Sunday, April 29, 2007

SPOILER: If you haven't read the book Middlesex, and I do recommend it, you should know that I talk about some of the plot points extensively in this post. I don't think I give away much that the author doesn't also give away in the first page of the book, but if you expect to read the book at some point, consider yourself warned.

I've just finished reading a very good book, Middlesex, that everyone else read a couple of years ago. I was supposed to read it a couple of years ago too, when my book club read it, but I wasn't able to go to the meeting so I didn't read the book till now. In it, a hermaphrodite, Calliope/Cal, describes the family events that led to his/her birth and being raised to the age of 14 as a girl before discovering that she was actually genetically male. In an interesting coincidence, I also watched a 20/20 special on transgendered children, or children who believe they were born into the wrong body because they feel themselves to be the other gender. The special profiled three children: a teen who is biologically female but is now living life as a boy; the saddest 10-year-old I've ever seen, who was born a boy but has always felt she was a girl, watching jealously as her twin sister was everything she wanted to be (she is now living as a girl); and a 6-year-old who was born male but lives as the girl she's been proclaiming herself to be since she was two. It was riveting TV. And it made me thing more about what happens to the main character in Middlesex.

As Calliope reaches puberty, she begins to sense that her body is different from those of female classmates, and she is uncomfortable with the sexual feelings she has for girls, especially the one she refers to as the Object (of her affection, of course). But until that tender age fails to produce breasts and crushes on boys, Callie is comfortable being a girl -- in fact, up until that time, she thinks of herself as a very pretty girl. But after an examination at the emergency room following an accident reveals that something is amiss between her legs and her parents take her to an expert in gender reassignment and other intersex issues, she is so disturbed at the prospect of hormones and surgery to keep her a woman that she runs away from her family and begins living as a young man, never to return to her former female self.

Based solely on what the special about 20/20 said, it would seem that the novel, while compelling, is just plain... well, wrong. The "sexologist" Callie sees notes in his report how remarkable it is that, although chromosomally she is XY, having been raised as a girl, she feels herself to be female, but she is horrified enough at his conclusiont hat she is a biologically male (and in the knowledge that she is attracted to females) that she leaves everything she knows and transforms herself into a male. What little I learned about transgendered individuals indicates that there is one more, evidently even more important factor in determining gender than biology or socialization, a kind of gender identification we are all born with, something that Calliope would presumably not be able to just turn on its ear in order to transform into Cal.

I do recognize that transgendered (feeling oneself to be the opposite sex of the body one is born into) is different than intersexual (born somehow neither completely male nor female in a biological or genetic sense), and I don't know anything about how gender identity works in intersexuals, but all this sure has got me thinking about how central the concept of gender is in our lives. It seems so basic, so cut and dried: you have one set of plumping and you're a girl, the other and you're a guy. Apparently not. Off to do some research on the subject...

Monday, April 23, 2007

Last Week Wasn't So Hot

A week ago Saturday, someone broke into our cars and stole our Transpods (thingy to play iPods in the car). Actually, "broke in" is probably over-stating things somewhat, since we had accidentally left our garage door open that night and the cars weren't locked or anything. They also took all our CDs, most of which were homemade mixes. I hate the idea of a couple of punks out there sitting around making fun of my mix CDs! The scariest thing about it was that the owner's manual for Reasonable Man's car was sitting out on the seat when we discovered the theft the next morning, as though they were trying to figue out how to steal the car. We suspect that was what attracted them to our garage in the first place.

On Monday, I received the replacement power cord for my laptop that I'd ordered the week before -- I actually did a little dance when I discovered it on my doorstep -- only to discover that my laptop still would not take power from it. It seems the little accident that broke the power cord also broke the piece the cord attaches to in the computer. When I took the computer to the repair place to see about having it fixed, the guy told me that I was looking at at least 3 hours of labor and probably less than a 50% chance the repair would work, at which point I started crying. There is one day a month on which any kind of bad news will start me bawling, and unfortunately for the guy at the computer repair place, last Monday was that day. And the nicer he was, the worse it got.

Things improved a bit mid-week, just because nothing else bad happened -- I went about my business hauling the kids around, getting the data from my laptop transferred to an external hard drive, keeping the house in order, and actually cooking dinner almost every night. Then Friday, when I was actually doing a good deed and was the only school mom to show up to help put snacks together for the kids to have during STAR testing this week, I turned my ankle and ended up with a nastily bruised foot that I could barely walk on for the first day or so. (Don't ask me why it was my foot that ended up hurt -- that's what always happens when I twist my ankle for some reason.) So I've been limping around the last few days.

None of that is catastrophic -- just pain in the ass. I'm hoping for better luck this week.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

What I've Learned About Weight Loss

I have a lot in common with "One Day At A Time" cutiepie Valerie Bertinelli these days. She and I both would like to lose 30 lbs. We both are kind of surprised that we ended up this fat. We both have tried to do it on our own and have not found success. And so we have both decided to pursue a smaller self by following a commercial diet plan.

That's where our similarities end. I am doing Weight Watchers, which has worked for me in the past. I decided on my own to go back in there, face the scale, and start working on this already. Valerie, on the other hand, got a call from the Jenny Craig people, asking her if she'd like to use their system to lose weight and do commercials showing her progress, a la Kirstie Alley. I think I got the better end of the deal here. Maybe Val is going to make a buttload of money doing Jenny Craig for free, but who wants to get a phone call from some corporate suit to the effect of "We noticed you're fat -- want a job?"

Valerie got to guest-host on "The View," and People magazine did a cover story on her. I don't care about the People cover, but I'd love to be a co-host on "The View." Also, on the People cover, which states right there in bold print that she is a size 14 (aka still a "misses" size and not all that uncommon a number to find on the jeans of America's 40-something women), Val is sporting a top that can best be described as a grecian muumuu, aka NOT FLATTERING. Normal-sized legs in normal-sized jeans peek out below. Who did this to her? I'm sure glad I get to dress myself.

Size 14 is another thing Valerie and I do not have in common. While size 14 is reason enough for her to feel fat enough to go on a diet in front of the entire nation, I will probably be a nice, well-proportioned size 14 after I lose 30 lbs. Also, I'm not sure she realizes that, even right now, 30 pounds overweight, she still looks like Valerie freaking Bertinelli. I, on the other hand, will never look like Valerie Bertinelli no matter how much weight I lose. No one will ask me to do Jenny Craig commercials or guest appearances on sitcoms, much less watch a show about a braless single mom with a creepy building super hanging around all the time just to experience my hotness every week, the way guys did with Valerie did in the 70s.

On the other hand, the fact that I was never a regular on "Touched by an Angel" probably still puts me one up on Ms. Bertinelli.

In any case, I do wish her luck, but I'm not looking forward to the inevitable appearance on Oprah in a bikini six months from now.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Virginia Tech

Another sad week for our country as we try to make sense of yet another instance of a disturbed man with access to weapons bringing his twisted version of revenge on the world to fruition and taking innocentl lives in the process. Interestingly, the main point of discussion seems to have quickly moved from "why did this happen and how can we prevent it from happening again?" to "how should the media cover these events, and was all of the coverage this time, particularly the taped rantings of the perpetrator appearing on TV, appropriate?"

I do think how these things are covered is important, as is the question of whether those tapes should have been aired, and I see the difficulty faced by networks who want to give the people what they want and know that people will tune in in droves searching for the latest information but find themselves with air to fill and nothing new to report. These kinds of events are the bread and butter of networks like CNN, and we can argue that people should be paying as much attention to the kids dying over in Iraq till we're blue in the face, but we all know that if, during a week like this one, MSNBC or CNN decides to cut away from Virginia Tech coverage, however repetitive, to do a story about our troops in the Middle East, most people are going to change the change the channel. It sucks, but that's the reality.

Much more important in my opinion than how the media covers these stories is the fact that they happen at all. Today is the eighth anniversary of the Columbine shootings in Littleton, Colorado; yesterday was the twelfth anniversary of the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. One thing has clearly not changed in twelve years: our culture has not stopped producing angry, disturbed young men who believe violence and death are the price the world has to pay for their rage.

I don't know if there's any way to weed them out before they do these things. It seems, every time another one of these tragedies occurs, that there were many signs that these situations were brewing, that these young men had told people around them, either explicitly or through writings, drawings or actions, that they were time bombs waiting to go off. Occasionally we do hear a story where things went the other way -- where the friend a potential shooter confided in tells someone in time to stop the shootings from happening. But that clearly isn't happening often enough. So many times, people are too frightened to take the warning signs seriously, or there isn't more they can do than to suggest a student visit the campus counseling center.

So what can we do? Well, to me it seems like a no-brainer to limit the access of guns, but apparently this is something that will never happen here because the NRA is the most powerful lobby in America, more powerful than the reality of the bodies of dead sons and daughters being removed from a high school, an Amish school house, a university building, or a middle school. In Virginia, it was apparently more important for citizens to have the right to buy one gun per month (how many months does it take to assemble an arsenal?) than it was to make sure a college student who had never committed a felony but who had been involuntarily committed wouldn't be allowed to buy two handguns and fifty rounds of ammunition. And in the Oval Office, someone decided the first order of business in responding to this situation was to appease the gun lobby by affirming the president's support of the unlimited right to bear arms, and that he could express his sympathy to the victim's families later. Is this the country you want to live in?

Why Can't I Make Time to Post?

Here are the other things I make time to do online every day:

Check my email
Read through all the entertainment news that I have listed on my My Yahoo page
Go to Television Without Pity and read recaps of any shows I watched the night before
Go to Pop Culture Junk Mail and see what kind of cool, retro, 80s, funny or crazy stuff Gayle has found lately
Go to the Superficial and read celebrity gossip
Go to That's What She Said and read any new posts about The Office and then the comments, possibly adding my own
Go to Mick LaSalle's blog and read any new posts and then the comments, possibly adding my own

Every day, I have many thoughts about many different things, many of which are worth putting in my blog. Those thoughts are the reason I started my blog in the first place. And yet, although I think about putting those thoughts and ideas down in my blog and I rarely do it, which makes me annoyed with myself and starts a whole snowball effect of "if I didn't blog about This Big Thing, I can't just blog about That Little Thing because" -- why? It'll make me seem like a shallow person? I'm not sure. Sometimes it's true that all I'm really thinking about is American Idol, or something someone did that really pissed me off five years ago. Those things are part of who I am -- so what? If I talk to my friends about those things, why shouldn't I put them in this space, as long as they aren't gossipy things that would be hurtful to someone I know?

Long story short -- I'm going to try to do better. Watch this space...

Sunday, April 01, 2007

On My Mind

American Idol: Addictive. I never watched before this season -- why? Chris Sligh was my early favorite, and I was pretty surprised when he got the boot this past week, but not too disappointed -- he was kind of doing a slow fade in the last few weeks. I think Jordan Sparks is my favorite now...

Jesus Camp: Reasonable Man and I watched this documentary the other night, and it's not an exaggeration to say it scared the crap out of us. I don't have a problem with Christianity at all, but indoctrinating defenseless kids with the idea that their generation has to be an army for the cause, doing all they can to spread their "message" (which is intolerance from what I can tell), that their entire purpose in life is to devote themselves to Christ, and that God has a plan for their lives (so they have no free will, and there is a right choice and a wrong one at every fork in the road of their lives?), seems wrong-headed in cruel. Over and over, they showed kids sobbing during sermons, presumably because they are full of sin and know they have to repent? These are little kids. The few that they focused on seemed lovely and smart and articulate, definitely capable of doing real good in the world, but it was hard to see the path they had been sent on as the right one.

That's What She Said: On, a lighter note, if you are a devotee of The Office like I am (I even have a Dunder-Miffilin baseball cap!), this podcast is for you. I've gorged myself on their approximately 90-minute podcasts covering every episode of this season, in which they explicate the 20-or-so minutes of air-time Office shenanigans plus and deleted scenes they can find at Pure bliss for a Jammer like me.

The five episodes of The Office on NBC this past Thursday didn't hurt either. And finally, after six weeks of reruns, a new episode this coming week!

The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Better World Shopper's Guide: In the former, which I read for my book club, I learned that virtually every processed food we eat is packed with corn, the wrongheaded political and economic reasons our country produces an ocean of corn in the first place, the difference between the organic ideal and the industrialized organic food we're seeing so much of these days, and so much more. I carry the latter title in my purse to help me use the money I spend to support socially responsible companies and avoid the ones that aren't. Going to Safeway is ever so much more complicated, but I've learned a lot and I know I'm feeding my family better than before.

The View: I tape it every day and watch the "hot topics" discussions they start with most days. As someone who has generally avoided reading much about current events since approximately January 2001, I'm learning a lot about the issues of the day, and I have to applaud a show that lets four women get up there and say what they really think (even though I think most of what Elisabeth Hasselbeck thinks is lame).

Drake Bell of Nickelodeon's Drake & Josh: He's Mermaid's obsession, but we were impressed when we saw him sing at Arden Fair Mall last weekend (just him and a guitar, plus he sang Blackbird, one of my favorite Beatles' songs) and he was very sweet to Mermaid when we got his autograph and chatted with him. The girl has good taste :-)