Sunday, June 17, 2012

On my dad

Okay, so sometimes, I've found myself inspired to sit down and write an actual letter or card to one of my parents and put it in the actual mail, because it can be nice to have something tangible and handwritten that outlines in great detail exactly how much you're loved. Inevitably, I'll get a call a few days later: "What a sweet card! It made me want to cry. You're such a good daughter. … I'm not dying, am I? Dying and no one's told me?"

So: No, dad, you're not dying. Happy Father's Day.

1. When I was little--sevenish? Eightish?--my mom went back to work as a nurse part-time. Frequently, her wonky hours would leave my dad responsible for getting my brother and me off to school in the morning. This meant that my dad had to learn to curl my hair. There were a few mornings when I'd head off to school with little pink lines across my forehead and the tops of my ears, but it didn't take him long to get the hang of it and curl my hair like a pro.

2. At one point, our family had a weekly night when we'd all sit down in the family room and Dad would read aloud to us. No, I'm quite serious. We did that. We had these big, thick paperback books--Mark Twain and Sherlock Holmes are two that jump out at me--and we'd sit and listen. I spent my entire childhood surrounded by books, and I blame my current reading addiction entirely on my parents.

3. In an an older post about my mom, I mentioned a road trip we all took to northern Virginia in which Dad, Doug, and I drove home together. While we were passing around DJ-ing duties, Doug put in the soundtrack to Avenue Q. It was somewhere around "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" that Doug and I started wondering if it was a good idea to do this with Dad in the car, and by the middle of "My Girlfriend, Who Lives in Canada," we were holding our breath. I think it was the line "And I can't wait to eat her pussy again!" that set Dad off--laughing so hard he nearly drove off the road.

4. My dad is brilliant at math. I don't just mean that he has a trick for calculating the tip at a restaurant--he remembers every equation and rule and formula he's ever known, he can do mental calculations like a boss, and he almost majored in math in college until he realized that Calculus IV is a horrible, horrible thing to engage in voluntarily. But that's not the kind of thing you leave behind. He and I were in the car, heading home from somewhere I don't recall, and a lottery billboard had recently been updated with the newest bajillion-dollar jackpot. He and I started figuring out odds of winning for various games, estimated payouts, annuities, and bizarre Rain Man-type math, and when we got home we kept coming up with new puzzles for ourselves and solving them. By the time we'd abandoned statistics and started pulling out Mensa puzzle books, we'd been at it for probably two hours. I spent two hours doing math with my Dad. On purpose. And I still catch myself doing math for fun sometimes. It's a sickness.

5. My parents had very different styles of teaching my brother and me to drive a stick shift. Mom explained the process, gave cues as best she could, and jumped and winced a lot whenever we'd grind a gear. Dad would explain the mechanics of the manual transmission and relate it to the act of using the clutch, the gas, and the shifter--which is great, except he'd do it at the same time, while we were driving. So I'd be driving along, approaching a right turn, listening to his calmly delivered instructions whilst piling through brake-clutch-turn-shift-turn-brake-clutch-gas-shit-clutch-gas-clutch-sputter-sputter-sputter… And then Dad would say, "Above all, just fly the plane." And now, 15 years later, I remember 1) how a manual transmission works, 2) what it looks like, 3) how to drive a car that has one, and 4) to just fly the plane.

Love you, Dad.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

On body types, mental health, and defending the skinny girl

Alternately: The One Where Maybe I Come Across as Some Kind of Apologist for Something, or Whatever, I Don't Know

Okay, so my reader knows I hate blog posts that start with definitions, but I think this one calls for it.

The NIH on Anorexia:
A decreased appetite is when you have a reduced desire to eat. The medical term for a loss of appetite is anorexia.
The Mayo Clinic on Anorexia nervosa:
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder that causes people to obsess about their weight and the food they eat. People with anorexia nervosa attempt to maintain a weight that's far below normal for their age and height. To prevent weight gain or to continue losing weight, people with anorexia nervosa may starve themselves or exercise excessively.
I share these definitions in part because I'm so very pedantic that when I see terms used incorrectly, I get an eye twitch and an itchy rash on my lower back. I also share them to clarify something: Anorexia isn't "the state of being skinny." It isn't "the state of wanting to be skinny." It's the state of having a broken brain. And that's harsh, I know, and I know a lot of people with and/or recovering from eating disorders might bristle to read that. But as someone who spent (and continues to spend) plenty of time fixing my brain after a decade of bulimia, I feel comfortable assigning broken brain as a contributor to eating disorders.

On entitlement complexes and Birmingham's new smoking ban

Okay, so you walk into a bar and ask the bartender for a Grey Goose martini. And the bartender says, "We don't have Grey Goose. Would you like Ketel One or one of our other fine vodka offerings?" and you tell him no, you want Goose. He repeats--patiently, because he's a nice guy--that they don't have it. That if you insist on a Grey Goose martini, you'll have to go somewhere else, and if you insist on drinking here, you'll have to settle for Ketel (or one of their other fine vodka offerings). So what do you do? Of course you pass a law requiring every bar in town to stock Grey Goose so you can walk in wherever you want and have whatever you want.

NO, YOU DON'T. You decide that Ketel One will make an acceptable martini and order one of those. Or you decide to go down the street to see if another bar has Goose, and you get a martini there. Or you go home, where you have a freezer full of Goose, and you make your own cocktail. Sure, it's disappointing--you wanted that drink at that bar. But you're an adult, so you suck it up and recognize that, in the words of the Prophet, you can't always get what you want.

As of June 4, smoking is forbidden in basically any public area in Birmingham, including less than seven feet from the entrance of any bar or restaurant. In theory, as a dedicated nonsmoker, I should like this. It means I don't cough, I don't get exposed to secondhand smoke, and I can come in after a night out and not have to wash my hair before I go to bed.

But no one has every guaranteed me the right to go wherever I want and not have to wash my hair afterward. And no one has ever marched me into a smoky bar at gunpoint. On nights when I don't feel like getting smoky, I'm perfectly free to NOT GO to any of the establishments where people are smoking. And--up until last week, anyway--no owner of a private business was required to provide me with a smoke-free environment, just because I wanted one.

Friday, June 15, 2012

On the deadly bite of the Black Widow

Okay, so over at Feministe, I posted about my love of the Black Widow in The Avengers and my frustration with reviewers who completely dismissed her as eye candy despite ridiculous amounts of evidence to the contrary. (Warning: That post, and this one, are chock full of SPOILERY SPOILERS THAT SPOIL.)

According to movie reviewers, she's also a "token sexy female," who "spends a lot of time looking puzzled or confused" and "clench[ing] her brow," "repels invading aliens through the sheer force of her corsetry," and provides "images of Scarlett Johansson in a black bodysuit."

The funny thing is that that very reaction is one of the things that makes the Black Widow so effective at what she does. She's a sleeper--constantly underestimated and manipulative. She acrobatically defeats a team of Russian arms dealers--with both hands and a chair tied behind her back--because they had no idea what she was capable of. While normally I'd find Loki's derision of her as a "mewling quim" to be utterly horrendous, I kind of liked it here because it underscored the fact that our alien demigod villain was falling for her act and giving her everything she needed.


One great thing about the Black Widow is that the penalty for dismissing her and making assumptions about her generally involves blood loss. Now, far be it from me to say that violence is the answer (although I’m also not saying it isn’t...), but it would be nice if the real world had more tangible penalties for sexism. Like criticism by one's peers, censure in the public arena, or a reflexive expectation of public apology for misogyny. Or the public calling-out of idiot movie reviewers who obviously struggle with viewing comprehension. Or being hung upside down by one's ankles. Whatever.

And on that point, I'm of course completely right. In the subsequent discussion, several commenters mentioned that they'd love to see Natasha Romanoff interacting with other badass women, like Agent Maria Hill, in the next movie. I'd like to see that--and in addition, I think the Blu-ray extras for the movie would be a great place for a scene with them interacting casually, maybe blowing off some steam at the firing range after a mission. Something like this, for instance.


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

On speciality

Or: I never thought you were special. I thought you should know.

Okay, so I wasn't there at the Wellesley High School graduation last weekend, but I would have loved to watch all the proud parents swallow their tongues as English teacher David McCullough told their brilliant progeny that they aren't special.
No, commencement is life’s great ceremonial beginning, with its own attendant and highly appropriate symbolism. Fitting, for example, for this auspicious rite of passage, is where we find ourselves this afternoon, the venue. Normally, I avoid clich├ęs like the plague, wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole, but here we are on a literal level playing field. That matters. That says something. And your ceremonial costume… shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all. Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma… but for your name, exactly the same.

All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special.

You are not special. You are not exceptional.

Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.

On the new cola wars

Okay, so in an effort to combat super-sized New Yorkers, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is combating super-sized sodas.
Gas guzzlers, McMansions, Walmart, Costco: If one thing is certain about American consumer culture is that bigger is better, especially if it is cheaper.

So more than a few New Yorkers took it especially hard Thursday when they learned that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg wanted to take away their plus-size sodas in restaurants, movie theaters, stadiums, arenas and mobile food carts, as a way, he said, of fighting obesity.

Under the new rule, grocery stores and convenience stores will still be able to carry large-quantity sodas, but places that serve food (rather than just selling it) are restricted to 16 ounces at a time. It doesn't restrict a person's ability to chug down those same 32 ounces in one sitting--it just makes costs the person more money and more hassle. And it also doesn't restrict the size of diet drinks (which can reduce satiation), fruit juices (which can have as much sugar as sodas), or alcohol (which can pickle your liver and make you kill someone with your car or call your ex at 3:00 a.m. and beg him to take you back), because apparently those aren't public health risks.