Thursday, June 17, 2010

Random word generator # 5

Today's word is "ritual"

There are times I miss the lonely old routine. Coffee in the morning- by myself. TV in the evening- by myself. Making random decisions to just take myself out to a movie or for a piece of pie or breakfast.

We become so attached to the rituals of being alone. Sometimes to the point where it's almost painful to imagine sharing those rituals with someone else. Making coffee for two, for example. Taking another person along for pie, or rearranging your timeworn cleaning schedule for a night in. It edges on the comfort zones, challenges your self-security.

I'm not sure why I've been giving so much thought to what it was like to be alone as of late. I guess because it's highly likely I'll never live alone again. Perhaps it's because I'm astounded at how comfortable I've become with someone else's presence in my rituals, my existence. Even more astonishing, I've allowed my own life not just to join with someone else's but to mesh with it. It's not just my own routine and his... It's ours.

This has its value. Maybe even more value than most things in the world. But I'll always cherish the kind of independence, ritual, and calm that my old lonely rituals once gave me.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

An opportunity does not equal a right

I was having a quasi-argumentative discussion with Dale last night about the whole Ben Roethlisberger/rape thing after seeing a bit about it on ESPN. I wasn't doing very well making my point, due to a long-assed day at work and a hot car ride home. But I finally figured out what I was trying to say when I couldn't sleep last night. Here is the basic truth about any rape case where anyone claims a "gray area" of consent due to alcohol or fame:


Sure, it's not smart to leave your keys in the ignition of your car when you park it somewhere. But that does not give someone the *right* to steal your car. It's not smart to get liquored up and follow Ben Roethlisberger around like a rock groupie. But that does not give him the *right* to have non-consensual sex with you.

Sad thing about that metaphor is that the person who stole your car would have a much better chance of going to jail for taking advantage of that opportunity than Ben Roethlisberger ever will for assuming he has rightful sexual access to any female he comes across.

I guess there's just so much that bothers me about this situation. I've said before that I will reluctantly agree that women will lie about rape to get money or notoriety. It happens, some women are crazy. But the more I learn about this situation, it's an all-too-familiar combination of conditions that will always end in victim-blame in our culture. She was drunk. She was following a famous person around. She was asking for it.

But the point I'm trying to make is that while people will argue whether or not Ben Roethlisberger was a rapist for taking advantage of this series of events, we can't argue that he had a choice of whether or not to act in an honorable way. He had the opportunity to do something morally sketchy, and he decided to do so. But that doesn't mean he had the right to.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Illegal immigration: Too big to fail.

My problems with the Arizona anti-immigration law are informed by my lifelong experience within the ever-changing political landscape of the American Southwest. I grew up with Latinos, and I remember how interesting and exotic it seemed to have friends who were born in Mexico. The idea that people didn't have a right to seek a better life in the States didn't really enter my head until one day when a 7th grade Algebra teacher decided to shift gears in class and tell us about how people came to America to have "anchor babies" and live off of welfare in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

This didn't jibe with my experience of Latinos, the parents of my friends and classmates, who even in my youthful purview were obviously working physically harder than my own mother and father.

Later, in a Spanish class, I had the rare opportunity to see a film called "El Norte." Last time I looked, I couldn't find this film on Netflix, which is a shame. But the film is a graphic depiction of what it actually takes to cross the border, and the challenges these people face once they find themselves in the land they once imagined to be paradise.

So like pretty much everyone in the United States, I am aware that illegal immigration is a problem. But not for the reasons that built the Arizona bill. Our economy cannot function without illegal workers. THAT is the problem. Our economy necessitates cheap labor, and THAT is what ensures a constant stream of immigrants into the Southwest. It's what keeps stories of women being slaughtered mysteriously in the desert in the news. The problem is that we have come to need illegal immigrants and we ignore the fact that they pay the coyotes thousands of dollars they don't really have, to cross a border that traverses dangerous deserts, to face a future rife with constant discrimination and haunted by the possibility of deportation.

Crossing the border is not easy, cheap or safe. Not from Mexico, and certainly not from China or Russia or anywhere else. But people keep doing it. They wouldn't do it if there wasn't something here for them, employers willing to bend the rules, and for the less scrupulous among our Southern neighbors, a market for their drugs and guns. The illegal immigration problem would not exist if it weren't for the implicit needs of those of us on the Northern side of the line.

The job debate is also pointless. If an American wanted the job that was snapped up by an illegal immigrant, it's not just because the illegal immigrant was there to take it, but because an employer was willing to risk INS violations and tax issues to hire someone for much, much less than the American would accept. As a result, our grapes are cheap, our dishes get washed, our gardens get trimmed, our hotel rooms get cleaned, our brakes get replaced. Quietly. Cheaply.

My point is, the Arizona rule does nothing to stop any of the crime, any of the border crossing, any of the employment opportunities for illegal immigrants. It does nothing to keep illegal immigrants on their "own" side of the border (the border we painted across this little plot of stolen land we've decided is ours, I might add). It will do nothing more than undermine the economy of Arizona, renew the immigration debate (not that it ever does any good to do so), and anger those of us who don't think a nation built on multiculturalism has any business criminalizing skin color.

Perhaps it's time to remember how almost all of us come from stock that existed on the receiving end of the same hatred and frustration that caused the Arizona law come into being. Perhaps it's time for everyone to realize that such hatred has never gone away, only shifted to different cultures and skin colors hoping to realize the American dream. It's time to remember what it was like for the Italians, the Irish, the Chinese, not too long ago, and realize that the immigrant will never stop being a part of the American economy, culture or reality. As long as Americans live the life everyone else wants, immigrants will want to be Americans.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

turning the corner

By way of update...

I am now employed at two places, ye olde scooter shop, and a business that does really cool things with sustainability for what they call "environmentally challenged" businesses like oil, gas and manufacturing. It's actually something I could, and would, see as a career. We shall see. Right now I spend most of my days there working on the design and layout of brochures and other customer deliverables. It's fun and pays really well, and I like working for a company whose values are aligned so closely with mine.

My fiance broke his foot in late January, and as he works entirely on his feet, was out of commission for almost a month. Between a month of no work and several overpriced doctor's appointments (he's not on my insurance yet), it's put a huge financial burden on both of us. While the doctors' bills themselves total around $1,000 the wages he lost amount to much more than that, and it's been an uphill battle getting our finances sorted. Hopefully the wedding plans are still on track. But we're not sure. The notion of spending thousands of dollars on a single day, no matter how momentous and beautiful, is a point of stress for us both. This was our experience with pre-Obama healthcare in America. Here's hoping it gets better soon.

But we've got each other, I'm finally gainfully employed and enjoying my work (won't take that for granted again any time soon) and we've got a city full of friends and beautiful spring weather. I keep telling him it's going to get better, and I know it's true. It's hard to see how sometimes but it has to be okay someday soon. It always is.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Random Word Generator #4

Today's word is "Armpit"

L.A. is an easy city to hate. Lots of people do it. I think part of it is that there is so much obviously, glaringly beautiful about L.A., and so much that is so sickeningly, overwhelmingly awful as well. All in the same huge package. Los Angeles represents everything we hate about being Americans while also demonstrating everything we hope for- prosperity, beauty, warmth, the sparkling sun glinting off endless waves.

But I miss it. No matter how many veterans come back and tell me that L.A. is the armpit of the world, a vast wasteland of superficial, horrifying excess, I will always remember L.A. as I saw it when I was very young. How the warmth of the sun seemed to hold me close and tenderly as I stood in the ocean at Leo Carillo. The way the colors of everything around me seemed intensified by heat and sunshine. The exotic, intriguing smells of every possible kind of food that wafted into the car windows as we drove through neighborhoods unlike anything back home in Albuquerque, Minnesota, Colorado.

I saw L.A. at its worst once, as columns of smoke rose from Watts during a poorly planned family vacation in 1992. We made the most of it, we ventured into the city, we sunned on beaches and tried hard to put as much space in our minds between Malibu and the places on the news... Koreatown... South Normandie... Vernon and Western.

There were plenty of moments when it wasn't hard. Same city, different worlds.

When I turned 18 I wanted nothing more than to somehow find myself living an adult kind of life in Los Angeles. I would look for jobs there, houses, fantasizing about what it would be like to leave my small town life for The California Dream. I long ago realized the competition, the need to be blond and botoxed, the expense was not in alignment with what I really needed and wanted. But still, especially on days like today, my mind goes back to the coast. To swimming pools and tucked-away corners of strip malls where so many treasures can be found. To the smell of exhaust and salty air. And I miss it, for everything good and bad it can be.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Random Word Generator #3

Today's word is "Thoroughfare"

For a year, I fell asleep every night to the ocean-like ebb and flow of 18-wheelers careening down the I-80 thoroughfare just outside the singlepane window of my Cedar Rapids dormitory.

The room was always cold (unless it was hot), and in the winter months frost would form on this great glass portal overlooking the concrete ribbons of the interstate.

I am one of a lucky handful in this world who have experienced the magic of a Grant Wood springtime, in its glorious emergence from the dismal Iowa winter. The ground turned over, soil, black as coffee grounds opened fragrantly into the waiting crystalline air. The cacophony of birds, as exhilarated by weather warm enough to sing in as we were. And green... green from the tips of every branch to the mossy cracks in the sidewalks.

Iowa is a place for writers. Writers grow in Iowa, as much as corn and soy and wheat grows in Iowa. There is much to write about there- from the lined faces of blue-collar workers nursing a pint at any lifer bar (many of which just a stones-throw from our venerable institution of learning) to the grumbling stone-gray thunderstorms that gather on the vast horizons on spring afternoons. Like those who came before us (Vonnegut. Boyle. Wood. Cone.) we found beauty in the cold, warmth in the people, a functional yet otherworldly allure in its green, fresh growing things.

I haven't been back in far too long. Right about now it's the ragged end of winter there. The tension is palpable. There may be a melting, but it's not over yet. It will still be cold, it will still be gray, for several weeks before sprouts appear. Before buds burst from the branches. Before a strange haze appears over the soy fields. I can feel it like I'm there... an ache for the warmth of springtime.

Its coming, though. And that's what keeps us going.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Random Word Generator #2

Today's word is "Gift"

When I was six years old they started me in "gifted" programs. I had to leave my classes at a time dictated by my Pillsbury Doughboy watch (an Easter gift) and go to a different class. In this class, they spoke differently to us. They didn't slow down the reading so that... each... word... was... a... full... second... apart. They listened to our questions, they *really* listened, and they would answer us like a grownup would answer another grownup's question.

Apparently, my admission to at least one of these programs was based on a screening process in which I was supposed to read a list of words on the program coordinator's desk. Instead of the list, I read her telephone messages. Instead of "Aquarium, Extreme, Complement," I read, "Mr. Hudson called in regards to your Wednesday chiropractic appointment. Please call back to confirm by the end of the business day."

And this meant I was gifted.

I guess this status has created more problems in my life than it has created solutions. As a label, "gifted" is troublesome. As a reality, it's even more so. My current and most salient struggle is that I feel a deep-seated responsibility to this label. I can't get out from under the notion that this label has destined me for something more. And I am somehow letting them all down- the woman whose phone message I read, the teacher who let me play the film strips in that rarified world of the "gifted" class, every teacher who ever told me I didn't "apply myself," my proud parents who beamed when the news came that I had good enough SATs to be automatically enrolled in all state schools (at the tender age of 11).

I wish I could tell them all that somehow, someday, I'll make them proud. That someday it will have meant something that I was reading billboards before age 2, that I took National Geographic magazine to bed when I was 7. That they were right- I had boundless potential, and here... look here at what I'm doing now!

It's not a great time to be gifted, I don't think. But it has to get better.