Kids are so funny.

I’ve been on kind of a Judi Dench kick ever since we watched Skyfall earlier this week, so Ron downloaded Mrs. Brown for me this evening on the Roku. He’d seen it a few years ago, but I hadn’t. Charming movie, and Billy Connolly is … yeah. Um. Wow. I don’t know if I’d trade Ryne Sandberg for him, but I’d probably consider it.

Ensuing Facebook conversation:

ME: Just watched the movie Mrs. Brown. Why are Scottish men so ridiculously sexy?
FORMER STUDENT: That awkward moment when your old English teacher says “sexy”….

Thirty is going to be SUCH a shock for these kids, isn’t it?


Folk Thursday: Joni Mitchell

All hail the queen.

This version isn’t as pretty as some I’ve posted, but I feel it more. The lyrics mean something when the woman who wrote them stands on a stage 35 years later and sings them like she’s been to hell and back and knows what she’s talking about. And for too many reasons to go into right now, I’m finally beginning to feel like I’ve looked at life from both sides now.


What did you just call me?

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
— Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride

I’m not sure why, but at some point in the last 10 years or so, Madison Avenue apparently handed down a decree that all marketing directed toward women should henceforth include the word diva.

Sporting-goods stores pitch athletic bras with “diva night” specials. Main Street programs host “diva” shopping events. Hardware stores sell “diva”-themed tools with pastel handles. Minor-league ballclubs offer “diva” packages involving pink T-shirts and pregame wine-tasting events. Christian bookstores sell “diva” Bible covers. (I swear I am not making this up.) And premenopausal female environmentalists are encouraged to swap their biodegradable organic cotton tampons for reusable “Diva Cups.”

To see all that, you’d never guess that “diva” is a derogatory term.

Originally, the word diva — Italian for “goddess” — simply referred to an exceptionally talented female opera singer. Over time, the term picked up a negative connotation, as divas developed a (probably undeserved) reputation for being unreasonably demanding and difficult to please.

While “diva” can still refer to an unusually gifted performer, it has crept into everyday usage as a pejorative term for women who are talented but so spoiled, rude and unpleasant that they are generally considered more trouble than they are worth. This fact ought to make the term “diva” absolutely verboten in marketing circles — but for some reason, it hasn’t.

Try this: Look back at that list of items above, insert the phrase “high-maintenance bitch” everywhere you see the word “diva,” and tell me how likely you would be to purchase a product with such a name.

Unless I have just blown you off the stage with a two-and-a-half-octave cadenza, I’m going to assume that when you say “diva,” you are saying that I am a pain in the arse, not complimenting my awesome coloratura.

If you’re going to call me a difficult bitch, why would I want to do business with you? Why would I want a derogatory, arguably misogynistic term emblazoned across my chest or printed on my purse, screwdriver, or Bible cover? What do I gain by reinforcing a stereotype that says female prodigies are more trouble than they’re worth?


Ownership of a functional uterus does not make me a diva. It merely makes me female — and if you want my business, you’ll acknowledge that and stop treating me like a 5-year-old who hasn’t yet outgrown her “princess” phase.


Caesar vs. God

Anybody who has known me longer than about five minutes knows that I have exactly zero patience with people who try to mix religion and politics. What people may not know is why I feel so strongly about keeping my religion and my politics separate.

I am a Christian.

I am also a liberal.

These are not mutually exclusive terms — but way too many religious leaders have tried to convince me that they are. I have no time for these people. They are not interested in my spiritual growth. They are interested in using my faith to manipulate me into supporting political positions that they find personally advantageous.

I find it remarkable that so many of these demagogues recoil at the very mention of the phrase “separation of church and state.” (Try it sometime. Use those words in front of some politicking preacher, and see if he doesn’t look at you like you just dropped an f-bomb on his grandma.)

Contrary to popular belief, Thomas Jefferson did not come up with that concept. Jesus did.


The notoriously manipulative, sanctimonious Pharisees came to Jesus with a question meant to trap him in his words: Should a man of God pay taxes? If he said yes, they could accuse him of promoting idolatry by putting the government ahead of God, or some such nonsense; if he said no, they could accuse him of attempting to undermine the government.

Jesus wasn’t having ANY of it. He saw through their nonsense and offered an unimpeachable response: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and render to God the things that are God’s.” With that simple but profound statement, Jesus delineated the roles of religion and politics and made it clear that they are two distinct concepts that serve different purposes and have little bearing on each other.

I render to God when I live my life in a manner consistent with my understanding of His will for me. I render to Caesar when I participate in the political process and try to support others’ right to live their lives in a manner that is consistent with their understanding of God’s will for them.

If people have a problem with that, they can take it up with Jesus. He’s got way more patience with Pharisees than I do.


Folk Thursday: Springsteen on Dylan

In light of the referenda passed in Maine, Maryland, Washington, and Colorado this week, the one rejected in Minnesota, and the voter demographics we’ve been hearing over the past couple of days, I think we can safely say that Dylan’s words still apply.

Your old road is rapidly agin’. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand, for the times they are a-changin’.

First time I heard this song was at a get-out-the-vote rally I covered in Carbondale, Ill., in 1992. I was 17, we were three days from the election, Hillary Clinton was in town to stump for Bill, and a local band called St. Stephen’s Blues was warming up the crowd with Dylan covers. It was perfect then, and it’s perfect now.

I can’t really envision a time when Bob Dylan won’t be relevant.

And that, kids, is why I listen to folk.


Good morning.

Play nice, and I’ll try not to gloat too much today.

If you like the outcome of last night’s election, go do something positive to celebrate today.

If you don’t like the outcome of last night’s election, go do something positive to offset what you’re perceiving as a negative.

If you don’t care about the outcome of last night’s election, you’re probably what’s wrong with this country — so go do something positive to offset your tendency toward self-absorption.


New friend

This little guy was hanging out in the front yard this evening when Ron and I left for dinner. I have no idea where he belongs, but he’s awfully cute, and not at all shy about coming up to be petted. If he’s still out there in a couple of weeks, I’ll take him to the vet and get him fixed so he doesn’t add to the stray population around here. (No, he is not going to come inside and live with us. One cat is quite enough to keep up with. But he’s welcome to roost in that tree and supervise the lawn if he wants.)



A tribute

We got word last night that a former colleague had passed away unexpectedly.

There are two kinds of people in my life: Those who have worked the copy desk on Election Night with me, and those who haven’t.

Roger was in the former category. If you aren’t, you’ll never understand why that’s important.

I met Roger near the end of my first year in the classroom. For nine months, I’d been struggling to do some good in a completely corrupt school district, to no avail, and I was exhausted. Burned out and living miles from anyone I knew, I felt alone and adrift.

Then I walked into the newsroom one May evening, and Roger — in typical Roger fashion — went out of his way to make me feel welcome. He showed me around, asked me questions, joked with me, and just generally included me. It was the first time in ages that I’d felt as if I fit in somewhere. I don’t think Roger ever knew how much I needed that.

Journalists are a different breed, and the ones who stay up past midnight, putting the paper to bed are — to paraphrase Orwell — “more different than others.” We are the grammar geeks, the designers, the adrenaline junkies. We work the hours no one else wants, and we love it. We get on each other’s nerves. We yell at each other. But between headlines and frustrations, we learn each other’s quirks, concern ourselves with each other’s lives, and entertain each other with outrageous humor that keeps us sane in a fast-paced, high-pressure environment.

It’s that last bit I’ll remember most when I think of Roger.

Some of the laughs we shared aren’t fit for public consumption. (That Monica Lewinsky emoticon we invented, for instance.) Others wouldn’t be funny to anybody outside the newsroom. But then there’s this. And this.

And most of all, this.

For better or worse, I will never, ever be able to hear “Mr. Roboto” without thinking of Roger, and I will never be able to think of Roger without hearing “Mr. Roboto” somewhere in the back of my mind.

Somewhere, Roger is enjoying that last fact way more than he’s got any right to.


I already miss him.


Cross off another one.

I’ve spent the past 20 years or so pouting because I missed the ’60s. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear that God’s New Year’s resolution for 2012 was to make it up to me: first with Melanie Safka at Woodyfest this summer, and tonight with Bob Dylan at the BOk Center.

Dylan sounded awful, but that’s to be expected. Because, y’know, Dylan. I didn’t care. I didn’t go to hear great vocals. I went to see a legend. As far as I’m concerned, Bob Dylan is the ’60s personified. Dude kicked off the folk revival, slept with Joan Baez, smoked pot with the Beatles, and wrote most of the protest songs that ended the Vietnam War.

If you don’t respect that, I’m not sure we can be friends.