Monday, December 19, 2011

2011: The Year in Review

A week early, but why the hell not? I don't expect anything exceptional to happen next week. In no particular order, my best and worst of 2011:

Best Movie You Almost Certainly Didn't See -

Meeks' Cutoff

The story: During the mid 1800s, a party of migrants are moving westward. They hire a guide, who leads them astray with promises of a shortcut. They are lost. They are hungry. They have almost no water left. All they can do is keep walking.  A visual and emotional feast. If you're in it for chase scenes, a soundtrack, and a big, obvious story, don't bother. This quiet movie (there is almost no dialgoue) is all about the getting there. Or, to be more accurate, the NOT getting there. 

Bruce Greenwood, a vastly under-appreciated actor, has never been better. Michelle Williams is as good as ever, turning in what may be the most honest portrayal of a strong woman I've seen in years. In many ways, it's a feminist film. It is a thing of a beauty. I'm willing to bet almost no one who reads this actually saw it. That's a damned shame. It really deserved to be seen on a big screen.

Book Most Likely To Break your Heart, and Maybe Mend It -

Joan Didion's Blue Nights

Joan Didion's life has revolved around loss for well over two years, now. A prolific writer, she turns to the tools of her trade to deal with this loss. Blue Nights, which picks up, so to speak, where The Year of Magical Thinking left off, is a collection of Didion's reflections on the life and death of her only child, on her efforts to keep grief at bay, on the many people who have moved through her life in in the last 77 years, on aging alone, on her own mortality. On realizing that, no matter what our losses, we have only two choices: to keep on living, or to die. Beautifully written. Anyone who has suffered a loss will feel this one. As empowering as it is heartbreaking.  

Piece of News that Did My New York Heart The Most Good

Same Sex Marriage Becomes Legal in New York

The photo says it all. Bless their married, lesbian hearts. I've never been prouder to call myself a native New Yorker.  To date, no less than four people from my high school graduating class of under 200 have legally married their same sex partners in NY. Now, if only we could get a federal ruling that had teeth.

Funniest TV Moment-Cum-Internet-Meme -

Rum Ham

You kind of had to be there. If you were, it was funny as shit.

Best and Biggest Campfest on TV -

American Horror Story's Gays

When Zach Quinto comes out of the closet, he really comes out of the closet

Most Annoying Character on A Most Promising New Show -

Amy Jellicoe, Enlightened 

Laura Dern's Amy Jellicoe has been to rehab and back, and she's got all the answers. A great show. A main character I want to strangle, even as I root for things to work out her way. Just shut up, Amy.

Most Original Villain -

Gillian Darmody, Boardwalk Empire

I've said it before, I'll say it again: Boardwalk Empire isn't really about prohibition. It's all about the women. And no woman loomed larger in season 2 than Gretchen Mol's Gillian Darmody. Gillian is no paper cut-out. She's got dimension and a past...a past that includes horrors perpetrated against her, and horrors she's perpetrated against her own son. We all saw it coming - the incest - but did anyone see that scene and not feel shock, revulsion, and fury? By season's end, there were two women holding the purse strings that control Atlantic City, and one of them was Gillian. I, for one, am stoked. Bring it. 

Worst TV Trend -

Whitney Cummings Taking Over the World of Network Television

More annoying than those asshole kids from Glee. That's saying a hell of a lot. I refuse to post a clip. 

Best New Music - 

Alabama Shakes

Yes, the singer sounds very Janis Joplinesque. She's good. She's damned good. The whole band is good. Her voice is like Joplin, but the band has a sound all its own. And she's not another Madonna clone. Lady Gaga, I'm looking at you.

Performer Whose Talents Are Most Wasted on Crap -

Lady Gaga 

Yeah, I said it. Her pop music is crap. Her persona is annoying as hell. But listen to that voice. Why is she pretending to be Madonna, when there's so much real talent that's all Gaga? If only she'd make this kind of performance her mainstay. I might have to start liking her. 

Most Inconsequential Sporting News -

If New York or Boston Don't Win A Pennant, Does The World Series Really Matter?

Most Satisfying Sporting News -

New Zealand Wins The 2011 Rugby World Cup

Not just because I'm a proud Kiwi citizen who'll always have a warm spot in my heart for New Zealand. Not just because the All Blacks are majestic. Not just because they won it at home. Mostly because kicking French ass at anything makes everyone feel good. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Striking a Nerve

Yesterday's blog post, about the shadiness of Prospect Park's efforts to "circumvent the unions" and bring ABC's recently cancelled shows to the web without having to deal with the bother of paying actors, camera operators, writers, wardrobe people, etc. fair wages,  obviously struck a chord with people. I've never received so many private messages, Tweets or Facebook comments about/links to a blog post as this one. Nor have any of my previous blog posts ever received so many hits in so short a time.

I know I didn't write The Great Gatsby, or say anything remotely original. In fact, I think the reason so many people have read that piece, and passed it along to others is that I didn't say anything revolutionary. I think a lot of people heard the news about Prospect Park considering bringing in an overseas partner and bypassing the unions and felt the same way I did: that this would be just plain wrong. It flies in the face of what so many people are fighting for, these days: workers' rights, basic benefits, the end of the huge inequity between the 1% and the 99%. I believe a lot  of people read about PP's on-going negotiations and thought, "This is wrong."

Interestingly enough, of all the communication I've had about this blog entry, only one party has come out in favor of Prospect Park, and the move to squash existing union rules. I won't name the party, because I'm not interested in giving free publicity to an outfit that supports union busting. what I will say is that it's a new media production company. I'll also say that their arguments in favor of PP's efforts are as "ridiculous" as they labelled my blog post.

According to this party, working within a new media should abolish baseline union standards that were developed for television. A new medium, according to this party, calls for a whole new set of rules. This party likens the unions involved to the unions that protects the person employed to raise the curtain at Broadway theaters - these days, the curtains are opened and closed electronically, yet union rules still call for a curtain raiser to be paid a full salary. Pretty ridiculous. I agree. But it's a comparison that makes no sense. This party argues that a new medium calls for new negotiations and new contracts. That's double speak for "we think it's ok to pay people less money and cut their benefits, if we want to, because this isn't tv, where budgets are big."  If this isn't One-Percent-Speak, I don't know what is.

This was never about having to pay a curtain man, even though the function had become automated.

Quite the opposite: it's about expecting the curtain man to show up and do his job, as usual,  but only get paid as if his job was mostly being done by a machine.

New media IS a different animal from television. That's why it was "ridiculous" for Prospect Park to promise the public the same production quality, the same casts, and the same frequency of programming. Since the media is new, what needs to be renegotiated first shouldn't be how much the actors or writers or crew earn. What needed to be negotiated from the very beginning was - HOW COULD THESE SHOWS BE CHANGED TO REALISTICALLY BE DEVELOPED FOR WEB VIEWING?  Instead, Prospect park thought backwards - they promised the whole enchilada, and then figured they could buy it at the rate of a questionable 99c Taco Bell taco.

The party that came out against my blog called it not only "ridiculous", but "unfair."

That's rich. Prospect Park is trying to bilk workers out of their hard-earned union rights, and I'm being unfair.

The Case For New Media 

In case anyone is wondering, I'm the last person to be against web-based programming. If anything, I'm excited by it. I think it's the future of entertainment. I think it's a shame that the most widely talked-about new media venture these days is Prospect Park's attempt to bring OLTL and AMC to the web, because it's a mess, and it's not representative of what new media can be. Neither are the ridiculous and unfair arguments made by the unnamed new media operation mentioned above.

Successful new media ventures have been the ones that haven't tried to simply lift a television or cinema model and stick it on the web. I'm not a fan of Venice: The Series, but at least the people who developed it had the presence of mind to create something that didn't require 15 elaborate sets. What I saw of the series used only two or three sets that were existing structures: restaurant scenes filmed in an actual restaurant. hotel room scenes filmed in a hotel room, living room scenes filmed in someone's living room. A lot of what I saw on Venice was a mess, but at least they got this right.

Tello Films produces original, successful programming that's been specifically developed for the web. No one-hour, daily shows with a cast of 30, and a 52-week schedule. Their programming works on the web because it was specifically developed, from the ground up, for the web. They don't promise or claim to recreate the television experience; they offer a new and different programming experience.

And this is the root of Prospect Park's debacle. They thought they could lift two established television programs that cost an enormous amount to produce, and just drop them, as they were, onto the internet. In their screwy, stupid and greedy minds they figured, "Same shows, same frequency, same amount of work...but if people are watching on smaller screens we can pay people less to make them."

Now THAT is ridiculous and unfair.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Occupy Your Conscience

Today, We Love Soaps announced that Prospect Park is still talking about picking up One Life To Live and All My Children and turn them into web-based programs. We all know - some of us always knew - that this is a financial impossibility, based on what it costs to produce each hour-long, daily show, 52 weeks a year. And that's what Prospect Park promised. When this whole, hair-brained plot was made public, PP wrote a check they couldn't cash: they promised to keep producing hour-long episodes, of the same production quality viewers were used to, with the same cast, to run every day, 52 weeks a year. Those of us who stopped to think about that for half a second knew it would never happen. We knew it COULD never happen. Not like that. Of course, we were taking for granted that "the same high production values" implied using the same, union labor. Last week, when Prospect park quietly let go of the idea of taking these shows online, there was a lot of talk of union negotiations having fallen apart.

Stop and think about this for a minute - if PP is saying that the only think keeping them from moving these long-running shows to the web was a union issue, what they're really saying is, "We wanted to cut people's salaries and benefits, but we expected the same amount of work, and the same caliber of work from them."

Over the last 10-15 years, budgets for daytime drama have plummeted. Everyone has taken massive pay cuts - even the most bankable actors. Production costs have been slashed to the bare bones, and we've all read about how actors no longer even have rehearsal time - too expensive! And PP wanted to move in an make further cuts?

If this weren't a television production we were discussing, but a construction project, how would you feel about this proposition? If I said to you, "I want to build a skyscraper, but I want to save money. I know the construction workers used to make $50 an hour, and that they've gone to $40 in the last few years, but I'm thinking I'll pay them $30 an hour. Maybe cut their lunch hour down to 30 minutes, and make them buy their own hammers and nails. And I'll expect them to put up a building as quickly and as well as I would have expected at full wage and with full benefits and the best equipment." - what would you think? If someone presented that proposition to me I'd think they were a cheap bastard looking to exploit labor, and I'd make a note to never go into their building, because I'd have some serious doubts about the quality of the construction.

Prospect Park's "negotiations" with the various trade unions are no different. Because of this, I was glad the announcement was made last week about the abandonment of this project. I would have liked to have seen these shows continue, but not at the expense of workers' rights.

Today, We Love Soaps announced that PP may well still be in discussions about their plan to bring OLTL and AMC to the web. Instead of dealing with the unions, though:

"Prospect Park is said to be considering bringing in an overseas firm to turn the shows into a co-production. That may or may not allow the shows to circumvent the unions, which couldn't come to terms with Prospect Park on compensation for talent on both sides of the camera."
Take that in: "may allow them to circumvent the unions."

Just to make sure we're on the same page, I'll spell this out for you: "circumventing the unions" is a nice way of saying "fuck the workers, fuck their union protection, fuck their minimum wage, fuck their benefits, fuck their job safety." It's a way of saying that, if trade unions won't fold and give up whatever protections they've fought long and hard to secure for their members, Prospect Park will gladly hire scabs who will do the work cheaper. It's even saying they'll be happy to pick up these projects and film them elsewhere, where union rules don't apply.

I don't care how much you love these shows,
In an economy where the little guy is getting fucked over in every way possible,
For writers, actors, and technical crew people who deserve fair wages and benefits,

If someone came into your workplace and tried this, you'd be livid. And you should be. Because this is bullshit. I've loved soaps my whole life but, for the love of God, how can anyone think it is ok for the big, bad PP to muscle in and tell professionals that their services are worthless, that the employment rights they've fought for are meaningless, and that they can be easily replaced with cheap labor? Forget this is a tv show we're talking about. Think about it happening in a store, or a school, or a hospital, or any other workplace. This is the same shit that pisses people off about American corporations setting up shop in Thailand and paying pennies for labor that, under American union rules, would and should cost dollars. Forget these are tv shows - they're businesses. Workplaces. Forget these are writers and actors and camera operators and editors and makeup men. They're workers. Labor. They work, and they deserve a fair wage and benefits.

Check your conscience before being happy about this development. Is your love of soap operas really worth fucking over the concepts of fair compensation, workplace security, and union protection?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Dribs and Drabs

It's been a while since I've done one of these, so here goes....

Best Serious Read: Joan Didion's Blue Nights
Read it. You will read nothing better this year.  It will break your heart. It may also help mend your heart.

Love, loss, heartbreak, mortality, and denial. We all know these things. Joan Didion has the courage to write about them.

Best Crazy-Ass Fun on Basic Cable: American Horror

Two words: Jessica Lange.

She will creep you the hell out. The show is full of holes and faults, but it's as much fun as a carnival ride, and Lange is deliciously twisted.

Best Cheap Amazon Download: Diminished Capacity

Girl meets girl. Girl gets dumped by girl. Girl throws away promising Hollywood career for meth addiction and adventures in identity theft. AND IT'S ALL TRUE.

Julie Hansen's self-published ebook could use some editing, and it takes a little while to get used to her fast-paced, stream-of-consciousness writing, but it's well worth it. A friend who read it likened it to having a conversation with a really smart, witty speed freak - you may have to put it down, every so often, but you wont be able to help picking it up, again.

Six dollars you'll be glad you spent.

Best Illustration of Why The Internet Is Awesome: Was Monroe Raped? 

Watch it. All the way through. And, yes, I totally remember this.

Best Thing To Happen to Kid's Lit: TOON Books 

The best of comic book art meets great writing for beginning readers. They're awesome. I started with Luke on the Loose, and ended up buying the entire set of Toon Books for my nephew, who's discovered the joy of reading. 

Best Artist To Watch Out For: Jenn Hayes 

I discovered her stuff by accident via a friend on Facebook, and immediately fell in love with her creativity and playful style. I had to buy one of her papercrafting pieces for myself. And then another for friends who were celebrating their 25th anniversary. Watch this space: Jenn Hayes is going to be big.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Proustian Moment

I went to a weird, little liberal arts college where there was almost no structure. In some ways, it was goofy and ridiculous as hell. In other ways, it was pretty damned great. I think it was mostly pretty great. Most of the best people I know are people I met there. Many of the best times, were had there.

There was no set course list at Goddard. No such thing as a course catalogue. Instead, every semester, people would make suggestions about what group studies (never "classes" - they were called "group studies") should be available. Students would make suggestions. Faculty would make suggestions. Even staff would make suggestions. If the woman who ran the mail room had a suggestion, well, hell...she would be heard and her idea might just make the cut. This could be frustrating. It meant that the first week or two of each semester was spent figuring out what would be offered, who would lead groups, what readings lists and curricula would look like. There would be no English Lit 101 at Goddard. Why would there be, when the sky was the limit? Why would anyone opt for that, when they could choose, as I did my first semester, a group study called Madame Bovary and The Cat?  Madame Bovary and The Cat was the brainchild of Kathryn Davis : a group study in which participants read Flaubert's novel, spent months dissecting one book, and then, at the end of the semester, dissected an actual cat. It sounds crazy, but it was kind of glorious; dissecting a book and a character with our minds, and then moving to a lab setting, and using our hands to slice open a dead cat (who, incidentally, had been pregnant when she died...we opened her up to find a gorgeous litter of fully-formed, dead kittens inside - that was somehow fitting.) I remember the day we dissected the cat. None of us had any training in this area. It wasn't a science class. We were using scalpels and rubber gloves, but we were using them as literary tools. Kathryn looked at us (all four of us) and asked, "How should we cut, and why? Any ideas?" It was quite something. Instead of research papers, participants in the group were free to do whatever type of final project we chose. Why write an academic paper, when you could create a collection of personal effects for Emma Bovary? A birth certificate, passport, driver's license - all playing on Flaubert's vague and ever-changing descriptions of his protagonist. That was my project - the Emma Bovary dossier. Someone else created an installation that struck me as a tribute to repulsiveness. It consisted of an old, plastic soda bottle hanging from the ceiling, a slow but steady stream of pink, gooey liquid falling from it, leaving a disgusting puddle on the floor. I'm not sure what it meant, if it did, indeed, mean anything at all. But it wasn't boring. A paper on Madame Bovary would have been boring. Does the world really need another college term paper on Flaubert?

But I digress. I don't really want to write about my college experience, except by way of writing about an experience I had a few days ago. One of the last group studies I took at Goddard, and one of the more traditional, was called The Art of Memory. Mark Doty, who suggested the group and facilitated it, was interested in memory as a creative trigger for writers. It was Proust's moment with a cup of tea and a cookie - the moment that resulted in Remembrance of Things Past - that inspired the group study. The first volume was sort our class guide - we read it slowly, during the course of the semester, while also doing a number of writing exercises that involved using memory as a creative trigger. It seemed like a great concept but, to be honest, I found Proust incredibly boring and not at all moving or inspirational. At the last group meeting, Doty treated us all to tea and madeleines, with the idea that the combination would trigger memories for us the way it had for Proust. It didn't, of course. Because that particular combination was Marcel Proust's trigger, not mine. Proust's pivotal moment was, for me, just a cookie dipped in weak tea. Ho hum.

But everyone has his or her own tea and madeleines.

We've started getting cold weather in San Francisco. I happen to be broke, and buying a box of cheap, instant cocoa for $1.99 is cheaper than shelling out $2.00 for a cup of hot cocoa at a local coffee shop. A few days ago, when it was especially cold in the middle of the afternoon, I opened a packet of Nestle's cocoa, emptied it into a mug, and filled the mug with hot water from the electric kettle we have at work. I gave the hot cocoa a stir with a plastic spoon, threw the spoon away, and took a sip as I walked down the hallway towards my office. That subtle saltiness that's always there in cheap cocoa hit my tongue and, for a moment I left my body and found myself at another moment in my life.

I am very young and I know, somehow, that I am the youngest of my mother's children: there is no baby sister, yet. This means I am no older than 5. This means it must be no later than 1972. My mother and I have spent the day together, alone. A rare thing, and I can't imagine where my older sister is, but I don't really care. A day alone with my mother is like magic. I love being with her. She is fun and lovable. We are in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, near her job. She's taken me to work on this day, and then to a wholesale dealer of toys and novelties, where I was allowed to pick out a few items from the 50 cent bin. The afternoon ends with the two of us at a diner. Eating out is a rare treat in 1972, not a common occurrence, the way it is in 2011. I want to sit at the counter and spin around on the round stool. Yes, that's fine. We sit at the counter and eat sandwiches. Grilled cheese? Maybe tuna salad. Each sandwich comes with a dill pickle on the side and my mother, who never liked pickles, gives me hers. We also have tiny, metal bowls with crunchy cole slaw. So yummy. When the waitress asks my mother if she'd like coffee, she scrunches up her nose. She never drinks what we call "American coffee," meaning Maxwell House made in a drip coffee maker and kept warm for hours. In our family, we drink rich, finely ground, Puerto Rican coffee filtered through a colador - a muslin coffee sock.

Even I drink this strong coffee, with boiled milk and sugar. Even I know to scrunch up my nose at American coffee. Instead, my mother orders hot cocoa. The waitress asks if we'd like marshmallows or whipped cream. I look up at my mother, who smiles with her big, brown eyes and says, with a hint of fun in her voice, "Both!" I have had hot cocoa, before, but never marshmallows, and never whipped cream. When our mugs arrive, they're piled high with swirls of cream. My mother tells me to go ahead and taste the cream, but to be careful - the cocoa is very hot. She slides a spoon under the whipped cream and pulls out a melted mini marshmallow, blows on it to cool it off, and then spoon-feeds it to me as if I were, once again, her baby. A little of the cocoa is on the spoon and I taste a subtle saltiness. The same saltiness I will taste in 2011. The same subtle saltiness that will send me reeling back for just a moment, make me so happy to be in that time and place I'd almost forgotten about. The same subtle saltiness that, once the Proustian moment is over, will leave my heart aching and leave me without breath as I say to myself, out loud, "Oh...Ma...."

Oh. Ma.

© 2012 Lana M. Nieves
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Toe Pick

My blogging over the years has been a bit of verbal jambalaya. I'm just as interested in the human condition as I am in the week's tv listings. I might blog one day about human rights, and the next about this week's episode of Boardwalk Empire. And why not? Pop culture speaks volumes about who we are and where we are in time. What we read, watch, listen to - it's all about stories, isn't it? And what is the study of human nature if not the study of the stories that human beings share, pass down, are drawn to at any moment in time?

A few days ago, I was flipping channels and stumbled upon a movie I have never been able to resist: 1992's The Cutting Edge. Now, I won't tell you this is a great movie, or even a good movie. It's not. It's cheese. But not just any cheese. It's visual Velveeta. You know the stuff. You laugh at it on the sly but, every so often, when you're all alone - or maybe with a close friend - nothing hits the spot like a grilled cheese sandwich made with Velveeta and Wonder Bread. Or maybe you get stoned (people still do that, right?) and find yourself with the munchies at  2am. You're not going to pull the brie out of the fridge and let it warm up to room temperature. You're not shaving paper-thin slices of imported parmesan. You're not Making toast points and grilling Spanish bleu cheese. You're going to pull out that big, yellow box, peel away the thick foil, and cut yourself a hunk of Velveeeta. Or you're going to turn on the tv and hope that The Cutting Edge is on cable.

It's ok to admit it.
I do.
I love that craptastic movie. If it's on cable, I HAVE to watch it. And I've come to realize that a lot of other people of my generation feel this way. But why? It's not the most interesting movie. There really aren't any laughs. It doesn't even have a memorable soundtrack or theme song. And it was released in 1992 - my teen years were long over by then, so it's not the whole "that's the movie I saw with my first love!" thing. People my age did not go see this movie on their first date. Sooooooo...WHAT'S THE BIG THING ABOUT THE CUTTING EDGE AND WHAT DOES IT SAY ABOUT GENERATION X?

I think I know.

This movie, although released in 1992, is a nod to the 80s. The last vestige of everything the 80s were about. We initially watched The Cutting Edge because Moira Kelly was hot (I'm a lesbian) and D.B. Sweeney was adorable (I'm gay, not blind), but we watch it again, and again because it's the best snapshot of the decade that preceded it. The decade when, for better or worse, people my age made the shift to adulthood. It's a dumb movie that we can't resist. The 80s?  A dumb decade that, try as we might, we can't resist having a little nostalgia for. And, if you're not resisting this nostalgia, but embracing it and think the 80s were just wonderful, I'm here to tell you that you're seeing that decade through bong-water-stained glasses. The 80s were fucking stupid, and our love for The Cutting Edge is a nod to our love for sheer stupidity. Think about it: it's a heterosexual love story that centers on FIGURE SKATING. It is the swan song to the decade when Brian Boitano told America that he was a straight figure skater from San Francisco, and America swallowed it, hook, line and sinker.

The entire decade was a 10 year tribute to stupidity, poor judgement, and bad taste. Synthesized drums. Acid washed denim. Shoulder pads. Leg warmers. Toni Basil. The Porky's movie franchise.

Stop fighting it.

Duran Duran was a shitty band.
Flashdance was an awful movie.
The California Raisins were stupid.
Max headroom was annoying.
Rainbows and unicorns were corny as shit.
Miami Vice has not aged well.
V.C. Andrews' books were creepy and badly written.
Ronald Fucking Reagan was a terrible, fucking president.

And that's it. That's what The Cutting Edge is all about. It's about how fucking crappy and stupid shit was for 10 whole fucking years, and how stupid we were to buy black rubber bracelets, wear shoes without socks, listen to Flock of Seagulls and think "Where's The Beef?" was funny. The brilliant thing about it - and you have director Paul Michael Glaser to thank for this -  about this silly, cheesy, little that it reminds us of our own stupidity - about the stupidity of an entire nation for an entire decade - and it does it in a gentle way.

I don't watch the toe pick scene and think, "Do they really expect us to believe that a guy who's been playing hockey for his whole life has no idea what a regular pair of ice skates looks like and what a toe pick is? I don't even fucking skate and even I know what it is. This is fucking retarded!" I don't think that. I don't think anything close to that. I see that scene and think, "Awww...this is embarrassingly silly. Moira Kelly is so haughty and pretty. D.B. Sweeney is so freaking goofy and cute."

Scroll up and look at that picture. They're not fucking retards - they're sweet and hopeful. And we love them, in all their stupidity, because we don't want to think of ourselves as the tacky, stupid generation who came into our own as conspicuous consumers of  complete and utter horse shit because we had such bad taste and poor judgement. We'd rather look back and think of ourselves as silly, lovable kids who played PacMan, loved Ghostbusters (which, BTW, is a fucking stupid movie), and listened to the Purple Rain soundtrack on our Walkmans until the cassettes snapped.

Toe pick.

Hey, don't blame me:  I was too young to vote for Ronald Reagan.

© 2012 Lana M. Nieves
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves 

Monday, October 24, 2011

A River Runs Through It

Last week, one of America's anti-same-sex marriage pundits (you know the guy...his name has become synonymous with "the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex") said he'd "die to stop same-sex marriage."  My first first reaction? Great, let's kill him. My second reaction? Asking myself how people can be so stupid that they refuse to see when they are fighting a losing battle.

People who waste time and energry opposing same sex marriage are a lot of things: close-minded, ignorant, selfish, self-rightous, intolerant, bigotted. They're also just stupid. That's what I've finally come to see as the plain truth. People who fight the inevitable are stupid. If you were to jump into a raging river, the kind of river where white water rafting is popular, and stand there, hoping against hope to stop the water from getting past you...if you were to do this, I'd tell you that you were stupid. If you were to place a penny on train tracks, in the hopes that it would stop the 5:15 dead, I'd tell you that you were stupid. If you were to hand out bible tracts, believing you could talk hormone-raging teens from wanting to have sex, I'd tell you that you were stupid. If you think you can stop same-sex couples from loving one another, building lives together, forming families and, yes, getting married? You are fucking stupid. Because the movement for equal rights isn't a trickle. It's a roaring rapid. It's an express train without breaks. It's a horny 16 year old boy who'll fuck a jagged hole in the wall, if only he can get close enough. Maybe you can cause a ripple in the flow of water, or get a train to slow down for a second, or force a couple of teenaged lovers to find a more clandestine place to secretly have sex, but you won't stop these things. You can't. And you really, truly are stupid if you think otherwise.

This is what it's like in America, today, when it comes to same-sex couples. While you (yeah, stupid, I'm talking to you) rant and rave about how same-sex marriage will destroy family values, gay couples all over America are getting together, setting up lives, and even getting married. In short, they're quietly proving just how stupid you are. And they're not doing it less than they did before you started acting like a dog with a bone about this issue. They're doing it more often, and more publicly. Even if they're not getting legally married, they're buying homes together, starting businesses together, raising children together.  The minute one state allowed same-sex marriages, the flood gates were opened. And you cannot stop a flood. (There's a joke there, about a dyke, but I'm not going to be the one to make it.) YOU CANNOT. And you're stupid to try.

Last week, my good friend, Thom, married a man named Adam in a quiet, dignified ceremony in New York. Thom and Adam have been together for 20 years. They own two homes together. They collect art. They travel. They support a dozen charities. They throw intimate dinner parties. I've thought of them as a married couple for years. For all intents and purposes, they have been. Now, it's even recognized by law. They win. You lose, stupid. It's a done deal. It's over. The river is picking up momentum, and you're about to be toppled over and drowned. You can go home and lick your wounds, now. Or you can die fighting a losing battle. Be my fucking guest.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It Keeps Getting Worse

I won't post a link to the video, and I won't even mention the young man's name, but you know who I'm talking about: the teenager who, months after having posted his own video as part of the It Gets Better campaign, recently killed himself. His suicide, it is believed, was the end result of his having been bullied for being gay. This death, as heartbreaking as it is, points to the very reasons I've never cared for the It Gets Better campaign, and think it's a pointless feel-good exercise which makes it possible for people to spend ten minutes in front of a video camera, and then pat themselves on the back for all they've done in the name of gay rights.

The biggest problem I have with the campaign is that, well...its premise is a lie. For many homosexuals it never gets better. Living in a small town can suck, but living in a big city is no solution. Advising gay teens in Kansas to move to SF or NYC is ridiculous and illustrates an ignorance about what such a move would mean, financially, for most people. For most people in America, such a move would be impossible. And, even if they could make such a move, the truth is that hate crimes targeting homosexuals happen in SF and NYC, too. I've witnessed some really ugly homophobia in SF, and I've met people here who have been the victims of extreme anti-gay violence.

The fact is, for a lot of people, it just doesn't get better. A campaign that consists of people talking about how holding on and waiting until the future, because "it gets better" doesn't do a damned thing to address why it sucks to be young and gay, in the first place. It sucks because other people can be shitty. Not just other young people, but adults: teachers, clergy, neighbors, the parents of the kids who do all the bullying. Even the parents of the the young person who is gay. And, guess what? They don't care about any dumb campaign. They're not watching. They don't care that the gay kid from Glee has had his three minutes of talking about how it gets better. They can't stand that little fag any more than they can stand the little fag in their homeroom class, the little fag who lives next door, the little fag who is their own son.

The It Gets Better campaign is the Just Say No of the 21st century. Remember that? A bunch of anti-drug people talking about how saying no to drugs was AWESOME! You know who paid attention? People who were anti-drug. Do you believe, for even a minute, that some heroin addict not only watched as Nancy Reagan and Mr. T talked about how a drug-free life would be neat-o, but ran out to rehab to clean up his act? No? Me neither. Because it didn't happen. And, guess what? That asshole who gets in his pickup truck on friday nights, cruising around town, looking for fags to bash? Not only is he not having an epiphany about how awful it is to terrorize someone on account of who he or she is and how he or she loves...he's not getting on Youtube to find out what Judith Light or Liza Minelli has to say. Like Honey Badger, that asshole with his pickup truck really doesn't give a shit.

This poor kid, who ended his life...he made his own It Gets Better video. Like everyone who's made such a video, he meant well. In it, he talked about how terrifically awesome his friends were when he decided to come out as gay (he'd previously identified as bi.) At the risk of seeming crass and insensitive, this needs to be said: They were his friends. They were SUPPOSED to be terrifically awesome. That's a friend's job. It wasn't ever going to be his friends who were going to make life hell for him. His sad, hopeful It Gets Better video is a cautionary tale, and here are the Cliff's Notes: If you're a young gay person, don't go thinking things will get better just because someone says so in a video. Moving to SF or NYC is not a panacea. Your getting older won't make people suddenly treat you with common decency. The world is often a cold, hard place. Toughen up. Get some emotional armor. Learn to fight. Sharpen your mind and learn to cut others down with wit and logic. Read about the drag queens of Stonewall. Find quality people, and surround yourself with them. Remember what George Herman said: Living well is the best revenge. It won't just get better. You have to make it better, in your own small way, within your own, small life.

© 2012 Lana M. Nieves
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves 

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Idiocracy: It's Real, and It's Right Here in America

I read an article, a short while back, about how lots of people are using Groupon and other such online coupon/discount sites...and about how a lot of the small businesses offering discounts are really disenchanted with the way it's turned out for them. For some reason, small business owners are finding that they're actually losing out, instead of increasing revenue. How can that be?

I think I have a pretty good idea.

A family-owned picture frame store with three locations in the Bay Area offered the following deal: buy a voucher worth $40 for just $20. The fine print said the voucher did not cover anything but frames, did not cover sales tax, and that there were no cash refunds or store credits. Each voucher could only be used during one store visit. Fair enough. I pounced on this. $40 worth of picture frames for $20 plus tax? Hell, yeah. I bought two vouchers because I knew I'd need picture frames in my new apartment, and nice frames are expensive.

Yesterday I went to the frame shop with one voucher, and gave the other voucher to the friend I was shopping with. All they sell at this shop are frames and frame hardware. The initial tip-off that this was going to be an exercise in ineptitude came when the sales girl announced, pretty early on, that she didn't know anything about frames or frame hardware. Take that in. She's a sales girl at a store that sells nothing but frames and frame hardware, and she KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT FRAMES OR FRAME HARDWARE. What's more, she doesn't seem to feel badly about this, or see a problem with announcing it. My friend and I are were picking out frames for original art work, not for photos, so we had very specific needs in terms of frame type, depth and such.

Without any help from her, my friend and I picked out our frames. When it came down to picking out the hardware to secure our paintings to their respective frames, she repeated that she had no idea what any of it was for, how it was used, or how to choose the right hardware for specific types of frames. She called in another guy who knew a little bit about frames and frame hardware, but not much more than my 14 yr old nephew knows. 

I picked a $30 frame. I also had a package of framing hardware that cost about $2. As per the fine print on the voucher and the terms of service I'd agreed to on Groupon, I expected to have the cost of the frame covered by the voucher, and to pay cash for the hardware and any sales tax. The sales girl stared at my voucher for a full minute, but somehow managed to NOT READ IT, because she said, "Your total isn't $40. I don't know if I can let you use this for less than $40 worth of merchandise."

I replied, "Are you joking? Of course you can. I just don't get any change back."

She said, "I don't know about that. I'll have to ask the manager."

I said, "But that's ridiculous. It's better for you if I spend the voucher on less than $40 worth of merchandise, since you don't give cash or credit back."

She didn't understand the concept and repeated, "I don't know about that. I'll have to talk to the manager."

"Well, you can't FORCE me to choose a $40 item."

"I don't know about that. I'll have to ask the manager."

She asked her manager, whose answer was, no...they would not honor the voucher is I had less than $40 worth of merchandise. I explained that I only NEEDED the $30 frame, and that I understood and was fine with the fact that I would not get change or a credit back. Impossible, I was told.....I HAD to have $40 worth of merchandise.

Ridiculous. Unbelievable. My friend passed me a cheap, little frame that I don't really NEED, just to make up the difference. The idiot sales girl then proceeded to include the big frame, the small frame, the hardware and tax in the $40 voucher. She triumphantly announced that I'd gone over the $40 voucher and owed them $1.10. 

Again, take that in. She considered it a victory that I had to pay $1.10 in cash. She, and her manager, think they did a great thing for their shop by forcing me to pay $21.10 ($1.10 in cash, and a voucher I paid $20 for) for $40 worth of goods. They don't understand that they should have let me pay $20 for a $30 frame, and pay for the hardware and sales tax in cash. At the end of the day, not only did they force me to pay less for more stuff, but they paid Groupon a service fee for the privilege. I got $40 worth of goods and they got $21.10, minus Groupon fees. Unless their regular mark-up is 50% (and it isn't - it's actually a very reasonably-priced shop) this transaction COST THEM MONEY.

Small businesses may be pissed off at Groupon, but they need to look to their own ineptness before laying the blame on this whole online coupon thing not working in their favor. 

For one thing, how the hell can a small business afford to offer several thousand 50%-off vouchers? Sears can do that. Target can do that. A small, family-owned, niche business cannot reasonably expect to do that and still turn a profit - especially not when they're paying a service such as Groupon to administer their discounts. I might walk in to Target with a 50% off coupon good for clothing, buy some PJs, and then end up spending another $75 in cash on groceries, toiletries, cleaning supplies, or whatever. But this is a frame shop. They sell only frames. I highly doubt people walk in, use their $40 voucher and then decide, "OMG...I need $600 worth of frames and I need it NOW!"

For another thing, how the hell does a business offer a deal without being well-versed in their own terms of service? I ended up paying only a small portion of the sales tax on this purchase, because the stupid sales girl included the tax in the voucher. A voucher is NOT MONEY. This store is going to have a hell of a lot of fun when it comes time to balance their books and reconcile their accounts for the IRS, because they're essentially NOT CHARGING SALES TAX FOR PEOPLE WHO USE VOUCHERS. The IRS will want that money, and guess who'll have to cough it up? The stupid frame store owner. 

America is in a financial crisis. It makes a lot of sense to point to federal and state policies, corruption in government, and politicians from both major parties who don't give a damn about the average working man. On the other hand, business owners - especially small business owners - need to step up their game. Complaining to the Wall Street Journal that they feel duped by Groupon won't do. I'm guessing a lot of these business owners who are disenchanted figured they could offer and get paid up front for big discounts, and that most consumers would never actually use their Groupon vouchers. That's more than just dumb - its damned greedy. I don't hope the store where I had this experience fails, but I won't be shocked if it does. And, if it does, it can't blamed on a poor economy or TPTB in Washington DC or Sacramento. It'll be because the owner is both stupid and greedy - a dangerous combination.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Blog for Access - July 26th, Anniversary of the ADA

When my mother passed away, my father, sister and I went about the business of going through her stuff. Some of it we wanted for ourselves, or to pass down to the grandkids. Some of her things, though, were carted off to places such as The Lighthouse for the Blind, or Hospice or other charities. Things like electronic screen readers, books on CD, talking timepieces, a power wheelchair, and all sorts of Assistive Technology.

Ma was lucky: she had really great insurance that covered the costs most of this equipment. Or rather, she was lucky AND smart: when she retired, she devoted a chunk of her retirement savings to pay for insurance for life. Most people don't have this option. I thank God my mother did. It made it possible for her to be as comfortable as possible when her multiple disabilities caused her pain, took away her eyesight, and compromised her mobility. The fact that she had excellent coverage also meant she was able to live in her own home, right until the end. Without ramps, rails, and a bunch of other devices that made her home easy to maneuver, there's no way my mother could have stayed at home. 

When we talk about access in regards to disabilities, we most often talk about physical access. The ramps and rails were great. The screen readers and talking machines were great. But those items can only be useful if they're accessible. And, by this I mean that they're great for people who can afford them or whose insurance helps them defray the costs, but more of a pipe dream for people who can't. This is a whole other type of access that people with disabilities have to deal with every day: the AT exists, and it can make the world more accessible, but some of it is exorbitantly expensive. It's only useful to people if they can actually get their hands on it.

The very tools that have been designed to provide greater access are not financially accessible to most Americans.

I remember talking to the social worker at the dialysis center where my mother had treatment four times a week. He told me that my mother wasn't like other patients he dealt with. She had great insurance, he explained, and great insurance gave her options. Most of the people he saw had little or no insurance, or relied on Medicaid or Medicare. I was shocked to find out that several of the regular dialysis patients were homeless, and living out of a tent city set up by the town council. The federal government guaranteed them access to dialysis treatment, but little else. Even if they were able to find affordable housing, the chances of being able to modify that housing to make it accessible was next to nil. For these people, there are few, if any, choices about independent, community-based living.

So, when Ma passed away, we packed up most of her AT, and donated it to different charities where other people with disabilities could make use of it. Some it was practical stuff: items to help people get dressed or read or tell time or get around. Other things were just for living life: tactile and large print board games and playing cards, a giant remote control, a wide selection of books on tape and CD. It felt good to pass those things along - to provide access to a few people. But it's not the answer. We need to work, as a country, to make not just emergency healthcare something that every person can access, but to make accessible the basic things people with disabilities need in order to truly have options they can explore.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Bad Science

"It's a choice!" you'll hear. Homosexuality is a choice, a lifestyle entered into by conscious decision. This what those who oppose same-sex marriage and full civil rights for gays and lesbians say. Homosexuals aren't and shouldn't be a protected class, they say, because homosexuality is not a genetically determined trait such as race or gender.

In their zeal to deny others of their rights, and to hold on to as much power, themselves, as they possibly can, the far right points to science. Many of the same people who poo-poo science when it comes to evolution vs. creation theory suddenly look to science as the be-all and end-all that they hinge their anti-homosexual agenda on. The problem is, the science they're pointing to isn't science, at all. It's pseudo-science. It has nothing to do with scientific investigation, controlled study, or hard evidence. It's quackery that amounts to taking select bits and pieces of scientific theory, mixing that in with large doses of religion and personal ethos, and calling it SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE.

The Myths

"The only natural sexual inclination involves males being attracted to females, and females being attracted to males."

Homosexuality and bisexuality occur all the time in the natural world. Animals such as chimpanzees, whales, dolphins, penguins, walruses, bison and some species of reptiles, to name a few examples of the close to 1500 species where homosexuality has been observed by scientists. Last I checked, bison and walruses weren't being induced or pressured into a gay lifestyle. Animals act on instinct. Outside forces play no part in bisexual and homosexual activity in the animal world, the natural world.

"Sexual activity is strictly a function driven by the urge to reproduce and preserve the species, therefore homosexuality must logically be a choice." 

One of the driving factors of human sexuality is almost certainly reproduction, but it isn't the only one. If it were, human beings would only feel the urge for sex when and if their bodies were capable of successful procreation. If it were, no one would ever masturbate or feel the need to masturbate. If it were, men with low sperm counts would have zero sex drive. If it were, no pregnant woman would ever have sexual urges - why would she? If it were, people who didn't want to have kids would have no sex drive. The truth is, human sexuality is a complex phenomenon that has several driving factors and which serves many purposes. Procreation is just one of them.

"Homosexuality is a learned behavior, and people become homosexual because of images of homosexuality they're exposed to in the media. Since it can be learned, it can be unlearned."

A child raised in a traditional household, by a mother and a father, can identify as homosexual, without even knowing what homosexuality entails and without exposure to homosexuality in the media or in real life. It happens all the time. In fact, that's the background story of most homosexuals I know. Homosexuality occurs in all cultures, including those without mass media and those where any images of homosexuality are strictly forbidden. Homosexuality predates the Internet. It predates Tom of Finland and Sarah Waters. It predates the printing press and mass literacy.

"Homosexuality is curable."

In order for something to be curable, it has to be an illness, a disease. Homosexuality is not a disease or a disorder. This is not just my opinion as a lesbian. Every major mental health organization in the country, including the American Psychological Association, has stated that homosexuality is not an illness or disease. So has the World Health Organization. Real science says homosexuality is not a disease. If it's not a disease, there can't be a cure. If it's not a disease - and it isn't - only a fool would look for a cure.

"Homosexuality isn't even learned - it's a conscious choice. People who engage in homosexual sex just need to choose to be heterosexual by engaging in heterosexual sex."

Sexuality is about a lot more than the mere sex act. A celibate heterosexual is still a heterosexual, and the same holds true for a homosexual. A person can and may choose how to behave and what to do, but no human being can choose his or her sexuality. Who would choose homosexuality in a country where homosexuals are denied their civil rights, face discrimination at every pass, are mocked in the media, and are often shunned by their families? If it were a choice, why would anyone living in a country such as Iran or Yemen, where homosexuality is punishable by death, choose to be homosexual? 

There are lots of homosexuals who live what we think of as heterosexual lives. I'm talking about men with wives and children who, when they feel safe that no one is watching, engage in sex with other men. They can't help it. Because, at their core, they're gay. They just aren't brave enough to embrace this reality, so they settle for gay sex on the DL and a straight life for their public personas. As recent history has shown, it's not uncommon for some of the very people who use bad science and spew bullshit theories about the curability of homosexuality to be nothing more than cowardly, self-loathing homosexuals. Hey, I'm not making this up. The Hall of Shame includes:

George Rekers
Pastor Eddie Long
Troy King
Richard Curtis
Ted Haggard
Glenn Murphy Jr.
David Dreier
Bruce Barclay
Roy Ashburn
Jim West

The Truth

The truth is, people who use bad science to defend the denial of basic civil rights to homosexuals are scared to death that their tenuous grasp on power is weakening. This is not new. It happened in regards to blacks, Native Americans, Jews, women, people with disabilities, etc. In 2011, we know better than to believe that Africans are genetically inferior to Europeans. We know that Native Americans aren't "savages." We know Jews do, indeed, bleed when we prick them. We know that it would be outrageous to deny women the vote. We acknowledge that people with disabilities have as much right to live in the world, and have access to public spaces, as the rest of us. In 2011, it high time bad science be kicked to the curb and homosexuals be granted our civil rights.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

One Year

One year ago I got on a plane and headed across the continent to Florida to say goodbye to my mother. I did not make it in time to say goodbye. I was somewhere over America when she passed over. I didn't expect that. I expected her to hold on long enough for me to have one last chance to hold her hand. The way it happened, though, was the way she wanted it to happen. She waited until she was alone, except for my father, and she just...left. In terms of the many ways people die, she had a good death. Quiet. Peaceful. On her own terms. No unfinished business. My sister later told me that, near the end, she'd told our mother that, while I was on my way, she knew I'd understand if she couldn't wait. It was the right thing for my sister to do. This wasn't about me. And I don't believe it would have been any easier on me if I had been there. We had no unfinished business, my mother and I. We said all that needed to be said to one another. We didn't have the tension or rivalry some mothers and daughters have. We had genuine friendship and respect between us. Being together at the last moment wasn't worth as much to either of us as having been there for one another throughout my life.

One year. In most ways today is like any other day. But we tend to mark anniversaries in this culture. One year. One year without my mother. One year without the daily check-in by telephone. One year of not being able to pick up the phone and ask how to cook a certain dish, or who starred in some obscure 50s movie, or laugh over a funny story. One year of the phone not ringing, of no happy visits or sunny days pushing her wheelchair along the Sponge Docks. One year alone.

Nothing will ever be harder. This I believe. Friends who have had this experience - the ones who are brave enough to be honest - tell me it never gets easier and it never stops hurting. They say it just becomes something I'll get used to. The way this stupid hand injury I have has never healed, and never stopped hurting - I've just gotten used to it. And they're right - I am getting used to it. And I hate getting used to it, because it's like giving in to the obvious, the inevitable, the truth.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Moment

I am five years old, sitting on the floor in front of my grandmother's couch. My mother and grandmother sit on the couch. I lean back on my mother's legs. We are all engrossed in what we see on the television in front of us: on the night before Philip Brent is to ship off to fight in Vietnam, he and Tara Martin have snuck into a church.

They are young.
They are in love.
In the darkness of an empty church, they privately exchange vows.
There is no priest.
This is their secret.
We are the only witnesses.

This is the moment that sets the scene for years of heartbreak, drama, tragedy and action in Pine Valley. It is the moment that will impact so many characters in the years to come. It is the moment that, years later, when Philip returns from Vietnam and finds Tara married to Chuck Tyler, he will bring us back to. It is the moment I first feel the power of the genre known as soap opera and fall in love with a particular kind of storytelling - storytelling that is about people and their histories, their secrets, their demons. Storytelling that is about people at their best and people at their worst, and all the shades of gray in between.

On hearing about the cancellation of All My Children and One Life To Live, I knew I'd have to write about what will truly be the end of an era for me, but I didn't know where to start. While exchanging emails with a group of friends who love soaps every bit as much as I do, and reminiscing about our favorite moments, it hit me like gangbusters: Philip and Tara. The church. Their secret. It is the first real story line I remember.

In my real life, I'd hear my parents talk about Vietnam. Howard K. Smith and Harry Reasoner talked about it on the news every night. It was part of the background noise as we ate dinner. But it was just a word to me. I had no idea what this Vietnam everyone spoke about really was, except that it was bad, and everyone had an opinion about it. My grandfather and father disagreed about it. A lot. And here, in the middle of the day, were Philip and Tara - two young, attractive characters who seemed like real people to me - talking about a war. About what it means for a young man to go off to war without any certainty that he'll come home, again. It is not an exaggeration to say that I figured out what Vietnam was - not through my parents or the news reports we watched every day - but  by watching Philip and Tara's drama unfold. It was a war! People had strong feelings about it, in part, because young men were going away for years and years, even though they didn't want to. Some of them never got back home. Some of them left home without ever having lived. Some of them left families behind, and people they loved.

For every crazy, stupid story line this genre has tackled - demonic possession, human cloning, time travel, a gorilla escaping from Central Park Zoo - there are so many human stories that really have made a difference in the way a lot of people live their lives. When Guiding Light aired frank and open story lines about domestic violence and breast cancer viewers paid attention - DV hotlines rang off the hook and women started booking appointments for mammograms in record numbers. Another World talked openly about abortion for the first time on television. As The World Turns revealed that a popular character was gay. Guiding Light tackled spousal rape for the first time on television. The Young and the Restless bravely introduced a story line about venereal disease in the mid 70s. Ryan's Hope broke tradition by featuring a Jewish character in the previously all Christian/ mostly Protestant daytime arena. And All My Children incorporated the Vietnam War - in real time, no less - with the Philip and Tara story line. And maybe this story line helped people talk about the war, or see it in a different light. I know it explained a lot about the war to me, as young as I was. But more. It made me notice story-telling. It made me pay attention to why characters did and said what they did and said. It made me notice that nothing exists in a vacuum, and that every action is followed by a reaction - even though I didn't have that language - and that these things are important to keep in mind if you want to tell a story that people will believe and want to listen to. Mostly, it made me want to make up and tell those stories, myself.

It is no small thing for me to think of All My Children being pulled off the air. Even though Tara and Philip are long gone, Agnes Nixon is no longer at the helm, and I haven't been a regular viewer for some time, that show is a little piece of home for me. It represents time shared with people who were important to me (my mother and grandmother), and a very specific moment in time when a big part of the person I am today was born.

It's no accident that people refer to their favorite soaps as their "stories," because that's what the genre has always been about - stories. Agnes Nixon wrote a story about Philip and Tara. Richard Hatch and Karen Lynn Gorney brought that story to life. That story made me fall in love with stories.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Today's my birthday. I'm keeping it very low key. Keeping to myself all day. No cake. No celebratory toast. No presents. It's always seemed to me that my birthday wasn't just my day, but a day I shared with my mother. Really, one's birthday is the day that brings home the mother/child relationship, isn't it? Without her, there would have been no birthdays, at all, for me. And, yes, I know fathers count, too. But father's don't give their unborn babies a home to live in for nine months. And fathers don't go through unspeakable pain as they push us into the world. I'm here because of my mother. Because she loved me. Because she wanted me.

My mother loved all three of her children. My older sister was born when my mother had been married just over a year, and hadn't quite turned 20. 18 year olds do not plan pregnancies. In those days, a married 18 expected to become a mother, but she didn't plan on it. In those days, it was more about letting the chips fall where they may. My parents were happy to have their first baby. Thrilled, in fact.

My younger sister came as a big surprise. My mother had always said she'd have no more children after age 30. When she was 29 she found herself pregnant. She was surprised. My dad was surprised. Everyone was surprised. That baby just made the threshold and she made everyone happy. I was old enough when my sister was born to remember all of this: how surprising the pregnancy was, how fun it was to have a new baby when no one really expected any more babies to come our way.

I was in the middle. I asked my mother, one day, about the circumstances of my birth. I'd been planned, she told me. The only one she'd actually planned. She and my father wanted more than one child, and wanted their first child to have at least one sibling. They'd planned for me and wanted me and I had not been a surprise.  It meant a lot to me to hear this. It means something still.

The fact that I was planned may have something to do with the fact that my mother and I shared an incredibly tight bond, right until the very end. It might also have something to do with the fact that I was the one my mother chose to give her mother's wedding ring to, and then her own wedding ring. I'm the middle child. I'm unmarried. I'm a lesbian. I have no children. I will never have children. And my mother wanted her wedding ring, and her mother's wedding ring, to end up with me. She was very much alive and of sound mind when she gave them to me. She wanted no mistake to be made. I cannot describe how much this gesture meant to me - still means to me. I treasure those rings. They lived on the fingers of the two most important people in my life. The women who gave me life, nurtured me, gave me my first taste of coffee, passed on their sense of humor and love of story-telling to me. My idols. My best friends.

And so, today is my birthday. But how can I possibly have a birthday when my mother isn't here to share it with me? It shouldn't be my day. It's our day. The day she gave me the greatest gift anyone has ever given me. The day of our first parting...of the first time this baby left the only home she'd ever known.

Thanks, Ma. For life. For everything. My birthday will never be as sweet as it used to be.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Choice is not all black and white

Imagine your life-long dream of having a baby is about to come true: You're 5 months pregnant. You and your partner are thrilled. You've read all the books about prenatal care. You've never missed an appointment with the OB/Gyn. You've been eating all the right foods, exercizing, getting enough rest. You've got a positive attitude. Your whole family is excited. The baby gifts have started pouring in. Everything is exactly the way it should be. And then your doctor calls you in to tell you that something disturbing has come through on your most recent ultrasound. Your son (it's already been determined that you're carrying a boy) is not developing as he should be. Maybe his brain is only partially developed. Maybe there are other organs that just haven't developed, at all. Something has gone wrong. Instead of the son you've always dreamed of, you're carrying a fetus that is not viable. He's no less your baby than he was yesterday, but now you know that he will never be alive in this world. What do you do?

In 2010, a judge in Brazil refused to grant a woman the right to terminate a pregnancy, even though the fetus she was carryind had no brain. The judge believed it was a black-or-white issue: human beings either value life, or they don't. Is anything ever this cut and dry? When we state things and pass judgment based on things either being ALL RIGHT or ALL WRONG, what gets lost is the human element. How can there be any human compassion when one is measuring in terms that really have no practical value within the human experience?

A close friend of mine - C - is a Registered Nurse and Midwife. Most people hear "midwife" and think of childbirth. For the most part, this is a safe assumption. My friend, though, deals a lot more with fairly late-stage terminations than with catching babies as they enter into the world. When a pregnant woman faces a situation such as the one described above - a tragedy, no matter how you look at it - my friend is someone they can call on not just for her medical expertise, but for her compassion.

Women have to make choices regarding reproduction all the time - not just when they decide whether or not to use birth control. A woman in the situation described above has some pretty big choices to make. And she has rights. She might choose to carry to term a fetus that is not viable. This is her right. She might, however, choose to terminate the pregnancy as soon as she learns the truth about her baby - that he is no longer alive, or that he will die almost instantly after being born. This, too, is her right. When a woman makes this choice - the choice to terminate a planned pregnancy that has gone terribly wrong - it is my friend who is often called to duty.

C went into Midwifery because she loved the idea of women helping other women through the birthing process. Over time, though, she realized that her experience as a career nurse and her personal feelings about choice made her the perfect person to perform these difficult terminations. She's good at what she does not just because she has the clinical skills to perform the procedure, but because she knows that it's no easy thing for a woman dealing with trauma to make the decision to terminate. Also, she recognizes that, when a woman in this position DOES make the decision to terminate a pregnancy....she's giving up a baby she's planned for and learned to love. A woman in this position has the right to make choices about her own body, and she also has the right to grieve the loss she's experiencing. C knows that the business of deciding to terminate is rarely a black-or-white issue, and that the emotions that accompany it cover the entire spectrum. She is both an excellent clinician, and a compassionate support person.

It's important that we defend every woman's right to reproductive choice. It's also important that we remember few women make these choices lightly, and that the choice can be difficult to make.