Oh, but it is

Girl. Twenty-something. So West Coast.

Lupita Nyong’o & Elmo love their skin. Elmo loves his skin because it’s red & ticklish. Lupita loves her skin because it is a beautiful shade of brown. Everyone has skin, and it is all great. 

What a wonderful thing for young kids of all colors to be seeing. Sesame Street, you’re doing it. 

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I actually love Gerard Depardieu. I think he’s excellent. Funny, good actor. Great nose

—Me, to Patrick, over gchat, discussing Depardieu’s admissions of some strange, French form of alcoholism made possible only by wine alla time. 

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It’s not the methods of literary study that are the problem. Unfortunately it’s literary study itself. The reality of the job market and the undergraduate English major is that we don’t need hundreds of new professors each year to study and teach literature, regardless of the method or degree of technological savvy they bring with them. Instead we hire these graduates as adjuncts into writing curricula that we have spent decades deprofessionalizing and devaluing precisely so that we could give those jobs to TAs and fill our graduate programs. And now that pyramid scheme has finally come to an end.

Alex Reid, in his post “MLA, doctoral education, and the benefits of hindsight,” available in full here

Well, he certainly lays out the scheme of English graduate departments quite nicely. 

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Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, & Breaking Cycles

Maybe you don’t know this about me, but I was beat as a child. Not too bad. I don’t like to talk about my childhood abuse because I was lucky—and so many others aren’t. So many other kids suffer worse. 

It was my biological mother’s boyfriend—this is the primary reason I refer to her as my biological mother. His name was Al Tevlin and he drove a semi-truck, maybe, and put shoes on horses for a living. 

After Christmas one year, they moved the tree out to the curb, & I was punished for walking through the kitchen and tracking dry, brittle pine needles onto the carpet of the living room. I must have been six years old. 

He beat my biological mother, too. More than us. One time, he beat her & her face to a bloody pulp and told her he was going to kill her while “Independence Day” by Martina McBride played in the background. You can’t make up irony like that. The truth about my childhood is that I had forgotten this, pushed this memory to the back of my brain until a few weeks ago, when my sister Scarlet texted me to tell me the song was playing. It flooded back. I’ve heard before that it always does. 

He drove a truck with a canopy on it, and though I’ve since forgotten the make & model, I know it when I see it, and the bottom still sometimes sinks out of my stomach. Even now. When Jana would get restraining orders against him, as inevitably happened after a particularly bad beating, I would stand on the couch, facing the window out front, looking for his truck to pass by. Most times, it would. 

By accident, I ripped a page in a library book, once—a scratch & sniff book, of all things—and was so afraid of what might happen that I hid the book. Of course, the jig was up when the book was past due & found in my room.

As an eight year old child, I drew a picture of Al and taped it to the wall in my bedroom, below the mattress so only I could see it. Each time Al beat one of us, I ripped off a tiny piece of the drawing, and told myself I’d kill him when his whole face had been torn off.

I didn’t, of course. What got him—years after Scarlet & I moved to western Washington to live with our father after a malicious custody battle—was a heart attack. It took me a few more years after that to reckon with the fact that this man had a heart. A heart that beat. Hands that beat & a heart that beat, too. A heart that stopped beating. I told you, you can’t make up irony like this. 

In sixth grade, after moving away from that house at 11723 East Empire Street, I did a school report on domestic violence. Part of the project was to create a scene related to our reports, using life-sized paper dolls we made in class together. I made two small children, and posed them hiding under a table, praying. It took me years to realize that my childlike prayers un-founded on any religious leanings had, in fact, been answered. The truth about child abuse and about my childhood is that it still sometimes doesn’t feel like they were. 

I think that this truth is a commonality amongst survivors of abuse & trauma, but I am not sure. Trauma theory is en vogue in some humanities departments across the country, but it hits too close to home to appeal to me fully. It’s like I would be studying myself, and I see my experiences reflected all too often in the media, anyway. 

Do you want to know why Janay Rice stood by her abuser, and married him? I can tell you. She stayed because she suffers from the ugly thing called battered women’s syndrome. She stayed because she is sick. She stayed because she is part of a system. Do you want to know why Ray Rice knocked out his wife in an elevator? I can tell you, definitively. It’s because somewhere along the way, Ray Rice internalized a system of violence. It’s because, as Adrian Peterson admitted in his statement released yesterday, abusers learn to attribute their successes and integrity to the abuses they suffered themselves, which then get passed on to their children. It’s also because these men are encouraged to rehearse anger and violence every day in their careers, but that is another story for another day. It’s because they see their own father figures beating their mothers, and because domestic violence is taboo, and because nobody wants to be accused of “telling people how to parent,” no one tells them they are wrong. No one tells them there are other ways of thinking & being in this world. 

There is a difference between child abuse and child abusers, a difference that Adrian Peterson touched on—intentionally or not—in his response to the recent allegations of child abuse brought against him. Every single parent who raises a finger against their child in the name of “discipline,” every single parent who uses physical force as a means to mete out punishment or to discourage certain behaviors is committing child abuse. As someone who was “disciplined” as a child, there is no distinction between a spanking, a whooping, or the more violent and aggressive acts of abuse carried out on children every single day. I say this without hesitation, fiercely, and with a willingness to argue this point of corporal punishment until I am blue in the face. I’ve been blue in many places before; I feel this way with my whole soul: 

If you lay a hand on a child, you are abusing that child. 

Al Tevlin called it discipline. Al Tevlin liked belts, too. Sometimes, when he beat us, he would say the line that parents like to say to justify their abuse: this hurts me more than it hurts you. 

If you lay a hand on a child—or another human that you are intimately involved with—you are teaching that human to fear you. To connect violence and physical pain with the bonds of love & family. To privilege force over compassion. To misunderstand what it means to act with love and humanity. 

It has taken me a long time to come to this conclusion, but my abuser was not a monster, and vilifying him does nothing to dismantle the culture of violence that taught him how to live. Al Tevlin learned his behavior, just as Ray Rice did, just as Adrian Peterson did. Just as Janay Rice did, too. The real travesty is that no one—until their actions were made undeniably, forcibly public—told them that this behavior is unacceptable. I mean this on an individual level and on a communal, societal level. No one is starting the conversation, the conversation that admits that every act of violence is an act of abuse. The conversation that acknowledges domestic and child abuse, and refuses to ignore black eyes and bruises. 

Perhaps Adrian Peterson is right, and he is not a child abuser. But he did abuse his children. It is our actions that define us, of course. More than our intentions. We know this. Al Tevlin was a child abuser & a wife beater inasmuch as his acts of abuse continued until his heart stopped beating. Al is dead. But individuals like Ray Rice & Adrian Peterson have agency that a dead man doesn’t: they can reject the very systems they were thrust into unwittingly as children and young boys. So can the 90% or more of parents who continue to “discipline” their children using physical violence every day in America. 

I saw a photograph of my biological mother for the first time in maybe 15 years yesterday, when I began writing this piece. I looked her up on Facebook, found the kind of un-used page a 50-something person might have, with two photographs only. One was of two small & smiling boys I didn’t recognize—the children of my younger half-sister we had to leave behind to bear witness to further abuse, maybe. Who knows what horror those boys have seen, what behaviors they are learning. My hope is that somewhere along the way, they know they have a choice. 

The other was of my biological mother on the beach with her mother—who was beat by her own husband in front of my biological mother and her young siblings, decades ago. In fifteen years, many things can change. She looked different. I didn’t recognize her. I see no part of me in her. 

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Sept. 14 9:40 am

justice4mikebrown:

Yeah, because even though the rest of America has moved on, shit is still happening in Ferguson…

Not just Ferguson, either. The article about Dr. Harris is particularly disheartening. 

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How one man destroyed the Food Network: Guy Fieri has made culinary TV into a viewer’s hell

I’d argue that Rachael Ray, bless her poor well-intentioned heart, paved the way for the likes of Guy Fieri to ruin the network I, too, once used to love—but Guy has run away with the bastardization begun with Rachael, & there’s no turning back now. No point in even having a TV, really, now that the horrific “Triple D” runs weeknights from before-you-get-home to much-after-you’re-in-bed. The brand of “cooking” that Guy Fieri endorses—I’ve noted before, too, that Guy is never actually cooking on his cooking shows—represents much of what is wrong with American cuisine, American diets, and the overall health of America. What do we get from glorifying glut & excess? I’ll pass on the hot dog dipped in fried oreos, or whatever it is you’re screaming about now, Guy Fieri. 

Patrick, Keith & I have decided to watch the first season of The Next Food Network Star to determine what, if anything, was possessing the Network’s executives during the filming of Guy Fieri’s rise to stardom. My guess is Guy wielded a squirt gun filled with hydrogen peroxide & bleach, and threatened to douse the head of anyone who stood in his way. 

Thankfully, as Askari mentions in this toothsome piece, PBS has taken up the culinary torch again. I highly recommend his debut on “The Mind of a Chef,” narrated by Anthony Bourdain & available on PBS and Netflix. Much better than a pile of onion rings on top of a 2 lb. burger covered in nacho cheese, if you ask me. 

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None of this stuff is really about morality or religion or dogma or big fancy questions of life after death.

The capital-T Truth is about life BEFORE death.

It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

'This is water.'

'This is water.'

Excerpted from David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech, given to Kenyon College in 2005, three years before his death, which—I just found out after posting this initially—was six years ago today.

I had a hard time choosing a quotation from this, and almost chose the part about the horrible, no-good, very bad day that represents most routine days of our adult lives. But that’s missing the point. The point is this: this is water. Can you feel it? All around?

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Five Things. 

One. I made this sheet music of Bob Dylan’s “Tangled up in Blue” for Patrick the first Christmas we were together. It’s found a home in the mirror that hangs on our stairwell to the downstairs, now. 

Two. Fresh figs for some home-made fig newtons that were, admittedly, a bit of a wash. I don’t really like fig newtons anyway, so I don’t know what possessed me to make them from scratch. If I’m being honest. 

Three. Morningtime sun hits the wreath that hangs near our front door. 

Four. My 28th birthday cake, from a few days back. Pssst…I think I’ve broken my shitty birthdays streak. Knock on wood. 

Five. Clementine, hamper sitting. Also: look at my new hampers! I love them so much. 

We’re off to either Portland for restaurant-hopping or to the Oregon coast for camping this weekend. Either way, I hope there will be s’mores. Happy fin de la semaine, tout le monde! 

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How Starbucks puts the pumpkin spice into its Pumpkin Spice Latte &196; Eating Real Food

Because today felt more than a bit like fall, here’s a link with a list of ingredients Starbucks uses in their pumpkin spice lattes, which returned—inexplicably, not to mention inappropriately—in late August this year. 

Now, I tend to agree with the author, who notes that pumpkin spice should probably contain nutmeg, cinnamon, & clove—not unspecified “natural & artificial ingredients.” Come on. We all know what tastes like fall & it’s not Annatto (E160b, Colour). 

I’m not sure why artificial colors are added at all, really, since I’m fairly certain it’s not a pumpkin-y hue that latte lovers want when they lift the lid to sprinkle that nutmeg on at the cafe bar. 

If you ask me, you’d be better off making your own damn pumpkin spice syrup, using actual spices and maybe some condensed milk and sugar from the pantry. And, instead of letting a company pour artificial flavoring down your throat, maybe you could make a pumpkin treat to go along with it? I promise you, it’ll be every bit as autumnal as a drink that is scientifically engineered to make you go back for more. 

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Cook. French films. Two Fridays.

A few days ago, a friend who is staying with us for a while asked me to name three things I could start doing immediately to make my life better. 

At first I was kind of pissed. Obviously there aren’t three things I can do right now to make my life better. I would be doing them already, if so. Things take time. It takes time to find a fulfilling job, to pay off debt, to find the headspace for clarity and joy. 

My first attempt reflected this thinking: find a way to be at peace with the way I spend my days, either by finding a new job doing something I love, or by fully accepting my current job as a temporary necessity. 

That didn’t cut it. 

It had to be something small, something I really could do right now, something that really would encourage me to savor my days and make my own peace. 

So I thought, and the first one, of course, was to cook. Cook more meals. This, I know, will make most things better—including a crappy day, a head cold, a missed bus, and my life in general. 

The second was to watch a French film each month, a film to help ease the pangs of wanderlust for a home I left over five years ago, a film to recall the disappearing words & structures of a second language, a film to be in France again for an hour or two. 

The final one came after yet another weeknight lost to errands, a ticking clock, & four hours between home-from-work and you-better-be-asleep-right-now-or-you-can’t-get-eight-hours: treat one more night a week like a weekend night. Any night at all. Just one more. One more where I’m not anxious and frustrated about the things that didn’t get done, about spending all my free time cleaning up the kitchen so I can make dinner, then making dinner, then cleaning up the kitchen again afterward. 

We shortened the three things to one or two words, to hold them in my mind more easily. A reminder. A mantra. Cook. French films. Two Fridays. 

I haven’t done any of the three yet, since choosing them (oatmeal doesn’t count, I’d wager.), but the litany itself is soothing in a way that took me by surprise: Cook. French films. Two Fridays. 

So tell me, what are your three?

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