Monday, October 24, 2016

Microblog Monday: Ask Again Later

Magic 8-Balls fall into the same category for me as Easy Bake Ovens: things I desperately wanted as a child but never had, because my parents found them frivolous.

Being the control freak that I am, maybe it's not surprising that I needed certainty from an early age, even if I knew, deep down, that it was unachieveable.  (There's something telling about the fact that the first appearance of a Magic 8-Ball was in a 1940 Three Stooges short, as if to say that seeing into the future is the stuff of slapstick.  And yet, only a few years later, the son of a clairvoyant filed a patent for the real thing, which drew the attention of Brunswick Billiards in 1950, and became the toy we all know and love.  I guess I'm not the only one who wants answers?)

Before we left Flemington, when I was out running with my daughter in the jogging stroller, I noticed a box of discarded toys at the curb.  And there, on the very top, was a Magic 8-Ball.

I picked it up, because I thought it would be fun for N. to play with as I was running (teaching her how to ask the right kinds of questions was a little challenging), and because, let's be honest, I wanted it for my office, where students often ask me questions that demand I have some ability to peer into the future.

I'd never noticed just how ingeniously the Magic 8-Ball mirrors our own inclinations.  Dreamers and optimists ask the Magic 8-Ball for things that they hope will happen, and 50% of the time, the 8-Ball responds with affirmation; 25% of the time, it responds with uncertainty (which might as well be hope); and 25% of the time, just to make it seem like chance is as work, it responds in the negative. Do pessimists ask pessimistically-phrased questions, I wonder? Some people (Mike Dooley of TUT.com among them) would say we create the future we imagine.  The Magic 8-Ball would seem to agree.

One of my colleagues comes to check the Magic 8-Ball every day. She shakes it, but doesn't ask a question; she just looks for a general approach to the day.

Over the past few years, the world has seemed more and more unknown, unfathomable, unpredictable, precarious.  I don't know if that's because I'm older, and my world is wider, and I know more about how plans go awry; or because everything is shared so instantaneously that we feel the small ripples in the space-time continuum that we never felt before; or because the world itself is changing and becoming unpredictable.  I worry for the future: I worry about the rift between people in our nation that this presidential election has made painfully evident, I worry about the safety of my children (especially my daughter), I worry about refugees and immigrants, I worry about terrorism.  I hardly know what to ask the Magic 8-Ball, but I worry that when I do, it will say: Reply hazy try again.

Maybe it's the "try again" part I should focus on. Because really, that's the only certainty we have, isn't it?

This weekend I went to yoga at my old studio, and the focus of our practice was the story of Hanuman, devotee of the god Rama, who goes looking for Rama's love Sita, just as we go to look for truth.  What we find, through the practice of yoga--through not looking ahead but looking within, by staying still--is that the truth is always known, though just temporarily forgotten.  Something about this version of seeking and knowing feels more comforting, somehow, than shaking the Magic 8-Ball.

Did you ever have a Magic 8-Ball?  Would you want to see into the future if you could?

*******
Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read Mel's inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.
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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Homecoming, and Cinnamon Apple Cake

I stand in the kitchen, spoon deep in the batter. My oven is on, not for the first time, but for the first time that involves cake.  Tomorrow, I'd be pulling extra chairs into a living room that is now big enough to fit my entire book group.

There is something about the light, the space, the countertop filled with apples and flour and cinnamon and sugar, that makes me feel like yes, this is home.  And I am me again.  Not that I'd lost myself, exactly, but that a part of me had been missing.

There is room to dance in my kitchen now, too.  My daughter bops up and down as she pours ingredients together.   We turn up the music, and it echoes, partly because there are no rugs, partly because we may need more furniture.  It doesn't seem to bother anyone.

I don't have the right pan for this recipe, but I'm making do with a Bundt pan, and I don't worry about how things will turn out.

Two days later, I am cooking dinner, and it occurs to me that maybe we have enough for friends.  So I invite them over, on a whim.  They come, bearing wine, and guacamole, and chips.  What started as dinner becomes a party.

Two weeks later, after dinner, there are neighbor children in our yard, in the playhouse, chasing each other with flashlights, on a weeknight.  I lose track of them in the darkness, only to realize that they've reappeared on the other side of the house.  They flow in and out like water, as if they've been there all along.  When they have to go home for dinner, inexplicably, there are other neighbor children that replace them, having let themselves in, or come in with one of mine, appearing out of nowhere and entirely comfortable and welcome; they tumble upstairs where they are laughing and playing.

At some point, before children, after my own childhood, I imagined a parenthood like this, having a place where children come after school and eat cookies, but somehow a place that is also compatible with a full time job, a home that smells like baking cinnamon and sugar, where food is homemade when it can be.

Our house is not perfect.  There is a man in my bathroom today who has ripped out the shower walls because the crack in the floor led us to mold in the walls, in the insulation.  The doors don't all close all the way.  Things stick. Wood is rotten.  There were parts put together hastily.

Our house is not perfect.  I yell at my kids in the morning to move faster, try to motivate my son to work harder at his piano and trombone, sometimes feels like I'm juggling a schedule for our busy family that doesn't allow me time to grow or learn anything new.

Our house is not perfect.  I watch the news too much, and despair about Syria and the election and hurricanes and poverty and racism and senseless killing of people who never deserved to die.

But our house smells like apples and cinnamon sometimes, and it's warm, and children play there and feel welcome without being invited, and friends come, and we can be spontaneous, and there is space for everyone, and there are moments when this house feels like home.

Cinnamon Apple Cake
The recipe is originally Smitten Kitchen's, though it also seems, if you read the comments on that post, to belong to everyone.  I almost didn't try it because I didn't have the right pan, but I thought it worth a shot, given that it had worked for so many others.  I've since bought a tube pan, and they both work fine. I love bulletproof recipes.

6 apples, peeled, cored, chopped into 1" chunks
1 T. cinnamon
5 T. sugar
2 3/4 c. flour
1 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
1 c. vegetable oil (or other oil of your choice)
2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. orange juice
2 1/2 t. vanilla extract
4 large eggs

Heat oven to 350 degrees. If you have a tube pan, grease it; I used a Bundt pan.

Toss the apples with cinnamon and 5 T. sugar; set aside.

Stir together the dry ingredients (through salt) in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients (through eggs). Gently fold wet ingredients completely into dry ones (don't overmix!).

Pour half of batter into prepared pan. Spread half of apples (and their juices) over it. Pour the remaining batter over the apples and arrange the remaining apples on top. Bake for 1 to 1.5 hours, or until a tester comes out clean. (I started at the shorter end and kept going until the batter under the apples was dry.)

Cool completely before running knife between cake and pan, and unmolding onto a platter.
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Sunday, July 17, 2016

Housewarmings

It's been almost a month since we've moved officially to our new house, since our furniture arrived, since we unpacked our knick knacks and clothes and found new homes for kitchen utensils that we're still trying to find again on a regular basis.

We've made pitchers of sangria and had family and friends arrive in rotation, on the 3rd and 4th and 10th of July; on Thursday one of the local moms rang the doorbell and invited me to join the other women from the block for a drink on her back deck; and on Friday, after our neighbor delivered a delicious carrot zucchini bread, my colleagues from work came over with their families for dinner, during which we consumed many bottles of champagne. One of my colleagues brought a dense dark brown bread and salt, a traditional European blessing for a new home, reminding me of my friend's blog, which is named for those very gifts.

On Saturday, the neighbors pulled chairs out to the cul de sac, and the kids (there are many on our road) rode bicycles and pulled each other around (sometimes dumping each other out of) a home-made rickshaw and drew in chalk on the road while we all talked and drank beer and water and whatever else people brought out with them to share.

This is more partying than I think we've ever done in such a short period of time; we've smoked loins of pork and entire chickens and grilled chicken and salmon and burgers and hot dogs; we've made kale salads and watermelon salads and corn and Spanish tortillas and gazpacho and icebox pie and lemon Bundt cake. We've sat outside until it gets dark, and until the mosquitos begin to nip at us. It only rained once, and even then, just during dessert.

The people from whom we bought this house entertained a lot, they said; they talked about how they loved having a crowd over, cooking and baking and laughing together.  While we did that in our Flemington house sometimes, too, it's been nice to feel like there's space to share. This house invites gatherings of loved ones and new friends.

I still worry sometimes about feeling lonely here, about missing old friends, about not making the kinds of close friends I left behind.  But as I said to my son just this morning, it may be that the people we meet here don't become our best friends, and that's OK, because they seem to be kind people, and we're haven't left our other friends behind. Both have already warmed our house with so much laughter and good food and good company, for which I've been especially grateful this summer, given the sadness and darkness unfolding in the world.  Maybe, in some small way, our celebrations of each other can continue to create ripples of light.
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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

On Domestic Abuse

I have cried a lot, watching the events of the past week unfold.  More dead Black men. More protests. And then dead police in Dallas.

I had a title, but not a post, for a few days: Black and Blue. Like a bruise. Like the result of battering. A domestic abuse.

But I had nothing new to say. I felt like a voyeur. Watching the videos, scanning the photos from the comfort/discomfort of my couch, on my laptop.

Perhaps most memorable for me, this one, taken by Jonathan Bachman of Reuters:

 

A young Black woman, standing tall and straight, bold and powerful, being handcuffed.  White officers in full riot gear. Destabilized. Why do they need to approach this unarmed woman this way? How much is this like the initial moments of colonization and slavery? How can they see her as a threat?  And yet, they do.

Is this, as Michelle Alexander writes, our mirror? Will this be enough? Will it disturb us enough?

My neighbors went to a Black Lives Matter protest in Trenton last night. I was home with two kids who were not going to a protest. Part of me has been looking for a protest, and another part of me, like this woman, wonders, what the fuck is a protest going to do? We can march all we want; what is really going to change? How many times will we lose energy, and forget?

I watched protest video footage from Baton Rouge.  I wanted to reach through the screen and pull those people to safety, here in my living room.

Our students, this past year, occupied the University President's office, telling him they wouldn't leave until he agreed to their demands.  He did, eventually. Or at least, agreed to consider them. Which, of course, wasn't really the same thing at all. Why did he agree? Because he believes that the institution he leads is a fundamentally racist institution?   I doubt that, though I know his heart is in the right place, and I'm sure that he realizes the institution will need to change and evolve and respond during the next few years. Will our students return to their protests this year, knowing that they haven't achieved their goals?

Beyond our campus, where do we sit in? Whose office do we occupy?  What do we demand?  Not more task forces. Not more committees.  Yes, justice. Accountability.  But more. So much more.

What counts as a crime? Who gets stopped, imprisoned? How do we make sure that our measures are equal, regardless of the color of our skin?

Who gets to live in places that are clean and safe and bright and affordable?

Who gets access to a good education, good jobs?

Who gets a chance in this nation of opportunity?

We can approach each other -- black, white, brown, blue -- with open hearts, but how do our open hearts create equality?  We encourage our students to meet each other with civility, with respect, but how can we change lifetimes of wrongs before someone else has to die?

Years ago, I served as a board member for our county's domestic violence agency. We didn't get to see the agency's clients very often because of the policies around confidentiality.  But we did get to see a lot of the infrastructure that supported them.  We toured the safe house and the transitional house, where families were protected and then getting back on their feet, preparing to start over again.  We met children in the Peace: A Learned Solution (PALS) program, who were finding voices through art and music and theater, unlearning conflict and violence. We talked with the people who manned the crisis hotline, were often joined in meetings by the lawyer who supported clients free of charge through difficult appearances in court. And we also met counselors and community educators who worked with the abusers and with outreach to high school students, who shared a belief not just that we could create safe spaces for the victims of domestic violence, but that the perpetrators of violence could change. There is research on this: that abusers can stop abusing their partners, if they take responsibility, if they learn communication skills, if they examine their own pasts.

Maybe there are lessons to be learned here.  That domestic abuse can stop. That abusers can redefine what it means to be masculine, that they can begin to see their partners as partners, not as threats. That we can find ways to support both abusers and survivors. That we can offer hope. That we can heal our broken and bruised political body.

Because the alternative is too much for our nation, and for us all, to bear.

For Tamir Rice, Ousmane Zongo, Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott, Eric Garner, Kajieme Powell, Samuel DuBose, Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Kayla Moore and Tanisha Anderson. For Michael Smith, Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa, and Brent Thompson, who were there to protect that day, and who, I have to believe, shared the conviction that #Black Lives Matter.
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Monday, June 13, 2016

What Are We Waiting For? (For Orlando, and for all of us)

I have been at loss for words.

My Facebook feed is full of "gun control," but also (because I have grown up with, and still talk with, people who are pro-gun-rights) "shooter shoots, not guns."  There are people condemning Muslim terrorists, and Muslim friends calling for more overt support of the LGBT community. (BTW, Donald: he was born in New York.)

CNN tells us the police have found no accomplices, though the shooter pledged allegiance to ISIS during a 911 call.  

The victims whose names have been released so far are largely from the Latinx community. Given where they were killed, a place that is a sanctuary, I wonder how many of them had families who knew, how many of them have families who will mourn, how many of them died with the only family they knew.  At least two of them were college students.  They could easily have been my students.

Everything we know about people who become radicalized suggests that they are isolated, disconnected, lost; that they turn to radical ideology (even if they're not religious) for meaning, for structure, for order in a world over which they feel no control, for belonging when they don't belong anywhere else.  Maybe they have parents who have fanned the flames of their hate.  But in the end, they're not so different from abandoned mentally ill people who, say, enter a theater and open fire.  Or who go to an elementary school and take the lives of twenty first graders. What happened in Orlando was a hate crime against LGBT people of color, against diversity of expression of love itself, done in the name of domestic terror. Hate, fueled by hate.

Let me be clear: I don't understand why anyone needs an assault-style or semi-automatic weapon for their personal use.  I don't understand why people don't have to pass the same kinds of tests to own and operate a gun that they do to own and drive a car. I don't understand why someone who has been the subject of a domestic violence report gets to purchase a weapon without some pretty detailed background investigation.

I also don't understand how, if this person was mentally ill, no one realized this before.  Did anyone at his college notice?  Did anyone at his security firm notice (did he have to pass any psychological tests)?  His ex-wife noticed. Did anyone do anything after she filed her domestic violence report?

And most of all, I don't understand how there can be so much hate, and how we can't seem to do a damn thing about it.

Particularly because the gunman wasn't an immigrant, but a native-born American who was just like any one of us, I've been thinking about this event in connection with the debate about free speech on our campuses, the ways in which some students say they don't feel safe when they hear racist or sexist or anti-religious or homophobic discourse.  As administrators, we try to walk the line between free speech and civility.  We try to make sure that everyone's voice is heard.  Some people even dismiss students' demands for "safety," saying that they shouldn't be so coddled, saying that they're in no real danger.  But when tragic events like this one unfold, and we have no mechanisms to prevent them, how can we be so sure?

I'm tired of signing my name to petitions.  I'm tired of having to explain to my son, who reads the news on his tablet before we can intervene, why this keeps happening. I'm tired of hugging my children and my friends and saying we should hold each other close. I'm tired of feeling powerless.

We are all victims.  We are Charlie, we are Aurora, we are Brussels, we are Charleston, we are Lebanon, we are Columbine, we are San Bernardino, we are Fort Hood, we are Sandy Hook. Now we are Orlando.  When will the loss be too great to bear?

What are we waiting for? When we will say we have had enough?  When will we put people in power who can do something in the name of love?

#MoreLoveLessHate
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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Brock Turner, Rape Culture, and Us

(with apologies for another angry post without mention of food. and with a warning for anyone triggered by sexual assault, in case it wasn't already obvious.)

I have been following the coverage of Brock Turner with my stomach tied in knots.

It makes me sick that he thought he could do this (or worse, that he didn't think it important enough to think at all); it makes me sick that the judge let him get away with it by handing down such a light sentence; it makes me sick that anyone would come to his defense after the fact, citing "political correctness" or "promiscuity" or alcohol as the culprit.

But perhaps it makes more visible than ever both the privilege of white male athletes (each of those words an additive in privilege), and the rape culture that is so pervasive we don't even see it any more.

I work at a university that, like most universities, requires all of its incoming freshmen and graduate students to complete an online mandatory sexual assault prevention program.  During orientation, students participate in an hour and a half long performance and discussion focused on sexual assault, rape, and bystander intervention. That program is followed by small group discussions, and additional information later on in the week.

During which many of them, I know, are thinking: "this would never happen to me."

And yet, it does.

A recent survey on our campus (with a high response rate) revealed that in the past year, 20 percent of all students (with a higher proportion of women then men, and higher proportion of undergraduates than graduates) have experienced sexual assault (which includes everything from harassment to stalking to nonconsensual sexual contact). And that during the past year, four percent of all students (men, women and gender nonbinary) experienced nonconsensual sexual penetration: rape.  Breaking that down by self-identified gender, eight percent of undergraduate women report that they were raped.  Mostly by people they knew.

One rape is one rape too many.  But 1 out of every 12 women?

We know that orientation isn't enough. So we try to start conversations that continue to loop students back in, remind them about how to have healthy relationships.  But they have had so much programming by age 17; it's an uphill climb.

They learn that if someone doesn't want to be with you, you buy them another drink.  They learn that no really means "not yet."  They learn that red means stop, green means go, and yellow means floor it so you can get through before it turns red.

Eighty four percent of college men who were found guilty of sexual assault did not believe their behavior was illegal.  Why?  Because women are described as objects so often that it becomes easy to see them as objects.  Because masculinity is described in terms of sexual conquest, and men--especially adolescent men, and they're trying to figure out who they're going to be--fall prey to those definitions. All of this makes rape culture normative, invisible, particularly, I'd argue, when it lives inside of white privilege, which is also invisible.  (*I am very aware that sexual assault is not limited to male perpetrators and female victims/survivors; I've worked with gay students who have been assaulted by other gay students, men assaulted by women, trans people assaulted by cisgender students. That said: rape culture feels rooted, to me, in power dynamics that are attached to gender.)

Why is it that so many people are more concerned about what will happen when a trans person steps into the bathroom than they are about what will happen when a white cisgender male is trying to prove his masculinity to himself in a culture where he'll never measure up?

I was heartened to read Vice President Biden's moving open letter today.  It was an important statement to make. But I also know that this river is deep. And that even Joe Biden doesn't go back to the place where rape culture begins.  Because you have to go back pretty far in the development of our children to learn when we first start to talk about consent, and bodies, and limits, and respect.

In case you hadn't heard, it turns out that Brock Turner will only be serving three months of his six month sentence.   Even college campus processes have more successful sanctioning than the prosecution record of rape cases. I don't have to ask you how you think this might have unfolded for a Black male, because we know.

Is it any surprise that survivors of rape don't want to report the crime to the police, knowing that this will be the outcome?

Is it any surprise that I didn't say anything to anyone about my own experience for more than ten years?

I know that many of you were silent, too.

What are we--you--me--doing to change this, not just at college orientation, but long before we ever have to have those conversations with our youth, before they ever find themselves bystanders?
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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Table Manners

Imagine, if you will:

Your boss has invited you to lunch to discuss your summer project plans.  This is not a special invitation, exactly, because she has also invited your colleagues to similar lunch meetings, all during the same week. But you have settled on a semi-fancy farm-to-table place, prepare a list of things you want to make sure you cover, stash said list in your purse, and wear something in which you take yourself seriously.

By Chrisrobertsantieau - Own work, Public Domain,
https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7554497
Things are going well enough; you have a good conversation, you enjoy a delicious meal, you manage not to have salad sticking out of your teeth.  You order coffee, after asking if she is also ordering coffee.  When it arrives, you select a yellow packet from the sugar bowl, stir, and sip.

Three sips in or so, you realize that the coffee needs cream, or milk, or whatever happens to be in the small creamer on the table, the one that is even smaller than your coffee cup.  She has already added cream to hers, so you reach for the creamer and begin to pour.

At which point, it slips from your fingers, and lands with an impressive splash directly in the middle of your cup of coffee, where it is now making cafe au lait of its own accord.

You have managed to splatter it all around the cup, but not on your dress, which, of course, is brand new.  You take your napkin, and wipe up around the spill; your boss asks if you are all right, you assure her that you are unscathed.  Nothing to see here.

And then?  Then what do you do?

Well, if you are me, and you want coffee, and you're not thinking very clearly, you gingerly fish the creamer out of the cup, wipe it off, add the appropriate amount of cafe au lait to your cup, making some comment about how much you'd had in the cup originally, and drink it.

And then, on the way home from work four hours later, you realize your faux pas, feel mortified, and wonder how you will now teach your children table manners with a straight face.
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