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The Family That Argues Together...

My post today on Jewcy:

Today my guy told me about a bit Jon Stewart did on why Jews argue. Apparently, a "reporter" goes and asks a bunch of Jews why they argue all the time, and they start arguing about who should answer the question and whether Jews argue any more than anyone else.

We both cracked up because, well, I like to tend to argue and my son's father doesn't. I've been trying to stop and it's the hardest thing ever. Way harder than probability and statistics class in high school, and a quibillion times harder than the LSAT I took a few years months ago when I was thinking about going to law school. It's so hard that I've often wondered if I have a neurological tic that turns even the simplest request into a passionate, two-hour debate.

In the beginning of our relationship, I explained it was cultural. It's a Jewish thing, I told my mate-to-be. We have strong opinions about everything. You should see us at the dinner table, I said. No one agrees on anything--where we should sit, whether the lighting is too bright or too dim, if the food is overpriced or genius, if my sister should cut her hair. Our willingness to dig deep over trivial matters is a sign of commitment, I told him. It shows we care enough to engage at a deep level.

Arguing, I said. It's how we love.

To which he replied, I'm not Jewish and I don't like to argue because it raises my blood pressure and I want to have a calm, peaceful life. You can go out into the world and argue your a** off, but for God's sake, when you come home, can't we just get along?

Which, in my argumentative state of mind (tangentially related to Billy Joel's New York Jewish state of mind, btw) sounded like: Jews are crazy, can't you just be normal and not Jewish when you're at home? Which made me mumble something about him not liking Jews, which was awful, inaccurate, and the furthest thing from the truth.

But I was arguing. Who said I had to be rational? Terrible logic, I know. A heinous lapse. I'm still apologizing.

But back to Jon Stewart and laughing together about the pop cultural confirmation of what I've been saying all along. No, I wasn't bat mitzvahed. No I don't speak Yiddish or Hebrew. But yes, yes, I love a good back and forth. So sue me. 

Ironically, it was a great moment. A love moment. A moment of acceptance. A cross-cultural moment. A moment of peace. A, dare I say it, family moment.

 

February 19th, 2009

Salma Hayek: Spread the Milk

February 17th, 2009

I miss Ana Mendieta

I miss Ana Mendieta.

I miss Ana Mendieta

February 16th, 2009

Frank O'Hara, Channeled by Zadie Smith in the NYRB

Zadie Smith's talk on Obama and cultural multiplicity is all kinds of lovely. I especially like the way she worked in this poem by Frank O'Hara:

I am a Hittite in love with a horse

I don't know what blood's

in me I feel like an African prince I am a girl walking downstairs

in a red pleated dress with heels I am a champion taking a fall

I am a jockey with a sprained ass-hole I am the light mist

in which a face appears

and it is another face of blonde I am a baboon eating a banana

I am a dictator looking at his wife I am a doctor eating a child

and the child's mother smiling I am a Chinaman climbing a mountain

I am a child smelling his father's underwear I am an Indian

sleeping on a scalp

and my pony is stamping in

the birches,

and I've just caught sight of the

Niña, the Pinta and the Santa

Maria.

What land is this, so free? 

And here's O'Hara again, this time via Don Draper, the center of the universe that is Mad Men:



Lovely, lovely, lovely. And all of it, so true.
February 12th, 2009

One Big Happy Family Excerpt on Storked! at Glamor.com

Chrissi Coppa, writer of the blog Storked, and author of the soon to be published memoir Rattled, excerpted asha bandele's piece on choosing to divorce her incarcerated husband and become a single mom, from the new book. The comments are wonderful. Please visit and add your voice. 

Chrissi on asha's essay:

"This essay is dynamic and piercing and I relate to the bones and guts of it. It is scary knowing that if I fall no one is there to catch me--that I have to break my own fall and catch JD in the process. My mind races, races, races at night. I have no one to talk to or ask questions to. I witness miraculous things daily--JD taking his pajamas off, for one, but I have no one to squeal, "Look, look!" while I point to JD with my camera in hand--I share these milestones with my son. It is enough and more...but I like Asha feel the unpredictable twinges of solitude and quiet and pressure to be on top all of the time because I have to be. It's enough to drive me to tears and sometimes it really does, but then I recover all over again--because I love my son. I love him tremendously and behind the occasional tear is 100 x in smiles and joy--an easy joy with no reason or force, just a peaceful full circle coming to all ends. It's seamless.

Do, do discuss.

February 12th, 2009

We Refuse to Be Enemies

By Leila Segal, from her blog The Other Side

Refuse3

Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies, the placard reads.

"An anti-war march, Saturday, through the streets of Tel Aviv. Pro-war shouters collect like flies along the side of the route - the Magav keeps them surrounded, but sometimes they're a nose-distance away, fist-thrashing and enraged. We move from Rabin Square along Ibn Gvirol to the Cinemateque, Arab and Jewish Israelis, side-by-side. Stop the killing. We want a different future for our peoples - a future of peace, we chant.

More

February 8th, 2009

The Original Serpent, from the Daily Beast

Univeristy of Florida

From the Daily Beast:

"Here you go: Fossil hunters working in an open-pit coal mine in Colombia have discovered the remains of 28 giant snakes that ruled the earth for 10 million years during the prehistoric period. The "Titanboas" weighed 1.25 tons and stretched 45 feet long. The snake snacked on turtles and ancient ancestors of the modern crocodile. It's possible that the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago opened the opportunity for the Titanboa's evolution. By comparison, the longest living species recorded is a 33-foot reticulated python from Southeast Asia, although the species average is only 20 feet."

Is this not the most amazing thing you've ever heard? 10 MILLION YEARS. 45 FEET LONG. I can't help but link the biblical fear of --and need to subdue--serpents to this. The reptilian part of the human brain obviously transcends modern ideas of time. 

February 6th, 2009

Adventures in Editing: Ted Solotaroff, from The Nation

I love this posthumous memoir from editing great Ted Solotaroff, published in the current issue of The Nation. The vignettes about working with writers are endlessly fascinating.This one about James Baldwin, the civil rights movement, and miscegenation is a fave:

"The climax of the second act of our relationship came in early 1963. Norman had commissioned a piece by James Baldwin on the Black Muslim movement and had done a good deal of hand-holding in the prolonged course of Baldwin's writing it. By the time Baldwin finally finished the piece, it had grown into the book-length journey through the shadowland of black militancy that would be published as "The Fire Next Time." When Norman inquired about it, Baldwin told him that it had turned out to be too long for Commentary and that it had been sent to The New Yorker. Already in a fury, Norman then found out that The New Yorker had accepted and scheduled it. A ton of fat went into the fire.

This, in turn, further energized Norman's rage by activating his memories of growing up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where the Jewish kids were oppressed and the black kids were their oppressors. One night, Baldwin showed up and Norman let him have it. Baldwin said he should write the tirade he was hearing, in effect providing reparation by giving Norman an idea for a powerful piece of his own. Indeed, Norman was so turned on by the idea and its boldness that he was able to blast through his writer's block to produce his famous essay "My Negro Problem--And Ours." I think he was also emboldened by the opportunity to announce a truth, like the one about success, that none in his liberal cohort dared to admit and that would put him right back at the center of attention.

Normally, a piece by a member of the staff circulated in manuscript like any other and benefited from our comments. But Norman's came around already in type, not even galleys but page proofs, all set to lead off the next issue. It was the first time he had openly pulled rank, and it stung. All the more so when he wound up his self-exposé of the fear- and hate-twisted feelings of whites--liberals no less than reactionaries--toward blacks by making a large and, to me, very dubious point that the stigma of color and the hope of ending it as a poison on both sides of the racial barrier would not come in time, by way of the liberal panacea of integration, to spare us Baldwin's "fire":

I share this hope, but I cannot see how it will ever be realized unless color does in fact disappear: and that means not integration, it means assimilation, it means--let the brutal word come out--miscegenation. The Black Muslims, like their racist counterparts in the white world, accuse the "so-called Negro leaders" of secretly pursuing miscegenation as a goal. The racists are wrong, but I wish they were right, for I believe that the wholesale merging of the two races is the most desirable alternative for everyone concerned.

Up to that point, "My Negro Problem--And Ours" had been a nakedly candid account of how Norman's boyhood experiences in Brownsville had left a residue of fear, hatred and envy of blacks in his psyche, which gave the lie to liberal racial pieties. But for him to then try to trump integration with miscegenation was very troubling: first, because of the heroic civil rights movement in the South that daily was gaining wider and deeper Northern support through its nonviolent strategy and practice; and second, because he was doing so in a banner piece for the "new Commentary," which was trying to chart a course for pressing political and social reform. I thought it through and decided that I couldn't feel right working there if I didn't let him know what I thought. So I walked down to his office and we had it out. As clearly as I can remember, the discussion went along these lines:

"I guess since you sent this around in pages, it's set in stone."

"What do you want to say about it?"

"I think it's courageous, strong and valuable up to the end. But I think the conclusion you come to about the solution being miscegenation is untimely, to say the least, and all wet if the deep-down feelings are what you say they are. I think it will do you and the magazine a lot of harm, and I think you should reconsider it."

By then he had turned to ice. "Is that all?" he said.

"No, it isn't. There are my own reasons. We're trying to keep the image and values of a more humane America alive and working, and about the only concrete political action toward that end is the civil rights movement. What you're saying in effect to those black ministers and students who are risking their lives is to stop trying to integrate, stop trying to claim their constitutional rights and liberties, and find some white chick or guy and have babies. That's how it's going to be read."

He said coldly, "I'm not proposing miscegenation as a solution but as the best outcome, given the refusal of whites, particularly liberals, to own up to their real feelings about Negroes." Then he said, his voice clenched with anger, "I don't ever want to hear you tell me again what's good or bad for Commentary. Ever!"

I could sense we were now on the fast track to an explosion that would end with my leaving the magazine--which I wasn't prepared to do. "Well, thanks for hearing me out," I said, and then got up and left.

There was some hue and cry about the miscegenation issue, but it was mostly swallowed up by the applause the piece received. Norman was back at his favorite place, and I was moved toward the periphery at Commentary."

February 5th, 2009

And for a little Super Bowl Ad Humor

Interesting the mean boss is Japanese and the rich guy is black. And yet...I  don't remember seeing either group represented in the lineup of CEOS who got 24 million dollar bonuses from TARP. 

Made me laugh, though. And we all need to do more of that, so drop links and share the mirth! 

February 5th, 2009

The Making of a Man, Newsweek

newsweek

The Making of a Man

The election of 2008 broke many barriers, not the least was its demolishing the cult of masculinity.

By Rebecca Walker

Barack Obama’s journey to the White House was punctuated by watershed moments: Obama addressing untold thousands in Berlin, and millions more in his televised speech on race. Obama sending love to his wife and daughters via the big screen at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Michelle Obama symbolically crashing the gates of the White House in her stunning red dress. Then there was the final presidential debate, when Obama showed the world what it means to be a man in America, circa right now.

At Belmont University, McCain played the confrontational “tough guy,” bringing the pain to back up his pre-fight taunt to “whip Obama’s you-know-what.” But as McCain waxed pugilistic on issues of abortion, taxation and Joe the Plumber, Obama talked about “sacred sexuality,” and expressed concern for middle class Americans losing their financial footing. Audience polling called the debate overwhelmingly for Obama, and David Gergen, with trademark nonpartisan gravitas, said McCain looked angry. Obama was the voice of reason. But something else was going on. Two tropes of masculinity were battling for dominance.

The skirmish was as much about re-writing the narrative of male power as it was about winning the election. Think John Wayne vs. the Dalai Lama, Bernard Madoff vs Martin Luther King, and George Bush vs Al Gore, all over again. Who would prevail? The man who would prosecute an ongoing ground war against mortal enemies, or the one who would attempt peaceful resolution? The one who would empty the coffers of charitable foundations, or the one who would fight for all Americans to be recognized as whole human beings? The one who would drill in the arctic, or face an inconvenient truth? A third generation military man with seven-make that eight-homes, or a multiracial Harvard Law graduate and community organizer with one house, a Ford Escape and a bike?

It was the next chapter in the great American story of individuals breaking out of restrictive stereotypes based on race, class and gender.

Thirty years ago women demanded freedom from oppressive ideals of femininity. Today more and more men are refusing the toxic role of “being a man.” The debate was a turning point in a larger reckoning, a tacit acknowledgment that John Wayne, the standard- bearer of American masculinity for over five decades, may not have been good for America.

The rules of traditional heterosexual masculinity are still so pervasive in American culture, almost any male over twelve can tick them off with ease. Don’t cry, or even feel. Don’t engage in complex strategic processing; take the easier road and slug disagreements out instead. Win those skirmishes, or be tagged “gay”-the worst kind of slight in a homophobic male environment defined by sexual conquest of women, the more powerful the better. Regardless of race or class, real men should make a lot of money and have the power to hire and fire, like Fifty Cent and Donald Trump, as proof of their dominance. Some African-American men display their resistance to white male dominance, and thus their own brand of male power, by embracing an anti-intellectual, “too cool for school” posture, a perfect example of a masculine trope undermining the success of the person be hind the mask. And even though Asian-American men are often emasculated in our culture, they can lean on the mythological martial skills of their ancestors to claim a kind of uber-dominance. Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Lao Tzu, and Mao Zedong are some of the most famous fighters in the world.

There are other criteria, but the underlying message is clear: follow the rules of the cult of masculinity and you will live to see another day. Slip up and be humiliated, or worse. Just ask the stay-at-home dads struggling for the respect of their peers in corporate America, or the gay and transgender men beaten up on any given night by groups of men yelling “faggot.”

Enter Barack Obama, who rose to the highest office expressing a willingness to meet with America’s known enemies. On the campaign trail, he shared his feelings openly. On election night, he was photographed holding the hand of his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson. When Obama talks about people losing their homes and being unable to afford to send their kids to college, his words seem to come from the heart, the compassionate place marked “for women only” for so long.

Obama’s ideologically diverse cabinet is another indicator that he doesn’t believe in a top-down, top-dog approach, or that the best ideas will come from the man at the head of the table. Solutions are expected to come as a result of dynamic interactions between exceptional individuals. He’s not afraid to articulate a vision that includes the safety and well being of the LGBT community, and he doesn’t shy away from supporting a woman’s right to make difficult, and often heart-wrenching, choices about what to do with her body, be it terminate a pregnancy or act as a surrogate for another woman’s child. Obama’s value as a man isn’t in his bank account; it’s in his openness to changing the game and identifying the players necessary to do it successfully.

Finally, there is Michelle Obama, the coup de grace. Wife, best friend, and his “rock,” as he said in his victory speech. Michelle is Barack’s secret weapon, and he consistently acknowledges that their relationship is the engine of his success. When Obama told Barbara Walters that he figured out long ago that “if mama ain’t happy, no one is,” a lot of couples laughed out loud at home. It spoke to a certain truth about successful heterosexual partnerships: that cultivating interdependence with a woman is a much better idea than trying to dominate her. Obama’s fatherhood, too, seems as important to him as his public policy.

The genius of it all is that Obama appears to have supplanted many of the traditional elements of masculinity without sacrificing his virility and clear intention to protect American interests by any means necessary. He plays a competitive game of basketball and pulls off a wicked poker face while making stealth moves behind the scenes.His sex appeal is palpable, as the millions of viewers drawn to the recent vacation photo of him shirtless in Hawaii prove, as does the intimacy the Obamas display everywhere they appear.

Obama’s unique blend of openness and strength has tremendous appeal to men seeking to liberate themselves from an archaic and ineffectual model of masculinity without sacrificing their swagger. He stands for the millions of men who have always defined their manhood on their own terms, but have never had this level of cultural support for their choices.

For those looking for a role model for their children, Obama is also a welcome change. Nathalie Hopkinson, co-author of “Deconstructing Tyrone: A New Look at Black Masculinity in the Hip-Hop Generation,” speaks for many parents when describing the shift she’s seen in her seven year old son over the last months. He’s become President of his class, taken to wearing a tie and blazer to school and traded in his backpack for a briefcase. All of this bodes well for a nation plagued by increasing violence and falling test scores, but we will have to wait and see how Obama’s style plays out as he goes head to head with Dmitriy Anatolyevich Medved, Hu Jintao and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. To be deemed an acceptable mode of leadership, Obama’s “enlightened masculinity” will need to restore some semblance of peace in the Middle East and faith in American markets abroad.

As men abandon dominance as a way of moving in the world, women will have to continue to evolve their identities as well. Thanks to the women’s movement most American women today see themselves as equal, if not superior, to men. But women still have to continue to shed the powerful, if sublimated, fantasy of a knight in shining armor coming forward to protect and defend. After giving
a recent speech on contemporary masculinity at St Louis University, I met several women who said they lost respect for boyfriends who expressed vulnerability, and men said they felt pressured to prove their manliness by protecting their girlfriends from the advances of other men.

Truth be told, the final presidential debate was about women, too. We watched, calculating how quickly we could evolve. Would we be safe with a President who shares his feelings and doesn’t get spitting mad? What kind of fundamental changes would we need to make in order to be congruent with the new paradigm?

If Michelle Obama is any indication, we will need to become more comfortable playing all possible roles-mentor, wife, mother, defender, “rock”-while being defined by none. Her willingness to be a true counterpart, secure in her power and flowing between roles, rather than an adversary competing for the top spot or a self-sacrificing and resentful subordinate, means that our new First Family provides Americans of both sexes a model for reaching beyond outdated ideas about gender. This is good news in difficult times, because ultimately, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, upon whose bible Obama will take the oath of office, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

February 4th, 2009