coming soon!

I will be doing an extensive write-up about my trip to Norway. It is epic. Or possibly many parts. Haven’t decided just yet. Need to finish at least some of it first. SOON!

The Princess Phenomenon

I began the following when my daughter was 2-3 yrs old. I put it aside because I wanted to make sure I still felt this way after time had passed. I do so here it is

Lil Miss just came up the stairs carrying her portable DVD player (we bought it for her second-ever car trip to florida and it was probably the best $30 we spent all that year)

Lil Miss: Hi mom!

Me: hey, wassup?

Lil Miss: I just doing my homework!

Me: uh….

Lil Miss: See dat princess? Dat’s me.

Me: ah, I get it now.

My daughter is very “girly”. Non-PC or not, that’s the term for it and when I use it, everyone knows what I mean; she likes pink, wants to be a princess, loves to play dress-up, likes nail polish, has an obsession for shoes, collects hairbands with flowers on them, prefers to wear skirts and dresses, color-coordinates her clothes, anything shiny or sparkly gets her vote, loves having long hair, draws homey scenes with the family and flowers and rainbows, is always on the look-out for the latest Disney Princess doll to add to her stash, et cet.

I have a very uncomfortable relationship with this. Yes, I am a feminist (first wave trying to move to third wave) and I heartily support women’s equality in all things (duh).

I am also a development wonk. Any time there’s a new article, study or finding of any kind on sociological and psychological/psychiatric issues, I am all over that like white on rice. The things I’ve learned through the years (decades, really) have completely turned my head around, though.

When I was younger, I firmly believed gender was a complete social construct, that men and women were absolutely no different and everything that smelt of gender roles was entirely induced by society. As I’ve grown and become more educated, I’ve discovered (right alongside of science) that this is in fact, not entirely true: men and women ARE intrinsically different in some ways. The sexes are generally the same but there are some key differences that cannot be explained by nurture alone. This has been borne out by the scientific method over and over and in recent years it has some basis in evolutionary psychology as well. We can not only see how men and women are different but we can begin to understand how and why those differences have been fine-tuned through humankind’s descent from the trees. So consider that by the time my daughter was in utero, I had come to a place of understanding about gender and the “roles” of the sexes. I wasn’t pleased about it (who likes hearing that  certain traits are ‘stuck” within you?) but because of my struggle against my behaviorist past I can at least accept this intellectually.

However, the whole notion that “girly” is somehow innate is extremely bothersome to me. In all my readings and study I simply have not come across anything that “explains” how and why the tendency to be “femme” exists in women from a innate standpoint. It remains firmly fixed in my psyche that “girly” is a learned thing. Perhaps some inclination to “girly” things is merely personal preference, but to go whole hog into the world of barbie and pink and frills seems to me just so… forced.

So when I knew I was going to have  a girl, I naturally assumed that MY girl was going to  be a great feminist, nurtured into embracing her “macho” self at least as much as her “girly” self. I will admit right here: I hoped and expected she was going to be a little “tomboy” (I know its an old term, look it up) just like I was. Sure, I was an extreme tomboy but I chalked that up to my lack of maternal nurturing in the early, formative years. So she’d probably like some “girly” things but I was absolutely certain she’d be more “macho” than “femme”. Knowing how society subtly pushes that persona on little girls, I also had a fairly comprehensive plan to help this happen. It involved avoiding the mainstream media, carefully selecting that which I thought to be properly progressive and feminist-friendly as well as exposing her on a regular basis to all things “boyish” with the help of my many mom-friends. Several of my mom-friends have girls too and the more we talked about it, the more I was certain that we were going to have little trouble counter-balancing the outside world’s mantra of “be a girly girl”.

Of course, like pretty much all parenting ideals, this was not going to happen the way I wanted it to.

My daughter seemed to come into the world the femmie-est of the femmes. First off, she was strikingly beautiful, for a newborn. This is not mama pride talking, this is me remembering every comment made about her looks with a lot of SURPRISE in the tone. People expect babies to be cute (most of them) but they don’t expect them to be beautiful. She was absolutely gorgeous from day one. I have pics to prove it. Nurses embarrassed themselves by saying “wow, she sure is pretty! most of the babies around here aren’t really but she is actually pretty!” -followed by a blush and an expression that said “please don’t tell people I think most babies aren’t pretty”   And they were right; most babies pass through a bizarro alien-type phase wherein features are not matching or sized in proportion before they get “pretty” but my daughter? never passed through that.  That was a little jarring, really. I have three sons before her and though they were adorable babies, they took a bit of time to stop looking like overboiled versions of Winston Churchill.

The next thing I noticed was her viewing preferences. Like my boys before her, I did not plan on her watching any broadcast or cable tv that had not been completely screened by me first. In this wonderful day and age, that is a lot easier to accomplish than when my boys were growing up. We found many fantastic kid videos on youtube, many from other countries. Well, before she was a year old, language didn’t matter to her anyway. So lots of Pigloo, Ilona Montricey, babe Lilly, Yo Gabba Gabba!, Elmo – you get the idea. She LOVED watching videos as young as six months when she couldn’t even crawl yet. I’d sit next to her on the floor and we’d watch together. I’d sing along, sometimes translate a little (just in case, you know, she was a language whiz or something) and clap her hands along… the usual mommy-kid fun. Before long, we had a nice collection of cool kid-vids for her. Very convenient when mommy wants a break.

It didn’t take long to realize she had a definite preference for pretty girls. Aside from Elmo and YGG, the girl was nuts for any video featuring “girly girls”. Our first tip was when her father was at the grocery store with her. She saw the DVD rack and leaned towards a video with Abby Cadabby on it. She’d never seen Abby Cadabby before but out of all the videos on that rack, she sure as hell noticed her and made it clear she wanted that video. So her dad bought it and we all watched.  Abby Cadabby is pink. Abby is a fairy (in training) and Abby says things like “hmph!” and Abby laughs all the time, much like Elmo but in a very high-pitched, girly kind of giggle. Specifically, Abby says “hee heeeeee!” Lil Miss, ADORED Abby Cadabby. Don’t get me wrong, she loved Elmo too, but Abby was clearly FOR HER.

Next thing you know, she’s looking at the DVD rack every time she’s taken to the grocery store. Mind you we are talking about a baby who can’t walk yet. She made very clear her preferences. She wanted pretty girls. We held firm in some respects – no barbie vids or bratz or anything remotely fake like that – but how can you say no to Dora? Dora wears pants! Dora is adventurous! Dora teaches sequential logic!

Yeah she barely liked Dora.

Next thing I know, she’s showing decided preferences for her clothing choices. Next thing I know, she’s intentionally coordinating her clothes by color. Next thing I know, she’s drawing nothing but flowers and cats. Next thing I know she’s demanding to have a princess outfit. A princess outfit? How in the world did she even know what a princess was?! I thought I was so careful!

You know where she saw her first princess? Yo Gabba Gabba. They have ONE character on the whole show who is a fairy princess. The entire show has tons of super-cool females doing really nifty empowering stuff like martial arts, rock drumming, skateboarding, marathon racing et cet but the one girl she decides she wants to emulate? The fairy princess with a wand. The princess who appeared maybe all of three times on the show. That’s all it took.

Next thing I know, we’re swimming in Disney princess stuff. We didn’t even have the movies for half the dolls she liked. Next thing I know, I find myself avoiding the “pink aisle” at every store because I can’t stomach another “WanT~! want!! WANT!” of some overpriced pink crap with glitter that catches her eye. How did she get into that aisle?” by noticing it was pink from across the whole freakin store and booking ass into it just to check it out. Why? Because she loved pink. That too, was something we had tried to avoid. Now, pink exists in clothing for kids as surely as all the other colors so its not like I was going to avoid having ANY pink. Truth be told, when she was a baby I didn’t avoid it at all. But once she was crawling age, we moved, of course, to clothing suitable for that phase which means pants and regular shirts. We stopped having pink hardly at all. She stopped wearing dresses or skirts or anything “girly” because it was impractical and most of her clothes were regifted from friends who had boys older than her. But somehow, between the learning-to-walk stage and the running stage (stage? that’s a stage? it ends?) she “discovered the joy of girly clothes.

We gave her pink stuff not because we loved her in pink (actually I like her best in black- it sets off her brown eyes nicely) but because she’d throw a holy hell fit if we didn’t let her dress in pink most times. We didn’t put her in skirts because WE loved her in skirts but because it was a way to make sure she didn’t freeze her butt off in cold weather – leggings or tights under the skirt is apparently permissible but not under a dress so we compromised. Next thing I know we’re drowning in Hello Kitty (which I admit, I like too) not because we’re such huge fans (although I think her father kind of is) but because it too was a compromise foisted upon her to draw attention away from other, less “respectable” commercial fare. (Besides, pink, kitties, what’s not to love?)

Every time I thought we had steered her into more neutral arenas (Minecraft, Duplo, Thomas the Train) she’d veer off into “girly” land again. Truth be told, it was getting ridiculous.

At some point, I really thought long and hard about the whole situation. As always, when you’re a parent, I struggled with the notion of imposing my will upon her. Was it “fair” of me to restrict her choices so much or was I trying to maintain a healthy balance in her life? Was I really working against the societal pressures to be “girly” or was I just trying to cut and paste MY values over her own bona fide desires? How wrong was it to let her indulge in the petty superficial trappings of femininity? She’s a child, barely out of toddlerdom and I’m really sitting here freaking out because of what color she wants to wear?

The turning point came when I got into a fracas on Facebook. A dear friend of mine posted something about this whole dilemma and the doors opened, of course, for internet mud-slinging. I admit to having a certain sensitivity to the accusation of gender-biased parenting, after all, that’s exactly what I was struggling with. But at some point in the throw-down, some stranger I don’t even know in essence told me I was foolish for believing my child was actually CHOOSING to be “girly”. No matter how much I detailed my efforts to avoid putting the pink on my child, I was told it didn’t matter, society was doing the dirty work for me. It didn’t take long before someone was insinuating that I was lax in my feminist duty and had more or less “allowed’ this to happen anyway.

I bowed out of further discussion. It just riled me far too much to attempt to have an intelligent exchange on the matter. After some thought, I realized something important though; the other people, the ones who were so smugly painting a huge “FAIL” on my feminist mommy-card were JUST as angry and JUST as clouded by their own ire to be really having an intelligent conversation about this subject. I briefly wondered why but overall, it didn’t matter. Because I had been busy second-guessing myself for so long and because I couldn’t really find a negotiating meadow for my concerns, it was so easy for someone else’s ire to color my own confidence. Yet their confidence was betrayed by their own volume level. Suddenly, I had every reason to trust my own choices and beliefs and no reason whatsoever to keep accepting the blows from someone else’s feelings of failure. I found it interesting how anger was what clarified the issue for me. As if the darkness of impotent rage created a silhouette for me to trace and the profile was the answer I’d been looking for all along.

And the answer in all this?

Maturity. Children Don’t have it yet.

I know, of course, society pressures us. It pressures children. It pressures adults. It sure as hell pressures parents.

But who is “society” anyway? Everyone but me?

The pressure of society radiates outward. This, I truly believe. There is some strength in numbers, sure, but the truest strength lies in connection. As connections between people moves outward, the ability to influence becomes weaker. The more you move outward in society, away from connection, the easier it becomes to make your own choices. Yes, strength in numbers -having 100 people yelling at you means more than having one person yell at you – but true strength, lasting strength? Is in the connections.

So what’s the strongest connection?

The self.

What is the strongest form of self-connection?

Self-determination.

All along, while I was obsessing over my child’s choices and the options before her, I should have been looking at her ability to make those choices. Her confidence, her self-esteem, her self-trust, all those things are what determine how well we follow our own dreams. All things being equal, the ability to make good choices boils down to the ability to know what you want, understand the options and be brave enough to choose what’s right for you. That means more than anything society yells at us.

First off, my children (at all ages) are going to make mistakes. I love being allowed to watch them do that and learn from their mistakes. It is my honor to be one of the people who can help them back up when they fall and watch them try again. It is one of the greatest pleasures in my life to be one of the people to which my children turn to in times of indecision and uncertainty. Whenever possible, though, I do my best to not give them the answers, but open the doors they need, turn the lights on and let them understand the world in front of them. Sometimes that’s meant I’ve had to pull them away from pitfalls they didn’t understand, turn them back from paths they cannot travel or maybe just warn them against consequences they can’t possibly predict. I’ve even been wrong on some occasions. Happily, joyously wrong. Those are the best times because not only have my children surprised me with their ability to bounce through rugged terrain, they’ve surprised themselves. But falling or bouncing, they’ve always been able to see that the roads are for them to choose.

So where are we with all this?

Again: maturity. choice.

All those times I felt uneasy because my daughter chose things I associate with negative context, SHE was choosing those things. If other people want to believe she was pushed or coerced or whatever that’s their baggage to carry. The whole point of my “job” as a mother has been to make sure my child chooses with the best of options, the best of knowledge and the best of her confidence. So if she chose things that society maybe pushes, those choices were still HERS. And that’s what I should have been “worrying” about all along. Except I didn’t worry about it. Because its a part of what I see as my goal anyway. I wasn’t worrying about it, I was doing it. My job, was to use MY maturity to make sure her choices were as free as I could possibly make them and allow her those choices even if I didn’t like them. Because she is a child and I am an adult. Our preferences are not going to be the same no matter what I do. Even if she was a carbon copy of me she’s still a child while I am an adult. She does not have the same criterion, the same experiences nor the same internal self-regard I do, to prefer the things I do. I like sushi, I couldn’t get her to like sushi if I dipped it in cinnamon sugar and deep fried it. This is how it is. She likes to have tea parties. The only reason I ever sit down to drink watery tea with stuffed animals is because I love my daughter but frankly there are days I’d rather roll myself in cinnamon sugar and get deep fried than endure another minute of the stultifying game she loves so much. The difference between us isn’t that my daughter has been pushed harder than I am (or was) to accept stratified gender norms, the difference is that she is a child and she has different tastes than I do as an adult and as a wholly different person. Maturity. Choice. I have one, she has the other. Between the two of us, I think we can handle her decisions about what color she wears to school.

So lastly, there’s the issue of all those other feminists who want to argue this into the ground. Yes, my daughter has often chosen to enjoy superficial things that society pushes upon girls. She’s a child and she is supposed to like superficial things. I don’t know any child five and under who doesn’t like superficial things. I mean, I tried reading Plato and Lao Tzu to my boys when they were little and it just didn’t go over, you know? Heck I could barely keep them awake with Bob Dylan lyrics.

“deep” stuff just isn’t what kids like. Why is Disney so beloved? Because what they show us is a world that is simple, codifiable and romantic. Children respond to those things because they are, well, children. And superficial things don’t have to stop being attractive either. As we grow, we add to our recreational loves, we rarely subtract. More importantly, we add as we grow, at a pace that matches our maturation. So to expect a child to appreciate adult values and mores is to expect the impossible.  I don’t want to be forever pushing my kids to act like adults because they aren’t. Its something I see people forget all the time.

Children are not looking at Tiana and Belle and Diego with love and awe because they are sharp minds, with a wonderful work ethic and plenty of charity in their souls, children look at them because they are attractive. The deeper qualities are something the children pick up on later, over time. The deeper qualities are what lead us to have long-standing respect and love for a character (real or imaginary) but it is the outward characteristics that get us – especially children – to pay attention in the first place.

This idea that little kids can only respect greatness if its wrapped in a pretty bow with sparkles is as ridiculous as the idea that little kids will only ever want to eat sugared snacks for every meal ever because they like candy. Some people grow up with some overblown expectations but most people do this crazy thing called maturing and it means that they can appreciate subtle, unseen qualities no matter what the surface looks like. This journey from superficial, obvious enjoyment to the deeper, more complex respect is a part of growing. To act as if there is something wrong with little kids because they like pretty sparkly things is to act as if there’s something wrong with them being kids. Kids also prefer stars, hearts, basic shapes, bold colors, smiles, smoothness and sameness as well as flowers and kittens. As they grow their personalities change and they find beauty in other areas they didn’t see before. This is part of becoming an individual. We are putting adult values and perspectives on kids again when we flip out so hard about the princess phenomenon. Its not the princesses versus the GI Joes, its offering everything and showing everything and waiting for their immature minds to catch up.

What matters is giving them all the options, accepting what they choose and always be ready to accept their changes. Because they will change. I doubt my daughter will ever stop loving Disney princesses – I still love Alice from Wonderland – but she will add to that love over time. She will begin to appreciate other, deeper qualities as she matures. I must be ready to accept this slow journey without judging her or myself and trust that over time she will become confident and love herself enough to not need approval from anyone. Not even me.

my daughter is now six. she still loves dressing up, playing with dolls and having an occasional tea party. She also loves Minecraft, Batman, and clashing light sabers or pirate swords

grammar nazi in training

Lil Miss: Look at what I’m doing!
Me: hmm.. uh well that’s nice but I kind of need this… please don’t write on my notes any more
Lil Miss: okay but you needed periods. And question marks. You forgot all the periods.
Me: well you are so right, I did. Thanks for fixing that.
Lil Miss: no problem!
Me: here, have some blank paper.

Letter To Me

Dear immune system,

I know I don’t treat you right and for that I’m so sorry. I think part of it is that I never really had much role modelling about how to treat my body and instead inherited a very strict work ethic and ego-destroying philosophy. On the whole, I’m okay with that (I get stuff done! I’m responsible! I’m humble! I mean, I think I’m humble, maybe I’m not?) but I do recognize, at the fresh young age of 47, that I am probably making things harder than they have to be. I have friends and I have seen them do strange things like stay in bed all day because they are sick. This used to baffle me because the only thing that would make me stay in bed all day is broken legs or being in a hospital bed (even then, I’d probably be getting up and trying to vacuum the floor or something)
Its the incessant work ethic in me. The incredible self-denial legacy my father handed down from his Buddhist belief system. Thanks dad, I learned that my own desires are no reason to do anything. Everything must be decided upon by how it affects everything outside of me, but MY desires? Inconsequential.
Now I know my dad doesn’t really believe that so strictly as I learned it but it’s kind of too late: his experiment to raise a self-denying child kind of worked. I have managed in all these years to learn to embrace and love my desires but for some reason, health just hasn’t really been included in that quest. Frankly, I think that’s your fault, immune system. Maybe if you didn’t work quite so well I’d be more inclined to give in to occasional lassez-faire.

Anyway, I’m getting away from the point here. I’m trying to explain, dear immune system, how sorry I am that I treat you so bad. Granted, we both know that I actually eat pretty good; I’m not a packaged food kind of person and I really don’t like fast food. I love treats but I don’t eat them every day. I triumphed over my eating disorder many years ago (and what a battle that was, right?) and I don’t fret over my weight too much. So we both know its not diet that’s the problem here. I’ve even been exercising again (taking a while to get back up to speed but we’ll get there)

Its the sleep and the work, isn’t it?

I know, I know, I hate to “rest”. I hate to stop doing things and go lie down. Hell I have a hard time watching the few TV shows and movies I like, don’t I? I can’t even play a game for more than an hour before I”m ready to jump up and go do something “more productive”

And now you’re compromised often because of some stupid disease I contracted in some mysterious way a decade ago. I’m real sorry about that. It was not my intention to saddle you with little parasites you are forever fending off. I know it sucks to be invaded and now live under military threat all the time but its already done, they aren’t leaving any time soon so we both might as well move past apologies and entrench ourselves for the long haul.

There’s just one little issue I really want to bring up here. You fight too much. There are times, dear immune system, when you aren’t really going to win this battle right away. There are times you need to wait for reinforcements. But you keep slogging away, at half-capacity. This is not cool: I wish you’d just either do your job or take a break. My problems with allowing myself some relaxation and recuperation aren’t going to get any better when you fight with dying breath. I can’t decide “its time to take some time off” and do the right honorable thing like “I’m sick, I need to take it easy” when you keep the sickness barely at bay. I mean, its obvious I’m “getting” sick but I never seem to ACTUALLY get sick here. Just a kind of almost-miserable sort-of sick. Never enough to justify being laid up but never quite leaving me alone either.

Please, just make up your mind: do you want to eradicate the invaders or do you want to wait for back up? Cuz I can tell you right now, either method would probably be more effective and less time-consuming than what you’re doing right now.

Whatever you want me to change, I’ll change, I swear. I am sworn to start really taking good care of all of us around here but its really hard to do that when you make me too miserable to do important helpful things (shopping and cooking, exercising) but too functional to just hang it all for a few days.

I’m not mad, lord knows you do an amazing job! but dang I am getting frustrated. Like I said, I see my friends do this amazing thing called “days off” and I’d really like to give that a try… I hear staying in bed is the way to do it right but the last time i ever did that I was so doped up from surgery I couldn’t even begin to remember what it was like. As I understand it, resting is something that is really beneficial when you get sick. I’d like to give it a try. I can’t do that if you won’t work with me here.

Let’s do this together, shall we?

Love,
Me

The Horror of Beauty

I have had four children. I am also under five feet tall. I have an “orphan disease” called Jarcho-Levin AKA spondylocostal dysostosis. (I’ve written about that a couple of times) which means rather than having a long torso and short limbs like most “classic” dwarves, I have a short torso and long limbs. So you can imagine how confounding it was for my body to fit a baby in there.

Strangely enough, my first child was my largest and the only one I gave birth to naturally. The other three were in transverse presentation which just means they lay sideways inside me and refused to turn upside down like a good baby should. Babies can’t be birthed sideways. So I had three C-sections.

Now, imagine if you will, a torso about 7″ long being stretched out to accommodate a series of creatures from 21-23.5″ long. Yeah that doesn’t work so good. I was already pretty stretched out after my firstborn (9lbs and 24″) but with exercise, extended nursing and a healthy diet, my tummy receded. Mostly. I had the classic “pooch” with massive stretch marks. I didn’t care, of course, because I was so thrilled to have a baby. I was in my late 20s and assumed I’d “snap back” at some point.
Well five years and two more babies I sure as hell didn’t “snap back” at all. I got worse, of course.

Mostly I didn’t mind. It was annoying to have a flap of flesh hanging down but I kept believing it would shrink back… after all, the doctor said my hips would shrink back, right?

My hips did shrink back. My tummy skin did not. The hip shrinkage made the tummy non-shrinkage look worse, in fact. Chee thanks, nature.

By the time I had my fourth and final child, at age 41, it was pretty damned obvious that my tummy pooch was not ever going to shrink or otherwise stop annoying me. By the time I recuperated from the last C-sec my tummy pooch was a hideous foul thing. It hung a full FIVE inches below my pelvis. It obscured my precious parts from sight. It was bulgey and ugly and so deeply wrinkled that my navel appeared to be a cavern and I worried ridiculously about hygiene, afraid one day I’d be navel-cleaning and discover a nest of small mammals residing in it.

The worst part though, was the “flap”
I’m not talking about the piece of flesh itself, I’m talking about the SOUND it made when I moved. It made a very audible noise when I moved if I did not clothe myself carefully.
When I say “clothe myself carefully” I am being coy. Clothing myself with the pooch in mind was a process in and of itself. There needed to be cloth underneath the fold to muffle the sound it made and absorb sweat plus there needed to be cloth on top of it to help buffer the movement AND there needed to be tight cloth over the whole thing to try to tamp it down and smooth the surface appearance. After all that, I usually needed a nice loose layer to go over everything. Buying clothes was a depressing event because this flap basically added about three inches to my tummy area. If I bought high-rise pants to go over the whole thing I had to get a size 14 (42″) but if I got low-rise pants to go under the flap, my butt would sag like a gangsta wanna-be. And I don’t have a lot of butt to begin with. Short shirts were out of the question. Forget something like a halter top or bikini. HAHAHA. I wore man’s size large shirts which went to my knees and just left it like that. I looked like I was wearing my night clothes every time I went anywhere. Lets not even get into wearing a dress. I could sort of get it all under control by wearing underwear and super-tight pantyhose or tights. But dresses aren’t made to fit me anyway so to find one that was nice looking but didn’t accentuate the weird bulgey thing in my midsection was just an exercise in futility. So slovenly was my usual couture. I preferred to wear elastic band skirts with tights under and a long shirt on top. Even so, it was a production just to choose my clothes every day. Heaven forfend I went anywhere that required excessive walking. And by “excessive” I mean more than the steps it takes to get from the car to the nearest doorway. When confronted with stairs in public I nearly cried. If I was dealing with a baby and thus without any attendant hands to hold over my gut, the “flap” was thunderous to me and I often toyed with the idea of hurling myself over the stairwell just so I could break my ankle and have an excuse to NOT climb any stairs for a while. This was not a happy time for me. Moving about outside of my own house was a prospect that gave me pause more than once. Vanity? Don’t talk to me about vanity! I could have been walking around with legs like redwoods and a face only a monkey could love, and I would have been less self-conscious than having to hear that GDmnd “flap” sound every time I took a step. Oy and Vey. There were times when I chose to sit immobile just to avoid hearing it one more moment. And everyone who knows me IRL knows I hate to sit down (I’m too short, can’t see anyone, I prefer to stand) I sometimes wondered if I could get away with just using a kitchen knife and then rushing to the ER where they’d be forced to finish the job for me? Of course not, but damned if I didn’t think about it at least glibly. I wasn’t sure the requisite psychiatric brouhaha that would ensue would be worth it.

Still, it was an ever-present part of my life, this pooch. The size of it, the look of it and the sound of it were inescapable. Reminders that my body was used up, broken and worthless as an object of admiration forevermore. Which was a crying shame because at this time of my life, I was oddly more conscious of the fact that the REST of me was pretty damned awesome. It was just this horrid horrid fleshy bit that wouldn’t stop haunting me.

So, to sum it all up: the pooch had to go.

Let’s jump ahead through various and painful, related but ultimately inconsequential anecdotes about finances and just say, I got the money. Six Thousand dollars. Maybe not a princely sum to many people but it might as well have been six million for all the money I had. But fear not, I found a way to get the money. Namely, my (ex)husband got a medical loan. i would have signed away the next five years of my life to get rid of the pooch by then. Despite still having student loans and a barely treading water income, we took on a loan to pay for it. It was that important to me.

I did research and found a very highly regarded doctor who had all the certifications and stamps of approval and high reviews etc etc. He actually charged a fair price – some were jacking it to $8-10K. And I liked him too. Which is always a good thing.

So I had the surgery. Yeah of course I was scared. Surgery is scary stuff. You get put under. Someone is cutting you open. It’s a scary thought. The surgeon told me it would take anywhere from 4-8 hours. Dear gawd.

I woke up and… I really don’t remember. At all. I’m sure I was wheeled out at some point and taken home. I think I was allowed to stay at the recovery place for a day? I don’t remember. I really really don’t.
I was completely doped out of my mind. Thank goodness.
About two days later (?) I remember waking up for the gazillionth time in horrible pain. It was the day I was supposed to stop lying in bed and start moving around. I knew how important that was because I’ve had three c-secs. You need to move around as soon as possible so your blood doesn’t pool up, start forming clots, traveling to your lungs and/or heart and kill you. oR worse, clog your brain and make you a cretin for life. Yeah, so I got up.

Let me tell you… when they say abdominal lacerations are the most painful thing going, they are not kidding around.

Let me detail some things for you first.

A tummy tuck generally requires two main incisions: one straight down the middle and one horizontal, curved to your pelvis. The perpendicular incision usually goes around your navel which is removed for repositioning. The cuts do NOT go through your muscles but your muscles are rearranged to go back to your midsection (where they were before you got pregnant and had an alien try to split you in two) The abdominal muscles are then stitched together tightly in order to stay in place while you heal. The flesh is cut according to the pre-op drawing they do on your belly (yes they actually draw it on you first. With a sharpie), the navel is then fit back into the new cuts. Liposuction is applied in certain areas to flatten it smooth and the fascia is rigged into place (might be sewn, might just be pushed and held in place by overskin) then the skin is sewn back together. In layers. The inside is sewn with individual sutures and the outside is stapled. Then more liposuction to finish the ‘sculpting” and they start covering everything up with massive amounts of bandages and tape.
Unfortunately the curved pelvis cut is right on top of your pelvic bone so the tape is afixed on top of the pubic hair that is right at the top. Myep. WOW does that hurt.
Anyway, while they are sewing your midsection, you may (I opted for it and paid extra) get a lidocaine drip inside. And by “inside” I mean a loooooooooong tube about the size of an old fashioned stereo speaker wire is left inside you alongside the midsection cut. There is a tube on each side of the cut. There are holes all along the tube. The tubes are connected to a lidocaine drip “machine”. I say that in quotes because when we examined it, it turned out to work solely on the principle of vacuum. The tubes are connected to a large hospital-grade plastic bulb of lidocaine housed in a small box. The ‘caine hangs around your neck and using vacuum pressure it leaks slowly out. There’s nothing mechanical about it but it’s kind of nifty. It ekes ‘caine inside you right next to your incision.
Because incision pain is no freakin joke, yo. How do I know this? Because despite having this wondrous “machine”, I still was in horrible horrendous pain. I could still feel the incision, just in a muted kind of way. But trust me, its bad enough there’s probably not enough painkiller in the world that would make that go away without death. It actually felt like someone was still slicing me open down the middle, just in a slightly softened, muted kind of way.

So I woke up with my entire midsection bandaged heavily and tape tugging on my pubic hair and a weird thingie hanging off my neck and a catheter in my urethra and two tubes attached to bulbs one on each side of me to catch internal fluids. But I was supposed to “move around”

Myep.

So. My life became a dull hazy repetition of movement and pain. I was lying in an armchair (you can’t lie down flat because getting up and laying down requires bending at the waist, which you can’t do because of all the bandaging. and it hurts like hell. Like pass-out kind of hurt) with my feet up in compression stockings wearing the skankiest, most People-of-Wal-mart kind of dressing “gown” with a box of ‘caine hanging off my neck and two plastic bulbs of bloody fluid pinned to each side of my gown. I am a classy kinda gal you betcha.
The catheter, luckily, was taken out on the second? third? day. taking it out kind of hurts but hell you time those pain meds right and who cares, amirite? I would get up whenever I was cognizant enough to remember it and start shuffling around. I’d usually shuffle to the bathroom whereupon I would start the procedure to sit on the toilet.

Unsnap gown. Unpin bulbs of bloody fluid. Put each bulb in a pocket. Pull spanx down (you have to wear spanx to help compress against the massive inflammation. more on that in a minute) partway. Take each BoBF and gently, carefully, duck it under the spanx to get the tube free and put it back in the pocket. Finish pulling down spanx. Shift ‘caine box to the side so it doesn’t bang into the toilet during the next move. Brace one hand under, on the toilet seat and one hand against he wall (pain meds make you kind of unsteady). using all the strength in your arms, lower self as SLOWLY as possible with back as straight as possible, down to the toilet until backside makes contact. it helps to lean to the side. Do business while trying not to cry out in agony. Rest a second or two. Do the wiping. Brace arms again for rising up. ONce upright, pull spanx partly up. Duck BoBF back under spanx so tubes are coming out from bottom of underwear. Pin each BoBF to the gown again. Snap gown. Swing ‘caine box back around to front (this is important step to remember otherwise the box is likely to swing unexpectedly and either clock you in the chest or catch on something like a doorknob while exiting the bathroom)Exit bathroom. Check BoBF to see if they need emptying. They always do. Follow procedure to empty BoBF. Try not to gag on the smell of bloody fluid. Put bulbs back on tubes with severe suction such that you can feel it pulling the fluids out of you. Shuffle back to the chair of doom. Repeat variation of toilet maneuver in order to rest in armchair. yay. I moved around.

So there’s these bulbs of bloody fluid. They are the drains coming out of your incision. They allow the body to release inflammation liquid without making your sutures pop from the pressure. It’s T-cell white cell interferon I don’t fucking know what the hell it is: its bloody, it smells gag-alicious and you have to not just empty it periodically, you have to measure the fluid, sanitize it all down with rubbing alcohol and write down the fluid volume on a chart. yeah. Fun times, my friends.

Let us not forget: you also have to get a shot of blood thinner in your thigh every day. Since this is an intra-muscular shot, the needle is pretty effing big. Like “don’t look at it” kinda big. The shot itself is pretty big too. I know because I had to get that shot for ten days in a row and the shots came in a box which was about 6″ tall. So it wasn’t like a little prick, it actually took a couple of seconds to push it in. You may not think a couple of seconds is much but when someone is forcing burning liquid into your thigh muscle slowly, you perception of time changes. Hurt like a mofo to get it every damned day. We wouldn’t let Lil Miss into the room because I didn’t want her traumatized by seeing me get that shot. I know my husband was not exactly loving having to give it to me when I’d cry out during the giving. Who likes hurting someone who’s already suffering? Nobody human.

So that was my basic daily routine for ten days. I shuffled and drained and toileted and sat and popped pain meds and shuffled and slept and hurt and hurt and hurt.
Somewhere around the fifth, sixth? Day I began to actually feel some differentiation in my hurt. I will share them all with you!

Of course the incision hurts. Its the first thing to hurt and the pain of it is bright, sharp and slicing. Imagine a paper cut across your midsection and pelvis. Now spray some of that green throat stuff on it. That’s what it felt like. It pretty much drowned out the pain of everything else. But somewhere before the first week was up, the pain of that receded just the tiniest bit and I noticed the myriad other pains.

Muscle pain. You think you know muscle pain? You work out or you sprained your ankle or you tore a ligament? Yeah, that’s pain. But you don’t KNOW pain until you’ve had abdominal surgery that causes the muscles to cramp up over and over which pulls against internal stitching at the same time.
I’ve been in labor and it hurts, I will not lie. This pain was verrrry similar but guess what? It was way worse.
Uterine contractions are cramps, yes. You can feel them when they happen. The uterus is large and cramping against a solid object inside of it so it’s essentially trying to squeeze the object out like closing a fist around a bar of half-used soap. But the muscle cramps of the tummy tuck are amazing breath-taking cramps that made me do nothing but sob. And that’s WITH high-dosage lortab. Those cramps were so hard (you could feel them, hell you could SEE them from the outside) that more than once I actually wondered if my body was going to tear something of its own accord. The cramps were so hard that it actually restricted my breathing. At one point I was sobbing and shuffling half-bent to the bathroom where I got a towel, put it under the hot tap until steam was rising from it and slapped it on my belly. My skin turned bright red and my husband said something about burning myself but I could not hear anything. Those cramps put childbirth to SHAME. The saddest part of it was that nobody, not the doctor, the nurse, the PA, the office girls, not even the literature had mentioned anything about muscle cramping. I had NO idea this was going to happen. I do believe the first time it happened I called the surgeon’s office terrified and of course they told me it was perfectly normal.
If I forget everything else about my tummy tuck, I’m sure the only way I could forget the abdominal muscle cramps is if I suffered brain damage.
And those cramps went on for longer than a week.

Believe it or not, the bandages and tape hurt. Some of it was because the tape went over my pubic hair as I mentioned, but some of it was actually because my skin was reacting to the tape or the glue in the tape. At some point I could not stand the feel of it in one little area – about 2×2″- and began to prise some of the tape off. I ended up cutting some of the bandaging away from that area. There was no stitching or incision in that area so I figured it was reasonably safe to do so. But the affected spot was seriously inflamed. Angry red and starting to weep. I smeared it with antibacterial ointment and tried to keep it untouched. Then there was the pubic hair tape. I ended up prising some of that loose as well. Because, as is typical, the top of my mons was shaved to facilitate the surgery and when the hair started growing back, it was underneath a ton of surgical tape. This is not a recipe for happiness. So I prised the edges of that off and retaped it with store-brand bandage tape in a looser way. Lil better. My hair follicles were not amused.

I could feel some pain around the incisions, as noted, but it was muted and weird. Partly because of the ‘caine drip but also because the surgery had cut many nerves which were now “dead”. So the incision area had a lot of numbness in it but there were plenty of nerves that had *not* been severed so there was also plenty of feeling. Combo: deadened-but-really-painful.

Because narcotic pain killers don’t confuse the brain enough, yanno?

But I have not said anything about pain killers here.
Yes, I had a nice big scrip for narcotic pain killers. I also had a prior scrip for lower-dosage pain killers from a previous condition.
The problem was that, as nice as lortab is (and it IS, I loves my lortab) it barely covered the pain I was feeling. At least for the first two weeks.
Part of the problem is dosage: generally everyone is allowed to have ONE pill every 6 hours. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are, how your body metabolizes food, how your body processes medicine, or how high your pain level is. You get one pill every six hours. So that is what we stuck to.
As many pain sufferers know, that *might* have worked for some people, but it didn’t work for me.
I’d get about 2-4 decent hours of pain killing with that dosage. In those 2-4 hours, I’d have about one hour of blissful COMPLETELY pain-free time which I would use to recline and sleep. The other 1-3 hours, I’d just feel slightly unhinged from mild pain. But it was enough panacea to keep me moving and do a little socializing with my family. The last 2 hours of every dose was hell. I’d feel every single incision, bruise, irritation and cramp in my entire surgical area. And there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t do the internet, I couldn’t do much of anything worth a damned in those 2 hours. Just sit dully waiting for my next dose and hope that maybe I could sleep the two hours away. I cried, I whimpered, I gulped a lot and I shuffled around trying to stay distracted. But those 2 hours… I hated my body and I hated the world.

So, to sum it up: the first ten days of recovery were Dante-style hell. I actually remember it in a sort of hazy blur of pain and bathroom trips swirling around that green chair I lived in.

Ten days out, I got my bandages removed completely. and the staples along my midsection were removed. My midsection incision was actually healing really nicely. It was weird as could be to see my navel as a puzzle piece fitted into my body but it was heartening to see my navel as an actual bellybutton instead of a miniature spelunker’s paradise. My pelvic incision was not looking so hot. Of course, this is where all the fluid collects (yay gravity) and where most of the bruising occurs as well. My incision was not healing uniformly either. But I knew that was “normal” from my last c-sec. I no longer needed the drains and so they were removed.

Let me tell you something: having someone pull long thin tubes out of your abdomen is a very weird experience.
I had no idea those tubes were so long. I’d guess about 2-3 feet. So now perhaps you can see that having someone pull them out of you is a bit on the surreal side of life.
How do they do it? By fooling you!
I was lying down on the exam table, they had just taken out my staple and checked everything over (including that raw reactive area I told you about earlier which they wanted me to keep putting antibiotic ointment on it)
Then the PA says to me “look in the other direction. Great, now I’m going to count to three. When I get to three I want you to take a deep breath and hold it.Then I’ll pull the tubes out. Okay?”
I was ready.
“one”
“two”
AND SHE PULLED THEM OUT AS I WAS SUCKING MY BREATH IN
I can only guess this was done to keep me from screaming.
I’ll be honest, it didn’t hurt very much but it was so squick-inducingly weird that I probably would have cried out in some form if she had not surprised me like that.
Now of course that only works once. And there’s two tubes. But I played along anyway.

After the Bulbs of Bloody Fluid were gone, I had to make sure the open holes they formerly occupied were kept clean and dry. One side closed up almost immediately. The other side didn’t. For almost another week. Another call the to surgeon’s office. Not totally “normal” I’m told but not to worry about unless it starts seeming infected. Hokay.

Next up on the “things to get a little anxious about” was the pelvic incision itself. It wasn’t completely closed when they took all the staples out either but they didn’t seem too concerned about that. It was closed on the inside and I remembered from my last c-sec that that was okay. The outside would close later so long as I kept it as clean and dry as possible. I was told I could debride it occasionally but not to go too crazy with that. Debriding is when you swipe an astringent on an open wound. Its a little squicky but it doesn’t generally hurt and it appeals to the germ-worrier in me.
So two weeks after the surgery and I still had the ‘caine box and an incision that was partially open and weeping as well as a hole in one side that was also open and weeping.

Did I mention that I had to wear spanx during this entire ordeal?
Yes, compression garments are an absolute must. It helps compress the swelling, hold everything in place while you move around and it maintains the integrity of the surgery during healing.
I had never worn spanx in my life. I had no idea what to even buy when we went shopping for them before the surgery. I wish I could remember but I think we got two of a size small and later he had to go back and get me two medium or maybe it was the other way around??
The ones we got originally were so tight, I felt I couldn’t breathe and they left deep purple marks in my waist. So the husband cut a notch in the waistband. It helped tremendously.
Oh remember I said I’d stifle a cry when going to the bathroom? That was because of removing the spanx. Wearing compression on swollen tissue may not feel great but removing said compression during the healing time is a whole new level of agony. Fluids rush in, tissue swells up, gravity feels doubled and everything suddenly is just kicked up a notch or two. That means that when its times to put the compression garment back on, there’s NEW swelling to compress. Which is a refresher course in generalized pain as well. There were a few times I opted to keep the spanx off for a few more minutes just to give my body some time to calm the hell down. It seemed to help actually.

After about twenty days it was time to take the ‘caine tubes out. The bulb was pretty much done dripping. I called the office but it would be a few days before I could get an appointment to get them removed. I didn’t feel very comfortable with the notion of having the tubes sitting around in me no longer fulfilling their purpose so I asked if perhaps we could take them out. The office assured me it was perfectly fine. Just pull them out. I think there were some instructions somewhere… either verbally or in text… but the gist of it was “grab the tubes at the top and pull upwards until they come out”

And I thought the Bulbs of Bloody Fluid tubes were long? Dear gawd.
Because the ‘caine was all done, I could feel those wire-thin tubes snaking their way through me, over my organs, along the front of my stomach muscles and my diaphragm. Yay more squicky. And yes, they were bloody. The holes closed almost immediately. But I noticed the scars of the holes lasted a long time. I can still see them; two tiny spots of white.

So after two weeks, I was finally tube and bulb free but still had a open wound or two to deal with. I could finally move around upright, lie down (carefully) and go to the bathroom without wanting to stab anyone. I still needed my pain meds and I still had some serious issues with how things were looking down there but over all… I was finally recovering.

It took about two months for my incision to totally heal shut and start to scar up. I used special silicone tape that really is amazing. But I used it TOO much and it began to wear away some of my “good” skin. Still, I have almost no scarring along my pelvis. I still have some childbirth stretch marks but I could care less. The surgeon had asked me about them, if I wanted any extra work done for those and I told him “those are nothing to me; they are cosmetic. I Don’t care about cosmetic, I just want to wear regular clothes again”

It took about six months for my bellybutton scars to fade enough that I am not reminiscent of Frankenhooker.

Sadly, I did end up with the dreaded “dog ear” on one side. That is a surgical issue whereby the end of the incision doesn’t close up tightly enough and it hangs forward just a bit, kind of like a flopping dog ear. One side is fine but the other, not so fine. It only bothered me because I could FEEL the skin (barely)touching me in that one spot. The traumatic memories of the pooch probably make me a bit oversensitive about that sort of thing, though. I thought about someday going back to get corrective surgery, because I know it can be done in an office visit under local, but really, it’s not a big deal. Now I’m glad I chose not to worry about it, because it’s been nearly a year since the surgery and I’ve noticed that the “dog ear” has decreased enough to where it doesn’t look like a dog ear anymore… more just a little extra fat now. I think wearing Spanx 3x a week is still helping. Or maybe it’s the increased activity i’ve been doing in the last couple of months.

The appearance of my stomach has changed several times since the surgery. Once the swelling had gone down, while my abdominals were still tight and cramped, I actually had a sort of washboard kind of thing going on. I was tickled because I never looked like that in my life! It was kind of cool. But it didn’t stay that way. Frankly I’m glad: it was odd looking on me and it also restricted my breathing. Once my muscles loosened up and stopped cramping, my stomach became the basic round thing I’d had long before bearing children. This was what I wanted. I had not seen THAT stomach since my 20s and I was very glad to see it again. The “washboard” thing wasn’t me. I thought it was kind of interesting, but it wasn’t me. The lipo that was done is kind of interesting as well because I hadn’t realized that I could have a bit of contour to my stomach either. I suppose it is just age but I dont’ think I ever had those contours. But its subtle and I like it.

The most important thing, however, is the clothes.

I now can shop at a department store for pants and get a size 11. Low rise, medium rise, it doesn’t matter (high rise goes to my ribs) I’m still a size 11 pants. I can wear shirts that fit me now. I have a couple of dresses now and I wear them WITHOUT tights.
I bought shorts.
I bought a sexy slip.
I wear tank tops.
I put on a pair of daisy dukes (although I felt super-silly) and looked at my belly button.

I put on a bikini. And posed for a picture.

And I smiled.

Miley Cyrus dances, sings AND acts… or did you forget?

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/pop_star

Awesome. We’re so post-feminist, aren’t we?

So, the charge is that Miley Cyrus has no talent. Because she’s done some provocative things, she is disgusting and shamefully slutty. Unlike so many other female singers

Obviously what Cyrus is doing is just gross and horrible. She gyrates in a fashion similar to sex workers.  Heaven knows a woman acting in a provocative manner only happens when the woman has nothing else of value to offer. Because female talent exists separate from sexuality. We likes em sexy, yeah, but not TOO sexy, ya unnerstan? Cuz that’s just eww. A REAL talent doesn’t do things like that. Nope.

(remember this song? The one about a girl who disses her ex because he didn’t propose? Although she was quick to let him know she doesn’t care about money or gifts, she’s not “that kind of girl”)

Next thing you know, Cyrus is grand marshall of the outrage parade again. Her new video, “Wrecking Ball” has NUDITY in it. Actual NUDITY.  So I watched it and I didn’t really feel like the smelling salts were necessary. In “Wrecking Ball” Cyrus sings a power ballad -not half bad actually, if you like power ballads – and does her usual sexy posturing and posing. I personally get “pena ajena” during the shots of her licking the sledgehammer but hey that’s me.. I get pena ajena often, actually. Other than that, the video seems to be fairly run-of-the-mill. Just with some nudity. Not that you can SEE it – the nudity – you just know she’s nude. So really? Nothing to get uptight about at all. Rather tame, by my standards.

Then I look at the reactions to “Wrecking Ball”

The comments… dear lord.

http://mashable.com/2013/09/09/miley-cyrus-wrecking-ball-video/

Let’s go back. During the 80s when music videos really took off and young people were watching them  with the frequency that we now reserve for checking our phones, videos nearly always had posturing and posing of young women in barely dressed fashions. Although there was some talk in the more conservative media with occasional pearl-clutching over hyper-sexualization, no one (besides feminists) ever really got heavily riled about women in music videos when the music was made by men. They only ever (and still) care about women in music videos when its the woman making the music. Now, if you put sexually suggestive MEN in the video, that might get people upset, especially if said men appeared to be objectified.

-that video stirred a hornet’s nest of outrage. (before the internet!) and eventually it was remade without the naked men sitting on the floor. As you probably know (or could guess) it was originally made to poke at the trope of music videos always chock-full of near-naked women. Oddly, this was one time when the charge of “no talent whores!” was not levied. Instead, mention was made of the singer’s sexual appeal (of course) or lack thereof depending on who you were reading. It was even posited that the reason they used near-naked men was because the singer herself was probably ugly. So there you are: if you make yourself sexually appealing, you have no talent. If you don’t bother to be sexy, then you must be ugly and talent doesn’t matter.

But, okay what’s got people all aflutter about Cyrus isn’t whether she is sexually appealing,  no, its that she acts sexual. The criticism is that she pushes the envelope in order to make up for lack of talent. Because, the logic goes, if she was talented, she wouldn’t NEED to pose sexually and talented people don’t do that, right?

(I don’t think I need to post ANOTHER video of a talented female musician who acts sexy. Pretty sure you get the drift by now)

It is definitely important to notice that this contradiction is never aimed at male artists. However, think about that… if showing near-naked females in obviously titillating forms translates into a lack of talent then shouldn’t that mean the men who show near-naked females in their videos are also of questionable talent? Watch any two or three heavy metal videos. You’ll probably have 50% of the eye-time devoted to near-naked females posing sexually. Now, if you’re a female musician, obviously there ought to be a lot of camera resting on your female form – after all you are the star – but if you’re male, and you are the star, WHY would you devote even 30% of the video to showing people who do not have anything to do with the making of the song? Isn’t that a way to distract the audience from the fact that you have nothing of value to offer? Yet for all the accusations of Heavy Metal’s unworthiness as a musical genre, the argument of “distraction via sex” during videos was never used.  No one has brought up the presence of sexy girls to prove an artists lack of talent. Not during a male artist’s video.

During female musician’s videos, it is brought up all the time. Because regardless of whether a female is talented or not, there is always a contingent convinced that no female can possibly be “successful” in any realm without sexual appeal replacing actual skill and/or talent. Despite the fact that female musicians nearly always promote themselves through sexually suggestive videos. Because that is what we want, what we expect. But sometimes we don’t like it?

Where is the line? Why is it sometimes Okay for a woman to be talented and sexy but not talented and sexual?

Why does sexuality and talent have to be such a battle in our minds? (and of course it isn’t limited to artistic talent/skill whatsoever http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/07/26/who-gets-to-be-a-geek-anyone-who-wants-to-be/)

We don’t seem to have this struggle when it comes to male sexuality and talent…

Many people criticize Robin Thicke’s talent and some criticized his performance during the VMA but no one yet has put the two together and said “Because Thicke postures in a sexually suggestive manner, he clearly has no talent”  No one’s even suggested that his need for numerous scantily clad females in his videos (and live performance) is a clear indication of his lack of talent. Hell you’d think just his taste in clothes might garner some suspicion as to his merits.

No, for men, talent is measured by output. Occasionally other aspects of the man will be mentioned but generally that’s to explain or bolster a criticism about their talent/skill alone.

For women, talent can be measured against sexual appeal, money, connections and output. There’s so many ways to denigrate and dismiss a woman’s creative output! You might want to study her output alone but you can add other aspects of her femininity as well! You aren’t limited to JUST criticizing her output, no, you can criticize her output AND her body, weight, face, makeup-job, hair, age, spouse or lover, number of lovers, and most importantly HER CLOTHES. Oh heavens there’s so much to criticize about every creative woman’s clothes.

You think that’s ridiculous? Not true? Has justifications?

One of the Cyrus memes going around showed her butt from the VMA and likened it to a frozen chicken. Because her derriere popped out of the bottom of her obviously inflexible shorts. Shoddy workmanship, I say. Apparently I know nothing of musical talent because her “chicken butt” was reason enough to declare her talentless.

Yes, Miley Cyrus’s artistic merit can be divined by how well her butt fits into her shorts. And her dancing. And hell, why not? Let’s add “her hair” to the mix too.

“Hello, welcome to Sport Talk! Today we’re going over the big game in Idaho. John, the entire game hinged upon the last ten seconds of the game. I’m talking, specifically when Bob Baller fumbled, of course”
“Right you are Terry, Bob Baller  has been quarterbacking for the Idaho Potatoheads for barely six months now but its clear that his glory days of college ball are over”

“Too true, John. And of course we all know when this happened…”

“yes, we do, Terry. Here’s a picture of Baller the day of that fateful game”

“OOOOH! Wouldja look at that! Well that seals it. It’s clear that Baller is no athlete”

“I’m afraid not Terry. Its, its just almost disgusting, I can barely look at him”

“I understand John. Unbelievable how  this could happen”

“well when you have no talent, Terry, this is what you get. Obviously the owners of the Potatoheads are just looking to make a fast buck off of Baller’s imaginary quarterbacking. I mean, years of practice, years of playing?… clearly Baller never played a football game in his life”

“clearly, John. I mean, just look at that hair. Makes me want to puke”

“Yes, Terry, I think its safe to say that Baller will never be a REAL football player. Not with hair like that. Baller is clearly out of control”

“Clearly”

Social Media

Look at this Cartoon .

Social Media. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, G+, Reddit, Livejournal – those are only the ones I’m somewhat familiar with. Those are the generalized ones. There’s many more that are specialized too. Videosift, Youtube, dailymotion, Foursquare, Linkedin…

All virtual meeting-places. Forums, communities, groups, hangouts, guilds elists and PMs. We know what they are and how they’re used. Despite different tools, commands and symbols, they all do basically the same thing: bring people together online to share with each other.

The general consensus is that it is sucking up our socializing. We no longer rely on “real-time” or “face time”. We don’t interact on a daily basis in a “normal” way. Social media is making us all strangers. Social media is stealing our potential quality time. Social media is engulfing us in virtual reality and we are letting life slip by unnoticed. Our children are neglected, our work is sub-standard and our interactions are minimized. We are addicted to unreal relationships.

What did we do before social media?

The general consensus is that we actually made plans to see each other. We had conversations, went out and got to know each other. We looked at each other. We acknowledged one  another. We had “real” relationships.  Parents paid attention to their kids, SigOths went on dates, and we had hobbies that didn’t require looking at a screen.

Did we really?

All my life I’ve been fascinated with paucity. I read Lois Lenski and the “little house” series. I imagined what life was like without electricity, indoor plumbing or interstate commerce. Reading by candlelight, sitting on a latrine and relying on a garden for dinner…. not things I romanticized or wanted, but fascinated by nonetheless.  All my life I’ve been grateful to live when I do; no slavery, women can vote, and modern “conveniences” like light, heat and ready food. There’s many thing I remember “the old fashioned way” – stick shift driving, gas heaters without thermostats, fans instead of air conditioners, ovens that had to be lit.

I remember everyone using cash to pay for things. A check was a huge hold-up at the store and a calculator that you could put in your purse was an amazing thing. Credit cards were for emergencies or rich people. In fact, rich people didn’t use credit cards much either; they had “line of credit” at stores and could simply walk in, pick things out, and have them delivered to their home and billed later.

Being billed later… the doctor, the grocer, the dress shop,… that’s what rich people did. Everyone else did “lay-away”  Credit was a luxury.

When you were growing up, what did you think was “luxurious”?

I thought having a house with more than one floor was luxurious.  One of my earliest dreams was to own a house with a master staircase. And have a credit card. And two phone lines.  And being able to buy a new tire for my car. A NEW tire. That was “luxury” to me.

I remember when answering machines arrived. My parents refused one for a very very long time. My parents are not luddites, but they are logical: “if we buy an item, it will be because we NEED it” was their main philosophy on purchasing things. Because of course, we were very poor.  So an answering machine? “Pah! If we’re not here, what’s the point of a machine telling people we’re not here? they can call back later!”

Then “call waiting” happened. It annoyed my mother. But I was a teenager and my penchant for phone conversations that lasted all night forced my parents to rationalize paying for call waiting. They saw the logic in the purchase the same day we got it. But they didn’t buy an answering machine until they became landlords.

I remember car seats for babies. Shoulder seat belts. VCRs.

But what I remember most?  What changed everything for my family?

Programmable calculators.

My father bought one as soon as they were available. My father has a degree in physic engineering. Nuff said, right?

My father loved the programmable calculator so much he bought the next version as soon as it came out and gave me his old one. I was eleven. That was my first lesson in programming. Looking back, what I learned would be akin to what’s called a “script” or “macro” today- a short program that tells the computer to do a series of steps it already can do. Instead of having to input every step individually, the script or macro calls up the series of steps with one button. We thought this was amazing. I’d been to IBM on a field trip in school more than once so I knew what a computer was. And here was something very much like a computer, that fit into my backpack. Amazing.

So of course PCs came out. Of course my father got one. Like most early nerds, he bought a kit and built it himself. He learned rapidly. He taught some to me. I knew basic before high school. I fiddled with machine code. I learned to make pictures with ASCII.  Fun times.

So what were we doing, socially, back then? Were we really a culture of people going outside all the time, walking around looking at each other, making eye contact and starting up conversations with strangers? Were parents paying rapt attention to their kids in the evenings? Did families go out and do all sorts of “organic” fun? Were we all really acknowledging each other all the time? Were we all full of so much social time that we engaged one another constantly? or even continually? did we use the phone to call each other all the time? did we write letters left and right? Were we a nation of hobbyists and athletes and artists producing and creating and generally making life pleasant without gadgetry?

Well yes, we were.

Did we do it so much more than we do now?

Well no, not really.

We didn’t stop doing any of those things. We haven’t retreated into a silent world of screen-gazing and info-sharing while neglecting the real flesh and blood of relationships any more than we used to sit every night around a campfire and sing kum-bah-ya with locked arms and loving glances.

What we did was trade. In some cases, we traded one type of communication that was cumbersome and time-consuming for much more efficient version of the same.

Do people sit down and write letters that they will later mail at the post office later? Some.  Mostly, people write emails. It’s an exchange that actually broadened the scope of communication and made interaction more commonplace.  Because “snail mail” letter-writing required a significant investment of time, money and mental energy, it wasn’t something everyone did. When a person did choose to write a letter, it was an endeavor which could take up much of their resources and as such meant the letter had to justify said effort. Of course, some people didn’t write their own letters to begin with. Many people would hire someone else more skilled to write on their behalf. Because of this, letter-writing was considered something of a talent; one could actually gain a reputation as a “good letter-writer”. Sending someone your thoughts, ideas and questions wasn’t something to be done lightly. So many people didn’t do it at all. Think of all those thoughts, ideas and questions that never got put out. All that information, clarification and interaction that never happened.

Email erased that and gave the power to exchange to everyone almost equally.

I hear the lamentation that grammar and spelling have gone out the window with the advent of social media and the internet. Some think its because the internet has made people stop caring, taking pride in their expression. I think the internet, for all its egalitarian beauty, merely opened the floodgates for those who are not talented or skilled in letter-writing to attempt to interact anyway. No longer is letter-writing an intimidating prospect that could eat up considerable time and energy. Now anyone can do it, so long as the “rules” for exchange have softened.

Do people sit and have conversations via phone or gathering like they used to? Of course they do. But social media has changed that landscape too. No longer does one have to be subject to the influence of whoever happens to be in their vicinity; with social media, one can choose to interact with whatever type and strata of person they like at any time. Barely speak English? Know nothing about current events? Only interested in discussing llama farming? Find your group online and start talking! now!  Introduce yourself – ah remember that? “introduce yourself”  used to be one of the most dreaded phrases in social gatherings. Standing in front of a crowd of strangers, you had to on-the-spot come up pertinent information about yourself that would entice people to want to know you, accept you and validate you.

Strangers you say? Bah! Why waste time with strangers when you could find an online “gathering” of people you share things in common with. Take as long as you need to write your introduction. Read other people’s posts so you can get a feel for how this group functions and whether you are “on their level” or not. If you realize you’re out of your depth, or sailing above everyone else, you can leave quietly and no one will even remember or care that you stopped by. It’s all in your hands. And if you want, at any time the “real world” is still out there, waiting for you to go join it. But now when you do, you can set your stage beforehand using social media. Much of the dreadful, terrifying unknown has been swept away from socializing now. No more standing around with total strangers wondering how to break the ice, present yourself and find out who everyone is. When you get to your meet-up you come armed with important knowledge that allows you to bypass hours of awkward fumbling and guessing.

So what is all this really building to? What are we getting from social media that isn’t being talked about?

Social media gives us one thing we have never had so much of before in our long history of socializing: the power of independent choice.

Social media is so seductive, attractive and wonderful because while it fulfils our need to be social, it also allows us to control everything about our socializing. Even the power to retreat, if we want to. Often with very little repercussions.

Think back… when you first started getting online, what did you do? When you first started dipping into social media (in my case it was IRC) did you make “mistakes”? How long did it take you to figure out “how this thing works”? Once you figured one social media out -the rules, the rituals, the expectations and of course the tools, how hard was it to move on to another type of social media and figure it out?

Social media doesn’t define our culture. It doesn’t supplant “normal” socializing. It hasn’t killed “facetime” nor has it erased the need for relationships. It has expanded our reach, broadened our capacity for inclusion and lowered the price of interaction for everyone equally.  It has also allowed us to reimagine ourselves as social creatures. The person I am when I play an online game is not quite the same person I am when I discuss current events on a forum. the person I am on my public blog is not the same person I am on my friends-only blog, my facebook, my twitter, my emails… who I am is what I want to be, who I think I need to be for each unique online situation.

I have recently learned something new as well: I am not required to stay the same on any social media. I have grown all my life and social media is no different. My growth has included many lessons about myself, people I know and the world around me. But some of my favorite lessons have been about social media itself and how its changed my expectations and my interactions. I realized recently that I do not have to feel beholden to anyone for an explanation unless I am on a neutral-ownership place. If it is MY facebook, MY blog or MY twitter, I owe no one anything in explanation or expectation. But when I am on a forum, an email list, or any other group, I am no more important or less than any one else in that same  group. I have never felt more equality than when in online discussions. Despite the fact that there are still bigots, assholes and patronizing jerks, the general tenor of online groups are egalitarian. We are all anonymous to some degree and yet we all have reputations as well. We gather personality traits over time like any other form of socializing. Yet because of the differences in online interactions and “real life” interaction, those traits are seen more as individual traits than indicators of whatever classifications of humanity I belong to. I may have a reputation for being quick-tempered and mouthy but I am not taken to be the token spokesperson for all white, disabled, female bisexuals. My traits are indicative of ME. Unlike many “real time” interactions wherein any type of noticeable reactive traits can easily be considered hallmarks of “your kind”  The anonymity of the online world is good like that.

Lastly, I want to touch upon the intricate nature of social media’s place in parenting. Obviously, I am a big fan of parenting forums as my recent post about Special Needs Parenting forums clearly showed.  But overall, social media has given parents a gift that has no ‘real life” component: individualized networking.

Before social media, parents had magazines and some books. If you wanted to meet other parents, the best you could do was to join the PTA or church group. If you did, you had to hope there were other parents who had similiar parenting philosophies but more importantly, you had to hope that your philosophies were NOT the type to get you branded as “one of THOSE parents” by the majority of wherever you were. Because if you went to your local school and mentioned an unpopular parenting idea…  you were stuck for the next 12 years. You could be outcast, ostracized, gossip-fodder possibly even harassed through CPS if you said the “wrong” thing. So parents have gained solidarity in social media but they have also gained something more valuable: understanding and acceptance. Which goes both ways. Nowadays, even if you live in backwater USA and your entire PTA goes to church every day of the week, think Jesus rode dinosaurs and women must wear hats everywhere they go, even then, you still have heard of other parenting philosophies. You may not like them, you may think they are weird, but , you’ve heard of them and you know, whether grudgingly or happily, that you must have some level of tolerance.

And that first tiny foot-in-the-door of tolerance? Is better than humanity has had for the last thousand or so years.

Because of social media.

So yes, go out occasionally. Talk to people sometimes. Smile at strangers. Enjoy “real life” interaction. Its just as wonderful as its always been. But I suspect people haven’t stopped doing those things or craving them.

People just need to be reminded once in a while that social media enhances interaction, even as it doesn’t replace it. They live side-by-side, supporting each other. Use them both wisely.