The man on the 4 train…

One dark morning, a decade ago, I stood pressed and yet alone, bucking and swaying on a screaming subway car. It was a cold season. An empty season in the heaving city.

A man in his fifties, sixties- it doesn’t really matter- approached me. His clothes were layered and wrapped around him like the burden of memory and I was at once alarmed and quieted by the passage in his eyes when I looked up from my book.

“Psalm 37 has always spoken to me.” And then he walked out of the flexing doors.

I turn now to those words. In this bright night of tears. In this sharpness of confused rage. I am told that the season of waiting has begun, but haven’t we been waiting? Aren’t we flailing at solid, metal poles just to hear the deafening clang as they clatter to the floor and roll at our feet? Still the train bullets through, night after night into morning after morning. We find ourselves in the depths, where the sun circumvents us in its rising. Where sound is muted by dirt and simultaneously ricochets through the tunnels under the city. Echoes that travel to the graves that hold the brown-skinned bodies buried for centuries, for weeks, for hours, in stolen earth. When will our savior rise again? When will our king overcome? When will our hearts again be warmed by the just sun?

Psalm 37:1-11

“Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong;

For like the grass they will soon wither,

like green plants they will soon die away.

Trust in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;

trust in him and he will do this:

He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,

the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;

do not fret when evil men succeed in their ways,

when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;

do not fret- it leads only to evil.

For evil men will be cut off,

but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

A little while, while and the wicked will be no more;

though you look for them,

they will not be found.

But the meek will inherit the land

and enjoy great peace.”

Are UVA’s fraternities ‘terrorist’ organizations?

It’s an evocative question, I know. However, as light shines into the dark recesses and shadows of the fraternity houses on Rugby Road, I’m not sure it is too strong of a descriptor.

The recent article published in Rolling Stone chronicles one woman’s experience of a gang rape at a nearby fraternity house. Sabrina Erdely, the author, delves into the sexual violence that runs rampant in the UVA community. She looks into the traditions of the institution and into the cultural foundation on which it now stands, uncovering the rot at the core.

I was born in Charlottesville. I have lived in this community for over 10 years- the longest I have lived anywhere in my 34 years. I love this town. My father (who is now a priest in the Anglican church) is an UVA alum and former ‘frat boy’. I have friends who have been raped in fraternity houses along Rugby Road. This feels personal.

And, for that, I am thankful.

Because I feel entitled to my rage. Yet, I am full of fear.

The definition of ‘terrorism’ is rather nebulous. From the U.N. to our own government, it seems each entity has its own interpretation. The reason, as posited by Geoffrey Nunberg ((October 28, 2001). “Head Games / It All Started with Robespierre / “Terrorism”: The history of a very frightening word”San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-01-11), that it is so difficult to encapsulate, is because it is easy to use the pejorative to promote one’s own aim. By labeling, for example, a political activist as a ‘terrorist’ what may well be an acceptable instigation of change becomes stigmatized as immoral and harmful to other citizens, essentially allowing those in a position of power to hijack the agenda and commandeer the catalyst. In many cases, expressing an opinion regarding the political environment can lead to dire consequences if it is seen as a ‘terrorist’ action.

There are, however, some common threads that tie these multiple definitions together. According to what I could find from the UN (United Nations Security Council Resolution 1566 (2004)), US Department of Defense (Joint Pub 3-07.2, Antiterrorism, (24 November 2010)) and other academic studies (Rhyll Vallis, Yubin Yang, Hussein A. Abbass, Disciplinary Approaches to Terrorism: A Survey, University of South Wales, (2004)), terrorism involves: Acts or threats of violence, meant to coerce through fear, individuals including and beyond the immediate victim, toward political, religious or ideological aims.

If we look at the systematic and engrained sexual violence perpetrated by members of UVA’s fraternities, we see that the above definition, sadly, holds.

Of course, the above statement requires some investigation into what constitutes sexual violence, coercion, and sussing out what the ‘political, religious or ideological’ aims might be.

Let’s start with sexual violence. I continue to be astounded at how many people, both men and women, whom I encounter that perceive rape or sexual assault to be on some sort of continuum with ‘blurred lines’ surrounded by ‘gray areas’.

According to the US Department of Justice: “Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient. Falling under the definition of sexual assault are sexual activities as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.”

“Explicit consent”. This is the tall, iron gate, ladies and gentleman.

According to npr.org and the California Legislative Information website, in September of 2014, Gov. Jerry Brown, signed a bill into law that would require a ‘yes means yes’ approach. From the SB-967 bill: ” An affirmative consent standard in the determination of whether consent was given by both parties to sexual activity. ‘Affirmative consent’ means affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It is the responsibility of each person involved in the sexual activity to ensure that he or she has the affirmative consent of the other or others to engage in the sexual activity. Lack of protest or resistance does not mean consent, nor does silence mean consent. Affirmative consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual activity and can be revoked at any time. The existence of a dating relationship between the persons involved, or the fact of past sexual relations between them, should never by itself be assumed to be an indicator of consent.”

What I find interesting about the bill is that consent is outlined as verbal affirmation but also may include (“according to lawmakers”- npr.org) active and clear non-verbal consent. This bill was specifically added to the Education Code in the area of student safety.

So, we’ve outlined that sexual assault is an act of violence. But, what about the coercion issue, which is fundamental to the definition of ‘terrorism’? Is sexual assault being used to create fear directly or is the fear a byproduct of the act?

According to Jill Filipovic’s piece “Rape is about power, not sex in The Guardian: “Rape is a particularly difficult crime because it’s about both power and violence. Rapists use sex organs as the locus of their violence, but rape isn’t about sex, at least not in the sense of being motivated by sexual attraction or an uncontrollable sexual urge.” This statement expresses the general consensus (although there is some disagreement) related to the motivations behind sexual assault. Therefore, the emphasis on rape being about power solidifies that the aim of the assault is to produce dominance and fear among the assailed as well as others who may identify themselves as potential targets of similar violence. What is perhaps most troubling about the incident highlighted by the Rolling Stone article, is the premeditated nature of the attack. The intention to do harm, implement violence and exert power over another individual, seems to me, to fit the definition of actions meant to incite fear.

If we return to Erdely’s findings in her article, we see how the social structure has bent and twisted to ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence within the UVA fraternity system, go unpunished in every sense of the word. “Two years later, Jackie, now a third-year, is worried about what might happen to her once this article comes out. Greek life is huge at UVA, with nearly one-third of undergrads belonging to a fraternity or sorority, so Jackie fears the backlash could be big – a ‘shitshow’ predicted by her now-former friend Randall, who, citing his loyalty to his own frat, declined to be interviewed. But her concerns go beyond taking on her alleged assailants and their fraternity. Lots of people have discouraged her from sharing her story, Jackie tells me with a pained look, including the trusted UVA dean to whom Jackie reported her gang-rape allegations more than a year ago. On this deeply loyal campus, even some of Jackie’s closest friends see her going public as tantamount to betrayal.”

Yesterday, I spoke with a friend who is a professor in the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages & Culture at UVA, who planned on discussing the issue of sexual violence at the university in his class and was promptly censored via email by one of the deans who cited the sensitive nature of the topic. He was flabbergasted. Here is a man who leads daily conversations about the horrific treatment of women in places like Afghanistan and yet, he may not, according to the higher-ups in the administration, discuss the issue of the abuse of women within sight of his classroom window?!

Violence causes fear to the individual and that fear spreads like a virus to others. In a tight-knit community viruses are hard to contain. (Take the literal norovirus that overtook 15 first years in the last few days…) Decades and generations of condoned sexual violence means that a pervasive culture of fear has likely worked itself into the DNA of The University. And it is not just the young women – those in the direct line of fire – who are infected. Take my professor friend, whose work has been threatened, whose classroom has been appropriated, whose teaching has been influenced through a display of power, all as a direct consequence of sexual violence. Going back to the Rolling Stone article, Erdely identifies young women and men who act out of fear of being social outcasts if they so much as acknowledge the rape of their ‘friend’.
It is clear, to me at least, that sexual violence causes fear beyond the victim and that fear influences the decisions of others to, in essence, protect the perpetrators through silence, inaction or direct support of their violent activity.

The final piece remains as to what is the political, religious or ideological agenda that motivates this violence?

This part is tough for me to unravel. As a woman, I find it very difficult to find a way into the mindset of a man who sexually abuses women. As a woman who has never experienced sexual violence first hand, I find it even more difficult to understand the motivation. What I have discovered is that the motivation is as diverse and varied as the men who assault women – spanning all races, socio-economic groups, ages, and religions. I have read interviews with men who have admitted to rape and their outlook runs the gamut from bitter, soul-questioning remorse to outright pride at their behavior. Earlier, I cited Filipovic’s article entitled “Rape is about power, not sex”, which does shed some light into what drives men to assault women. And in her article she outlines how men have used sexual violence as a way to promote ideological, religious and political purposes across the globe – there is no shortage of precedence for this type of fear-inducing violence.

If we focus on the predominantly white, wealthy, 19-22 year olds that identify their loyalty under the label of Greek letters, I am hoping we might gain a better understanding as to the ideology behind these brotherhoods.

Let’s go back, way back, to the start of fraternities. William & Mary calls themselves the “Birthplace of the American Fraternity” as the first ‘fraternity’ was created there in 1776, according to their website. From its inception, Phi Beta Kappa was created as an elite conglomerate of individuals. It was the first time Greek letters were used to signify an organization and these were an overt indication of scholarly pursuit, further identified in their motto: Philosophia Biou Cybernētēs, now translated as “Love of Learning is the Guide of Life” (http://www.pbk.org). There is a continued reverence, to this day, of the tradition of fraternal organizations and a pride heightened by a personal association with brothers throughout history. There is also a sense of entitlement and elitism subscribed to members of these organizations, that almost goes without saying.

Why do men join fraternities now?

According to Patrick Daley of the Fraternity Advisor (www.fraternityadvisor.com), young men join for 6 main reasons:

1. Acceptance

2. To Build Their Resume

3. Leadership Experience

4. They Don’t Want to Be Left Behind

5. Meet Girls

6. To Party

Another take on what influences the decision to join Greek life, comes from Bogey Wells at http://www.totalfratmove.com in his article “Why I joined a Fraternity And Why You Should, Too”:

“The fear of the unknown that had kept me at a distance quickly disappeared as I realized that fraternities are not breeding grounds of rape, the objectification of women, and overt drug and alcohol use, but rather unique, miniature communities of college-aged males who enjoy being with one another and like the infinite perks that come with being initiated into a fraternity.

Fraternity brothers become your family away from home. They become your confidants when things get rough, yet they’re also the ones who will kick you back into gear when you need to be set straight.”

He goes on to point out that, “the fact of the matter is that any large group of men in their late teens and early twenties are going to find themselves in trouble at some point. The odds are against them. The law does not discriminate between Greeks and those who are unaffiliated. However, a news headline featuring an outrageous, illegal action with fraternity letters plastered next to it draws ratings.

Rape, sexual assault, drug use, and other illegal, reprehensible activities occur in our society all day, every day. Pick up your local paper and count the number of everyday citizens arrested for those crimes. They outnumber the Greek affiliated college students arrested for the same crimes by far. My point is, for those of you who think that joining a fraternity condemns you to four years of immoral and criminal activities, you are incorrect. In fact, if you decide to rush, you will be pleasantly surprised at what you find.”

On its face, this young man’s opinion and experience is innocuous, positive even. However, I read some of the comments in response to his post, presumably from other fraternity members and pledges, and this is a sampling of what I found:

Makers__Mark: Should’ve included rush boobs”

inhocFaF: ‘Rape, objectification of women, and overt drug and alcohol use’ sounds a lot like a PIKE party. The latter two sound a lot like the typical greek party.”

“1laMbDachiguy: Going Greek was the 2nd best decision I made, after being born an American”

Shotgunning: great writing! i was also against Greek Life in the beginning of freshman year. all it takes is talking to a couple of brothers and you will understand how different fraternities are from the stereotypical frat.”

One commenter, ritamans, writes a rather long response. Here is a small section :

“The truth of the matter is, is that while deplorable activities happen all over the world, it seems to be a breeding ground for fraternities everywhere. Furthermore, while you think the numbers are “low” in the grand scheme of things, you’re only talking about the incidents that you KNEW about and that were reported. I know plenty of inappropriate actions by fraternity guys that I know were never reported because the girls and guys did not want to come forward.

Do yourself a favor and think before you write. No one’s rape or exploitation should be considered “irrelevant” just because it didn’t happen to 100% of the population. Educate yourself. You went to a university to learn in the first place, didn’t you?”

This sparks a lengthy interchange among the subsequent commentators, my favorite (please note my intense sarcasm) is this one from Bourbon and Beer: “what are you some kind of mom?”*

*As some kind of mom myself, this seems as good of a place as any to express some of my thoughts on sex…

Sex is the ultimate communion. It is both powerfully physical as well as psychological. When a woman feels violated sexually it impacts her outlook on sexual experience moving forward. The freedom she once longed for and the creativity she may have hoped to explore is deadened, numbed, or replaced by shame, guilt and anger. The enjoyment of sex that both men and women long for is distorted, often irrevocably, by forced sexual contact. Women find themselves in the role that has been so clearly laid out for them by the pleasure-only-for-the-man porn industry, expansive reach of misogynistic music, and myriad sex-driven marketing campaigns in everything from food to fashion. Women are primed from a young age to find their value in how they are perceived by others. Breaking through that illusion into a true sense of self-worth requires safe places to explore their interests, their sexuality and their relationships with others; A place where they are heard and seen and known. It requires that we, men and women, express the inherent value that each woman embodies through a committed partnership of respect. Women are powerfully sexual and yet few get to experience that potential realized because we, as a cultural, have loaded women down with shame and fear.

Back to totalfratmove.com…

Furthermore, on the same page, under the Trending Today headlines sidebar we find:

The same Bogey Wells wrote the coverage relating to the Rolling Stone article about UVA and says this: “Obviously, Jackie’s story didn’t sit well with some people, and the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity has been under siege since the story’s release.”

And this: “The national fraternity issued a press release on Facebook Wednesday that stated it is aware of the situation and is investigating all allegations. The Facebook post triggered a string of illogical, generalized rants against the fraternity.”

I do not doubt that he would categorize this very post as an illogical and generalized rant as well.

I believe the underlying belief behind fraternities, from my outsider perspective, is this: Brotherhood above all else.

A deep and abiding sense of loyalty creates a sense of belonging, a place of security surrounded by the chaos of entering manhood and facing the untethered challenges of the impending ‘real world’. Under the eaves of hundred year-old roofs, surrounded by the brick and ivy, the pooled insecurity and longing for connection, grows into a fellowship. The songs, the chants, the traditions all support this communal experience. Finding community is essential to the health and growth of society. But at what cost? What meaning is found in the words of the songs? What has seeped into the foundation of these seemingly ancient buildings?

Here blood and beer pool together. There is semen and tears. There is anger and fear. And still there is longing. Longing from the women who want to be accepted and admired by these young men. Longing from the brothers to play a role in this new-found family. Longing for both to be valued. To have a sense of self, revealed and solidified. A longing for sexual exploration and enjoyment of life. A longing to be welcomed and wanted. The longings are healthy and good. But the pursuit of selfish aims coupled with a disregard for the humanity of another creates isolation and destroys the very connection that we strive for.

If brotherhood is, in fact, the ideal that drives the society and culture surrounding the fraternities, is it the driving force behind sexual violence? It is indeed what allows the spread of fear among students and the administration at UVA? The alumni who sustain the fraternities and the University with their financial contributions, are they also complicit in sustaining this culture? Could we go so far as to say that the fraternities have political aims, if we define politics as organized control over a human community?

I don’t have the answers.

When I had my first son, I thought, “Why am I bringing another white male into the world?” White men, historically, are responsible for heinous and systematic exploitation that continues to this day. And yet, they still wield power culturally and politically. Together with my husband, we are committed to raising our sons to live and lead with grace, respect, and humility. Perhaps, our two boys can be agents of change. Perhaps, they can navigate the broken system and play a role in extracting the rot at its core. Perhaps, as brothers, true brothers in spirit and peace, they can demonstrate what it means to invite others into a purposeful community of reconciliation, replacing fear with love.

In the garden…

I’ve seen the green shoots in the garden that no one wanted. The snow keeps smothering and then melting just to smother again- like the covering grief. We are not sure whether to welcome the newness of the transitory precipitation of sadness or whether to nestle in and pray for thaw. Still, the garden is growing. The promise of blooms keep us waiting despite the cold.

A few months ago, our community quaked with the loss of a young citizen, friend, and daughter. Charlotte was six years old when she was struck and killed by a truck on a quiet city street in the middle of the day. I didn’t get the news until the evening- a friend phoned while I was painting at my shop. Alone, my response was one of fury, of rage. I screamed. I roared into the absurd night. And then I gathered courage and sought out shared tears.

Charlotte was one of the children in our little “yurt school” cooperative. Full of fire and glitter, she burst into every space, romanced every flower, and choreographed the wind. She danced with abandon, shared with gusto, and stood her ground like an oak sapling.

How do you explain the death of a child to a child?

The next morning, with mussed hair and sloppy pajamas, we sat with our boys. I slowly and quietly explained to them that our friend Charlotte had been in an accident and that she was taken to the hospital and that she had died. I watched my five year-old’s eyes change as the words clicked into place, their meaning contracting and expanding the muscles in his small face. This was the most frightening moment: The realization that I would never fully know what mechanisms were at work, what cogs were turning and what internal parts of him had just transformed. Again, I was angry and fearful. What has changed in my son? Is there a stony crust formed somewhere deep in the recesses of his trusting heart? Has the muscle of his love for others grown stronger? Is the acid of this senseless loss bleeding into his veins? There was no way to know. The line of distinction between the person-hood of mother and child revealed its rich ink.

We raise our children to let them go. Each milestone becomes a landmark on a course of departure. But we all carry the hope, maybe even conviction, that the route circles back, that somehow our sons and daughters are on a ship riding the tide that ebbs, flows and returns.

So when our faith returns an empty ocean, a broken vessel, then what?

Our perceptions are always changing. Our gratitude, sustaining. And still we search for what is beyond our vision, beyond our understanding. We linger on the hopeful shore: mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, sisters and brothers. And we fill the tides with our tears and change the course of ships with the moon of our love.

No one wanted to plant Charlotte’s Remembering Garden- we didn’t want to have to re-member, we wanted the moment to be alive in her presence. Over one thousand bulbs went into the cold earth on a rainy morning. Hands caked with mud massaged them into the soil. And now we wait for spring, trusting that the season will change and bring her joy to us again, again.

char run

 

 

 

If you would like to hear more about our experience of how we’ve walked with our children and community through this tragedy, please feel free to be in touch. Leave a comment or send me an email trouble.trace@gmail.com.

Zipper cussing Merge

There is a lot of road work going on and around this city of ours. Close to my shop is an ongoing cluster-cuss of construction that is projected to continue well into next summer. As a result, driving has become less than enjoyable. I mean, I learned to drive in Detroit when I was 17 so I can handle aggressive driving and such. What I can’t handle is the dumb, stupid-slow, blind u-turn, no indicator free-for-all that Charlottesville city streets have become. Quintessential Southern mentality and the gentile duplicity of well-meaning citizens, has led me to my current state of vehicular frustration…

Zipper Merge. It’s a thing. A good thing. Recently, I found myself driving in a lane that was slated to end in about a three quarters of a mile. Mind you, I was traveling at about 35 miles per hour when I saw the first sign. Traffic was pretty heavy but most of it was concentrated in the right lane (I was in the left). I continued on, slower, but still in my lane, when I had to put on the brakes and come to a complete stop because a single car was straddling the two lanes. I realized when I tried to move around the vehicle (and the driver subsequently moved further over to block my way), that he was policing the merge. All by himself, blesshisheart. It was all I could do to keep from unleashing the pent-up Detroit-borne teenage road rage on this guy. I stared hard at his Oakley’s in the side-view of his car. I watched the confused, elderly driver behind me, honking gently. And then I drove up onto the grassy, raised median and went around that brothertrucker.

“Zipper Merge, cusshead!” I wanted to yell, as I bumped and swerved past.

The Zipper Merge, also known as “late merge”, is a tested traffic flow directive that, as the name suggests, requires drivers to merge as late a possible to create a one-two, me-you, zipper-effect. This “zippering” keeps traffic moving at a consistent pace and greatly reduces accidents ahead of the merge point.

Here are some links if you want learn more:

They do it in Minnesota, doncha know.

Everybody loves a little wiki merge info.

Jon Stewart on the subject.

There’s even a video on youtube…

Share this concept with your loved ones. Tell your neighbor with the Oakley’s. ‘Cause next time, I’m not going around him- I’m going over him like a zipper over tighty-cussing-whities.

15 Ways “Orange Is the New Black” is roller derby

15 Ways Orange Is the New Black is roller derby:

1. It centers around the interactions of a large community of seemingly incongruous women.r-ORANGE-IS-THE-NEW-BLACK-large570

2. Once you are no longer Fresh Meat, you get the real team uniform.

freshmeat

3. Yelling at the refs can result in a major penalty.

yellingatrefs

4. There is a healthy lesbian population. (Although, truth be told, some are just “gay for the stay”.)

nickiandmorello

5. If the track gets shut down, some ladies go bananas. Some do whatever they can to work the system and get it open again.

watson

6. There are committees. And everyone has a job.

committee

7. Your family is tired of hearing you talk about the drama. But they’ll still tell complete strangers that you’re involved.

visitlarryradio

8. Wives.

wives

9. Widows.

widowlarry

10. Everyone’s got a nickname, even the refs.

pornstache

11. Sometimes it just feels good to hit a bitch.

obfight

12. There’s a lot of foul language.

13. It doesn’t matter what size you are, how old you are or if you’re transgender- they’ll gladly take you in.

SOPHIA-orange-is-the-new-black-35581861-168-168

14. It can be completely degrading and completely empowering. And if you apply yourself, you’ll come out stronger.

15. Ladies have mixed feelings about getting out. Some are scared to leave and others are relieved. Either way, it’s hard to adjust to the real world.

taysteeout

*all pictures copyright netflix.com

For the Win

Miley-Cyrus-Foam-Handphoto necolebitchie.com

#MileyCyrus.There, I’ve done it. I have added to the astronomically large tally of tags, hits, keywords and glommed on to the vocabulary of the moment.

Yes, I have seen the infamous VMA performance and the loaded Robin Thicke video. I have also watched the Auckland students’ (warning: explicit) parody video. And I have read some blog posts on what’s what when it comes to walking with your kids through the swamp of exploitation and scandal-hungry media hawkers. And it all has me thinking…

When my son was born I experienced a moment of alarm. Just what the world needs, I thought, another white man. The moment passed in a breath and what came next was the realization that my son was positioned, culturally, by his genetics and the strange circus of patriarchal Western culture, to be an advocate for the disenfranchised. If, by his gender and skin color and whatever other stamps and labels society wants to slap on him, he will give voice to the ones ignored. He will grow to be an oak of respect for women- a shelter from the hail of objectification of his sisters. He will honor sex not as a commodity but as a gift. This, I pray, is his birthright.

As parents we are in an arena where we are unwilling players. Chuck Klosterman (of The New York Times, The Ethicist column September 1, 2013) writes, in response to an inquiry about the morality of performance enhancing drugs, “There are no sound moral arguments against P.E.D.’s. There is, however, an ethical argument. Morality is about personal behavior. Ethics are more contextual. They create a framework for how a culture operates… Any game […] is a type of unreality in which we create and accept whatever the rules happen to be. […] The motive is to create a world- or at least the illusion of a world- where everyone is playing the same game in the same way. P.E.D.’s are forbidden because that’s what our fabricated rules currently dictate.” So what does this have to do with the explicit performances of Blurred Lines? Well, it seems to me that the force of American culture is fielding two teams. Is this a game about morality? And ethics? I believe yes and yes. And it is about sex and inequality and exploitation and fame. Above all, it is about greed: power and money, the Win.

When I watched Thicke’s Blurred Lines video, I have to say the feminist rage in me sat quietly- edgy and poised, but quiet. I think there is a part of me that understands the business of sex, the currency of desire. The women in that video are beautiful (Yes, in a westernized, light-skinned, emaciated sort of way. But still- gorgeous.). The song is dumb. It’s all about the hook (Pharrell Williams would be first to admit). There are moments that pissed me off, sure, where I was offended and disgusted. Times when it was clear that we are allowing corruption in the economy of relationship. But those (professional model)girls were amazing. And I have this love of nudity…

I don’t have this knee-jerk reaction to the naked body. There is the pervasive sentiment that the only logical course is to sexualize a person just because they are no longer clothed. In art school, we would get bored with nudity, there was such an abundance of it. One of my favorite models was this woman who must have weighed about 250 pounds. While my classmates groaned, I loaded up my palette ready to sculpt this beautiful woman with paint. I loved the folds of skins and abundant forms. I appreciate the bodies that I encounter. But I recognize that I am an outlier. And also not…

I judge myself in terms of the value of sexual currency that I hold. I examine my body and label the flaws. I catch myself playing the game.

In the parody of the New Zealand Blurred Lines video, I nodded along. I laughed out loud. I felt vindicated. These were my teammates.

But not really. I agreed with their message and the quality of production was great, but there was something off. Maybe it became too real; the whole Us vs Them encounter. Maybe part of it was an awareness of the complex (albeit twisted)industry behind the “other” video. I’m not sure…

The thing that I keep coming back to in all of this Miley Cyrus frenzy is that the performance was choreographed. That 19-year-old wasn’t alone out there. Yes, that was her tongue licking her own ears, smacking the booty of on of her “back-up bears”, but it would be naive to think that every appropriated step, every pelvic thrust, every foam finger rub wasn’t discussed and planned and rehearsed, repeatedly, by paid adults. It’s like football: you have a coaching staff whose numbers far outweigh that of the actual players. The only difference is that in this game we are reffing it ourselves. We are calling for the reviews and throwing the arbitrary flags and still trying to run the ball. I’m not trained to judge this game. I don’t know the rules. Do you?

Now, I am not saying that I enjoyed Cyrus’ performance. I thought it was awful and stupid. She looked like she was trying to bring Disney to the strip club. There was no sex in it, in my mind. But there was greed. She is playing the game. And she needs a better coach.

Lastly, I feel compelled to touch on the broader implications of this power hungry culture that we are navigating. Our kids might start believing that the game is real. That the MC rapping about ho’s and whatnot is some sort of icon or idol, or worse: a leader. He is expressing himself in all of his basic, unfiltered, insulated hurt, anger and longing. And beyond our measly borders, the images and lyrics – describing women as property, as sex toys, as pets- spread, gaining cultural momentum and picking up specks of truth that seem to give the global illusion that this is right and real and the way things are meant to be.

My hope, my prayer, for my sons and your daughters, is that we will know when to let the game-clock run out and we can make new rules and truly play. With joy and passion and acknowledgment of each others’ strengths and weaknesses: play. Because there is no Win.

(Have a laugh: Twerking explained…)

Life and Death(Star)

Today was my son, Pierce Trouble’s 6th birthday. He’s an awesome kid. This was his first ‘real’ birthday party and he is old enough to have some opinions on how it all shakes down.

So, one night a few weeks ago, we had a family brainstorming session to plan the upcoming festivities. The chalkboard wall in our kitchen/dining area was covered in drawings of X-Wings and a very elaborate Death Star.

We celebrated the Star Wars-themed event at a local park. We made spaceships out of cardboard boxes, pool noodles, duct tape, straws and streamers. We ate pizza and veggies. And then the young Jedis destroyed the Death Star pinata- with gusto. When finally the looming sphere broke apart, it ripped in half, the bottom dropping out. The kids pounced on the candy, tattoos and granola bars and then did an amazing job of sharing with each other so that everyone left smiling. Or maybe the smiling was just evidence of the sugar doing it’s thing… Any which way, it was a blast.

IMG_7293IMG_7289IMG_7291IMG_7273IMG_7296IMG_7285IMG_7295IMG_7302IMG_7305IMG_7309IMG_7326IMG_7338IMG_7347IMG_7344IMG_7351IMG_7355IMG_7370IMG_7375IMG_7380How to make a ginormous Death Star pinata:

1. Buy the Sunday New York Times. Read it and then save it- you will need every page. Perhaps, even the magazine…

2. Make papier mache by mixing 1 cup of rice flour with about as much water. Whisk out the lumps. Boil 4 cups of water and 1 tablespoon of salt. Add the flour mixture and boil for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Let it cool and get ready for the glop-mess.

3. Blow up your big-ass beach ball.

4. Put down a drop cloth, tarp or do this whole thing outside (especially if your doorways are narrow- you won’t be able to get the Death Star out of your house…)

5. Place the ball on an open box to keep it stable while you work.

6. Begin glop-mess. Spread rice goo on large pieces of newspaper, tear as needed. I used a chip brush and Aaron used a silicone basting brush when the goo was too hot to spread with our hands. By the way, it smells nice- like fresh sushi and Korean grandmothers. Ahhh, so lovely.

7. Build up no more than three to four layers then carefully rotate the whole thing and repeat across the whole ball.(Once it is dry you can add more layers if you have some weak spots.)

8. Wash your hands, take a shower- call it a night. Use a fan/heater/dehumidifier to help aid the drying time. Drying takes a looong time. Like, 24-48 hours. By the way, thick goo dries faster than runny goo.

9. Cut a circle for your Death Star concave-eye-thing. Find the valve of the beach ball (it may still be sticking out) and use that as the center of your circle. Deflate the beach ball so you don’t cut into it, if you want to save it. Carefully cut this out with a box cutter or x-acto. Deflate the ball some more and pull it out. The goo doesn’t stick to the vinyl- it should come out pretty easily.

10. “Fill” your pinata. I use “” because it is unrealistic to actually put that much stuff in a giant Death Star unless it is old t-shirts or marshmallows or balloons. We put goodies in individual paper bags, slit the backs and taped them to the interior walls to better distribute the weight. For extra effect, Aaron put some Dark-Side themed streamers inside, taped to the top. You can see from the pictures that when it was all smashed the streamers added some serious je ne sais quoi. Space jellyfish?

11. Once dry, paint that sucker. We used leftover primer in grey and white. The center band/equator is electrical tape. I looked at some pictures online but ended up just painting loosely geometric grids of grey and white rectangles. Then Aaron and I added some white lines and bright white dots/lights.

12. Seal her up. Flip that circle piece around and hot glue in place.

13. At some point attach a loop to the top. I missed this part because I was at work and Aaron was home with the boys apparently playing with blades and rope…

14. Figure out how to transport the thing to your party. Aaron walked it to the park- it wouldn’t fit in the car and we live only a few blocks away.

15. Bust it open! For our party, I gathered the rebel army and they each took turns beating it with their light sabers. Everyone got a turn (several whacks- no blindfold) and the birthday boy split it open. Then mayhem ensued- in a good way.

If you have any questions, leave me a comment and I’d be happy to respond.

Cheers,

Christy