Monday, May 06, 2013

Name that slur! Mexican edition.

So this past weekend was Cinco de Mayo, an American holiday that celebrates margaritas,  burritos and drunken tomfoolery. What, you thought it was about a Mexican military victory against the French? Interestingly, the holiday is much more widely celebrated in the U.S. than in Mexico, thanks mainly to beer commercials and clever marketing. A dear friend of mine of Hispanic descent brought up several good points on the subject and got me thinking about dealing with cultural sensitivity, or insensitivity, as the case may be.  

When I first moved to San Francisco, I worked with a woman who made a big impression on me, though not necessarily in a positive way. She had a personal mission to point out every instance of what she perceived as racism in her day-to-day interactions with the intention of making people more aware and sensitive to their words and actions. She took particular delight in calling me out (presumably because I was from the South) every time I mentioned race, ethnicity or culture. Her approach was something like this: “Why did you say that just now? Was the fact that the man was black important to the story, or are you just fostering latent racism?”

Needless to say, she and I butt heads often. I would immediately go into defense mode since no one - least of all me - wants to be called racist, but also because I thought her reasoning was flawed. What’s wrong with noticing that people are different from you? Racism is certainly still a problem in this country, I agreed, but being blind to race and culture is hardly a solution.

To this day, when I think of this lady’s seemingly personal vendetta against my “racist” Southern ways, my blood boils. But five years later, I have to admit that she had a point.

Fast forward to Cinco de Mayo 2013. My aforementioned friend made the point that dressing up “like a Mexican” was incredibly offensive, brought on I suspect by this photo posted on a Facebook event page:

This started something of a Facebook debate concerning why lumping a number of cultural and racial stereotypes into a costume is problematic, with which I couldn’t agree more. It’s one thing to dress as a historical figure or cultural icon such as Che Guevara or Emiliano Zapata, but quite another to dress up “as a Mexican.”

But she and I got to talking about the best way to raise awareness to such stereotypes and yes, latent racist attitudes that many Americans foster. When one is personally offended by another's words or actions, it’s difficult to approach the situation calmly to point out the offense.

However, as I learned with my former coworker many years ago, it’s also very difficult to be on the other side and have your actions or words criticized or even worse, to be called racist. And while I like to think racism in this country is dying with each generation, cruel stereotypes and ignorance are alive and well. The trouble is recognizing it and correcting the behavior without launching into attack or defense mode.

On one side, you have people who throw up their arms and yell “Offense! Racism!” at every joke or comment to the point of exhaustion. On the other side, you have those who either have no clue when it comes to interacting with other cultures, or feel PC-ed to death and resistant to any notion of cultural sensitivity. Personally, I’ve been on both sides of the fence.

Political correctness is much more lax in the South, so most people - even those who in no way would consider themselves racist - don’t realize when they’re saying something terribly insensitive. Here in San Francisco, people can be not only be overly-sensitive, but also incredibly impatient when it comes to others lack of insight and sensitivity.

As always, it’s that middle ground we’re most in need of but also proves to be most elusive. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could engage in a legitimate conversation about race and stereotypes without one or both parties becoming offended or self-righteous?

For my part, I’m trying to understand issues from viewpoints other than my own, even those that to me seem flawed, and avoid initial knee-jerk opinions. But also, I’ve got to learn not to let my feathers get ruffled so easily when someone makes an insensitive or ignorant comment regarding my hot-button issues.

Perhaps this exercise in understanding and patience is a lesson we could all stand to study a bit further.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

My complicated relationship with hair

“Where in god’s sake is this going?” You’re probably asking. Well let me assure you, I have plenty of things to say about hair of the human-grown variety. I could probably write a dissertation on this topic in fact, but for brevity’s sake, I’m going to limit this discussion to three topics and a couple video clips.

Firstly, if you know me personally then you probably know I’m a little grossed out by hair. Specifically, hair that is detached from the body; free-floating, mystery hairs rolling like little tumbleweeds across the bathroom floor and lurking like devious swamp creatures in drains.

Some people can’t handle feet, or mice, or bugs. For me, it’s hair. I’d like to say this is not a phobia since it’s not an irrational fear, however I’m having trouble explaining the exact nature of my revulsion.

It probably began when my dad would make me pull slimy, wet tendrils of months-old, half-decomposed hair out of the bathtub drain whenever it would stop up. This induced immediate dry heaving and “heebie jeebies.”

Regardless, I go to great lengths to avoid touching off-the-body hair. I think Seinfeld explains it well:

Watch Seinfeld stand up clip on YouTube

Funky, old shower hair aside, there’s the matter of hair that’s still attached and growing on our head. Head hair is very weird. We are the only mammal that continually grows hair and while it does go through growth cycles and other animals are constantly replacing fur, our hair can grow to any length we desire virtually forever. There’s no “stop growing now” mechanism like the hair on the rest of our body (unless, of course, you’re bald. But again, animals don’t go bald). So naturally, we’ve developed some pretty odd rituals and associations with our hair.

For one thing, a woman’s hair is very sexual. In our modern day culture, this association has become more internalized and we’re not always aware of the implications of, say, long, flowing hair. However, there are entire cultures that cover their hair once they become adults. And long ago, only maidens (unwed, virginal women) wore their hair exposed. It also came to represent a sort of promiscuity to reveal long hair.

Nowadays, women of any age and marital status wear their hair long and exposed without a second thought. However, living in the sexually hyped-up society that we do, I’d make the argument that the long tresses so trendy today are yet another way of sexualizing women to an absurd degree. Yes, I know this may seem like a bit of a leap, but think about it next time you watch TV or read a magazine. What kind of women are portrayed with long hair versus hair that’s short or pulled back in some way? Why are they portrayed that way?

“But you have long hair!” You’re probably screaming. Yes, and I wear it very proudly. When thinking of my hair, I often feel like Samson; as if the source of my power emanates from strands growing out the top of my head. I go through phases of long and short hair and the determining factors tend to be how annoyed I am with maintaining long hair versus frequent haircuts as well as what image I’m trying to portray.

Do I want to be feminine or tough? Edgy or beautiful? Sexual or conservative? At the moment, my long hair makes me feel pretty and rather sexy, and I believe that’s the signal it sends as well; appropriate given my desire to attract a mate. Not-so-coincidentally, most men I’ve spoken with prefer long hair, probably for the reasons I’ve just outlined.

So as you can see, my relationship with hair is rather complex. Psychoanalysis, anyone? I’ll leave you with this:

Watch clip from the musical Hair on YouTube

Monday, April 08, 2013

Memories in the attic

When I was back home last Christmas, I climbed up into my parents’ attic to look through boxes of my old stuff. I found some cute things, some sad things, and inexplicably several pairs of terribly outdated shoes. But I also found a pseudo journal I would write in whenever I felt confused, sad or just the need to wallow in self-pity. As it happens, I did this quite often in my angsty teenaged years.

The last entry into this journal, however, struck a chord. The essence of the entry was my trepidation in leaving my home for San Francisco. At the time I scratched out my fears and questions into the little book, I hadn’t officially decided to make the move, though the idea had been on my mind for years.

It’s interesting how we respond to opportunity and change. Sometimes we embrace it, other times (most times?) we shy away out of fear. This has been a recurring theme in my life; to change or to stay the course?

Looking back, I can remember well the worries that kept me awake at night the months before I packed all my belongings into my little car and took off. After all, I had spent 16 years of my life in Nashville. I had friends, family, job opportunities, connections and familiarity. It was home. San Francisco represented the things I wanted out of life, but being the pragmatic person I am, I also realized there was no guarantee of success or happiness there. It was just an idea, a fantasy, an escape.

I suppose exploring new opportunities is scary not just because failure always lurks behind the corner, but because there’s also the possibility of ruining the fantasy, of realizing your goals are unattainable. To me, this is heart-breakingly terrifying. Enough to keep me from trying, even, for fear of losing my most precious dreams. How do you tell the little girl giving fake interviews to the mirror that her dreams may fail? Well if you’re me, you just keep living in that fantasy without ever trying to make them reality.

Yes, I realize this sounds terribly wishy-washy, but I know I’m not alone in these fears. Familiarity is comforting and most people prefer to be comfortable. Change is the great unknown and that’s scary. But ultimately, the what-ifs can keep you from pursuing goals, experiences and, well, life.

These were questions my 22-year-old self wrestled with and - very bravely - I decided to take the plunge and move to an unfamiliar city where I had no friends, no housing, and no career opportunities. I’m still proud of myself for taking that step, especially since I don’t feel I have embraced too many other big changes since then.

Sure, I’ve taken little steps here and there, but I keep shying away from opportunities, even really promising ones. I think I need to take a cue from my younger self and just close my eyes, take a deep breath, and let come what may.

If you’re interested in reading what 2008 me had to say about my big move, feel free to explore the older posts. But be kind - 2013 me owes her a lot.

Welcome to my blog V2.0

Hello, and welcome to version 2.0 of my blog. As you may surmise, this is my second attempt at keeping up with a regular blog, however the objective is quite different this time around. Let me give you an unnecessary amount of detail as briefly as possible...

As you probably know, I write. I do this for fun, for profit, and ultimately to become a world-renowned, noteworthy and awe-inspiring author. Clearly, keeping a blog is the best way to achieve these goals.

Ok, so maybe that’s a bit of a stretch. However, I believe it is important to create an online footprint and persona to highlight my awe-inspiring talents. So that’s one thing.

Next, I find I have these little conversations in my head most days and I often think, “Gee, I wish someone could hear these downright profound thoughts, comment and leave feedback to affirm my awe-inspiring talent and possibly stroke my ego.” It’s like that saying: if a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? (oh, she’s lofty indeed!)

But seriously, I would like to refine my personal voice. When tackling matters of the heart or intellect, I tend to write in a journalistic, objective style. Given my background and training, this makes sense. But given my above-stated objective, less so. So my intent is to tell stories and issue opinions in an captivating, unique, and at times humorous way. And practice is really the best way to hone this skill, methinks. Not to mention developing a regular habit of writing is kind of essential and something heretofore I’ve been very poor at maintaining.

With that said, I’d like to entertain you, dear reader, but I’d also love your feedback. If you think my opinions faulty and thoughts silly, well, that’s fine (you’re not alone), but I’d really love to hear what you think of my writing.

Yeah, I think this feels pretty good. I’ve got my writing shoes on, I’m doing some mental stretches, I’m ready to take off. Let’s see where this goes!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

My neighborhood...

City of the Dead

Twisted concrete forms with rusting spines
Jutting from the crumbling rock
Past industry rubbed raw in 50 years of salty air
Relics painted by the hands of youth

Broken testaments to loved ones lost
Forgotten names stolen by the sea
Life spans swept away in the waves
Now a graveyard to black waterfowl
Feathered necks slither lifeless through the stones

Painful creaking of octogenarians
Submissive to the force of an invisible foe
Where no cypress should be they grow still
Beaten down by relentless wind

Padded paws traipse overgrown steps
Concrete stages set for acts of war
Ghostly hollows of unused cannons
Marching regiments descend into the earth
Reclaimed by gnarled roots and spongy soil

Above murky depths clouds kiss the mount
Dense fog the only shroud for nameless souls
Foreign bones rest obscure beneath 18 holes
Glistening legion of recreation and eternal art

Black grids lead down cream-colored rows
Cultures tucked quietly behind locked gates
Jovial echos of chutes and road houses
Playgrounds drowned by march of days

Outer Lands once sandy bosom of the dead
Undulating dunes leveled and paved
Giving way to Thai Palaces and Golden Rivers
Where cold flesh burned now children swim
Memories fade with withering mourners

Lonely symbol perched in reverence
Tumbling down the quaking slope
Replaced by learning to reign on high
Monuments polished but disguised
The past decays with salt and wind

Thursday, January 22, 2009

My everyday

I wanna talk about my job. No no, not Buca. While this was my home for nearly five years, I was finally able to pull away and find use for my degree. Journalism? No. But interesting nonetheless. I work as a personal assistant/office administrator for Dr. Brenda Wade ( This basically means I have two jobs: juggling clients, invoices and budget with writing media pitches, arranging travel and buying shoes.

This is basically what I do... just wish I had those clothes!

I'm inclined to relate my job to The Devil Wears Prada. I'm that wide-eyed, new grad, wanna-be journalist living in the big city and looking for my break, as it were. What I end up doing is running all sorts of crazy errands and doing secretarial-like work for a celebrity psychologist. How does this happen? Well, I found the journalism industry to be disillusioning and a job therein seemingly unattainable (but I'm now wondering if it were just lack of effort on my part?). Anyhow, the ad was posted on Craigslist and I answered. Frankly, I was sick and tired of the restaurant industry and ready for something 9-5 and steady. Well I found it! And learning this job (which I'm still in the process of 3 months into it) has been dizzying. Names to recognize, schedules to juggle, last-minute plans, a whole new industry to understand (new-age, holistic psychology)... Well, Dr. Brenda, unlike Meranda the "Dragon Queen" is a compassionate, friendly and loving person. I'm blown away everyday by her capacity to move at a 1,000 miles a minute while still remaining gracious and calm. Unlike that silly movie, if Brenda were to tell me I reminded her of herself, I would be flatter beyond words. Who wouldn't appreciate being compared to a strong, successful business woman? That movie totally missed the mark. Women should be encouraged to succeed, not hold back for the sake of friends or men. Grrr...

Anyhow, this job is interesting and full of possibilities and connections (I might go to India with Brenda next winter!), but not without it's faults. I find myself sitting behind an unmanageably cluttered desk with a to-do list seven miles long and a coworker that constantly criticizes everything I do (not Brenda). But sweet and sour, right? My pay is consistent though not terribly high, the hours are amazing and I get a parking space. More to come, of course!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shocking SF

Well I’ve been here long enough to get a good taste of local flavors, if you will. But be advised: I am going to give an objective account of the things I have experienced in this city and it is not for the faint of heart or easily offended! For you see, San Francisco seems to have a plethora of raunchy, offensive goings-on.

Cocaine. Yeah, it’s pretty abundant and readily available here. What about marijuana, you ask? Well that’s nothing! Just down the street from Buca di Beppo is a clinic licensed to distribute pot for medical purposes. You can tell that’s what it is because of the sign sporting a large pot leaf out front. So since San Franciscans have accepted the pseudo-legality of the drug and pass it off as nothing more than a harmless recreation (but don’t most people anyways?), they’ve vested their amusements into something much more stimulating. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if there was no cocaine in Nashville, I just never had to wait outside the bathroom while someone was doing lines inside. But then maybe I’m just an innocent... Point being, everyone does it, everyone loves, and it keeps this city raving.

Well we all know SF is gay-capital of America. No surprise there. But have you ever heard of Folsom Street Fair? This magical days occurs in October and celebrates all that is bondage with a public parade and nonchalant displays. By that I mean sex in the street. I know, sounds unbelievable, right? Well ... let me just say you don’t want me to go into detail. But I suppose this ties nicely into the fun little fact that at nearly every festival or fair, there are always naked people. I don’t know how they get away with this, but there they are, pink, fleshy and exposed for all the word to witness.

Another fact of city life are all the crazies and homeless people (usually but not always one in the same). You may think that last paragraph explained those types already, but you’d be wrong. Those were just recreational nudists and exhibitionists. These are guys different. They stand on corners shouting or mumbling, the only coherent words being vulgarities. While they sound hostile, they seem altogether harmless, simply loose a screw and with/without a stimulant. Others more or less ignore them, pausing their conversations just long enough to sidestep the sad heap of humanity. Fortunately, there doesn't seem to be many of this lot in my neighborhood. A bit too cold I think.

Shocking as this may (or may not) sound, let me add one very important observation: since I've been here, I have not witnessed a single act of dangerous crime. I have never even felt in danger or ill-at-ease, mostly because I avoid the sketchy areas of town and don't wander about alone a night. But also because most people are normal folks, trying to be safe and sane.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Star Wars

A long time ago in a galaxy far away... yeah! So as prolific as it is, I somehow managed to remain uninterested in the Star Wars series and never even got around to seeing Ep. 2 or 3 of the new ones. Well, one day not unlike many I've come to know living with my new roommate Brandon, he takes it upon himself to give me all the information I never wanted to know about the series. And ya know what? I was interested. So much to his delight, we spend a week watching and discussing the first three (and I only fell asleep during two of them!). All and all, I must say, I really enjoyed watching the films with an "expert" and having all the holes filled in. Apparently, George Lucas had all this subtext to the script that wasn't really relevant other than just as a method to explain the Star Wars universe to the actors and himself. Well all these fun little facts leaked out and are still spread to this day by people like my roommate. For instance, did you know Chewbaca hangs around Han all the time b/c Han (accidentally) saved his life and according to Wookie code, Chewy is now forever indebted to him? Yeah, I didn't either, but now that I do, the trilogy is so much more interesting!

Well, naturally, I then wanted to know what the new movies were all about. Come on, who doesn't want to see the "birth" of Darth Vader? Sooo... I got myself signed up for Blockbuster and rented the three new movies for the following week. And we watched them. Wow. I shall now give you my unsolicited and newly educated opinion.

First off, the first three movies were such a success and still great movies to this day b/c 1. they followed an age-old and highly effective story line and 2. the characters were all loveable and, according to the formula, interacted beautifully together. GL, as a young, passionate and highly devoted director, knew what he was doing! Thus, he created a modern cultural icon of sorts. He always knew he wanted to make the first three, it's just a shame he waited until he was ridiculously successful and rich to do so. You see, instead of dedicating himself heart and soul to creating a great story, he just threw a ton of money (I think $500 mill for Ep. 1?) to a bunch of computer geeks and Star Wars nerds. And what did he come up with? Shallow characters, an overly-complicated plot with too many holes, and lots of tiresome graphics, fight scenes and explosions.

So I know he helped write the script, but it's like he was more focused on explaining this whole Republic vs. the Empire stuff than exploring the characters. But wait, what made the first movies so great? Tried and true plot: good-guy rebels vs. evil empire (Homer's Iliad), powerful son battling father/origins (Oedipus), love story (no explanation required), etc. And of course the characters--loveable rogue, strong princess, a mysterious warrior of unmatched skill, comedic sidekicks... I mean, it sounds like the same old thing, but you see how well it works? There are certain patterns of story-telling one should really take to heart. So I guess what I expected the new movies to do was explain how Darth Vader became evil, why Leia and Luke never knew their origins, where all the Jedi went, how Palpatine became so powerful, am I right? Secondary is how the empire came to be. We like characters in our stories because we can relate to them and, if they're interesting and well-rounded enough, fall in love with them. I guess they forgot that with these movies!

If you've ever seen them, perhaps you noticed all the political talk, the endless battle scenes and crazy planets and creatures in the new movies? Maybe you also noticed how horribly shallow all the characters seemed to be? Whoops! Here's what I hated the most... Anakin comes off more like a whiney brat than the imposing, powerful Sith lord he becomes. And he only seems like a good Jedi when compared to crappy Obi Wan. And worst of all, rather than letting the audience watch the movie and figure it out, they keep telling us stuff like, "But I’m the most powerful Jedi ever!" and "I killed them all!" or "I'm going to rule the universe!" I mean, how dumb do they think we are?

What’s more, if I want complicated, nonsensical, unexplained politics, I’ll just listen to the news! I’m watching these movies because I want to know (and love) the characters and frankly, I want to suspend my disbelief and be entertained. Why are they making me think so hard for a movie that has no relevance other than it’s entertainment value? See, they do that and then I start to ask questions like, who is this dead Jedi that built the clone army? Why did he do it? Where did the money come from? Why do the people who built the army so readily give it up when stupid Obi Wan apparently has no idea they even existed? Or how about the Trade Federation? Who are they and why do they enlist the help of the evil Sith Lord in the first place? Who’s General Grevas? How come no one seems to care that Anakin and Padme shacked up together? How are the Jedi so influential when the first movies lead us to believe it was some ancient, outdated religion? GL didn’t leave us any notes to answer that! (And what’s with all the chopping off of the hands/arms? Anyone else notice that’s like the #1 Jedi trick?)

Apparently, this is the kind of entertainment you get when you have a budget close to the GDP of a 3rd world country! So the point of all this? I really REALLY like Darth Vader. I just wish they would have developed him better cause he is so freakin’ cool and Anakin just doesn’t do him justice. But the last 10 mins of Return of the Sith are the best of the whole series, am I right?