You have probably heard of the Ohio Cub Scout leader who was forced to resign for being a lesbian. My brother recently shared this with his 7-year-old son who, in addition to being in the Cub Scouts, has a friend with two lesbian moms which required its own explanation a couple years ago. Now, my enlightened nephew reacted to the latest news by telling my brother this: “Dad, we have two choices. Plan A: We ask the Cub Scouts to change their mind. Plan B: We quit.”
Quick update on this situation. They tried Plan A and no surprise, ended up with Plan B. An excerpt from a correspondence with David Burke, Communications Specialist for the Boy Scouts of America:
"I’d like to briefly address your request to change BSA’s membership policy. This is a complex topic and the BSA recognizes the diverse views and depth of genuine feeling on this matter, within and outside the Scouting community. Further, we understand that not everyone will agree with any one position or policy on this topic. The debate on homosexuality is a societal issue on which we as a nation do not agree, and I believe both sides of this issue feel passionately that they are doing the right thing. With this in mind, the BSA maintains that its program is not the appropriate forum to discuss and debate one’s sexuality. After much research and discussion with individuals inside and outside BSA, our leadership has elected to maintain this policy because they think it best serves the organization and allows Scouting to most effectively accomplish its mission, but it is not meant to stand as a commentary outside the Scouting program."
My brother responded:
"Thank you for your note. However, I am very disappointed in the content. Your explanation is shallow justification for an outdated policy. I find it interesting that the Boy Scouts/Cub Scouts are one of the few youth oriented organizations that still discriminates based on sexual orientation. It’s unfortunate that your organization cannot follow the example set by the Girl Scouts of America and allow gays and lesbians to serve as leaders and members. The Girl Scouts have the same "character development and values-based leadership training" as the Boy Scouts, however, they manage to do it while being inclusive. What a pity that your organization actively excludes members and leaders to meet these same goals.
For the reasons listed above, my family and I are disassociating ourselves from the Cub Scouts / Boy Scouts and will never again support your organization unless your policy changes.”
On a positive note, some of the other families in their troop joined the boycott and they are forming their own "indie scouting” group.
You’re walking. And you don’t always realize it, but you’re always falling. With each step you fall forward slightly. And then catch yourself from falling. Over and over, you’re falling. And then catching yourself from falling. And this is how you can be walking and falling at the same time.
# # #
"Peoples’ stories are fucking boring," he said, sucking his spoon. "You know why? Because people telling stories is just a person trying to highlight how winning or funny or insightful or human they are."
"I don’t see it like that," she replied.
"Now that, right there. That’s interesting. An opinion. You know what never changes? A story. Oh sure, little details here and there, who was at the scene of the accident, the time of day, the color of the sky. Those change, sure, but does it matter? No, it’s always that same goddamned story. Same ending. Same beginning. Same point. And worst of all; same person. It’s always colored and tainted by the very person telling the story - ultimately what the story is about. An opinion though. An opinion-"
"Opinions are just people yelling about things. Nobody gets along. You never learn anything about anyone."
"Exactly. An opinion is never what a person is. Opinions change like clothes. Taken off everyday for new ones or worn and battered over time. An opinion is paper-thin. It’s a mask. It’s a concept, an idea that someone else, a nation, has thought up and anybody can pick it up, try it on, yell through it, and then throw it away."
"Ok, so if an opinion doesn’t explain a person, shouldn’t a story? Isn’t that important?"
"Well, a story tells you about someone. It tells you what they lie about, and doesn’t that reveal more about a person than an opinion?"
"Lord, a story is a dead limb Eva. It’s a dead arm or leg that people insist on lugging around to show other people. It’s embarrassing and meaningless. It’s no longer a part of them, it’s just something they seem to think identifies them. An opinion is beautiful because it’s the essence of humanity; ever-changing, never correct, and always reconcilable. And, if you live around someone long enough, then you get to know all the opinions they’ve worn and tossed away. You get to pick up their shed skin and stare through the compounded layers of past cares, causes, and worries. You get to see exactly what they’ve been trying to be all these years."
# # #
I constantly feel ennui and revulsion when it comes to re-reading and reflecting on my own thoughts and writing. These two feelings also seem to be the prime components in Spectacle and so I revisit, somewhat often, my own thoughts and writing. It’s like staring at yourself in the mirror until your face gets patchy and old and horrifying. You know it’s vain and boring but it’s so gross you can’t stop. It’s so alienating and entrancing that you feel, somewhere deep down, that it’s the only way to truly speak with yourself.
# # #
I used to email Choire Sicha more often than I care to admit with ideas for essays I wanted him to publish. The theme of every single one was experienced expertise. The counter-point in every essay was how little I understood about anything at all and how gigantic this lack of understanding felt. It was a lot like the 14 year old boy I chastised at church once. When I told him he needed to stop bullying another boy in his age group and asked him if he actually felt as superior as he acted, he told me, Mondrian tears lining his face, that he didn’t know anything, he didn’t know anything and he wasn’t going to say he knew anything, he didn’t know anything. Something I used to say to protect myself when I got into arguments. The rank, metallic unfairness of certainty in the uncertain.
# # #
One time I wrote in an essay:
Choice. The issue is choice and the most confounding part about this patriarchal, misogynistic, male-dominated culture is the fact that, well, some of the time it’s not so patriarchal or misogynistic or male-dominated. In fact, the LDS faith is one of the few mainstream world religions with a stated belief in a divine, female entity. We also have the Relief Society, which is one of “the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the world.” (http://mormon.org/faq/relief-society/) Brigham Young University is home to the Women’s Stats project which is the world’s largest and most comprehensive global database on the status of women (womenstats.org). Some of the most respected female scholars and specialists in the world are, secretly and insidiously, LDS.
When I finished my ethnography and looked at all of the information in front of me, I realized that I was completely overwhelmed. The issue of gender at BYU is so complex, so nuanced and individual, that I couldn’t step back quite far enough to grasp the whole of it. I just couldn’t figure out the facts from my biases. The most difficult aspect of this process of understanding has been the duality implicit within the learning process. The more I got to know the opinions of my peers, the more I would have guessed my reaction would have been, “This is not the place for me.” And yet, the more that I talked to them and listened to them, the more I just let them state their beliefs, learned their backgrounds and their future plans, the more I had to concede that if this place is not the place for me, then there is no place for me.
There is no perfect place on Earth; that much is obvious. The problem with obvious statements is that we forget the depth of the obvious. There is no perfect place on Earth. Likewise, there was no perfect place for me to be in 2008 as I watched everything I thought I understood about my faith fall apart. There was no perfect place for me to explore my social ineptitude. There is no place on Earth where women and men are treated fairly and equally. There is no place on Earth where rape and sexual assault aren’t an incredibly overwhelming problem. The more I got to know all of these obvious things, the more it became apparent that contradiction is par for the course. We contain vast quantities of truth; isn’t that what makes us most human?
In an interview I helped conduct with Valerie Hudson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerie_M._Hudson), we asked her what it was like to be a feminist at BYU. Her response was that while she’d never encountered anything but respect regarding her views, if we’d asked her what it was like to be a female at BYU we’d get a different answer. She said that the only people who had ever disrespected her were her students. Another professor stated that she felt the same way and added that young female professors regularly receive far lower student ratings than their male counterparts. These women are teaching equality to a student body that shows, every year, how much it needs that sort of education. I hate to be macabre or cruel, but I love that. It’s so apparent, so over-the-top, that I have to laugh at it. For years I wandered around snarling about how open-minded and loving I was and how much of a stupid piece of hypocritical shit everybody else around me was. I constantly espoused hatred all in the name of love. I think there’s a specific look that someone who’s just stumbled onto their biggest contradiction exhibits. Watching myself alienate and insult others, I learned that maybe at the root of all of this we simply just don’t know anything. And, somehow or another, the only way to understand that fact is to tell it to other people and wait for them to prove it to you. Zero plus zero plus zero equals a sum; don’t mistake substance for quality.
# # #
I am leaving to go on a mission for the LDS Church in June. For two years I’ll be representing the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the gospel of Jesus Christ. I will drink caffeine and say the “Fuck” word and be human. I will take upon myself a divine name. I will cut my hair short and yet my nails will still get dirty. I will say over and over again in prayer and in conversation that I do not know, I do not know, this is all I know, that I do not know.
# # #
I have my issues with the Church. I disagree with the Church’s opposition to the ERA and with its outward facing support of Prop8. Its incredibly depressing, inconsistent treatment of people of color over the years. Its cultural doctrines, its former practice of polygamy, its hierarchical, bureaucratic messiness.
# # #
I have a true belief in my heart that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is set up and guided by Christ and that it can lead one to eternal happiness.
# # #
"We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all (wo)men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."
-Joseph Smith, 13th Article of Faith
# # #
"And also those to whom these commandments were given, might have power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased, speaking unto the church collectively and not individually—"
Doctrine and Covenants 1:30
# # #
“We claim that God’s inspiration is not limited to the Latter-day Saints.”
-Elder James E. Faust
# # #
What happens when we inhabit the spaces between polarities, when we pull up on the fabric of truth and reason and slip under those dense heavy areas of bothness? It is like velvet under here. It adheres to your body and yet it is rigid and empty. It is a hug from a father who no longer feels the love he has for you. What happens when we decide to animate those gaps suspended in absence? Do we become fullness? Do we become unbecome? Do we became? Or do we
# # #
The best poetry is poetry where the lines are broken up and continued on the next line so it’s difficult to even read correctly in your head, let alone outloud. The stuff that is supposed to be broken up and difficult to read correctly in your head, let alone outloud. We pound it out into long, truthful lines that we can process and digest but forget that in the two or four times it takes us to actually read and comprehend the words, it is the act of confused synthesis which brings ambient meaning.
# # #
It’s a horrible thing to think that God leaves us mysteries because we aren’t able to comprehend the real truth.
# # #
The lack of truth is the truth, and I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know becomes the prayer being prayed always.
# # #
One time I told the person I loved the most in the world that I didn’t believe in God. It was hard to hide the fact that in admitting that I didn’t think God existed, I was admitting that God existed. You always affirm that which you deny.
# # #
The times in my life in which I’ve felt most like curling up in a ball and falling asleep are times in which I’ve never wanted anything other than to never fall asleep again.
# # #
If you see a Mormon missionary riding their bike, realize that they are probably 19 years old and will excitedly recount, when they return home at the end of their mission, how the most important thing they learned was that other people can teach them things. Realize that, in a lot of ways, these kids are waiting for you to help them be better people.
So it finally happened. I finally am going to go out and put on my nametag and shave my mustache and tell people that they can be gay and God will still love them and that women are powerful like gods and that we’re all gonna be saved in the end because God loves us and provides for us so do you want to read a Book of Mormon?
That means I’m going to be signing off of this here website for 2 whole years! This blog is almost four years old this year! I’ve been in Summer of Megadeth for nearly 2 years! Isn’t all of this so surreal and strange?
Cecilia wrote a screenplay that’s better than anything I’ve done. Not that what I’ve done is any good. Some people don’t read what I write and have the tactlessness to start a conversation about why and when and where they didn’t read it—though for some reason even this banality is colored by positive assumptions and great excitement about what remains to be read in some anticipated future. How I’ve made such a favorable impression of talent without the opportunity for engagement remains mysterious.
When her peers, for lack of a more damning term, want to talk to Cecilia about her work, the same glowing potentialities do not apply. There is, as appalling baseline, the question of whether it’s “something for women, or something that anyone can relate to,” as if a funny woman would naturally wish to purge men from her audience. There is, once the subject matter comes out, the question of whether it’s “stupid, or doing something smart with something stupid,” as if women would and should resort to hackery right out of the gate. Finally, when assured that the screenplay is dark, multilayered and satirical, a crypto-misogynist, even while mentally burnishing his feminist bona fides, will ask: “Oh, so you take after your man?”
Her man being the author of a novel that, even before it has been opened, is so transparently important, impressive and worthwhile.
You may never see Cecilia’s first name in the credits of a movie she’s written. That’s because having a woman’s name on a script, and read by strangers, is to invite a prejudice that need not be overt to influence the odds of her success. It’ll be better, she says, to use her initials and sidestep gender entirely. There is a long tradition of this sort of thing.
I think it’s fair in the current student loan discussion to point out that the timing is rather, um, fortuitous. That is, the job market has soured enough that the people for whom opportunity was always a pretty hard slog (the three lower quintiles in terms of income or mobility, who haven’t had a real wage increase in 40 years) are no longer the only ones feeling the effects of a pretty much stagnant economy since 1970.
The upper two quintiles, numbering a lot of [brace yourself, everyone!] white, middle class and above kids, used to filing into positions that were by and large secure a generation ago (law, accounting, media, education with the prospect of tenure or unionized positions, etc.) are now looking at the world, like, well, everyone else. And since they are in position to publicize, they are (good for them!) — but the crisis has always been there. They just weren’t as inspired by it when it was only abstract.
I’d been beating the drum of wanting a chart of student loan ratios tracked to income and inflation when I was in school 20 years ago. Graduating into a recession, I was pretty clear that I was part of a generation where the hedge education was sold as was perhaps inverting. It most definitely was if you wanted anything besides a J.D/MBA/M.D. I specifically did not pursue a PhD because I saw no good evidence that it was a viable economic investment. As a 24 year old, I was pretty bitter, but felt like I was adult enough that I could be held accountable for my decisions, and my concerns about my family’s financial future were enough that making any other decision seem frivolous, my charged ideological beliefs about revolution and social housing notwithstanding (and you know, don’t feel that bad for me: it turned out okay.)
I felt like my anger about the reality of the job market and what I had mortgaged (as a comparison, in 1993, fully bearing the costs of my student loans was 30% of my gross income at the time) as an undergraduate was perhaps more than an 18 year old should be compelled to calculate. There were a number of extenuating stressors (growing up in an economically depressed area meant there wasn’t really the possibility of just entering the job market) but they don’t roll up into a statistically relevant point.
So there most definitely is a crisis in education debt. But the story there isn’t about people borrowing a lot of money for grad school. That’s a decision an adult makes. The real crisis in the clearly exploitative recruiting techniques of trade school and other for profit schools — which were in full effect 10, 20 and 30 years ago. The difference now is that by expanding the Stafford program means it’s more of a public debt problem.
And there is a crisis in state public education where states are devolving their education expenses to the lowest rungs, often to the benefit of middle class kids, since in absolute terms state schools have a much lower price point for tuition.
This student loans thing is actually a real big deal, you guys. I won’t go into a long comparison of the student loan debt panic of late to the sex panic of the late 20th century, mostly because I doubt any implicit and attendant comparison between getting an education (under false premises, but still) and contracting HIV holds up, and further, I wouldn’t want it to, but let me just say this: Sometime in the past few years, the conversation about student loan debt has come to be primarily structured around shame. And I think we all agree that when the discourse has no recourse but shame? It ends no where good.
What I mean is this: I, and several people I know, have seriously considered taking drastic measures because of our student loan debt. Leaving the country permanently, faking our own death (I’m not fucking kidding), ending our lives — the state of the economy and employment options, coupled with the shame attached to this debt (lots of it imposed to cover for the reality that huuuuuuge third party-profits are being made from student loan debt), has made the situation really fucking dire. REALLY FUCKING DIRE. It’s probably needless to say, but this country has a long history of deploying shame to deflect or redirect blame, and the shame gets thrown at those people who are most vulnerable to it.
I have a lot of student loan debt. I also have a PhD, so, exploitative and fucked academic job market and tenure system notwithstanding, I am actually among the few kinds of debtors who might one day be in a position to pay this debt off. Many people have as much debt as I have for a 4 year degree, I mean fuck. I went into this debt partially out of necessity, and partially through a series of questionable choices (mostly in terms of where I chose to go to school — ie not a top-tier university, thus, nonviable stipends) — but for the overwhelmingly large part, not because I spent money irresponsibly and I think that I am the worst case scenario here. I read a news story today about a woman in Detroit (which, oddly enough, is basically where this proposal for the reform act started — at my own university! So proud!) who went into $100k of debt to get a bachelor’s and master’s in teaching so that she could teach in the Detroit public school system, possibly the most tragic school system currently operating in our country. She grew up in Detroit and went to school there and wanted to get an education so that she could go back into the system and try to make it better. Now she can’t get married, or buy a house, or really do anything, because she pays 30% of her income to the student loans, and she hasn’t made a dent. She shouldn’t feel even the tiniest bit of shame, but I bet she does, because it is easier to find the one thing that she could have done differently than it is to look clearly at the real problem, to follow the profits instead of recognizing the fact that this woman has basically mortgaged her entire life to try to do something good, the right thing, even.
I maybe deserve a little shame. And believe me, during the past few months I have spent many early mornings fetal style, shaking, clutching a lemon and thinking about how I will never have a home, a partner, children (fuck a new car, or vacation, I’m way past that) — really important things that I have been led to believe, and have begun myself to truly believe, I don’t deserve. Sidebar: I wonder how much big pharma is making off SSRI and benzo scrips for student loan debtors. I don’t know how much Obama’s proposed reforms, as well as those already enacted but not previously known about or made available, will help this situation, or will help any of us individually. I don’t think they represent a magical cure for debt or shame, and I am trying to be realistically and cautiously optimistic. But when I got the letter saying my loans qualified under this act? And then got online, read the details, and applied? I saw a light at the end of a tunnel where previously there had been no light at all. Maybe I can be a person! Maybe I deserve to be a productive and contributing member of society! Maybe I can get out from under my parents! Maybe I can face the shame that does belong to me without having to take on Sallie Mae’s as well.
And then I started going a little bananas and thinking that I could also conquer health insurance today, which, still no.
I would never shame anyone for their college choices but to me, I would die of heart-popping-out-of-my-mouth anxiety if I was saddled with anything near a six-figure college debt. Stay in(-state) school, kids.
“The debate in the House of Delegates was homophobic and embarrassing and showed a disrespect to a chief deputy commonwealth attorney and decorated veteran who was honorably discharged,” said Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), Virginia’s first openly gay state senator. “It’s offensive that the Senate wouldn’t even grant Lt. Thorne-Begland the courtesy of a vote.”
From the Poetry Center Archive: John Cheever reads “The Swimmer”
On Thursday night, 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center will present “John Cheever at 100,” a centennial celebration of the great fiction writer with readings and remembrances by Susan Cheever (his daughter), Blake Bailey (his biographer), Allan Gurganus (a former student) and Michael Chabon (one of his biggest fans).
The evening will also feature some audio excerpts from Cheever’s two appearances here at 92Y (in 1964 and 1977), but today, in anticipation, we’d like to share a recording of Cheever reading one of his most famous stories, “The Swimmer” at 92Y on December 19, 1977.
“The story was made into a film some of you may have seen,” Cheever remarked before he began to read. “It still runs on late-night television. I know because people always call me and say, ‘Hey, you’re in the movies!’ It’s usually about half past 11… . Here again the story has had an international success, and the various interpretations have always interested me. It’s very popular in Russia, for example, where there are almost no swimming pools and where almost nobody swims.”
Burt Lancaster starred in the adaptation, which was shot in May of 1966. “Though an acrobat, a boxer, and a horseman,” Bailey reports in his biography, “Lancaster could scarcely swim a stroke and had been working since April with the UCLA swimming coach.” Cheever himself makes a brief cameo at a poolside cocktail party. Unhappy with the original cut, the producer delayed the film’s release until 1968. After attending the premiere, Cheever wrote to a friend: “It is not a great picture, but it is faithful to the story, and at the end, when he returns to the empty house, grown men weep.” And he thought Lancaster was terrific—“both young and old, masterful and tearful … lithe and haggard.”
Bailey says that Cheever had been nervous about meeting Lancaster that first day on set, but “after shooting was finished that morning, the actor put on a bathrobe and had a poolside lunch with Cheever…after which Cheever (evidently over the worst of his shyness) ‘jumped beararse’ into the water.”
In an ongoing effort to share with our readers some of the great literary moments which the Poetry Center has presented across the decades, this blog has begun to feature regular postings of archival recordings. To purchase tickets to “John Cheever at 100,” please click here. And for access to other recordings from the Poetry Center archive, please click here.
I told a bunch of joke, some of which ran on Tumblr/Twitter earlier (kale as a status vegetable, artisan Brooklyn will collapse when they find the recipes on Pinterest, nothing sadder than a gay couple that can’t afford good furniture, etc.) and got a few chuckles and it was moderately successful! I feel good about the result. And now I have the career prospects of every other amateur stand-up comedian, which means I should keep going but definitely should not give up the day… oh, well there’s no day job, so half of tomorrow will be spent writing more jokes so that I can do them at some undetermined open mic.