Wednesday, February 27, 2013

listen to your mother--woot!

I have some pretty coolio news: I've been selected to participate in Listen To Your Mother DC (LTYM) this spring! 

LTYM honors Mother's Day each year by giving moms all across the country a microphone through which to speak their various mom-type experiences.  I attended our local show last year and found myself on a 90-minute roller-coaster extravaganza of gut-wrenchingness (yes, it warranted an invented word), inspiration, and hilarity.  I had to go have a drink afterward just to absorb and rehash it all.  I also walked away feeling like: I want to do that! 

Over time, however, I admit that I forgot to watch for more information about it.  Then, out of thousands of other tweets in my twitter stream, I happened to see an announcement regarding auditions for this year's show. See, I KNEW something good could come from that twitter haze I descend into every night!

So I signed up.

Then I realized the audition would take place in a hotel room.  Sounds a little creepy doesn't it?  It just so happens I listened to my mother, and I'm pretty sure she warned me to steer clear of strangers who promise me fame and riches in exchange for a brief interlude at the local Motel 6. 

Besides, I have been down this meet-me-in-a-hotel-room road before.  It's true.  Academic job interviews, if you can believe it, take place in hotel rooms.  In that professional context, the venue is quite horrifying.  Imagine trying to don your most professional pose as you vie for the job of a life-time with your well-suited butt cheeks perched precariously on the edge of a slab of body-hugging posturepedic memory foam!  I tell you, I considered curling up for a quick nap just to relieve the stress of it all. 

It didn't go so well for me the first time (perhaps is was my bedroom etiquette?) so I couldn't help but wonder if that would be an omen for LTYM.  But the audition was way more fun and friendly than a job interview, and they even let me sit in a chair! (OK fine - I got a chair the first time as well--but I had been warned not to expect one, so all my interview disaster fantasies centered around an austere search committee, me, and a set of queen-sized velour comforters).

Regardless, I guess I've gotten much better at showing off my stuff to strangers in hotel rooms because I made the cast!  (what would my mother say!?).

So...if you're local to the DC area, you should come on out and see the show!  And if you're not local, check out the LTYM main page and click on the "Local Shows" tab to see if there's a LTYM event near you. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

dye-ing to stay young

me on a portuguese cliff in 1996
29 yrs old

When I got home from this two week vacation, I developed my pictures in great anticipation (an all-manual Canon A-1, circa 1970, does not a real-time digital image make).

Anyway...I saw this picture and recoiled.   Not because I'm wearing Steve's sweater and it looks like an over-sized and amorphous black hole from which my neck spontaneously emerges, not because my teeth look like I painted them in with white-out, and not because it looks like I'm standing in an oil-spill (the light isn't quite so bad in the analog version).  No, I recoiled because I thought I looked old

Despite using gobs and gobs of sun screen on this trip, I had despaired over soaking up too much southern European sun.  Days in the water, on the beach and hiking along dramatic seaside cliffs had left me browner than brown.  Between that, and the half-grown-out highlighting job that had crisped up to a sun-whitened frizz on one side of my head, I thought I looked like a leathery old tanning-bed lady who had tried to turn 55 years of age into 25 by bleaching out my hair.

Wew - that is really harsh--and not just on me.  Let's get some context.  I was, after all, 29--staring 30 down the throat and sitting on the cusp of the inevitable degeneration of things like skin and breasts. Although I can hardly see it now, I looked at this picture and for the first time in my life, recognized something resembling age in my own face.  If you add to it that I was just 2 weeks pregnant with Gareth and awash in both new hormones and new ideas about identity that included my fast-waning youthfulness (in a 20-something's sense of the term), then perhaps you can see where I was coming from. 

Thinking that my hair no longer matched my face, I decided that I had gotten "too old" for highlights.

How ironic is that? 

Now, at the age of 45, I'm feeling pressure that perhaps I've gotten "too old" not to highlight (or color) my hair. 

Hair dye has become so pervasive that you can hardly find a person outside the old folks home who sports any amount of silver.  I have found varying statistics, but it seems that somewhere between 50-75% of women color their hair in some way. 

The lack of gray-haired folk moving amongst us has changed the meaning of gray, don't you think?  Gray doesn't mean you're 50 anymore.  Gray means you're 80.  That's a lot of pressure on a 40-something who's sporting a dish-water brand of no-color such as mine.

Despite that pressure, however, I do not want to color my hair.

For the record, I'm not gray yet--or if I am, you can't tell in my sea of blah.  So why not brighten it up?


First, when do you stop? I don't want to wake up in my 60s and recoil at a picture of myself because I feel, as I did at 29, that my face doesn't match my hair anymore.  No disrespect to older people, but there's a point at which died hair begins to look like some kind of helmet on the head--one that can make a person look even older rather than younger, if you know what I mean. 

Second, gray hair hides thinning hair, doesn't it?  When you get old, you start baring quite a bit more scalp.  Nothing like a frock of thinning but dark brown curls to set off the white scalp glowing beneath.  Silver tresses would mask that, wouldn't they?

Third, will you even live to see your gray?  You know I'm no fan of chemicals--especially toxic ones.  I don't feel remotely confident that hair dyes aren't super bad for our health.  This blog post offers a nice concise list of chemicals to look out for if you're concerned too.  No matter how much we might want to hold on to our youthful color, "dying" of cancer doesn't seem like a good way to avoid gray.   According to the National Cancer Institute , most studies of hair dye chemicals and cancer are "conflicting."  That doesn't surprise me. Nor does it comfort me.  It takes a lot of money to conduct a reputable study, and the cosmetic industry can't be in a rush to fund such investigations.  Still, in the world I want to live in, you have to prove that products are safe, not the other way around.  So if you haven't proved it won't hurt me yet, I don't want it. 

And finally, if I dyed my hair, I'd miss my transition to gray.  I know I would find myself suddenly sixty wondering how gray I'd gotten, wondering when I should grow out the color, wondering who exactly I'd become while I was busy slapping toxic chemicals on my head for all those years.

Perhaps that sounds ridiculous, but gray signals another life change to me--like puberty, except sort of the opposite

Which gets us to the crux of all of this, right?  AGE.  For a population so averse to being old, it's no surprise we don't want to look old.  Then we have the double whammy that we're women who are getting and looking old.  Nothing spells the end of beauty like a head of silver threads, right? And in our culture, the end of beauty equals, well, the end. 

Except I don't buy that.

I won't pretend that some aspects of aging really suck.  I have a cracked root in a tooth that will require extraction any day.  If I swim too hard, I wreck something in my shoulder that takes months to heal. My toes ache (?!), and my perfect eyesight has suddenly and oh so disappointingly, let me down.

You get the idea. 

I suppose all those complaints have changed my vision in other ways too because I see such different things in that picture than I did 16 years ago. While I agree with my old self that my hair looks kind of ridiculous, I disagree that it matters, and I certainly object to the idea that I look old.  In fact, I think I look young.  And with that, I also look a little naive.  I had not yet felt the pain of childbirth, the wonder of parenthood, or the exhilaration of passing my Ph.D oral exams.  I had not yet discovered the sound of my voice in my research, in front of a classroom, or on the Internet.   I remained a stranger to real loss. 

I would never trade my victories, discoveries or scars for the naturally blond hair I had as a teen.  Still, I know plenty of people (most people?) would say we can have both. 

I'm not here to say other people shouldn't color their hair.  Most people that I know do so, and I would never spend one second of any day judging them. 

I just want to voice an alternative. 

We can embrace a different kind of beauty--one you won't find on the front of Vogue or Cosmo.  This beauty grows out of wisdom, and wisdom comes to us through experience, laughter and pain.  We can't have that beauty without living and aging--without graying.  That is the beauty I want to see in the mirror as I grow older.  That way, if I'm lucky enough to see the years go by, I can embrace what time has given me instead of dreading to see what it has taken away.

my beloved "greggie"
wise and beautiful
she was about 80 years old when i snapped this

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

#LiberalTips2AvoidRape? I have two words: shame & ignorance

The offensive hashtag #LiberalTips2AvoidRape has been trending on Twitter since Monday.  The hashtag, which has resulted in countless disgusting jokes at the expense of rape victims, started in response to Colorado state representative Joe Salazar's arguments regarding CO House Bill 13-1226.  The bill would ban concealed handguns on Colorado's college campuses. 

To defend the bill against accusations that it would leave college women vulnerable to rape, Salazar pointed to currently existing safety measures that don't involve firearms such as whistles, safe zones and call boxes. 

Republicans, desperate to find a Democrat who might turn out to be as ignorant of women's issues as their own Todd Akin (or Richard Mourdock), would love to make Salazar the poster boy for their imagined Democratic "war on women."

Who do Republicans expect to persuade with this argument?  After reading Salazar's statements myself, I find his phrasing to be awkward more than insidious and the GOP witch hunt against him to be laughable more than grounded.  

You can read more about his remarks here, and here

Since the GOP claims that this ban would make Colorado women more vulnerable to rape, I have to ask: how many women currently have a Glock model 26 tucked away in their backpacks on Colorado's college campuses?  Would Salazar really be taking guns out of the hands of college-aged women? 

Personally, I don't even think it matters.  If we're going to talk about reducing incidents of rape, then we need to focus on men, not women; we need to talk about education, not guns.  Suggesting that women should arm themselves to protect against rape just opens another door to insinuations of blame such as: He never would have raped her if she'd had a gun!

Still, if women in Colorado really oppose this ban, let's hear it from them, not from GOP leaders who are eager to exploit concerns about women's safety to further their own, unrelated, agenda. 

Meanwhile, conservatives defend this week's offensive hashtag by claiming that it was intended to mock Salazar and not victims of rape.  I say that's irrelevant.  The latter is a residual effect, whether intended or not. 

When you see a tweet like this:
you can see what I mean.  The idea that rape jokes might provide a legitimate means of forwarding an argument about guns amounts to an ignorance I could not previously have imagined. 

If conservatives care so much about the safety of women, then let's see the House put their money where their mouth is and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

winter market

not my market.  i'm always too cold to take pictures!

It's that time of year.  I'm feeling my first pangs of annoyance with comfort food.  The smell of roasted meat seems just a bit too roasted.  The mashed potatoes too mashed, and the soup too, well...soupy.  The succulence of winter foods, with their varied ingredients, whether dried, canned or frozen, slowly melted together as if everything were butter, sustains us when it's 25 degrees outside.  But just as the novelty of fresh snow one day suddenly fills you with suffocating weariness, so to the aromatic and savory quality of winter stew eventually grows heavy and old.

It's OK, however.  I just placed my first order with my meat coop (Polyface Farm if you're in VA); sign-ups have commenced for my summer CSA, and word has it, the farmers have begun to look at the ground with expectation instead of resignation. 

Good thing.  A few days ago, I poured the last of my frozen red peppers into a sizzling pot.  The oil spattered angrily at the offending flecks of ice that had flowered on the brittle flesh over the winter.  I reassured myself that there were still at least a few meals worth of chopped green peppers  still waiting for their chance to cut the acid of this year's oddly flavored spaghetti sauce.  But then those disappeared into last night's chili.  Meanwhile, if garlic had legs, it would be on its last.  Each time I reach for a new head, I hope for firm papery bulbs, but am greeted instead with the softness of something gone stale, when I'm lucky--and a blackish green powder when I'm not. 

Steve discovered this dismal state of affairs last night and recoiled at the idea of adulterating his chili with such a substandard specimen.  I saw him sneaking store-bought garlic powder into the pot when he thought I wasn't looking.  Can you believe that? 

Hopefully my winter coop will have garlic this weekend...

While some things run short, asking me to look hopefully at the calendar for the welcome sight of spring poking its cautious nose around the bend, my real panic comes at abundance: how can we still have six jars of peaches left?  And good God - where did all these frozen green beans come from?  I order people to eat, eat! EAT!! for heaven's sake - before those always impatient sentinels we call daffodils catch us with last year's larder, egad:  uneaten. 

The balancing act can be tricky, however.  I have to remind myself that while spring may bring asparagus and snap peas, we still won't see a pear until August.  And just as a white shoe goes bashful after Labor Day, a decent tomato never graces a party until sometime in July.  If I was more organized, I'd make useful notes about how much we eat to assess our needs.  Since I don't, I just stare into the pantry and wonder. 

This year we have more abundance than usual because I made a discovery.  Not the rocket science kind that will leave you in awe of the intricacies of my mind.  More like the obvious, "look, the water is wet!" kind that will make you wonder why you bother with this blog at all. 

"They" have this thing called "winter markets" ("they" being very clever people who are not me).

You'd think I'd be all over that!  I should know the secrets of who has a green house and might show up with carrots in January, or of who has free-range eggs every week--if you get there before 9:30am. 

But I have an irritating martyr-like quality about me that has hampered my participation in winter markets.  When I first began to eat seasonally, I think I saw winter as a thing to be endured with the hatches battened tight against the weather, as if we were bears with no choice but to live off our winter fat. This mama bear was determined to show her fortitude and her willingness to sacrifice for the cause.

I also don't think I understood that farmers actually have stuff to sell in the winter.  Many have meat, cheese and eggs.  Some have green houses where they can grow limited crops.  Others have access to climate controlled storage where they can keep things like potatoes, onions, apples--and maybe GARLIC?  Still others sell locally processed foods like canned fruits and salad dressings, not to mention soap, bread and other locally made wares.

While I always sort of knew this; I somehow didn't really know it.  As a self-proclaimed locavore, how clueless am I?

After finding a winter fruit co-op two years ago, I realized I didn't have to hunker quite so hard.  So this winter, I ventured out of my lair and located a winter market just 20 minutes away.  After breakfast and hot coffee, I struck out with high hopes.  I learned quickly, however, that you shouldn't tarry at this time of year.  The good stuff goes quickly, so if you hope for eggs or anything green and amazing like broccoli, you'd better drag your wool socks and flannel pjs out from the refuge of your bed and hit the tented parking lots in the first hour.  Once you're there, you'll be happy you made the effort, both for yourself and for the stiff-fingered farmers who showed up as well.

On my first day, I found kale, curled and stoic against the cold, lettuce, huddled under a towel in bewilderment, and pickled beats, clamoring to wake me from my winter stupor with their magical blend of vinegar and sugar.  I vowed to return!

Just be sure to wear something warm because even your money will get cold!  When I reluctantly remove my gloves to receive change, the coins fall into my hand like little daggers of ice.  "Thanks" I squeak as I grip my dollars against the thievery of a February wind. 

Doesn't sound fun? 

But it is! 

Even a bread maker like me has to indulge in a loaf at a market like that.  I come home with something I can toast and butter and savor with a huge mug of steamy hot tea.  If I don't embarrass myself by eating it all, we can serve it that night to spruce up a bowl of butternut squash soup.  And if the market allows, a rare sprinkle of greenhouse scallions--little harbingers of the warmer days to come--can go a long way to crunch up such a winter meal with hope and cheer.

Just as I was late in getting to the year-round markets myself, I'm sorely late in suggesting anyone else try them.  But, if there's one thing cabin fever can tell us: there's still time!  So...if you haven't already, get online and check out your options.  Then you can eat fresh, eat local, support your farmer and have an adventure all in one productive trip! 

And for my VA friends:

I've been frequenting an Arlington market, but there are also Smart Markets in Lorton, Bristow and Oakton.
Also for those in VA, you can join the campaign to lower your carbon footprint and support VA farmers by taking a pledge to spend $10 a week on VA produce.

I bet you never thought you'd hear me say this, but Happy Shopping!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

valentine's medley of love

Before the morning was even out, I already had so much to say about V-Day - a holiday I'm known to malign for its Hallmarkian and consumerist obligations.

First, I will warn you that if you have young children, remember that anything you do now to celebrate a given holiday, you will still be doing in FIFTEEN years--kids love tradition. So off I went to buy a small heart shaped box of chocolate for the kids (except now Olivia has to have dairy-free low sugar chocolate from Trader Joe's, but we pretend it's the same thing).  

I stood at the counter thinking about how I still have "fair-trade, slavery-free chocolate" listed in my "topics" file for future blog posts.  I feel a pang of guilt as I hand over my four dollars for this (too) cheap box of Elmer Chocolates from CVS.  Perhaps, I thought, I should run home and ruin everybody's Valentine's day with a deflating post about child-slavery in cocoa-bean production? 

Nah.  It was just one box, so I decided to chill out for once and let myself enjoy the beautiful morning.  I would write about something uplifting, like the first sunshine I've seen in weeks.

Armed with my resolve, I left CVS with a spring in my step.  I could tell because the sloop of hair that I'd noticed sticking out on the top of my head before I left home bounced awkwardly about my crown with each step. 

You see, I had walked to the store - combining my morning exercise with a necessary errand.  That's great, except that it meant I hadn't showered yet.  That's OK too except, on my no-poo regimen, I only wash my hair every other day.  That means, if I didn't wash it yesterday, then my pre-shower moments of this morning technically counted as the THIRD day without a washing.  Who cares if you're planning to work out, right?  No one showers before a workout.  But that logic landed me in Trader Joe's this morning with that sloop of hair persistently misbehaving in random ways that only bed-head can.  That's not even to mention the general disarray of the rest of my hair, made more interesting by the hood I'd worn to fend of the cold as I power-walked my way down the road.

OK - so I looked like crap at Trader Joe's.  I didn't really care.  The sun was out, remember? Besides, no one would notice me. 

Until the check-out guy in the aisle next to me offered me a rose.   Really?  A rose? 

"Oh!? Thank you!" - I didn't want to be rude.  It was a pretty bedraggled flower (like its new owner) - probably plucked from a lackluster dozen in an effort to spruce the bunch up for sale.  I graciously accepted the forlorn specimen and set it, in all of its withering greenery, on the counter. 

I hoped we would move on after that but the check-out guy in my lane didn't want to let it go: "Now you have to go on a date with him!" he exclaimed with a grin. We all laughed good-naturedly--as if THAT would ever happen. 

As my head shook with the giggles of feigned amusement, I could feel my hair screaming "BOING, BOING" from the top of my head.  The woman behind me smiled in a not very interested way.

I'd forgotten about Fair Trade chocolate by now, and was instead thinking about writing a not-so-romantic Valentine's post on how sexual harassment, in its mildest forms, can even follow a woman to the grocery store in the early morning hours where well-meaning and amiable grocery clerks might inadvertently shine a spot light on her bed-head just for the grins of a mock flirtation. 

I left with my rose, wondering if I was really supposed to take it.  Its leaves curled a bit on the ends; its petals looked reluctant to open for fear of falling off--it had seen better days.  If I'd been in a different mood, it could definitely have felt like a mockery.  But whatever.  I'm not writing about that, remember?  I took in the bright blue sky and set out on the mile and a half walk I had in front of me--I would embrace the rose!

Then I realized I had to carry it the whole way home.  Too bad for you I don't have a picture: me, my bobbing swoop of hair, my back pack slung on my back, walking along next to stand-still rush hour traffic with the most pathetic rose ever, clutched desperately in my hand.  What narrative would people attach to me?: 

"Who would give that crazy lady a rose?"

"Did you see the bed head? Perhaps she's on a walk of shame.  Poor thing, that rose may be the only surviving remnant of last night's romance.  How sad!"

"Why is that lady working out with a rose in her hand?"

"Is that the best her partner could do? A crumpled rose? And just one?"

I don't know why I felt so embarrassed to walk along with a flower.  Perhaps because there's so much pressure to buy women flowers on this day that it's almost embarrassing to get one--as if we're surprised.  Or perhaps it just messed with my I'm-way-too-cool-for-Valentine's-Day swagger.  Unable to bear my humiliation any longer, I stopped and stuck it in my backpack with the chocolate.  All was good in the world again.  I wouldn't write a scathing V-day post entitled "flower fascism in february" after all. 

Then I stopped at my mailbox on the way up the drive and found this:

 And it's addressed to my 15 year old son, Gareth.

Call me a pessimist, but I feel pretty sure that the little box of chocolates I bought him cannot compete with this "Polar Bare" and all of her varied accoutrements.

So now I'm thinking I'll have to write a post about boys and women in the media, because I have to ask you, dear reader, what do I do?  It's not like he hasn't seen these kinds of images before.  In fact, I'm fairly certain he's seen much worse.  But you can be sure that whatever he's seen, it wasn't handed over by his mother - or his grandmother (my mother gave him this subscription for Christmas). 

In years past, I've hidden this issue.  I think he did see it last year, but (and perhaps I'm imagining this) it seems racier this year. 

Steve offered to disappear it to his office.  Ha! 

Since I couldn't get this post up in time to garner your advice, I've resolved to handle it like I do most things of this nature:  I'll give it to him, but kill it with talk talk talk talk talk--exploitation, objectification, manipulation, airbrushing, unreasonable standards of beauty, eating disorders, cutting, self-hatred, teen suicide...  It gets sexier and sexier doesn't it?  

By the time I'm done with him, I'll have sucked every sexual nuance out of each and every one of those pictures. 

Or not. 

Regardless, I'm still determined about my upbeat mood.  I don't want to write that post about women in the media today. No one can accuse this chick of being a "Debbie Downer!" I can relax, eat chocolate and stop to smell the roses with the best of 'em!

Then I got on twitter and found this:

I don't think "Preston" liked my joke about Marco Rubio on Tuesday night!  Would he be disappointed that I actually laughed out loud when I saw his tweet?  It seemed so appropriate for a person who, instead of writing a post about love or how to make heart-shaped candies, could only manage a V-day rant about child-slavery in the cocoa industry, sexism in the grocery store, commercialism at the flower shop, and objectification of women in the media!

So on this V-Day, instead of searching for my romantic side, I guess I'll just throw in the towel and embrace my bitchiness!   I really don't mind.  At least I'm a bitch with a brain, a sense of humor, and, of course, my one rose. 

it got much happier once we were home! 
and that bottle was a party favor at our wedding.
see? i'm a romantic after all!

Hope you all had a LOVEly day! 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

torture, complicity, and "zero dark thirty"

 Image from

We saw Zero Dark Thirty last weekend. 

I admit I wasn't keen to see it.  The government sanctioned assassination of Osama bin Laden disturbed me terribly, so a film that might glorify the event didn't appeal.  Still, with the film earning so much acclaim, I felt obligated to see it for myself.

It was much better than I expected.

Debate has swirled regarding the accuracy of the torture scenes and about the way the film may connect torture to the intelligence that led to bin Laden.  I'm not so concerned with accuracy, however.  The film is a piece of artwork, not a CIA briefing, or even a documentary, so I believe we should take it as such.  Also, the film's representations cannot change two truths: 1) the United States tortured prisoners during the decade after 9/11, and 2) the United States ultimately hunted down and assassinated Osama bin Laden with public approval.  

For me, regardless of whether or not "enhanced interrogation techniques" (ridiculous euphemism for torture) happened exactly the way the film portrayed, or with any degree of efficacy, I oppose them.  Consequently, I was more interested in the film's possible jingoism than in splitting hairs over the truth of its minutia. 

Happily, rather than make a definitive statement about its topic, I think Zero Dark Thirty simply asks us to think about the implications of these events while gauging our complicity in them. 

The film opens with a blank screen accompanied by an emotional audio of selected conversations that occurred during the events of 9/11/01. From there it cuts immediately to a stark room where CIA agent, Dan (played by Jason Clarke), tortures a man who is strung up by his wrists. Watching the representation of a U.S. official torturing another person was surreal.  Should I side with Dan?  Root for him in his quest for information?  

When you watch a film, you need someone or something with which to identify--you need a place where you can insert yourself into the narrative. For a few uncomfortable moments, the film asked me to put myself in Dan's shoes as he inflicted harm on an, at that moment, helpless human being.  Worse, since I know the U.S. did "enhance" its interrogation techniques at this time, I know that something at least vaguely akin to this scene has occurred in the name of my freedom.  Am I OK with that?

Not at all.

Perhaps anticipating this dilemma, director Kathryn Bigelow brilliantly resolves it with the entry of another agent, Maya, played by Jessica Chastain.  Maya enters mid-torture and watches from the corner, reluctant, non-participatory, and looking disturbed.  As viewers, we can sit on Maya's shoulder--a much more comfortable place outside the action--and take things in.

Maya will be the hero of our story, and she will also serve as our point of entry to the film.  When, after a brief break outside, Dan asks her if she'd like to pass on the rest of the interrogation, I'm thinking yes, I definitely want to wait outside!  I'm feeling a little ill, to be honest, but Maya insists on returning, as she should--it's her job and after all, we came to see the film, not sit in the parking lot while the action goes on behind closed doors. 

Throughout the film, Maya will remain at a distance from the violence of both interrogation and assassination--allowing the viewer that distance as well.  She never actually inflicts pain on anybody.   Instead, she watches hours of interrogations from the detachment of her desk. When she does interrogate one prisoner, another agent sits in front of her, literally acting as her arm as she prompts him to beat the prisoner for her.  And of course, she stays behind when the actual assassination of Bin Laden occurs.

Despite this buffer, however, Maya does not escape complicity with the events around her.  She drives the beating in the second interrogation, even if she doesn't do it.  In addition, she hands Dan a pitcher of water as he prepares to water board the prisoner in that first scene, and later, when the prisoner tells her that Dan is a "monster" and begs her for mercy, she tells him coldly that only his honesty will bring an end to his suffering. 

If you think of Maya as the entry point for an American audience, her distance mimics ours.  Given the buffer of euphemisms, we can read about "enhanced interrogation tactics" from the safety of our desks. We can also sanction and benefit from these tactics without having to deliver the blows or pull the trigger ourselves.

But like Maya, we are complicit in these practices, despite our distance from them.  We don't have to pour the water, but when we go to the polls, we hand over the pitcher--or not. 

I think this question of complicity is far more interesting than debates about accuracy.  The film gives us just one version of how things could have happened, opening the door for conversation and debate.  While it offers us a string of events where Americans work tirelessly and at great physical and emotional risk to achieve a particular task, it also lets the tortured prisoner speak (calling Dan a "monster"); it lets us see Dan return home when his "enhancement" responsibilities get to be too much, and it lets a Navy Seal express ambivalence about gunning down a woman in a house full of children. 

When Maya stands on the tarmac waiting for the Seals to return from their mission, Bigelow gives us a moment to think about what we've done, how we've done it, and why. 

I know many people must come to that scene and think, "Yes! A job well done.  Justice served!"  I think the film leaves room for that. But it also makes room for a reaction like mine.  For me, justice only happens in a court room, so I feel a little despairing as Maya stands on that tarmac. 

I don't think the actions of criminals or terrorists justify acts of violence against them.  Not so much because I want to save those people from harm, but because I worry about what those practices will do to us.

Nazi war criminals were responsible for the cold blooded murder of 6 million Jews, cowing the 3,000 precious lives we lost on 9/11, but nobody tracked them down and shot them in their beds.  They went to trial. 

I understand that the War on Terror presents us with entirely new challenges, requiring new tactics and different ground rules.  But those ground rules are still subject to our invention, our approval, and our principles.  Personally, I don't want to hand over the water pitcher to achieve my cause, nor do I want to sanction individual assassinations in the name of my safety.

As we continue to grapple with these questions in the current controversy regarding drone strikes, I'm glad that Zero Dark Thirty left room for debate, because I can't help but ask: if we lose ourselves in the fighting, then what's the point of winning?

Monday, February 4, 2013

just call me "stands with a book"

Even as a teenager, I resented the idea that, in our culture, a woman traditionally takes their husband's name when she gets married.  Really, I had no intention of letting that happen.

So why did I do it? 

A number of reasons, I think.  It helped that Steve didn't expect me to change my name for traditional reasons; he just hoped I would for practical reasons.  Neither of us wanted our names to differ from the rest of the family, and neither of us was keen to chew on the mouthful "Tonkin-Werrlein" for the rest of our lives.  And if we both kept our names, what would we call our children? 

Sure, I could have asked Steve to change his name, but he'd already compromised on the kids' religious upbringing.  Since he'd agreed to let his Catholicism go, it seemed fair that if anyone let their name go, it should be me. 

Also, Steve's father had been given his name by someone who took him in as a child.  I could feel the pressure to carry on the Werrlein name as a tribute to that person because, wouldn't you know it, Steve was the sole remaining male heir.   

It all seemed very reasonable to me in the planning. 

When it came time to actually do it, however, changing my name felt much weirder than I expected.  While happily married, the idea that I should suddenly answer to "Mrs. Werrlein" affronted me.  The sound of it felt like a complete erasure of my original identity.  Years later, I would revel in the fact that earning a Ph.D. confused the older generation who insisted on writing "Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Werrlein" on our Christmas cards.  I suggested "Dr. and Mr. Debra Werrlein" but that didn't really fly with anyone except Steve, who thought it was sort of cool. 

After a year of reminding people to call me "Deb" rather than "Mrs.," Steve and I went to a large Werrlein family reunion where we discovered a previously unknown family of Werrleins: with FOUR boys! 

So much for my having martyred myself to save the family line! Remember Kerri Strug?  In 1996, she vaulted on a broken ankle to win Olympic gold for a team that would have secured one anyway.  Likewise, I had fallen on my sword to save a family that didn't need saving. 

Even more disconcerting, however, when I told one of the older aunties at the reunion that I was working on my master's degree in English, she responded good naturedly, "Ah, well that doesn't surprise me.  The Werrleins have always been big readers."  Ugh.  Since teaching myself to read in kindergarten, I'd never gone anywhere without a book.  Reading was my thing.  Other people had Izod sweaters or belly button rings or purple hair.  I had books.

That was the moment when I knew I'd made a mistake.  I was not really a Werrlein, but by then, I didn't know if I was a Tonkin any more either.  The experience of changing my name had shown me that my birth name was simply my father's name (the name my mother had adopted), and her birth name was simply her father's name (the name my grandmother had adopted).  As a woman, I felt suddenly nameless, adrift in a sea of patriarchal tradition that sought to drown out my identity by design. 

What was I to do? Eschew all previous names and call myself "Stands With a Book?" Or perhaps "Confused About Names?"


To truly solve my problem, I needed a radical change (change that completely dismantles the old system and invents something new) instead of reform (change made within the structure of an existing system or framework).  Strategies like hyphenating names, or having one parent's name differ from the kids' felt unfair and cumbersome to Steve and I (think hyphenation in the second or third generation) because  we were trying to change the patriarchal surname into something equitable when patriarchy is, by definition, inequitable.  I got muddled in this confusion and lost my way.  I thought I could change my name without engaging the history of why marriage asked me to do so, but I could tell by how it made me feel when I did it, that I was wrong.

The institution of marriage originally served as a way of uniting families for political and economic purposes.  The woman was simply the line thrown from one ship to another to tie them together.  By trading her, the families transformed the burden (daughter) of one family's father into the property (wife) of another family's husband.  The woman's name changed accordingly.  Marital ownership of women, together with the patriarchal surname, allowed a man to create future generations of heirs while also allowing him to trace the transfer of his property through those generations. 

If we want to think of marriage as a mutually beneficial partnership instead of as an institution designed to facilitate a man's wealth and power, then we need a language of partnership, not patriarchy.  We've made strides in this area.  Many have substituted "Ms." for "Mrs." or "Miss," titles which indicate a woman's sexual status as well as her availability for trade.  Others have substituted "birth name" for "maiden name."  Personally, I cringe at the use of "maiden." For me, it invokes words like "virgin," and "hymen" and "pure;" all of which speak "property" to me.   It seems a minor thing, but language shapes our world, and vice versa. 

I don't doubt we will continue to see changes in the language around marriage and naming now that gay marriage has gained so much acceptance.  I'm also sure, however, that LGBT couples will not be the only ones breaking new ground.  I have a friend who, after one marriage and divorce, decided not to change her name upon remarrying.  This created difficulty when she and her new husband had a baby.  After much deliberation, they agreed to move outside established traditions and give their daughter her own last name--a name they chose/invented together--a name that suits her, that came from her, and that belongs to her. 

They looked to the child instead of to the father for a name.  Does that seem crazy to you? 

If we want to change a thing, we must be willing to experiment, take risks, and feel uncomfortable. 

I so admire their courage, as well as their powers of negotiation (I think it took a lot of soul searching, and waiting, and listening for them to come to this agreement).

When I got married nearly twenty years ago, I hadn't yet considered all of this.  I also didn't realize how uncomfortable my new name would be until I took it.  My primary regret, however, is that I didn't set a different example for my kids.  I think it's important they understand that the tradition of marriage originated as a means of trading in women.  Love, and eventually partnership, came in time.  These things have changed marriage and should change its tenets accordingly.  Consequently, I hope my kids will see the traditions around marriage as in flux and subject to their invention.  

Unfortunately, telling them all that after having changed my own name is like telling them, "you should never smoke, kid" while puffing away on a Camel Light.

Alas, perhaps I should just do it, and ask them to call me "Stands With A Book" after all!