Thursday, February 25, 2010

"I have yet to hear a man ask for advice on how to combine marriage and a career."

~Gloria Steinem

This Sunday, the NYTimes added another segment to their "Room for Debate" series in which four "experts" chime in on the subject du jour: should women redefine "marriage material" given today's reality. Not only do more women earn college degrees than men, but they are also more likely to work in an industry (teaching, nursing, service) that isn't as affected by the economic downturn. No longer are women dependent on men for physical and economic security. The Times asks how these changes "might affect decisions to marry? Should women alter their expectations of what a husband brings to marriage?"

Betsey Stevenson points out that fifty years ago, women with college degrees used to be far less likely to marry than those without them. Today, women with degrees marry at around the same rate as those without. This suggests that many women today marry for love, not security. They can support themselves and yet still choose to marry.

A teacher of family history, Stephanie Coontz, worries about how this changing dynamic will affect men, "especially poorly educated ones whose traditional sources of masculine identity are increasingly unattainable in today's society." She wonders if, unable to fulfill the traditional male roles, these men will grasp "hypermasculine" tendencies; at the same time, she points out, husbands today are more likely to share in the housework and childrearing.

Barbara Defoe Whitehead suggests that "a man without a job is just another mouth to feed"--after all, women don't need a husband to have children--while the final writer, anthropologist Helen Fisher, suggests that men will simply find another way to make money.

What I find interesting is how quickly this paradigm shifted. Clearly, this change has been going on for a while; women have been earning more college degrees than men long before the recession. But it's our new normal: boys without college degrees, girls not marrying, children living in single-parent households.

And this whole discussion is very heteronormative. I don't know that I can take any discussion of marriage seriously that only considers marriage between men and women. It seems like a false argument, like those stories on the news clearly aimed at a certain demographic; it's not the whole truth. Someone recently posited that we should only have civil unions, for men and men, women and women, and men and women; "marriage" should be reserved for religious ceremonies, or those who choose it, while all parties should have access to the benefits (tax, social, etc) that come from life-time commitments. I thought it was an interesting idea.

Regardless, genders are still treated unequally. The pay gap has grown, not lessened. Misogyny exists on all corners of our planet. Those in power continue to be disproportionately male. It's hard not to think that many are worried about this paradigm shift and that, consciously and subversively, actions are being taken to ensure that men stay in control while women do all the work.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Quick hits

I can hardly believe there are only four days left in February. I've had neither the time nor inclination to write lately, but this should pass soon. I have an inbox full of articles that I've sent to myself for one reason or another; the Jobs bill passed with bipartisan support last night; and later this week is a health care summit that's sure to be great political theater.

  • My dad leaves next Monday. He just got here! Nana says it was God's gift that he was home during snomageddon.
  • Class is going fine - we missed a couple Tuesdays for the snopocolypse, but since we meet twice a week, we've been able to compensate.
  • I've been watching a lot of Olympics. I'm as rah-rah unpatriotic as they come--I love my country, appreciate my freedoms, but I get unsettled when I hear "God bless the USA," and think, "Why are we so special? What about everyone else?"--but I've really enjoyed seeing the Americans win gold medals. From Shani Davis to Lindsay Vonn to Evan Lysacek and Shawn White, I hope we crush the Germans and the Canadians in the medal count!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Flyover Country

In February's issue of Vanity Fair, author A. A. Gill describes his trip to the Cincinnati area to visit the Creation Museum. The Creation Museum, Gill says, "isn't really a museum at all. It's an argument." It boasts huge, elaborate displays of dinosaurs riding Noah's ark and seeks to explain how fossils, ostensibly 10 million years old, are actually only a few thousand years old.

To Cincinnatians, the museum (and I use that term loosely) is a curiosity, like Miss Emily in Faulkner's classic story. We suspect there's something strange there--a corpse in the attic, perhaps--but no one's really being hurt.

What made Gill's article so offensive wasn't its ridicule of the museum. I get a little uncomfortable when questioning someone or something based on faith alone, but any place that charges its patrons money and then stretches and denigrates science should be subject to challenge and criticism. No, what was most outrageous about the article was the ridicule he reserved for the people who make Cincinnati their home.

Gill begins, "It's not in the stoic nature of Cincinnatians to boast, which is fortunate, really, for they have meager pickings to boast about."

Huh? Blogger Kate the Great responded best when she listed a plethora of cultural and entertainment opportunities in the Queen City and favorably compared a Cincinnati restaurant to a famous one she recently visited in San Francisco. Also, she made the excellent point that "while Cincinnati ranks 32 in media market size, our metro ranks fourth in the nation in per capita giving."

With one broad stroke, Gill paints an entire region the same color as that ridiculous museum. He seems to suggest that we all believe Moses palled around with a T-Rex. Because when we live in flyover country, clearly we don't understand facts and reason - otherwise we'd be smart enough to move to one of the coasts, where we could pay triple the rent for a third of the space and where our friends would all be as tolerant as Mr. Gill.

While Mr. Gill's piece was just one man's opinion - he certainly doesn't speak for all of Vanity Fair or for everyone from whatever coast he comes from - it struck a nerve. From our libraries to our zoo to our museums and beyond, culture abounds in this city and region. And the people are as varied as our landscape, sprinkled with hills and valleys, parks and forests, rivers and lakes, new homes and old homes. Like any city, we have our knuckleheads and we have room for growth.

We're not a destination city. Kids in other parts of the country don't think "I'm gonna move to Cincinnati when I grow up!" like someone might for New York or Los Angeles. But we have a vibrant community that is on the rise. We deserve to be a destination city. Those of us who grew up here may move away for a bit, but many of us return to the city we love.

I'm already late to this conversation. In fact, Gill's piece showed up about three weeks ago. Tom Callinan sums up the blogger reaction to the article. But it made me angry enough that I had to respond with my two cents.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Primary, Secondary, Tertiary... Quaternary?

I think our country is experiencing a massive hangover from the Bush years. Where was the public outrage over being misled into war, over our country's image abroad plummeting, over the dialog shifting from "we did not torture" to "torture is an effective interrogation tool," and over the complete media failure to challenge and hold accountable the government? There wasn't any, at least not on a grand scale.

But we woke up, head pounding. We have this nagging suspicioun that, you know, mistakes were made. We see ourselves engaged in two wars, our biggest institutions failing and bailed out, the deficit growing and growing. We see our friends, our family, our selves losing work or losing insurance. We don't remember who handed us that 5th shot of tequila, but we see who's in control now. The current powers that be may not be responsible for our headache, but we're angry, and we want to hold someone or someones accountable. We won't get fooled again.

I read an interesting article this morning (which is what spurred me on this tangent) about how the media covers Washington. George Packer writes in the New Yorker that reporting focuses solely on appearance and perception and no longer on substance. This has been the case for decades, now, and no longer surprises us. But he asks us to "imagine [Hamad] Karzai's inaugural address as covered by a DC reporter:
Speaking at the presidential palace in Kabul, Mr. Karzai showed himself to be at the top of his game. He skillfully co-opted his Pashtun base while making a powerful appeal to the technocrats who have lately been disappointed in him, and at the same time he reassured the Afghan public that his patience with civilian casualties is wearing thin. A palace insider, who asked for anonymity in order to be able to speak candidly, said, ‘If Karzai can continue to signal the West that he is concerned about corruption without alienating his warlord allies, he will likely be able to defuse the perception of a weak leader and regain his image as a unifying figure who can play the role of both modernizer and nationalist.’
It's easy to imagine an Obama speech being written about this way - political base, perception, image, etc - but, Packer asks, try to picture reporters talking about war in this manner. About the economic crisis. About foreign governments. Today's DC reporters focus on the inside game when, clearly, we're not insiders. Senators aren't meeting with us in back rooms. They're not adding special, hidden clauses in bills that provide loopholes for us...

I remember waiting for the State of the Union address, or other big stages for the president. About eight or nine pundits sat around a table (maybe they were in the "Situation Room"!) and each of them wondered, "What will the storyline be?" Everything--every democratic and republican response--was discussed for show and narrative, not for substance.

In a couple weeks I begin talking about evaluating sources. How do we sift through websites, articles, and books and decide what sources to accept and what sources to reject? Among other things, we look at whether a source is biased, timely, and useful. Is it presenting opinions or facts? Is its argument based on sound or specious logic?

Also, we look for primary sources: original documents, original reporting - not some else's analysis of that source. While a primary source is not necessarily more reliable than a secondary source (it should be subject to the same evaluation), by examining that primary source we can better understand and evaluate the secondary and tertiary sources that use its information.

How much of the reporting holds up to close evaluation? How many times has Fox news decried a poll while holding up its results as indicative of some narrative it's pushing? How many times have we seen a senator (republican or democrat) lie to a reporter but not have it challenged because the reporter is uninformed? How many times have we seen pundits use false logic, conflating causation and correlation, in order to simplify a story?

The story is on the story that is on the story. What passes as news is so removed from the original source that, as viewers, readers, and receivers of that news, we have more and more trouble evaluating it.

Unfortunately, we're still in the bathroom, heads spinning, our bodies slumped over the toilet. "Never again," we say. But are we saying "no" to the right people?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Why I Rent

I noticed a minor problem with my drainage pipes last week while I was shoveling the driveway.

The pipe was split, and the whole thing was coated with a thick layer of ice. I immediately took this picture and sent it to my landlord. When I came home from my grandma's this evening, the pipe was fixed.

Friday, my trunk wouldn't open. I turned the key, pulled up, but it wouldn't budge. The trunk release did nothing either. My first thought was, "Well this sucks - no more trunk!" Instead of thinking about where I should go to get it checked out, I was imagining my life without a working trunk. The next day my friend said she noticed my trunk was open and shut it for me. She was puzzled by my excitement.

Anyway, I really believe that if I owned my house and noticed my drainage pipe split and frozen over, I'd think to myself, "Well it was nice having a drainage pipe.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow Day

My new smart phone does many things, from email and twitter to Facebook and web browsing. But I can't write and submit a new blog post from it, at least not the traditional way.

Anyway, as my title suggests, I had a snow day today. One of the benefits of living in the Midwest is that we don't get heavy snowfall that often, but when we do, we go crazy. Most schools and some businesses are closed, cars are wrecked, and grocery stores have a run on bread and milk. Me, I can walk to my favorite chili place, my favorite pizza place, and my favorite convenience store; in other words, I don't stock up on supplies. And if I get desperate, I can even walk another quarter mile to Starbucks.

We've had some snowfall the past few days, though most of it fell today. My downstairs neighbor and I have been playing chicken to see who would finally shovel the driveway. Since I was off, and he clearly wasn't, I went ahead and shoveled when it appeared my fall-back plan, the solar method (i.e. wait 'til it melts), wouldn't happen for some time.

I just heard his car (a little Honda) struggle to make it up the first part of the driveway - I shoveled that part last, and by then I think the temperature had crept above freezing, making the snow heavy. An icy inch is better than a snowy 8 inches, right?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Friday's Five After Five

Another Friday, another evening spent with friends in a grocery store. About once a month, instead of wine, Whole Foods has a beer tasting. Whether the weather (ha) or an aversion to beer by the sort of folks who would go to tastings, these nights have been decidedly less crowded. And until yesterday, the food has been less-than appetizing.

Station one began with an organic Acai Berry Wheat and a queso dip. The beer was light, reminding me of Blue Moon. The queso, served with a couple tortilla chips, was delicious.

Station two had an organic India pale ale. This was darker, richer, and hoppier. I normally like strong beers, but I'd skipped the food at this station--potato salad--and the bitter beer was a little too much. (I still drank it all, of course.)

Station three had an "Old Ale," Triple Exultation Ale. It was dark, rich, and sweet, and went very well with the delicious hot wings that were served at that station. Though they were "hot" in name only, the wings were wonderful: crispy, meaty, and flavorful.

Station four, we drank an organic porter. It was another dark beer, but it was very smooth. The food, called "Hankie Pankies," looked so good that I ate it without reading the ingredients: ground beef, sausage, cheddar cheese, cream cheese, cayenne pepper, garlic salt, oregano, and party rye bread. I could have eaten two or three of these.

Finally, at the last station, was a goat roll. Goat cheese, herbs and spices were served on a cracker. We drank Raven's Eye Imperial Stout - a beer new to Cincinnati with a 10% alcohol content. Dark with a hint of espresso, I think it's most similar to Guinness.

Two or three inches of snow fell in Cincinnati, so panic ensued, and the roads were practically empty. I wonder how crowded (or not crowded) the library will be; I feel like picking out a great movie to watch tonight.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lies My Mother Told Me

When I was a child, during the summer I frequently heard that unmistakable music of the ice cream truck. But I wasn't allowed to just grab change I'd saved up and run outside to buy a 60 cent Popsicle. I needed permission. My mom, though, wasn't a fan of saying "no." Instead, she'd say, "Oh that's not the ice cream truck. That's just the music truck."

"The music truck?"

She explained that there were, indeed, two trucks: the ice cream truck that slowly drove around the neighborhood, selling Popsicles, ice cream bars, and orange creamsicles; and the less-familiar music truck. Its job was to fill the air with the innocuous melody of "Do Your Ears Hang Low?"

Ten or so years later I said to her, "I haven't seen any music trucks in a while. Do they still have them?" Of course, the truth came out. To this day, though, whenever I hear "Do Your Ears Hang Low," I think of that phantom music truck.

I was smart but gullible, a description that probably still holds true.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Public vs Private Voices

I usually kept a diary when I was little. I would never ever ever let anyone read it, but I always wrote with the assumption that someone (my mom? my brothers?) would sneak a peek. I would sprinkle my entries with asides that were addressed to that violator of my privacy. "Today at school I got hit in the head by a four-square ball," I would write. Then I would add, "You think that's funny, whoever you are?" I didn't intend for there to be an audience, but in the back of my mind, I wrote as if there were one.

And so it is with this blog. I write my little blog anonymously. I don't give my real name, and I don't share, specifically, where I teach or which library I work at. There is a freedom that comes from that anonymity: I've spoken about my hopes, my fears, my politics, and my family without really worrying about what others think.

Judging by my recent blog stats, I see that I may not be as anonymous as I'd thought. On the one hand, this terrifies me. In the classroom and at the library, I want to project authority and confidence. Many of my words here undermine that. But on the other hand, my words demonstrate, I hope, my honesty, my love of writing, and my sincere belief that each of us is a work in progress, open to growth and new ideas. For me, writing is a way to explore those ideas. We can't change the past, but we can reflect on it and make changes for the future.

Anyway. We shall see.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Reality Check

At the start of (or end to) each quarter -- and too, I suppose, the weeks in between -- I become at once hyper-reflective and hyper-critical. And I think many of my complaints, my self-doubt, and my insecurities undermine the fact that I do a good job. I focus on where and how I need to improve, but I don't mean to suggest that someone else could step in and do it better. I enjoy what I do, and it challenges me every day that I do it!

"Is Life Destiny or Determination?"

The main character in Achy Obejas' lovely short story, "We Came All the Way from Cuba So You Could Dress Like This?" asks that question. The ten-year-old and her parents have literally just gotten off the boat from Cuba, 1963, when the action starts. Throughout the story, the plot jumps from the day they arrive--the processing center in Miami with the well-meaning Catholic volunteer and the convenience store where they're amazed by all the products, where we learn about her father's expectations of America and dreams for his daughter--to moments in the future--the narrator's experience with lovers, male and female, and her father's disappointment and disavowal of her; her father's death of a heart attach in 1990 and her own experience with cancer shortly thereafter; the narrator's constant questioning of whether she and her family would have been better off staying in Cuba.

We'll be talking about this one today: how does the unchronological plot structure affect your understanding of the story and its characters? do you think the narrator is reliable, given that half of the time she's speaking from the point of view of a ten year old? what is the central conflict?

I ask these questions, and we search for valid answers, but I do think the best and most interesting fiction raises questions rather than answers them. Ah, well, as long as I keep pushing for that search for answers - even if it simply yields more questions, that's ok too.