Saturday, October 25, 2014

An open letter to Christmas decorations in October

Dear Santa, Rudolph, Mrs. Claus, the Grinch and Max, Angel choir, tree skits, twinkle lights, and all other Christmas decorations,

I wasn't expecting to see you yet so you'll have to excuse my shock and awkwardness upon encountering you at Target earlier today. I was looking for a fall wreath and well, you startled me. I was expecting pretty fall colors and leaves and instead I was assaulted by red and green and silver. It's funny, you were right next to a creepy clown mask. Normally, the clown would bother me but I was more concerned with your presence in the seasonal section.

Do me a favor. Find a calendar and go to October 2014. Take a close look at today. Can you tell me what today is?


I'm sorry about the shouting but it's October 25th. That means that's it 6 days until Halloween, 32 days until Thanksgiving, and 60 days until Christmas. Sixty days!!! By my calculations you should not be out in stores yet. Or on people's houses. Or up at the mall. It's not your turn.

I don't want you to think that I'm not a fan. Christmas is a wonderful time of year to be with family and celebrate all the magic of the season. I love holiday baking, especially cookies since when baking cookies I spend the day with my family. We laugh at things that aren't probably all that funny and have found a way to turn a snowman cookie into John Belushi. We have skills. I'm trying to be better about enjoying decorating the tree and my parents' house; they have a lot of decorations so I find it overwhelming. Last year I even made my own tree out of books and twinkle lights and it was wonderful. So I'm not opposed to decorations or the holiday spirit.

But it's not your turn! My two favorite holidays of the year come before you and I feel like you are stealing their thunder. Halloween and Thanksgiving deserve their time in the spotlight. I think it's time that we discuss what happens when you creep your way in before it's time.

The holidays are an event-filled, stressful time of year for many people, myself included. There are so many expectations: Thanksgiving dinner has to be Martha Stewart picture perfect despite the fact that most attendees have been day drinking and may not even make it to dinner; every relative you haven't seen recently will ask you why you're still single or why you don't have babies and make you feel as if you have failed at a significant part of life; your shopping list gets longer every year but you have no idea what to get anyone and they certainly don't want to give you any ideas; baking gets out of control because you just have to make one more batch of snowballs for your mother's sister's cousin's neighbor. I think the feeling can best be summarized by the wonderful Anne Bancroft in the film Home for the Holidays:

"I'm giving thanks that we don't have to go through this for another year. Except we do, because those bastards went and put Christmas right in the middle, just to punish us."

You see, Christmas decorations, when you show up sixty full days early you make it worse. We don't have time to enjoy the two best holidays of the year, Halloween and Thanksgiving, because we're already worrying about all the things we have to get done and are already "behind" on because it's October 25th and I haven't made my card list (or maybe made my cards), bought a fake tree off the tv (saw an ad this week), or decided which overpriced electronic device I will buy for my dad this year that he will promptly not use despite telling me that he wanted it. It's too much pressure!

Let's just forget about the stress of the holidays for a moment and think about the joys of fall. I haven't had time to fully settle into pumpkin spice flavored things or to bring out all my sweaters yet (since it's still in the 70s on occasion). I haven't seen the beauty of leaves changing colors and making the world seem like a postcard. I've only made pumpkin cookies with brown sugar icing one time. ONE TIME! That's just not enough. Honey crisp apples have only recently appeared at the grocery. And apple cider is only now warming our souls. Don't even get me started on the number of scary movies I haven't watched yet. And A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving is still weeks away.

Can't we all just enjoy the beauty and majesty of fall? Can't we just have one experience at a time?

I know it's not really your fault, Christmas decorations. I'm sure you'd rather spend October and November gearing up for the big show that is December. Or maybe you'd rather reflect on all the meanings that you as a season have for people. That could mean any number of things from religious celebrations and festivities to celebrating the solstice or even the secular side of the season. Whichever path you want to explore, I know you'd rather do it at the appropriate time. Not in October. Not in November.

I want to feel like Jack Skellington when he goes through the tree door and finds himself in Christmastown for the first time. I want to wonder "What is this?" when I see a snowflake or a candy cane and look on in wonder when people gather for carols and to decorate their trees. It's impossible to feel that way when you show up months early and make my Type A personality start spinning with the fear that I am somehow behind on things that I never knew I needed to deal with in the first place. I don't think it's too much to ask to celebrate the holidays during the corresponding month. This is how the world is supposed to work.

Thanks for listening. Maybe we can work together to solve this problem so future generations can bask in the wonder of the season while still enjoying all that October and November have to offer. Maybe we can figure out a way for everyone to get the equal time they deserve.

Love and candy corns,

Jack in Christmastown

Next week: It's National Novel Writing Month (well it will be next Saturday)! I'll preview this year's novel and what to expect on the Island while I write a 50K word novel in one month.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

DC Days: Rockin' the Suburbs, Part Two (Subtitle: I didn't want to stab anyone*)

Yesterday I posted about my plan to take the magical Silver Line Metro from Clarendon to Tysons Corner. I wanted to experience the good times ahead and the life-changing nature of this new Metro line. That is, after all, what Metro promised. Metro's ad campaign for the new line has implied that the extension of public transportation into this area would somehow liberate people from their boring suburban lives and they would all have more fun, dance down a Metro platform, and meet the person of their dreams (for the single people). You can go to the city! You can live the life you've always wanted to when you opted to sell out for the 'burbs! Metro hates everyone.

It's an incredibly effective campaign (go marketing team!) and one that I'm sure that they'll continue to use as more stations are completed and open. I have been obsessing over this ad campaign since I saw it over the summer. My obsessions stems from this oddly implied idea that the only way we can be fulfilled is by urban living. I grew up in the suburbs and have spent most of my adult life in either urban areas or areas that I would describe as suburban/urban hybrids. I feel like I can live my life the way I want to in any of the areas and so the Metro campaign felt very personal. Like Metro was somehow judging me. I may take things too personally.

Anyway, I asked my friend Anita to join me on an adventure not to the city but to the very place that Metro told us to leave. We traveled to Tysons Corner and we had a blast. We didn't have to drive or find parking so we were relaxed and calm upon arriving at the mall. Later, Anita would observe that we could deal with the massive crowds because we didn't have to deal with the normally annoying commute and parking. I think she has a point.

The Metro ride from Clarendon took about 15 minutes (we had to wait 10 minutes for a train). The only thing that we knew about arriving at Tysons Corner was that we would have to walk through a skyway of sorts to the Plaza. The walk was relatively short (our only complaint is that it's not enclosed - bad on a rainy day like today) and the Plaza looks exactly like you imagine an outdoor plaza area at a high end shopping center would look like.

Except for the birds.

Not real birds but inexplicable metal birds. There were crows, a hawk, pigeons, and cardinals. A friend mentioned them on Facebook when I was discussing this trip but I wasn't really prepared for them. We don't understand the birds. One grouping of a crow and a cardinal and it looked like the crow was going to attack. Anita also thinks it looks like the hawk is looking for a mouse or something similar. They also seem to be staring off into the distance in a way that makes you sad that they're not real. I can't decide if the birds are there to deter other birds or to support the outdoor experience.

 We didn't stay long on the Plaza since it was raining. The rain also impacted our brunch plans; the place we wanted to go was actually across the street from Tysons but not worth the walk so we opted for Panera instead. We also plotted out our day, declaring that Tysons Corner Center would be our oyster. Highlight of the Panera experience: seeing my first ever person using Google Glass. He looked exactly as you imagine a guy a shopping mall would look like with Google Glass. I'm not sure I get that particular technology but to each his own.

The only actual scheduled activity we had today was free facials at Aveda. Since we had to skip brunch we had time to wander around the lower level of the mall. We did a pass through L.L. Bean where we tried on a variety of hats and discussed the pros and cons of buying a camouflage jacket. This confirmed for me that I'm still very conflicted about hats and whether or not I should wear them. 

Our trip through L.L. Bean didn't kill enough time before our facials so we ended up visiting the American Girl store. Neither of us had ever been to one before but we both read the original books when we were younger. This is not our American Girl. Most of what you can buy in the American Girl store are things you didn't know an American Girl doll needed - egg chairs, horses, pets (a corgi, a cat), and all of the clothes you can dream. There's even an option to buy glasses and orthodontia. I guess that's designed to help make the awkward phases of growing up a little easier. Samantha's ice cream parlor costs $300 and the dress so you can match your doll is $58 (the doll version is $36). Crazy. We saw lots of little girls and their parents with very large American Girl bags (and very awkward bell bottom, ruffled pants) all day long. There's even a cafe just in case you need a snack.

Facials were next on the schedule. This particular Aveda is a salon or spa (like I'm used to) so our facials were basically being done in public. The woman who took care of us was lovely (this is her weekend gig; she teaches in Fairfax County). She and I discussed germ-y children and how sick we both got our first year teaching. My face still feels nice and soft and Aveda-y. My goal of leaving smelling like calmness and balance was achieved.

What Anita and I came to realize as we continued to wander around the mall was that we didn't really feel the need to have a plan to enjoy our day. It was exactly like high school; we just went to the mall to hang out, gossip, and eat bad for us mall food. Instead of our parents dropping us off and agreeing on a designated pick up spot later in the evening, Metro brought us. No stressful parking, no crazy drive (we saw the traffic on 66 in both directions on a Saturday). It was the ease of those high school mall hang outs with the awesomeness of having a job and being able to buy things if we were so inclined. It didn't really matter. We also enjoyed free samples (thanks William Sonoma and Teavana). We got things we needed (a journal for NaNoWriMo for me; John Waters's book Carsick for Anita) and things we probably didn't need (maple pecan waffle mix and these boots that I've been stalking on Project Runway).

So what did we learn? Are good times really ahead? As we enjoyed dinner at Gordon Biersch (ending our day like my dad or brother would), Anita and I discussed John Waters, Divine, and our suburban upbringing. What we decided was that we miss the suburbs of our childhood and that the contrived nature of places like Tysons Corner and its Plaza with inexplicable birds is why Metro's ad campaign is successful. Everyone wants to be cool and feel like they belong somewhere. Sometimes you look up at the high rises and Metro stations of your urban existence and yearn for the quiet of your suburban childhood. And sometimes you don't want to see another shopping center or fast food restaurant. It's all about balance and realizing that sometimes you just need a girls' day at the mall.

*How Anita described our trip. She felt it was a success because this is how she felt at the end of the day.

Friday, October 10, 2014

DC Days: Rockin' the Suburbs Edition, Part One

Before we begin:

Now that you have thoroughly rocked, we can begin. Today's post comes to you from the magical suburban land of Tysons Corner. For those of you who don't live in the greater Northern Virginia area, Tysons Corner is a vast expanse of shopping, office buildings, chain restaurants, hotels, and sadness. It takes approximately 4 hours to drive there from most locations in NOVA and then an additional 3 hours to find parking once you arrive. By the time you do both of these things you no longer want to shop or go to the movies or each at one of the wonderful restaurants. You just want to go home, curl into a ball, and have someone bring you a drink.

All that changed this past July when Metro (our public transportation system here in the DMV) opened its newest line, the Silver Line. The Silver Line runs from Reston, Virginia, through Arlington, into downtown DC, and ends at Largo Town Center in Maryland. Eventually, the line will extend beyond Reston. I'm sure that will happen sometime before my 80th birthday.

My favorite part of the launch of the Silver Line is not the additional trains that I have available to me on my museum commute or that one day the reality of Metro-ing to Dulles Airport would be realized. I don't really use Metro all that often so these benefits were not really for me. No, my favorite part was that Metro told me that my life would change because of the Silver Line. Good times are ahead for us all.

This is just one of the ads that were up around town, on Metro cars, and in stations. So in addition to not making me want to jab a pencil in my eye when driving to and parking at Tysons Corner, the Silver Line will improve my love life and remind me of the sheer joy of accessible public transportation. I assume a Metro sponsored dating website will be launching sometime soon.

What's interesting (at least to me) is that these ads (and this one - my favorite) is that they imply that living in the suburbs is this horrible thing that can only be remedied by access to the city. Now you can go to brunch! And date! And have adventures! All because of the Silver Line! I grew up in the suburbs (as did most of my friends) and I turned out okay. I live in a weird urban/suburban hybrid city now. I don't feel like I have to go to DC to enjoy myself. But that is what Metro would like me to believe.

Here's the thing: you can do all of these things without the Silver Line. There are other ways to enjoy the city and to get there. So I'm going to do the exact opposite of what Metro would like me to do. Instead of traveling to the city, I'm going to take the Silver Line to Tysons Corner and enjoy all that the suburbs have to offer. I want to have brunch, get a facial, shop, and have some sort of mall snack at the food court. I want to enjoy the promise of a suburban lifestyle. I want to prove that this article is silly and rude. I want to rock the suburbs.

Tomorrow my friend Anita and I will take the Silver Line from Clarendon to Tysons Corner. We will enjoy all that the suburban experience can offer us and we won't have to drive or park a car. It will be magical and life-changing. Just like Metro promised.

Maybe we'll even dance our way from the Metro station to the shopping center.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Welcome to Star's Hollow, Population Awesome

Sometimes the world works in the most perfect way. You miss all of the traffic and hit all of the green lights. Dunkin' Donuts doesn't take away the butter pecan flavored iced coffee that you love. No one annoys you the entire day. Netflix finally grants you access to a magical television show, Gilmore Girls. 

I hope, dear Island readers, that those of you who have Netflix have dived into the wonderful world of Stars Hallow. I watched the show when it originally aired and own all seven seasons on DVD. I have re-watched the show in its entirety (since watching it on television) at least four times. If you haven't added it to your queue or started watching it already, I implore you to do so right after you finish reading this post. You won't be disappointed with the experience.

The release of the show on Netflix has unleashed a flurry of articles and Buzzfeed quizzes and posts about the show. The show aired in 2000 on the WB and ended seven years later on the CW. It chronicles the adventures of the dynamic mother-daughter duo of Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) Gilmore. The Gilmore girls live in the quirky town of Stars Hollow, CT and are surrounded by a cast of amazingly funny and interesting characters. Lorelai was a teen mom who left her affluent family after giving birth to Rory and found a life for herself. Over the course of seven seasons, we follow Lorelai and Rory through their many loves, private high schools, getting into an Ivy League college, opening an inn, and so many town festivals. The fast-paced dialogue and pop culture references are worth the time. Amy Sherman-Palladino, the series creator, injects the right amount of weird and normal to the world of Gilmore Girls.

One of the things that I most enjoy about the world of Stars Hollow (and Chilton, Yale, etc.) is the secondary characters. These are the people that truly bring the show to life. The best shows are the ones in which the world of the show seems real (even if it's a bit quirky). Stars Hollow and the other locations of the show only make sense if you add in all the secondary and tertiary characters. I thought that for my first Gilmore Girls Island post, I'd talk about my favorite side characters. They may not appear in every episode or even make it to the end of the series but they are important in our little corner of the world. Grab some takeout from Al's Pancake World or some dessert sushi and let's talk Gilmore Girls.

1. The Trifecta - Miss Patty, Babette, and Taylor.
You can't have Stars Hollow without these three. Miss Patty and Babette know everything about everyone in town and are some of the sassiest women you will ever meet. Babette is the neighbor that I hope I have if I ever buy a house. I'd trust her to collect my mail and call the embassies in the countries I was visiting if I didn't return from my European vacation on the day she thought I was returning. Did I mention that Babette is portrayed by Sally Struthers? That voice! No Stars Hollow festival (and there are lots of them) would be the same without the choreography skills of Miss Patty. Her stories are the greatest and I want her one woman show to be a real thing that I can go see. Now. What's even more wonderful is that they provide balance to Taylor, the town selectman.Taylor truly cares about Stars Hollow but he's also crazy. His brand of particularness is overwhelming but is also what keeps Stars Hollow going. His scenes with Kirk (who we'll discuss shortly) are some of my favorites on the show. I want to attend a town meeting, volunteer to be a pilgrim at the food drive, and invest in some sweaters with elbow patches so Taylor will be happy.

2. The Love Interest No One Understands - Jason Stiles
I have to confess that part of my love for Jason Stiles comes from the fact that I have the biggest crush on Chris Eigeman. I first saw him in Whit Stillman's 1990 debut Metropolitan and was immediately hooked. I will watch anything that he's in and I was sad that his role on Bunheads was so limited. He is every preppy boy that I've crushed on in my life (which is so not my type but I can't help it). Popped collars make me rageful but deal with popped collar/uncomfortable suit Jason Stiles.

Jason "Digger" Stiles appears in season four which is one of my favorite seasons to watch when I'm in a state of transition or uncertainty. He and Lorelai grew up together and he becomes business partners with Mr. Gilmore. He and Lorelai also start a secret relationship (a frequent Lorelai relationship tactic). Jason is not the great love of Lorelai's life but he's an important part of Lorelai's life as she's working on opening the Dragonfly Inn and she's not quite ready to be with Luke (she's almost there). Jason is unexpected, weird, has a lot neuroses, and is not the kind of guy she should be with and that is exactly why she should be with him. He helps her reflect on the parts of her past that she needs to move forward with her life. Also, he basically calls Emily Gilmore obsolete (he actually says it about cocktail parties but same difference). I was glad to see Jason go but I'm super glad he was there.

3.The Nemesis (but not really) - Paris Geller
Let's be honest, I could write an entire post on Paris. She is the quintessential mean super smart girl when we meet her on Rory's first day at Chilton. These first days would set the stage for a long friendship that has a lot of ups and downs over seven seasons (just like a real friendship). Paris needs Rory and Rory needs Paris. They might not want to admit it but it's the truth. The Yale years are my favorite of her episodes. She has an affair with a professor, becomes editor/dictator of the newspaper, and provides her own brand of Paris tough love to Rory when she needs it. Paris is another extreme character but is at the same time, incredibly relatable. I remember feeling bad for Paris...a lot. Her family life was not ideal (despite the privilege) and she's the kind of person that's had her life mapped out since she could write her name. She has a hard time being flexible and I totally feel for her on that one. One of my favorite non-Yale episodes featuring Paris was the one in season three when she and Rory are both giving speeches at the Chilton bicentennial and right before, Paris finds out that she didn't get into Harvard. And she's crushed. This particular episode showed us that Paris was indeed human and had feelings. I tear up every time I re-watch this one.

Like Lorelai, we all come to love Paris in the end.

4. Why You Hide Music in the Floorboards - Mrs. Kim
"Boys don't like funny girls." And so begins my adoration of Mrs. Kim (Emily Kuroda), Lane's mom and Lorelai's complete parenting opposite. In the hands of less skilled writers and a less skilled actor, Mrs. Kim could have become a terrible stereotype of a Korean parent. Mrs. Kim is traditional and wants Lane to marry a nice Korean boy who happens to be a doctor and who Mrs. Kim picks for her BUT Mrs. Kim is also incredibly honest and forgiving. She's a realist and a perfect counter to Lorelai. Every time Lorelai tries to explain about teenagers, Mrs. Kim just gives her a look and the conversation ends. Mrs. Kim understands teenagers and young women, but she also believes in rules and respect. When Lane finally does break away, you can see the influence of her mother in her despite her desire to rebel. My favorite Mrs. Kim moment of all time is when she takes over as manager of Hep Alien and books them on a tour...that takes them to Seventh Day Adventist church groups and college campuses. I'd book Mrs. Kim to be my band's manager any day.

5. The Everyman - Kirk Gleason
If you've seen Guardians of the Galaxy than you know Sean Gunn, the actor who portrayed Kirk. He played Raglin, one of Yondu's gang. More importantly, he was the actor who performed the motion capture for Rocket. I had a hard time not imagining Kirk in any scene featuring Rocket. I couldn't help it.

Kirk appears in 137 episodes of Gilmore Girls. There are 154 total episodes - that's a lot of time on the show. Kirk has probably that many jobs during the series. Everyone should have a Kirk in their life; he's odd and endearing and funny. He truly cares about the people in his life (like that time that he installed a security system for Lorelai because she was now by herself and he followed her home in a golf cart to make sure she got there safely); he just has to show it in his very Kirk way. I wish we had gotten to meet his mother (whom he lives with). That probably would have explained a lot more. His scenes with Luke are an excellent study in contrasts and one of my favorite Kirk moments is when he opened a diner in the square called Duke's. Was I the only one who cheered when he finally got a girlfriend? Kirk is the sidekick of the entire town and without him Stars Hollow would not be the place it is.

I could go on for days about all of these characters and the many that I left out (I didn't get to talk about Sebastian Bach or Max or Francie, one of two characters on the show that I actually hate). Maybe one day we'll finally get to see a Gilmore Girls movie (I would wait in line at the midnight show). Or maybe Kirk will get his own show. Or maybe I'll figure out how to organize the first ever con devoted entirely to the show. Until then, I'll just plan on re-watching the series again and again.

Who's your favorite Gilmore Girls side character?

More Gilmore Girls coming soon to the Island! This fall/winter I'll be re-watching the series and writing about it. We'll talk Dean v. Jess v. Logan; why Sookie is the greatest character of all; and we'll breakdown all the junk food that Lorelai and Rory eat without ever having to go to the gym.

Miss Patty & Babette
Jason Stiles
Mrs. Kim 

Saturday, September 27, 2014


A few weeks ago I was talking with one of my guy friends about football. He's not a football fan (more of a baseball/hockey fan) and wanted to know why I continued to support the NFL given the recent events surrounding multiple players and domestic violence. He felt that as an avowed feminist, I should boycott the sport until actual change is made within the organization. I disagree completely. I don't believe that boycotting the NFL will actually have an impact on the organization. The NFL and other organizations (not just professional sports) need to take a look inward at the structures of their organizations and their leadership to change. Fans and supporters need to participate and keep pressure on these organizations to do the right thing and to enforce rules and policies in a consistent and fair way. Forty-five percent of NFL fans are women. We do the sport, fandom, and women a service to to work from within rather than boycott.

I also believe that the issues facing professional sports (it's not just the NFL y'all) don't start the second a player joins a team. It's not just people like Goodell who say one thing but do another, it's a larger culture of complacency, hero worship, and ignorance. It starts in places like Steubenville and ends in places like the NFL or NBA. I do agree with my friend that Roger Goodell needs to go. I don't think the NFL can move forward with him at the helm.

But I don't want to talk about the NFL today. Enough has been said about it and I'd rather spend time talking about Hermione Granger, I mean, Emma Watson's UN speech for the solidarity movement HeForShe. Here's the video so you can watch her elegant and powerful speech.


Watson makes some excellent points about the role of men in the feminist movement. Feminism is not about man-hating. It's about equality. Men and women are not equal in this country (or most countries for that matter). This is not my opinion - it's a fact. Have we made strides towards equality? Certainly - more women are in government, leaders in the business world (including many Fortune 500 companies), academics and researchers in all fields, and creative forces in across the arts. But the reality is that we still make less money than our male counterparts in most fields. Our bodies are literal battlegrounds. And by the way, if you're raped, abused, or otherwise violated, somehow it will be your fault.

We teach young girls and women that their only value is in how they look and what boys and men think about them. As my ninth grade English teacher told me, a woman can only be funny, pretty, or smart; she can't be all three. Some of the most anti-women people I know are other women.

I'd like to be able to focus on Watson's message and the messages of other feminists out there. The problem with that is we're not allowed to just do that. Because Emma stands for something they disagree with, Internet trolls decided that it would be cool to threaten her with the release of nude photos. It was announced earlier this week that this was a hoax but the fact of the matter is that it doesn't matter if it's a hoax. The threat was and is there. Women, feminist or not, experience threats of all sorts on the Internet (as do men who support these writers or are feminists themselves). It could be a threat of the release of photos like what's happened with Emma Watson or threats of rape and physical harm. I've read dozens of accounts of authors and bloggers having to leave their homes because some fucking (sorry Mom) jerk posts their address on the Internet and another fucking jerk has threatened to come to their house and murder them. This shouldn't happen to anyone in any situation.

Only Madeline Kahn can truly express how I feel about this:

The pure hatred that is spewed by these cowards with keyboards is incomprehensible to me. I literally (and I mean literally) cannot understand it. I have the same reaction when this happens in conversations about race, sexuality, and religion too. I don't get it and I can't help but wonder what's wrong with people.

Civil discourse seems to be dead these days. Instead of being able to discuss our differences in opinion like rational beings, it seems that the trend is to debase, threaten, terrify, and demean. I can't stand for this and you shouldn't either. Regardless of how you define who you are and what you believe about equality, you should not resort to violence (verbal or physical) to get your point across. That doesn't prove that you're powerful. In fact, it proves that you're scared of losing what power you you have (or believe you have).

We all have to take action if change is going to occur. I thought of a few things we could all try to do that aren't overtly feminist so if you can't get beyond that word, maybe you can get behind being a decent person. Let's try these out for a bit and see what happens:
  • Stop gossiping. I'm bad about this but a small thing like not passing on that thing you heard about that woman you don't really like at work or school or wherever stops the cycle of negativity.
  • Use language that means something not demeans someone. Tina Fey said it best in Mean Girls, "Well, I don't know who wrote this book, but you all have got to stop calling each other sluts and whores. It just makes it ok for guys to call you sluts and whores." 
  • Agree to disagree. I have said this before on this blog. If we don't agree on something and our disagreement leads to a heated discussion that's going nowhere fast, I'd rather just switch topics to something less controversial like the fact that Tom Hiddleston is the absolute best.
  • Be nice to people. It takes more energy to be mean and negative. And it's more stressful to you. The Dearborn police can put it on their patrol cars so you should practice it in your daily life. 
  • Talk to the girls and boys (and men and women) in your life about appropriate ways to communicate. It is not okay to teach either girls or boys to react with violence (words or actions) when they don't agree or get what they want. That's the type of "education" that leads to the exact issues feminists, domestic violence advocates, and human rights advocates speak about. Domestic violence issues don't start with the NFL; they start in places like Steubenville and on playgrounds where extreme bullying are played out day after day.
  • Stop putting the burden of behavior on a specific group of people. I shouldn't have to adjust my behavior or clothing because some guy on the street or at my office can't focus on his life because I wear a shirt that shows off the female body that I have in a way that is appropriate for work. We could also apply this logic to guarding my drink in a bar and walking alone at night.
  • Speak up. I am also guilty of not doing this as often as I should. Be brave - say something. It might not make you popular but it means you're doing the right thing.

This isn't complicated. It's common sense and the responsibility of all of us if we really want to live in a civil society.

The flames on the side of my face have subsided for now. I feel a little better now that we've talked this out. I also found this article on my favorite fictional feminist, Leslie Knope, and it brightened my day. There's hope for us yet.

This fall on the Island: It's time to celebrate Gilmore Girls just in time for the rest of you to finally watch the show since it's being released on Netflix. We'll Rock the Suburbs and take Metro to Tyson's Corner to explore all of the things one can do without having to spend forever driving there. And of course, I'll be prepping for National Novel Writing Month so you never know what little nuggets I'll throw on here.

Clue image
Police car picture by me

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Was it Ferris Bueller or John Lennon that said that thing about -isms?

"The books on this self pertain to empiricism, and on this shelf, materialism, and on this psychopiscoparalysm." 
-Funny Face
I had two ideas for a novel last year when I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month. The first idea was the one I settled on (The Metro Counselor) but I haven't forgotten about the second idea. It was tentatively called Tourist and it was going to be about a new docent/guide who was learning about the cutthroat world of museum and historical site docents. I have no idea if there is such a world but I thought it would be fun to create one. I even had the first chapter written (in my head). I think that what stopped me from pursuing this idea was creating the worlds of different museums and historical sites. I didn't want to use real places for lots of reasons and I knew that I'd have to create believable sites for the story to work. So I went with the other idea (which worked out well) and called my first NaNoWriMo a success. Tourist currently resides in my head and a little bit on paper (a sketchy outline).

Since last November, I was accepted to a museum docent training program. While not cutthroat, it is one of the most intense learning experiences I've had since graduating from college. I'm a docent in training at the National Museum of Women in the Arts. My class started in June and will finish at the end of October. I began my time at the museum as part of the VEV (Visitor Experience Volunteer) team about a year ago. As much as I love telling people that the Frida Kahlo (the only one in DC!) is on the third floor and that the bathroom is around the corner (there are no signs), it gets a little old after awhile. When the education department announced the next docent class was opening, I applied.

I have no background in art history. I love going to museums and talking about art but didn't take any art history courses in college (theatre majors didn't have to). Most of my art history experience was through research for the productions of The Heidi Chronicles that I've worked on. I knew from my experience as a visitor and in researching volunteer opportunities at museums, that docent programs are very rigorous and can last up to two years depending on the site. NMWA's program is not two years but it's every bit as intense. Assignments consist of art history lectures, readings focused on the visitor experience and the contexts of museums, learning new teaching techniques, and leading on the fly and prepared discussions.

The learning aspect of being a docent is what appeals most to me. Docent comes from the Latin docens which means to teach. Being a docent combines many things that I love all into one: teaching and learning, art, being helpful, volunteering, being in a museum. I also think it's helped renew the feelings I have towards my work life. There's a tremendous amount of overlap between my class and my work. I know a lot about story telling and framing learner needs. I like being able to bring elements of my work into my museum life and vice versa. It's a bit of a validation for me - I am doing what I'm supposed to be doing even if it doesn't always feel like that's the truth.

I was watching an art history lecture on Modernism last weekend. It's a nice blended learning experience since the art history lectures are online. The lecturer (who happens to be one of my teachers) began the lecture by listing all the -isms that make up Modernism. I had to pause the lecture because I was laughing at the list. It was lengthy and some of the words sounded made up. It made me think of the scene early on in Funny Face where poor Audrey Hepburn is rattling off all the -isms in the bookstore while Kay Thompson and Fred Astaire take over for a fashion shoot. I have always believed that Audrey Hepburn just made up some words during this scene as many of the -isms sounded completely nonsensical. An -ism is generally applied to an ideology of some form so I guess it really is made up and could be completely nonsensical if we wanted to get all scholarly here. But I don't so let's move on.

Which brings me back to my idea for Tourist. I could create a fantastical world of museums and historic sites and make up any old -isms I want to (seriously synthetic, analytic, and orphic cubism are real things). While I haven't experienced anything that could be considered cutthroat, there are different camps in the larger museum world when it comes to museum education techniques and visitor experience. This helps to reinforce the image I have in my head of this new docent on her first day. Drama and tension over whether to use VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies) or lecture based learning could be a hoot. I'm still not ready to write this story but I know that one day I will. Until then remember, the Frida Kahlo is on the third floor and the restrooms are around the corner.

One of my favorite paintings - Lady in an Evening Dress by Lilla Cabot Perry
The first discussion I had to lead was on this sculpture, Apres la tempete (After the Storm) by Sarah Bernhardt (the actress - yes, she was also a sculptor)
Après la tempête (After the Storm
All photos by me

Saturday, September 6, 2014

On My Way

There were boxes everywhere. That’s what happens when you move; boxes and suitcases and covered furniture. I was ready for the movers to get here so I could get on the road. The drive was going to be a long one and I wanted to get at least to Atlanta tonight. Nine hours was totally doable in one day. I didn’t have to be in California for two weeks and had stops to make along the way. I was taking the long route across Louisiana and Texas and eventually up the California coast to my new home in the East Bay. I knew no one there but didn’t care.

I had never intended to stay in Virginia as long as I had. I could lie and pretend that my job was what kept me here but as lame as it sounds, it was actually a guy. We met not too long after I moved here for my job and had been together for four years. He was exactly the kind of guy I imagined I spend the rest of my life with; funny, smart, and kind. We had a ton in common and everyone thought we were perfect for one another and would have perfect, cool babies who liked David Bowie, Star Wars, and Michael Penn straight out of the womb.

That did not happen. My “perfect match” was a perfect jackass. After we moved in together, we got engaged and had started planning a low-key, very us wedding. We were at a cake tasting and he turned to me and said, “I don’t think I can do this.” Being me, I thought he meant the cake tasting. He had meant the wedding. He didn’t want to get married. He didn’t want to live together. He didn’t want to be with me. He had only done those things because he thought that’s what I wanted. He never thought to ask me.

I decided that the only sensible thing to do was to leave town. I didn’t want to be reminded of the places we went together or had found together. I didn’t want to run into him at the farmer’s market in our neighborhood (when he moved out, he stayed in the neighborhood). I didn’t want to run into him with someone new. I wanted to start over again. That was the only way that I could move on with my life.

My small circle of friends thought I was crazy. They didn’t understand why I had to leave town to get over a guy. I tried to explain that it wasn’t just the guy (although four years of my life had been spent with someone I thought was the one); it was me. I needed to do this for me. I needed to try somewhere new and start again. I had lived on the East Coast for a long time and decided it was time to see if I was a California girl. I wanted my life to be more colorful and exciting than it was. I needed a change.

The movers finally arrived. It took them exactly two hours to load all of of my worldly possessions into the moving truck. I tipped the guys and gave them waters for the road. My stuff would get there right after I did so. This was all going to work out.

A few of my friends had come to see me off. I was going to miss them a lot but the beauty of life in the modern age is that we’re connected to one another no matter where we are. I promised to check in with them along the way. They planned to visit me in the fall once I got settled.
I got into my trusty Ford Escape and started my way south. I love road trips. Just me, my car, my music, and the open road. I had spent a few days before leaving preparing an epic mix of songs to get from Virginia to California and all the places in between. Some were sad, some were funny and fun, some matched the location I planned to be in while listening. I had been looking forward to my road trip music as much as I had been looking forward to the trip itself. I had even created a mix including songs that I had listened to with my ex. I felt that by listening to them without him and in a completely new context I would be able to listen to them without being sad. Every song took on new meaning for me; it was like I was hearing them for the first time.

The songs kept me going through the mountains and the vast expanses of nothing that I hit as I drove through parts of Texas and the deserts of New Mexico and Arizona and then up the beautiful California coast. I was seeing parts of the country that I had never seen before. It was overwhelming but exactly what I needed to get myself in the right place for my new life. There’s always a moment when you just feel like what you’re doing is exactly the right thing to do. I felt that so many times on this trip. And I knew that I was on my way. 

(Based on the prompt "(Play a piece of music without revealing the artist or title.) Write something that goes along with this soundtrack.") The song is "On Your Way" by Michael Penn. Also, this is not autobiographical.