Aug 012013
 

You hear it all the time. I hear it all the time, and frankly that would be enough to make this article necessary. But as it happens, everybody hears it.

“All women are beautiful!”

It’s a slogan. It’s a T-shirt. It’s supposed to be a compliment.

It’s the second thing you get when you type “all women are” into Google.

(Wanna know what the first result is? “All women are the same.” Creepy.)

Just in this past week, I heard this sentiment mansplained in a Facebook posting that I can’t link to, and mentioned in an important online apology-gone-viral that I can.

The above-mentioned apology would mean so much more if the woman writing it hadn’t fallen now and then into the usual “every single one of you is just gorgeous!” happy crappy.

I’m tired of this horseshit and I hate having to say something more than once, so listen up, please:

All women are NOT beautiful.

Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to earn karma points or get laid, or both.

If you’re arguing or spluttering or getting all self-righteous on your end of this online experience, riddle me this: Why women?

Why only us?

Think about what your reaction would be if someone leaned toward you, looked into your eyes, and said in deep, meaningful tones, “Darling, all men are beautiful.”

I did that to my 15-year-old son last night, and he looked like he wanted to hurl and then he laughed. “Ew,” he summed up.

Exactly.

If you’re in the habit of saying “All women are beautiful!”, please stop being such a condescending fuck. Thank you.

Years and years ago, I worked in a feminist bookstore. (Which I guess made me a professional feminist for part of my career. Interesting. I never thought about it that way. Anyway.) One afternoon, we were having a book reading and signing. I think the writer in question was Maureen Murdock, author of The Heroine’s Journey. She was talking about what inspired her to write her book. She said she’d spoken once to Joseph Campbell, who wrote extensively about the hero’s journey. She asked something about certain aspects of his description of that journey that didn’t seem to apply universally – that is, that didn’t seem to have anything to do with female existence, but were exclusively male. What would a heroine’s journey look like?

According to her, he replied that women didn’t need to make the journey. They were already there.

What a crock.

Saying “All women are beautiful” is like saying that. It’s saying that all women have the goal of being purely aesthetically appealing. But guess what, girls? You made it! You’re already there! Yay, you!

Please shut up. Have I mentioned that already?

I’m not going to do that annoying, beginning-journalism-student thing of telling you, as if you don’t own a dictionary and wouldn’t know what to do with one if you did, that the official definition of beautiful is blah blah blah. I will point out that beauty is (yes, okay, by definition) exceptional.

If everybody’s beautiful, nobody is.

Most people are pleasant looking, or at least not actively unpleasant.

Many people are attractive, at least to somebody, and they don’t have to match some generic standard in order to be so.

Plenty of people you wouldn’t want to stare at a picture of are so appealing that you’d gladly spend all day with them in person.

None of this is beauty, unless you’ve watered down the word so much that it’s completely worthless by virtue of losing all damned meaning.

Stop saying “All women are beautiful,” and start meaning “It would be fine if women weren’t expected to think about being beautiful any more than men do.”

Men are not all beautiful.

Some men give a great deal of thought to their looks. Maybe they’re actors or public speakers or body builders. Maybe they just enjoy cultivating their physical charms. The results can be pleasing, but in general we consider this kind of focus to be a signal of shallowness.

Some men don’t give nearly enough thought to how they strike others. Yes, I’m talking to you, stinky guy in the café who has a home and plenty of money but can’t be bothered to bathe and change his clothes regularly.

The vast majority of men fall somewhere in-between. Most men aim to look okay in public, better than okay on special occasions, and seriously sloppy at home on lazy non-workday mornings.

Duh. Why am I even bothering to explain this?

Because it doesn’t seem to be as bloody obvious as it ought to be.

All men are not handsome. I’m sure plenty who aren’t would like to be, but how pathetic would it be if that were a consuming passion for many or (heaven forbid) most of them?

Can you imagine how people would feel about a brilliant male writer who was described as being so desperate for good looks that he would have given up half his genius to be considered beautiful? We’re not talking someone who looked like the elephant man. We’re talking someone who just wasn’t particular distinguished in the aesthetics department. Not frightening children in the street, and not tripping over all the women falling at his feet. Just somewhere in-between. Like most men.

But unlike most men, he was a true genius whose work would survive for centuries. Because of its merit. Its beauty.

And he was known for wishing bitterly that he could have bought a measure of the ephemeral, purely physical sort of beauty instead, and saw his genius as a sort of consolation prize.

Or maybe he didn’t think that. Maybe all his friends and readers and critics spent all their time whispering in pitying tones about what a shame it was that someone so otherwise gifted had fallen pitifully short when it came to what was really important.

But we’re talking about a woman here, of course. Of course! What man who was granted the knowledge in his own short life that his genius was the real true thing would give a thought to his looks?

Have the nerve to be a Brontë, though, and you’re remembered with sympathy. Not because you died young and broke, but because – OMG! – you weren’t a babe.

Beauty is rare. It should be. Otherwise we wouldn’t treasure it so. “Treasure” means something costly and precious. There’s no aluminum in that buried pirate stash.

Beauty is fleeting. Butterflies and longevity have nothing to do with one another.

Healthy people are not all beautiful. Brilliant people are not all beautiful. Unhealthy brilliant people can be just plain weird-looking. When was the last time you heard anyone singing the praises of Stephen Hawking’s inner beauty? Beauty has nothing to do with his gifts. Why should it? (Even before he got sick, he wasn’t winning any awards. And for the record, the guy’s been married twice.)

Why is it so important to you that every female on the planet physically embodies beauty? Why should that be a goal, or even an idea?

Tell me what you think of this list of statements.

“Women are all award-winning marathon runners!”

“Women all have perfectly straight brown hair that falls to their ankles!”

“Women are all professors of mathematics at world-famous universities!”

Um.

See? Those are all perfectly good things. They’re things you’d exclaim over and be impressed by, if you ran into them embodied in someone you just met at a party.

So all women should aspire to them, right? And all women who don’t manage to be those things, either because they haven’t tried or because they weren’t able to, should be assured that, well, yes, honey, you sure are!

Fuck off with that, okay? Stop telling me I’m beautiful. I’m not. I’m a lot of other awesome things. I’m not beautiful. I never have been. I never will be.

I’d like that to be something that didn’t inspire exclamations of pity or embarrassed statements to the contrary. Unless you’re also going to exclaim over the other rare things I’m not. I’m not a millionaire. I’m not someone who’s ever been to Antarctica. I’m not possessed of a photographic memory.

Waa?

Not really. Pardon me if I don’t spend my days eaten up with regret over never meeting penguins in their native land. It’d be fun, but I’m over it. I have plenty of other things to keep me busy and happy.

My son made a really great point (after he finished gagging) when I said, “All men are beautiful!” in that unctuous tone. “People say that about children, too,” he remarked.

Well – all babies really are beautiful. They’re our young. They’re our hope. They really are rare, in a way, because they’re possessed of that most fleeting quality: pure innocence.

“Yeah, but I mean kids,” my son said. “And trust me, they’re not all beautiful.”

He’s still traumatized from being a junior counselor at a LEGO day camp, so some of that was the bitter speaking. But I saw his point. Especially when he went on, “That’s the kind of thing you say about a group you look down on.”

Oh, wow.

15, male, white, and middle class, and he gets it.

There’s hope.

Jun 292013
 

We’ve all heard the good news about marriage equality in America; and if we’re reading this blog and we don’t think marriage equality is good news, we all need to go and get over it. And if we think the typical American newlyweds — two people in their 30s who find one another attractive and figure, what the hell, if it doesn’t work we can always get a divorce — are an example of “traditional” marriage, we’d all better go read some history books. Traditional marriage, both in our own dear country of America and in Biblical texts, has included all sorts of things we decided to throw out on the grounds of extreme ickiness, such as mandatory female wedding-night virginity, no divorce allowed unless a man wants to leave a woman he says has been unfaithful, and women surrendering their right to own property. Pretty much it sucked to be female, is what I’m noticing here. And you guys wonder why we want to marry other girls now.

But I digress. My point is, there are still people who argue against same-sex marriage. These people are all wrong, of course, but some are wronger than others. And the wrongest of all — by which I mean the absolute WOW are you a dork — are the arguments that same-sex marriage will lead to all sorts of things, starting right off with a nice spot of bestiality. Yes, Rand Paul, I’m talking to you, and no I don’t believe you were kidding. Why should I? Plenty of people are saying this with a straight face. It’s not original enough to be a joke. It’s just creepy and sad. Mostly creepy.

But if you’re going to use that line of argument, fine. Use it. Just go all the way. If that actually counts as logic, people should be using it everywhere.

Maybe they do. Maybe there are guys in Saudi Arabia saying, “If we let women drive, what’s next? Giving driver’s licenses to goats?”

And speaking of repressive Middle-Eastern countries: “If we let women walk around without their hair and faces and bodies covered in bulky, awkward layers of fabric, what’s next? Letting camels walk around without…oh, wait. Never mind.”

Back to America. “If we guarantee women equal pay for equal work, what’s next? Guaranteed equal pay for animals?” (Well, if they do the same day’s work, yeah. But docking them for accidents and triggering allergies seems fair. As long as you do that to people, too.)

“If we let men have parental leave, what’s next? They’ll want time off work if they get a pet!” (Okay, in California that one might happen. And yes, I live in California. Stop screaming.)

“If we let girls play football, what’s next? We’ll have to let anybody play! Cows! Sheep! Bunnies!” (I would totally watch that. You would, too.)

“If we let women in combat, what’s next? Dolphins in combat?” (Okay, now I’m depressed because this one’s totally true. Which also makes it technically true that they were willing to let another freakin’ species in combat before they were cool with women being there.)

I’m sure there are 80 million more examples of this just begging to be written, but it’s early and I haven’t had breakfast yet. So I’ll let you chime in with them in the comments section. Meanwhile, I’ll be enjoying some oatmeal. Which I’ll be sharing with a horse of my acquaintance. Because, you know, if we let people eat oats…

Jun 222013
 

This happened after I read one too many idiotic comments to one too many articles or postings whose content shouldn’t have been controversial AT ALL. If you can’t say “Women’s rights are human rights” without breaking out in hives, this is for you. If you’re already good, send it to someone who needs it. Now excuse me while I get some much-needed chocolate — this didn’t just write itself, you know.

1. Stop treating feminism as if it’s even scarier than that other f-word. Feminism is the basic idea that treating the sexes equally should be a given. The fact that we need a special word for seeking this kind of equality is sad. That doesn’t make feminism a bad word. It means this world is often a bad place for women, and we’d like to change that.

2. Think about the last time you heard a writer referred to as a poetess. Now think about how long it’s been since newspapers divided want ads into different sections depending on whether those jobs could only be applied for by a man or a woman. Now think about the good old days when women had no recourse if they were fired from one of those jobs because they got married. Now think about the really good old days when women couldn’t divorce abusive husbands, and every penny they managed to earn or inherit belonged to the man they were married to. Now tell me that feminism is a scary, radical idea.

3. If you’re sexist, own up and just admit it, already. Odds are, you’re not hiding it as well as you think. You know how every sentence in the history of ever that starts with the phrase “I’m not racist, but…” ends up saying something horrifyingly racist? Well, people who start off by saying, “I don’t have anything against feminism; I’m just saying…” always end up “just saying” that they’re really, really sexist. If that’s you, believe me: the rest of us have noticed.

4. If you feel personally threatened by a movement for women’s equality, that tells me everything I need to know about you. Specifically, it tells me that you need to make someone else feel small in order to make yourself feel just the right height.

5. If the topic is women’s rights, please stop pointing out that there are members of the feminist movement who aren’t absolutely perfect in every possible way. Yes, I know that. Now show me any other group that could stand up to that kind of scrutiny. And now tell me when was the last time you held any other group under that kind of magnifying glass.

6. If you feel the need to say “I’m not a feminist, but…” — congratulations. You’re a feminist. Glad to know you. Want some cake? I’m buying.

7. If you use the word “militant” or “strident” in front of the word “feminist” with a straight face, may I be the first to welcome you to the 21st century?

8. Please don’t say feminism is about hating men. Yes, feminists do hate men who treat women like crap. We hate anyone who does that. Don’t you?

9. If you’re a member of the skeptic community and you’re sexist, you’re way stupider than any of the people you mock for buying into superstitious ideas. You just bought the biggest, oldest non-evidence-based belief out there.

10. Congratulations on trying to sound all scientific as you explain that, look, you’re not being sexist — there are just certain things women can’t do. Yeah. I know. I just don’t understand what that has to do with equal rights. There are plenty of things men can’t do — why don’t you ever want to talk about those?

11. Please stop saying you’re not a feminist, you’re a humanist. Would you ever say, “I’m not anti-racist — I’m a humanist”? Feminism is an acknowledgement that, unfortunately, women’s rights currently need fighting for. If your idea of humanism doesn’t encompass that, it should. If it does, your humanism is feminist in nature. Why would you mind saying that?

12. Stop saying that women are our own worst enemies. If you’re talking about politics: really? Women hold a majority of the power in that realm? And we’re using it against ourselves? When did that happen? How would that even work? If you mean just plain ordinary, everyday life: yeah. Right. ‘Cause when my friends worry about my going out alone at night, they’re concerned I might run into some bad-ass woman.

13. Get it through your head: “Asking” to be raped is a contradiction in terms.

14. Please don’t try to cushion certain kinds of behavior by explaining that the society in question is “traditional” or “conservative.” “Traditions” that treat women like second-class citizens or worse are still just plain sexist. If a particular group — be it ethnic or religious — has been crapping on women for hundreds of years, pardon me while I don’t congratulate them.

15. Telling total strangers on the street that how they look makes you feel all sexy-time isn’t a compliment. Yes, you’re being a sexist jerk if you do this. And yes, you already knew that. You know how you’d feel if you heard someone treating your mom like that. And you know how you’d feel if other men treated you like that. Quit playing dumb.

16. Oh, and please know that telling total strangers that their appearance does not make you feel the need for a moment alone is really weird. What makes you think that people you don’t even know got dressed this morning hoping against hope to thrill you?

17. While we’re on the subject of appearance: failing to shave certain parts of the body is either a crime against humanity or a personal choice that’s none of anyone else’s business. If it’s the first, you have to cry and scream and faint at the sight of every furry pit, not just the ones attached to female bodies. Good luck with that this summer.

18. Regarding women and humor: I’ve heard people (usually male professional comedians) say that women just aren’t as funny as men. If you’ve ever said that, do you really believe it? Or are you simply terrified at the idea of women laughing at you?

Mar 192013
 

Dear Lizard O’Mine:

The rules are pretty simple in this household. We ALL have to live by them.

1. No going under the refrigerator if you’re likely to starve and/or freeze to death down there.

2. Ditto the refrigerator and the piano.

3. No going outside alone and unprotected if there’s a perfectly good chance you’ll be eaten by a crow.

Okay, these aren’t the only rules of the house. But they’re the only ones that apply to you. I hardly think they’re terribly stringent, especially since they only exist to keep you from DYING.

I understand that it’s spring and you’re restless. But it’s not my fault that you can’t go outside and catch some rays in your “playpen.” There are no rays to be caught. It’s 60 degrees out, and overcast. That’s positively Arctic weather for you.

We’re trying to be nice. We take you for “walkies” whenever you ask. Which, when I’m home recovering from a bad cold, has been more than a dozen times a day lately. The fact that we have a perfectly good-sized apartment and yet the minute you get outside your tank you make a beeline for the fridge, the stove, or the piano — completely ignoring the new couch, which is built in such a way that you can go under it, which was not the case with the old couch and I’m not trying to guilt-trip you or anything but I REALLY THOUGHT you’d appreciate this more — well, that’s starting to bother me. I think I mentioned I have a cold. I’m tired of stooping and dodging and screeching around after you for what feels like decades at a time.

I feed you mealworms without complaint. I clean up after you. I BOUGHT YOU A GIRLFRIEND. (Okay, that sounded creepy. Plus it hasn’t worked out the way we’d all hoped. She’s young, okay? Give her time.)

I guess what I’m saying is, cut me some slack, would you? I know it’s not easy being an ectotherm. Just please understand that being human isn’t always a bed of calcium-enriched substrate, either.

Sincerely,

The Biped With The High-Pitched Voice

Dec 222012
 

I deal with chronic pain because I have endometriosis — a non-contagious, non-fatal disease of the girly parts.

Sometimes I feel bad about talking about it, because it makes my friends feel bad and frankly there’s enough feeling bad associated with my stupid pelvis. So, since everyone who knows me and/or reads this blog knows I could never be mistaken for a sweet little bit of adorableness, I want to say a few things that may make you feel better. If you can take what I say at face value, we can both feel better, because I’ll feel better about talking about this when I really need to.

It helps me to be able to gripe. I try to phrase things in a way that we can all get a laugh out of, or that at the very least makes it clear that this disease is livable even if it isn’t always fun. “Geez, my idiot right ovary is kicking me like I just insulted her grandmother,” for instance.

I want to be able to kvetch sometimes because that’s what people do. I know you can’t do anything about my condition, and I don’t expect you to. And I want you to know that I’ve never once resented you for being healthy. In fact, I’m glad of it, for very selfish reasons. You’re healthy and so you can handle my griping. You’re not being flattened by pain or fatigue of your own. You can listen, you can say, “Geez, what a pain. Like, literally,” and then I can say, “I know, right?” and then you can say, “I wish I could do something,” and I can say, “I know, but it’s okay. I’m hopped up on painkillers and I have plenty of chocolate. But I’ll call you if I run low,” and you can say, “On chocolate, right? I had to quit dealing drugs after the kids were born. That whole work-at-home parent thing is always harder than it sounds.” And then we can both laugh, because we’re just so damned witty and cool.

Or, if there really is something you can do, I can say, “I’m having a hard time because the only medication that will help also makes it dangerous for me to drive, and I hate for my kid to have to stay home just because my pelvis is a jerk. Could you give him a lift?” If you can’t, say so and don’t apologize too hard. I know you have a life. That’s part of why I like you. If you can help, I’ll be forever grateful — and I hope you’ll let me express that gratitude somehow, with a similar favor or baked goods. Because it’s bad enough dealing with all this weird pain. I don’t want to have to feel like a freakin’ charity case on top of it.

Don’t say, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” because you can. You’ve felt pain. It’s just usually pain that makes some kind of sense. Pain is something we evolved as a warning that something is very, very wrong and we need to drop everything and do something about that wrongness or we might die. My pain is maddening because it’s a response to some wrongness that I can’t do anything about. I’ve tried from the inside out. I’ve had surgery and changed my diet. I exercise like a mother, because vigorous activity pumps up endorphins and tamps down the production of estrogen, and estrogen is apparently what my disease feeds on.

But still, whatever I do, I am trapped in a cage with this pain, and it lashes out at me just because that’s what it does. Sometimes it sleeps so long I think it must have died. And then I fall asleep myself, and wake up feeling its fangs.

My worst pain is humiliatingly intimate. Imagine being grabbed in the most personal place imaginable — seized and squeezed. Now imagine that continuing for ten minutes, or thirty, or sixty — never letting up except when the invisible hand shifts to reposition itself and clamp you that much harder.

This isn’t a cramp, or a twinge. This is an all-out ball-smasher, and never mind that I don’t technically have balls. This pain leaves me doubled up on the floor, making horrible neighbor-scaring noises. If I’m alone or it’s late at night and everyone’s asleep, I have to hold it together long enough to find my painkillers. I have to take these with a full glass of water. That’s always fun. Try whacking the back of one of your hands as hard as you can against the toughest surface you can find, or stomp on your toes, or bonk your head on something. Do it hard enough that you want to scream, or you can’t help screaming. (Don’t really do this. Just imagine it.) Now, while you’re still throbbing with pain, use your other hand to pour and drink a full glass of water. Fun, right?

I have some other painkillers that are very, very strong. I almost never take them, though, because long after the pain would have passed on its own, I’d be incapacitated by the drugs. (I call them my “I love you, man” pills.) I keep them around because it helps to know they’re there. If I ever really, really couldn’t handle this, I have something to turn to. Knowing that makes me able — sometimes just barely — to accept taking the lamer drugs, the ones that take a while to work and sometimes don’t seem to work at all. The pain just gets bored and leaves on its own after a while.

This isn’t every day, or even every other day. Because this is a disease of the unmentionable regions, you’d think I’d be able to count on the lunar calendar to warn me what the dangerous days will be. Sadly, that isn’t the case. Like, at all. Sometimes my period comes and goes with very little pain. And then a day or a week or seventeen days later — or a day or two or three before — the tiger wakes, and leaps, and sinks its claws into me.

Yes, healthy friend, you’re not dealing with that. But the thing is, odds are good you’re dealing with something I can’t imagine until you describe it for me. My friends have all kinds of crap going on. Physically or psychologically disabled children. Business or financial worries. Health conditions that bear no resemblance to mine. All kinds of stuff.

So don’t imagine that I’m sitting over here thinking, “You don’t know how easy you have it.” I know you don’t have it easy. None of my friends do. They live on this planet, so they’re heir to all kinds of pain and difficulty.

When I think about the things they have to deal with, I wonder sometimes how they manage. Sure, I have an insane pelvis. But it’s my insane pelvis. That scary sleeping tiger of pain is my tiger. I hate her and she infuriates me, but at least I know her. As much as anyone can, anyway.

I guess what I’m saying is that when I need to gripe, I promise I’m not expecting you to be able to fix what’s wrong with me. I know you can’t, and I don’t resent it. I’m just glad to have you to talk to. And I’m trying not to be too big a pain about my pain, because I want you to be glad to have me around, too.

Just don’t expect me to share my chocolate.

Hey, you said you don’t like dark chocolate, anyway. And besides — hey! Gimme that!

Dec 162012
 

Who am I?

Other than having an extreme case of bitterness, I’m quite ordinary. I’m just another at-home parent who takes care of her family.

My husband suffers from many severe food allergies as well as diabetes, and my son’s been an ethical vegetarian from the age of four, so planning dinner can be a little tough. (Leaf through a vegetarian cookbook or magazine sometime. Count how many recipes don’t contain tomatoes, vinegar, alcohol, buttermilk, cheese, coconut, avocado, or fruit of any kind — even a squeeze of lemon juice. Any recipes you manage to find without those ingredients are the recipes I can prepare without killing my husband.)

My husband also suffers from skin allergies. He’s allergic to his own sweat, so he can’t rewear anything and needs to change clothes fairly frequently. He, my son and I also have dust-mite allergies that are exacerbated if the sheets aren’t changed weekly. So I do a lot of laundry. Which is fun in an apartment building where 17 families share two washers and two dryers.

Because of the dust mite thingy, I also do a lot of dusting, sweeping, vacuuming, and Swiffering. I don’t like it. I just do it.

I help manage our apartment building to keep the rent low. We’re paying off a lot of old medical bills and my husband’s been laid off a few times in the past ten years, so we have to live pretty simply. The sweater I’m wearing right now is one I bought about twelve years ago. I remember the day I got it, along with two others. I was excited, because they were on sale so I could buy all three. We’re not poor or at risk by any means, but I don’t get to run out and buy three sweaters at a time very often, either. Now that the economy has tanked so badly, I don’t have to feel weird saying that in public. For the record, though, my family was broke way before it became fashionable. Call us trendsetters

Because it’s the best fit for his interests, personality, and learning style, my son is homeschooled. I thought that this would at least save me from all the driving that parents of schooled children endure; but between several music lessons a week, a weekly science class I teach at a fellow homeschooler’s house, lots of Lego engineering classes, and his social life, I put in a lot of time behind the wheel.

My son’s an only child and we live in a big city — he can’t just make friends with the other kids on the block or in the schoolyard — so I started up a local homeschooling support group to make sure that he had plenty of kids to hang out with. Sometimes wrangling that group feels like more work than actually teaching my kid. Homeschoolers tend to be as feisty, individualistic, and independent as cats. It’s our strength. It’s also a pain in the arse if you’re the so-called “leader” of the group and people want you to solve the problem of what to do when someone is mean to someone else. And don’t get me started on the kids.

The thing is, I’m no saint. I’m certainly no angel. The details may differ, but what I’m doing is no different than what most parents do: the best I can with what I’ve been handed.

I’m just one more parent trying to get through the day.

Oh, and I’m an atheist.

I’m not anti-religion. I don’t say “I’m an atheist” when what I mean is “I’m annoyed by someone in a church I used to belong to.” I certainly haven’t “turned my back on God,” as the popular phrase goes. I wouldn’t know which way to stand to do that, because I don’t think there’s anyone at the wheel of this particular universe.

I’m not rancorous. I just don’t happen to believe.

Why is that important?

On Friday morning, I drove my son to his Lego class. It’s exactly far enough away from our apartment for it not to make any sense at all to come home and then go pick him up again. So I wore my running togs and went for a jog in the quiet hills of this particular neighborhood, and then read in the car until he was finished. We listened to a funny podcast on the way home. Once we got there, he went to the kitchen to grab some lunch. I decided to take a shower first — it had been a long run. First, though, and almost reflexively, I checked on Facebook. And there I got the news about the Connecticut elementary school shooting.

I don’t have to describe how I felt. I felt just like everybody else did.

I couldn’t move. I just kept scrolling numbly through. The news was fragmented and contradictory. The man was 24 — no, wait, he was 20. He was a parent of one of the students there. He was the son of one of the teachers. Or was she a teacher’s aide? He’d killed his father at home and then went to kill his mother at her work. Unless it was his mother’s dead body he’d left behind before going to the school involved.

Only one fact stayed consistently, sickeningly the same: A young man had purposely shot and killed many very young schoolchildren, along with several adults who’d chosen a life working with children.

I realized dimly that I was freezing cold, and my back hurt. That’s in part because I was shivering uncontrollably. I have a hard time crying about bad news — I just start shuddering as if the temperature of the room has dropped twenty degrees. Also, my shoulders were hunching up with every new piece of information or speculation.

I’d logged in to Facebook so casually. I was going to tell a friend about my silly latke posting, which had been inspired by her request for my recipe. And then I wanted to check in with my writing group and thrill them with the news that, yes, they’d been right — the agent who’d asked for a rewrite of my novel hadn’t replied to my sending her that rewrite because it turns out it’s December and, shockingly, she’s a little busier than usual.

My everyday life had never seemed more trivial.

My son came in to find out why on earth I hadn’t showered my icky self, let alone wandered out in search of sustenance (generally a high priority for me after a run). He’s 14, so I could tell him the news fairly straightforwardly. Usually he makes a point of not wanting to get anywhere near me after I’ve exercised until I’ve boiled myself briskly for at least half an hour and used all possible soap, shampoo, scented lotion, deodorant, and more soap (not necessarily in that order). Now he ignored protocol and latched on to me like a mussel on a rock. When I had to tell him that he was too big to sit on the spindly arm of our office chair without risking serious damage to same, he sat in my lap instead. I was okay with that. I’m not one of those people who insist that blood circulate through my whole body. Not all the time, anyway.

Not today.

Eventually he pulled himself together and went to practice violin. I kept telling myself that I had to get up — I was starving and shivering for lots of reasons now, thanks to sitting around in my exercise togs after having worked up a sweat. My bedroom is very cold in winter, and it was looking like rain outside. I had to go thaw out in the shower. And then I had to get something to eat.

And then I saw the kind of posting I’d have seen a lot more of already if I didn’t hang with such a weird, defiant, independent crowd. (Those are all compliments in my book.) My friends have all kinds of religious beliefs, and of course plenty of them check the lack-thereof box on surveys. But the most important thing about them is that — well, there’s a Bizarro cartoon from several years ago that shows Saint Peter outside the pearly gates, explaining to the man in front of him, “You were a believer, yes. But you skipped the not-being-a-jerk-about-it part.”

My friends skip being a jerk about whatever they believe or don’t believe.

Mostly. Well, completely, now. We’ll get to that in a minute.

Like many people, I don’t know all of my Facebook friends. Several people have asked to friend me after they liked something I wrote, and I rarely say no to friend requests because I’m lazy and shallow and conceited. So when I see postings in my feed from people I don’t recognize at all, they’re usually homeschoolers or atheists. Or very, very bitter.

Okay, they’re usually not. They’re usually actually very good-natured, which they have to be to put up with my raving.

I don’t remember when I friended one woman in particular. She’s a homeschooling grandmother, so I guess she must have liked “The Bitter Homeschooler’s Wish List.” But her frequent postings are so Jesus-intensive that I think she must have missed the part where I wrote that as a promotional piece for the late lamented Secular Homeschooling Magazine.

Well, whatever. I ignored her really preachy posts, occasionally clicked “like” when she reposted stuff from Facebook pages with names like “Laughed So Hard, I Hurt Muh Knee Slappin’ It!”, and congratulated myself on being so tolerant. Because easily six out of ten of her posts were “inspirational” quotes, which I hate on general principal (“Don’t tell me what to do! I’ll be inspired if and when I darned well feel like it!”), and which tended in her case to run along the lines of how we should hand everything over to God whenever life seemed rough.

Fine. Whatever keeps you going.

I remembered my manners when she posted in a panic the day that Obama endorsed gay marriage as a human right. Her post was something along the lines of, “Oh, great — he’s just doing this to buy votes, and he’s going to destroy the whole country in the process!” I really wanted to ask her how exactly that last bit was going to happen — would so many people run out and spend their money on wedding cake and flowers that eventually we’d all be the victims of the collapse of a huge catering bubble? And then I decided that, no, I actually didn’t want to ask her that, because I sure didn’t want her feedback on my big fat atheist postings. So far she’d never said anything in response to them, and I wanted to keep it that way.

I did wonder once again why on earth this woman had decided to friend me. And then I tuned her out. If I thought about her at all, I considered her to be my token annoying “friend” — the kind of woman so many of my heathen buddies have to put up with in person on a regular basis.

Insert witty remark about atheist doing penance here.

On the day of the shooting, her postings were predictably prayer- and God-oriented. Fine. I can understand the urge to pray. It’s awful to feel helpless in the face of an atrocity.

And then she got my undivided attention.

“This kind of evil happens when people turn away from God for so long, they’re unable to discern right from wrong.”

Really.

I think I mentioned I’m an atheist.

I’d like to take a moment to compare my life to that of a real-life friend of mine, a woman who belongs to my local homeschooling group. Like me, she cooks from scratch for allergy-related and economic reasons, and cleans conscientiously but without enthusiasm. She, too, is a huge Brontë fan, and a library fiend. She’s active in the homeschooling community.

And she’s a minister’s wife.

She and I get up every morning, teach our children, get on them when the chaos in their rooms spirals out of control, take care to cook meals that won’t kill our allergy sufferers, clean when and because we must, and drive our kids to park gatherings, music lessons, and friends’ houses.

One of us is a pillar of the community.

And one of us, apparently, is sister under the skin to a murderer of children.

No.

There was no agreeing to disagree here.

My Facebook not-so-friendly “friend” believed that atheists were a menace to society, simply by virtue of our lack of belief.

I didn’t reply to her posting. Not right away.

I posted on my own wall.

I posted an abbreviated version of what I’ve said here: that I’m an ordinary parent who spends most of her time looking after the needs of others and who happens to be an atheist. Anyone who believes that makes me evil needs to say so in so many words to my Facebook face, and then needs to call the cops and present their evidence for the idea that I’m fully capable of opening fire on a kindergarten class. Or at the very least unfriend me. Because, hey. Evil. You don’t want to get anywhere near that.

A lot of my real friends told me how much they liked my posting, which helped. Some of them posted their own versions (better written than mine, and you know I’m not modest) on their own pages; a couple copied and linked to my posting.

I didn’t mind that — obviously it’s a huge compliment — but some of the response unnerved me. One woman pointed out that, okay, I myself personally wasn’t going to kill anybody; but yes, the reason this kind of thing kept happening was that as a nation we had turned away from her deity. We needed to reverse that trend or suffer the consequences.

Oh, okay. So I’m fine; but if the entire country were like me, it’d be nonstop slaughter day and night.

Thanks for letting me know!

She wasn’t the only one saying this kind of thing, of course. Several friends voiced their disgust at a particularly nasty piece of text that’s going around Facebook. “Dear God,” it reads. “Why do you allow so much violence in our schools? Signed, A Concerned Student.” The man upstairs replies, “Dear Concerned Student, I’m not allowed in schools.”

If you need me to point out everything that’s wrong with that offensively irrational piece of work, you’re reading the wrong blog.

The woman who inspired my Facebook posting didn’t reply to it, nor did she unfriend me. Either she’s the biggest wuss in the world, or she “friended” me solely so she’d have a slightly bigger audience for her own postings but never read mine.

Forget that noise.

I posted this comment in reply to her original posting about being unable to discern good from evil:

“Well, I’m an atheist. I have been for a couple of decades now. With that kind of time under my belt, I must be completely unable to discern right from wrong. So I’ll do you a favor and defriend now. And then I’ll get back to homeschooling my child, taking care of my husband, wrapping some Christmas presents, and finally getting some baking done. Because I really am that scary.”

She hasn’t contacted me, and I assume she won’t. I won’t be making any more efforts to contact her, either. Though I would very much like to know how she felt about my response.

Did she really not realize how insulting her post was? Did my comment startle her?

If it did, she probably shrugged it off. Pretty quickly, I’d wager. Because as soon as she heard about my theological status, my opinion became less than worthless.

Just for the record: I understand the Protestant premise of grace, and the idea that our actions are meaningless without true faith and belief. I understand that presenting a detailed description of my ordinary, blameless life means nothing, theologically speaking, to people who espouse a certain kind of faith. That minister’s wife I mentioned above can’t have failed to notice the close resemblance between my life and hers. And so far as my eternal status is concerned, that resemblance is irrelevant. If I don’t mend my ways and start attending her church, I’m damned to hell. Doesn’t matter how much I homeschooled or how many cookies I baked for friends.

On the other hand, this minister’s wife also doesn’t for a second think that I’m a menace to society. She knows very well that I’m no more likely to harm children than she is.

Doesn’t she?

Dec 132012
 

Okay, that’s kind of arrogant coming from a shiksa broad. But dang, these latkes are good.

They’re also way better than usual in the sense that the usual latke requires lots of grated potatoes. Which would be fine, if grated potatoes were agreeable creatures. But they’re not. They’re foul fiends. They start darkening as soon as you start shredding. It’s like working with a time bomb. Which won’t actually explode, but you might wish it would once you get to the second part of prepping the potatoes: squeezing the moisture out of the rapidly blackening shreds. Yuck. It feels icky. You never do a thorough enough job. And if you don’t keep the hot water running the whole time, all the potato starch you’re scrunching out will seriously clog up your pipes.

Fun, huh?

The latkes I’m about to describe taste awesome and save their creator a lot of grief. Warning: do not make them if your favorite part of potato-pancake season is the relentlessly lingering odor of onions and oil. I mean, where is the justice in being asked to chop up and deep-fry onions and potatoes during the coldest season of the year? Our apartment gets really cold in December, and we don’t have a heater. I can’t throw open windows without fielding complaints of child abuse and general crimes against humanity. So for several days after I make traditional latkes, there’s this almost visible fog of onion-oil stench.

If that’s your idea of a good time, don’t make these. I’m just saying.

Not Your Bubbe’s Latkes

1 cup each grated carrot, parsnip, yam, and baking potato
3 beaten eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
freshly grated pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Bear in mind throughout this recipes that these measurements are just suggestions. You can have more than a cup of any of the grated roots. You may want a little more (or a little less) flour. If you really need to, throw in another egg. Go by the texture, and don’t worry too much. Latkes are very forgiving.

Also, grate the potatoes last, for reasons mentioned above, and then either squeeze them out or wrap them in paper towels.

Mix the grated roots together in a large bowl. Beat in the eggs.

In a small separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to the large bowl and mix well. Grate a little pepper in, if desired, and stir in the parsley.

Heat a quarter-inch of olive oil in a large skillet. You don’t want this to boil, and you don’t want a listless response when you put some latke batter in, either. You want it hot enough to give an enthusiastic sizzle, but not to put anyone’s eye out.

There’s no tidy way to get latke batter from the bowl to the frying pan. I guess I should have mentioned that earlier, in case you’re suffering from OCD or something. Sorry. Basically, just get in there and grab a good handful of batter, give it a squeeze, and shape it into, well, more of a burger than a pancake so far as looks are concerned. Put it into the hot oil and do it again until you have a nice busy pan o’latkes. Leave yourself room to flip these little puppies, though.

Let them fry about three or four minutes on each side. If they start burning well before that, you’ve got the heat on too high.

Have a plate or rack covered with paper towels ready to receive the finished latkes. (Again, should have told you earlier. I’m doing the best I can here, okay?)

These latkes are so flavorful that you can eat them all by themselves. They are also very good with plain yogurt, sour cream, and/or homemade applesauce.

Do not expect me to tell you how many calories these have. I have no idea. I probably wouldn’t tell you if I knew. If you’re worried about calories, you should not be eating latkes. Srsly.

Serves one, though your loved ones may fight you on this point.

Dec 132012
 

Unless you’re Fox-News-watching Uncle Ted who spends every family gathering ranting about how Obama is plotting to kill us all in our sleep, you already knew that there are multiple holidays in December. That’s why some pinko-commie-scumbags actually have the nerve to say “Happy holidays!” Because not only are there a lot of special days, but — who knew??? — some people celebrate more than one of them.

Actually, most people do. I don’t know any scary right-wing types who make a point of refusing to notice it’s New Year’s Eve.

And surely they’ve noticed that Hanukkah falls around this time, too. That’s three major holidays in one month. Even if the “Happy holidays!” haters only celebrate two of them (okay, probably more like one and a half — we’re talking about people who probably haven’t managed to stay up until midnight for a looooong time now), they know that all three of them are there. So what’s the big deal about acknowledging them? The Jews have been partying in winter a lot longer than Christians have. And latkes rock. (Remind me to give you my recipe. Instead of just potatoes, you throw in grated yams, too. To die for.)

But let’s say for the sake of argument that only Christian holidays count as worthy of inclusion in a casual greeting. Weird, but okay.

Sorry, Uncle Ted. You’ve still got multiples. It’s “Happy holidays” to you, too.

Saint Nicholas’ Day is on December 6; so on December 5, kids can write their letter to St. Nick and leave it in their shoe. In the morning, the letter is gone and a token gift — usually candy, sometimes a small toy — has been left in exchange.

Totally makes sense. Way more sense than leaving a wish list for Santa on Christmas Eve. Seriously — give the guy a little lead time, already.

Saint Lucy’s Day falls on December 13. Maybe you’ve seen pictures of girls wearing wreathes with candles on their heads? That’s in celebration of this holiday. It doesn’t get a lot of action in America, but it’s big in Europe. There are special pastries, and the kids are supposed to bring them (along with coffee) to the grownups while they’re still in bed, so I think we should start having that as an official American holiday. Like, now.

Frankly, Christmas Eve is a holiday all by itself. It has its own set of rituals and its own air of excitement. It may seem odd to count looking forward to the actual holiday as a holiday all by itself, but look: Christmas Eve dinner is festive and distinct from Christmas (usually fish or pasta, as opposed to ham or game birds), and Christmas Eve arguments are distinct from Christmas day squabbles (do the kids get to open just one present tonight, can they choose which one themselves, and who has to go pick up Uncle Ted at the airport; vs. how early is too early to wake up Mom and Dad on the big morning, and whose turn is it now to distract Uncle Ted from the booze).

The song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is based on the fact that for a very long time, people celebrated Christmas for twelve freakin’ days. This seemed like a long time to me when I was a kid. Now that people start decorating their own homes for Christmas starting in November, it seems mercifully brief. Nevertheless, these were twelve official days of merrymaking. If that doesn’t count as holidays, I don’t know what does. Good news, Uncle Ted — drinking was a big part of the celebration back then.

Then there’s St. Stephen’s Day on December 26; St. John the Evangelist’s Day on December 27; Holy Innocents’ Day on December 28; and St. Sylvester’s Day on December 31.

So guess what? Even if you’re so hardcore-Christian that non-Christian December holidays are beneath your notice, plenty of Christians have plenty to celebrate in the month of December.

True, most of those holidays are saints’ days. News flash: Catholics are Christians. If you don’t believe that, you’re telling me that Christianity is only, what, four hundred years old or so? Interesting.

Also, I’ve noticed that the most intolerant anti-”Happy holidays!” types love to mention the fact that America is a Christian country by a humongous majority and therefore nonbelievers should maybe shut up or move somewhere else. The people who say that always seem to count Catholics as part of the Jesus club when they cite that statistic about America being almost 80% Christian. Well, if they’re not “really” Christians, Christians make up barely half the population here. And, since I’m sure you wanted to know, Americans who aren’t affiliated with any religion are, once again, the fastest-growing group.

So: Happy holidays, Uncle Ted.

Oh, and we have leftover latkes if you’re hungry.

Nov 162012
 

Facebook has been in mourning for Twinkies today. Some news outlets are insisting that Hostess-brand But-That’s-The-Goo-I-Grew-Up-With products can’t possibly all go extinct. No one seems terribly reassured by these reports. Most if not all of my friends are bummed out and moody, even though they also insist that they haven’t eaten Twinkies, Ding Dongs, or Hostess “Cherry” “Pies” for decades now. Which, if true, might explain something. Not that I’m here to blame the victim or anything.

I know that home-baked cake can never replace what you’ve lost, but this recipe is called Homemade Twinkies in my house, and it’s seriously good. It’s adapted from a recipe by the late great Marion Cunningham, who stole her recipe from someone named Joyce. And it’s ridiculously easy, so quit crying and turn on the oven, already. Sheesh.

“Twinkie” Cake

1/2 cup (one stick) butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/3 cups cake flour (seriously. Do NOT use all-purpose flour. Your “cake” will turn out more like lead shot. You will cry.)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk (2% or whole, NOT skim)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a cake pan or muffin tin.

Beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Sift together dry ingredients. Add to butter mixture; beat well. Stir in milk and beat it up a bit more.

Spoon batter into muffin tins or cake pan. Bake for 12 to 14 minutes for muffin tins (start checking at 10), or 25-30 minutes for cake (start checking at 20). Remove from oven when toothpick comes out clean.

Serve slightly warm with lots of whipped cream.

Sep 012012
 

Really Really Like

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Want To Marry And/Or Make Babies With

If I Ever Left The House, I Would Be Stalking You Just For Posting This

Liked The First Time I Saw It, But 20 Other Friends Have Posted The Same Thing In The Last 4 Minutes And I’m Over It

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Meh

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Currently Bleeding From Both Eyeballs

I Sustained Permanent Brain Damage From Reading This

Please Learn How To Use Snopes

I Used To Like You

My Children Are No Longer Allowed To Go To Your House

Seriously, What The Hell Was I Thinking When I Friended You? We Have Nothing In Common, And This Posting Just Proves It

I Hope You Die In The Elevator Of A Burning Building