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2013: A (Personal) Space Odyssey


Now, even though it *is* a Tuesday, this is not to say that the hiatus is over. I did mention that I would sporadically update, and since we all arbitrarily choose December 31st as our time to reflect on the past 365 days, I thought I’d update on The Year Of No Asking Out.

I made it, you guys! I didn’t ask anyone out for one year. Okay, so at one point I did ask a mutual friend about a person (as in, whether or not that person were seeing anyone) and that friend decided to put together a group hangout so I could get to know said person, but I didn’t ask for any of that to happen and so I count my perfect record.

So what did not asking anyone out mean for me this year?

Well, I didn’t really date this year, with that one exception. I got asked out two or three times, not counting the Polish man who asked for my number at the Jefferson Park Blue Line as I tried to go home for Christmas. But I wouldn’t say that my not-really-dating had anything to do with my not being the one to make the first move. The fact is, I had other stuff going on this year. A world-premiere musical to put on. A family reunion. A torrid love affair with Martinelli’s sparkling apple cider. I learned that it can be fun to have crushes and not try to force anything to come from them. I rediscovered how much I love having a space that is entirely mine and a schedule that I control.

When it comes down to it, 2013 was about falling in love with the life I have at this moment, and in that it was a huge success. I am incredibly, ridiculously, fabulously lucky, and I’m aware of it every single day. It hasn’t all been easy, and I’ve had to make some major changes, but it’s all been for the good.

Thank you to everyone reading, even those couple of random people I don’t know, for your support. There’s a lot to read out there on the Internet, and yet for some inexplicable reason you chose to waste at least two minutes of your life reading this. I really do appreciate it. I hope you all have something to grasp on to for the new year–either a nice memory from 2013 or the hope of something better to come soon.

Enjoy the next year, and if you don’t want to commit to a year, enjoy the next 54 days, because after that, it might be Ragnarok.


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Best Week Ever

This week I’ve lost a fight with an air conditioner, my internet isn’t working though it’s supposed to, my entire department changed completely and a bunch of people I care about have left, my entire right side is bruised, I’m still sick, and I’ve got some serious figuring out of logistics to do for pretty much every component of my life.

Still waiting for that pizza.

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Unpacking Patriarchy

I recently read “Is There Anything Good About Men?,” a talk given by Roy F. Baumeister (great name) to the APA in 2007. Six years old, but still interesting. I read it because for all of my feminism, I love men. I have a great father, a great brother, fantastic cousins and friends and coworkers who are all men. My answer to the eponymous question would be, “Uh, yeah. Lots. Duh.”

There are some interesting arguments in the speech. Baumeister asks us to remember that not only are there more men at the top of society, but also at the bottoms, in prison, etc. Now, I could stand to hear some more precise statistics about the number of men versus women in prison or homeless, etc., and I also think there might be something to say for women still being poor but not being necessarily homeless or having committed violent crime, but in the long run, quibbles.

Let’s grant his assertion that men are more extreme than women–less risk-averse, more likely to take a chance that could be dangerous to his social or financial standing or even life. I have no problem doing that.

I just…I trust that this guy’s heart is in the right place, but something rubs me the wrong way about this article and some of its assertions.

I was comfortable enough when he said:

I don’t want to be on anybody’s side. Gender warriors please go home.

I got less comfortable when he started using “the feminists” as a homogenous block. Please see this paragraph:

When I say I am researching how culture exploits men, the first reaction is usually“How can you say culture exploits men, when men are in charge of everything?” This is a fair objection and needs to be taken seriously. It invokes the feminist critique of society. This critique started when some women systematically looked up at the top of society and saw men everywhere: most world rulers, presidents, prime ministers, most members of Congress and parliaments, most CEOs of major corporations, and so forth — these are mostly men.

Seeing all this, the feminists thought, wow, men dominate everything, so society is set up to favor men. It must be great to be a man.

Which feminists were these? First-wave, second-wave, third-wave? Or just the people who identify with the definition of “feminist,” which is “someone who believes that men and women should be treated equally with equal opportunities?” I’m starting to get a straw-woman defense vibe here.

Then he got me back on his side when he said:

The tradeoff approach yields a radical theory of gender equality. Men and women may be different, but each advantage may be linked to a disadvantage.

Is it really that radical? What he’s saying is, “Men and women are actually different, but each have positives and negatives.” As much as I wanted to dispute the differences between men and women when I first entered my freshman year “Psychology of Gender” class, by the end it was pretty plain that yes, there are fundamental differences, psychologically and neurologically, between men and women. If there weren’t I doubt that there would be as many trans individuals, because being trans is not merely about the physical body. (Trans friends, please correct me if you disagree.)

Soon Baumeister gets into evolutionary theory, which is one of my least favorite things, because it’s possible to back so many contradictory conclusions by saying, “BECAUSE EVOLUTION.” To his credit, he bases this on DNA evidence of the number of men versus the number of women that most humans have had as ancestors. The likelihood of a woman versus a man to pass on her genes gives him reason to posit that men evolved to become more likely to take risks in order to try to secure a partner to pass on their genes.

Am I sold on this? Meh. Let’s go with it for now and move on.

I have no problem with the model of different types of sociability between men (lots of relationships, fewer very deep ones) and women (fewer relationships, tend to be more intimate). Of course people vary individually, but I can get behind this in general.

Fast forward to what I have a problem with and why.

Gender inequality seems to have increased with early civilization, including agriculture. Why? The feminist explanation has been that the men banded together to create patriarchy. This is essentially a conspiracy theory (emphasis mine), and there is little or no evidence that it is true. Some argue that the men erased it from the history books in order to safeguard their newly won power. Still, the lack of evidence should be worrisome, especially since this same kind of conspiracy would have had to happen over and over, in group after group, all over the world.

Let me offer a different explanation. It’s not that the men pushed the women down. Rather, it’s just that the women’s sphere remained about where it was, while the men’s sphere, with its big and shallow social networks, slowly benefited from the progress of culture. By accumulating knowledge and improving the gains from division of labor, the men’s sphere gradually made progress.

Here’s the thing.

Maybe Baumeister is talking specifically about first-wave feminists. Maybe they posited patriarchy as some conspiracy of men over women because of a fear of the power of reproduction.

I know very few current feminists who believe this.

Listen, I’m willing to keep an open mind about this whole theory of extremes and of different methods of socialization being why culture evolved (and it really is an evolution) in the way it did. But the fact is that once it got codified, culture started getting reeeeeeally concerned about what to do with women. Cultures started making laws about what they could and couldn’t do, where they could and couldn’t go, and who made their choices. And when that “culture” is dominated–for whatever reason, organic or inorganic–by men exclusively or nearly exclusively, you’re going to exacerbate feelings of “otherness” directed toward women and you’re just not allowing for what in essence is representational government. It’s the birth control panel with the all-male Senate group all over again. You might have the best of intentions, but we know that “separate but equal” doesn’t play out that way, and when women are punishable by death for infractions they never had a say about, that’s a huge problem.

Overall I get a kind of “cult of domesticity” vibe from this whole article. It’s the idea that women have it so good because they’re valuable because they can have babies, and that means their genes get passed on, and that’s the point of evolution so boom, bliss! The idea that women don’t improvise because they just don’t care to, rather than because it has been impressed upon them to stay inside the lines. Especially this, to me, rather flippant dismissal of feminists as misinformed speculators and conspiracy theorists rather than people trying to correct a genuinely bad situation.

Maybe I’m as much of a fundamentalist for nurture as the evolutionary psychologists are for nature in this whole “men and women evolved to want xyz versus were socialized to want xyz” debate. Ultimately, proof is difficult. That being said, I can clearly identify many of my own cultural influences. I don’t think it was biology that led me to want to be perfectly pretty, sweet, thin, and kind–I think it was largely the books of fairy tales modeling that behavior as the kind that would lead to emotional fulfillment (through marriage to the perfect person). I could be wrong about that, at least in part, but I do think that over the last four decades we’ve seen a lot of changes in women’s roles and expectations and that those are evident in the ways in which women behave and speak today, so something has to be more than biology.

Anyway, I wanted to like this speech. I tried to keep an open mind about it as I read, and to try out Baumeister’s assertions in my head. And now, three days later, I find that my brain kept coming back to it to figure out what in it didn’t work for me. That’s essentially the above. So thank you, Roy, for really making me think and challenge some of my assumptions.

You may not have changed my mind very much, but you definitely made me think about why I believe what I do.

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I remember…reading? Hearing? My memory isn’t awesome on the specifics. Anyway, I remember learning something about music awhile back. The author of the piece was a musicologist, and he was talking about composition. More than that, he was talking about the desire to hear something–a melody, a phrase, a movement, a symphony–resolve. There are ways to make a piece seem to resolve. I’m butchering this already, and my music theory isn’t amazing, but I just asked David about it and he confirmed what I was going to say. In Western tonality, you often begin on a tonic–let’s just say the starting note for the layperson–and move away from it, until finally, in the resolution, you return to the tonic. The piece is all about how you subvert the audience’s expectation of returning there, how you tease them and almost resolve then move away and change the melody and the intervals and the rhythm until finally, finally, when they just can’t stand it anymore, you let them have what they wanted and return to that tonic.

And of course, you hope they realize that that movement away from what they wanted to hear was the best part. That was the piece.

I love the idea of music as a process of teasing. I think that single concept could help a lot of people without formal training to make more interesting and compelling music. I also like the idea in general that the pursuit of what you want can be something to savor as much as actually receiving what it is you want. Maybe by the time you get there, you realize you wanted something else; even something you already found during the journey.

I’m trying to take time throughout my days to remember that I’m in the middle of the piece, and that any lack I feel, any area that seems unresolved, is part of what makes it so interesting.

It’s what makes the piece beautiful.

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Waiting for This to be Over

Refresh. Refresh. Refresh.

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For Boston

I’m from just outside of Boston.

My parents live there. My brother just returned there. A large number of my childhoods friends live there.

When I first heard that an explosion had occurred at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, I had the reaction that most people have when something bad happens in another part of the world. I wanted to know how many people were hurt, and how badly, and I thought, “How terrible,” and I hoped that no one had caused it on purpose.

I was downtown shopping. I’d taken the day off from work because it was my birthday, but Mondays aren’t the most happening days to play hooky, so I was entertaining myself in the shops on the Magnificent Mile.

Before any of this had happened, a couple of my friends had gotten in touch to wish me a “Happy ____ Day,” where the blank was filled with something that is not “Birth.” For example, “Happy Patriot’s Day,” or “Happy Tax Day,” or “Happy Titanic Sinking Day,” or “Happy Hillsborough Disaster Celebration Day.” All in good fun, of course. Some from my hometown had gone with, “Happy Boston Marathon Day!” In the morning, my only reaction to that was, “Wow, the marathon is this early in the year?”

I was in an art supply store when a friend called me to make sure that my family was okay. I told her yes, that my parents were on a hike in Western Mass, and that I was sure my brother wasn’t anywhere near the Marathon. She told me that there was also a fire in the JFK library and that no one knew if they were connected or what else might happen. She said that large parts of downtown were being shut down. I told her I had to make some calls.

I forget, sometimes, how emotions can feel so incredibly physical. As I dialed my brother, and as the phone continued to ring, there in the middle of the paintbrush aisle, I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach and felt the world recede, just a bit. I hung up and sent him a text, then immediately called one friend, left a message, called another. My friend Ross assured me that he was okay and that he was fairly certain that none of our mutual friends had been hurt. My phone buzzed. It was my brother, asking why I wanted to know if he was downtown. He was, he said, he’d just come out of a movie, what’s up?

As I’ve already told some people, no one that I know of was hurt in any explosion or fire. I am very, very grateful for that. But yesterday, standing with two bags of clothes I no longer cared about, resisting the urge to brace myself against an easel, I had for a moment a taste of what it feels like when your loved ones are in danger and you just cannot be there. It was that helplessness that left me shaken even after I had confirmation that the people I care most about were safe. It was the inability to get on the ground, to see what’s actually happening, to hear at this moment the scale of the thing–it was the spiral of fear after hearing that what you thought was one isolated incident might be a series of coordinated attacks–it was the sheer ignorance of the absent.

We know now that it seems to have been two homemade bombs, that this looks more like the handiwork of a local psychopath than of any kind of organization, and that the fire at JFK was unrelated. We know that three people have passed away and many more were injured. We’ve heard about the marathon runners who kept going when they reached the finish line, who ran to the hospital to give blood right away. It breaks my heart to see pictures of the victims, one only eight years old, and to read about amputations performed on people who recently not only had all of their limbs but could run over 26 miles.

Size doesn’t matter. Scale doesn’t matter. What matters is that there are people out there who got hurt or worse, and that there are people out there who, like me, heard about the bombing and tried to call their family and couldn’t get through, but for much more sinister reasons than me. Or who could, only to hear their worst fears confirmed.

My friends and family are okay. Not everyone can say that. And if my 26 years here, to more or less the day, have taught me anything, it’s to love your people. Love them now. Tell them now. Embarrass them, if you have to; shout it in front of their friends, make them roll their eyes. But tell them. At a deep, adaptive level, no one thinks that senseless violence will affect them and theirs. Unfortunately, sometimes it does. That doesn’t mean we should live in fear. Actually, it means we should live in love.

To everyone affected, I am truly sorry.  To all of you, be safe. And to my brother: Thanks for texting me back, kiddo. But next time, pick up your phone, ok?

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Seasonal Aggressive Disorder

When I was looking at colleges, I toured around Carnegie Mellon. At one point, walking around the campus, surrounded by funky Pittsburgh industrial buildings, my mom said, “I do have one concern, Lolo. Your Nana and I are concerned about how little sunshine there is here.”

Pittsburgh ranks pretty low on the Sunshine Index, which is a real thing.

It’s the 11th lowest in the US, actually. As in, 11 from the bottom of the cities of the US. As in, this list has 175 cities. Boston, my original home, is ranked number 98. Minneapolis, city of my college years, is 102. Chicago is 131. Pittsburgh is 164.

Anyway, my mom was concerned, because she knew that her side of the family has a touch of the old Seasonal Affective Disorder. Apparently age is not the only reason my grandparents moved to Savannah and then Charlotte. We didn’t know whether–or how much–it would affect me in the years away from relatively-sunny Boston, so she packed me off to college with a little sunlight lamp that proceeded to be the least reliable light fixture I have ever had.

College wasn’t that bad, even through the Minnesota winters. Notice that M’pls doesn’t rank too far below Boston–even in the winter, we got some sunshine. And while that is still true here in Chicago, and while I don’t think I would ever need sunlamp therapy for SAD, I definitely notice the correlation between my ability to shake off a bad mood and the number of clouds in the sky.

Me and everyone else, of course. Like OCD, SAD is something that everyone has to some extent. We need our Vitamin D, and too much dreary gray will get all but the most dedicated Pollyannas down. That doesn’t mean we have to like it.

So here we are, late February. On Monday I had a meeting in a corner office with floor-to-ceiling windows, and as the sun streamed in, I though, “Wow, today is awesome!” Today, after three days of rain, snow, and slush, I practically punched a guy who tried to change one aspect of my evening plans.

Please, Mother Nature. Please confirm what Punxatawney Phil promised us all. Please send spring soon. For my sake, and for the sake of all those plan-changers who like their teeth attached to their gums.

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