Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Big Queasy

A word to the avid Saints fan…this blog may not be for you. If you believe that any win is a good win, don’t keep reading. If you believe that the Saints’ ability to win relies upon our blind faith, don’t let me shake that faith. That blind, na├»ve devotion must count for something; pity it doesn’t count for touchdowns.

New Orleanians are a little shaken today, and if you aren’t one of them, you should be. Again, if that offended you, stop here. Srsly. This is your last warning.

I have followed the Saints for years; New Orleans is a huge football town, and it’s impossible to escape news of how LSU and the Saints are doing no matter how hard you try. Somewhere, right this moment, someone who hates football in New Orleans is rolling his eyes as the waiter who is supposed to be taking his drink order is bitching about how we couldn’t stop Steven Jackson from stomping through for positive yardage, and “what the hell was Brees thinking in the second quarter, spiking the ball like that?” The man just wants his bloody mary, garcon. (Or whatever it is that pansy asses that don’t like football drink.) This is a city steeped in tradition; one of those traditions just happens to be attending Saints games with brown paper bags over our heads. The Saints are one of five teams in the entire NFL that have never been to the Super Bowl; for those who are wondering who else has earned this dubious distinction, that would be the Lions, the Browns, the Jaguars and the Texans. As an interesting side note, we’ve hosted 9 Super Bowls here in New Orleans, with #10 happening in 2013, yet we’ve never played in one. The farthest that the Saints have never gotten in terms of NFL glory was in 2006, when we went to the NFC Championship game and dropped a heartbreaker to the Chicago Bears, 39-14. Saints fans have been through a lot since they got their start in 1967; we’re known as an emotional team, and an emotional crowd. Other teams dread playing in the Superdome for no other reason than this…we are some loud, rambunctious mother fuckers known for making so much noise that other teams have trouble calling audible plays on the field. We are the ultimate 12th man. We’ve been let down for 41 seasons, and yet, we still come back for more every year. So far, in 2009, we’ve been rewarded for our dedication, and our paper bags are now holding Mardi Gras beads in our attic, as they should be.

We’ve gone 9-0 this season, a franchise best and what could be the beginning of the Saints actually earning respect in the NFL and from the bobble heads on ESPN. That looks great on paper, but as an overall football fan, I must be honest about what I’ve seen. Over the past five games, our defense has allowed 131 points; our offense has scored 187 points. During our first 4 games, the defense allowed 66 points while our offense scored 144 points, which says to me that our defense is falling apart, and our offense is slipping. Any Saints fan who watched today’s 28-23 victory of the New Orleans Saints over the St. Louis Rams walked away from their TV sets a little rattled, and no doubt drained. Under no circumstances should we be screaming for the clock to wind down to 00:00 at the end of the fourth quarter against a team like the Rams, who walked into their Edward Jones Dome today as a 1-7 team and damn near left a 2-7 team. The Rams’ Steven Jackson proved a nearly unstoppable force for their offense; our defensive line simply failed to see him coming time after time. When we did try to neutralize Jackson, the Rams capitalized on our distraction by hitting up otherwise mediocre players for plays and points, and we didn’t see that coming, either. Football is a game of inches, and giving up 3 yards here and 4 yards there can mean a major upset like the one that almost happened in St. Louis today. Our defense is leaky and it’s going to take more than Brees to get this offense going. The turnovers are crippling the Saints by way of giving otherwise sad-sack teams the opportunity to score, which gives them the morale boost they need to give the Saints a real run for their money.

I’ve seen this all before; a strong start with a heart breaking ending as we crumble before the finish line. It’s the Saints’ calling card, and an ill-deserved punishment to the fans that pay the salaries of the team via ticket sales, merchandise, support of the team’s corporate sponsors and taxes (used to rebuild the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina’s rampage to the tune of $185 million, including $13 million in state taxes.) I hear people talking about a Black and Gold Super Bowl…not the way we played today, or since our BYE week. Something’s gotta change, and it has to happen fast. While it is very common for teams to go into a Super Bowl with losses on their records (save for the undefeated ’72 Dolphins and the ‘07 Patriots), the odds aren’t good for teams that lose their shit half way through the season. True, the 1988 San Francisco 49ers got to the Super Bowl after a 10-6 finish and won against Cincinatti, 20-16. However, the '79 Rams were 9-7 when they lost to Pittsburgh, 32-14, and that’s the worst record for Super Bowl losers. The more you lose in the regular season, the less likely you are to win the Super Bowl, if you make it there at all. Super Bowl XLIV is the least of our worries right now; if sorry teams like St. Louis can make us sweat like this, what’s going to happen when we face the Patriots on Monday Night Football on November 30th? How about on January 3rd when we meet the Panthers again? Hell, how can we even think Super Bowl when we’re worried about the effing Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are 1-7 just like the Rams were today?

I’m not saying to give up hope; that’s un-New Orleanian. I just have to say this out loud…I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist. I love the Saints, but don’t expect me to instill blind faith in the team’s ability when I see their limitations weekly. Because I’m not the only one who is watching…the other teams are, too, and you can bet your Marques Colston that they are adjusting to bring us down. Time to get serious, Saints; all I want for Christmas is a 15-0 team, but I want a Super Bowl ring for Valentine’s Day.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A difference of opinion.

I have been taught from early childhood to honor equality, "equality" meaning that all people are created equal, and all people deserve equal treatment and rights. No one is worth more or less than anyone else, and to believe or act otherwise is an act of injustice and incivility. Freedom of speech is of vital importance when treating people equally. All people deserve the dignity and respect of being heard, no matter how ludicrous you may find their beliefs or unpopular their viewpoints; even if you don't agree, you can at least say you listened and hopefully that you understand.

The blessing and burden of freedom of speech is that all people have the right to say what they want. For me, it can be immensely frustrating to listen to the likes of David Duke, Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck; I find their opinions and condemnations infuriating. It might surprise some people to know how much I listen to those individuals; I don't listen to every broadcast or watch every show, because I value my sanity, but I do follow them. I do it because I believe that you can't exist in a vacuum of ideas, that to maintain intellectual honesty you MUST know what the opposition is saying, within context, and not simply label them as fanatical extremists. I don't want to be considered a fanatical extremist simply because someone doesn't believe what I believe, and I can be just as sure of my convictions as they are of theirs. Their actions and words may be despicable to me, but at least I can say that I hear them...and in the same breath, I can also say "I disagree." It doesn't mean that they are necessarily bad people, or uneducated, or ignorant...they just have different opinions than me. I say that fully understanding that they undeniably fuel the fire of inequality...they fund actions and initiatives that deny me basic rights and dignities in America, and feed the anger and fear that people who want to hate are hungry for. I know this, and it makes me angry, but I still listen to them. It fuels MY fire so that I attend protests, sign petitions, vote in elections and talk about the issues I feel so passionately about. This is how informed opinions are created.

The Carnival Kings have done ALOT of listening over the past 3 years, and in particular, over the last 3 weeks. We have heard, truly heard, what people have had to say about our drag, good and bad. We attended the IDKE pre-Town Hall and Town Hall meeting and only did about 15 minutes of talking, compared to 1 1/2 hours of listening. We have listened, even when people wouldn't tell us directly about their opinions and beliefs; we've read the personal comments and public discussions about us and our performances on Facebook and MySpace, and listened to third party accounts of conversations by performers who didn't think it was important to tell us their viewpoints directly. We have read the allegations and discussions on the "Dragstars for Social Justice" Facebook group, and read Michael Normand's essay regarding his actions and beliefs about the drag that the Carnival Kings do. I feel confident in saying, we have done a lot of listening.

We simply disagree.

We do rap and hip hop for the same reason we do rock, country, punk and alternative...because it's what we listen to, and what the audience wants. We do any kind of music we actually listen to and appreciate. Simple as that. If a song is offensive to someone, we are open to listening to why, and better, we will engage in a dialog. That's what we did in Tucson this year. Here's another important part, though...we have to be heard and respected, too. People don't have to agree with us, but I object to the allegations that we are ignorant and uneducated simply because we don't agree with opposing opinion.

It has to be okay to disagree. It has to be acceptable to stop and say "Look, I just don't agree," and that should happen without people calling us stupid, uneducated or racist. THAT is dismissive and disrespectful.

Don't agree with that assertion? That's your right, but I disagree. And I don't have to think you're uneducated, racist, classist, sexist or elitist in order to disagree.

I simply disagree.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

IDKE

I am only speaking for myself; I am one person of over 20 performers in the Carnival Kings. Please don't make anyone else accountable for my words other than me, and please do it directly with me, not through the grapevine.

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I am a member of a drag troupe...The New Orleans Carnival Kings. My troupe members and I went to IDKE XI in Tucson, AZ this past weekend; IDKE is the International Drag King community Extravaganza, an annual convention where there are a few opportunities to perform, lots of workshops, films to see, art to appreciate and people to get to know.

The Carnival Kings, as a group and after much dialog on the subject, opted to perform our weekly show theme song: "Put On" by Jeezy feat. Kanye West at Dragdom on Friday night. After discussing our piece with the Tucson drag kings, and in particular the host city liaison, we were encouraged to write a brief disclaimer that would be read prior to our piece being performed. The disclaimer read:

"Dear Audience,

The following piece contains a song written and performed by artists of a different ethnic background than those of these performers. However, this musical genre is an integral part of our culture in New Orleans, and is performed not in a spirit of mocking or hate, but emulation and celebration.

We ask that you judge us not on the color of our skin, but on the passion for performing that we display.

Much Love,
The Carnival Kings
New Orleans, LA"

Our performers took the stage (Tucker Hardley, Kris Lique, Shane Cockring, Dirk T. Sanchez and Rod T. Bagger), and while the piece was loudly applauded both before and after, around 12 people opted to protest the piece during the performance by standing up in front of the stage with their backs turned. Among them were two members of the Crescent City Kings, our brother troupe in New Orleans. It must be said that both protesters are seemingly "white" and have done rap/hip hop acts before themselves while performing in New Orleans, making this the height of hypocrisy in my eyes.

The following day, a special "pre-Town Hall" meeting was held. We were given 10 minutes to give our side of the story about why we did that particular piece, and I think we made all the points we could make within that small time frame. We were then witness to a round-table discussion, largely around us as we only got called on once to speak, where people both supported and objected to our act. While it was tremendously difficult, the Carnival Kings handled themselves with grace and dignity, earnestly listening to other viewpoints but ultimately certain of their own. The Carnival Kings were accountable from the beginning that this piece would possibly be controversial, but that it was done with respect and love for our culture; we knew people may not understand.

What we hadn't expected was the blatant disrespect that would be displayed during the act itself; people protested it without even seeing it. One IDKE board member walked into the auditorium, saw people protesting and joined right in...without hearing the disclaimer or even seeing the piece from start to finish. They turned their backs to the stage, not even pausing long enough to see the act in its entirety before objecting. I was grateful that only a couple of our performers noticed the protest from the stage as they were performing; how disrespected they must have felt. We had already seen acts earlier in the show that were "Caucasian" performers performing to non-Caucasian artists...why were we the only ones protested over the ENTIRE weekend? I have my theories, but here are a couple.

Set the performance aside for a moment...I know rap scares some people, or otherwise angers them. I have heard the arguments for years...that rap is misogynistic, homophobic and hateful in general; I've heard that it perpetuates stereotypes of black culture. I've heard older people describe it as "noise", and not music at all. Rap always turns heads and gets people thinking, no matter who is performing it. So first, I think we were protested because we were performing to rap.

Second, I think we were protested because of our perceived race. We were a group of seemingly "white" performers performing to music created by Jeezy and Kanye West, performers from a different ethnic background than those of the kings performing the piece that night. To this, I can only say how sad I am that my performers' rich ethnic backgrounds were reduced to a color...white. Au'Tumn is Italian and Cherokee, and Anna is largely German. Our show coordinator, Jenna, is Italian, Irish and German...I am Irish, Creole French, English and Cherokee. I won't belabor the point by describing all of our ethnic backgrounds; you get the point. To call us "white" or Caucasian belittles our rich ancestries and perpetuates the "black/white" stereotype that you can only be one of the few main racial options in America...black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Arabic, or Native American. Furthermore, if you happen to fall under "white", you must apparently be ashamed of yourself, and acknowledge how much privilege you have just because of your skin color. Not only this, but you must refrain from doing what you want because you come from a place of privilege. Had any one taken the time to have a conversation, a real and true conversation, with any of the Carnival Kings who were on stage that night, they would never associate the word "privilege" with these girls. Some of them come from startling poverty and acute discrimination; four are unemployed as I write this.

This is a bold statement that will no doubt raise eyebrows among some, but I have thought a lot about my life and my experiences and I feel confident in saying this...my skin color hasn't been a much of a comfort or privilege in my life. I'm not going to pretend to make others feel better about themselves or me...to my knowledge, I have not received special treatment for being white. I did not grow up prior to the civil rights movement, when people who looked like me were given the best seats on a bus, better food, cleaner water, higher paying jobs, or a stronger education. It was only because my mother worked herself to absolute exhaustion and put herself in outrageous debt that I didn't realize how poor we really were back when I was a kid. No one has ever told me or given me the impression that "You got this job/seat/respect over that other person because you are white and they are not."

Am I saying such situations don't exist? Of course not! This is not a perfect world, and it can be a cruel, unjust place to those who are perceived as different. But that is not my experience, and to pretend that I have enjoyed privilege when I have not is disingenuous. To judge others by that place of perceived privilege is just as bad as ignoring the reality that not all of us experienced that privilege.

Should I shy away from doing music that I love because someone, somewhere got beaten down by injustice? I don't think so. Should we be mindful of others' experiences and be ready for a civil dialog about it? Of course, and we were. Was the protest and ensuing dialog as civil and fair as we would have liked? Not at all.

Third, I believe we were protested and not other kings who did similar music because we are not as accepted or intimately known as other troupes. We don't appear to be the kind of drag kings IDKE wants attending the conference; at least, they don't want to hear from us on stage. I have a sneaking suspicion that the only interaction some of these other performers want with us as far as IDKE goes is to sit us down in workshops to "teach" us how wrong we are about everything. How privileged our skin color makes us, and how we should do nothing but "white" music. This is a shame, because I believe we are the kind of kings IDKE should be reaching out to; there are so many troupes and performers who have either never heard of the conference before, or just don't think it represents them accurately. "'The L Word' of the drag king world" has been used to describe it by kings who don't feel welcome there.

We had far more positive feedback about our piece than negative, and for that I am extremely grateful. However, it still somehow didn't take the sting out of the judgement we encountered by people who couldn't even give me the names of the kings involved in the piece. To call these performers anything without even knowing their names, to judge their actions without understanding their culture is abhorrent.

Will we go back to IDKE? Probably, though I will have my work cut out for me trying to convince them that it's worth it. For most, it was their very first IDKE and they were heartbroken at the rejection and judgement they encountered, when they expected dialog and mutual understanding. Will New Orleans actually bid for IDKE XIII? I don't know. It would be an IDKE unlike any before it, but again, can I really look these Carnival Kings in the eyes and tell them that we should throw a party at our own expense for the community we just left this past weekend?

I don't know that I can sell that to myself, and that's saying something.

Monday, June 15, 2009

RIP

Our troupe is comprised of people with diverse personalities, so social fit and harmony is of equal importance to how good a drag king they are.

Last night I received a concerned, urgent phone call from Whitney, one of my kings, asking if anything had happened to Emily, as she had not been heard from in several days. As Emily is quite the social butterfly, I found this out of character. I took a few minutes and attempted to contact her to no avail. Whitney called again; she was told via text (from Emily’s cousin in Houma) that Emily had been found dead in her Harvey home earlier that morning, an apparent suicide. The note, her cousin said, stated that she did not want a service. No word was given as to Emily’s two young children, only that her mother was understandably distraught. I calmed Whitney down and asked her not to let anyone know just yet. No less than 5 minutes later, I received at least 8 phone calls from other kings, hysterical at the news. I assured each one that I was looking into the matter; something didn’t feel right.

With my girlfriend, Ked, we drove to the Westbank and picked up her sobbing best friend, Alex, who goes by Shane Cockring when she performs with us. Alex had received the news, and was devastated. We drove towards Emily’s house to get answers, and Alex got a text from Ms. Becky, Emily’s mother. The text asked if Alex was alone; we pulled over and let Alex be alone. She responded that, yes, she was alone. A call came through Alex’s phone. It was Emily.

Emily intended to let everyone believe she was dead except Alex, as she intends to move in two weeks to a new state and wished to hurt her ex-girlfriend with news of her death. Her mother and cousin were in on the scheme. I immediately let everyone know that this was a hoax; news of her suicide had spread like wildfire. She obviously forgot that we live in America, where everyone can be traced, and that she is part of the lesbian community…our people are either in the service industry or law enforcement officers. We would have known within 24 hours that it was a lie, even if she had not told Alex.


Needless to say, she is no longer with our troupe.


These bitches is crazy.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mmm...unexplained bacon...

I'm on day 3 of South Beach. I did the diet program once before back in November, and ended up losing 45 pounds, which I've kept off with little effort. I started South Beach at 270 lbs, and while's I'm tall for a woman (5'9), that's too much weight for my frame to carry. I found myself, at 29, the heaviest I had ever been, the unhappiest I had been in a long, long time, and something had to give.

My mother and sister had experimented with South Beach, so after reading up a little online, I started working myself up to it...it takes some real preparation when you lead the life I do. It's a 3-Phase diet that focuses on lean proteins, certain vegetables and extremely low carbohydrate intake. This means no fruit, no bread, no carb-rich vegetables, no alchohol, no sugar, at least for Phase One which lasts two weeks. For me, this sounded like a true challenge, as I never cook at home. For several reasons, I'm seldom found at my apartment during traditional meal times, so I end up eating out for just about every meal. That means a lot of cheap, fatty, greasy fast food or slightly more expensive restaurant tabs for better (sometimes?) food. Ideally, I should be baking chicken and turkey breasts, grilling steaks, hand making salads of romaine lettuce, boiled eggs and turkey bacon. Well, as my Honda Civic didn't come with a factory installed oven, though it feels that way in mid-August in New Orleans, and boiled eggs feel like eyeballs in my mouth (I have SID, or at least my doctor thinks I do), that wouldn't work. I know myself; I knew that I would not alter my busy lifestyle in such a severe way to accommodate a diet. I'd accommodate the diet to suit me.

No doubt, I cooked a couple of times, but I lost 45 pounds with very little excercise and not eating in my or anyone else's kitchen. My staples? Low carb choices like Wendy's chili, cheesburgers with no bun (and little to no ketchup), grilled chicken sandwiches (same thing: no bun, no ketchup) made any fast food restaurant accessible. At regular restaurants, it was just as easy: salads with proteins and light italian dressing or vinaigrette (no root veggies, like carrots, which are high in carbs), and dishes like salmon teriyaki with sauce only on the side (toss it...it's full of sugar) and edamame instead of rice. I did this strict Phase One for three weeks before beginning Phase Two. I felt like a million bucks.

The biggie: no more regular soda. Diet drinks or water only. And if I wanted an alchoholic beverage after Phase One, no beer. Crown Royal and diet Coke became my carb-free drink of choice.

What worked for me? How adaptable the diet is to any lifestyle. Also, your body only wants to eat so much protein in one sitting; it's dense and filling. My cholesterol dropped along with the pounds...I thank the lean proteins and veggies for that. The diet also encourages snacking (yay, cashews) and eating til you are satisfied. FYI...you will be "satisfied" long before you finish that 2 lbs of bacon in front of you.

What didn't work for me? I had to start really watching my salt intake. Restaurants using not-so-fresh meats and vegetables tend to use salt to compensate for the lack of natural flavor. Snacks like nuts usually come salted, and chicken-broth soups contains tons of sodium more often than not. Drink more water to try to compensate, and ask the restaurant for low sodium options or preparation.

I've 60 lbs or so that I'd like to lose until I'm where I should be. I'm at 225 nowadays; well, 224 since I started on Monday. 59 to go.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Beginning

I don't think I've ever felt a strong call to do something particular with my life. I've had several hobbies that went from obsession to mild interest, that would have made fine career options if I possessed the mathematical aptitude...mineralogy (I still love rocks), meteorology (I still love weather), volcanology (I still love volcanoes) among them. Alas, though I get a weird thrill at the prospect of doing basic math, I don't have a head for numbers. I failed geometry...twice. I don't think I even passed Algebra II before I quit high school after my junior year ended.

a + 9 = 16
a + 9 - 9 = 16 - 9
a = 7

That's about the extent of my mathematical skill. It's more than enough to get me by in the world, though, when my job consists of solid, basic math. It's not enough, however, to foster a desire to devote thousands of hours to fruitless study of calculus just so I can try to forecast when a volcano will wipe out a village of 200 in Africa. Those people deserve a better class of volcanologist. :)

No, if I have a calling, it's to write. I love the English language, and despite myself, I have a love of writing. I've developed a concept for my first book, joined a writer's group and intend to write a short blog every day to start developing some discipline and comfort with writing. Blogs will be short, just enough to get me started.

I'm also going to revisit some old stuff I've written on previous blogs.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

You've Got...Hostility

Email has been around since 1965, when it's alleged that MIT created it as a way for time sharing mainframe users to communicate with each other. It didn't really get big, though, until the PC/Internet revolution of the 1980s when personal computers were made affordable and internet service providers were born, allowing non-academic civilians access to the world wide web. AOL's comically mechanical catch-phrase "You've Got Mail" heralded the beginning of email's reign as the communication of choice among the middle and upper class both at home and at work.

Like every human invention before it, email not only solved problems, but created new ones. On one hand, you could instantly communicate with someone anywhere in the world with just the click of a button...think Morse Code without the lengthy study on how to both speak and understand what you were trying to communicate. On the other hand, you could instantly communicate with someone...anywhere in the world...with just the click of a button. People suddenly found themselves drafting responses to sometimes emotionally charged issues, like nuclear weapons or what kind of potatoes to have with meatloaf that night.

Email, and even IMs, have always reminded me of the illusion of safety and invincibility we have in our cars while we drive...one minute, someone is standing politely in line in front of you at Target, buying Vitamin Water and underwear. The next minute, that same polite stranger is honking his horn furiously and flipping off strangers because they sat at the stop light 2.4 seconds after it turned green. Why? What happens in people's minds when we seal ourselves in a glass and plastic cage? It transforms otherwise courteous, civic-minded people into profanity-laced toddlers. The answer is simple, really...it's the societal disconnect. We're primates, after all, and most of our behavior is driven by our society and desire to be accepted. We don't have other humans standing in close proximity to us, threatening judgement and rejection; we view the other cars as just that...cars. They are just machines operated by nameless, faceless strangers who somehow cannot drive as well as we can, who don't have anywhere to be that is more important than our own destination, and can never make that turn into oncoming traffic as quickly as we could have.

Email is a lot like that; we don't feel we're writing a human being so much as an email address. It's easy to hide behind a screen and say things that we'd never dare say to someone's face. For example, if a co-worker who always seemed to lose paperwork stopped by my desk and asked me to give her a copy of something I had already turned into her two weeks ago, I'd say something like "Oh, I thought I got that to you. I can make you a copy, though; one sec." I'd be a little irritated that her disorganization was interrupting my day, but I'd make the copy and move on. If she shot me an email, though, something would happen in my animal brain...I'd go for the jugular. I'd draft a snarky but professional response, citing her repeated failure to keep track of what I gave her, mentioning what a hassle and disruption it was to make copies over and over again, and I'd copy her supervisor on it. What's more? I'm not alone. That email would set off a flurry of similar responses, wasting time and energy (professional and emotional) that would yield little more than a silent, tense ride in the elevator the next morning when my co-worker and I ran into each other. Why not just confront her in person, instead of firing off emails? Because it's easier to attack a faceless email address than a person who offers you candy as you sit at their desk.

I am guilty of this; I freely admit it. I dehumanize other drivers, co-workers, even my drag kings when they send me text messages or notes on MySpace or Facebook. I answer abruptly, distantly, instead of observing the patience and courtesy I'd typically extend them if we were in person. Sometimes, it's because I'm having a bad day; other times, though, it's just because I see a machine, and not their actual faces, asking me for the 45th time when we'll have a new website up. I do try, though, to remember that while it may seem easy and satisfying to dehumanize people while in my car, via text message or through email...they are still living, breathing people who will associate my rudeness with me, not with my email address or Honda.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Up...or down?

WARNING: This entry contains spoilers for the film "Up". If you haven't seen it, and intend to, please wait to read this until after you've seen it.


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My mother is not a woman who tolerates sad endings. An ardent fan of comedies with sly, accessible humor and trashy romance novels in which a man with rippling triceps hoists the heroine onto his Victorian steed for an evening of wine and roses, she doesn't enjoy pain or loss in her recreational time. Upon seeing City of Angels in 1998, which was advertised as nearly a romantic comedy but ended up being a devastatingly sad movie, my mother got up after the closing credits, wiping tears and non-waterproof mascara from her eyes, and sang derisively..."That's entertainment." When ER would kill a child or other endearing character off, as hospital dramas sometimes have to for the sake of plot, she'd get indignant, even angry with the writers for their gall. Even worse, if one of her tried and true comedic favorites would take a sad turn in their storyline, she viewed this as the ultimate betrayal; she looked to these types of shows as an escape from the trials and tribulations of her everyday life, to find her place in the chorus of pre-recorded laughter of sitcoms in the 80s and 90s. Perhaps in response to the unpredictable nature of these obviously fictitious shows, she has taken a remarkable fancy to reality TV...she finds solace in Survior, The Amazing Race and The Biggest Loser, where the worst thing that can happen to the participants of the show is that they don't lose as much weight as they would have liked before being sent home. Likewise, she is completely intolerant of scary or gory movies. "Life is scary enough, thankyouverymuch".

I, on the other hand, enjoy being moved across the emotional spectrum by the books, films, shows and music I choose to indulge in. Requiem for a Dream is one of my favorite films, though admittedly I don't watch it often because it induces suicidal bouts of ice cream eating and depression. I'm a fan of tragedies, an admirer of horror, a student of the heartbreaking realities of life and the people who live it. I'd always prefer to laugh, of course, but life isn't always funny and my entertainment preferences reflect that appreciation of reality.

My girlfriend, RW (RedWolf), and I went to see the new Pixar film Up Monday night. A delighted, chatty crowd of college students off for the summer crowded into the aged Prytania theater to see it with us, donning comedically big 3-D glasses and gobbling down popcorn like the government had just declared it an illicit substance. The raucous crowd commented loudly during the previews, cheering for the Harry Potter trailer and reacting audibly to the Pixar short, Partly Cloudy, that preceded the film. Within the first 10 minutes of Up, however, there wasn't a dry eye in the house, and the young crowd was stone silent for the remainder of the film, save for laughter at appropriate times.

Up is a powerful film, a sad film, with a tried and true message that life is what happens while we are planning, that sometimes the real adventure happens everyday, not when you go to great lengths and expense to artificially create one. It tells the story of an elderly widower named Carl Frederickson who never managed to take the adventure he and his wife wanted, and his pursuit of that endeavor after her death. It's lush and colorful, and took full advantage of every 3-D trick the wizards at Disney and Pixar could employ. It's laugh-out-loud funny, by all accounts, but also heartbreaking at turns. I was haunted throughout the entire film by the opening sequence, which features a 2-minute segment exploring the couple's lives together (where their attempts at "adventure" and even parenting never comes to fruition) and the wife's subsequent death. It's an opening filled with regret and loss, pain and resignation, which moved even my stoic, social working girlfriend to unabashed tears. That sort of plotline accomplished what the writers wanted...the audience cares about Carl's adventure and understands his motivation, but my reaction, and I believe the rest of the audience's reaction, was not one of pride and wonder, but sadness and sympathy. We felt empathy for a character who has suffered a devastating loss and is in the throes of unmitigated grief. Carl talks to her as if she's there, even in front of other characters in the film, and dives for her portrait when the flying house gets caught in a fierce storm instead of his young companion, Russell, who clearly needs looking after. These are the desperate actions of someone who needs more than this adventure to truly heal, to go on with his life without achingly missing his beloved and deceased partner at every turn. The ending, for me, was little comfort. Carl becomes a father figure to the single-parented and neglected Russell, and master of the talking dog, Dug. While I have never lost a spouse, I have suffered the loss of loved ones and was left with the familiar taste of devastation in my mouth after this movie.

Even after the film had ended, and RW and I got to her car, my hardened girlfriend was crying. I thought the lingering sadness I was still feeling was only my own distorted reaction to a harmless, good film; that perhaps I had forgotten to take my anti-depressants or maybe even that I was PMSing. But when I saw the surprised anguish on her face, I realized this film was NOT what we thought it would be.

Art should move you. It should provoke a reaction, be it anger or amusement, but I must admit, sadness isn't what I expected out of this film. Pixar has a history of making smart, adult-appealing films that feature heart-wrenching tales of love and loss, but this was different. Maybe my march towards my becoming my mother has quickened its pace, but I hope they make me laugh more and cry less next time. That's entertainment.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Scandal of Paxil

I've taken a certain prescription drug everyday for the past 12 years, or at least, I've attempted to. Back in the day when I was first prescribed this drug, it cost $100 a month. I have spent more time without insurance than with, so this has been a consistent cost each month since 1997...that's about $13,000, which is astounding to me given that I can't function without it. Some medical professionals even say I am addicted to it, given the length of time I have been on it and my repeated failure in staying off of it.

This drug is an antidepressant; it goes by the brand name Paxil or Seroxat, or the generic name paroxetine. I take 40mg a day. Paxil is arguably the most controversial anti-depressant of our times, with scandals over supression of unfavorable clinical findings, consumer fraud and suicidal tendencies reported by teens and young adults on the drug (one clinical finding suggested teens were 6 times more likely to become suicidal after taking paroxetine). Paxil's biggest crime? Despite initial claims by GlaxoSmithKline that this drug was non-habit forming, it has the single worst withdrawal symptoms of any antidepressant on the market (as reported in 2001 by the BBC on behalf of the World Health Organization. This drug does BAD things to people who attempt to discontinue using it, even after just a couple of weeks of use. Withdrawal symptoms range from the minor (nausea, fatigue) to "shocks" and uncontrollable crying. (For those of you who have no idea what "shocks" are, it's best defined as a sensation of electricity in the body. It's truly awful.) I have experienced these withdrawal symptoms and more, as Paxil is expensive and I wasn't always able to stay on it continuously. There have been times when I simply ran out of the drug a week before I got paid, so there was nothing for it but to withdraw and wait. As a matter of fact, I'm suffering withdrawal symptoms as we speak because Walgreens has lost their ever loving minds.

I used to get all of my prescriptions filled at Walgreens, which I have discovered is a bit like buying a Timex watch at Prada prices. I say this, because WalMart (groan) has hundreds of generic drugs for only $4 per 30 day supply. Paroxetine is one of them. Assuming that Walgreens knew this, and would adjust their previously sky-high pricing accordingly, I tried to take a shortcut last night in getting my already overdue prescription filled.

I had been out for 3 days, and I was beginning to get some major withdrawal symptoms. Time to get it done.

WalMart has no drive through pharmacy; they are plagued with long lines and even longer wait times. WalMart, in general, makes me nuts. I get easily overstimulated and overwhelmed by large crowds and busy visual stimuli, so WalMart is the last thing I want to face when I've got the shocks and anxiety of Paxil withdrawal. Listening to NPR in the quiet, safe seclusion of my car, I pulled into the drive thru pharmacy at Walgreen's at 5:55pm last night. After waiting for 20 minutes, it was finally my turn. I forked over my prescription and driver's license and asked to get a price on the prescription from the clerk in navy scrubs behind the bullet proof glass.

"You have to come in to request a price. All I can do is take your prescription at the drive thru window." I turned Marketplace all the way down and stared at her, dubious. Steady.

"That's ridiculous. I've been waiting in this line for 20 minutes." I already have a bad temper, and when I'm tweaking with withdrawal, it's incredibly difficult for me to not rip people's arms out of their sockets for such minor indiscretions as, say, giving me root beer instead of Diet Coke at McDonald's.

"That's our policy. I'm sorry."

"OUR policy, or your policy? That's ludicrous. I'm supposed to get the same service here as your...:::restrain from using profanity:::...COUNTER inside. Fine. Run it. I'll pick it up at 7."

Two hours later, I return to pick up the prescription. Again, I'm safely restrained in my car. The bullet proof glass is essential to my staying out of jail, as this clerk, this glorified drug dealer, tells me that'll be $75, please.

Nuclear implosion ensues. As calmly as possible, I express my hot displeasure at such a rip off and my suspicion that Walgreens has been taken over by GSK's army of delusional dancing monkeys.

I'll be at WalMart as soon as I get off of work.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

My Online Evolution

I've been online since the 90s. It started with AOL's god awful reign of terror on a 28.8k external beast of a modem on a computer my grandmother had procured for our house, back when CAT5 cable wasn't even a twinkle in our nerdy civilian eyes. Modems screamed with digital handshakes, busy signals threatened to ruin the hour or so of online time you'd get before someone had to use the phone line. The feature you could select to block incoming calls seemed orgasmic, the option to be able to create a user name all your own...stressful and delicious. The web was this unformed frontier, abstract to the mind and eye...for the longest time, I thought AOL WAS the internet, which I'm sure was their aim.

Speaking of AIM, with the dawn of email and personal websites, instant messaging wasn't far behind it. I remember the first time I wandered into my usual AOL chat room ("Ask A Lesbian," which I frequented for years before I was out of the closet) and got IMd by some random stranger. I don't remember what was said, because I kept shutting the chat window, horrified at what I was certain was one of those "viruses" we were starting to hear about. Finally, the stranger asked me in the chat room why I didn't want to "chat".

"I am chatting..." was roughly my response. This seemed self evident. I was in an effing chat room, yes? Yes. Then he explained. He warned me that the window was coming this time, and I remember little else besides a huge smile on my face as I witnessed this technological marvel. I had heard of it before from my nerdy new online friends who used ICQ, but that was over my young teen head at the time.

I've gone by many names since the American online revolution took over my life in the 90s. At first, it was expected that you would retain your anonymnity while online. I was known only as KlydeFrog (Froggy) to all but my 3 closest online friends for YEARS while on AOL. There was something liberating and glorious about having an entirely new identity that no one could question. You could speak with shocking candor about everything...your family experiences, your frustrations, your joys and concerns. Victims of violence or rape found a safe voice and friends who were struggling, too. As for people like me, it gave queer folks the courage and support to embrace their identity; Ask A Lesbian and the wonderful women I befriended there saved my life. It was my lifeline to a world I couldn't touch yet, and as supportive as these women were, many were in similar situations and found solace in the anonymous companionship the faceless internet offered. Eventually, you could even create your own private chat room, complete with custom name and private invitations you could hand out via IM. Slowly, though, the rules began to change.

One day, I noticed that when I clicked on someone's screen name, I didn't just get info like their age and location on their previously rudimentary profile. This was a very intimate profile, full of details like where they worked, what school they graduated from...it even had a PICTURE of them. I was shocked, nearly horrified. I opened the email from AOL I had earlier ignored when I first signed on, and it explained that you could now "upload" a personal picture to attach to your profile. How? How did that person get a picture of themselves on the internet? This predated the popularity and affordability of digital cameras; even on AOL's mainscreens that they ran themselves, it was 95% text....there were VERY few pictures, even in their news articles. There was no Google, no Ask.Com, no Wikipedia to answer such mindboggling questions...again, my nerdier online friends explained this new abomination as best they could.

It was the beginning of social networking, where you were encouraged to be your IRL (in real life) self and not just a screen name persona. I resisted for a while, as did my online friends, until the lure of filling out such a self-centered profile for public view got the better of us. No one had ever asked us what our favorite movies were, or our favorite quote. As AOL's era of internet monopoly ended, you no longer needed a username and password to get online. Suddenly, all you needed was the newest modem and something called a "browser" called Internet Explorer, and BAM, you were on the web. AOL's increasingly high membership fees plummetted as people realized AOL was NOT, in fact, the internet. Online communities like Ask A Lesbian slowly died away, or else turned into online gaming communes (think WoW or EverQuest).

I kept the free AIM chat client, though, until my AOL friends slowly drifted away into the increasingly isolated, murky waters of the internet. I remember finding it useless to install AIM on a new computer of mine at some point, and how surprised I was to feel so sad at the loss of my online community. Years would go by before I discovered MySpace, and more still before Facebook lured me in. But now, it's something different...something a little more dangerous than the innocent, faceless days of AOL, because now it's no longer:

"KlydeFrog wants to chat. Accept?"

It's now:

"Thea Mars is in your extended network."

My co-workers and former high school friends can find me online and know all of this crazy crap about me. While you can maintain some anonmnity, it's more and more frowned upon. People who use fake names are considered shady or even elitist.

Sometimes, I miss just being KlydeFrog.

Prop 8...The Good In the Bad

On May 26th, 2009, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling to uphold Proposition 8, the 2008 measure that won the majority vote in California to effectively bar same sex couples from receiving marriage licenses. The majority, by the way, was slight...52% over 47%, due to several factors. Loads of money from churches and religious organizations played a large part in the passage of Prop 8, many of whom have laws stating they are not to donate money or even moral support to political causes. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints donated at least $189,000, which doesn't include individual donations from members of their church to make up the additional millions poured into the "Yes on Prop 8" campaign. According to this article, nearly $3 million came from the state of Utah alone.

Regardless, I come here to discuss Prop 8, not just to lament its blatant violation of campaign finance laws. I live in Louisiana; I know there are some folks wondering why I care what happens in California. I care, because the sooner larger, more progressive states (whoa...Iowa?) take the step towards recognizing gay marriage, the closer my bass-ackwards, deep south home will be in turn. Such decisions in other states affect the entire queer community.

Feverishly drowning in my own despair after the ruling was announced, I began scouring for information online. A local protest, a petition...something. Some glimmer of hope, some action I could take; all I wanted was to put my anger and outrage somewhere. A co-worker of mine sent me an article via Facebook from a conservative political blogger, who happens to believe same sex marriage is a solid, conservative cause to back. I was hesitant to take ANYTHING from anyone who dares to identify themselves as conservative, but I took away some hope from his brief observations...that this was actually a victory for same sex marriage, not the dismal failure we were taking it for.

As I started reading the actual 180+ page opinion issued by the California Supreme Court, something occurred to me. That it is, in fact, a victory for gay marriage, albeit an obscured one.
Essentially, Prop 8 accomplished just two things, both of which effectively cancel the other out, if you are ruled by logic:

1.) Only heterosexual couples can be legally considered "married".
2.) 18,000 same sex couples can stay legally "married" because they got married before 11/4/08 when Prop 8 passed.


Great moons of Neptune...the conservative fuck was right. In retaining the legality of the 18,000 same sex marriages that occurred in California before November 4th, the court has offered the California queer community an opportunity.

It seems to me that in Massachusetts, and other states that have legalized same sex marriage, the most effective way to calm a nervous heterosexual public over the existence of same sex marriage is to let them witness it casually. Not in angry courthouse battles, outrageous gay pride parades or in heated protests; while these occurrances are vital and necessary to our civil rights movement, they are not effective at calming the heteronormative society that finds same sex marriage unnerving. I can hear my understandably upset queer brethren groaning..."Why calm the first class citizens? Why bother to care what they think?"

Because, like it or not, our civil rights are up for popular vote...and they will be, over and over, until the United States of America grants state and federal recognition to same sex marriage, or banishes every queer person to Barbados because they get sick of us fighting for it. California's queer community lost their marital rights by a 5% margin. Of over 13 million votes, they lost the right to state marital recognition by a mere 599, 602 popular votes. I believe that demonstrations, pride parades and legal battles are necessary. However, I think there is much merit to those who are focused on being families, not dancing down the streets of San Francisco in assless chaps, in the war for the country's sympathies and votes. When the battle for same sex marriage comes to Louisiana again, and it will, it will be up to our families, friends and neighbors to decide whether or not same sex marriage is a good idea. I don't like it any more than the next member of the queer community, but it's true: we are at the mercy of the majority. We're at the mercy of a majority to grant rights and protections to a minority...and people wonder why I drink.

My burgeoning alchoholism aside, I am holding onto hope. Those same sex couples who have obtained the right to marry and have managed to retain that right are our best chance at a victory in California next time, and let me reassure you, there WILL be a next time. Marriage strengthens communities and builds strong families, and it is up to those of you who managed to get hitched prior to November 4th, 2008 to prove that same sex families have the same merit as heterosexual families do. Eventually, California will succeed in this great endeavor. No civil rights movement in America's history has failed....this one won't, either. It simply can't.

Until then, I will be waiting and watching, rallying and protesting, until its our turn. Until Louisiana gives all of its sons and daughters equal rights. And when it's all said and done, when all of the states have voted to permit state-level equality, the federal government will grant us every right and responsibility bestowed upon our heterosexual counterparts.

If I live to see that day, I will be grateful. Profoundly and righteously angry, but eternally grateful.

For the complete lowdown on Prop 8, visit Wikipedia, the bastion of all things truthful and educational.