Archive for the ‘Philosophy of the world’ Category

Why do I write a blog?

Monday, July 21st, 2014

 

I received my first blank book as a Christmas present in 1982. Prior to then I scribbled my thoughts and various Archie fanfics (though in those days we didn’t call them fanfics, we called them silly stories about comic book characters) in notebooks and scratch pads around the house. My mother believed me when I said I wanted to be a Writer When I Grew Up, so she thought I finally needed something Fancy to Write In.

And write in it I did. I was a faithful correspondent in that book for months, pushing myself to write something every day, including what I had for dinner (Green Mill pizza) what I watched on TV (Powerhouse) and whose family got a mysterious machine called a VCR that showed movies you actually wanted to watch (Rachel’s, the lucky girl). Then I realized that my fifth grade existence was actually pretty boring and I gave it up.

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In 8th grade I was given a new book, perhaps to sort out my complicated feelings about my parents’ yearlong separation, but family problems barely made its pages, devoted as they were to my single-minded pursuit of the cute boy who sat in front of me in math class. Oh sweet heavens, he was adorable. Even the sudden death of a classmate gets only a page of reflection before devolving into a navel-gazing meditation on how important it was to make that cute boy like me before I, like Lisa, got run over by a car on my way home from school.

After reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones in high school (another gift from my mother, who still believed me when I said I wanted to be a Writer When I Grew Up), I ditched the B. Dalton brand blank books and returned to notebooks. Goldberg swore by the unassuming nature of the lowly school notebook, believing that fancy books deterred creativity instead of inspiring it. I kept a journal only sporadically, however, as I was more interested in writing teenage angst fiction based on the skaters and McPunks who hung out at the Uptown McDonald’s.

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After graduation, I decided to take up the journaling habit again, this time in a series of beat-up notebooks covered in random stickers, including one from my place of employment. I wrote constantly. I wrote at home, in coffee shops, at bars. I wrote so much I gave myself cramps in my hands. In 1997, I fell head over heels for the cute boy at the record store–but this time, I was so busy being loved  in return that I didn’t have to pine about it. Requited love is a great productivity killer. I stopped journaling for a very long time.

Until I started a blog.

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Of course I wasn’t nearly as candid in a blog as I was with my blank books or journals, but I was still pretty honest when I wrote about my children, my family of origin, my best friend, the parents at my kids’ school.

Surprise! The only people who weren’t pissed off were my kids–because they were too young to have MySpace accounts.

About a month ago I wrote another personal blog post in which I reflected on the end of a friendship. I received a swift and brutal response from the person I wrote about, in the form of a comment that hit me so hard I felt dizzy and unsettled for days (last week I finally removed it). Again, I had to wonder why I ever thought to make the jump from easily hidden packs of paper to digital diaries that are open to the whole goddamn world. Why?

Why do I write a blog? These days I could say that I do it to push the soon-to-be-published book that shares the blog’s name. But we’re going to go deeper and REALLY WONDER WHY:

To make friends? To make enemies? To make manifest the promised Writer When I Grew Up? To feed my penchant for narcissistic navel-gazing? To make sense of what Mary Oliver called my one wild and precious life? To embarrass myself? To make myself happy?

All of the above?

I’m sure I’ll post something here when I’ve figured it out.

 

 

 

 

 

To linger at the bus stop

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

 

I can usually be counted on to announce when one of my columns appears in the Minnesota Women’s Press.  I like the gig, I want to keep it, and I’m proud of the work that I’ve done for the magazine.  But the column that appeared in last October’s issue was different.  It felt too raw, too emotional, too vulnerable to link to on Twitter with the usual “HEY EVERYBODY CHECK THIS OUT!”

How could I be happy to publicize a column I wrote about a loved one who is dead?

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My friend and neighbor Pam Taylor was diagnosed with an aggressive and virtually untreatable brain tumor in November 2011.  In one week Pam went from being just another mama at the school bus stop to a semi-paralyzed terminally ill hospital patient.

This was nothing at all like other times cancer has touched my life.  My friend Liz’s colon cancer treatment, though eventually futile, allowed her at least some time with mobility, hair, and most importantly, hope.  A family member with lung cancer has been trucking along for six and a half years, switching out medications in search of whatever works.  Not Pam.  Once her cancer was diagnosed it was too late for anything but goodbye.

 

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A new mother I know told me recently that she was surprised to see the parents in her neighborhood linger at the bus stop long after the children had been whisked away to school.  It seemed odd to her that busy people, commuter mugs in hand, would yak at the corner for up to a half hour in the mornings, longer on warm afternoons.  I told her that I might have thought that was silly, too, if I hadn’t lingered at my own bus stop and gotten to know some incredibly funny, thoughtful and supportive parents who I’m happy to say became dear friends.  Including Pam.

 

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Pam’s diagnosis was shattering for me.  In late 2011 I was already in a pretty crappy headspace, dealing with professional rejection, interpersonal drama, and a long-festering depression that required more attention than I cared to give it.  I used to write a couple blogs a week, but in 2012 and 2013, I wrote a couple blogs a month.  I say this just to be honest, not to make you think that my own pain in any way compares to the suffering endured by Pam and her family.  And what a family!  Pam loved her two daughters so fiercely that she defied the odds and lived 14 months after her diagnosis, more than a year than any fancypants oncologist expected.  She was stubborn like that.

Pam passed away on January 30, 2013, in the house just up the street from where I type one year later.  I still miss her.  As I wrote in that October 2013 column:

I could pretend, in my worst days, that Pam was merely behind schedule and was seconds away from opening the kitchen window to ask me if I’d seen the school bus cresting the top of the hill. All of that pretending failed to make her materialize; on my very worst days, I blamed myself for not trying harder. 

The bus is scheduled to drop my daughter and Pam’s youngest off in ten minutes, but will likely be delayed due to last night’s heavy snow that has yet to be fully plowed.  With the windchill factored in, it feels like three above zero, not the ideal conditions for hanging out on a street corner, gabbing.

But I’ll do it anyway, and if you have the opportunity, I hope you can too.  Who knows?  Taking the time to linger at the bus stop could change your life.

It changed mine, for the better.

 

 

 

 

Repose en paix, Monsieur Seeger

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

 

“Aw no, Pete Seeger died,” I said, turning up the radio so I could hear the entire report from NPR news.

“Who’s Pete Seeger?” Elliott asked.

I paused for a moment, listening to the familiar plinkety-plunk of his banjo on the cold airwaves.  “I know you’ve heard of him,” I said.  “Pete Seeger, probably the world’s most famous folk singer.”

“Nope,” Elliott said.

“Have you heard of him, Miriam?” I asked.

She stared at me blankly. “Who?”

“Are you telling me that you’ve both been in public elementary school music programs for years and you’ve never had to sing “If I Had a Hammer”?’

“NO,” they shouted.

“Crap,” I said, snapping the radio dial off when talk returned to the ongoing disaster in Syria, the kind of hopeless warring between brothers and sisters that Seeger spent his music career denouncing.  “I’m sorry,” I added.  “I guess I goofed on an important part of your musical education.”

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I cannot hope to add much to the public conversation about Seeger’s contribution to music, politics, and culture.  Instead, I’ll use my tiny platform to share my favorite version of “If I Had a Hammer” outside of an elementary school music class. In the wobbly but magnificent clip below, it is performed in French ye-ye style by the obscure but amazing group Les Surfs.  Enjoy it as part of your musical education.

Merci beaucoup, M. Seeger.  RIP.

 

 

 

 

The dream

Monday, January 20th, 2014

 

“And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ ”

 

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“….when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'”

Manuscript Monday: “Patriarchy and our sons”

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Hi readers!  Sorry I haven’t posted much lately, but it’s sorta hard to type when you’re hiding under your thickest blanket, scared to death not only of the bizarro Minnesota weather (nine inches of snow last week, eight inches more expected tonight) but also of the United States Senate.  And that thing that happened in Boston.

 

 

I can’t get over how young and vulnerable the boy in this photograph seems.  He’s a baby!  What the hell happened between the moment this picture was taken and the moment he decided to drop a bomb in a crowd full of people?  

As this face flashed across my television and computer screens myriad times over the last five days I flashed back to the intense, white-knuckled terror I felt in 1999 when, within weeks of each other, the Columbine tapes were released and discovered the sex of my first child.  

 

 

Since [my] angst-filled first pregnancy, I’ve become convinced that the greatest challenge of the 21st century women’s movement is to raise feminist boys who become feminist men.  I chanted this mantra to myself in 1999 to build up my confidence, to be sure, but the reality is that no part of our culture will change until men make it happen.

If you’ve forgotten, we live under patriarchy.  Men make the world go ‘round.  Women like Indira Gandhi of India, Golda Meir of Israel, Margaret Thatcher of the UK, Michelle Bachelet of Argentina, and our own Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are exceptions, but not the rule.  A 2007 report from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) discovered that  “women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, produce 50 percent of the [world’s] food, but earn 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property.”

Successful civil rights movements acknowledge that power can’t be shifted without the consent of the powerful.  Women got the vote by appealing to the consciences of their menfolk.  How will we upend patriarchy?  By raising a generation of boys who reject the rigidity of gendered society in favor of a balance of power that will ultimately benefit everybody.

Deeper minds than mine have probed the motives and psyches of Columbine killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold; I cannot claim to improve on their work here.  But would these broken children have expressed their frustrations differently in a world less accepting of testosterone-fueled violence?  Could some gender flexibility instead of ingrained machismo have allowed Klebold to ask for help with his suicidal ideation?  Perhaps suicide was an inevitable outcome of his mental illness—chronic depression has as high a fatality rate as cancer—but where does a boy get the idea to kill others, too?

The prevailing wisdom is that Harris was an irredeemable psychopath.  Where does such a lack of empathy for others begin?  In the cradle, where boy babies are less likely than their sisters to be held when they cry?

Is it too radical to suggest that feminism could have prevented Columbine?  I don’t think so.  Feminism asks that we critically examine the interconnections between gender roles and social behavior, and there’s no better starting point for such a discussion than in our persistent, almost intractable, culture of violence.

 

 

So why the hell are you so angry, fellas?  Why, with virtually all the power on the planet, do you still need to hurt others?  Why do you, yourselves, hurt so badly?

Would you like to talk about it?

 

 

One from the heart

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

 

I have started and stopped this post more than a dozen times. Here’s the conversation I hear as I type, delete, type, hit save draft…

Head: “It’s time to write a blog post.”

Heart: “Yeah, probably, but I don’t wanna.”

Head: “You have stuff to say, publications to plug, yadda yadda.”

Heart: “Ugh, I would rather sit under a blanket and watch Scandal, the best show on television.”

Head: “You streamed every episode available.  There won’t be a new one until March 21. WRITE THAT POST.”

Heart: “Dammit.”

 

In last month’s issue of the Minnesota Women’s Press, themed “Matters of the Heart,”  I wrote a fan letter to feminist men.  It was pretty good, I think–at least good enough to warrant many hetero women to inquire where I found my awesome feminist husband (behind the counter at Cheapo, of course).  But I didn’t do the usual thing and hawk it here, for an uncomfortable reason.

My big fat feminist heart is in pieces.

On January 30, my friend Pam Taylor passed away from brain cancer.  She died with her family at her side, at home, in typically stubborn fashion–her doctors gave her just weeks to live, but she pushed that out to fourteen months.  If you knew Pam, you knew she was not about to leave her two daughters THAT quickly.  No way.

Usually, I respond to upheaval by writing.  I wrote volumes when my dear friend Liz passed away in 2007, also of cancer, also at home, also leaving behind two young daughters.  At the time I kept my blog on MySpace, a charmingly mindless place to vent about the ugliness and unfairness of life.  As a plus, you could add the music you were listening to at the time, which in 2007 was always Paul Westerberg’s “Let the Bad Times Roll“:

The good times hide/and so do I/out of my control/I dig a hole/I’m gonna let the bad times roll

It should be noted that this song was released in 2002, a decade before Scandal was available to cheer ol’ Paul up.

In the years (yes, years) that I’ve been working on The Radical Housewife, the book, I’ve utilized the services of a number of industry professionals who advised me that my blog should be a place where I “build my platform,” such as it is.  I must be vigorous about promoting myself and my work at the Women’s Press, at MPR, at the Minnesota NOW Times, at any analog and/or digital publication that would have me–nevermind that this is contrary to every introverted cell in my body.  I find that this push towards “branding” has strangled my natural impulse to write directly from my heart, whether it’s broken or whole.

And more and more often I see bloggers are clashing with each other (and with their readers, sometimes) over anything and everything.  Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg seem to have reinvigorated the Mommy Wars for 2013, and every feminist writer I know has taken a side.  Page views and well-placed editorials are the reward for the winner, dontcha know!  The Feminist Breeder was so fed up she put up a paywall on her site.  Kinda makes you wish we were all gluing up zines at Kinko’s doesn’t it?

Goddammit, whatever happened to GIRL POWER?!  Forgive us, Bratmobile and Sporty Spice!  We need you!

Ultimately, waxing nostalgic for long-lost “good old days” is as unhelpful as wishing very very VERY hard that people wouldn’t die.  You can give it a go, just don’t expect results.

The heart is a fragile thing.

 

 

Fear

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

 

Once upon a time, I thought that the opposite of love was hate.  Now that I’ve grown (much) older, I believe that the opposite of love is fear.

Fear prevents us from asking for help when we need it, sometimes desperately.  Fear prevents us from offering help to others when we know, from the gut, that it is desperately needed.

Fear stops us from accessing our own humanity.

Fear sells weapons.

 

 

Fear enforces stereotypes.

Fear tightens, restricts, confines.  Fear obscures our interconnectedness.

Fear hurts.

 

Fear feeds on fear.  Fear snowballs, compounds, multiplies.  Fear makes you type dumb things on Facebook that you would never say to a person’s face, things like “unfriend me now if you don’t do this or that.”

Fear creates an insatiable need to create and assign labels, from “outcast” to “weirdo” to “Trench Coat Mafia” to “mentally ill” to “autistic” to “threat to society” to “gun-worshipping NRA lunatic.”

Fear stigmatizes.  Fear isolates.

Fear kills.

 

Knowing that, what can we do?  Here’s a thought from Pema Chödrön, who has made the study of fear her life’s work:

“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid. You’re able to keep your eyes open, your heart open, and your mind open. And you notice when you get caught up in prejudice, bias, and aggression. You develop an enthusiasm for no longer watering those negative seeds, from now until the day you die. And, you begin to think of your life as offering endless opportunities to start to do things differently.”  

I’m starting to do things differently already–but it’s not easy, and I am afraid.  Are you?

 

 

 

“Atheist Voices of Minnesota” contributor interview & giveaway!

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Readers, you are in for a treat. I’ve secured an interview with one of the contributors to the just-released anthology Atheist Voices of Minnesota, and its publisher, Freethought House, has generously offered a copy for me to give to one of my lucky blog readers. Follow the directions on the Rafflecopter widget at the end of this post to find out how to enter (offer open to US residents only).

The contributor who chose to talk with me is the author of the essay that opens the collection, a piece that Doubt: A History author Jennifer Michael Hecht called “sensitive” and “compelling.”  A clue to her identity: her name appears on the cover….and it ain’t Stephanie or Greta.

THE RADICAL HOUSEWIFE: Have you always been an atheist?

SHANNON DRURY: My go-to joke is that I was baptized Catholic but it didn’t take. I was raised in a secular home by two products of the adage that the best way to raise an atheist adult is to send him or her to Catholic school–especially in the late ’50s and early ’60s, when nuns were still smacking naughty children with rulers.  My mother told me she was singled out for particular abuse because she had the bad luck to be born redheaded AND left-handed, both of which were considered early predictors of demonic possession.

I bought my mom this Nunzilla wind-up toy back in the ’90s.  It breathed fire as it stomped toward you.  She said it was eerily accurate.

RH: Wait a minute.  I know for a fact that you are a great fan of Pema Chödrön, the well-known Buddhist…..wait for it….NUN!  How can that be?

SD: Hey, just because I don’t think The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything is a god or gods doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned the quest.

I read quite a lot of Buddhist philosophy.  Longtime readers of my Minnesota Women’s Press columns know how often I sprinkle in ideas from Thich Nhat Hanh.  Stephen Batchelor, a former Zen monk, has written a number of great books, including Buddhism Without Beliefs, Living with the Devil, and Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist.  And Pema Chödrön is one of my very favorite writers of any genre.  I love her to bits.

I suspect that if you asked Chödrön herself for The Answer, she might reply that it’s neither the Buddha nor the number 42–it’s love.  Which is what my essay in the book is all about.

RH: Your essay, “An Atheist Grieves,” made me cry.

SD: It made me cry, too.

RH: Was it hard to write?  You’re laying bare some pretty raw emotions: the death of your maternal grandfather, the death of your close friend, the deep anxiety felt by a parent who wants desperately to make sense of the world for her curious children.  

SD: It’s more difficult to read than it was to write, honestly.  It kinda just poured out of me in a few particularly wrenching sessions at the laptop–after years of puzzling and puzzling over why the death of my friend Liz has been so goddamn (pun intended) hard to get over.

When my grandfather died in 1979, it made some sort of sense to me.  He was old (though today 65 doesn’t seem as ancient as it did when I was a third-grader), he had seen his children through to adulthood, including marriages and the births of their own kids.  Though my parents weren’t Catholic anymore at that point, they still relied on its framework to sort the whole thing out.  Grandpa Cliff had a full funeral mass, and everyone said that he was “in a better place” and that kind of thing.

Liz and I were the same age.  We met at Carleton College and both graduated with the class of 1994.  She died just two months after her oldest daughter started kindergarten.  Her youngest daughter was not even a year old when Liz got her cancer diagnosis, and she won’t have any memories of her mom healthy–that is, if she remembers her mom at all.  What the fuck is THAT all about?  How do you sort THAT out?

RH: I have no idea.

SD: Most people have religious rituals to guide them through grief.  I didn’t.  The original title of the essay was actually called “What an Atheist Grieves When an Atheist Grieves,” because over time I realized that I wasn’t simply mourning her, I was mourning a lot of other stuff, too.

RH: Like what?

SD: My illusions of immortality, for one thing, though everyone confronting the death of a peer feels that.  I think I realized that my smartypants attitude about organized religion wasn’t exactly keeping me warm at night, if you know what I mean.  As I write in the piece, “my atheism requires maintaining a delicate and oftentimes painful balance  between intellectual superiority and emotional terror.”

RH: Intellectual superiority, eh?  No wonder you don’t talk about your atheism much.  You could get yourself punched in the face for saying something like that.

SD:  Oh c’mon.  Do I really think that I am smarter than my beloved neighbors, dedicated parishioners of St Joan of Arc?  Of course not!  But when you watch some dope on YouTube claiming that the Bible’s word refutes evolution, the dinosaurs, miscegenation, climate change, homosexuality, and “women’s lib,” it’s hard not to feel like unbelievers are awesome.  And then there’s the Taliban…..ugh.  I do feel sympathy for people of faith who have to contend with the lunatic fringe that makes them appear guilty by association.

I also tend to avoid embracing my atheism for fear of being stereotyped as yet another member of the secular white liberal elite.  Secular, white, and liberal, yes.  But elite?  I’m a garbageman’s daughter, for cryin’ out loud!

RH: Admit it–you almost said “for Christ’s sake” there.

SD: You know I did.

Anyway, the real reason I don’t talk about my atheism much is that faith, and its lack, seems like a pretty private thing to me.  It feels akin to discussing all the gory details of your sex life–though I suppose that’s the very excuse that Elton John made, once upon a time.

RH: Anything else your readers should know about the book?

SD: It features contributions from Pharyngula blogger PZ Myers, HuffPo regular Chris Steadman, science writer Greg Laden, an introduction from Greta Christina, and writings from many other interesting people from across my home state.  It’s available as en e-book on Kindle or Nook, too, though readers should know that the copy they could win is fully analog.

RH: I am aware of your love-hate relationship with technology.

SD: Tell me about it. Just take a look at this raffle widget it took me hours to enable:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

RH: It took me a little time to load because I have “The Inbetweeners” streaming on another tab.

SD: I may be an atheist, but I have seen hell–it’s a computer with sluggish wifi. Love that show, by the way.

RH: How often should people enter?

SD: Multiple times a day until 12:01 am on September 17.  The winner should also think of a witty inscription for me to inscribe on the title page, which will make the book a genuine collectible, suitable for keeping in the glass case with first edition Harry Potters or selling on eBay.

RH: How generous!  Good luck to all entrants!

 

 

 

 

 

The day the bridge fell

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Five years ago today, the 35W bridge fell.

To most people, “The 35W Bridge” means the one that dropped into the Mississippi River on August 1, 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 145 more.  To me, a lifelong resident of south Minneapolis, there are many, many 35W bridges.  I travel on one of them when I take my kids to their pediatrician.  I bike underneath a 35W bridge on my way to the library.

The first we heard of the disaster was when my mother-in-law called, hysterical, hoping that we were okay.  I remember turning on the television and nearly fainting from surprise, shock, and horror.

Here?  HERE?  In sweet, simple, provincial Minneapolis?  A town that, all protestations to the contrary, secretly liked being a part of flyover country?

Then, of course, our thoughts turned to the last time we’d traveled that particular stretch of highway.  I’d been on it just the day before,  and on that day, July 31, I too found myself stuck in traffic in the sweltering heat, watching MnDOT workers sweat through another day on the job while my kids whined in the back seat.

Hanah Sahal was only two years old when she perished with her mother, Sadiya, on August 1, 2007.  They were driving to visit a relative when the bridge fell.

Three weeks before the bridge collapsed, I had an emotional blowout/breakup with my family of origin, for reasons that are as complex, frustrating, and prone to mistakes as the science of structural engineering.  Friends from across the country e-mailed and called to see if we were safe.  My California friend Kristi, bless her heart, texted and I had no idea how to reply on my chunky circa-2006 most assuredly not smart cell phone.  But neither my mother, my father, nor my sister bothered to contact me to see if I was okay.

In truth, I wasn’t.  2007 was a year of personal disasters, each more enormous than the other.  In November, someone as dear to me as Sadiya and Hanah were to someone else also died, though not suddenly.  On August 1, 2007, it was obvious to anyone paying attention that she would not live very long.  Later that month, the same August that would forever be marked by the bridge collapse, I would visit her home in Boston for the last time.  I still miss her terribly.

On August 2, 2007, and in the weeks thereafter, I became unusually protective of my hometown.  I wanted to scream at the hordes of national reporters to GO AWAY AND LEAVE US ALONE.  I wanted privacy to lick my hometown’s wounds.  This was not New York or L.A., places where Bad Things could safely happen to Interesting People!  This was MINNEAPOLIS, for cryin’ out loud!

This was my home!

My bridge! My highway! My family! My Liz!

The calligraphy of Thich Nhat Hanh, a truly great writer, thinker, and teacher.  I’ve read many of his books in the five years since 2007 and I’ve learned this:

Every disaster, both personal and public, both televised and otherwise, is another opportunity to disabuse ourselves of the illusion of control.

Remember that, today.

 

 

 

Guns, tears, and American manhood (again)

Friday, July 20th, 2012

I wrote this essay for the Minnesota Women’s Press in April 2007, but they didn’t use it, so I published it on my old MySpace blog (remember MySpace?) on May 2, 2007.  I reprinted it on Blogger on January 11, 2011, after the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.  Now that our country is reeling from YET ANOTHER MASS SHOOTING, I figured it might be time to run it again.

GUNS, TEARS, AND AMERICAN MANHOOD

by Shannon Drury

I am happy to admit it, totally honestly, without a trace of irony: I’m a Fanjaya. That is, an honest to goodness fan of Sanjaya Malakar, the 17-year-old American Idol contestant whose wacky hairdos and wobbly vocals made him a target for derision from the web to the grocery tabloids to network news. I participate in pop culture silliness as much as anyone (I still have my Spice Girls dolls, mint in their boxes!), but I genuinely love this kid. In fact, I’ve had a mom-crush on him ever since his first audition in Seattle, long before he shocked the nation with his pony-hawk.

Shall I break for another pop culture definition? A mom-crush occurs when an adorable kid provokes a powerful desire to pinch the object’s cute cheeks and serve him or her homemade cookies. In common usage, one might say: “I hope they never recast the stars of the Harry Potter movies. I have a mom-crush on all three of them.” And Sanjaya definitely had the toothy grin and the goofball charm to win over the stoniest mom in America. When he wept openly after his older sister was cut from the competition, I felt a bit teary myself. Who sees a boy cry on television at all, much less out of genuine tenderness and emotion? I loved it. He was my Idol pick, no matter how he styled his hair.

But fellow moms and Idol geeks like my friends Pam and Liz thought I was nuts when I confessed that I was dialing for Sanjaya. “Are you serious?” Pam squawked. He was terrible! Liz e-mailed. These are sensitive, loving women who are both capable of serious mom-crushing. But eventually, I realized what made them immune to Sanjaya’s charms.

Neither were mothers of sons.

Now someone else’s son is in the news, and for something far more disturbing than off-key singing: on April 16, 2007 Seung-Hui Cho opened fire on his university campus in Virginia and killed 32 people before turning the gun on himself. Media coverage after the massacre followed a predictable pattern, with a parade of pundits expounding on gun control laws, why students ought to own guns, pervasive mental illness, the civil rights of mentally ill persons, violence on television, violence in video games, the logistics of campus lockdowns, and more. All that changed the day NBC announced it had received a package from the killer himself, containing videos and photographs of himself decked out in his murderous finery.

In one image, Cho brandishes two firearms, holding them from his ammo-clad body at right angles, his face glowering with rage. It’s too perfect. It could have easily come from any grindhouse movie; hell, it could have come from the movie Grindhouse. This is not to blame Hollywood, but to recognize the image’s brutal allure. In America, we love power. We need it; we feed on it. The power that comes from violence is the cheapest and easiest available to those who are the weakest among us.

I was pregnant with my first child when the home video footage made by the two Columbine killers was made public, to be shown 24/7 by news outlets in a desperate attempt to understand what these boys had done.

Not long before, a fuzzy black and white ultrasound revealed that I was going to have a little boy of my own. Two television screens, showing two separate images of boys in America. My typical first-time mom jitters gave way to full-blown panic. There was no chapter in What to Expect When You’re Expecting about this. What on earth was I going to do with my American boy?

Fast forward seven years and I still don’t know. No one else seems to either. Seung-Hui Cho, despite a youth spent in South Korea, idolized the Columbine killers as “martyrs.” I adore my boy, but I fear for him. No talk show or how-to book is going to sort this mess out. But maybe one boy’s spontaneous tears on the country’s most popular television show will help.

I know I had best not pin all my hopes on this one American boy, a reality TV star at that. Of all media icons they tend to have the shortest shelf lives. I have a lot of difficult, ugly parenting work ahead of me, and Sanjaya will be busy just growing up. I thank him for the courage he displayed on the show week after week—and I’m not talking about the spectacularly funny hairdos. It takes guts to be yourself in America these days. It takes strength to take chances, to stand up to criticism, and to cry when it’s all over. That’s a kind of power that is neither easy nor cheap, but it will last him a lifetime.

I hope his mother is proud.

 

After I posted this piece to Blogger in 2011, I received the following comment:

I am Sanjayas mother and I am very proud of him. To raise a sensitive, compassionate, grounded young man in our culture was not easy. It made me cry to hear another woman facing the same challenges to raise a boy within a culture that glorifies violent,macho images of young men. Sure Sanjaya was called gay and teased for his love of baking and knitting. One day,
I’m sure he will make a woman very happy, and most likely will raise his own son,the next generation of conscious, balanced and sensitive men.

Was it the real deal?  I sure hope so.  In the meantime, I’m gonna check in with the rest of the Fanjayas over at www.sanjayamalakar.com.  He’s even selling Team Sanjaya t-shirts, bless his heart!!

 

 


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"With The Radical Housewife, Shannon Drury shares her journey as a stay-at-home mother and activist, filling in a wide gap within the feminist sphere. Drury not only takes the reader through her own feminist awakening and activist career, but also provides a bit of Feminist 101, reviewing the history of US feminism in an easily accessible way. A mixture of unflinching honesty and snarky humor, this book serves as a necessary reminder that mothers are an integral part of the feminist movement, despite not always being recognized as such." --Avital Norman Nathman, editor of The Good Mother Myth