because it seeks to profit at the expense of our self-worth. It’s detrimental to all of us — men and women alike — because it seeks to remove variables such as individual taste and force us to evaluate beauty exclusively on Madison Avenue’s flawed, self-serving rubric.

I remember a comment someone once made about my favorite singer: “Judy Collins isn’t pretty, but she’s striking.”

I disagree with the first half of that assessment, but I think it illustrates the difficulty we have in wrapping our heads around the sort of beauty that doesn’t fit the rubric. If a woman is not conventionally pretty, we don’t know what to do with her. We can’t resist looking at her, but why?

You probably don’t fit the rubric, either. And you’re in awesome company, because you know who else doesn’t fit the rubric? Adele. Queen Latifah. Emmylou Harris. Bonnie Raitt. Jamie Lee Curtis. Helen Mirren. Tina Turner. My albino friend with the stunning African-American features and Irish coloring. Me. Not one of us fits the rubric. We’re all either too old, too heavy, too unconventional, or too all of the above to meet the standards A&F is promoting.

To hell with the rubric. I’d sooner die than swap my tangled curls, gray streak, hips, boobs, laugh lines, bifocals, or self-respect for some manipulative retailer’s approval.

To quote Bette Midler (who doesn’t fit the rubric, either): “Cherish forever what makes you unique, ’cause you’re really a yawn if it goes.”

Emily


Madison

May 3, 2013

Today was glorious — chilly and drizzly, but just right for a trip to Makanda to wander through Dave Dardis’ secret garden. Dave has put in a new gallery next to Rainmaker Studio to display his work, and it’s really nice. A precocious fourth-grader named Madison, who apparently is a frequent flyer on the Boardwalk, decided I needed a guided tour.

You have not lived until you have experienced the Makanda Boardwalk through the eyes of a little girl with a big imagination. What an awesome place for a kid to hang out.

Madison and I had a very artsy, creative conversation that I am pretty sure inspired both of us. She has been studying Greek mythology at school, and she thought one of Dave’s sculptures — a woodcarving of a woman’s face with little brass people scurrying over it — represented Mother Earth and her children. Can you imagine? Fourth grade, and she’s already looking at esoteric sculptures and expounding on their underlying symbolism. As an old scholar bowl coach, the first thing I thought was, “Somebody needs to put this kid on a buzzer.” But when I suggested that she try out for her school’s team in a few years, she said she didn’t think she could do something like that, because she was in special ed.

Do I have to tell you what Mama Bear thought about whoever put that idea in this child’s head?

I assured her that I had known some awesome players who were in special ed, and if she thought something sounded like fun, she should go for it and let the chips fall where they may.

It really bugs me that people act as if a learning disability somehow disqualifies a kid from being gifted. Hell, I’m convinced that half the things we classify as “disabilities” are just gifts we don’t know how to use. We don’t know what to do with them, so we slap a negative label on them and try to train or drug them out of kids because it’s easier than trying to figure out how to harness lightning. And in the process, we end up introducing the false god of “I can’t” to a 10-year-old who spontaneously interprets modern art through the lens of ancient literature and articulates her findings to a receptive stranger.

Sometimes I really hate our educational system.

Emily


On misogyny

February 27, 2013

I participated in a Facebook conversation today about Hillary Clinton and the possibility that she might run for president in 2016.

Some people loved the idea. Some hated it.

Some of Clinton’s detractors voiced legitimate concerns; a few offered bizarre conspiracy theories; and a couple revealed themselves to be practitioners of a particularly noxious species of misogyny that seems to be all the rage in some circles.

Criticizing Clinton’s performance in Benghazi or her voting record on the Iraq War is legitimate. Criticizing her for her husband’s behavior is questionable but possibly legitimate, depending on the behavior under discussion. (“I didn’t like the administration’s position on X or Y and am afraid she would bring that back” is legitimate; “She couldn’t control her husband” is sexist nonsense.)

Criticizing Clinton because you consider her physically unattractive is — pardon my blunt language — inexcusable, misogynistic bullshit. We are not talking about whether she is qualified to be a Hooters waitress. We are talking about whether she is qualified to be the leader of the free world.

When you take cheap shots at a powerful, accomplished woman based on your opinion of her appearance, what you are really saying is that you are an immature, small-minded buffoon who views all women as sex objects, and if you do not regard a woman as a potential sex partner, she has no value to you — regardless of her talent, intelligence, education, experience or professional skills.

That doesn’t tell me anything about Clinton, but it tells me everything I could ever need or want to know about you.

Emily


Decision

January 27, 2013

Sensory Overload (Interacting with Autism Project) from Miguel Jiron on Vimeo.

I worked with several kids with Asperger syndrome or other autism spectrum disorders during the course of my four years at Webster.

I adored those kids.

They don’t know it, but just by being part of my class, they gave Riggy a better mommy. That seems fair, since Scout gave them a better teacher. “The gift goes on,” as Sandi Patty says.

This video made me cry.

I am applying to grad school this week. For reasons.

Emily


How to reduce your stress levels

January 26, 2013

The other day, I found myself entangled in yet another Facebook conversation with a low-information voter who gets all his ideas from talk radio and direct-mail propaganda and thinks that changing the subject is a valid debate strategy.

You know the type: He starts a debate over something like whether ordinary civilians should have military-style assault rifles with high-capacity clips, and as soon as you start asking questions he can’t answer, he starts citing statistics about handgun bans. Nobody was talking about banning handguns, but he thinks he’s the second coming of Stephen Douglas because he’s managed to prove a point, and never mind that the point has absolutely nothing to do with the subject actually being debated.

Talking to one of these people is like trying to have an intelligent conversation with the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It gets tiresome after a while, and if you unfriend him, you only reinforce his bad behavior by making him think he scared you away with his Mad Debate Skillz.™ (“Come back here, you pansy! I’ll bite your legs off!”)

I solved the problem by announcing that from here on in, every time I saw a conservative blathering about guns, gays, abortion, President Obama, or Hillary Clinton on Facebook, I was going to donate a dollar to Hillary’s presidential campaign. (If she doesn’t run, the money goes to the Democrat of my choosing.)

My Facebook acquaintances now have three options:

1. Shut up.
2. Help pour money into the enemy’s war chest.
3. Unfriend me.

I don’t particularly care which option they choose. If they choose 1 or 3, I don’t have to listen to them. If they choose 2 … well, after watching her destroy a mansplainer the other day, I’m willing to make some sacrifices for mah-girl. I put two bucks in her jar this afternoon, and I’ve never been happier to see obnoxious political spam crawling across my feed.

Emily


Folk Thursday: Odetta sings Dylan

December 20, 2012

I considered writing a post about the shootings in Connecticut, but Dylan pretty much covers everything I have to say on the subject, and he does it far more eloquently than I could. Odetta’s voice just reinforces the message.

Emily


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