Monthly Archives: June 2013

Lately, I’ve found the regular habitues of the bird feeder have become more relaxed about my presence. One blue jay could even be called “friendly.” Well, he or she now has a couple of fledglings who have been following him to the bird feeder. They alternately scream for food and get it themselves. It’s fun to watch them watch their parents and learn. One thing they seem to have learned is that the people who emerge from our backdoor are not particularly scary.

Young blue sitting ontop of a support for a birdfider looking at a metal silouhette of a bird.

I sunk into a pretty bad, clinical, depression last year. I found the wild animals in the back yard gave me a level of solace I wasn’t getting from people. Especially after they lost their fear of me. Now, it’s like seeing all of your friends stop by to show off their new babies. Isn’t Blue’s baby adorable?

Most Saturdays, I post links to things I’ve found that, for whatever reason, I find interesting. I do this in large part because much of what I find on the internet I find through following links on other people’s blogs, not least of all in the comments. I encourage anyone who has links to share to add them below.

I’d already read a review of the book What Do Women Want in the New York Times Book Review. However I found Toni Bentley’s review interesting because the things she brings to it makes it read like an essay.

I also came across the work of this photographer, Jade Beall who has been photographing women either shortly after giving birth or while they are pregnant. The photos of pregnant women didn’t surprise me at all because I’ve seen many of them, but the photos of women after giving birth were new to me.

Regarding the awkward title to this post: I first typed it without the part in parenthesis. When I looked at it a second time, I realized if someone had written “It’s your penis,” I would have turned into a fire-breathing feminist and starting complaining, at least to myself, about how the person was clearly excluding women. So, I felt a bit like a jerk and changed the title.

Last year, we had almost no flowers in our garden. The squirrels are bad enough. They dig up everything. I planted some Assarum canadense because I’m trying to find a more ecologically sound ground cover to replace the english ivy I’ve been tearing up. As it happens, squirrels think wild ginger root is a tasty snack. Of course, I’m replacing the invasive plants with native plants specifically because they provide food and shelter. The problem lies in getting this stuff established in the first place. The loose soil around a new planting makes the new plant especially easy pickings. One of the things that makes invasives so invasive to begin with is that few things eat them.*

As bad as the squirrels are, they prefer a varied diet with a strong emphasis on nuts and berries. The bunnies on the other hand, are little eating machines. Who needs a lawn mower. Worse yet, I found that the bunnies have a special taste for flower buds. Last year, we had a blueberry bush that we were going to plant in a butterfly garden on the other side of town. After a few days, the bush started to look like a topiary. I said to my sister, can it be deer? The next day, I looked out the window and there was the world’s biggest bunny was up on his hind legs nipping off the last little flower bud clinging to the sad looking blueberry stick. I realized that while the rabbits sit around and eat the clover and the grass all day, they have some special love for flower buds.

So, I run outside. Rabbits are supposed to be scared of people, right?Bunny among ferns.

“I’ll cook you with capers, you bud munching beast.”

Bunny among weeds.

Is that a face that says, “I know you’re bluffing bitch?”

Last year we found a Chimaphila maculata growing in the yard. I felt so lucky. I watched and watched hoping to get some good photos when it was blooming. Just when there was a little bud looking like it was a couple days away from opening, the bunny got it.

Fortunately, it’s a perennial and it spreads by rhizomes. The patch is bigger this year. Maybe one day I can show you a photo of something other than leaves and this.

A tint flower bud of a chimaphila maculata hanging down.

The neighbor told us the she saw the rabbit’s babies earlier this year. I’m open to rabbit recipes.

* Whenever I’ve mentioned invasives on a forum on the internet I’ve gotten into some weird discussions. So, my definition of an invasive species comes from our state’s invasive species list. North America is a big place with very different ecological niches. What’s invasive here might not be invasive by you even if we’re on the same continent. I’m removing things in stages because, if I don’t have something to replace it with, I’ll just get erosion and another bunch weeds, perhaps the same ones, will appear in their place. Right now, my particular bêtes noires are English ivy, daylilies and garlic mustard. As I said, it’s not ideological. We have primroses, foxglove and others that are staying.

One of my favorite flowers, Spigelia, started blooming a couple of weeks ago. They’re a woodland flower native the much of the eastern U.S. I am puzzled why they are not more popular in gardens. People are always looking for something with showy blooms for the shade. If you have the right spot, these are easy to grow.DSC_0010_111


Also, they attract hummingbirds.

We’ve been trying to incorporate more native plants into the garden. It’s not a big ideological thing, but to encourage the wildlife.

Suzie Q’s mother ran a hand laundry and her family lived in the back of the store. They were among the last people I knew to have a party line. For you young’uns, that’s when several households shared one phone line. If you picked up the phone, someone else might already be using that line and you could hear the conversation. Likewise, they could hear yours. One of the people who shared a line with them was an older woman, unknown outside of the sporadic contact over the phone. Suzie Q told me not to talk about boys over the phone because that woman listened in and reported everything back to her parents, who kept her on a tight leash. She was usually only allowed out for a specific purpose, like a movie. Lazy Saturday afternoons hanging out on Cherry Bomb’s porch were not on list of approved activities, and it wasn’t long before I got used to Suzie Q’s absence and started developing an independent friendship with the other girls.

All human associations build natural hierarchies. I’m not going to hedge that statement by saying “most” or “usually” until I personally come across one group that functions differently. Cherry Bomb was the center of this group. Of Polish descent, she bore a slight resemblance to Debbie Harry, with blond hair, blue eyes and prominent cheekbones. She, Cat Eyes and Sour Puss had been friends since elementary school. Cherry Bomb and Cat Eyes were extremely close, as if they were a binary star in which Cherry Bomb was the primary star. But then there was Sour Puss, and Suzie Q, and eventually I showed up. To extend the astronomical analogy, an n-body problem may result in chaos.  In the back of my mind, I was aware of this fact and tried hard not to step on Sour Puss’s toes as I, without intent or forethought, began to replace her in the hierarchy. My closeness to Suzie Q, as opposed to the central star of Cherry Bomb, didn’t help the way I hoped it would. This only made Sour Puss more of an outsider.

If Cherry Bomb was in a close female friendship with Cat Eyes, she was in a romantic relationship with Chuck E. You know the Billy Joel song, “Brenda and Eddie were the popular steadies, and the king and the queen of the prom.” It was junior high school, not high school, so there was no prom, but that sums up the relationship. Conveniently, Chuck E had a best friend, Hazy Davy, with whom Cat Eyes had taken up the summer before I joined the group.

Cherry Bomb lived in a craftsman bungalow and a Saturday routine would soon take shape, in which we’d sit on her porch, Cherry Bomb, Cat Eyes, Sour Puss and I. Suzie Q, who lived very close by, might join us for an hour or two. Eventually, Chuck E and Hazy Davy would show up on their bicycles. Frequently, this was not long before Suzie Q would have to depart. As evening descended, the two couples would start to do things like hold hands and Sour Puss and I would pick up the cue that it was time to leave. As the two single girls being abandoned by the friends with boyfriends, I tried to make some overtures of friendship towards Sour Puss and she responded in a friendly manner. However, one weekend, when Chuck E and Hazy Davy arrived on their Bicycles, there was another with them, let’s call him Sheep Dog. I’m calling him Sheep Dog because he was larger than the others, but in a gentle, loping way. He had blue eyes that were almost always obscured by light brown hair that hung in his face and a modest self-effacing manner. I almost didn’t notice him until he walked up the steps of the porch. He would soon become by first real boyfriend.

Along the southern edge of our town ran a road we called Broadway. If you followed it towards the east, it would take you to New York City. This road separated our town from the one in which the boys lived, all the boys except Sheep Dog. Sheep Dog’s family had moved about forty minutes away by car, in the same state, but another county. Every once in a while, he’d persuade his older brother to drive him back to their old town so he could visit his friends. That’s why I hadn’t met him before. His demeanor was true to his personality. He was a gentle person and a bit shy.

I happened to come across this petition, intended for the White House, on the White House website, to ban creationism and intelligent design in science classes. It currently has fewer than 40,000 signatures, which I find sad. I think we all know that there is about a snowball’s chance in hell that President Obama will act on it, still I think we need to make our numbers known. It’s been sitting there since June 15th and the deadline is July 15th.

I don’t have tons and tons of readers, so please spread the word as well. Maybe even if you’re not living here but you have a lot of readers who do, you might want to be super nice to us and put up a link.

I owe my cousin a letter and I’m not in the mood at the moment. So I drew a picture of her, not that she’d actually appreciate it. I drew it from my head. I think I made her skin color a bit dark, but it’s summer and she’s a bit of a beach bum, so maybe it’s close for this time of year.

Head of a young woman.

On the other hand, I drew it from memory and I think I made her look about twenty years younger than she is. Looking at the picture and I’m sort of wondering if this would be a good face for the main character of my story. Originally I was going to draw the character as short, but my cousin is slightly taller than average. Any opinions?

I’m a naturally critical person. Present me with any argument, any man-made object, any work of art and one of my first instincts is to poke at it trying to find the weaknesses. Generally, being critical of a point someone makes, or part of their argument, does not imply that I disagree with everything, or even most. However, publicly, meaning on this blog since that’s my only real public forum, there are people of whom I tend to not be critical because I want to avoid potentially undermining people with whom I more or less agree. The most prominent of these groups, or at least the ones that make me bite my tongue most often, are atheists and feminists. So, with that elaborate introduction, please consider that what follows is in no way intended to be interpreted as invalidating what Jinan Younis has to say.

It’s not a coincidence that “sex” is the first word in my tag line. The sexual revolution may have happened decades ago, but there are times when it feels that sexual liberation for women is still in its infancy. One of the reasons I started this blog was to talk about sex. I have had acquaintances refer to me as a “sex-positive feminist” and in the near future I will talk about why I don’t embrace that term, but for the moment I would just like to point out that I frequently express view that causes people to put me in that category. I’ve started writing down my memories partly because I feel that I can’t speak for anyone else and, also, because concepts of sex and sexuality are so laden with stereotypes the only way to combat those stereotypes is to be highly specific, sometimes graphically so.

In “What happened when I started a feminist society at school,” Younis, recounting her reasons, says:

…I started to notice how much the girls at my school suffer because of the pressures associated with our gender. Many of the girls have eating disorders, some have had peers heavily pressure them into sexual acts, others suffer in emotionally abusive relationships where they are constantly told they are worthless.

However, she does not name denying oneself sexual pleasure as something which causes girls to suffer. Feminism’s message, that I could enjoy sex, that I didn’t have to say, “No,” when I wanted to say, “Yes,” was an integral part of its appeal for me. Admittedly, the list of how a male dominated society can harm women could be a long list and some things in a one sentence explanation will be omitted. Still, in a series of photographs of women holding a whiteboard reading, “I need feminism because…,” several of the pictures reinforce gender stereotypes regarding sexuality and, disappointingly, not one counters them.

“Groping is not okay.”

“A woman should have the power and confidence to say, ‘No.'”

“I refuse to live in a world where my ‘holes’ are considered as ‘goals.'”

Ironically, this week’s installment of my memories is tentatively entitled “Groping in the Dark.” Of course, the groping in my story was entirely consensual, and done with a boy my own age, I might add, while the groping mentioned on the sign is, I presume, non-consensual. Once, around the age of twenty-six, while crossing the street wearing an outfit k.d. lang could comfortably borrow, three men passed me in the cross walk. One grabbed me from behind, slipping his arms under my armpits, effectively rendering my arms useless and involuntarily arching my back. Another grabbed my breasts with both hands and squeezed rapidly several times. Then they let me go, they giggled stupidly and ran off. That episode stands out as one of the weirdest because it happened in broad daylight, crossing a busy intersection, with a sizable crowd watching, most of whom seemed as surprised as I was. There have been enough other episodes of this nature in my life, that I understand them to not be a isolated incidents, but a pattern of behavior which, over time, has the result of making women feel insecure. Depending on the locale where you live, this is not “groping.” It is sexual assault, albeit of a comparatively mild kind. I suppose “Non-consensual sexual contact, no matter how brief, should be recognized as being illegal and, despite the probable difficulty in prosecuting any given incident, immoral and anti-social” wouldn’t fit on the whiteboard.

Now you may, very reasonably argue that sexual assault is a more important, and more urgent, issue than feeling good about one’s sexual desire. However, I need to disagree because I see cultural attitudes as a network of connected memes, bits of received wisdom and assumptions. The dominant narrative, if I may use a phrase that makes me cringe, is: “Men want sex while women want relationships. Men have a high sex drive and value women primarily for their looks; women have a low sex drive and value men for their ability as providers. It’s acceptable for men to do whatever it takes to have sex and avoid relationships. Women will do whatever it takes to have a relationship and avoid sex.” Feminists would like men to understand that “No means no.” However, that can only be the case if one presumes that women will say, “yes,” when they mean yes.

Similarly, the woman who talks about “holes” and “goals” probably doesn’t expect, or even want to, live in a world where no men want put their penises in women’s mouths, vaginas or anuses. We understand the message on her whiteboard, or think we do, only because we bring to it a necessary set of assumptions about sexual behavior, assumptions that men seek sex while women deny it, therefore, when heterosexual intercourse occurs, the man has won, and in many circumstances the woman is viewed as having lost, especially if a relationship does not result.

The whiteboard that makes me the most sad, however, is the one that says, “I need feminism because my boyfriend thinks women are inferior.” If you are in an abusive relationship, I am probably not the friend you want, but I am the friend you need. This young woman needs a friend to tell her exactly how awful this is in no uncertain terms, probably impolite ones.

Thinking about some of the emotions and psychology that might lie behind that terribly sad sign brings me to some of the difficulties the young women are having on social media. As I found myself saying to Holly a few days ago, women are taught that their bodies have value and their affections do not. Boys are taught the opposite. As long as everyone agrees on these complementary facts, men and boys will continue to believe, as a general rule, that they have the upper hand in social media. They believe that their approbation, or lack thereof, is important. Like the existence of Tinkerbell, it’s only true as long as everyone believes in it. Speaking to the young women in question: If you think your affections, your esteem, your friendship and your company are of value, then you need to withdraw them from people who are undeserving of it. I could say the same thing to young boys as well. If you have value, then your friendship has value and you should not be friends, even Facebook friends, with people who undermine your well-being. We all know, because we’re taught by overly paranoid adults, about self-destructive behaviors regarding drinking, promiscuous sex and drugs. Befriending people who treat you poorly is also self-destructive, probably a more common form of self-destructive behavior than any of the more obvious “vices.” Nota bene: If you have confidence in yourself, other people will seek your approval. It took me a bit of being beaten up and ostracized in school to learn that one. If I can pass that on to anyone without them having to suffer the blows, I’d like to.

As someone who has called herself a feminist since the age of thirteen or fourteen, I’m gladdened to see that Younis has started a feminist group at school. I know that there’s nothing as tiring as an older person saying, “Been there; done that.” However, if I can give you a bit of hard-won advice, hold your head up! Yes, sometimes it can be hard to weather the storm, but it will pass. If you give in, the bullies will taste blood and the response will be worse the next time.

Younis wrote the article not because of the harassment online, but because of the fact that the response of her school was to suggest that the students should take down the offending photos. The rationale? For their own protection. I won’t sugar coat the situation. Standing out will draw hostile responses. However, so will standing out in any way, by being too pretty, or too ugly. Too smart or too talented. Too successful. Too feminine. Too masculine. I hardly think your school would like all of you to try for perfectly robotic averageness. Well, I originally came across the article via Shattersnipe, who handles that part better than I can.

Yesterday, I went to Fells Point, down by the water.A bike locked to a street sign with elements of the state flag of Maryland painted on it.

Normally, when I post pictures of Baltimore, I try not to post pictures of abandoned buildings. Since moving here, I’ve become a bit sensitive to the fact that the people living here aren’t always thrilled with the fact that their city is always portrayed in the same way. Since this is the only closed storefront in an otherwise prosperous area, I figured this picture would be okay.

The font door of a storefront that used to be a bar and is no longer occupied.

We stopped in a Spanish restaurant for a bite to eat.

A pair of hands grasping a glass of sangria.

After dinner, we took a walk around the area.

A sidewalk with people walking up and down. In the foregeound, two people sit in chairs in front of a shop and two women look at something on a cell phone together.

This loudspeaker was playing music in front of a shop. It was painted read and I thought it looked amusingly like lips.

A loudspeaker painted red.

The interior of a record store.

Some men's straw hats for sale on a rack.

A woman ties up a pleasure boat while some tourists look on. Meanwhile, there is a huge container ship in the background. Fells point is now for tourists, but Baltimore still has an active harbor.

A water taxi passing by an empty warehouse.

A man in the foreground sitting on a park bench. Behind him, another many plays a saxaphone. In the background is a woman with children. Further yet are some shops with people milling about.

I have so many things I want to say right now, but I decided to talk about domestic violence, not because what I have to say is especially interesting, but because I think it is urgent.

The other day I happened upon an article about a British celebrity who was seen being physically abused by her wealthy, art collector husband. The article, which appeared on The Guardian‘s website ended in the following way:

Whatever Lawson decides to do next is her business alone, because she is not the “Nigella Lawson” image she helped to promote: she is a woman going through something that 25% of all women will endure. It turned out Lawson was more right than she knew: her home life was “normal”, albeit probably not in the way she meant.

I’m pretty sure that the writer didn’t intend to normalize spousal abuse. She probably thought it was a clever way to end the article because, according to the writer, Lawson had projected an image of having the perfect family. Addressing this image, Lawson claimed to be much more “normal” than people knew.

This ending bothered me because it put me in mind of a cousin who was in a physically abusive marriage. Years later she said to me, “At the time, I thought it was normal. Now, I realize that it isn’t normal for husbands to hit wives.” It took a close relationship with another cousin with whom she lived for a time when she was between jobs and seeing her much healthier marriage with a husband who treated her with respect and would never dream of hitting her. In fact, this conversation took place shortly after my father passed away and was in reference to the fact that she perceived him as a decent man, which he was.

People often wonder why people stay in abusive relationship. Unfortunately, for some of them, it’s because they’ve never seen a healthy relationship and it’s what they think is normal. The writer, in her attempt to be clever, has given a very dangerous message. If you know someone in an abusive relationship, let them know that it’s not “normal.”

[Edit] Although The Guardian article talked specifically about “women”, I used the gender neutral term “spousal abuse” because I knew that domestic violence is not exclusive male-on-female.