Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Mrs. Busy

I've been crazy-busy over the past month (I think I say that every month...) trying to get Juliet Cook's chapbook ready to print from Hyacinth Girl Press (yes! It's coming!), preparing for a big event in my life in early June, finding a new school for my son, looking for a new apartment, and, of course, putting aside a little bit of time for partying at my favorite haunted hotel, The Grand Midway.

I've also started a new blog, Health Tips from the 1870's. It's based on an antique book I picked up a month or so ago, and it's pretty hilarious. The book, that is. I try to make the blog entertaining, but I really can't compete with C.W. Gleason, MD.

I also recently received word that I am to be an artist in residence at the Petrified Forest National Park this fall. I'll be heading to Arizona for two weeks to write, write, write. I'm crazy-excited as I've only been to the desert once before and this will be my very first residency. I can't wait to hike and write and write and hike!

So I'm still around, and I hope to pick reviews back up in a serious way in about a month. If I have your book, I have not forgotten about you. I am but a woman, a poet, a wife, a mother, a girl who likes to cut a serious rug while surrounded by people dressed up like vampires.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I have never called into the void

I don't give them credit often enough - my parents are really spectacular people. As parents and disciplinarians they balance each other perfectly and have overcome a lot of hardship in their lives to be the loving, kind, supportive people that they are. Some of what they have had to overcome is very private and not for me to spew on the internet, but in my father's case there are two things I can share - he was adopted by the people who I knew as my grandparents, and he was drafted into the Vietnam War at the age of 18.

Adoption can be a beautiful thing, and in my father's case he was adopted by a family who also did a lot of foster parenting and tried to make the lives of children better. My Muni and Pop-Pop were very strict, severe people - my Pop-Pop was a carpenter and built the house my father grew up in and definitely believed in hard work. They were a strict Lutheran couple. Honestly, by the time I was old enough to have clear memories of them, they had softened a lot. My father loved them both fiercely, while at the same time feeling an odd mix of emotions about his biological mother - a woman he does not remember.

At 18 he was drafted into the Vietnam War and became an army ranger. During his time in Vietnam he came to lead a team of army rangers, a small unit that would enter into enemy territory and take out one particular target, and earned two bronze stars for his service. He also broke both of his knees and watched a lot of people he cared about die. When he returned from Vietnam he was subjected to the criticism of a country that was ready to leave Vietnam. Like most veterans of that war, he was not treated well. Since his time in Vietnam my father has done volunteer work with homeless and mentally ill veterans. He has confronted and overcome the scars that were left from service he did not volunteer for.

My father is a very strong man. In spite of these, and other obstacles in his life he is the kindest, most understanding and supportive father I could have asked for. I am definitely a daddy's girl, possibly obnoxiously so. He thinks he is super-conservative, but I would say that my father's desire is to see people be safe and loved in the world, without prejudice. He probably wouldn't put it that way, but I have known him for 27 years. He is full of love. My father and my mother enthusiastically support all my endeavors, including, yes, The TypewriterGirls. I love getting the question "what do your parents think of what you do?" because I can always answer, "They don't always get it, but they always support me and they come to every show." I am continually amazed at my father and mother's ability to be such good people and good parents in spite of everything in their lives.

They've shown me that you can work through difficult times as a couple - at one point both of them had been laid off from their jobs at the same time. It was definitely not the least stressful time of our lives, but they worked together and got through it and honestly, my brother and I were effected very little, I'm guessing because my mother is probably the most money-wise person I know.

When I was ill with a fairly severe case of Sydenahm's Chorea at the same time that my Pop-Pop was dying, my parents pulled together and made sure that I was taken care of by one of them every day. All day every day my father took care of me, took me out for car rides, and listened to what I had to say about my illness ("say" being a figurative term as I could not speak). In the evenings my mother took care of both me and of my little brother, and read Jane Eyre to me. My father and I visited my Pop-Pop in the nursing home weekly. He had Alzheimer's. We were both trapped in our bodies. It might sound kind of fucked up, but I was never closer to him than I was then. I was one of the last people he forgot.

I go to my mother for parenting advice a lot. She's honestly one of the smartest people I know. My dad says she is the smartest person we know. She's someone who is always able to look at things in her life from all sides. She calls me on my bullshit, and I don't always appreciate it at the time, but it's useful and I usually appreciate it later. She managed to be a working mother and at the same time be totally involved for both myself and my brother. She is the first person who read poetry to me. She cooked for our family every night when I was growing up. She insisted we eat together as a family. She read and read and read to me. Now I read to Ben every night.

Both of my parents are highly creative, whether my father would admit he is or not. My mother is a fiction writer and my father builds models and miniatures. They both work for a bank, but my father is a history buff who sometimes gives tours at battle sites and gives talks about the Civil War, and my mother leads writing groups at two libraries. They are more than their jobs and more than their children, and that means a lot to me as their child.

Whenever I need them one, the other, or both of my parents are there for me. I have never called into the void. My father is always ready to leap to my defense, to back me up, and he can be really, really scary when he wants to be. He knows how to command respect. He knows how to defend his family. I upset them, they annoy me, I get stressed when I have to go visit sometimes, but my parents have always loved me. They have always done their best to be the best parents they can possibly be.

I love them. I am very, very grateful.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

I was looking out the window. It was spring.

I watched Lord, Save Us from Your Followers this week with my husband (earlier in the week it was Modify, which Mihnea and I had to avert our eyes for portions of, No Impact Man, which has pushed me toward eating more local food, and Audience of One which was alternately hilarious and frightening in very different ways from Modify - I've been sick, so it's been a week of documentaries) and I have to say, I am a bit disappointed.

The basic premise is that an evangelical guy wonders why everyone can't just get along, is frustrated with the tendency to distill our beliefs into bumper sticker slogans, and decides to travel the US talking to people about how the "gospel of love" has divided us so thoroughly. Great idea, right?

He does the "man on the street" gig in a white jumpsuit covered in various bumper stickers (everything from a Jesus fish to a FSM to a bumper sticker that urges fellow drivers to vote pro choice), talking to average people about which bumper sticker is their favorite and why, what their general belief system is, and what they think of that Jesus dude. He also interviews various political, academic, and social leaders who consider themselves Christian, most of them evangelical, and this is where he begins to lose me.

One of the interviewees for this documentary is Rick Santorum. Yes, that Rick Santorum. The one with the Google Problem. Now, I don't have a problem with someone interviewing Rick Santorum, but what I do have a problem with is not giving us an introduction to Santorum's hateful politics and then proceeding to allow him to crow on about how Christians need to show love and work together with non-Christians. I mean, really? There was no other Christian politician who could have been interviewed who hasn't, say, compared loving sexual intercourse between two men to a man having sex with a dog? And if you must interview such an awful human being, at least have the courtesy to then give us the flip side of Santorum. To use a cliche, actions speak louder than words, and actions plus many many words that contradict what he said in this documentary completely invalidate everything Rick Santorum says in Lord, Save Us from Your Followers. I live in Pennsylvania. I worked actively to get this man the hell out of office. Watching him say with a straight face that Christians need to be more loving (pointing the finger at someone other than himself) was absurd.

My second issue follows close on the heels of Rick Santorum, and is named Rick Warren (Rick is a cursed name, apparently), a man who the documentary holds up as an amazing Christian. Yes, the Rick Warren who spent millions of dollars to help have gay marriage made illegal in California. The Rick Warren who gave rise to the term "saddlebacking" care of Dan Savage. Rick Warren, who may not have taken a paycheck from his church in the past few years, but who spent that money, instead of sending it to, say, AIDS orphans in Africa (an example of the amazing work being done by Christians in the this documentary is care given to AIDS orphans) by spending those millions of dollars to ruin the lives of people who just want to be free to love one another (hmmmm - why does that phrase sound familiar?) and have the same rights and status as heterosexuals in society. Wow. What an awesome guy, am I right???

After mentioning more than once what a great person Rick Warren is, the film then leads directly into a gay pride festival where our host goes to apologize to gay people for the sins of the church in a confessional-style booth. If this bit had not been more or less introduced by an ode to Rick Warren, I would have liked it a lot more. The people he confessed to seemed touched, and it was nice to watch the initial awkwardness between an evangelical Christian and members of the LGBTQ community give way to something more positive and healing. However, had I been one of the people interviewed and had then watched the documentary, I would be livid. When placed next to an unapologetic interview with Santorum and praise to Warren, the confession seems almost like a cruel joke. "I'll apologize to you, but only after I talk about what great people two of the men who have worked the hardest to make your lives hell are".

The documentary goes to pains to show how it's the average Christians who are working to make the world a better place rather than the mouthpieces, and I don't disagree that there are Christian groups out there who do work very hard to help the sick and distressed. Nor do I disagree that it is more often the average person who does the greatest work. The organizations highlighted in Lord, Save Us from Your Followers were presented in a very inspirational way, and the average individual people were much more inspiring and kind than the talking head segments.

I guess my confusion here is twofold - if the average Christian is, as this documentary argues, kind and compassionate and generous and loving, then why do they have such shitty leaders as Warren and Santorum? Why not decry these men? Why not have someone kind, someone giving, someone as full of love for the downtrodden and sick as the average person appears in this film, as their leader and figurehead (I mean, other than Jesus who doesn't totally count because he can't vote or hold public office)? It simply makes no sense that what is described as the loud, obnoxious, and hateful 10% gets to make all the decisions. Christians, if this is true, why not step up and get rid of these douche bags? Why not denounce them as publicly as you can?

My second "confusion" (or, should we say, doubt) is this - two of the interviewees in this documentary, the only two with whom I was at all familiar, are actually hateful men, not the lovingkindness-filled dudes they were made out to be. How do I know this is not the case for everyone interviewed in this documentary? I mean, we're 0 for 2 right now, and there was absolutely no honesty in how these men were presented. Again, was it that hard to find a Christian leader who is not a dick? I certainly hope not.

I was ranting and raving and getting pissed off at this documentary ("Why did he interview Santorum?" "Where's the interview with Dan Savage, hunh?" "Why not show what amazing work atheists and non-Christians do?"), and my husband gently pointed out to me that this documentary, in spite of its name, was at its heart a Christian documentary, and was meant to show the positive side of Christians in the US. There are no interviews with Dan Savage or non-Christian relief organizations because that's not the point. The point is that there are people trying to do good (and succeeding!), trying to bring people together, and trying to show care under the banner of Christianity in the United States,. It also urges Christians to continue that work and to be open to involving non-Christians in their work. I would add another call that I felt was unintentionally sent out by Lord, Save Us from Your Followers - if you are a Christian and you disagree with what the people who supposedly speak for you are saying, speak up. Get those people out of positions of power, and do it now.

This "review" may come off as slightly vitriolic, and I don't mean it to. However, I consider myself to be a member of the "B" part of LGBTQ, and I realized that at a very young age (4th grade, to be precise). At the time, I was going to a Lutheran church with my parents and I didn't have the word "bisexual", nor did I believe that my feelings were bad or wrong (I also believed that reincarnation just made sense, so I'm sure you can see where this is heading). Then, when I was in middle school, I became conscious of individuals who didn't simply not believe in Jesus, but who actively believed something different, and was absolutely horrified at the idea that these people, who were good, kind, and loving human beings, would go to hell if the beliefs I had been raised with were correct. That was the moment I stopped believing in the religion I was raised with. I recall that moment. I was in the car with my parents on our way to Giant Eagle. I was looking out the window. It was spring.

Of course, I eventually came out to my parents and was told by one of them that I was going through a phase (I'm sure they now believe this to have been the truth), though the other was perfect - absolutely accepting, and I am thankful every day that I had one parent who was able to make that leap. I stopped going to church as soon as I was 18. I struggled and I struggled and I struggled with spirituality for years, and I finally feel like I am getting to a place where spirituality is a wonderful, fulfilling, dare I say fun, aspect of my life that makes me a better person.

I am not a Christian. I do not think I ever will be a Christian. I am not sure I ever was a Christian. The church I used to go to is now a place where homosexuality was described by a church leader, in public, as "disgusting". It is a place where people are more worried about whether I had sex with a woman than whether I am a kind person. And for the record, I have had sex with multiple women. My only regret is that I probably wasn't very good for about half of them. I am trying to be a good person. These two things have very little to do with one another.

I think I might be ranting too much. I think this is a good place to stop.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Poems for Rick Santorum!

I have to plug Poems for Santorum - a project being put together by my friend Ashly Nagrant. As their mission states:

"on April 15th it was reported that Santorum had changed his campaign slogan, “Fighting to Make America America Again” because of the resemblance to the title of the Langston Hughes poem “Let America Be America Again.”

Hughes, of course, was a gay, black, leftist pro-union poet.

Santorum hasn’t even merely changed his slogan, he is fully denying that “Fighting to Make America America Again” was ever intended as his slogan, despite appearing on websites and campaign literature handed out the day of the event in question.

Well, I say the only answer to that is to give Rick Santorum MORE poetry. So I am asking poets out there to submit poems for Santorum. Poems he can relate to, poems about being a horrible, hateful human being."

They plan to post poetry tomorrow, on Santorum's birthday, so yes, there is still time to send them a fine Rick Santorum poem. I highly recommend it.