Sweet Sabbatical

Kate’s wonderful post on the somewhat lost art of getting absorbed in an activity — deliberately not multi-tasking (unitasking? monotasking?) — nudged me closer to a decision I’ve been putting off for a while. Toward the end of her post, Kate said

Also, if you don’t see me around here? It’s generally safe to assume it’s because I’m feeling the need to do more listening than talking. That’s all.

For the last several weeks, I’ve had this terrible feeling that I would have to  flounce from the internet altogether to retain my mental health. It’s not that I don’t love this blog, or that I don’t adore having a real audience for my writing,* or that I don’t have anything to say about what we talk about here. It’s just that I’ve been writing and moderating here for almost three years,** and I am tired.

I’m tired of high-speed, high-quality interactivity. I’m tired of multitasking. I’m tired of keeping track of commenters; much as I love you all, there are just so damn many of you these days. I’m tired of reading drive-by trolls whose sole purpose in life is to hurt me and anyone else who happens to be reading. What I’m not tired of, thank god, is reading and writing; I’m tired of talking. Bone tired. Kate’s post hit me between the eyes: I need to make more room in my life for being absorbed, for letting my mind stay with one thing for a while without wandering. If I don’t do something differently, disaster is imminent.

An artist's depiction of my current state of mind

So here’s what I’ve decided: I’m not gonna flounce off the internet. I’m not going to leave the blog and scorch the earth behind me. I’m just going to take a Shapely Sabbatical. You won’t see me around here for a while (except possibly with an occasional comment, link, or especially clever lemur). I have complete faith that my co-bloggers will soldier on just fine without me, and that you all will play nice and follow the ever-more-draconian comments policy we all know and love. And I trust that I can go on sabbatical, work on my dissertation and my poetry and my sanity, and come back to blogging when I’ve got the passion for it again.

Deal?

*It still floors me, in fact — I can write something, and then thousands of people will read it and pass it on! I have dreamed of having that kind of audience all my life, and it’s no less delightful even with my author photo as a cartoon and my nom de plume stolen from a Doty poem.

**I believe that’s thirty in Internet Years.

FYI: Clothing swap on Ning

If you haven’t been over to the SP Ning community in a while, you might be interested in the clothing swap thread Angie G just started. She noted the number of people who commented on Snarky’s recent post on wanting to get rid of clothes that don’t fit and thought that a swap might be the perfect solution. If you’re interested, pop on over to that thread (and please, everyone, abide by the honor system!). And if you are new to the Ning community, click here to register (you might have to wait a few hours for one of us to approve your membership, so please be patient).

Friday fluff: The forbidden tongue

Apparently, Randy Michaels, the CEO of Tribune Co. here in Chicago, has issued a list to the reporters on WGN, our local public radio station, containing words and phrases they must no longer speak on air. These are not dirty words, a la George Carlin, but words that sound like “newsspeak” (according to WGN news director Charlie Meyerson, who passed along the list to the article’s author). Presumably, this means sounding too much like a cliched newscaster and is not to be confused with cracking down on thoughtcrime. Some of the phrases listed probably do deserve to be retired as outworn cliches: giving 110%; mother of all (anything); senseless murder. Some of them, though, seem designed to make a reporter’s life a lot more difficult: how are you supposed to report one of those senseless murders without using the word “alleged”?

All this makes me feel a little dictatorial myself. I propose that we make a list of words and phrases that should be verboten in reporting about women’s issues, starting with the phrase “women’s issues.” Here’s a few to start our list:

  • Sex and The City references
  • reference to shoes when the article is not about shoes
  • spinster

What would you add?

Gobsmacked

According to the Vancouver Sun, there’s a new way to torture yourself through dieting. Literally:

The medical procedure involves stitching a small piece of polyethylene mesh onto a patient’s tongue, making it painful to ingest solid foods and forcing a low-calorie, liquid diet.

You pay a nice man named Dr Nikolas Chugay to spend 10 minutes to stitch a torture device into your mouth, and you pay him $3,000 for the privilege, and then you eat 750 calories a day for a month. And you lose weight! And also you forgo all pleasure in life because you are combining constant pain with a sub-torture level of sustenance!

According to the article, “Since last September, Chugay says 35 people have opted for the surgery.” That’s 35 people who hate themselves so profoundly that they paid a doctor $3,000 to sew a pain patch into their mouths.

Can someone please wake me when we’re in that post-feminist world full of jolly fat people that I keep hearing so much about? I’m going to go huddle in a closet with T-Rex till then.

Read more Kate

If you haven’t yet read Kate’s latest piece on the Kevin Smith/Southwest Airlines debacle, get thee to Broadsheet, stat. It is definitive, and it is moving, and it will remind you of why you started reading Kate’s work in the first place.

Whenever the issue of whether larger people should be forced to buy two airline seats comes up — as it did this weekend, when director Kevin Smith was booted from a Southwest Airlines flight, and as it did last April, after United introduced a policy practically identical to Southwest’s — the first and only thing a lot of folks think of is that time they had to sit next to a fat person on a flight, and it was so uncomfortable.

[snip]

Here’s the first thing I think of when this issue comes up [...] The weekend my mom was dying.

Read the whole thing, and the next time someone concern trolls you about fat people flying, send them that link. If their heart’s not broken by it, they didn’t have one in the first place.

Guest Blogger Mean Asian Girl: Oh? No! Or, Why I didn’t participate in the Facebook doppelganger meme

You may remember friend of SP Mean Asian Girl from her previous guest post, The Fantasy of Being White. We loved that post so much that we asked her to weigh in on that most vexing of seemingly innocuous little internet games: the Facebook celebrity twin meme. Thanks, MAG! — Sweet Machine

Oh? No!

Or, Why I didn’t participate in the Facebook doppelganger meme

By Mean Asian Girl

(with a little help from the SP crew)

When I first heard about the Facebook celebrity doppelganger meme, my first thought was, “Where do I find a picture of [Asian woman most recently and/or frequently seen by whomever I’m speaking to]?”

See, because I’ve been told I look like several different people, the most recent being Sandra Oh. Most of you don’t know what I look like, but suffice it to say, not like Sandra Oh. My friend Charles, who is black*, and happens to think Sandra Oh is hot, doesn’t see any resemblance at all. Then again, Charles’ opinion of Oh may be in the minority.

OK, let me digress for a moment. I googled Sandra Oh, expecting the first thing to pop up would be her IMDB profile. Before I finished typing, the first suggestion that popped up was “Sandra Oh ugly.” Which was where I found that Asian Bite website. So maybe the whole idea of anyone trying to pay me a compliment is not the case. I am tempted to start a discussion of whether people think Oh’s very Korean-ness is what makes her ugly. Maybe some other time. I’m a bit too stunned at the moment.

But anyway, years and years ago, someone told me I looked just like the girl in “Karate Kid II,” who, if you notice, does not look very much like Sandra Oh. In fairness, I probably look more like Sandra Oh than like Tamlyn Tomita.

As it turned out, the very cool women here at Shapely Prose were having their own discussion of the racial/ethnic-fail aspects of the doppelganger meme and were kind enough to invite me to join in.

Eventually, we touched on how Janet Jackson and Kristy McNichol have the same face, Elvin from the Cosby Show, the appropriate celebrity doppelganger for Kate’s husband Al, and a staged reading of The Big Lebowski, but prior to that, we made some more serious observations about white privilege and doppelgangers.

And first, we agreed that I look nothing like Sandra Oh.

“This seems like one of those Facebook exercises that’s mostly about a certain kind of girl getting to wank about how hot she is without looking conceited,” Kate said. But fair enough, I guess. If someone told you you looked like Anne Hathaway, or Blake Lively, or, for that matter, Penelope Cruz or Halle Berry, wouldn’t you want to tell people?

Problem is, if we’re talking about Hollywood stars, or even prominent women known by most U.S. residents in general, the pool gets awfully shallow if you’re not white. Kate told me, “I can think of like four Asian-American actresses off the top of my head, and none of them, except possibly Keiko Agena**, have characteristics I could see as part of a recipe for you.”

Part of a recipe. Sure. But we can’t do collage profile pictures. Or at least I can’t. So I have to settle for what other people think. Because, really, what most people see when they look at me is that I’m Asian, I have epicanthic folds over my eyelids, flattish face, black hair, etc. And what do you know? Sandra Oh also has epicanthic eyelids, a flattish face and black hair! So does Tamlyn Tomita! Though, actually, based on the Tamlyn Tomita comparison, they’re not even paying particularly close attention to my hair.

At some level, it’s a version of the “All you [insert racial/ethnic group here] look alike.” I once worked at a news service with two African-American women, Robin and Debbie. Robin was probably 5-2, close-cropped hair, round face and very loud and outgoing. Debbie was 5-6, longer hair, thin face and quiet. They did not start working there anywhere near the same time, nor did they cover the same beat. Yet, they constantly got called each other’s names. I guess they did have similar skin tones. Any of you who do not have similar stories have either never worked with more than one minority or have worked in remarkably enlightened workplaces.

Of course, it’s not just about skin color and ethnicity. Kate knows a couple of dark-haired fat women who wanted to go as Pat Benatar for Halloween, but didn’t because everyone would assume they were Beth Ditto. I mean, you’re fat, you’re a rock chick … duh. Fillyjonk mentioned how people told her she looked like Kate Winslet when Winslet was in her relatively fat*** state

I am in no way saying there was malicious intent behind the doppelganger meme, and clearly, as oppression goes, it ain’t exactly Jim Crow. I’m just saying, well, maybe I should point you all to Sepia Mutiny for a little more perspective. If I may digress a bit, the line “If only you weren’t so dark, you’d be so pretty,” is horrifying. But maybe I’m still hung up on the “Ugly Sandra Oh” issue.

If you don’t feel like reading through that whole post, try Fillyjonk, who puts the matter pretty succinctly for a privileged white girl:

“Getting told you look like someone who has nothing in common with you besides skin color and body type is bad enough,” she said. “But getting told you look like someone who has nothing in common with you besides skin color, period, elides your actual features even more.”

To take that a step further, when someone – inevitably white — says, “I don’t see race,” if much of society sees you only as race, then they don’t see you.

*I mention this for no reason other than to wonder if perhaps this is a white thing. I’m not sure any person of color has told me I look like Sandra Oh, including, obviously, anyone Asian.

**Though I had seen “Gilmore Girls” once or twice, I had no idea who Keiko Agena was until Kate mentioned her. I am old compared to the SP crew, esp. when you consider that I saw “Karate Kid II” when it came out in theaters.

***i.e., Hollywood fat

“but who can distinguish one human voice amid such choruses of desire”

America lost a great voice this weekend: the poet Lucille Clifton died. She was 73 years old.

Clifton wrote wonderful, poignant, witty poems whose formal simplicity belies their emotional and political depth. She wrote of the realities of living in a large, black, female body in a racist, sexist culture; she survived cancer and wrote of the joys of the body in the face of mortality. I hope all Shapelings have run across the marvelous, body-loving “homage to my hips“:

these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.

Read the rest here.

From “scar” (in The Terrible Stories, which has a section on breast cancer):

we will learn
to live together.

i will call you
ribbon of hunger
and desire
empty pocket flap
edge of before and after.

You can find a longer collection of Clifton’s poems, as well as an introductory essay to her work, at the Poetry Foundation. Warning: tissues may be needed. Clifton’s poems touch on abortion, whiteness, hate crimes, war, menstruation, grief, and so many other “terrible stories;” yet they vibrate with such compassion and clarity of vision that it’s easy to forget how tough and nervy they are. Blessing the Boats, her selected poems from 2000, is an excellent entry point for new readers, and a powerful testament to the importance of Clifton’s voice to our culture.

I’ll let Lucille Clifton end this post herself, with a video of her reading in 2008.

Rest in peace, Lucille Clifton. Thank you for being one human voice.

With advocates like this, who needs hate radio?

It will surprise few people who pay attention to American politics that Sarah Palin is a world-class hypocrite. But her recent foray into the politics of language and disability have proved that her hypocrisy is dyed in the wool, an amazing contradiction of terms: openly disingenuous, profoundly committed to shallowness. She’s taken one of the easiest to understand (if not to implement) tactics of social justice activism — avoid using slurs — and turned it into an operatic denial of her last ounce of intellectual integrity.

Here’s the background: according to the WSJ, last August, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel called a group of liberal activists “fucking retarded” to their faces. He has since apologized to the head of the Special Olympics and disability activists (who, not incidentally, have rarely been even named in the articles about the apology — but that’s another post altogether). Sarah Palin comes into this because she publicly called out Emanuel on Facebook:

Just as we’d be appalled if any public figure of Rahm’s stature ever used the “N-word” or other such inappropriate language, Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities – and the people who love them – is unacceptable, and it’s heartbreaking.

A patriot in North Andover, Massachusetts, notified me of Rahm’s “retarded” slam. I join this gentleman, who is the father of a beautiful child born with Down Syndrome, in asking why the Special Olympics, National Down Syndrome Society and other groups condemning Rahm’s degrading scolding have been completely ignored by the White House. No comment from his boss, the president?

As my friend in North Andover says, “This isn’t about politics; it’s about decency. I am not speaking as a political figure but as a parent and as an everyday American wanting my child to grow up in a country free from mindless prejudice and discrimination, free from gratuitous insults of people who are ostensibly smart enough to know better… Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

Mr. President, you can do better, and our country deserves better.

Notice, however, that Palin is not actually mad at Emanuel; she’s mad at President Obama. Why? Because he has said nothing about an incident that occurred without him, half a year ago, for which a public apology has been issued. Don’t get me wrong — it would be amazing if the Obama White House takes this opportunity to make a serious, public effort to commit further to the needs of PWD. But Palin’s immediate redirect from Emanuel to Obama smacks of… well, something other than a desire to “stop the r-word,” as a recent campaign enjoins us.

Sady at Tiger Beatdown brilliantly analyzed Palin’s political performance a few days ago, in a post I cannot recommend enough. Here’s Sady’s conclusion, which comes after examining her own reasons for eliminating certain slurs from her diction [ed. note: I snipped some of this quote after posting because I didn't realize how long it was till I hit "publish"]:

Because here is the thing: it is the ability to communicate concepts and define the reality of a situation from which the power of words is derived. When they become pure noise – divorced from reality, divorced from concepts, used at odds to the concepts and realities they should be defining – that’s when this all gets hairy. I can’t say “that’s so gay” because it makes me sick, because I know what it means. I started working to eliminate “retarded” from my vocabulary a while back, because I thought about it and now I know what it means. But it’s when someone like Sarah Palin can score points by saying that the word “retarded” is wrong, although her career is based on a politics that is measurably bad for a lot of disabled people (and, you know, everyone else) that I start to get worried.

[...]

There is no purpose, behind her Facebook post and her call-out of Emanuel, beyond continuing a program of obstructing a Democratic agenda and the current President. It’s precisely as duplicitous as the cries of “sexism” in the right during the primaries. Is there sexism in the Democratic Party, and in the treatment of Sarah Palin? Fuck yes, there is. Was Rahm’s use of the term ableist? Is there ableism in the left?  Was the response to the ableism handled poorly? Fuck yes, to every single one of those questions. But pointing that out when you know that your own party and/or political agenda isn’t going to prioritize social welfare programs which would help the disabled, when they’re trying to make universal access to healthcare impossible, when you don’t have a compassionate stance on the issues of unemployment and poverty to which disability is inexorably linked, when you are opposing abortion rights and charging victims for their rape kits, is just about the most disgusting corruption of these legitimate issues – these issues about which I care immensely – that I can imagine. Palin’s response isn’t about ableism, or about Rahm Emanuel; if it were, she would be talking about Rahm Emanuel and ableism, rather than sneakily using both subjects to get in a jab at Obama. Palin’s response is about Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.

But – again – if she knows how to use the language, she wins. Because she is able to sound, for a moment, like the people who are genuinely engaged in talking about disability, and the structure that punishes and hurts people with disabilities. Which is where language debate gets scary. Because if we put forward, for one second, a language debate that isn’t irrevocably tied to structure – if we focus on language apart from the actual change that needs to happen – everything we care about gets stolen and re-purposed in the service of something else. Words have power. For example, they can be used to tell a pretty enormous lie.

Bra-fucking-va, Sady. Sarah Palin has a personal stake in fighting ableist language. So do I. If Emanuel hadn’t apologized for calling people “fucking retarded,” you can bet I would be writing an angry post about it. But Sady is right: oppressive language is irrevocably tied to oppressive social structures. That’s why the language is oppressive in the first place. It’s awful to say something is “retarded” because the punch of the word is based on the equation of “disability” and “bad.” If people with disabilities weren’t systematically devalued in our culture, told that they’re less than human, that their bodies are grotesque and their minds pathetic, that they are a burden to able-bodied people and that having access to basic rights is an outrageous affront to hard-working small-business owners — to pick just a few of the abelist messages that are commonplace — then no one would say “retarded” anyway. Because it wouldn’t have any impact as an insult. Which is why Sarah Palin’s call for President Obama to fire Emanuel rather than, say, hold a summit with disability advocates, is clearly about political one-up-man-ship: it lets Palin look like she cares about PWD, in a broad sense (just like voting for Palin allowed certain right-winger to look like they cared about women in politics), without doing a goddamn thing with her political power and her cultural capital to make our culture less oppressive of them.

So clearly, Palin was already showing her ass and joining the race for Miss Hypocrite USA 2010. But it took a little help from professional evil man Rush Limbaugh to expose how miraculously mercenary she is. Rush Limbaugh, as I’m sure you all know, makes a living by being hateful. So when he got the chance, he upped the “retard” ante:

Our political correct society is acting like some giant insult’s taken place by calling a bunch of people who are retards, retards. I mean these people, these liberal activists are kooks. They are looney tunes. And I’m not going to apologize for it, I’m just quoting Emanuel. It’s in the news. I think their big news is he’s out there calling Obama’s number one supporters f’ing retards. So now there’s going to be a meeting. There’s going to be a retard summit at the White House. Much like the beer summit between Obama and Gates and that cop in Cambridge.

So. No surprises here, just the usual hate. Limbaugh defends Emanuel because he’s bashing liberals via ableist language, and he goes the extra mile, calling an upcoming meeting with PWD a “retard summit.” If Rahm Emanuel should be personally fired by the President, Limbaugh should at least retract what he said, right? Or apologize to Palin herself, since she’s been a guest on his show? Surely if something is hurtful when it was reported in the WSJ six months after Rahm Emanuel said it, something more vicious is hurtful when Rush Limbaugh broadcasts it instantly to millions of listeners, right?

Sarah Palin, this morning on Fox News Sunday:

“They are kooks, so I agree with Rush Limbaugh,” she said, when read a quote of Limbaugh calling liberal groups “retards.” “Rush Limbaugh was using satire … . I didn’t hear Rush Limbaugh calling a group of people whom he did not agree with ‘f-ing retards,’ and we did know that Rahm Emanuel, as has been reported, did say that. There is a big difference there.”

I’ll give you a moment.

Sarah Palin, who posted this on her Facebook page: Just as we’d be appalled if any public figure of Rahm’s stature ever used the “N-word” or other such inappropriate language, Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities – and the people who love them – is unacceptable, and it’s heartbreaking, thinks it’s fine when Rush Limbaugh did it because he was talking about “kooks” and did not say “fuck.” Sarah Palin, who claims to want her son Trig to grow up free from gratuitous insults of people who are ostensibly smart enough to know better, thinks it’s somehow not unacceptable or heartbreaking to call someone a “retard” if you don’t actually do it to their face.

Sarah Palin is the worst kind of “ally,” the kind who uses her own status as Super Special Ally to Oppressed Peoples to make herself look good and her enemies look bad without even pretending to care about the actual effect on the people who are actually oppressed. Sarah Palin, like the proverbial white person who has some friends who are black, is the able-bodied person who has some son with a cognitive disability. She’s not advocating for PWD; she’s not advocating for anyone but her own damn self and her right to be on TV every goddamn second.

Sarah Palin, basically, has become Michael Scott, except even more self-congratulatory and less kind.

And less fictional, god help us all.