My Open Letter Resigning from The United Methodist Church (2014)

On a Palm Sunday in the early 1970s, I was confirmed as a member of The United Methodist Church. I was excited to officially join my church, and I looked forward to being active in the large, dynamic youth group which became the cornerstone of my social life throughout my junior high and high school years. At the time, the extent of my church-related knowledge was this: Rev. Yocom would usually answer questions by telling a story about his life, and I looked pretty cute in my mini-skirt and mod white shirt with a band collar and lacy bell-cuffs. A product of the times, I was schooled in a combination of traditional Wesleyan theology (scripture, tradition, reason, experience) and popular theologies, probably summed up via a combination of Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, and—I’ll admit it—the Beatles. Those influences along with a Jesus people-esque emphasis touting “All you need is Love” and “God is Love” were the basis of my youthful spiritual foundation.

Now I’m embarrassed to admit I belong to the United Methodist Church. I’m appalled that when non-Methodists think of the church, it is most likely based on our draconian approach to dealing with issues relating to homosexuals and those called to minister to them, including Rev. Thomas Ogletree of New York and Rev. Frank Schaefer of Pennsylvania. I’m puzzled that when there have been opportunities for the church to at least acknowledge that wisdom is needed to help the church determine its role in ministering with and to gays, the church has shut the doors of communication, choosing instead to reaffirm its current position; the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, Florida, made headlines because of its refusal to consider an “agree to disagree” amendment on the topic when it was presented by Rev. Adam Hamilton of Leawood, Kansas, and Rev. Mike Slaughter of Tipp City, Ohio.

The church—any church, not specifically the United Methodists—has the duty and right to interpret scripture and other leadings however its leaders and people feel is correct. I don’t question that. At an organizational level, every church is a human-created and -operated entity that prays it is following the dictates of its understanding of what God requires of his followers. If the best minds and hearts of the Methodist church agree that its treatment of homosexuals and those who minister to them is God-driven, then I won’t question that its people are acting in all sincerity.

But I can’t continue being part of an organization that uses the Wesleyan tradition to exclude and marginalize others. The Methodist tagline—“Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”—is still emblazoned on the UMC website; it needs an added note: **unless openly gay. Inviting people based on the idea that we have open minds and open hearts, then slamming the door unless they stay in the closet—that feels like the type of mindset which compelled Jesus to overturn tables at the temple and play word games with Pharisees.

 In fact, the Methodist slogan seems tailor-made to welcoming gays, inviting them to leave their closet behind to find community and fellowship with a local congregation. However, many Methodists I know champion the “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality, a phrase which embeds judgment in a micro-aggressive claim of love. Christian theology via St. Paul claims “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” but my job is to love people and support them as they find their path. For me, labeling people as “sinners” is wrong. Jesus was harsh about people who were judgmental and hypocritical. I’m not in any position to throw the first stone—especially because I accept that sexual preference, like eye color and handedness, are inborn; critiquing how God chooses to create people is not my job either.

There are groups within the church which are working for equality and recognition. I applaud their efforts and believe they will ultimately make a difference. I’m not called to actively fight on this issue; I’ve struggled with this since 2005, when at South Hill United Methodist Church in Virginia, Rev. Edward Johnson refused to let a gay attendee become a member of the church. The church’s position on the issue hasn’t changed; I have. As an enthusiastic 12-year-old, I never considered asking questions about the church’s stance on homosexuality. At this point in my life, I cannot be officially listed as a member of an organization that judges my gay friends and family as unworthy of being treated like a child of God. Those who are fighting for change have my support—and I believe that the way I need to support them is to show that this issue matters enough to me that it’s worth leaving the Methodist church.

I’m proud that my own congregation is more inclusive, and at this point I intend to continue attending there as a non-member, but I’ve also attended a Quaker meeting that comes much closer to fitting my general theological understanding at this point in my life. Eventually that may become my “home church,” but my current Sunday school class offers opportunities for growth and fellowship, and I don’t want to leave that.

One of my favorite songs when I played guitar for my church youth group eons ago was “They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love.” That song is in now in the Methodist hymnal, and instead of long-haired teens with guitars leading it, adult organists perform elaborate introductions to signal the congregation’s singing. The last time I sang that song, surrounded by the beautiful stained-glass windows in my impressive sanctuary, I choked up. Who will know we are Christians by our love? Not our gay brothers and sisters, or those ministering to them. After all my words and justifications, that’s the simple explanation why I’m resigning my membership to the United Methodist Church.


Not For Veteran’s Day

Note: I wrote this in 2012; I’m surprised by how much of it I still agree with. 

Two days ago was Veteran’s Day. Yesterday Billy Owens’ birthday. In my mind, those are connected.

Billy was a student in my epic AP class close to a decade ago. He wasn’t the usual AP student, but he wanted a shot and worked hard to earn his place. After graduation, he went into the military, and he was proud of the time he served. I talked to him intermittently both while he was serving and afterwards, while he was a veteran heading to college. The story ends too soon, with Billy committing suicide a while back. I’ve lost track of time, but I know that summer I had two former students do that; this is a rough era for young people, and suicide stats are one of the starkest proofs of it.

That isn’t what I intended to focus on, though. The intersection of Veteran’s Day and Billy’s birthday have me thinking. As a quasi-pacifist, I can’t wave a flag and yell “hip hip hooray for Veterans” if there’s any chance that I’m also glorifying war (Yes, I know that as a member of Daughters of the American Revolution, I’m on a slippery slope  using that criteria. Talk to my dad about it). One of the reasons I want to turn Quaker is because of their “Peace Testimony,” and as I’m writing this, I’m keeping their stances in mind.

When I started teaching, I was appalled that several special ed teachers used the ASVAB test, which qualifies a person for military service, as the major text in their room. They were prepping their students to be gun fodder–that’s the way I saw it then. I was pretty self-righteous about it, but at least I didn’t take to a bully pulpit. Usually.

In contrast, when one of my favorite students from the last couple years came into my classroom last month and told me he’s going in the Navy after Christmas, I nodded and told him that was probably an excellent decision. He’s a very smart kid, very personable–and for a lot of reasons, needs some direction and self-discipline– and he needs out of Lima. Many of my students are like that, needing some time to mature and learn skills, to figure out who they are while earning money and having a roof over their heads and a reason to get out of bed. College does that for some–but not all. The military is often the only other option, particularly in this job market. I hate the fact that there’s a decent chance he’ll be deployed in a war zone, but he knows the price he’s potentially paying for the shot at gaining maturity, experience, and a clue what to do with his life.

The change in my attitude reflects a greater awareness of the world and years of observing people. When I was a total pacifist, back when I honestly believed that with reason, love, and the right incentives conflict could be handled without resorting to throwing plates, fists, or bombs, my experience in the world was limited to people who had roughly the same assumptions about life and ethical constructs that I did. Debates about whether the car radio should play John Denver or the Partridge Family didn’t devolve to fisticuffs, and arguments about who should clean the bathroom at my college apartments may have involved snarky comments and pointed product placement (a can of Comet on the kitchen table eventually gets noticed), but again–no stitches or police were required.

And…as always…I’m a product of my age. It’s easy to say “War is wrong” when the only war you’ve experienced is Vietnam. I remember the  older kids worrying about getting a draft notice, or trying to choose the best way to be 4F. I remember asking why we were fighting there, and the confusing answers I got–perhaps that was an early sign that I ask too many questions, but people tried to answer, each explanation tangling with another, slightly different one, to create a sticky web that lead out one way: War is wrong.

But that was a long time ago, and I suspect that if I go to a zoo, I’ll even see the zebra in shades of grey. The stark right/wrong viewpoint that worked even through much of my 20s and 30s is much muddier now.

At this point, I define myself as a quasi-pacifist. In no particular order, that means I believe this:

  • Choosing to not fight can be powerful. Gandhi and the Civil Rights movement proved that.
  • People have the right to chose to not fight, but they need to be able to do it from a position of strength; pacifism cannot stem from weakness or fear and be effective.
  • People need to know how to deal with school yard bullies, both as children and adults. Weak people are targets, but that doesn’t mean that the best (or only) answers involve brute force.
  • Physical Force or the threat of it is overused in daily life and in the political arena. Almost always, reason, negotiation, and proper understanding of core values will improve a situation.
  • However, evil and myopically-self-involved people (and groups of people) exist in the world. They cannot be allowed to hurt others–but derailing those people must impact the least other people possible, and all possible non-violent means must be used first. “Preventative war” is an unethical concept, and “Collateral damage” is a fancy way of saying “innocent victims.”
  • Emotional rhetoric on from any party in the situation does not mean violence is inevitable or will help. It’s a sign everyone needs time–like a week–in the time-out chair to think about what they’re doing. (My school and the UN both need time out chairs!)
  • The only use of force that I can embrace is to protect those who cannot (not will not) protect themselves. And again, non-violent means of to achieve that goal must be tried first.
  • The fights between people, like between students in my school, should not occur. We should be doing more to create non-violent  interpersonal relationships.
  • The fact that the US military budget equals the next 15 countries’ military budgets combined is unreasonable and immoral.
  • People who choose to serve deserve all the honor and support our country can give them–and I don’t see our national policies doing that now.
  • The best way to honor and support our people in the military is to ensure they don’t have to go into battle, and when it’s unavoidable, give them materials and support, and get them out of it as soon as possible. Or sooner.
  • The high number of military and veteran suicides and PTSD means something is seriously wrong in the system, and we should be figuring out what now. Top priority.
  • There are many benefits to serving in the military, and I’ve seen many students gain confidence and become adults due to serving. Designing a National Service option/requirement should be investigated.

I started this by thinking about Veterans’ Day and Billy, and as a semi-literate somewhat- writer, I know that my conclusion should wrap up by tying all this back to Billy and Veterans’ Day. That neat ending eludes me–possibly because Billy chose an ending that doesn’t fit into a tidy, light paragraph. Billy and I discussed in detail why he went into the military, and he had many good reasons, reasons that my student last month echoed. All I can do is light a candle that the story ends up differently this time…for all the people serving.


When people write about Davy Jones’ death, “Daydream Believer” will probably be the song mentioned most. That’s a favorite song of mine, of course, but the one that impacted me most was  Shades of Grey. When this song came out, I was in elementary school–maybe junior high. I appreciate the irony of this being my favorite Monkees song; it begins “When the world and I were young, just yesterday–” I was young, and really, so were Davy and Co as they sang it. But something in the ambiguity of the lyrics and the starkness of the music called to me. A couple years later, when I learned a few guitar chords that I insisted on playing for everyone, “Shades of Grey” was one of the songs I figured out the chords to and played endlessly.

In one of those odd synchronicities that Jung says are crucial signs of God, or Allah, or Yogi Bear or something, I thought of this song for the first time in ages last Sunday. In my Sunday school class, I made some comment–I don’t remember what, now–and my teacher looked at me and said, “You see shades of grey everywhere, don’t you?” I nodded and admitted that there are very few black and white issues in my life. I hummed this song the rest of the day. Odd, huh?

“It was easy then to tell right from wrong,

it was easy then to tell weak from strong…

It was easy then to tell truth from lies

Selling out from compromise…”

Right now especially, heading into the festivities of next week, those lines really call to me. I’m old enough now that I can remember “when the world and I were young,” and mourn the passing not just of Davy, but of the innocence, hope and belief that seemed to surround me years back.

So I could tell about baking cookies for Davy when he appeared in Toledo, or playing pool with him and him kissing me–all important events–or even that I’m possibly the pop culture hound that I am because of devouring 16 Magazine and Tiger Beat to learn all about Davy, then later Bobby and David Cassidy and Donny….but tonight, I’m drinking a bottle of wine and listening to this song, remembering when the world and I were young, and Davy’s death was decades away.

“Scarborough Fair/Canticle”

Note: I taught a class called Literature for Musicians, and one of their projects was to create a playlist of their life. I limited it to 10 or 15 songs, and they had to write about each song and why it is on their playlist. This is one of the samples I wrote for them.

Musically, this song is the most complex thus far (on the playlist I gave my Lit for Musicians class), although it begins deceptively simply. After the introduction of the main melody, one voice splits off into the counterpoint, a simple song that makes a political point about the human side of war. Juxtaposing this against the folk melody is lyrically jarring, but also ironic in the context of the lush tight harmonies and nearly archaic harpsichord and guitar background.

This also was the first time I was aware of overdubbing. Paul Simon is singing both counterpoint and melody, which confused me when I first heard it, then lead to a lot of experimenting with my guitar and a tape recorder with me singing harmony with myself. It was fascinating and challenging.

I’m intensely political. There’s a decent chance that this song is part of the reason. As an pre-teen, hearing them personalize war, with the obvious implications about the Vietnam war, also lead me to questioning and thinking. Even now, about 4 decades later, I find myself thinking about the imagery and ideas.

I’ve seen Simon and Garfunkel in person, and I was disappointed that although they sang “Scarborough Fair,” they didn’t do the “Canticle.” I haven’t heard them sing that for years, and I suspect that the reason is that the time has passed for those gentle images and sounds to resonant with audiences; the politcal rhetoric now is loud and confrontational, not thought-provokingly metaphoric.

Like The Beatles, Simon and Gar are musicians who could show up in my playlist multiple times. They are fundamental, foundational parts of the soundtrack running in my brain. And like The Beatles, their sound morphs and changes, so this song is only representative of one phase of their careers, both as a duo and solo.

“I Want to Hold Your Hand”

Note: I taught a class called Literature for Musicians, and one of their projects was to create a playlist of their life. I limited it to 10 or 15 songs, and they had to write about each song and why it is on their playlist. This is one of the samples I wrote for them.

This could also be titled, “My Life as a Fangirl, Chapter One.” I was just about in kindergarten when the Beatles came to America, and I remember being allowed to stay up and watch them on The Ed Sullivan Show–that’s the only time I remember being allowed to stay up for anything television related, by the way. Epic moment.

The Beatles were sooooo cute, and the music sooooo fun. That’s what I knew as a little kid, to the best of my remembrance. My parents did not especially like the music, but they tolerated my bopping around the house singing it, and in fact took me to the drive-in to see Hard Day’s Night the summer before kindergarten. I didn’t understand much of the movie, but I loved it. And yes, I own it now.

Most of the pop music I’d been exposed to before this was smooth, polished, restrained–Frank Sinatra, Frankie Valli, Pat Boone; my mom didn’t listen to much pop music, but what I did hear was of that variety. The beginning of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”–the jarring electric chord, followed by raw near-shouting was a clarion call to kids. It said “We’re going to have fun now!” The beat was stronger and more driving than anything I heard on the radio before (note: I had heard orchestral music and opera that emotional and percussive, but not pop music). The vocal style was eons away from Pat Boone. The Beatles nearly shouted, were sometimes just slightly out of tune, slightly discordant. This song and “She Loves You” were the first music I remember hearing that made me want to get up and dance around, shouting and singing. It was an emotional and energetic. (As a caveat, I think my dad liked Elvis, but mom didn’t I don’t think we had a record player, so all I heard was on the radio and mom apparently chose the channels, meaning don’t think I was exposed to Elvis till a bit after the Beatles. I love Elvis, too.)

I still listen to the Beatles. They did something interesting, something that many musical groups don’t do: they evolved and grew, and took their audience with them. When I was considering which Beatles to include on my playlist, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” was not in the first five Beatles’ songs I considered. Some of their later work is lyrically and musically more interesting–but this and “She Loves You” are the first Beatles’ tunes I heard, so this seems more appropriate on the soundtrack.

Related to the issue of their growing and evolving is a point I’m not as comfortable thinking about: Paul is old. The visual I get when I hear the name “The Beatles” is of all four of them in the mid-60s. They were all in their 20s. Two of them have died, two are alive. Ringo has always been somewhat quirky looking, and he’s almost less odd as an old man, but Paul was my first fangirl crush. Seeing Paul now reminds me not only of his mortality, but of my own. I’m not the young, fun little girl that danced and shouted to “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and he’s not the young, virile man with a long future ahead of him that I first idolized. He’s done great work since then, as did the others post-Beatles, but there’s a part of my mind that wants Paul to be 25, waiting for me to be 25, and we’ll live in England and visit the Queen on holidays…see the logic there?

The Beatles were great, and are great, but they’re only representative of one piece of my musical soundtrack. They helped form my tastes, but–like them–I grew and evolved, too.

My Reading Life: Little Black Sambo

My earliest memories involve books. I remember both of my parents reading to me, Mom reading kids’ books to me, Dad reading…..well, whatever he was reading when I climbed on his lap, I think. Probably everyone my age knows the books Captain Kangaroo read on his show–Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel jumps out at me, and I have gauzy visions of Mom reading that to me, too. Reading was part of the warp and weft of my childhood.

But there’s one story that I probably shouldn’t talk about Mom reading me, a story that is reviled in children’s lit; in a college children’s lit class I took, the prof actually lowered her voice as she mentioned the volume, and admitted she had never seen it. Little Black Sambo was the story of a child who tricked some tigers into chasing each other around a tree until the tigers all melted into butter, with illustrations that were later considered overwrought and racially demeaning.  Poet Langston Hughes called the book “a typical ‘pickaninny’ storybook which was hurtful to black children,” and slowly,  publishers and the public, in a growing awareness of racism, quit buying and reading the story.There’s more to that part of Sambo’s saga, but that’s not what makes this part of my reading life.

A couple years ago, in one of my Senior English classes, I was trying to explain “trickster” figures. Along with Bugs Bunny, I mentioned Sambo–totally forgetting that my students have been raised in a politically correct, racially sensitive era. The class was almost entirely African-American, like many of my classes are, and I had to make a split-second decision when I saw they didn’t understand the allusion: shrug it off and go on, or stop, explain and discuss. Which option was more likely to result in phone calls? Which stood a better chance of getting my name in the paper… a context I really wanted to avoid? Stopping to talk about Little Black Sambo sounded like a bad idea, but…of course that’s exactly what I did.

There’s a part I didn’t anticipate when I tried to briefly (and politically correctly) describe Sambo’s story: cell phones. Students who couldn’t do research for their senior research papers unless I stood behind their shoulder all the sudden had their cell phones in their hands, the version of the book from my childhood on the tiny screens. In a matter of seconds, three students had found the book, and another couple were scanning the wikipedia entry about the book.As “racial” material, the virtual book couldn’t get past the school internet filters, but like good rebels, we had access anyway.

We had a two day conversation about what racism is and how attitudes have changed over the years. Many of the kids were baffled by why the book was considered racist; they even pointed out that Sambo is Indian, according to the story, not African, yet curiously, the pictures were reminiscent of an Aunt Jemima bottle. Questions about censorship, especially commercial v. governmental, were raised, too. My lesson plan was shot for those days–but the degree of research, engagement, and deep discussion that came out of it was incredible. And, because I had to wrap it up and carry on, there was a writing prompt giving the kids a chance to assimilate and process our discussion.

In the process of discussing with my students, I learned something else. Well, I knew it, but it was vividly reinforced. Few of my students were read to as children. For many, the first memory of someone reading to them was HeadStart. There were exceptions, of course, but fewer than I hoped. I can’t imagine not having Sambo and Mike Mulligan and all the animals from Over in the Meadow, and the Little Lost Dolly and Laughing Allegra, and Make Way for Ducklings, and….all of them, bouncing around in the dark recesses of my mind. My reading life started before I could read. Woven through my life are the stories and people that I’ve only encountered on the page (since I got my Kindle, on the screen, too). Maybe it’s not a wonder that my students so often label things “boring;” their imaginations aren’t peopled with ideas and places outside of their experience, anxious to be brought to life as only an imaginative reader can.

Talking about what I’ve read is a cornerstone of most of my relationships. My older kids are more likely to call me if they have read a good book than if they have the flu. The students who I’ve stayed close to after graduation are all readers, and frequently email or text to share something they’ve read. I’ve discovered–or rediscovered–great writers because of they assume I want to know what they’re reading.

So my students, who don’t read for fun, who very often come from homes where reading is “work” or “boring,” where no one ever read to them for fun–or argued that that book is always better than the movie– they miss a world of interaction and connection not just with ideas, but with other people.

Little Black Sambo reminded me of all that.

My Reading Life (as inspired by Pat Conroy’s book)

Define “reality.” Feel free to google it, and look through all the great philosophers and psychologists that Wikipedia so conveniently turns into sound bytes. I’m curious what they say, because I can’t neatly tie up in a tidy bow and point to it as a discrete package.

That’s because I read.

I don’t remember learning to read; I remember sitting in Mrs. Wild’s first grade, reading about Dick, Jane, and Sally. Decoding letters came so easily that I don’t think I ever consciously learned. Sure, I may have stumbled over new words as I sounded them out, but even that was minimal. I’m still baffled by how people learn to read. How do you not know how? And how can people not be entranced by the magic of one letter following another, making pictures in your head, conjuring whole people and places with the symbols on the page? One of my (many) downfalls as a teacher is that I assume that of course you will want to read, that meeting these characters or delving into this information is as wonderous for you as for me.

Pat Conroy, who is one of my all-time favorite writers, wrote a book that talks about the books that he’s been influenced by. It’s a cozy flannel sheet of a book, with his effusive and emotional explanations about what each volume meant to him. Usually, I race through Conroy’s work, finishing a first read of his huge stories in a day or two, then rereading more leisurely to sink into the place and people. (Yes, I do mean that the first time I read each of his books, I read twice, right in a row. Well, except for South of Broad, which I pretend he didn’t publish.Whole ‘nother issue!) My Reading Life, however, I’ve been eating in bite-sized morsels, a chapter at a time. Most then once, I’ve then read (or reread) the book that he rhapsodized about, wanting to see if I could find in the story why it was so influential to him. Some books focused as much on the person who introduced the book to him, fleshing out English teachers, librarians and friends who were fictionalize in many of his books.

There’s a punchline, of course. I’m going to take the Conroy Challenge. I’ve been off my game, writing-wise. My blog has been silent. In important ways, I’m more a reader than a writer–which is like taking razor blades to my soul to admit; I’m going to set a goal of writing about 20 books that have influenced me. That’s a minimum, fans. The challenge, I realize, is to say anything interesting enough about them for anyone else to read!

First book up…..hmm…...Little Black Sambo? Seriously, it might be–that’s a book I will write about. Over in the Meadow? Gone with the Wind? Little Women? On the Road? Stranger in a Strange Land? I’m not sure….but it’ll be this weekend!  (2020 Note: I still haven’t written about most of these)


“My most significant relationship is with my phone.” Yes,that sentence did slide out of my mouth Thursday, hours before I learned Steve Jobs died. And since my twitter feed exploded with tweets about his death, instead of analyzing how pathetic my relationship with my phone is, I’m considering my relationship with technology in general.

The first personal computer I used was an early Mac. As a grad student, I was the editor of a journal called “Perspectives,” which featured reviews of new children’s and YA books with whole-language approaches for teachers. I got the gig because of my writing and literature skills, but the first time I used the Mac, I figured out how to copy and paste–a skill that the professor who sponsored the journal had been unable to master in the three weeks he had owned the computer. That was my first hint that I “get” technology.

So even though I own almost no Apple products, Jobs was important in my daily life. MacWrite–the early word processor on the Mac I used–changed my writing process entirely; the “prewriting/drafting/editing” paradigm that I had to teach my students was obsolete by the time I started teaching…at least for people who had the ability to use a word processor. Writing was, and is, a more fluid, organic process, and the “steps” make no sense when you’re doing them all simultaneously.

As I remember it, when Windows was finally invented, I was thrilled because it meant my school could afford “fake Mac” type computers (since Macs were well beyond our means). Jobs’ and Apple’s invention of the iPod spurred a whole industry to catch up by creating mp3 players, then the iPhone again pushed innovators to try to re-imagine what phones could do. And the iPad, as ridiculed as it was when it was announced–well, the whole tablet industry uses the iPad as the product to beat.

Jobs was not essentially a technician. Many people invent or design amazing things…that no one uses. Before the iPod, few people were wandering around thinking that what they really needed was a way to stuff their entire CD collection in their pocket. Before the iPhone, no one was sad that they didn’t have a phone that could surf the net or answer email from. My students don’t understand that; they’ve had access since they were born. The world they know is radically different than the world that their 30 year old teachers came into, and a whole sci-fi novel away from what I was born into. Steve Jobs’ vision–and marketing team–were a major part of our society’s transformation.

I own a Windows-based PC, and my Android phone is rarely more than an arm’s reach away. For reading ebooks, I have a Kindle, not an iPad, and my personal mp3 player is from Creative Labs, not Apple. But my tech usage is a key part of my identity, so I wonder who the next Steve Jobs will be–because there will be another innovator. Everything that can be invented hasn’t been, yet. Somewhere, in a garage right now, there is a kid tinkering with code, surrounded by soldering tools and random technological parts, thinking, “ok, this time it has to work.”

And that’s how Steve Jobs will live on.


Football. And Nascar. And….beer. Yes, lots of Beer**

I didn’t think I’d forgive Barbara Ehrenreich for her narrow-minded, condescending book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America a few years ago–and I still would like a couple hours to talk to her about it, preferably with no heavy objects in my reach–but this article about modern feminism may redeem her just a bit.

In the article, she analyzes the state of current day feminism, and laments that the single “woman’s issue” that generates any discussion is breast cancer. Slap a pink ribbon on something, and you’re woman-friendly. No need to deal with social issues or even health issues that are controversial and make women shrill and unreasonable. Wrap the world in princess pink and we’re all “feminists” because we all care about a woman’s issue–even though some science suggests that current standard approaches may not be the best way to treat prevention, detection or treatment of breast cancer. No worries–we’re still very concerned about women and we show that with the ubiquitous pink ribbons.

Does anyone besides Marlo Thomas and Gloria Steinem call themselves feminists anymore? Well, and Phil Donahue and Alan Alda, I guess. Even I hedge around the word, instead going into long explanations of what I believe; the label is too laden with baggage for me to expect I will be treated seriously if I just say, “yep, I am. You still getting used to the idea that women can vote?”

The feminist movement of the 70’s had so many issues to deal with that they ended up tripping over themselves like a centipede trying to tango. Instead of being known for groundbreaking work in insuring living wages for “pink collar” jobs and opening opportunities for women, the image that lasted seems to be bra-burning and combat-boot-wearing lesbians.

The record numbers of women athletes, women in grad schools, woman professionals and management–that is the product of hard work and talent, no nod given to their mothers and grandmothers who argued and voted and changed the game. My sister’s high school counselor offered her two options for her professional future: nurse or teacher. I can’t imagine anyone working with teens today that look at a girl and see her only options as housewife, mommy, teacher or nurse. It wouldn’t be tolerated. Thanks, Gloria Steinem.

A truly brave candidate for national office–or a truly daring reporter–would fight to open a dialogue again about the issues that have gotten buried in the kinder, gentler, pink-ribboned womens movement. What is the impact of women in the work force? Should society be doing something differently? Are latchkey programs and quality day care priced so the working poor can afford them? What messages are reality television shows giving our young women–and our young men–about relationships, sex, and life? We need thoughtful people acting as the third estate to make those topics dinner table conversation.

The article by Barbara Ehrenreich resonated with me today. I listened to an adult and a group of teens arguing whether boys or girls had it worse. The adult (NOT me) and most of the teens agreed that women have it easy, or at least easier than men. The girls who were drawn into the argument had their opinions dismissed because they were “just girls and they would stick up for girls without seeing how it really is.” Not one girl tried to counter that argument. All I could do was sigh. These kids, members of the sound-bite generation, just wanted to outshout each other, not discuss. And the adult issued proclamations and  dismissed the girls’ opinions as emotional, not logical. (This is why I drink Pepsi at school. It keeps me busy so I don’t scream. The miracle is that I don’t spike it with rum. Yet.)

I’m thinking that next year, I’m not going to teach. I should stay home, barefoot and pregnant, watching talk shows and reality television. I could dress in princess pink and wear a pink ribbon every day. It would be a much easier life.

**Do you really need me to explain the title?

….and the match goes to…….Sigmund! Thoughts About Wrestling & Stripping

Epiphany #20437: WWE wrestling and strip clubs are essentially the same thing. Obvious differences, I’ll concede, but at a primal level, they function the same way. Maybe.

Beyond the obvious trait the two share (waxing–lots and lots of waxing),  both are vicarious proofs of Freudian principles. In Civilization and Its DiscontentsFreud claims that men have certain immutable drives, and that sex and violence were two of the strongest.  (yes, I know I’m simplifying, but I still think my theory works).   Wrestling and stripping  allow modern man, constrained by the morals and laws of civilized society, to feed those urges to some degree within a framework that doesn’t violate social norms… least too much.

In both cases, the human body is the center of the experience. In wrestling, the idealized male form is hyper-muscular and commanding; in stripping, toned and at least somewhat buxom–and highly flexible–is the ideal. The puritan Judeo-Christian heritage in this country is morally judgmental about the celebration of the body and the glorification of the carnal, and both wrestling and stripping are colored in mainstream America’s minds because of this bias–although admittedly, stripping is even more stigmatized in large part because puritanical America rejects sex as good, clean fun–strippers are either victims or sluts, neither good connotations; I don’t think wrestlers have the same moral condemnation overlaying their image in the covered-dish-dinner crowd, but neither stripping nor wrestling fans tend to champion their passion at the church potluck.

In fact, the celebration of brains over brawn as the hallmark of a “civilized” society resonants through Western culture. St. Paul talks about overcoming the flesh more than once, and Pythagoras admonished people: “Choose rather to be strong of soul than strong of body.”  Often, people who take “too much” pride in their body are viewed as superficial; both strippers and wrestlers make their living by reveling in their bodies–in our culture, that’s easy to dismiss as vain and shallow.

Both entertainments are highly profitable–in a capitalistic society, that matters. Even in this economy, wrestling is showing a solid profit. Larry Flynt, sex business mogul, claims about $500 million a year profit--and less than $9 million of that is from his publishing. Flynt’s strip clubs are the anchor of his business–and like wrestling, there’s a solid market for what he’s selling even in these tough economic times.

The reason is simple, if Freud is right: his audience craves power/aggression and sex, especially when times are rough.  Watching a wrestler or a stripper both offer ramification-free escapism: no cops involved for really punching whatever needs punched; no nagging about taking out the garbage or bills that need paid when sitting in a strip club watching an idealized female.

This isn’t the whole picture, and there are some crucial differences, too. Because I’m not a regular patron of either, there are important angles I’m sure I just don’t get. And as much as I want to wave a feminist banner and write a screed about why these appeal to men for vicarious release, I suspect that I’m going to have Epiphany #20438 when I realize what the female equivalent of these two entertainments are. I’m sure there’s something, but I’m not sure what….yet. Reality TV? Shopping? Lifetime movies? I hope not….still thinking.