August 26, 2005


I am not patient with adults in general, which may be why my reaction to this article is "grow the fuck up." I like what Tim Burke says about it: that it's fine for a single person to have a hang-up or issue and need therapy to deal with it, but that to suggest there's a "social problem" of men who can't deal with seeing their wives give birth is silly. Grow the fuck up, people.1

It's true that it's often harder to watch someone you love in danger or pain than to be in danger or pain yourself, especially when you feel helpless. But part of loving someone is wanting to offer whatever support you can: one way to do that is to be in the delivery room, if that's what the person you love wants and needs. Offering support isn't just something you do when it's convenient. Not if you love someone.

I think this is the general source of my impatience: if you are an adult and you sign up for something (say, get married and decide to have kids) you should be willing to accept what goes along with that. It's the same reason I'm impatient with men who want to sleep with women but are grossed out by menstruation. Dude, it happens. You want to be involved with women, you're going to have to deal with its existence.2 The same reason I have trouble with teachers who say totally inappropriate things to their students, whatever. If you're an adult and you make a choice, you should be willing to accept the obligations that go with it. If you want to have kids, one of those obligations might be to help in the delivery, and not to make too much fuss about it.

1. The disclaimer: I haven't had kids, been married to someone who was having a kid, been pregnant, or witnessed birth. I completely believe people who say it's scary and gross.
2. There may be similar things for women (straight women being grossed out by semen?), but overall I think women's bodies are treated as sources of contagion and disgust in more and deeper ways than men's, at least in the society we live in right now.

August 16, 2005

Commander in Chief

There's a billboard in the Philadelphia subway that says, "this fall, a woman will be President." It's an advertisement for a new ABC series called Commander in Chief - short version, Geena Davis plays a woman vice president who takes over when the president dies unexpectedly, before he can enact his plans to force her to resign so the [male] Speaker of the House could take over instead.

The clips don't look great. ABC wants you to know that there will be a strong focus on her family life, and the interactions I saw between her and her kids were total Hollywood shlock. It is Geena Davis, and she's pretty cool. She's also almost old enough to be president, which is nice. She's seriously femmey, but I guess that cuts both ways: still no images of non-femmey women, but more reminders that that kind of self-presentation has no relationship to the actual qualities of a good leader. The writing is almost certainly going to be blah and the acting unconvincing. No matter how good a president she is, she'll be judged on her mothering more. The political premise - that she's an Independent VP in a Republican administration - is absurd.

But who cares? There's going to be a reasonably prominent media image of a woman as president. We've never had a woman president, and we've never had any very good images of one, and I think it's made it very difficult for people to imagine that it could really happen. Even if the series is bad - even if it's poorly written, badly acted, and full of silly gender roles itself - at least it's addressing sexism head-on. At least it's showing the possibility that a woman could be president. It's a huge deal to create that image in people's minds, and I think that we lefties should acknowledge that, and not criticize it (too much) for not being utterly revolutionary. Interestingly, some of the crazy conservatives on the Free Republic message boards are, in between some sexist drivel, arguing that it's a liberal plot to normalize women in the presidency in time for Hillary Clinton to run in 2008.1

I don't think it could possibly be that causal, but who cares? It's great to have this image out there.

1. Others argue that, because it's a Republican administration encouraging her to step down before the president dies, it's an attempt to discredit Republicans if they run Condoleezza Rice as the VP on the 2008 ticket. I think this betrays a basic misunderstanding of how media images work: that kind of complexity is totally ineffective in a mass media image. Subtleties work, yes, but they need to be organized around basic elements of identity and social interaction. The difference between Republicans and Democrats is not strong enough or basic enough to anyone's identity to actually work its way in through this kind of imagery. Gender, on the other hand? Yes.

public service announcement

I am not a Jedi, much as I would like to be. I am not English, Irish, German, French, or "from the islands." I do not have an accent. I am not gay. I am not straight. I do work too much, but I am not interested in hearing about it from 16-year-olds. I am not from New York City. I am not in my early thirties. I am not seventeen. I do not eat meat. I am neither an anarchist nor a communist, nor am I a hipster. I am not a ninja, the Terminator, or your mom. Especially not if you're 40.

August 1, 2005

scenes from some trips

wild raspberries and black birch
He's 16. He's smart, he writes reasonably well, and he might see more living things - birds, spiders, raccoons at night, toads in tiny crevices, green-gold flies - than anyone I've ever met. When he's listening, he looks at you with a fixed intensity that humbles you: better have something worth saying to someone like that. He knows when he's being a fool, which is not true of most people his age. Maybe not of most people.

He's not going to graduate from high school. He's been on probation since he was 14, and he got kicked out of school. I don't know the details, but here's what I know: he deserves another chance. Watching him discover the river, the stars, climb a mountain for the first time and not even realize it, seeing him eat wild raspberries and be amazed at the taste of sassafrass, black birch, Indian cucumber, seeing everything I've never noticed about the woods where I spend half my year: the awe and wonder of it would be enough, even if he weren't one of the coolest students I've ever had. He's not patient, but he cares a lot about other people, and if you can talk to him when he's just starting to get frustrated he'll listen with that deep focus and then you can see it in the next conversation he has. When he cried at our graduation it made me tear up. I can think of nothing better than to have him as a student on his first canoeing and backpacking trip except maybe to have him as a student in his first field biology class.

He's a Native American kid from inner city Baltimore and he lives in a violent, aggressive culture. He got in trouble young, and now he can't go back to school. At least he's getting his GED. At least his family seems good. At least the piss tests keep him off drugs. But I worry about his safety and I worry about his future and I can't let it go, because I so desperately want to make something more available to him, and all I can think of to offer is a letter of recommendation and some ways to get in touch with me. Pitifully little.

Second day of a two-week trip, at breakfast. Kid puts his hand up like he's testifying and says, "I don't tell anyone this. Not even my best friends. But since we're going to be out here together for two weeks, y'all might as well know. I like James Taylor and Steely Dan."

disaster and premonitions
At our climbing site, a 17-year-old kid I don't know comes running up a trail screaming that he needs help. His friend just took a 40-foot fall off a cliff. The three staff members who aren't instructors are the first responders to that incident. They breathe for him and pack him into the helicopter cradle and get covered in blood and bile. He dies two days later at a hospital in Baltimore.

Earlier that day, one of our students said he felt death around him, that it felt like it did when his grandmother died. We thought he was just nervous about climbing, but he insisted it was something different. I have no idea what to make of it. It makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.

loving it
Me: "You know it's not just the AT, right? There are two other big trails: the Continental Divide Trail in the Rockies and the Pacific Crest Trail out west."

Student: "I'm going to hike them all. I want to stay out here forever."

I know it's a sign of good judgment to watch the sunset at one of the best views in the state instead of setting up camp during daylight, but it still makes me damn tired.

At least eight bald eagle sightings in two days. Sometimes two at once. A hunting osprey. Two red-tailed hawks circling twenty feet overhead near the top of a ridge for maybe fifteen minutes. Turkey vultures flying within ten feet of rappeling students.

being hardcore
I got off my second two-week backpacking/canoeing course in a row and didn't shower, eat, or finish my paperwork. Instead I got in a whitewater kayak for the first time and got my ass kicked. I flipped nine times, at a conservative estimate, mostly in this one wave I was trying to surf. I might have gotten it for about five seconds towards the end, and I mostly figured out how to stay upright.

I'm just a little worried about my future.
I have a great offer from the place where I'm working now, and another option that I'd pretty much decided to take. Should I stay or move on? How should I make this decision?