Lederhosen and jingle dresses

I grew up in a German-speaking household, with my maternal grandparents–both European immigrants–and extended German-Slavic, Lutheran family with whom I regularly spent time. My mum didn’t learn to speak English until she went to kindergarten. So much German was spoken in our home, in fact, that by the time I got to high school, I was so frustrated at not understanding what was, clearly, being said about me that I opted to take German all four years, plus a term of conversational German my first year at Virginia Tech, just for good measure.

Our culture–language, food, drink, holidays–enveloped us like a warm, comforting blanket. Though I remember a lot of polka dancing, cheek-pinching and entreaties to eat more, it wasn’t smothering, as portrayed in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Rather it was more like a support network of people I had no concept of being without. It just was. And though there was no overt talk of ethnic pride, nor was there shame or discouragement in being ethnic.

Photo of a white child and white adult woman dressed in traditional German clothing with green grass, a hedge and road in the background
My mum and brother, 1975

(The first time I walked into Novak’s Hungarian Restaurant a few years ago, the aroma actually brought me to tears. One whiff of a stogie has the same effect.)

I didn’t learn until I was in my thirties–from a coworker who had grown up on the Cheyenne River reservation in South Dakota–that the warm, fuzzy, cultural experience I’d had in my childhood is not universal. Chas told me about her family’s experience being sent to St. Joseph’s Indian School in Chamberlain, South Dakota, where they–father, aunts, uncles, and cousins–were forced to assimilate into White culture and forbidden to speak their native language. Without delving into the horrifying depths of the history of Indian schools in the U.S. (you should take the time to research this on your own), I ask you to imagine, just for a moment, being ripped from your family as a small child and sent far away from everything you know to live among strangers who brainwash you into believing your food, language, religion, rites, rituals–everything about your culture and your entire way of life–are completely, utterly inferior and wrong.

Young girls wearing colorful dresses with bells on them

Unimaginable, right? Horrifying, yes? Morally and ethically depraved, even? Absolutely. In addition, our [White male] U.S. government also:

  • took millions of acres of valuable, productive land from indigenous peoples without compensation (also known as “stealing”),
  • relegated these folks to reservations, sometimes thousands of miles from their homeland,
  • entered into treaties and reneged on them.

Then our [White male] government appropriated indigenous children and sent them away in a concerted effort to wipe out their very culture. Sit with that for a while.

Am I White male-bashing? No. I’m dropping truth bombs. (If you’re a 30 Rock fan, you’ll get that reference.) As much as I am a part of American White European descent culture–part of the problem, but trying to be part of the solution–I simply can’t wrap my head around why a lot of White people still believe in the supremacy of their skin color. We can point to the past and say, “Those old White dudes who ran shit were so ignorant and racist.” Because yeah, they were. But it’s 2021, for chrissake, and there is no shortage of White people who still cling to the belief that Black and Brown people are inferior to them. How is this even possible?! (That’s a rhetorical question, BTW. I know how it’s possible.)

Since we can’t unlearn things, we become responsible for the knowledge we gain. We can recognize our past, be proud of who we are, and appreciate our customs and culture: but I believe that those of us who are of White European descent should, if we’re able, also commit to using our White privilege in an effort to right these past transgressions. That looks different to each person depending on who you are and what you’re willing and able to do.

Jingle dress photo: Wikimedia Commons

Raise your hand if you’re a misanthrope too

In January, mi jefe, Javier, began one week with a post about his dogs, Chato and Chiquita. While I admit they are totes adorbs, the two of them don’t hold a candle to my dog-children, Agate and Rye Lee the one-eyed wonderpug.

Now that we’ve established whose dogs are, in fact, the cutest, Javier’s main point was that he’s noticed humans seem to be more open to a meet-and-greet with dogs than with other humans, that humans exhibit more kindness and openness to dogs than the humans walking them, and so on. Being an introvert—and, not to mention, a bit of a misanthrope to boot—I am definitely in this camp. (In fact, I find myself referring to some humans as “[insert dog’s name here]’s mommy/daddy/person.”) It’s not that I actively wish humans ill, it’s just that I prefer the company of plants and critters. I always have.

I remember reading, many years ago, articles criticizing a scene in Michael Moore’s 1989 documentary Roger and Me, in which a rabbit is clubbed, gutted and skinned by a woman who sold rabbits for food and pets. She was trying to bring in a little additional family income because her husband had been laid off by GM. Defending inclusion of the scene, Moore commented, 

″It’s a pivotal moment in the film because people don’t want to look …. They don’t want to look to see the brutality of what has happened, not to this rabbit, but to this town – that a woman is reduced to killing rabbits for food in the middle of the hometown of the world’s richest corporation.″ [referring to Flint, Michigan]

Despite the point Moore was attempting to make, I read several articles criticizing animal rights activists who were, indeed, far more horrified by the scene itself than his reason for including it. Condemn me if you will, but I’m one of those people.

Why? Mostly because animals are innocent. One hundred percent, all day, every day, they are innocent of prejudice, hatred, revenge, segregation, slavery–all the horrid things humans have done to each other since homo sapiens became a thing back in the day. Though there are multiple species that practice theft, territorial defense, parasitism, even indiscriminate killing (orcas on narwhals and murder hornets on honeybees come to mind), I’m quite sure they don’t do these things because of religion, politics or greed. They do it because of a biological imperative, whether we understand it or not. Humans do it because we can.

In the late 1990s I worked for The Dumb Friends League, one of the largest animal shelters in the Rocky Mountain region. During my time there, I learned that there had been pushback over the years from people who thought the name was offensive, because animals certainly aren’t “dumb.” Founded in 1910, the League was so named because back then, “dumb” was the common term for being unable to speak. The board of directors rejected all efforts to rename the organization, because the mission of the Dumb Friends League is to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.

There are humans who can’t speak for themselves as well, and I deeply appreciate individuals and organizations dedicated to their support and well-being. The difference is that while I feel strongly the vast majority of humans deserve food, clothing, shelter and comfort, I know for certain that we’re the ones who created a system in which scarcity are all too common. We’ve also created a world in which corporate farming and meat production are necessary evils, as well as forcing wildlife from its native habitat to make room for human expansion.

I won’t apologize for who I am—but I can also be a person who tries to practice kindness, compassion and empathy to the best of my ability towards both humans and critters.

What does White privilege look like?

What’s the difference between White privilege and essential work?

Well, for starters, essential work looks like this:

(No, those field workers are not on Mars.  They’re actually working by the light of their cell phones, because this is what the Willamette Valley sky looked like in early September.)

On the other hand, White privilege looks like this:

White privilege is volunteering to harvest grapes for your winery owner friends, once a year on a Saturday morning, on your terms. You have the option not to go if it’s too cold, too hot, too wet, too COVID-y, or too smoky. White privilege is performing this work as a recreational activity, and being provided lunch and wine after only three hours of picking.

By contrast, essential agricultural workers–the vast majority of whom are Brown folks–do this work all day, every day, regardless of how they feel, what the weather’s like or the fire burning a mile or two away that’s not only endangering their lives, but making it extremely difficult to see and breathe.

They plant, weed, prune, harvest and clear for the next crop:  they can’t opt out–not if they want to pay their bills and support their families. Their hardship results in my being able to drink wine (and eat fruits and vegetables) whenever I want. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?

Harvest time can be hot or cold, wet or dry. Comfort-wise, this translates into the potential for heat exhaustion, dehydration and sunburn or ending the day soaking wet and muddy up to your knees. Either way, harvesting grapes full-time is exhausting.

Nina Cassidy, Emerson Vineyards

According to Emerson Vineyards Assistant Winemaker Nina Cassidy, many field workers carry two 20-25 lb. buckets of grapes in each hand. They don’t stop to take selfies or arty photos.

In fact, they barely stop to hydrate, eat lunch or use the toilet.

According to a United Farm Workers Facebook post, Samuel (above, wearing a plaid shirt) earns $2.10 per bucket of grapes at a vineyard in Dayton, Oregon. Other winery owners pay contractors by the ton and have no way of knowing what each individual field worker is paid. They may also pay contractors a per-worker hourly rate for pruning or other jobs, but again have no knowledge about how much of that trickles down to individual workers. Sebastian, the vineyard manager at Airlie Winery, is Latino, as is his right-hand man, Guadalupe; Sebastian, in turn, works with winery owner Mary Olson to hire field workers and choose contractors. They’re among the lucky ones:  they work for a winery owner committed to workers’ rights and social justice.

While I was picking grapes, eating lunch and enjoying my wine that day, I thought a lot about the glaring contrast between our enjoyment and the experience most essential workers have, compounded this summer by a pandemic and the worst fire season in Oregon’s history. I thought about the 2014 movie Cesar Chavez and how much of that history I still know nothing about. I thought about the hundreds of bottles of Oregon wine we’ve consumed with family and friends since we moved here eight years ago, and how much time and effort went into those bottles.

Even if you take no further action, at the very least, be mindful when you eat and drink, and know how much effort went into making it possible for you to do so.

I’m With the Birds–And the Humans Who Love Them

I’m a bird nerd. There, I’ve said it. Now you know. Birds see me coming with my binoculars, confer with their friends and take off. I’m totally okay with them laughing at me behind my back. It comes with the territory.

Birds and humans have something very important in common: we see color. However, whereas birds rely on their color vision to choose mates, find food and scan for predators, whether or not we’re conscious of it, humans use it to make snap judgments about other humans. We’ve been conditioned to do so almost since the day we were born.

We receive messages about the meaning of skin color from our families, our friends, our teachers, movies and TV shows, magazines, newspapers, advertising, you name it. We’re immersed in this conditioning. It is quite literally impossible to be unaffected by it.

That being said, we can work on recognizing it when it happens and redirect the resultant thoughts and behaviors we may have.  Example: you’re walking in a park with your (unleashed) dog. A Black man with binoculars asks you to leash your dog, citing park regulations. Should you:

A) apologize and immediately leash your dog, wish the man a enjoyable day and continue on your walk, or

B) go all Mount St. Helens on this guy’s ass and call 911, screaming that an African-American man is threatening your life, while you simultaneously strangle your still-not-leashed dog and demand the man stop recording your antics.

Seems like a no-brainer. I would choose option A, but some women, like Amy Cooper, use their White lady fairy dust for evil rather than good and unfortunately, inexplicably choose option B.

Don’t be that White person. Be the one who sees color, acknowledges that Every. Single. One. of us is different, appreciates and embraces that diversity, and knows that all of our lives are vastly better because of it.

Photo credit Jeffrey Ward/Bird Collective

White lady fairy dust

Remember February? When we could still go to work? When we could still go . . . anywhere at all? After less than a month, that feeling of personal freedom is already starting to fade–and I don’t like it one bit.

Like so many other challenges, though, the situation we’ve all found ourselves in is providing me with some Aha Moments. You know what those are: the lightbulb comes on, either spontaneously while you’re in the shower or as a result of something you’ve heard or read. Aha Moments can be super cool, but they can also be super uncomfortable. For me, lately, they’ve been the latter.

What I’ve learned in the past few weeks is this: my White privilege (or “White lady fairy dust,” as we jokingly call it in our department on campus) allows me to feel resentful about not being able to do what I want when I want, where I want to do it. But get this: Black and Brown folks have to think about this every day–not just sheltering in place during a global pandemic.

Every day, Black and Brown folks worry about being pulled over by the cops on their way to or from the grocery store. Every day, Black and Brown folks worry about being shot in a Wal*Mart because they were holding a BB gun they took off the shelf. Every day, Black and Brown folks worry about their Black and Brown kids being the target of bullying–or far worse. Every day, everywhere, Black and Brown folks know they’re being scrutinized more closely than White folks. Every day, Black and Brown folks wonder if they’ll be targeted for something.

Yeah. They do. And what you may not realize is that most Black and Brown folks adjust their behavior accordingly to mitigate the potential of something bad happening. And they tell their kids to do the same thing.

My White privilege protects me from this. If you’re White, it protects you too. I’m not saying White privilege doesn’t feel good–it does, because it allows me to not have to think or worry about things Black and Brown folks think and worry about. If you look up the word, you’ll see what I mean:

priv-i-lege
noun
a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group

Yes, privilege feels mighty good indeed–but it feels icky too, because it comes at the expense of those who don’t get to enjoy it as well.

So, what can White folks do about it?

    1. Acknowledge it’s there. Know that you’re not a shitty person for admitting it. You didn’t actively request White privilege; if you’re White, it just happened. You know, because you’re White.
    2. Want to do something about it. Why would you want to change the status quo?  Because it’s unfair, and it’s been that way for a long, looonnnng time.
    3. Gently point out to other White people that White privilege is a thing. I say “gently” because we’re not very good at hearing this, much less accepting it as truth.
    4. Actively read, participate and learn.  Your local NAACP chapter is a great place to start.
    5. Journal your journey.  Or blog it, whatever works.

I’m not sure how we’re all going to come out the other end of this pandemic.  My optimism comes and goes.  I haven’t started day drinking yet, which I guess is a good thing.  And I’m trying to feel a lot more appreciation for what I do have (a home, Loving Husband, Happy Dog, One-Eyed Wonderpug and their feline step siblings) and less anger and resentment about being told not to go anywhere.

But it isn’t easy.

Stuff I’ve been thinking about lately, v.2

For lack of a more focused/coherent topic, please to enjoy this random collection of mental meanderings.

1. Working in higher ed is so not as glamorous as I thought it would be.  Especially at an open-registration community college.

2. Working at a winery is sexier than working in higher ed, but almost as exhausting.  Being on the outside of the bar is definitely more fun than being behind it.

3. There are a lot of people and situations I would simply love to write about, but realize I can’t for fear of coming across as a judgmental asshole.

4. I kind of am a judgmental asshole.  But there are still plenty of folks who may not realize it yet. Best to keep it that way.

5. Speaking of assholes, we had yet another yard ornament stolen. I spotted it propped up against a light pole a couple days later in our neighbor’s yard two houses down, sans the multicolored solid glass ball that had functioned as a veritable cherry on top. Our neighbor almost ran over it with their lawnmower. Seriously, people, what the fuck? If a kitschy glass thingamabob with no apparent purpose is mounted on a steel pipe well within my property line, IT’S NOT UP FOR GRABS. Literally and/or figuratively. Go to a craft fair already, buy your own fucking thingamabob, and then break it. Chrissake.

6. Things that are fun:  shredding paper, blogging, swearing, beachcombing, doing laundry.

7. Things that aren’t fun:  all other household chores, working, people who steal yard ornaments, traveling by air, waiting in line.

8. How can I possibly be 53 years old?

9. Did I actually meet Eddie Vedder and then spend time backstage with the rest of Pearl Jam after that show at the Paramount Theatre, or did I dream the whole thing?

10. I didn’t know about setlist.fm until just now.  In theory, it’s a super-cool concept.  However, 1994 was a long time ago.  How would would I know whether or not the setlist from that particular show was accurate unless I had a written copy to compare it to?

 

Stuff I’ve been thinking about lately

I mean, other than the fact that I haven’t posted since December.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot.

 1.  My gas mileage.  I just filled up last week, and got over 800 miles and 99 MPG on the last tank.  I drive a 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In.  It’s ridiculous.


2.  How much I love our yard, and the fact that we can finally say the front landscaping is 100% finished.  Check it out.


3.  On the other hand, after 3.5 years, I continue to feel the pain of buyer’s remorse.

4.  That 30 Rock has finally replaced Seinfeld as my favorite TV show ever.  Good god, Lemon!

5.  That I feel like the co-caretaker of a small petting zoo.  Five critters is too many, but they’re family now–for better or worse.

6.  That it may be time to start looking for a new job.  Like most career paths I’ve tried during my professional life, I’ve discovered working in higher ed isn’t as glamorous as I originally thought–especially not at a community college.  There’s a lot of truth in the way community college is portrayed in Community, but it’s like a gazillion times sexier on TV than it is in real life.  And the drama!  Dear god, the drama.

7.  Moving to the coast.

Photo of Haystack Rock at Cape Kiwanda at sunset

Any questions?

8.  That my life is, for all intents and purposes, half over–but in a good way.

9.  How exhausting it is to be an introvert in a world where extroversion is prized and expected.

10. How it mostly sucks to be a big person, except for the alcohol.

11. That literally almost every person I see anymore is glued to their smartphone, and that I’m expected to watch out for them.  Walking, cycling, driving–doesn’t matter.  No one watches where they’re going, and no one makes eye contact.  It’s just sad.  And how the hell can anyone see that tiny screen without reading glasses?

12. Todos en español.  After five terms, I should hope so.

13. That I really need to re-focus on the good and wonderful things about this world and the people living in it.  Because damn.

I think the Incredible Hulk was, in reality, a perimenopausal woman.

Husband and I watched The Avengers again recently, and I started thinking about how similar I am to the Incredible Hulk.  Bruce Banner and I both go from a fairly mellow, introverted, seemingly normal person to a stunningly angry, homicidal, destructosaurus in a matter of seconds.  The differences are

  1. I don’t turn green,
  2. I (very unfortunately) do not possess superhuman strength, and
  3. I am a perimenopausal woman.

Incredible Hulk

Consider, if you will, this fairly comprehensive list of 35 Symptoms of Perimenopause as presented by healthline.com:

  • Hot flashes, hot flushes, night sweats and/or cold flashes, clammy feeling
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings, sudden tears
  • Trouble sleeping through the night (with or without night sweats)
  • Irregular periods; shorter, lighter periods; heavier periods, flooding; phantom periods, shorter cycles, longer cycles
  • Loss of libido
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Crashing fatigue
  • Anxiety, feeling ill at ease
  • Feelings of dread, apprehension, doom
  • Difficulty concentrating, disorientation, mental confusion
  • Disturbing memory lapses
  • Incontinence, especially upon sneezing, laughing; urge incontinence
  • Itchy, crawly skin
  • Aching, sore joints, muscles and tendons
  • Increased tension in muscles
  • Breast tenderness
  • Headache change: increase or decrease
  • Gastrointestinal distress, indigestion, flatulence, gas pain, nausea
  • Sudden bouts of bloat
  • Depression
  • Exacerbation of existing conditions
  • Increase in allergies
  • Weight gain
  • Hair loss or thinning, head, pubic, or whole body; increase in facial hair
  • Dizziness, vertigo, light-headedness, episodes of loss of balance
  • Changes in body odor
  • Electric shock sensation under the skin and in the head
  • Tingling in the extremities
  • Gum problems, increased bleeding
  • Burning tongue, burning roof of mouth, bad taste in mouth, change in breath odor
  • Osteoporosis (after several years)
  • Changes in fingernails:  softer, crack or break easier
  • Tinnitus: ringing in ears, bells, ‘whooshing,’ buzzing, etc.

Delightful, huh.  And I’ve been experiencing about half of them.  No wonder I feel like I’m losing my fucking mind.

Let’s read on:

When most women enter perimenopause, they expect a few hot flashes and night sweats. They might even expect mood swings, vaginal dryness, and loss of libido. What they won’t expect, however, are overwhelming thoughts of doom and dread, panic attacks, high anxiety, heart palpitations, vertigo, dizziness, unrelenting insomnia, and feelings of losing control.

Yet a large number of women experience these symptoms and many others which you may not think are associated with perimenopause. In fact, so wild and unpredictable are some of the symptoms, a lot of women think they are going crazy.

Why, yes, healthline.com.  We do.

I am more irritable and bitchy than I’ve ever been in my life, and that’s saying something.  Last night, as I was trying to leave for a restorative yoga practice (to help with my stress level, right?), Happy Dog wouldn’t kennel when I told her to, so I chased her outside screaming, “I AM THE ALPHA!  I AM THE ALPHA!  WHY DO YOU DEFY ME SO?”  As I pulled the sliding screen door aside, it came partly out of its track, so, naturally, I yanked it the rest of the way out and threw it across the patio.  I mean, who wouldn’t?  HULK SMASH.

Husband asked me to help him install gutters recently, but I was apparently emotionally incapable of doing simple things like handing him tools, standing on a ladder or using a tape measure.  I’ll leave out the details, but it got so bad I had to get in my car and leave.  After I came back home, Husband confessed that he’d gotten frustrated with his elderly battery-powered drill and hurled it across the yard.  Neither of us realized perimenopause could be contagious.

I don’t sleep well anymore.  There have been times in the past couple years when I’ve slept so poorly for days on end that I feel like one of those soldiers in government sleep-deprivation experiments.  (Snoring Husband and Abnormally Loud Trains don’t help.)  And sometimes I wake up drenched in sweat, having soaked through my t-shirt.  EW.

My mother had a very difficult time with perimenopause, and used hormone replacement therapy for years.  I used to think, naively, that I was going to be one of those Christiane Northrup-worshiping hippies, embracing my womanhood and powering through perimenopause without pharmaceutical assistance.  Now I’m wondering if anyone’s invented an HRT-administering version of an insulin pump, how many of them I can attach to my body at one time and whether they’d be noticeable under my clothes.

How can anyone be expected to live like this?  Truly, I can’t remember a time in my life when I’ve felt so completely out of control.  Poor Husband.  Poor Happy Dog.  I hope they can find it in their hearts to forgive me for going all Incredible Hulk on their asses over the smallest things.

Incredible Hulk image from pngimg.com