Thursday, March 19, 2009

Othello 2

There is an article in the NYT today called "Teenage Girls Stand by their Man'. Apparently it is shocking and surprising to the writer, and several people interviewed, that teenage girls would want to blame Rhianna for getting smacked around by Chris Brown. The article is in the fashion and style section. Of course! Because only girls who want pretty purses care about this whole silly thing anyway.
The thing that sends me off the deep end is the ending, where a teacher suggests that the way to get these kids thinking is to have them write a new ending for Othello, one where Desdemona gets help in time. What would that look like? Perhaps adding a time machine, or the intervention of Jesus, or both would help, as it did in my current favorite film Hamlet 2. I mean, why should anybody have to die in a tragic play? It's a bummer, and it wrecks the sequel because the cast is all dead. And if we can rewrite Shakespeare, we can rewrite the private lives of pop stars, and then maybe our whole culture. Are you happy now? Good.
Okay, lets do this. But before we do I need to mention one of my all time favorite student papers. One of my students wrote a paper about Othello a few years back. The thesis was " Othello killed Desdemona because she was a cheating whore, and if my girlfriend cheated on me I would kill her too.". I had to hold still and breathe just a little before I gently suggested that he might have missed the part where Iago set her up, or that other part in class where we talked about how the whole double standard made it possible for him to do that.
Here is my suggested new ending for Othello. Jesus beams down in the time machine and holds a prayer circle ( kind of like the Bush in the Oliver Stone version) and everybody suddenly realizes that Iago is a manipulative sociopath ( who needs hugs, and prozac) this leads to the awarenesses that women have just as much right to sexual agency as men, being genuinely kind and pure and loving is so much more important than silly gossip, and come to think of it war is wrong, and so is racism. Everyone becomes gender neutral, a similar shade of pretty blue, gently environmentally socialist, and then they sing, loudly, about how therapy is going to help everyone. Curtain fades, as they all wander off to the female orgasm meditation circle. Aw.
Then Jesus gets back in the time machine and lands on the White House lawn. Soon Republicans and Democrats are similarly overcome with so much empathy and genuine hope for social justice that it feels like a warm bath on ecstacy. It spreads world wide, ending violence, oppression, bad taste, reality television, and pms. Did I mention that all world religions suddenly realize that they share a ban on killing and a do unto others rule, that if followed would end war and the necessity to carp about religion? Just love each other people. Stand by your man, stand by your woman, and stand by your designer purse. Fade out.

Monday, March 16, 2009

More Thoughts on Parenting

I mentioned to my daughter that I was blogging about sex talks with the young teens. She found this more hilarious, in an ironic doesn't even begin to cover it way, than I had anticipated. Apparently I am well qualified to tell people what not to do- and may in fact be uniquely able to describe how to be horrifying, inappropriate, and just all around gross- so that others may avoid my monstrous fate.
1) Remember that if you lie you will probably get caught. While I got very good results from my story that the break down lane on the highway was a place for parents who had lost all patience with sibling squabbles to get some back up from the state police- I did lose a small amount of credibility when it was revealed that sometimes the police were actually disciplining the driver.
2) At the same time, keep in mind that if you tell the truth you are probably setting a bad example. If your child asks you " did you ever try acid?" it is not a good idea to explain that mushrooms give a more interesting and organic high. Kids will ask specific questions- don't answer them. Use the question to find out why they want to know. What have you heard about acid? Then try to a science teacher approach to the facts. When asked " did you ever have sex with more than one person at a time?" the correct answer is " do people actually do that?".
3) If you are still friends with anybody who knew you well in those interesting and fun filled teen years, try to avoid getting into big remember when conversations when your children are within twenty miles. One fun story about how mom used to jump off the roof on a dare, just like that great pool scene in "Almost Famous" can undue years of discretion.
4) If at all possible, drive the car pool from time to time. If that is not possible volunteer to take the kids to a movie at the mall. Let them all sit in the back. You will be amazed, truly, to find out what your kids friends will cheerfully reveal if you keep silent and don't swerve the car off the road when you overhear something about blowjobs. Pretend to be singing along with the radio, keep your eyes facing forward, and you will soon know what level of sex and drugs and rock and roll awareness is present in your child's peer group.
5) Be aware that your kids and their friends are probably rummaging through your stuff. Try to be honest with yourself and remember how you babysat for your middle school science teacher and told everybody about the racy stuff in his bedside table ( no I did not do that, but I did things like it). Or how you smoked your dad's pot, or read your older brother's Hustlers. You did not do these things? Good for you. Maybe you kid won't either. But don't think you are any better at hiding things than a bored teenager is at finding them.
6) Don't make threats unless you are prepared to follow through. I made the mistake of telling my kids that if they , or their friends, ever drove drunk that I was taking them all down to the morgue to see some dead bodies. Soon after we saw a parent make a similar threat- only since this was CSI or some similar, he actually dragged his daughter to the morgue and showed her a dead body. This leads straight into - 6B- be prepared for statements like " that guy is even more psycho than you mom". This is a good sign that you are holding some sort of line.
7) Let you children compile a list of the ten worst things you have ever done to them as a parent- it is okay to even have subsets- meanest punishments, rudest comments, grossest attempt to normalize masturbation, ugliest outfit ( high waters with clogs was a favorite of my children) most embarrassing conversation with the teacher- and let them share it with you from time to time. It will make them feel better- and if you are doing this right, it will make you laugh really hard, especially later when they are all grown up and dealing with defiant children of their own( here is hoping we get there one day). Try not to laugh in front of the kids though- that just makes the list longer.

Dating, the Second Round

No- I am NOT talking about dating after divorce, or after the end of a long relationship- because I know absolutely nothing about that, other than it is mortifying, terrifying, and there are some very upsetting people out there. I tried eharmony and for some reason they decided to match me up with people in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Apparently there are no book reading, humorous, sober, reasonably attractive men in my age group on this continent. It is a little hard to do that "just a cup of coffee and we will take it from there" when the man in question lives in Dubai, so that was a problem. Then I tried craigslist, or rather my daughter tried it for me- wrote a sweet little ad looking for " a nice man for my mom". You would think that would cut down on the first contact photographs of hard-ons, wouldn't you? Nope. We got a nice flashfile of Mr. Bean with a boner that kept springing up and down, and a number of nice gentlemen who would like to be spanked, and then told to stand in the corner with soap in their mouths, because they are dirty, smutty, bad boys. Then I tried a web site for sober people. Oh dear. Typical guy is proud to be honest about the fact that he just got out of jail " but just for credit card fraud, not armed robbery, because, just being honest, I never got caught doing that" and he is " a bit out of shape" and " not a reader" and as a 45 year old is quite reasonably only interested in women under 25. Well, he sure does have that honesty thing going for him.
So, no, this is not about that kind of dating. This is about what happens when your own child starts dating, and you have suddenly got memories of being that age again, and of all the things your parents told you ,or didn't tell you, and all the things your friends told you or showed you, or hinted at and then the actual memories of what it was actually like. I have survived this bizarre time of life- having had children rather young- but am now seeing my friends reach this juncture. So I want to share my infinite wisdom.
1) Start early, using literature. It is alwaysbetter to leave a book lying around with nice straightforward lines drawings of the reproductive system than to over do it in the "Mommy and Daddy love each other very much" department. Kids want to know about sex, but they absolutely do not want to know about their parents having sex, with each other or anybody else, ever. Think of your own parents if you doubt me. Now stop making terrible face.
2) Answer only the question that is asked; do not elaborate. Wait for the next question. So if your child says " Last night the baby sitter let us watch Rosemary's Baby and I just want to know how Rosemary got pregnant" just say " The Devil knocked her up with a spell" don't get all crazy with penis in vagina stuff, because is not the answer to this question. Wait for the next question.
3) Make a serious effort to provide the same amount of information to children of both genders. If you are going to buy your son condoms when he is fourteen, slap him on the back and say " atta boy" then what are you going to do when his sister hits 8th grade? Or if your eldest is a girl, and you just want to sew her underpants to her undershirt, and tell her to watch out because " a stiff prick has no conscience" what will you tell her brother? I can not actually answer this question- since my children are all female- but I can tell you that only buying condoms for the boys is a big mistake, as is only cautioning the girls to be careful who they kiss.
4)Do what you can to fight our lovely culture. If you have any success with this, please let me know.
5) Be prepared for a wild time sorting out your own memories, both fond and traumatic. Just as having your child learn to read brought back memories of your own early literacy, watching a child start to date is going to bring on some whoppers. If you don't journal or blog or email your old friends to process - this might be a good time to start.
6) Be around. Now is a good time to be the parent who is has got their cell phone with them at all times, charged, and volume on. Be prepared to come and intervene as needed.
7) Have a good code word for abort mission. This means that your child can call you up and say
" Oh please, please , please can I go swim in the abandoneed quarry on ecstacy with the escaped convicts, everybody is doing it?" and you will know that the please, please, please was code for Mom ( or Dad) I don't want to do this, but I don't want to seem uncool, so could you please forbid it and get me off the hook?
8) Have a no harm, no foul rule. This means that if your kids gets into the shit, and then has to call you up to get them out of the quarry later, you go get them and don't make a big huge fuss. If you punish your child severely for being in a bad situation then the next time they won't call you- they may call somebody who thinks a good solution for a little alcohol poisoning is to leave the kid in the woods. This doesn't mean chaufering your child from jackpot to jackpot- and I wish I could tell you that being open and available means your kid will be far less likely to get into danger. Not so, but being the first person they call is invaluable.
Alright that is enough for now- More as soon as I think of it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

All Alone in the Dark with the "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!"

No, I am not planning on ranting about margarine today- although I do think it is a very bad thing- and possibly symptomatic of all that is rotten in Denmark. I just could not bring myself to write a blog post called " Why Do I Even Bother ( To Discuss Gender) Anymore?" or something equally boring and sarcastic.

Yesterday I spent my morning with my Comp 2 students, wading through Othello. The assignment was to take Emilia's speech defending women who cheat ( 4.3.80-99, should you care to give it a try) and translate it into modern language, so that it might be used as part of the script on General Hospital, Desperate Housewives, or some such. Each section did their own version, and each added certain key elements- what follows is a synthesis of them all. In response to Desdemona's assertion that she does not believe that there are in fact women who cheat on their husbands, Emilia responds;

Plenty of women cheat, but it's the man's fault. If he won't take care of our needs- goes out and shoots his wad at the strip club- while telling us where we can and can't go, shorting our fun money, smacking us around...well then women can take an attitude too.
Let those men know that women want a little something-something, a little bit of strange, just like men do. Why do they cheat on us anyway? Is it a game? Do they have crushes? Are they just weak? Sure, all of the above. But don't we like games? Don't we get a little buzz from flirting? Don't we just have to have it sometimes too? Sure we do.
Just tell those men to treat us nicely or else we are going to pull the same shit on them- because they showed us how.

So I was proud of my students- because "pour our treasure into foreign laps" is clearly about a lap dance, and I would never have seen it myself any more than I would have thought to translate "gall" as attitude. But then we started talking about what, if anything, had changed since 1604. They informed me that boys who run around are still players, and girls who run around are still whores, skanks, and some other words they wouldn't say in class. They also told me that they know people, relatives, who still have the wifey on an allowance, and if she spends it wrong she is going to get in trouble. It's justified, see, because some women just shop too much.

I got a little sad, and managed to cheer myself up by asking them to tell me why the names Othello, Iago, and Desmona are not used more often as baby names. I mean, Iago could be a girl name too, Iaga. Sweetness. Little Desdemono? Othella?

They reminded me of the lovely family that named their son Adolf Hitler and their daughter Aryan Nation ( which does have a certain soft ring to it, if you completely detach the meaning of the words from the sounds).

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Do We Live Here? Really?

I have continued to think about the fierce way that my parents tried to raise me outside of the norms of our times, or at the very least, neighborhood. I lived in a subdivision that was part of a Catholic Parish. Everyone went to Parochial school, and Mass, and everyone lived in 1950's ranch style houses with perfectly flat even grass lawns and tar driveways with new model American cars, just washed, parked in neat rows. My neighborhood reminded me in many ways of the scary planet with all the little children bouncing identical balls from " A Wrinkle in Time".
My house, on the other hand, was a two-hundred year old farm house, falling apart at the seams. We had a rickety white fence and the grass grew waist high by mid summer. Where my neighbors had plastic runners to protect the pale blue wall to wall carpeting my parents had dog and cat fur laden oriental rugs, often tangled up from the animals racing through the house. Where my neighbors had perfectly clean white walls we had bookcases up to the ceilings.
It went deeper than that , of course. My father wrote at night, by the light of every bulb in the downstairs and to the sound of Mambo and Jazz. The house was full of African art. Our car, oh the horror, was a fourteen year old Peugeot with a hole in the floor and one door tied shut with rope.
I have often wondered why my parents bought this house ( other than the extremely low price, even for the times, of $30,000). Why couldn't we have lived with the other college faculty, where I could have had neighbors who did not honestly, genuinely, believed that I was going to burn in hell, and that I talked " like I was from England" ( not really, much more Websters than OED) and that reading was for the bathroom, only. Were they trying to make sure I grew up to be able to assimilate into the culture at large? Did they think that being chased through the woods with nail guns by the neighborhood ruffians would be character building? Did they think it wise to make us aware that we were in fact a sort of strange minority, so that when Reagan won in 1980 I would not be shocked silent and wonder where these Republicans came from? (If so, they failed).
My brother and I did learn, and fast, to drop our snobby college town accents and unnecessary vocabulary words. I learned to argue for religious tolerance, and when that failed, I learned to lend out my library of horror fiction as a springboard for more wide ranging discussions ( what is a succubus you ask? perhaps you should ask the nuns?) . I learned to speak television, and barbie, and soda pop and once fluent found that I loved this culture, I was not faking. I also learned that standing fast worked better than running with most bullies, but that with a select few it was important to run like the wind. I learned that most parents hide the Playboys and the cigarettes in similar places, even if in other ways they are not like mine. I learned to assimilate, in other words. But I am still wondering why my parents put me in a place to feel like a second generation immigrant ( in a neighborhood where many of my neighbors were just that).

Sunday, March 8, 2009

In the Land Without Television

This morning I read with interest Motherhood: The Final Frontier, a blog by a woman I knew in high school. She was venting about the Whorification of Dora the Explorer, a problem that seems to be gripping parents of young girls right now. It is not a new problem. Barbie always set my motherly teeth on edge, and was banned and reviled by my mother before me. Of couse, I had lots and lots of Barbies, and so did my daughters. The bitch just knew how to hussle her slutty little ass into the house, welcome or not.

The issue is making me think about what happens to girls in our culture, and actually what happens to all children, when parents try to shelter them from the mean, ugly, plastic, materialist, addictive, all Vegas all the time world of television, luncheon meats, and toy AK47's.

My own mother was one of the truly fierce 1970's culture warriors. We had no television, but many books. We had no war toys. She made our lunches from scratch- home made minestrone and whole grain bread. We went to Europe, not Disneyland. She read us Beowulf when we were five and six. We were encouraged to go out and play in the woods and stream behind out house. She did not wear make up, except for the rare dinner party. She sewed our clothes.

What happened? Well, we became two very sneaky kids, that is what happened. We managed to watch plenty of television at the neighbors. We convinced our babysitter that we were grossly abused and deprived and she brought over a small television and a whole lot of candy. We traded home made humus on sprouted wheat bread for twinkies. We traded Steiff stuffed animals ( that would be worth a fortune today) for a box full of plastic toy guns.

Then what happened? Well, my mother found my brother shooting at me with a pellet gun that made noise, and flashed a bright light, while spraying hard red plastic "bullets" in all directions. She had a moment of really peaceful Zen/Quaker/Nonviolence and then she snapped and stamped on it, screaming at the top of her lungs. My brother somehow managed to put it back together. It didn't shoot so well anymore but it still made a terrible noise. Victory was his, I suppose.

I focused my rebellion more on the getting, hiding, and eating of sugar filled treats. I kept candy and gun hidden in springs of my bunk bed. I hid the back up supply elsewhere, so that if one stash was found there would be something to get me through.

Our elementary school teachers complained that we were both becoming compulsive liars. Our desire to appear to have watched the latest television shows was great enough that we would ask one kid what they saw and then use the information to fake it with the rest of the class. I think I picked this trick up from a character in "Small Change". My parents broke down and bought us the television during Watergate. I remember being truly furious that the trial kept interrupting "General Hospital".

Of course when I became a parent I thought I could handle it all so much better than my parents had. I got my kids lots of books and art supplies but I figured they could handle a little television. I got my wake up call when my three-year-old took a look at the stickers from Columbia House, one of those buy 10 CDs free deals. She pointed out to me Madonna, Michael Jackson, George Michael, and on and on, almost every single artist on every single tiny little stamp. It wasn't just the recognition, in a nonreader, that jarred me. It was the reverent tone of voice. I turned off the cable that day.

Did it work? Nooooo....But it didn't hurt either.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Arranged Marriage

Pilou, an old friend of my grandmother, grew up in India, in a wealthy family of the sort that has always arranged marriages for their offspring.. She was a rebel though, and a child of the 50's, and she told her parents that she was done with the old ways. She would marry a man she loved and she would find him herself. Pilou impressed me, as a child, because she wore gorgeous silk saris, and because she cooked everything until it was a black ash of its former self.

Every year her family went away for several weeks in the summer when it was terribly hot- up to a resort in the northern mountains- to swim in a lake and socialize with, unsuprisingly, other wealthy families on holiday. The summer after she announced her independence she met a man on this holiday. He was handsome and he was kind and he also was fiercely independent from the old ways. They met as equals, they fell in love, they announced to their parents that they would wed. Pilou was relieved that instead of crying , her mother got right to work planning an wedding of insane proportions.

Years passed- they had children, the children grew old- they too were fiercely independent. The oldest daughter wanted an education in Europe. Pilou became frightened. She had herself been so lucky, but what if her daughter were less fortunate? What if she chose unwisely? What to do?
Pilou went to her mother with her concerns. Her mother laughed heartily.

"Oh Pilou, my darling!" She said." I thought by now you would have realized! Do you not remember how every summer we traveled in July? And that year we went in August? Do you not know your own parents ? That his family also changed their plans so that the two of you independent young people could meet and make up your own minds who to marry? "