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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Ain’t it a Bitch.

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We’ve all been asked what our top 10 movies are, right? While mine sometimes change depending on my mood or the barometric pressure, the following have consistently rotated in and out of that Top 10:

  • Braveheart
  • Jaws
  • Star Wars
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
  • The Godfather, Parts I & II
  • True Romance
  • Aliens

First let me say I think it’s entirely possible I was a man in a past-life, and an aggressive, swashbuckling, womanizing one at that. But I digress.

If I look at just the movies above I ask myself what they all have in common?

  • Central alpha-male figures? Check.
  • Central alpha-male figures fighting against an alpha-male foe? Check. (I’m making the assumption that the shark in Jaws was a male. I will call him “Buddy”. And Nurse Ratched, well, Louise Fletcher created such an indelibly strong, frightening, gender-neutral character that at the very least she was the personification of “The Man”).

So they all have those things in common except….”Aliens”.

“Aliens”. Has there ever been a more kick-ass, archetypal, hell-hath-no-fury female character in film in recent memory? I think not. There have been attempted copy-cats, sure…but none that got is as right as Sigourney Weaver’s Oscar nominated performance as Ellen Ripley did in “Aliens”.

What fascinates me about Weaver’s portrayal of Ripley is she managed to bridge the gap between feminine and masculine power until you forgot the gender stereotypes, and with ease fit into the role of Earth-mother defending her child with the iron-will and steely courage of an unwitting soldier . And all the while….she looked damned sexy doing it.

The reason “Aliens” as a sequel worked so well is that it was no longer just an epic battle between humans and acid-blooded, 15 foot tall cockroaches with detachable, snapping jaws (ugh…still one of the scariest villains in moviedom if you ask me), but because this was a human woman fighting to keep her “adopted” daughter from dying in the clutches of the alien…and the alien, as luck would have it, was ALSO a mother defending her children…er…larvae. So you have all the action and suspense of a sci-fi thriller with the added bonus of watching the most epic of battles: two females defending the creatures within their care.

Remember Ripley’s line when she was in that gigantic robot-suit right before she deep-sixed the alien mother: “Get away from her you BITCH!” I mean, come ON…who doesn’t love a good bitch-slap???

I was thinking the other day about soldiers. Not famous ones like in the movies that I mentioned above, just “grunts”, troops. Just your average, every-day people who fight the wars that we’ve either told them to by drafting them, or asked them to fight with a “pretty-please-with-sugar-on-top”. People who go in and fight for the safety and security and well-being and national interests of other people they’ve never met, on the orders of still other people they’ve probably never met. And all of those brave troops who actually fight in combat are only…men.

Why is that?

Has our testosterone-infused government establishment never SEEN “Aliens”?

I know, people, I know…Ripley is not a real person. And neither is the giant, phallic-headed cockroach alien (that we know of…), so I will clarify my question.

Um…just what IS the justification for not having female combat soldiers in the U.S. military?

I’m not a proponent of war. Not by a liberal-longshot. But again, I’m no pacifist. I simply believe that war of any kind should commence only when there is absolutely no other fucking option to protect the masses of innocents. When war, however, is warranted, why can’t a woman fight alongside a man?

Is it because we get our “monthlies”, our “friends” and that would make for an un-sanitary working environment? Because, you know, everyone knows how sterile and sanitary field barracks, and encampments and port-a-potties-if-you’re-lucky and ditches and caves and such are. If soldiers can carry around hand-held GPS’s, they can carry around some Tampax.

Is it because we’re “emotionally unpredictable” and “emotionally fragile”; that we can’t take the heat when we’re not in the kitchen? Riiiggghhht. Because everyone knows that while you’re in the heat of battle a woman would surely opt-out of the most hard-wired and primal of animal instincts which is to LIVE, and instead opt-IN for the lesser-known of the primal instincts which is to die while collapsed on her knees in the rubble, head in hands, shedding big, blubbery tears.

Is it because we’re…weak…physically in comparison to men? Now on this point I do not argue the merit itself; women, in most cases, are NOT as physically strong as men. But are we talking about one-on-one duels, here? Are we talking about a prison-yard scene from a B-movie in which the two opponents are encircled by the rest of the chanting group and made to fight to-the-death, or at the very least…to the shame?

Let’s face it, the list of reasons that women are given for not being allowed to engage in combat is a mile long: we’d distract the men with our feminine wiles (sorry, now that DADT has been technically eradicated – FINALLY – the issue of “enticement” shouldn’t hold water in terms of women/men either), we’re not courageous enough and too cautious (sorry, I’m here to tell you that courage has nothing to do with testes)…and ohhhhhh, just not enough time for the rebuttals to the faux-justifications.

In the end, hard-core military traditionalists, and well…most men… will tell you simply that a woman doesn’t harbor the necessary aggression, stamina and mental fortitude to fight in battle for the love of country. It’s not “in us”. Or to put it succinctly, “Dude…you’re a GIRL!” To those people I say: Have you ever actually seen a woman fight for someone she cares for? Someone she loves? Her honor? Her child? Would you ever want to be on the receiving end of her wrath, especially when that woman is armed with an AK-47 or a grenade launcher? Would you??

Women are nurturers by nature. I believe this to be true. It is not in our nature to voluntarily commit to harm others, regardless of the reasons.

But let me tell you this: love of country’s got nothing on love of family, of child, of personal honor. Look, women should rule the world. That’s a given. War and all of its atrocities would eventually cease to exist in that scenario (another post for another day)…so let’s take baby steps. You put a woman out there on the front lines, a nurturer – and I don’t give a damn what she’s the “nurturer” of back home: a child, a cat, a parrot, a goat or a plant – and she’ll fight like a man.

She’ll give new meaning to the term “bitch-fight”.

Seriously. “Aliens”. Just consider adding it to your Top 10.

The Allegory of Super Mario

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I have a six year old son. He loves video games. Oh-boy-howdy does he. Obsessed with them I’d say. All manner of them. If he can control a virtual world in the palm of his hand he’s in Heaven. It’s an obsession that I know I must quell if he’s to learn to read, write, speak in full sentences or ride a bike. I know. Video games are both the bane and savior of most parents I know. Many times it’s a near tantrum-inducing struggle to pry the game out of his hands to get him to go outside and play or read or interact with his two brothers. But come ON…is there a parent among us who hasn’t at one time or another actually shoved the thing into their hands and said “Please for the love of GOD play this so that I can make dinner in peace!”? (If you haven’t done this please just keep it to yourself).

I think the real problem I have with my son’s relationship with video games is that, well, I loved and still love them myself. Ohhh, my addiction was different to be sure. We’re talking Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-Man here. Atari…the very genesis of virtual games. And I was really, really good at them.

So about a year and a half ago I’m cleaning out a dusty Rubbermaid tub in my basement and there it is…the Holy Grail of video-gaming systems: the original Nintendo. My friends in college threw me a 20 1/2 birthday party my Sophomore year (mainly under duress because I pissed and moaned so much about having a summer birthday and no one being around to celebrate it with me), and one of those friends gave me his Nintendo. Again, pretty much under duress because I had essentially taken the thing over and become increasingly annoyed when HE played – saying out loud with a hiss when it was his turn “Oh just DIE already”.

Anyway, there it was. Old, dusty, spatterings of beer staining its gray casing…but it made my heart race none-the-less. “Oh my GOD…” I thought, “I wonder if it still works?!”

I could not wait to see. I was beyond excited. I was in hyper-speed.

I seemed to remember needing a professional-grade tool-box, an electrician and a crane to move the television to get that thing going back in the day, but as you might imagine I just walked up to the kids’ T.V. and whoa…there were the little yellow, white and red hook-up thingys right there in the front! So I plugged it in, put in the cartridge (roughly the size of a small microwave), closed my eyes and turned that bitch on.

And. It. Worked.

The tinkly, upbeat music of the original Super Mario resonated forth. I jumped up and pumped my fist and let out a “Woo-Hoo!” Sad. So sad, I know.

So here is my son nearly needing a 12-step program to rid him of his addiction, but I didn’t care. The first thing I wanted to do was show it to him.

The next morning after he got home from school I led him into the playroom. I put my hands on his shoulders and faced him toward me. “Son”, I said with all the import and drama of a talk normally attributed to the “big” subjects in life, “I have something to show you….”

Then with pomp and circumstance I turned him around and led him to The Box.

“What IS it?” he asked.

“Wha…wha…what IS it?” I stammered. “It’s only the first Nintendo with the first Super Mario game!” and I held my hand up for the high-five that I just knew was coming…..but………….never……………came…

“Is it Mario Cart, or Mario Galaxy?” he asked a little more interested.

“What the hell are THOSE? No, man, NO….this is the very FIRST Super Mario game…it’s AWESOME!”…and I turned it on waiting for his burst of excitement to come forth.

((Tinkly Music. Flat, one-dimensional graphics.))

“What do you do with that?” is what came dryly out of his mouth.

“You PLAY it!” I yelled.

And so we did. Because I’m a great Mom, I let him go first. He wasn’t used to it. It wasn’t advanced enough. He was confused by the slowness of it, the inability to simultaneously push twenty-five buttons at once to achieve some super-nova type effects. It was almost too…simple for him to grasp.

“Argggh, lemme show you”. I played and played with wild, reckless abandon. I remembered everything: where all the hidden coins were, the way through the mazes, where the secret extra-life mushrooms were. Everything. But most of all I kept not-dying.

“Wow”, he said “You’re really awesome Mom!”.

“I know, Son, I know”. I smiled. I suppose I just wanted the recognition of my awesomeness and I got it. Then I jumped off a cliff and let him go again.

We laid on the floor and I watched him play and when he died I’d play and curb my competitiveness so he could go again. It was so much fun.

As I watched him play and gave him tips and hints, I laughed to myself remembering one night in college in particular playing that game.

My very good friend and I were playing Super Mario one very late, most assuredly drunken night. No one wanted to play with me because, well, remember the awesomeness? She would though. She’d always go first. I wish I could say I was lying here when I say that it took everything I had to wait for my turn. Wanna know why?

Because she was       S O                 F R E A K I N G                   S L O W.

Good Lord. She was meticulous. The levels were timed and she’d take every single available second to finish them: cautiously jumping, aligning herself just right under each brick to get the coins, artfully squashing the Goombas so as not to let the timing ruin her next jump. It makes my blood-pressure rise as I write this just thinking about it.

As soon as it was my turn I’d exhale and you couldn’t see Luigi through my dust. Crazy, insane jumping…flying through the air, jumping on two Goombas at once, breaking record after record in finishing-time and getting every coin in the process. Oh I finished each level alright…in a blaze of glory.

Man, we’d laugh playing that game. I’d ridicule her method of playing, she’d ridicule mine. We’d drink and talk and laugh some more. And that night we came to a profound conclusion: “You play Mario like you live your life”. And damn if that wasn’t true. We are still great friends, and to this day we still say that to each other and laugh. And it’s still more-or-less true. We both set out to achieve our goals in life, with varying degrees of success, but we both went about it in pretty different ways.

So as I laid there with my son on occasional afternoons playing Mario with him, and as he got the hang of it and started to like it, I watched for the tell-tale clues as to how he might live his life.

Only before I was able to assess that divine truth, my son had invited some neighbor kid over to play it and that little punk broke it. Oh, I know it was him because I heard him do it. I heard him say “uh oh” as my son and I were getting snacks in the kitchen. Yeah, dead. I’m not sure if he jammed a screwdriver into it or what. I still haven’t found the murder weapon, but kill it he did. That thing survived four years of college parties and beatings born of frustration amongst countless numbers of co-eds, and twenty-five years in a Rubbermaid tub only to meet its demise at the hands of a punk five year old. It’s carcass is still sitting there. I don’t have the heart to remove it.

Now how the hell am I supposed to figure out the inner-potential of my oldest son? Sigh.

I know. If you’ve read this far you are probably wondering how to get back the few minutes of your life you’ve wasted reading it.

But I figured after the Pro-Choice post… it was best to lighten the mood.

R.I.P. Nintendo…you served me well.

Why I’m Pro-Choice.

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You know, women are uniquely qualified to debate the abortion issue.  We are, after all, the only ones with uteri.  This is not to say that men aren’t intricately involved in the conception process, but the debate is not only about life and when it begins and whether or not the embryo/fetus has intrinsic value, but what the mother of that embryo/fetus chooses to do with it:  carry it to term or abort.  We all know this.

But let me speak to you as a pro-choice woman who has gone through years of infertility and pregnancy loss; a unique combination in the eyes of many.

My husband and I decided to have children, as many married couples do.  I was thirty when I got married and thirty-two when we felt ready to try to start a family.  While I knew I wasn’t in my child-bearing prime, I certainly didn’t feel as if it wouldn’t happen when I wanted it to.

I became pregnant my first month off the Pill.  We were shocked it happened so quickly, and felt lucky to be sure.  Things went along well.  The first ultrasound at six weeks showed a fetus with a beating heart.  It was awe-inspiring and surreal.  Such awe came from knowing that this was our child – with all the promise that holds.  Four weeks later I just knew something wasn’t “right”.  My gut was correct, and at the ten week ultrasound there was the fetus, but its heart had stopped beating.  Words cannot describe the grief over a baby, a child who you will now never know.

I tried to prepare for the inevitable miscarriage, but the ultrasound determined that this fetus had stopped growing almost four weeks prior and that if my body had not expelled it by now – infection would likely ensue.  It was recommended that I have a D&C to avoid this situation and not compromise any future fertility.  Mentally it came as a relief to know that it would be over quickly and I could begin to heal and hopefully try again.

I was very scared of the procedure, the D&C – which is a dilation and curettage.  Technically, an abortion of the products of conception.  In fact, all natural losses of pregnancy at that early stage are called abortions.  The death of my fetus was called a “missed abortion” because my body did not expel it naturally.

I was admitted to the hospital that afternoon and was prepped for the procedure.  I was in tears, not wanting my first pregnancy to be over but desperately wanting what was not alive out of my body.  I was laid on the table and assumed the position in the stirrups, and as I’m wont to do, started asking many questions of the doctors.  Would it hurt?  Would I feel anything?  Would I be able to see what they removed?  They answered me in polite, short sentences before administering the twilight which would make me remember very little.  What I do remember was hearing machines whirring and people moving…and a nurse moving a plastic container from the bottom end of the table out of the room.  I knew that what was once inside of me, was now in there.

I came-to in the recovery area feeling remarkably well.  A bit crampy, but fine.  Groggy, but fine.  Some scant bleeding – but I was fine.  That pregnancy was now completely over.  The doctor came to see me and my first question was, “When can we try again”?  In a couple of months, she said.

And we did.  Over the next six years I went on to have a total of eight miscarriages.  Eight.  Three of them were missed abortions which required D&Cs, the rest miscarried naturally.  Several of those pregnancies were conceived through IVF and other infertility treatments, and several of the pregnancies which were far enough along were tested to see if the cause of failure could be determined.  And it was.  In each of the tested pregnancies, all were determined to be chromosomally abnormal.  Trisomies, to be exact; a third chromosome when there should only be two.  The best known of the trisomies is 21…otherwise known as Down’s Syndrome.  The trisomies discovered in my fetuses were far more rare than 21….they were 9, 3, 11…and these trisomies are mercifully incompatible with life.  There are however, trisomies which ARE compatible with life – meaning a child can be brought to term and born; such as Trisomy 21, Trisomy 16 and Trisomy 18.

It was becoming very clear that our efforts to have a family would most likely not be realized, ever.  The grief and mourning that follows this realization is difficult in that you are mourning someone whom you have never known, never touched, never held, never watched play baseball or dance in a recital.  It is a mourning felt in your soul…of memories destined to be unborn.

It was some time during this period in my life that a question was asked of me by a friend, a “pro-life” friend.  It is well-known that I am a staunch pro-choice supporter, but many people in my circle are just as staunchly pro-life.  The question was put to me rather smugly and with an air of condescension, “After all that you have been through, after all of the babies you have lost, after going through an abortion procedure several times, you can’t possibly still be pro-choice, can you?  How can you have looked at the beating heart of a six-week old fetus in your womb and tell me that you are still pro-choice?”

The feeling in my gut was visceral.  It was strong.  It was pure.

I looked at this person and said very firmly, “I believe in a woman’s right to choose what happens to her unborn child now, more than ever.”  The look of incredulity on this person’s face was stark.  And here is why I believe what I do with even more conviction than I did before I’d ever been pregnant:

This is my body and it is mine to govern, it is mine to move through space and time, and it always will be.  What grows in it is governed by my choices – which are garnered through the experiences, morals and opinions formed throughout a lifetime of determining what is important to me.  Had any of my pregnancies resulted in a child with Down’s Syndrome which my body did not naturally reject  – I would not have had an abortion to terminate the pregnancy.  Down’s Syndrome, while debilitating in many ways both mentally and physically for the child, does not automatically preclude a full and rich life.  But if the result was any other of the rare trisomies that we knew my pregnancies were prone to – and the pregnancy had not ended on its own – I would have made the determination to end that pregnancy – to have an abortion.  That decision would not have been made out of a fear of what my life would become with a severely handicapped and disabled child, but of a mother’s love in not wanting her child to be born to a life filled with agony and illness that could not be undone.

Would this child have intrinsic value?  Yes, to me.   Would this child have brought joy to the world?  Yes, to me.  Would this child have given something to the world?  Yes, to me.  But would this child have suffered significantly?  Yes.  Would this child have to live through unimaginable obstacles and unending, severe limits to its quality of life?  Yes.

As a mother, its mother, I would have asked myself:  Would my child be better off not being born to…suffer?  Yes.  To me, as the mother of this most wanted child I had made the decision that no child of mine would ever suffer so greatly from the moment of its birth if I could help it.  I would deal with any consequences of that decision in the hereafter.  It would be my decision made solely out of profound love.

I realize most abortions are not made based upon the knowledge of a chromosomal abnormality or the knowledge that the child’s life will be so severely compromised.  I know that.  But as the woman, the mother carrying the embryo – the fetus – the baby, I am the guardian of that life regardless of the stage of its development or the status of its health, or my health.  And it is up to the me, that mother, to determine the course each of our lives will take while I am pregnant – based on my own life experiences, beliefs and unique knowledge regarding the circumstances of my pregnancy.

How, in God’s name, is that a decision that should be made by anyone else – but me?  How, in God’s name, can anyone else impose their morality on my decision as the courier of that life?  How, in God’s name, can the government decree that a woman should be forced to bear a child – forced to – against her will?   How can anyone else be so arrogant as to assume that their judgment and life experiences are fit enough to determine what course my life, and the life of my unborn child, will or will not take?

How, in God’s name, can anyone use their God’s name to reach that decision for me?

With “choice” there is no mandate.  There is only a woman, her unborn child, and the countless agonizing scenarios – mine just being one example – in which that mother must decide what is right for herself and for her baby.   The only deciding factors for that mother are between her and her God, between her and her morals and between her and what she values.  There is no one better fit to make that decision than her – regardless of age, income, color or religion.  No one.

If a staunchly conservative majority sits at the bench of the Supreme Court it is very likely they will overturn Roe v Wade – and will single-handedly take away my right, or the right of someone you know and love – to make a…choice.

How in God’s name can you get any bigger, more intrusive government than that?

Bruce Willis…With a Complex.

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I am a Liberal.  I am not a pacifist.

I’ve always had a hard time explaining to people my views regarding guns.  I think most  Conservatives I know revel in trying to pin me as the stereotypical Democrat; weak, tree-hugging, cares more for animals and newts than people, won’t own a gun but wants my neighbor who does to come to my aid when I’m being raped or robbed.   While I’m generally very clear on my views and why I hold them, I’ve had a hard time putting into words what I feel on the subject of gun ownership.

Perhaps my inability to explain my views is because I’m often ridiculously verbose and passionate and get tangled up in my own commentary to the point which I end up saying something like this professorial little gem while debating at the family barbecue:  “I hate guns and war, ok!  But I know they’re often necessary and I would wish I had a gun if some asshat broke into my house but….argggghhhh….is that potato salad German or American???”  I’m a master of deflection when I can’t express myself.  See, there’s that ridiculously verbose thing.

Perhaps, though, my inability to explain my views is as simple as….I’m a hypocrite.

I suppose I’m writing about this because I read a story on Michael Dukakis the other day and was reminded of the question asked of him by Bernard Shaw during a debate with George Bush Sr.  Shaw asked him if he would support the death penalty for someone who had raped and murdered his wife.  Many credit his dispassionate response of essentially “nope” as the death-knell of his presidential ambitions.  Many decried the question as patently unfair to ask to begin with.  While possibly “unfair” in terms of throwing someone off-guard with such a personal, graphic, hypothetical question about heinous crimes committed against a loved one…I don’t think it was that unfair.  I think politicians tend to separate themselves and their beliefs from what their own realities are, i.e., you’re against same sex marriage until your daughter comes out as gay and in a loving/committed relationship and suddenly you realize, “Hey, ok…I guess it’s not that bad”.  I think the real courage displayed by politicians is when they can empathize with, and respond accordingly to,  the plight of human beings without first having to experience that same plight for themselves.

And I believe that real courage in every-day human beings not only reflects that same empathy, but the balls to admit that while you might not believe in something in “principle”, when it gets right down to it, you believe in it anyway.

And therein lies my internal conflict on the issue of guns.

I’m no pacifist.

But I don’t want to own a gun.  They scare me.  They cause permanent, horrible, debilitating damage to real flesh-and-blood human beings in a lightning-flash.  The thought of one in my house anywhere near my children makes me cringe.  The thought of millions of them floating around out there in the hands of – just about anyone who wants one – terrifies me.

But you wanna know what else terrifies me?  The thought of God-forbid someone breaking into my home, with a gun, and killing my family, my children, me.  If that ever happens and some deranged criminal is climbing the stairs toward my kids’ rooms…. I guarantee you the following will be my first thought:

Why don’t I own a fucking gun?  If I had a gun I would cock it, march up the stairs stealthily, sneak up behind the asshole who dared to harm those who I love, press the barrel of the gun again the base of his neck, march him out of view of my kids, ask him if he believes it was worth it……and then before waiting for his answer – calmly say “Yippie-Ki-Yay Mother Fucker” …and pull the trigger.

I’ve thought about this scenario more than once.  Every time I think about it it makes my heart race and my brow sweat because the only thing that makes me feel better is to…not think about it at all.  I am not courageous in this regard because I have a serious internal conflict.  I want nothing to do with guns.  I don’t think people should be able to own damn near any kind of gun they please, and especially not guns that come chock-full of as many clips and bullets as they can load into a picnic basket.  But the fact remains that when I want a gun, need a gun as is warranted in my most feared scenario, I want it to be there at my fingertips.  And I would use it.

I struggle mightily with this irony.  I don’t blame Michael Dukakis for answering the way he did.   The choices were to either completely disassociate yourself from the raw, primal human emotion of wanting to slaughter those who would harm anyone you love, and come off sounding like a “Republican” – or – take your emotions completely out of it and answering in a distinctly non-empathetic manner so that you can continue to state what you believe in.   In theory.  In principle.  A “Democrat”…with no guts.  It was a lose/lose outcome no matter which way he sliced it.

For now, all I can do is hope and pray to any and all higher powers that I will never be confronted with the scenario in which I will forever regret not having a gun.  For now, all I can do is continue to trust that I will never need one in order to save my family or myself.  For now, I have to be content that what I believe in principle does not necessarily mesh with the reality and possibilities we live with every day in this messed-up world.  For now, all I can do is admit to myself that I have internal conflict over this issue, which is a nice way of saying “I’m a Hypocrite” publicly with what I profess to believe – and what I feel in my gut.

Yippie-Ki-Yay…ahhhh.  Just forget it.  I don’t have the balls to say it out loud.

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