Thursday, July 28, 2011

On confessions of infidelity

Okay, so I know you've been wondering where I've been and where my head has been lately. (I know this because I've been getting e-mails from absolutely none of you asking if I'm okay. Thanks, y'all. Feeling the love.) And it's true, I've been negligent. But for once, there's a good reason: I've been cheating on you.

Wait, that doesn't sound good.

There's a good reason: I've been cheating on you with four women.

That's better.

So I'm the new staff blogger at Feministe, a blog you will recognize from all of the post topics I've blatantly stolen from them when I've been too lazy to come up with my own. I think they just got tired of me ganking their content and decided it was time for me to give back once in a while. I'll be posting regularly over there under the name Caperton (she has a name! My gift to you), but I'll also keep posting here, so wipe that delicate, crystalline tear from your eye. You'll be getting the same fun and snark and meaningful commentary and vicious take-downs and language that makes my parents ashamed of me, with the added bonus of extra fun and snark and meaningful commentary and vicious take-downs and language that makes my parents even more ashamed of me because it's in front of a larger audience, at an ad-supported blog, using my actual name. It'll be fun.

Seriously, though, I don't intend to let this affect my blogging here. If anything, it might improve it. I have the best reader(s) in the world over here, and the choicest morsels are for you. Remember: You were my firstborn, and thus I will always love you more.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On a happy honeymoon

Okay, so Sunday was a big day for a lot of brides and grooms--particularly in New York, where for the first time ever brides were able to marry brides and grooms to marry grooms. Among them were Jonathan Mintz and John Feinblatt, one of the first gay couples to marry under New York's new law. The linked NYT article isn't just about them, though. It's about the entire family: Mintz, Feinblatt, and their daughters Maeve and Georgia, all of whom are about to become a family in a way the state of New York has never recognized before.

It's a really, really great and touching article, and I'm happy for all of them. But I'm always the type to miss the point entirely and get hung up on stuff I find touching. (Do not sit down to watch TV commercials with me.) For instance:
Feinblatt, 60, who is Bloomberg’s chief policy adviser, and Mintz, 47, the city’s commissioner of consumer affairs, have lived together for more than 13 years, the last eight in a West Village townhouse.

To go that distance, adjustments were necessary. Feinblatt, the less orderly one, learned to accept that no matter where he dropped his suitcase, it would “be moved to a ‘better’ place,” he said.

much better place,” Mintz added.
You know why? Because there's a right place to put your suitcase, My--er, John.

And this is a big deal:
Both girls are Feinblatts. Mintz says he "horse-traded" his surname in return for getting "Daddy." Feinblatt took "Dad."
It might not be a huge deal for y'all, but to me, nailing down "Daddy" is pretty significant. Daddies are important. (I love you, Daddy.)

As for this:
They have three dogs, one a recent surprise birthday gift for Georgia. Maeve says she predicted it. She mischievously maintains she sees portents in the sky.

“We’re trying to dissuade her,” Mintz said. “We’re concerned there’s no scholarship in psychic cloud reading.”
That's just discriminatory.

It's a family, y'all--maybe not the kind you're used to seeing, but all of the important ingredients are right there. There are kids who pray to be a part of a stable, caring family like that. Seriously, anyone who doesn't get why this is a good thing doesn't have a heart. Congratulations and best wishes to the Feinblatt-Mintzes.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

On finding work

Okay, so this one is a short one, and it goes out to Big Bro, who is now blissfully employed after more than a year of being-laid-offness: Jobs listing say the unemployed need not apply.

Think it's just a misleading headline? Oh, if only.
Hundreds of job opening listings posted on and other jobs sites explicitly state that people who are unemployed would be less attractive applicants, with some telling the long-term unemployed to not even bother with applying.

The New York Times' Catherine Rampell said she found preferences for the already employed or only recently laid off in listings for "hotel concierges, restaurant managers, teachers, I.T. specialists, business analysts, sales directors, account executives, orthopedics device salesmen, auditors and air-conditioning technicians." Even the massive University of Phoenix stated that preference, but removed the listings when the Times started asking questions.
So there it is. All of you unemployed folk who are still unemployed, know that your ongoing unemployment is just a result of you being... unemployed. If it makes you feel any better... Nah, I got nothin'.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On religion, skepticism, and being a dick

Okay, so I'm going to warn you right up front that this is going to be a rather serious, sincerely personal (and unexpectedly lengthy) post. It feels strange to throw up an "intimate personal sharing" trigger warning, but that's kind of what it is: If you'd like to stick with the lighthearted, there'll be another BSC chapter coming up shortly. Or kittens or something.

Now, then.

Part I: Faith

'Roundabout two years ago, I left the Catholic church. It was an intensely hard decision. I'd been struggling with my religion for some time--not my faith, mind you, but my religion. My faith in God was, for the most part, as strong as ever. It was my relationship with what purported to be His personal church of choice that was such a struggle for me.

My problem was simply that the more I learned about myself and the more I pursued a personal relationship with God on top of the more professional one I had with Him through church, the less my beliefs about religion and life and even myself fit with what I was being taught. It brewed for a long time: reproductive rights, the church's treatment of women, the church's treatment of gays, the handling of the pedophile priests--all the things that the church had one lesson about while my heart told me something entirely different.

It's one of the worst kinds of cognitive dissonance, when you're at odds not just with a trusted friend but with an institution that's been at or near the center of your life since a priest poured water on your little baby head. It's an institution that has literally heard you confess your deepest secrets and is supposed to help guide you through a good, moral life to a kickin' afterlife. For that matter, it's something you've shared with your family for an hour each week, plus holidays and every time you've said grace before a meal. It was meant to be with me from birth through six of the sacraments and to death and beyond, and I was so conflicted and pained I could barely look it in the eye.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

On Baby-Sitters Club Super Mystery #last: Chapter 7

Okay, so first, a note: The characters, places, and situations created for the Baby-Sitters Club series are the property of Ann M. Martin and Scholastic. (If they were mine, you know Mallory would have at least had a keratin treatment by now, poor girl.) Everything that isn't real life and isn't Ann M.'s is mine, and if you violate my copyright, I will cut you. On with the show.

In our last episode, the girls did some more shopping... and got more than they bargained for. (Duh-duh-duhhh...)

Chapter 7.

After I got Mary Anne's message, I was tapping my foot for the rest of the day. The group had been apart for more than ten years, and now it had taken less than two days for us to get back to our old adventures. It almost made me feel like a teenager again—except this time, we were older, smarter, and better equipped to solve this mystery.

I always tried to really interact with my students, stay engaged, and not just assign a chapter to outline for the entire class period. But for my last two periods of the day, that was what they did. As hard as I tried, I just couldn't focus. Thoughts and action items kept popping up that I had to write down right away, and in the end, I had to put together a whole binder to organize my theories on suspects, witnesses, motives, and evidence.

When the bell rang at the end of the day, I was just as ready to get out the door as my students were. I felt like a running back, rushing down the hall and dodging questions.

"Ms. Thomas, Morgan said practice was moved to Wednesday next week."

"Yes." Twenty yards from the door.

"Because I have an orthodontist appointment on Tuesday—"

Monday, July 11, 2011

On elevator etiquette. Seriously. Just that.

Okay, so it started two weeks ago. That’s not a whole lot in earth time, but in Internet time, where conversations--and accusations, and examinations, and defamations--can fly around at electron speed, it’s like months. It started with a post by well-known skeptic Rebecca Watson about her recent travels and a conference she spoke at in Dublin.

In the course of her eight-minute video (around 4:30), Watson made passing mention of an experience she had in an elevator. She’d been talking with folks in a bar, and around four in the morning, she got onto an elevator, followed by one of the dudes from the bar. Dude said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I find you very interesting, and I would like to talk more. Would you like to come to my hotel room for coffee?” and Watson said, “Uhhh, no thanks.” Her point in recounting this was to inform guys that inviting strange women on an empty elevator back to their hotel room at four in the morning can be perceived as creepy, and that they maybe should not do it. What she said was that.

This is good advice, by the way. Even if you sincerely want to talk and not scrog, even if you really are interested in her brain and not her body, propositioning a strange woman on an empty elevator at four in the morning will probably skeeve her out some.

So that’s the end of the story.

Except it isn’t. It was the beginning of another, far lengthier story that involved folks accusing her of being hypersensitive and then something went down at another conference, and then well-known atheist and firestarter Richard Dawkins was all, like, “Blah, he didn’t even touch her, and what’s the big deal, and privilege, and blah, and at least you’ve never had your genitals mutilated, so whatever” (paraphrased), and then he was all, like, “I don’t know when it’s time to just shut up about something” (paraphrased again). And then more discussion and other stuff.

Y’all. Asking a strange chick on an empty elevator back to your hotel room at four in the morning is creepy. That’s the alpha and the omega of the story. It’s not, on its face, all that debatable. This isn’t to say that the current debate isn’t valuable, because the fact that there’s been debate at all would indicate that there’s a breakdown in communication within the community (and a lot of other communities, frankly) on the subject of privilege (and on the subject of creepiness, apparently, which seems rather straightforward to me). That is a much longer post for a much slower day, and while I like to think I’m intellectually up to the challenge, I make no warrants.

But your opinion on that subject aside, don’t ask a strange chick on an empty elevator back to your hotel room at four in the morning. Even if you aren’t personally a creeper, even if you don’t have ulterior motives, know that some men are and do and that some women’s experiences with them are different than ones you’ve had yourself and that the sensitive thing would be to find a different way of soliciting her company. You don’t have to understand--just accept. And should it ever come to a debate, know when to quit while you're only behind a little.

On Mashup Monday: Hale and farewell edition

Okay, so Friday was a sad, sad day. It was the final launch of the space shuttle Atlantis, and with it the final launch of the space shuttle program. It was also the final launch of manned NASA space flight for the foreseeable future, as (due to financial and program mismanagement and general stupidity) our next shot will likely be at a few nearby asteroids about a decade from now. Frankly, it bites. More on that tomorrow.

Today, though, a tribute to belivin' and not stopping and, I'm assuming, getting motion sick.

U2/Journey - Don’t Stop Vertigo

It's been awesome, Atlantis. Don't be a stranger.

Friday, July 08, 2011

On Baby-Sitters Club Super Mystery #last: Chapter 6

Okay, so first, a note: The characters, places, and situations created for the Baby-Sitters Club series are the property of Ann M. Martin and Scholastic. (If they were mine, you know Dawn would have come to the bacony Dark Side by now.) Everything that isn't real life and isn't Ann M.'s is mine, and if you violate my copyright, I will cut you. On with the show.

In our last episode, Dawn and Mary Anne had it out, and they had an unannounced guest.

Chapter 6.

“Seriously, Dawn, it’s possible to do the hippy-dippy-unshaven-earthchild thing without looking like Joan Baez.” I yanked the ankle-length skirt out of her hand and replaced it on the rack. “I don't even know why Shannon has that thing.”

“Anna Sui showed long skirts for spring,” Shannon called from the back of the shop.

“She also showed puffed sleeves and socks with sandals, but I’m not sending Dawn down the aisle looking like Little Retirement Villa on the Prairie.” I dug further into the rack. “Now here’s what I'm talking about.” The fabric was light and crinkly and vaguely paisley, but tiny pleats and a fitted waist made the look a little more modern. “Throw on a long, beaded necklace, and no one will ever know you wear deodorant. Mary Anne, stop looking at clothes. Just stand over there by the shoes until I’m ready for you.”

“I want to shop with Claudia. She’s not as mean,” Mary Anne said, but she obediently went to the shoe wall to watch Shannon set out a new shipment of towering wedges. I was going to have to do some shopping for myself before we left.

To be completely honest, I probably didn’t need more shoes. Thomas and I didn’t socialize a whole lot, outside of cocktail parties with his colleagues that weren’t really the place to break out the sky-high zippered peep-toes I was eyeing. Still, I was bound to make it out with a few girls from work, and those shoes plus an indecently short dress were certain to get our bar tab paid.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

On the stuff women write and the women who read it

Okay, so I’ll admit that the Daily Mail’s “Femail” section is both harmful to women and a guilty pleasure of mine. It’s a place to go to see what hideousness Kim Kardashian wore to a party and what Shia LaBoeuf said Megan Fox said about Michael Bay. Outside of not-entirely-accurate celebrity gossip, though, it’s a wasteland of woman-hate. Margaret Wheeler Johnson has the rundown: “brilliant women” turning into “slummy mummies”; the “truth” that women are responsible for any “glass ceilings”; getting skinny to gain the approval of other women. It delivers 24/7 analysis of how shitty you are, couched in advice on how a woman could, if she wanted to, become less shitty. The worst offender there is Liz Jones, and Johnson pulls a quote from a comment Jones made about the movie Bridesmaids.
The reality of the modern woman in Milwaukee or Birmingham hasn't changed much since Pride And Prejudice's Lizzie Bennet had to walk to visit her sister because she couldn't afford a carriage. Female companionship. Dreary, endless chores. Poverty and a pensionless, uncertain future.
Here’s why I’m a bad feminist. First, I’ll let you guess what you think my first thought was upon reading that quote. Got it? Okay.

My first thought upon reading that quote: The Bennet family had a carriage. Jesus Christ. They had a cook and a maid. They were hardly poor--they were landed gentry. Jane didn’t take the carriage to visit the Bingleys because her mother was scheming to get her stranded by the rain so she could spend more time with Mr. Bingley. Lizzie didn’t take the carriage to visit Jane because Lizzie was a free spirit and whatever who liked walking places. The Bennets’ only problem was that they had tons of daughters and no son, meaning all of their property would go to Mr. Bennet’s male cousin upon Mr. Bennet’s death, which is why they were trying to marry their daughters off as quickly as possible. It wasn’t because the family couldn’t afford to support them; it was because they wanted to ensure a good life for their daughters when the family assets became unavailable.


If you’re going to throw in literary allusions to try and lend some air of intellect and respectability to your self-loathing essays that center exclusively around how much women suck, make sure to read the source material first. And you might want to avoid pulling from Austen to support your anti-feminist screeds--she’s got layers.

And that’s why I’m a bad feminist: because no matter how hard Ball-Busting Man-Hating Feminist charges for the lead, English Geek will always get there before her.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

On Calvin and Hobbes and me

Okay, so all of the "grownup Calvin and Hobbes" cartoons depress me. The sad ones, where Calvin outgrows Hobbes and/or grows into a degenerate and/or turns into a boring, conventional, grown-up banker-looking kind of guy? Devastating. The sweet ones, where Calvin outgrows Hobbes, but Hobbes eventually finds happiness and fulfillment as the imaginary best friend of Calvin's precocious handful of a kid? Depressing--Hobbes is for Calvin, and Calvin is for Hobbes, and I don't care if Calvin and Susie reproduced or not. The bittersweet ones, where Calvin and Hobbes grow old together? I don't want to see Calvin and Hobbes old. Calvin and Hobbes do not grow old. Calvin managed to stay an eight-year-old for a full decade of publication, and there's no reason to assume he spontaneously started aging just because the cartoon went out of print.

Besides, the fact that Bill Watterson isn't making any new Calvin and Hobbes cartoons doesn't mean that Calvin has disappeared. I can crack open my dusty copy of Scientific Progress Goes "Boink," and Calvin remains eight years old (and Hobbes remains whatever age he was). A hyperintelligent, philosophizing eight-year-old, sure, but a second-grader nonetheless.

There have been debates over which of Calvin's two realities was really real--his interactions with his parents and Susie and Moe and the crew, symbolized by stuffed-Hobbes vacantly staring into the middle distance, or his adventures with real-live-tiger-Hobbes. It's a dumb debate. They're both real. Hobbes's antics frequently leave Calvin bruised and dirty and/or tied up, to be discovered by his mystified parents. Obviously, his world is the real world. That Calvin's parents don't recognize Hobbes for the living, talking tiger that he is is really more unfortunate than anything else.

Which means we have no reason to believe that the rest of the strip wasn't real, too. Calvin's Spaceman Spiff adventures could generally be chalked up to his imagination and his favorite comic books, but his transmogrifier? Do we know it wasn't real? Do we know that he never traveled back in time? Do we know that Calvin didn't have a flying carpet? It's not his fault his dad was too busy working to notice a flying kid (and tiger) outside his window, and obviously the condition of the rug afterward would indicate something beyond normal foot traffic.

AJ Aronstein published an essay--not the reason for this post, but possibly the impetus--talking about the comics in terms of nostalgia: the way we observe and appreciate things differently through the lens of age and life experience; whether we love it now because of its inherent, enduring awesomeness or because it recalls a simpler time when we were more innocent and uninhibited. It's a good question. And it's easy to say, "Well, my experience is different, and I'm special, and I can see how your thesis might apply to everyone else, but I'm the exception." So easy, in fact, that I think I'm going to say it right now.

Kicking back to my childhood, I can remember being so desperately jealous of Calvin. His life was awesome. In a time when I was feeling particularly lonely, he was never lonely--he had a constant and enthusiastic companion. In a time where the somewhat nontraditional workings of my mind made me feel isolated, his took him to other planets and duplicated him and made him an owl. My "playing pretend" was seldom--if ever--as vivid and engrossing. (A note to Allie: Do not think this makes our Calvinball games any less precious to me.) As great as my childhood was--and it really was--I wanted to borrow Calvin's so badly.

As great as my life is now--and it really is--I still want to borrow Calvin's. I still, on occasion, feel lonely; I still sometimes feel isolated; I still wish my friends were more open to playing pretend. I need a childhood like Calvin's to borrow, and that really only works if he stays eight.

Some of you may be tempted to attribute all of this to my tragic and ongoing tendency for anthropomorphization of my own stuffed animals. (Hold on, did someone just say ongoing? Ridiculous.) Of course I can neither confirm nor deny that I still have the favored stuffed dog of my early childhood tucked away in my closet, nor can I confirm or deny that I apologize to it if I'm ever forced to crowd it at all to accommodate more shoes. If Calvin can grow up, if he and Hobbes can be separated or be exposed to the harsh reality of adulthood--and I don't really know which would be worse--that would mean that maybe I can't be eight years old anymore. And that would be devastating and depressing.

On more anniversaries

Or, Happy fugging birthday.

Okay, so Practically Harmless isn't the only blog to celebrate its seventh birthday this year. July 1 marked the seventh blogiversary of exceptional (and personal favorite) blog Go Fug Yourself, which combines two of my passions--fashion and snark--for a wholly entertaining and time-sucking blogging experience.

GFY, I celebrate your awesomeness and wish you all the success in the world. To the rest of blogdom: HOW COME I AIN'T MAKING ANY MONEY OFF OF THIS, BLOGDOM, HUH? THIS AIN'T WORTH A LITTLE SCRATCH? JUST BECAUSE I HAVEN'T TAKEN THE TIME TO TRY TO SELL ADS? OR BECAUSE MY POSTING RECORD HAS BEEN SPOTTY OVER THE PAST FEW MONTHS? Not feeling the love, blogosphere. And now my first-grader of a blog is crying. Nice job.