If I ever saw myself saying I’m excited going to Cleveland, I’d punch myself in the face

Ichiro Suzuki may be the most genius man since Chuck Norris. Seriously, the man’s a damn Delphic Oracle. How many times has your gut begun to fill with a rage you didn’t have the words for? I mean, just yesterday, when some ass in a truck with “Power Wagon” stamped on the side cut me off, I was filled with a fury that knew no words, just the pounding of my fists on the steering wheel. Fortunately, friends, Ichiro has the words for all of us: “I hope he arouses the fire that’s dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul. I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger.”

That’s actually much more useful than a Magic 8 ball. Ichiro, do I really have to go to the gym today? Response: “It’s the same if you were to meet a beautiful girl and go bowling. If she’s an ugly bowler, you are going to be disappointed.”

* * * *

Speaking of genius dudes, I’m really liking the guy who’s teaching my poetry workshop this summer (the actual workshop I enrolled in and paid for, not the one that I went to for an hour and a half before realizing it was the wrong day). Example: yesterday he was talking about attention and how writers are influenced by other writers’ attention and traced a line from Milton to Blake to Whitman to Ginsberg, and just as I was thinking, true, true, but does it really have to be all about the menfolk?, he said, “Sorry all those examples were dudes.” (And he does really, and obviously consciously, include women poets just as often in his examples as men.) Also he made us all vegetarian chili one class.

* * * *

Things I did yesterday include: make coconut ice cream, make vanilla Butterfinger ice cream, make the base for strawberry ice cream, roast tomatoes for Israeli couscous, buy $7 pants, rent Mario Party 8, and eat cookies at my workshop. Things I’ve done today include: bake two loaves of bread, one with roasted garlic cloves inspired by a trip with petit to the Kona Brewing Company, cook black beans for black bean and corn salad, make peppermint ice cream with mint oreos, and burn my finger on a Pyrex casserole dish.

Can you tell I’m not working now? Summer school ended on Tuesday, and I couldn’t be happier. That is, until next Wednesday, when I have to drag myself back to work like a jerk.

But now we’re getting ready for a party (salads! ice cream! watermelon daiquiris! and a spider monkey, promised by my friend Amanda) and contemplating a trip to the gym. What are you up to?

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nineteen percent.

So I was sitting across from the trainer at my new gym, having just filled out a ridiculously long survey, full of asinine questions like, “How committed (on a scale of 1 to 10) are you to achieving your fitness goals?” and “When is the last time when you were in your ideal physical shape?”

Ideal physical shape. I wanted to laugh in that man’s face. Have you ever been conscious of being, at that moment, in your ideal physical shape? Is that something that happens for women in this country? And I do a pretty good job these days of not stressing out about my body, but we have a culture whose major function exists to tell women they’re not at their ideal physical shape, or better yet, that they’re just 5 lbs. or whatever away from it.

But, in any event, he looks at my survey, looks over at me, looks at my stomach and says, “You want to work on your ABS, right? I mean, your ABS, you want to work on those, right?”

This whole conversation is happening while he’s holding his head and telling me about how he was out SO late last night at some bar next door in the strip mall (because in Texas, everything’s in a strip mall, including bars, Thai food, and the erotic cabaret, sometimes all in the same strip mall). I mean, I know the man’s job is to make me feel insecure enough about my body and my fitness sense that I’ll feel I need to pay him to make me do lunges and whatnot, but really, does he take that tack when he’s trying to pick up girls down at trashy mcpants bar? Is this what he considers an effective way of talking to women?

(Shock. The gym does not have female trainers. Not a one.)

But the long and short of the whole conversation, which my friend the hungover trainer illustrates with helpful diagrams like

metabolism ↑ muscle ↑ fat ↓

(read “metabolism UP!, muscle UP!, fat DOWN!”)

is that his goal is for me to get my body fat down to 19%. This is after I’ve both written and said that I’m not really concerned with weight loss, I just want to feel better and be in better shape. There was a time when my body fat was well under 19%, but I was 16 then and a bit crazed, and it’s not the place I’m hoping to go back to. That ship has sailed.

(Also, getting down to 19% at my advanced and crotchety age would probably require giving up this, and that is not a bargain I’m willing to strike.)

As we do the aforementioned lunges, he has my place my hands in his palms, leaving me with nowhere to look as I lunge but at his crotch. I settle on his shoes as an alternative.

*****

In the news of other people I’ve met recently, I had a great poetry class last night. I signed up for a summer workshop and sat in the room all nervous and eyeing up my classmates, the way we all do at the beginning of a class, especially the first class, y’know, trying to figure out who I’m going to be friends with and who I’m going to have to try not to roll my eyes about when they talk. And the class was GREAT; the instructor started with a wonderful Lucille Clifton poem as his “invocation” and blah blah blah I loved him and was busily plotting how we could be new best friends, when I realized, through a conversation with one the woman sitting across from me, that I was in the WRONG class. My class, the one with the bargain-basement teacher’s rate, is actually on Wednesday, not Tuesday. Damn.

So now I have to do the whole rigmarole again tonight, with some other dude. But I reread the course description for the class I’m actually in, and he says while we may not find perfection in our poems, but we will “certainly find empowerment.” Look out.

And I’m working on composing an email to my true love writing teacher (“true love” in the words of a woman wittier than I am meaning, “my boyfriend, in the sense that he’s clearly a gay man”) that will convince him I’m clever and smart, without sounding like a stalker. Suggestions?

*****

Two more things. I’m thinking about getting my dad a TerraPass for Father’s Day. It seems like it might be lame to get him a gift that isn’t really a gift (except he gets a decal, I think), but past Father’s Day hits have included a compost bin and a conservation license plate. My dad’s recycled longer than anyone I know, and recycling for him entails saving all the cans and bottles and whatnot in the basement and driving it two towns over, since his podunk town doesn’t recycle. At least a TerraPass isn’t the Bing cherries proflowers keeps telling me to buy. Thoughts?

Also, we have raccoons living under our house. They’re of the brazen I will chew your legs off as you get out of your car variety, too – standing up on hind legs, staring me down in the driveway. Fucking Texas.

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Mii, too!

As I huffed and puffed away on the eliptical machine, Rigo helpfully adjusted the intensity up or down, seemingly sheerly according to his whim. When I was in a slower cycle, he’d ask questions like, “Do you drink as much water as you should?” (probably not), “Do you drink a lot of coffee?” (yep, and then some) and when I answered, he’d respond ominously, “I could tell.” I haven’t been to church in quite a few months, but apparently I’ve found another place to make me feel guilty: the gym.

I tend to go a good job at the gym when there’s someone there to tell me what to do, whether it’s a trainer, my sister, or my dad (on my own I read the New Yorker while lazily pedaling), so when we got to the bicep machine, I did my very best, despite feeling like my arms might fall off. The real problem, which I didn’t want to admit to fit and serious Rigo, is that my arms are some kind of sore from Wii tennis. I felt Rigo wouldn’t approve of the fact that the only actual exercise I’ve been getting for a while has been from a videogame. (But man, is it fun! Grouchypants and I have been playing just about nonstop since he got it last Sunday. And the little Miis remind me, comfortingly, of the little Fisher Price toys I had growing up.)

But I’ve been freed from the shackles of work and children at least until July, when summer school starts. I’ve got a few out-of-town plans this summer – to Hawaii to visit petit, home to Pittsburgh for the wedding of a very good high school friend, hopefully a weekend at the beach – but I’m also hoping to spend a bit more time here on the interweb. I read so many interesting things on so many blogs – but I almost never comment, and my writing here has been sparse, at best. (I’d like to say I’ve been spending my time educating our future, but mostly I’ve been on the couch, although sometimes grading while drinking beer.)

*****

Ah yes, while I’m talking about the couch – did you watch the season finale of The Office? And if so did you DIE when Jim returned from New York to finally ask Pam out, having been wooed by her yogurt-lid medal and handwritten note of encouragement? Now I predict that season 4 will begin with their date being interrupted by Karen, rightegously angry, because HELLO, Jim left her in New York. I was on a date once that ended with the words, “Oh, shit, that’s my girlfriend” as we got out of the car to go inside his apartment, and let me tell you, ladies, it was not fun, just skanky and unnerving.

But here’s what’s more interesting to me about the season finale – is Jan being punished for something? What happened to her character? During Michael’s disastrous interview with corporate it’s revealed that the job he’s interviewing for is Jan’s – she’s being fired. And not for poor performance of the branches she supervises, or any other ostensibly reasonable rationale, but because under that steely, efficient exterior, she’s apparently a total nutjob, of the most lamentably stereotypical kind. For the past two years, she’s apparently been smoking in her office, taking excessive vacations, and during the time she has been spending at work, doing nothing but (this is my favorite) online shopping! Is she also stuffing chocolate down her throat and calling her mother for dating advice? Are we in a Cathy comic? I find it hard to believe that the tough, no-nonsense woman who said to Michael “please step away from me” when he attempted to “lay some ground rules” about their relationship when they were at the conference has actually been a total wacko the whole time. (Not that this picture of the real-life Melora Hardin strengthens my argument.)

But, before you aruge that her relationship with Michael a sign of underlying instability, I suggest you think about your own dating history. I think it’s perfectly reasonable, and almost a requirement, to feel lonely and date someone who’s entirely beneath you or just wrong for you. I had at least a year in college where every guy I came across fit that description. The most memorable one ended in a bar with said dude’s jaw wired shut after he’d had a particularly nasty drunken fall. And yes, we were in a bar, and he was still drinking heavily. When asked what he would do if he had to throw up, he scrawled on the notepad he was carrying, “Swallow it?” Seriously. In any event, the whole Jan’s actually a nutcase smacks of “behind every successful woman there’s a crazy bitch” thinking, and I don’t buy it. Although I think her weeping proclamation that she’ll just move in with Michael, wear stretchy pants, and await his return from work at 5.15 is fairly genius. I tried it on Grouchypants but he was having none.

*****

Okay, interweb, I end with three questions (one for each of the three of you who read this):

1) Suggestions for summer reading? I’ve got my own list going, and several books coming to me soon via the hold request at the library, but I’m looking especially for suggestions of poets and writing about poetry. I’ve just finished reading Robert Hass’ Twentieth Century Pleasures and loved it, though I found the near-total absence of woman poets immensely troubling. I also started reading The World is Flat yesterday for a class I’m taking this summer, and I’m finding myself annoyed by something in Thomas Friedman’s tone and/or vaguely chatty writing style. Also perhaps the implication that the western world just outsource all the work you don’t have to be very smart to do to India, China, etc, so those of us in America can get down to some serious innovating with our serious American brains. Do you have thoughts about the book? (And I realize I may be misinterpreting his argument, since I’ve just started the book.)

2) Have you seen any good movies lately? Grouchypants and some work friends and I had free tickets to see Knocked Up last night; I went only because it was free, but I ended up having a great time. I’ve read interesting reviews on both Salon and Slate – Slate’s Dana Stevens has some insightful words about the movie’s depiction of women, which I think are spot-on.

3) Is “live every week like it’s shark week” a far more popular search than I would have imagined, or is someone consistently finding this site that way? Almost every day someone’s searched that phrase and ended up here.

My couch is calling. See you again soon.

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Your mom called. She wants a trailer.

Or so said a sign on the way home from work.

My mom, it turns out, walks like a pirate with a peg leg when she’s had a bit too much boxed wine. Also, she isn’t sure she believes in global warming.  Those are things I learned on a recent trip home to Pittsburgh.

Also, Yinzers eat sushi with a fork. Who knew?

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I’m not really the President. I just play one on TV.

Or so seems to be the message coming out of presidential hopeful Fred Thompson’s incipient ’08 campaign.

Tennessee Congressman Zach Wamp, remarked, as quoted in Slate, “I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but when you play a president in a movie and you fit the part, people believe you can carry it out in real life. That’s one thing that Fred believes that no one in either party can bring.”

And this is the guy who’s on Thompson’s side! He’s offering not actual credibility, knowledge, or experience, but merely the ability to project those qualities.

I know as well as anyone – a certain amount of bravado and bluffing will get you a long way. It’s a lesson I learned on the first day of my first year of teaching, when, asked the direction to a room I’d never heard of (at rm 150 I was at the end of the hallway as I knew it and I was asked where 153 was!) I pointed bravely in the opposite direction and made a turning motion with my hand.

The right kind of swagger counts for a lot – out in the hallway, when you’re making the first impression. But when the classroom door closes and the kids realize you’ve got nothing to back up that swagger, the gig’s up. I imagine the same thing’s true of being president.

Imagine, if you will, an all-Law and Order presidency: Sam Waterston as Attorney General! Mariska Hargitay as Secretary of State! Ice-T as Secretary of Defense (and his evil TV-brother Ludacris as . . . umm, Director of the FBI?) Oh no, I could go on and on! Maybe this is the fun of fantasy football.

Just think – rather than the predictable lies and deceit, followed by sloppy cover-up, followed by indignant refusal to respond to questions /subpoenas about said cover-up, we could have the predictable dead or injured body 3 minutes in, the initial suspect whose name is cleared, followed by the suspect who was there all along if only you’d had eyes to see it, final plot twist 47 minutes in, and all of it comfortingly resolved in the end. Dick Wolf, you syndication genius, be mine.

Of course, if Jerry Orbach were running, I’d vote for him in a hearbeat.

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About a word.

So I seem to have gotten myself into a bit of a tiff over at Jane‘s (in the comments). Or rather, not, since the conversation has diverged substantially from my initial comment. I asked a question about her use of the word “oppression” to which she responded with much disdain and irritation. I’d like to clarify what I meant and what I’ve been thinking about since.

Jane wrote

I understand that it is not the responsibility of members of an oppressed group to explain their oppression, or their resistance, to their oppressors. I also understand that I am not the only feminist in the world who has to interact closely with men on a daily basis, or more complicatedly, share a life and a bed with a man. The idea of explaining myself is unappealing (especially in that explaining is potentially dangerous), but I can’t deny my overwhelming desire to do so–and so I am in a frustrating predicament.

The rest of the post went on to detail her predicament, but I got stuck in the first sentence. I asked

Do you, as an American, white, college-educated person, really feel comfortable calling yourself “oppressed”? I understand your feeling you don’t receive all the benefits a man in your position might because of the patriarchal nature of your society, but “oppressed” is a specific word with a specific history and connotations, and I’m curious about your use of it here. If you really do feel oppressed, with all that implies, how does that look in your daily life?

And that’s where things got tricky. Jane’s talking about her personal experience, but she’s talking about it in political terms. I asked a question about her definition of her experience using those political terms. I wasn’t challenging or invalidating her perception of her experience (and, incidentally, I don’t appreciate her implied challenge to mine when she responded, “If you are still not sure how women are oppressed by men, I refer you to your own experience, or your female family members or your local newspaper or this blog (maybe start with this thread on that blog)”).

Because there’s a difference between saying “how women are oppressed by men” and talking about your own personal oppression. I don’t want to legislate how women talk about their own lives. But I do take issue with the use of the word “oppression” here. Oppression suggests both violence and intent that I think are lacking in most instances of sexism and sexist discrimination. Certainly that level of violence and intentional discrimination are lacking in my experience of my own life.

I absolutely agree that women are oppressed. I would also agree with the assertion that they are “subordinated, dehumanized, attacked, objectified, molested, terrified, silenced, implicitly and explicitly controlled, dominated.” But no, I don’t feel that I am oppressed in my own life.

Oppression requires an oppressor, requires someone acting with intention to harm. I believe that most sexism faced by most women is the result of a complete lack of intention, a lack of thought of awareness about the consequences of a joke, a look, an offhanded comment. Oppression, on the other hand, suggests an active agent or agents of discrimination, suggests a back room of men plotting to keep women down.

I think for most women the vast majority of sexism and discrimination is far more subtle, far more institutionalized, far more systemic and, as a result, far more insidious and difficult to combat than any of those words suggest (except, I suppose, for “implicitly and explicitly controlled”). If anything, I think most men in a position to discriminate and deprive women of opportunities don’t think about how they’re doing it. The men I work with, for example, don’t plot (as far as I know) to roll their eyes in a way that suggests I’m a bitch when I insist they complete a piece of paperwork I’ve been reminding them about for 6 weeks. They also don’t get together on the weekends to script the belittling “joke” comments they make when I organize or direct our meetings in a way that strikes them as too assertive. But those things do challenge my authority. And I do have to deal with it more because I’m a woman.

When there’s so much violence against women every day, using the word “oppressed” to describe those experiences seems a little narrow-minded and lacking in perspective. I just came from a meeting with a student whose family moved here from Afghanistan four years ago. She and her sisters were forbidden to go to school; my student’s first experience in with school was when she was 11 and living in the U.S. Her father and brother were seized by the Taliban and it’s only by some strange quirk of generosity that her brother was freed. Her father wasn’t so lucky. Her mother used to teach Persian literature. Now she makes $11,000 a year. And that’s one example that happens to be particularly salient to me at the moment.

So no, I don’t feel oppressed.

And I’m not suggesting we line up in some kind of hierarchical oppression line and some women get to feel really really bad about their oppression and you can feel a little less bad and I’ll feel even less bad than that. I realize it’s not helpful to compare experiences in that way. I’m trying not to make judgments about others’ expression of their experiences.

I’m talking here specifically about my experience of being a woman. I value using language carefully. I value dialogue about experience. I value a sense of perspective and a sense of gratitude. I value the work I do to try to help younger women face less discrimination and have greater access to power and privilege. I don’t believe I’m oppressed. There’s lots of labels I’ll claim for myself and that’s not one of them.

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Things I love.

So on the list of things I love, This American Life is pretty high near the top.  Starting Thursday, the radio show is becoming a TV show, and I’ve been a bit fascinated about how the show will be adapted for TV.  Not enough, unfortunately, to be willing to cough up the extra for Showtime, but enough to follow it and eagerly anticipate its release on DVD.  In any event, a preview of the show is here.  And there’s several trailers on the TAL site (above).
What do you think?  I have mixed emotions.

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