html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: August 2006

Thursday, August 31, 2006

In my neighborhood!

HEY! I'm single!

That's not far from my house. I'll have to look for it today.

What makes good porn good?

Thor’s the only person who requested a topic, so Thor gets his question answered.

Hah! What makes any porn good is that I recognize the outdoor locations. I grew up in the San Fernando Valley, porn capital of the world. The movie Boogie Nights is shot largely on Vanowen Blvd, which used to be the street I took between my Dad’s and my Mom’s houses. I mostly don’t watch porn, especially now that I don’t have any way to, but my ex and I could never agree on what to rent. We compromised by each picking a movie, which is why we would have double features like Circle of Friends and John Wayne Bobbit Uncut. He made me check them out, saying he was embarrassed to be seen renting Circle of Friends. Anyway, the “nail shop” where “Eileen Bobbit” “worked” was a block west of the flower shop where I worked in high school. They showed the Topanga Theater, which I went to back when it was a theater. There was some park scene that I am pretty sure was the park my daycare took us to. So I like porn with street scenes.

When porn is called for, I prefer to read stories. (Except that when girls read porn, it’s called erotica.) I think that what makes good porn good is what makes good sex good. Good porn is porn that captures the moment you hope for in sex. OK porn can get at the fun thrashing around or give you ideas for elaborate sex or give you something to look at (or think about) while you get off. But really good porn reminds you of that moment right before he slides in, when you’re both holding your breath and both admitting that you really really want this, and that after all that wanting, you can finally relax and believe that it really is about to happen.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

My people.

My friends in Ultimate have the wrong impression of me. They think I approach strangers with ease; that I’m open and friendly. They’re wrong, though. It isn’t that I like all strangers; it’s that I like all Ultimate players. They’ve consistently shown themselves to be smart and fun and nice and thoughtful, so I assume the next one will be too.

I loved my students. Back when I was a TA, I adored every one of my students. From the instant they registered for class they were mine, and I would get them through with the best grade they could earn. I memorized their names from the roll sheets, so that on the first day of class I already knew them. I was fiercely on their side and they knew it. Some still call or write me.

I’ve never been able to re-tell this story in a way that is interesting, much less funny, but one time Chris was telling us about a film he saw about some fungus. I guess the spores from the fungus grow independently into little free-moving ciliated guys with their own lives until one day when they get inspired. Then they all somehow find each other and coalesce into a bigger fungus that has differentiated parts and reproduces with another coalesced fungus and then both explode, releasing more spores. That story is neat enough, but then one of us said “What if people were like that?”

Like, what if all your limbs and organs lived on their own for a while, then one day decided to come together to be a person? And, what if that kept happening your whole life? And your final shape wasn’t determinate? Like, one day, another of your arms appeared and attached itself? Would you hold parties to celebrate? Or get a quarter under your pillow, like the reverse Tooth Fairy? Chris and I started talking about autoimmune diseases, where your limbs would run away from you. And romantic love stories, where someone with an unusual number of limbs finally met the boy of her dreams who had almost the same number of limbs, but then there were difficulties and they both sigh sadly, but then! One more of her limbs shows up! And now they are perfect together and their parents approve and they look all radiant and beautiful together, holding hands and hands and hands! Or horror movies! Where the bad guys are holding someone’s limbs hostage and the good guy has to break the code to find the room where the leg is futilely trying to kick its way out to get to its person.

Chris and I got going for ten, fifteen minutes on this. We were laughing ‘til tears, cheeks and stomachs aching, sliding down our chairs. There were a couple other people in the room. One woman didn’t think it was funny, but she was enjoying our fun. One woman thought the whole concept was dumb and acted impatient as she waited for us to be done. I would like those women or not on their merits, but we are not like enough to be lifetime friends.

In Pasadena last Friday, I was sitting next to Tom. When he mentioned that he used to work with horses I asked whether he would rather ride a horse or a giant spider. He looked at me for a second, maybe wondering why I would ask a question with such an obvious answer, then said “Giant spider. ‘Cause then I would be riding a giant spider.” And when the whole table stopped to consider how the bridle would work, I knew I was with my people.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Anand called me a girl for this. He's wrong, too.

You guys are going to get the wrong idea about me. You’re gonna think that I hate all the time. I almost never hate, so I don’t know why it keeps coming up here. But Justin has been completely mistaken twice in the last week; as a friend, I need to show him why.

Justin linked to a video of extreme climber Dan Osman yesterday and to Touching the Void last week, as examples of courage. I would guess that he also liked Into Thin Air, about summiting Everest. I refused to watch the Osman video or see Touching the Void, but I read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, so I’ll talk about that one. I was livid when I finished Into Thin Air. I thought every last person on that trip up Everest was unbearably selfish, someone I hope I never meet or care for. That’s what I think about Osman, and about all extreme climbers or mountaineers.

I wasn’t surprised at all when I heard that forty trekkers walked past David Sharp as he lay dying by their path. After all, every one of those trekkers had basically shit all over their families and everyone who loved them just by deciding to climb Everest. Climbing Everest, or falling off big rocks in Yosemite, or anything along those lines is both pointless and extremely dangerous. When a person chooses to do something like that, what he is saying to the people in his world is “Fuck you, Dad. Fuck you, wife and children. Fuck you too, friends. I am going to go risk my life, our future and your happiness because I might temporarily feel good doing something extraordinarily stupid. It won’t be enough, so I’m going to do it again and again until it kills me. Fuck you and your sadness, Mom.”* If I heard of some unloved man going off and doing some extreme something until it killed him, well, I would briefly mourn the death of a person and respect that he died doing what he loved and hope that he didn’t leave a mess for someone to clean up. But reading that Osman left a baby daughter behind made me think he was a contemptible selfish hollow inadequate man. What an asshole.

The thing that makes it all the worse is that the activities are so fucking pointless. Osman looked to be an incredibly physically gifted man; he could have used those skills for something. With that ability, he could have hooked up with some study, climbed redwoods to monitor murrelet nests. He could have done search and rescue, helped stuck people. If he needed to fall, he could have jumped out of planes to fight fires. He could have offered the world something, and instead he spent his days gaining and losing potential energy. Such a stupid, stupid waste. The Everest people are worse, by the way. They aren’t just taking a hard, pointless trek, they are trashing a mountain that wasn’t bothering anyone and violating the locals’ ideas of sacred space.

I have no objections to thoughtful, cautious mountaineering, which is dangerous enough. I don’t even think that all activities have to be productive; I love fun for the sake of fun. But I don’t see any courage in people who have made this type of extreme risk-taking a lifestyle. They are selfish addicts, living out immature boy fantasies, stroking themselves to death.

*Smokers say this too, with an added emphasis of “And you can take care of me for two years as I wheeze to a painful death. Fuck you, grown kids.”

Monday, August 28, 2006

Belated, but sincere.

Justin, honey? Screw you and your knitting.

The pictures were taken by Scott Cook. Those folks are my friends, playing at DUI.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

You know how I say that all my readers are totally smart and charming and way hot?

I was SO right. Y'all should be real more often.

Or I should move to Pasadena.

Friday, August 25, 2006

See you tonight, Angelenos!

Three recommendations sounds like enough. Lucky Baldwins it is!

See you 8ish? I'll be there with my friends Tim and Emily, and I'm looking forward to meeting you.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Too idealistic?

Three years ago, at Andrew’s Solstice party, he set out prayer paper for us to write on. He said for us to put down what we wanted to release from the last six months, so that when we burn the paper it won’t follow us into the next six months. That was easy. I wrote that I wanted to get my life out of limbo. I knew I was living essentially as I had since undergrad, with a roommate, hanging out with friends, playing sports. I was 31 years old, hanging out with a bunch of 23 year old friends (that year was Nick, Kimmy and Brev). Now I am 34, living alone, hanging out with friends, playing sports. This year my playmates are 22. My life has stalled.

I’ve heard the saying “you can’t become an adult until you have had kids”. I understand how condescending that is to grown people for whom kids aren’t an option. They are certainly adult in the sense of being participating members of society. But I give some credence to the idea in a different sense. I haven’t had a growth spurt in years. I’ve accomplished some stuff (‘cause hell, I’ve got time to spend), but none of it is fundamentally different than anything I could have done at 24. I’ve gotten more competent and more willing to take on incrementally bigger things, but really, nothing about me has changed in years. A decade.

Far as I can tell, the next mostly likely events for stretching and teaching me are marriage and kids. (Should I miss those, next down the line is my parents aging and dying, and please can I have the good changes first?) People say things like “I learned a patience I never knew before” or “I don’t remember what my life felt like before”; that makes me think they have changed. My life now is fine and good and I like myself, but I’m long overdue for something that demands more of me. I’m sure that I will rue these words, but I’m not working at capacity at all or struggling with hard concepts or accommodating difficult change. I could pose a challenge to myself, but those end up being a more intense version of something I’ve already done. Harder, but not new.

I do not want to tempt fate by saying this. I have zero desire for gratuitous hardship. But I think there are steps to becoming my best self, and the work put into a marriage and kids (and career, but that’s just doing more of what I do well) would be big leaps. I want some big leaps. I want my life to start moving again.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I don't think I ever told him how much it meant to me.

This post of Sherry's knocked me back as well:
I'm longing for a partner these days, and that's hard. I used to feel ashamed of this wistfulness, or like my sadness or my wanting meant that I was somehow "incomplete." Like wanting partnership is an admission of co-dependence or simply an unwillingness to be alone or to work on my own issues. That's crap.

I stay away from longing for a partner. If I let myself think about how much I want a partner I get sick and scared and sad. That leads straight to an ugly feedback loop, precessing between ‘what’s wrong with me’, ‘if I were thinner’ and comfort eating. I simply can’t spend time there; at the early signs I have to stand up and go swimming or call a friend. An entire chunk of my emotions is off-limits, because I am not brave enough to want something that much. I mean, I know intellectually that I miss having a boyfriend, but I won’t let myself feel it until there is a good chance I'll get one.

I also hate the popular idea that wanting partnership is an admission that I can’t be by myself. Obviously I can do a fine job by myself; I have for years. But what I miss, when I let myself, is the easy, easy courage I got from knowing my boyfriend loved me. For a short year, I would wake up every morning with his hard-on pressed into my backside and for the rest of the day I was invincible. Speak up in class? Invite a neat stranger to get lunch? Take on a new project? I could do anything, risk any failure, because I knew for sure, with physical proof, that the only person whose opinion mattered wanted me for one more day*.

And then that was gone. I had to replace it with stuff like ‘it worked when I did this before’ or ‘if it fails, I will have tried something neat’. People say stupid shit like, ‘real courage comes from within’ and ‘it’ll make you a better, stronger person to stand on your own two feet’. Well yeah, but… fuck that. Doing it on my own works, but it is so much harder. I have to draw so much deeper and be so much more vulnerable when I try to do something hard. I have to be more afraid that people are judging me and even when a risk goes well, it takes me longer to recover. In addition to the stupid work of dating itself, being single imposes the constant drain of sustaining my own courage.

I miss the smell and touch of a boyfriend, and meaningful sex and shared context. But I can ignore all that, because the default just re-sets to being friended or solitary or promiscuous or celibate. After four years, what I still can't ignore is the fear that I am going to have to keep being brave by myself.

*I am not looking for any other explanation for this.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

My goal for the week is to be as brave and open as she is. I meant to write about a different entry of hers, though.

This post brought me to tears. I’ve always been alpha. I don’t even know how not to be. It’s just that we’re in a group and someone suggested a movie. That’s fine but in half an hour, the first person will get hungry. We have time to do both, as long as we take two cars, but if we are going to pick up food on the way we’ll need to leave within the next ten minutes. And then I stand there, waiting for the chain to be clear to someone else, hoping someone else will speak, because I was the bossy one last time. Two minutes… three minutes and everyone is still chatting and people still have their shoes off. Four minutes and I don’t even care, but the movie would be way more fun if someone made gin and tonics to smuggle into the theater and the group will turn surly if we wait until after to eat. Six minute… (FINE! CRAP!) You two! stand up and mix drinks! You go get the car, and you three put on your shoes. Now, so that we can grab food on the way. I’ll never understand, because there is a big difference between a fed, drunken movie and a hungry, sober movie. The chain of events and who should do what gets louder and louder in my mind; in fact, I rehearse it mentally over and over as I bite my tongue, hoping someone else will please mention the time. And you know what? I don’t even care. I don’t care if we go to the movie or we sit here all afternoon. I’ll have fun either way. But y’all said you wanted to see the matinee, and to make the showing that allows us to play catch on the beach at sunset I’ll have to be bossy one more time. It would be awesome if someone else took charge, but they just don’t and we’re gonna be late.

So I’m alpha in groups and I guess I’m alpha in relationships, too. Well, I know I’m alpha in relationships. When the ex told me he wouldn’t marry me, his exact words were “Your personality is stronger than mine and it would be a lifetime of not getting my way.” Which is a perfectly respectable reason not to marry someone. But I didn’t want my personality to be stronger than his. I wanted him to want to marry me.

That leaves me with a couple choices. I can find someone who is happy being beta or I can find someone equally alpha. I actually really like beta men; they're easy to be with. We fall right into place and I get my way a lot. You have to be alert with beta men, because they don’t read their own desires well and they don’t protect themselves. Being with someone who is naturally beta means taking on responsibility for his happiness, ‘cause he won’t. As long as he is good at something I’m not, I can respect him. I could love and be with someone who is solidly beta.

But every now and then I’ll meet someone that I am not alpha to. I mean, there are lots of people for whom alpha/beta is vague and never established. And I love being around alpha women (my girlfriend Le especially owns my ass), ‘cause we think alike. But once in a while I’ll meet a guy who isn’t beta to me at all. When I do fall for someone like that, it feels entirely different. Like I have a chance for a whole different type of relationship, with someone I can respect from the inside out. I feel like maybe I could show myself more and not be scared that it’ll be too much for him. Or I could trust him to stand up to me, call me on it when I’m not being a thoughtful partner or even just when I’m being less than I could be. Or that he might be strong enough that I don't have to be on all the time; I might even be taken care of. When I fall for a guy like that, the crush feels deeper, wrings my gut and the back of my throat and makes my breath catch.

I’ve never had the chance to find out what it would be like to be in that relationship. I barely hope for it, because it is hard enough for me to find anyone, much less one of the few men who is as alpha as I am. I have been very happy in other types of relationships and could be again. It might not work out with someone equally alpha. Maybe we would clash all the time. But maybe not. Maybe I would know for my whole life that I had married up. Maybe he would know that he did too. Maybe I would keep swooning for him, be thankful for years that I was with someone so exceptional. Maybe it would feel like more than I've ever known.

Very fast ant jaws!

I have this long, wistful post written out, which is totally going to make you cry 'cause it is real poignant. Then you can gaze out the window all day and think about missed chances for loooove and how hard I have it. I mean, I'll be doing that. Except that I won't because I'll be thinking about VERY FAST ANT JAWS!

I mean, holy shit! They snap their jaws together at 145mph! And the force can throw them backward into the air! Like, if they were people, it would be 44 feet high and 132 feet back! I want to do that! All the time!

That's super cool, 'cause it reminds me of those shrimp! That can snap their claws hard enough to cause cavitation and create bubbles with they use to stun their prey. That's what all makes all that clicking you hear when you go snorkling. Hell yes, I say. I would totally throw bubbles to stun my prey, if I ate prey that moved. Fast jaws and claws, that's what I want.

Monday, August 21, 2006

L.A. meet-up this Friday?

I'll be in LA this weekend. Are any of you interested in meeting up this Friday night? Maybe somewhere Pasadena-ish?


More Wall of Shame:

It's wierd, but I think maybe some ex-pats and Libertarians don't like me. From the comments on Prettier than Napolean:
can't say i much care for her either since i think she's generalized grossly and inaccurately. she sounds pretty ignorant and short-tempered. not so different from those she "hates."

Megan's comments reveal her as narrow-minded, breathtakingly arrogant, anti-social and bordering on the misanthropic. It's a shame that the opportunities she appears to have had to travel widely have been wasted on someone incapable of taking anything from the experience. If she feels that way about travel, I wonder what she feels about literature.

How did I end up on the Libertarian circuit anyway? I am quite the bleeding heart; I give change to homeless people and play team sports and volunteer in a community garden and shit. It's like I've fallen in with a bad crowd, just 'cause they're all funny and cool. Marginal Revolution is totally a gateway drug.

UPDATE 8/30: One more from Catallarchy.
Granted I'm detached, contemptuous, pedantic and smug, but you say it like that's a bad thing! And yes I'm an insufferable, pleased-with-himself libertarian but I console myself with that fact that I'm not still whining about the sixth grade and I'm confident I'm doing better in the sack than the author.
Ten bucks says he's right.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

In case I missed anyone last week.

Something happens to smart people when they don’t grow up around other smart kids. If they aren’t very, very lucky, they get broken in ways that don’t mend well and show for the rest of their lives. Sadly, the scars from being the smartest kid in the room show up in grownups as being detached, contemptuous, pedantic and smug. It is hard to feel for those people, but you should. It isn’t their fault.

I ache for people like that because I know how very close I came to being one of them. I’ve told you I was viciously ostracized in sixth grade. Most of it was that bitch, Laura, but some of it was also me. I’d gone to school with those kids for three years; they wouldn’t have turned on me if I hadn’t left the door open. It wasn’t fair that they picked me out because I was smart enough to be different, but it was fair that they didn’t like how I fought back. I was snotty, correcting people’s mistakes, and arrogant, taking refuge in being smarter than most. I can still hear how my voice and inflections changed that year; it would have only gotten worse as I fortified myself with the idea that I was different, and smarter, and better.

It was my great good fortune, fate turned kind, that I got sent to a school the next year where everyone was smart. In that crowd, I wasn’t even particularly bright. It helped that I wasn’t so different anymore, but more important was seeing kids effortlessly do better, learning for sure that there are plenty of people smarter than me. I had been on the verge of losing respect for people, but those kids taught me to respect again real quick.

That’s one way to salvage a smart kid. Another way a smart kid can avoid the smartness-is-everything trap is if she values something else, like sports or acting or anything where she gets her ass handed to her regularly. That’s so good for teaching smart kids that other things are also important. I have also seen a couple extraordinarily smart kids just logic through it. At some point, one friend of mine must have decided that the goal was having friends and getting along. I think it was an explicit decision that he would quietly be the smartest person around, and noisily be the goofiest, nicest, funnest person in the crowd. He is much loved now, and I think he got there by pure will.

There is one sure way to ruin a smart kid. If you take a smart, hurt kid, and give him anything by Ayn Rand, all hope is lost. I haven’t read any Rand, so I can’t argue content with anyone. But I can tell you how Rand works as a black box. You put a hurt, smart kid through Rand, and you get out an insufferable, pleased-with-himself Libertarian. It is a loss to all of us, of course, but more of a personal tragedy for the kid. You can hope that one day that kid will want to get laid enough to rejoin society, but too many of those kids are irrecoverably lost.


Grown-up smart kids, if this is you and you aren’t happy with how people react to you, you can change. It will be hard and the only reward is that people will like you more. If the SCA is working for you and you enjoy evenings sitting around with other dorks snarking on inconsistencies in TV shows, then leave it be. The Internets will help you find other people like you, which is great. But if you find that when you correct people, they kind of wince and later don’t invite you to their parties, then maybe it isn’t working so well. And if your friends tell you they didn’t like you at first because “you are too intimidating”, well, you are probably missing out on other potential friends. In general, more friends are better, right? Because you could sleep with some of them?

Here’s how you change. First, you have to stop valuing being smart so much. Being smart is great. You figure things out fast and life is easier for you. It gives you access to other smart people. But just like markets are spectacularly good at allocating consumer goods and not good for allocating much else (like environmental goods), smarts are only good for figuring things out. Smarts, by themselves, don’t make you friendlier or sexier or more at home in your body or a better person. Smarts are one gift among many, so appreciate the other gifts. If it helps, notice that those other gifts get people laid.

Second, respect everyone. I don’t mean this as a variant on “everyone has something special that they are good at, and that person might just be an excellent scrapbooker” (which I’ve always disliked, because what does that leave the person who really isn’t good at anything?). No, I mean that you must respect everyone for his or her fundamental personhood. Respect every person as you do yourself, just for existing as a person and trying her or his best. Do not reason through why some people are more worthy of respect than others*. Just respect everyone as an article of faith.

It will make your life better to respect everyone you meet. First, it feels good to move in a world where everyone is respect-worthy. It makes everyone brighter and shinier and more interesting. Second, people can tell. They can tell right away, before you speak or smile or do anything. People like to be respected and they will like you for doing it. It is nice to meet people who already like you. You’ll like them more too.

And that’s all. Two things. Value other things as highly as being smart (or devalue being smart down to other things). Respect everyone. People will like you more, and you will like yourself better if you can do that. Everything else will follow.

*If you must have a standard for respecting people, you can use one I’ve mentioned before:
The coolest person in the room is the person having the most fun, in his or her subjective experience.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Maybe he'll read my blog when he's away.

For many years a guy named Casey made delicious muffins that were sold in coffee stores all over Midtown. About two years ago, he locked away his recipes and moved to Poland. My quality of life was noticeably worsened, ‘cause those were some excellent muffins. This week a new taqueria opened two short blocks from my house, and their vegetarian burrito was really, really yummy. If they keep that up, my life is going to be vastly better for having such good food so close. They were nice, too.

My life also took a turn for the better recently when the sharper, funnier Megan moved back to town. I didn’t grow up knowing any other Megans and I reflexively dislike them, ‘cause why are they moving in on my name? But within a couple minutes of meeting the sharper, funnier Megan I knew she could represent. A couple minutes more and I started to worry that I wasn’t gonna live up to our shared name. Anyway, she’s awesome and I am so glad she and her husband are back.

But even a close new taqueria and the funnier Megan aren’t going to be enough to compensate for the loss coming my way. Chris goes away to grad school (Berkeley, urban planning) this weekend. As soon as I realize what that means, I am going to be very sad.

Chris and I dated for a year in undergrad and have stayed close ever since. There’ve been years since we graduated that we lived in different cities, and times when we didn’t talk for weeks, just trusting the underlying affection. I assume that when he is in the throes of grad school we’ll go back to that. But for three years now, he’s lived within a couple miles of me, and for a while I am going to miss that terribly.

When Chris first moved back, he would be frantically running errands but dash into my house to hug me before getting back to his chores. I called them drive-by huggings. On my way back from the gym in the mornings, I would ride up to his house and sing under his window until he leaned out. I called him with good news and cried to him when I was hurt. I get mad at him if he isn’t hungry when he comes by, because he knows better than that. We’ve sat quiet on our porches and painted each other’s houses.

Chris has more faith in my strength and ability than I do. He’ll get me to climb trees, or scramble on rocks, or confess crushes, or plan things, knowing that I can get the rest of the way on my own. He came over one time to help me repair my sink. Took the thing most of the way apart, looked me over hard, and said “you can do this.” Then he left and I fixed it! I was proud for days.

I’m excited and happy for him. He is going to love grad school. He’ll only be gone for two years, and not very far away at that. I’ll be very surprised if he doesn’t move back to Sac when he’s done. I’m sure he’s going to bring back some wickedly smart, beautiful wife and I can’t wait to meet her. But being able to see him often, on short notice, for unimportant things has been a huge source of joy and fun in my life. I’ll miss him.

Why do I adore Ananda? Because he is ALWAYS right.

He wrote in the comments below:
But admit it: this thread makes you less nervous than the Marginal Revolution thread on martial arts. I always cringe when I see more than 2 comments on a martial arts thread. I think the equivalent of Godwin's Law for martial arts threads is that they all invariably devolve into "Everyone should do Brazilian jujitsu ftw!!!!"

I freakin' hate that shit and never play. What other horrible conversations am I forgetting for now?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Weak, vile people.

Years ago there was a series of long posts on the Thorn Tree by an ex-pat in Alma Ata. He was amazing because he was completely upfront about being a despicable person. He was entirely aware that he was living up to the worst of himself; he’d resigned himself to the trap of living well in a third world country. He hated Alma Ata, thought it was an ugly soviet concrete city. He hated Russians and Kazakhs alike for being racist peasant gangsters. He was bored shitless at his do-nothing job for some aid agency. He despised himself for whoring, couldn’t remember the last time he’d fucked a girl who liked him or could have refused his relative wealth and power.

And yet, he knew he would stay as long as he could. He couldn’t resist the advantage he got just for being American; it was all too easy. In Alma Ata, he was important enough to include in the nightly drinking with the big boys. He was fucking more and more beautiful women than he thought he could even approach at home. He could live cheap and have a maid and a driver and eat well (except that he hated Kazakh food). He had no demands on him, no civic life in a land where he was an irrelevant stranger, no family to demand his attention, not even the daily chores of living.

For all that he truly was repugnant, (he always closed his posts by saying it was time to make his secretary lean over him as she poured him more tea. Or time to measure the length of her skirt again. Or…) in the end I felt for him. He was lost and he knew it. There was no place he would be happy again. Not Central Asia, which he hated for its ugliness and backwardness. Not any other developing nation, which he wouldn’t even know as well as Central Asia. Not his homeland, where it would be clear he was an irresponsible fuckup and he would have to work and live up to the expectations of having peers in his life. I couldn’t hate him, because he was aware enough to pay the costs of being who he was.

The ex-pats I hate with a deep and abiding hate, those floating, parasitic, venal fuckers, are people like him who smugly believe they’ve landed themselves a pretty sweet deal.

Additional thoughts on "Weak, vile people."

You don’t have to be as extreme as that guy to earn my contempt. It doesn’t burn with the same intensity, but I also hate all the smug ex-pats who are doing nothing worse than (barely) working in developing nations, drinking the cheap drinks, talking about your incompetent maid, getting your dive certificate, collecting local art and wondering if you should go somewhere else for monsoon. Ex-pats, if that is you, I hate you too. You contribute nothing. You are living off being white and speaking English and for you? That is not an accomplishment. Also? The pretty brown boys/girls are fucking your money, not you. If you can’t live back in the States because it is too hard to fend for yourself in a place where people ask things of you and you aren’t rich and special, then you have become spoiled and purposeless. No respect.


Oddly, I felt the same thing when I went to hear Ron Jeremy speak. He’s a smart, articulate guy who knows that being a pornstar has derailed him from a life he now wants more. He still enjoys it, but spoke openly about wanting a wife and kids. He has a master’s degree in education and sounded wistful when talking about teaching kindergartners. “I was a good teacher,” he said, “but who would ever let me back in a classroom?” I’d let him teach my kids, actually. He knows right from wrong.


If any of you could track down those old posts, I would love to read them again. I looked through the Thorn Tree, but couldn’t find them. Also, I am relaying his opinion about the ugliness of Central Asia. I personally thought Central Asia was gorgeous. I thought Manila was an ugly concrete pit.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Tangentially related to ex-pats.

To hold you while I am thinking of why, exactly, I consider ex-pats worse than bike thieves (who would otherwise be the lowest of the low), I am posting my immigration policy. I'm sure you will agree that this is a balanced, nuanced immigration plan, put together after painstakingly researching the literature from economics, sociology, demography, history and environmental science.

Megan’s Immigration Policy:

Immigrants! Welcome! We need your smarts and skills and talents and work! Please, come in and make yourself at home! Get going right away on all those dreams that you couldn’t realize in your home country! Let me know if there is anything I can to do help.

However, if you would like to come here and get the benefits of our tremendous wealth and resources and infrastructure (which we ourselves did not earn merely by the accident of our native births), I have two (2) conditions for you. If you can’t meet these conditions, stay home or go elsewhere. I have no love for you. If you can, welcome again!

Conditions for immigrating here under Megan’s plan*:

1. You must be willing to consider yourself, at least, a hyphenated American. Don’t move here, use the incredible gifts of this country and hold yourself separate.
2. You must be willing to let your beautiful sons date the white girls.

That is all. The end.

*Refugees get a slightly longer time to meet these conditions, since they didn’t want to leave in the first place.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

I like traveling myself, and I usually like people. But not together.

The comments in Unfogged linked to this great post, which reminded me how much I hate travelers. I have a post for today after all! Oh man, I hate travelers.

My first year at CalPoly I lived in a hostel right next to campus; during the off-season the owner rented rooms to students. Three other women lived there full-time as well. Marta from Mexico, industrial engineer. Margit from Germany, architecture. Monica from Argentina, agriculture and irrigation. I swear not a day passed that one of us didn’t have the following conversation:

Traveler (serene and friendly): Hell-o! What are you doing here?
M (avoiding eye contact, trying to cook): I go to school at CalPoly.
Traveler (settling in for a chat): Really, in what?
M (dreading the inevitable): Irrigation/engineering/architecture.
Traveler (surprised): A pretty girl like you?
M (not surprised): I will kill you and all of your descendants if you say another word to me.

It wasn’t any one conversation, just the effect of having exactly the same conversation with a new person every day. Ooooh! And then, if I somehow couldn’t escape and they missed the glare that followed “pretty girl like you”, the next words would invariably be “Water is a very important issue in California. Tell me about it.” All of it? Starting where? It’s complicated and I barely understand it after years of study. Put time into explaining it to someone who will be gone tomorrow? No, no, no, no. I hated every identical one of them. In the nine months I lived at the hostel I had exactly one good conversation with a guest. He was an environmental scientist himself; he had just finished tagging bighorn sheep in Death Valley. But he didn’t consider himself a traveler.

For real, if you are staying at a hostel, do not try to befriend the staff or locals. They hate you. You cannot imagine how profoundly you are exactly like every other person who comes through, even in the ways you try to be authentic and chill and real. They do not want to have a genuine connection with you, because you will leave. I despise hostels now, because they all have the same atmosphere and because travelers go there. I gladly trade money to avoid all of that.

If there is any interest in a series, I could move on to:
My deep and abiding hatred of ex-pats, who are weak, vile people.
Why traveling makes people annoying, especially people who believe it has any purpose besides indulgence.
Don’t bash your home country and compatriots, assholes.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Surprised again by the obvious.

Tyler (‘cause we’re close like that) linked me and to Jacqueline Passey in the same post. Ms. Passey is admirably certain and clear, although if I were her coach I would suggest just a little more touch. I was surprised by her comment on MR; it made me realize how one-sided my perspective has been. She wrote:
Romantic partners can also be very hurtful and mean and use emotional blackmail if they want kids and you don't.

HAH! That’s funny. I had only ever thought of it from the perspective of the partner who wants kids, and the cruelty of another partner refusing once they were in a committed relationship. Seriously people, if one partner has strong feelings about having kids, you need to be very clear about that before committing to each other.

I know a woman who had a child in her teens and knew that she never wanted another. She gave her child to a family member to raise and got her tubes tied. When I met her, she was engaged to a child psychologist. She broke off the engagement, describing him thusly, “he could spend his entire day working with children and when he got home, if he saw a kid outside, he would go out to play with him.” Normally, my sympathies would be with the dumped person, but really! She got her tubes tied! That is a clear indication that one does not want children. It is very hard to misunderstand ‘got her tubes tied’. When I asked him later, he sheepishly mumbled “Well, it could be reversed…”. Better to end that relationship than to let him hope for years.

Tim and I were talking about this and he mentioned a couple he knows. The woman had said from the beginning that having kids was very important to her; he had been reluctant and after a few years of marriage was stalling for all he was worth. I, naturally, agreed with Tim’s assessment: “He decided to have kids on the day he proposed to her. Now it’s time to live up to that decision.”

Le and I were talking about a different couple. The woman, in her mid thirties, has long been clear about wanting kids. He doesn’t, but they don’t break up. She has started running marathons and doing triathlons. At the finish line for a triathlon, she broke into a rage, tears streaming down her face. She started hitting him, crying and screaming that she was only doing triathlons because she wasn’t doing anything fucking useful with her body. I can totally understand using that anger to finish a triathlon and still having plenty to burn when the race is done.

It’ll be a good exercise for me to go back and look at all those examples from the perspective of the person who doesn't want kids. That I hadn’t even thought of doing that before shows me how biased I am about this stuff.

Jason will like this post.

I was trying to understand the feeling of not knowing, and then I remembered! There was that one time! I was working up in Tahoe for the summer, setting pitfall traps (for tigers, mostly). One of our sites was a miserable 45 minutes straight up from the road, no trail. We had to carry in all our gear to set up the pitfalls the first time and it sucked. Three of us had worked all morning to get our gear in, and installed one pitfall trap. We were just starting to dig the second pitfall array when someone noticed a column of smoke from a forest fire a couple ridges over. A light wind was blowing toward us. What to do?

One of my co-workers thought a fire could rapidly cross two ridges, and we should evacuate immediately. The other co-worker thought that two ridges away was far, that we should finish our trap and then head back. I had no way to evaluate those choices. Either option, that a fire two ridges away was dangerously close or no imminent threat, was completely plausible to me. Neither consequence, getting caught in a forest fire or having to haul all that gear back in plus looking dumb, was easily discounted. I was going to have to make an important decision between two very different choices with no way to get the information I needed.

Man, that’s a terrible feeling! I remember it clearly. Now I can empathize with y’all. If you are ever caught in the woods, with work left to do and a fire maybe coming your way, you can imagine me there. I’ll be shaking my head all sympathetic, and I’ll pat your hair and murmur “I know, hon. That’s rough.” Anything else, like work, marriage, kids? I’ll bake you cookies and tell you to sack up and choose. I just can’t understand.

Friday, August 11, 2006

That's Sage, track standing.

I think I’ve told you before that I have cool friends. Because they do lots of stuff, some of them lead the edge on trends by years. Burning Man, parkour, knitting, Giant Robot magazine? My early adopter friends thought they were great long before they were popular. Normally this doesn’t pose a problem. I am placidly me, and I happily feed them and they tell me about the neat things they do. Most of it holds no appeal for me, so I don’t think about them again until I read in SFGate that all the cool kids are dragon boating now.

I meet people through Ultimate mostly, and not all of them are my age. Since I’m single and my time is my own, I end up socializing with the other people with lots of time. This year I’m hanging out with Ali, Sage, Grady and Nisha. Who are, you know, barely twenty-two. They’re great. I love that they always want to do things. If a question starts with “Do you want to…” they shout yes and jump up to start. I love that. Go to the river? Make cheesecake from scratch? Go to the new Mormon Temple? Do anything? Yeah! Fun! I’m not that way as much as I want, but I love being around people who are.

But here’s my dilemma. Ali and Sage have fixed-gear bicycles and I kinda want one. Well, I want one. But fixed-gear bicycles are for macho bike messengers or effortlessly cool people in their early twenties. I am neither. If I get a fixed-gear bike now, am I just imitating my younger, cooler friends? That makes me a poser, right? Can I argue that a fixed-gear bike fits in with my general avoidance of technology? Or point out that I never change the gears on my regular bike ever? Is it better or worse if I build my own bike? Is there something to be said for doing something I want despite knowing that it makes me a poser? Should I compromise and get myself a single gear bike?

Walk to Quench the Thirsty

Every Thanksgiving, tens of thousands of Sacramentans run and walk to fight hunger in our community. I myself have run in the Run to Feed the Hungry. I wear the shirt proudly.

But it isn't just hungry people who suffer in Sacramento. Every day, all around us, people get thirsty. Maybe it is the heat, maybe it is just an natural craving for something to drink, but no matter the cause, it is up to us to take action to end thirst.

The first annual Walk to Quench the Thirsty is tomorrow. The registration table is at 20th and Jay. Bring running shoes and athletic gear, come get a race number, and walk our pub route, battling thirst at every stop.

Update 8/13: "If you aren't drinking, you're dehydrating." - Stephen M.
The first annual Walk to Quench the Thirsty went well. I had thought of the WtQtT as a big, citywide race, with refreshment tables and a party at the finish line and everything. But I didn't put in enough work to pull it off. Still, about a dozen activists went out to eliminate local thirst. Our philosophy was "lead by doing" and I think we set a pretty good example for our friends and neighbors. The race numbers got lots of attention; other groups were happy to put on numbers and commit to doing their part to end thirst. It was very fun, and the second annual will be even funner.

Anand thought of it first.
Grady drew that picture.
Also, mark your calendars. Pie Contest will be on September 17th.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Decisive! But not implemented.

I even have opinions about clothes, although I have no idea how to translate that into an outfit or anything. I sometimes know what things are trendy, and I often don't like them. I thought asymmetrical hems were silly because my legs are the same length, and so were pointy shoes, on account of how my toes aren't pointy. Last spring, when every shirt was a floral print with an empire waist, I wondered why we were all supposed to wear maternity wear. When Angelina Jolie is pregnant, we are all pregnant?

Tracy and I were looking at this coming fall in the usual mall stores, and I can't think whose death we are mourning. All blacks and whites, with the occasional vibrant heather or beige. Or maybe we're moving into an opinionated season, offering only the extreme choices of black or white? For the fall elections, perhaps?

I would like to dress better, but that would involve shopping. People who like to shop, who shop recreationally, can know what their options are and what looks good on them. When they see something especially nice, they can buy that nice thing and accumulate a wardrobe over time. Other people, people who shop maybe twice a year, have to buy whatever is in the stores on that day. Even though I know of items of clothing I would like to own, and even though I would like to be more appropriately dressed for any occasion that requires more than jeans and a sweater, it would require frequent small doses of shopping to own just the right clothes. When would a short trip to clothing stores ever come before playing catch or porch sitting? I don't even mind spending money on clothes, but spending time? When? How?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Work left to do.

Capella’s right. I don’t understand people who are ambivalent about having kids, but that is just part of not understanding people who are ambivalent about anything. Ambivalence is one of a couple areas where I can’t empathize, though I try.

I have a girlfriend, Le, whom I’ve known since high school. Le is awesome. I should tell you more Le stories, about the fucking attitude she’ll give to cops or scary thugs or anyone, and how they just stand there, blown away that such a beautiful lotus blossom could possibly know those words, much less call them that, and then she walks away before they’ve even got their breath back. Back when I wasn’t working and Le was “working from home”, we talked on the phone for hours every day. I used to think that I wasn’t good at empathizing with people, but Le is. Since we had plenty of time to talk, we would spend hours gossiping. A lot of that would involve wondering how someone could do such a thing. We would come up with a best guess, putting as much detail as we could into figuring out what the circumstances looked like to them. We would speculate about how you would have to feel to act like that, or what she must have been thinking.

Le’s worldview is darker than mine. She loves her family and friends, but where I go first for the most benign explanation possible, she’s willing to assume that people have worse motives. I don’t want the way she thinks to be true, but she’s been strikingly right about stuff I would never have believed. Months before my ex and ex-best friend broke open, Le met us for dinner at Thanh Long. She took one look at them, sitting at a table with eight other people, not particularly interacting with each other. Her eyes narrowed and when she leaned in for our hug, her exact words were “What the fuck is that?” She was right.

Claudia caught that shit too. She was saying things like “They spend an awful lot of time together.” back when I was still saying things like “Of course they do. We’re all best friends. You can’t understand the true depths of our beautiful friendship, the love we all share. I wish you wouldn’t malign our pure and special relationships with each other. Besides, she would never do that to me.” And Claudia was all “Why is he washing her car?”

Anyway, while I have no idea whether Le and I were accurate in all our gossiping, I did spend hours everyday trying to put myself in other people’s outlooks and think like they do. I think I’ve gotten better at empathizing. But not about ambivalence. I just don’t understand it; I can’t summon what it must be like to be indecisive. Sure, there are times when two options are about the same. But that just means they are equally good or bad, and I pick one arbitrarily. When choices aren’t equal, I always favor one and don’t look back. The worst of all situations is relevant uncertainty. You’ve likely already guessed that I hate uncertainty. I’ll adjust to what I have to, but uncertainty about important stuff is an especially vicious hell. Uncertainty can stop me for a while, but I’ll usually pick something, even something sub-optimal, just to end it.

The other thing I don’t get is shyness. I have finally learned that sometimes, people aren’t snubbing me if they don’t approach me all easy and friendly-like. I know that rationally, but have to remind myself before I build a reciprocal dislike. Some people are shy. Shy people are not disdainful, they are shy. I got that wrong for decades, but now I know. Maybe some day I’ll really understand.

Props to Margie for pointing this out.

I can understand not wanting to have kids. You can dedicate your life to your partner and yourself, have beautiful things and time to enjoy them. You can work as much as you want and spend the money you earn on yourself. You can give the time you would have given to children to your projects or your beliefs or your friends or your family. No kids can mean a gracious, fulfilled life.

I can understand wanting to have kids. Having kids means lots of loud, goofy fun and more laughing than you ever expected. Having kids means endless work and putting yourself last, and being hopelessly in love with incredibly adorable and demanding small perfect people who are just as in love with you (until they reach junior high and turn on you). It means watching the people you love most in the world go out and get hurt and feeling every second of that hurt. Having kids is inviting messy chaos into your life and taking your chances.

I can understand not wanting kids. I can understand wanting kids. What I cannot understand is not knowing whether you want kids. Having kids and not having kids are not alike. Not even close. The choices are not remotely equivalent. How do you answer the question with “Eh. You know, whichever.” How do you not know?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Changing people? Not when you can fix the system.

Also at the watershed meeting last night was a supercool old-school farmer who loves oak trees above all else and puts handpainted signs on local streams. On some of his land is a large pond that is only open to members of his fishing club. I saw it when I got a tour of the watershed. Since I only have one thing on my mind, I immediately thought it would be a great place to watch the moon rise and make out with someone.

When I met the supercool farmer at the meeting last night, I asked him right off, "do people sneak into the pond to make out?". He laughed and said not there so much. But there's an oak tree on a rise on another part of his land that gets a lot of traffic. He said "Now I don't care if they're making out, but they leave their wrappings and I don't like that. So I hung a dead ram from the tree and it stopped."

I love a physical solution.

You would think she would want to see it in the mirror.

I was at this watershed meeting last night, and some developers came to present their proposed project and try to win some hippy approval. The watershed people looked exactly like you would expect, and happily, so did the developers, all slick and groomed. One woman with the developers was very striking, hair cut in a severe fade, extreme eye make-up, low-rise pinstripe slacks. She had strong features, and pulled it off well, but I kept wondering if she is just counting the days until she can get out of this cowtown.

At one point she stood up and I noticed her tramp stamp, in capital letters, said: "ME". I'm still figuring that out. ME. We all know it is her, and "ME" doesn't offer any additional information, so I don't think it is a form of ID. I always assume the true audience for a tramp stamp is the guy bending her over. Perhaps he needs to be reminded of the real focus of the activities? Maybe it is just her personal motto. ME... ME... ME.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The hypnotist is back!

The State Fair is coming! I love, love, love the State Fair. Seriously. I can’t even tell you how much I love the State Fair. The State Fair a few years ago was my first fair and I was blown away. I had no idea you could go hang out with the livestock, and that the crafts would be so incredible, and that there are shows, and baby animals! For some reason, more than other occasions or trips, the State Fair triggers a longing for a boyfriend. I have this fantasy of walking through the fair, holding hands and sharing a funnel cake, in golden slanty light and slow motion as we toss our heads back to laugh. I think it is because there is so much going on, so your chances of stumbling on something really neat are pretty high, and finding a neat thing together is one of the best things you can do as a couple.

I am almost at the point where I would rather go to the State Fair alone than go with someone who isn’t as into it. I hate being rushed through the antique tractor exhibit, just when I was starting to follow the gearing. I want to look at all the giant bugs, and pet goats until I’m tired of it. But the part I love best is finding some exhibition for the aficionados. Last year I wandered into the police dog training show, where dog after gorgeous dog ran through the same moves and the announcer explained small differences in technique. I could have watched for two hours. Or the livestock judging. Kids in tight white pants bring out half a dozen indistinguishable animals, and the judge tells us why some are better than others in dense jargon. I absolutely love jargon, and I also love that there are people who can tell pigs apart.

I talked Chris into going to the State Fair with me last year. I knew he wouldn’t have patience for the ag stuff, so I went for a couple hours first and it is his own fault that he has never pet llamas and longhorns. It was cool that he made me go on rides I would have skipped. But he was worse than useless in the crafts exhibits. Instead of being interested in the quilts, he just divebombed me while I was trying to look, saying “bor-ring” in my ear before he veered off. I would say he was worse than my baby brother at nine, but I think it was about the same.

This year I think I’ll go to the Fair alone, unless someone with as much enthusiasm as me shows up. When you love something so much, cajoling and convincing someone to go can take the excitement out of it. Once you are there, you feel responsible for their good time and keep hoping the fair is living up to your promises. Walking around alone feels ache-y, and I don’t want a whole funnel cake, I want half a funnel cake. But it is better than missing it, or being there with a bored person, or having to leave the sheepdog exhibition early.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Cagematch on the Carrizo Plain!

Another one of the cool things about the Carrizo Plain is that you can see the San Andreas Fault there. Visible! Where two continental plates collide and fight it out!

If I understood this picture right, the San Andreas Fault runs vertically down the middle. The plate on the right is moving downward; the plate on the left is moving up.

This is Wallace Creek, and they say that bend isn't a meander. It is a thirty foot displacement in what used to be a straight creekbed. Top of the creek moving away, bottom of the creek moving toward us. Cool.

What a shame.

I saw this Bee article yesterday and it really hit home. I was stunned, simultaneously not believing it and understanding instantly how it happened. In 2005, Bureau of Land Management employee Marlene Braun committed suicide when her boss prevented the release of her management plan for the Carrizo Plain. Clinton created the Carrizo Plain National Monument as he left office; Braun was appointed the first manager. Her job was to create a management plan that balanced grazing with the ecological needs of the Plain. She had worked on the plan for two years and was close to releasing a final draft when her new boss, believing the plan should go in a different direction, blocked it, disciplined and fired her. Shortly after, she shot her two dogs and killed herself.

I never met Ms. Braun or her boss, don’t know anything specific about the Carrizo Plain, haven’t read the Carrizo Plain management plan. I don’t want you to think that I can speak with any direct knowledge of this tragedy. But, I’ve worked in both federal and state bureaucracies and have strong opinions about civil servants. Without knowing anyone involved, I can put together a plausible picture.

There are different kinds of civil servants. Some are deadweight; they’re there for the job security and short hours. They amaze me, because they don’t care what agency they work for! Transportation, tax board, water, health. It’s all the same to them. Me, I deeply love water policy, but only some aspects of it. I wouldn’t even work in the other state water agency; they do totally different stuff. Boring stuff. There are also civil servants who care about their projects and have opinions and do a solid job for the taxpayers, but don’t take their jobs home. Then there are civil servants who believe.

The civil servants who believe believe with all their being, and they make huge sacrifices to be civil servants. The pay is low, the offices are crappy (you wouldn’t believe the taped together chairs and jury-rigged cubes and awful paneling and piles of paper), the hours are long and never ending. But there is nowhere else they can do the work they love. They can’t have that kind of influence over the fate of the Carrizo Plain anywhere else. They also believe deeply that they are working for the people of this country and feel an obligation to balance competing needs fairly. Truly. They are not cynical people.

Those people get worked over by changes in administration. Ms. Braun came to the Carrizo Plain under a supervisor left over from the Clinton administration who supported her process for assembling a management plan. When he retired a year later, Ms. Braun got a supervisor with, at the least, different priorities. At the most, he came in with direct instructions to derail her plan. Here’s the part that is going to be hard for non-bureaucrats to believe. Those long, boring management plans matter. Painful to read as they are, that plan would have determined the foreseeable future of the Carrizo Plain that she loved so much. The administration you work for matters. Bush’s vision for the public lands of the country slowly trickles down to every remote monument, into incremental decisions about grazing loads, and a place is shaped until another administration decides it is important enough to spend three years changing it.

You can read different accounts of Marlene Braun’s suicide by Googling her name. I feel irresponsible speculating, but since I’ve already told you I don’t have any personal information about it, I’ll add one more piece of opinion. The part that convinces me that Ms. Braun was one of the sincere ones, that she couldn’t see a way to live with the loss of her work and with a compromised Carrizo Plain, was that she shot her dogs first. Killing her dogs before she killed herself must have been agonizing; she could only have done it by believing it was the loving, responsible choice to make. She was strong or desperate enough to do it; she must have put that strength and desperation into her plan for the Carrizo Plain before giving up. I’m sorry she saw no shades of grey; I’m grateful people like that work for causes I believe in; I’m thankful I’m not one of them. I hope she didn’t live long after shooting her dogs.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Go Chris! You can do it!

I sent Chris a one-line email this morning:
There's a headline in the Yahoo News that "Chris may become hurricane." I'm all excited and happy for you.

And got back:
Apparently I had a go in 1994 too, but unfortunately I merged with an extratropical baroclinic zone southeast of Newfoundland and lost my identity.

I'm aiming for a more sustained and successful experience this time.

I know we're all rooting for him. Unless you're in his path or something.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

What?!?! No! I walked into a door.

I was walking around with a broken arm last fall, and I nearly always got the same response from strangers. Someone would look over, smile and say “what did the other guy look like?” I would explain that there were three other guys, and one of them was a grizzly bear, else they’d never have broken my arm. But one night, I was out walking late and it was kinda cold and foggy, and across the street there was a huge black man on the phone. He looked over at me and said, in a giant voice, “Oh darlin’, what happened to you? He twist your arm?” I was purely shocked. Did he twist my arm? Enough to put it in a cast? But there is no he! If there were a he, he wouldn’t be an arm-twister! Who would think of arm-twisting first? Who would think of arm-twisting?

Just like I don’t live in a crowd where arm-twisting is the most likely explanation for a cast, I don’t live in a crowd that uses racial epithets. I was surprised to learn yesterday that “tar baby” is a derogatory term for black people. I just didn’t know. So much of black/white racism is new to me. It's not at all what I grew up with.

Growing up in LA, especially at a high school that was maybe 15% white, gave me what I’m guessing is a non-standard view of American racism. There was no one group everyone disparaged; it was far more intricate than that. The standard phrase was “the dogs of Asia”, and I heard it applied in every direction about every people from every Asian country. (Except that we didn’t mean it, because my friends were second generation and broadminded enough to forget traditional enmities when our actual schoolmates were all cute and stuff.) When I travel in the rest of the country, I’m always surprised again that American racism is about black and white people. That just seems so… broad. So… undifferentiated. Not by specific country of origin? Or even state? How would you ever make fun of people based on fine-grained stereotypes about the cars they drive or the crappy love ballads they listen to?

I suppose that with enough exposure, I could pick up some nuances of black/white racism. It would certainly be good to know enough to avoid loaded phrases. But it is too late for me to get where I am with inter-Asian/white racism, where I can trust my ear and understand my audience and actually make jokes. That’s just as well. I am lucky and privileged that I haven’t seen enough of it that I always recognize it.

In case you haven’t seen it yet: Blackpeopleloveus

Two catchphrases I can't stand.

That's not a challenge, that's a problem.
I hated the euphemism "challenge" the first time I heard it, and I hate it worse when people use it as manager-speak (which they learned in useless business school classes). I've always thought that problems come to you, and you have to solve them or avoid them or do whatever you do. Either way, they're yours and they aren't optional. Challenges are something you choose to do; if you ignore them, they'll ignore you. I have no objection to solving problems, and I'm happy to ignore challenges sometimes. Let's keep them separate.

I don't want to share things with you either.
Look, I'll tell you whatever you ask. But how are we going to share a piece of information or a description of an experience? We can both have it simultaneously, sure. But we aren't sharing it. Besides, sharing a non-rivalrous good is pretty stingy on the giver's part. Second besides, one of my three bosses sometimes shares things like assignments; those are more properly orders which I'll get to when I'm done talking to you.