Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lazy-Ass Librarian Thursday: In Search of a 100-Day Project

Over at OBlog, Yale Art School professor Michael Beirut posted recently about the 100-day project workshop he offers to graduate-level graphic arts students each spring. In his post, he offers links to several of the projects his students have completed.

Here's the link:

OBlog: Five Years of 100 Days: Observers Room: Design Observer
The project links serve as fabulous diversions, to be sure. But more than that. I want to play, too! So I'm on the hunt for a 100-day project I can do. If you've got suggestions, I'd sure like to hear them.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether I can actually stick with anything (other than sobriety and motherhood) for a hundred days in a row.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

On Integrity. Part Three: Taking rides with strangers.

Eight a.m., and it was already a gaping black hole of a day. Up at five to go to the laundromat in a shitload of rain. Now, running late to catch the bus.

I quickly checked email before I packed up the computer. Huh. "Fergilicious4u" was back. She showed up last week on the dating site. No picture; just "Hey, Sexxxy!" and three more messages in quick succession. At the time I was in a hurry (when am I not?), so I had just fired back a quick, "My, you're persistent, Fergie. Love your profile. Thanks for writing." Turned out she didn't have a profile. She was just sort of hanging out there like a specter, an echo of nothing. Now she was back. Curious, I opened the email:

ohhhh, that's great! hahaha! ur an ugly shitbag! ur profile is bad and really boring. just saying. you sound depressed.

Imagine that, asshole. I gathered up my stuff, left the house and trudged to the bus stop through the rain, dragging my ridiculous rolling bag behind me. I missed a puddle, and then I didn't. Nothing would be dry by the time I got to work. How are you supposed to look like a fancy-ass lobbyist when you get all wet and weatherized waiting for MARTA?

I passed the dead orange cat, which had been there for two weeks now. Every day he looked a little bit less feline. Usually, I felt compassion for this little cat who had looked so much like my own. Today, though, I was just pissed off that he was still there. His face was gone now.

There were two people at the bus stop: a young African-American man dressed for school, and a middle-aged white guy in a grubby hooded jacket. In my neighborhood, white guys stand out. I had never seen him before.

As I ducked into the shelter, the white guy approached me. Too fast, and too close.

"You missed the bus. It already came down this way-hay. But another one will be here soon. Ten minutes." The guy smiled pleasantly and paused, waiting for my response. He looked a lot like that guy in Snow Day. "The bus will come again soon, so don't go away-hay."

I nodded to him and mumbled "Yeah? That's good." Who gives a shit?

"Well, yeah. There's the seven-forty and the eight o'clock. And then an eight-twenty. They come the same time every day-hay." Fuck. Why do I always get the crazy people?

"I just got my paycheck today-hay. I'm gonna go out and spend it." 

For the next ten minutes, the guy talked to me pretty much nonstop. It was clear he had some kind of developmental disability. I sure as hell didn't feel like babysitting, but then a thought hit me with startling clarity and force:

He could be God.

Right. I softened my stance, but I still wished he'd go away.

Once we were on the bus, I pretended I was trying to sleep. He promised not to wake me up; then he told the college student next to him she was a beautiful angel. Sweet, but probably kind of creepy to her. I sat up and opened my eyes; I supposed it was better that he talked to me. Clearly this conversation would happen whether I liked it or not.

"So what are you going to do with all that money?" I asked. I regretted it at once; I didn't want him to get mugged.

"Out for breakfast. At McDonald's. And then I'm buying a book I've been saving for." I wanted to tell him to keep his money safe, to be careful of strangers.

We chatted for a few more minutes, and then he began talking with the driver, who didn't seem to mind a bit. I was relieved, but I was a little jealous, too. Finally, my friend pulled the cable to stop the bus. I bet he won't even say goodbye, I thought glumly.

But as he got off the bus, he looked at me and smiled.  "'Bye, Mom."

Flattered and touched, and a little ashamed, I was instantly glad that I had kept some of my darkness inside that day. Some days, integrity, like my penpal Fergie, is just a shadowy pretension.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On Integrity. Part Two: I pledge allegiance to the flag... er, flags

I love my job when the legislature is in session. I especially love the part at the beginning of each day when we all pledge allegiance and pray. Really, I do.

Every day, it's pretty much the same. First, the Lieutenant Governor will say it's time for our morning devotion, and he'll tell the doorkeepers to lock the doors no nobody can leave. Then he'll introduce a senator, who will lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance and introduce the pastor of the day. The pastor will give a little mini-sermon about how tough it is to be a senator these days, but never fear, because God is there to help. He (it's usually a "he") will lead us all in a prayer for wisdom and strength, so the legislators can righteously do the people's business. We all say "amen," and they unlock the doors. Then there's a 10-minute wait while all of the senators stand in line to shake the preacher's hand. That's when I get back to work on my computer.

Sometimes the prayers are inspiring and sometimes they're not; mostly, at the very least, they reflect sincerity and earnestness on the part of the chosen speaker.  And I suspect the majority of the senators are sincere in their faith and intentions as well, even though the majority are Republicans.

But the daily prayer isn't what's giving me trouble these days. My problem is with the Pledge of Allegiance. I don't have a problem with saying it (although I confess the first couple times I had a little trouble remembering it). I really do pledge allegiance. I'm an American, and I'm proud of it.

Beginning this year, though, both the House and Senate now also pledge allegiance to the Georgia flag. That, I have a problem with. Because, you see, I feel no such allegiance. My Georgia residency is just not on the same plane as my American citizenship. If I'm ever required to choose between between Georgia and the United States, I'm floating my boat northward to Yankee territory right quick.

Still, it's a harmless enough little pledge:

I pledge allegiance to the Georgia Flag and to the principles for which it stands: Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation.

Honestly, there's not much to object to, is there? Okay, so I'm a complete fail when it comes to the moderation thing, but the thought is nice, right? And it doesn't even actually say I'm pledging my allegiance to Georgia; just its flag. 

So logic tells me I should remain standing, put my hand over my heart, turn to face the Georgia flag, and say the Pledge along with everybody else. And as a lobbyist, whose job it is to build relationships with various Important People, this makes sense. I want to keep the focus on the issues, and it helps a lot if people like me.

And yet, I don't say the Georgia pledge. I just can't. 

I can't, because the Georgia pledge was resurrected amidst virulent opposition to federal authority over issues like taxes and immigration and health care. I can't, because two years ago a resolution setting the stage for secession and constitutional nullification passed the Georgia Senate by an astounding vote of 43 to 1. I can't, because there are people today who believe allegiance to State and Country are becoming mutually exclusive; and some of those people are in my state legislature.

Pledges are not just words. They are statements of faith. They are promises of action. They are, in a way, IOUs. They are so important, so significant, that people have been willing to go all the way to the Supreme Court to exercise the right not to say them.  In fact, they've done it twice, because they lost the first time they tried. From Wikipedia:
In 1940 the Supreme Court, in Minersville School District v. Gobitis, ruled that students in public schools, including the defendants in that case who were Jehovah's Witnesses, could be compelled to swear the Pledge. A rash of mob violence and intimidation against Jehovah's Witnesses followed the ruling. In 1943 the Supreme Court reversed its decision, ruling in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette that public school students are not required to say the Pledge, concluding that "compulsory unification of opinion" violates the First Amendment.[10] In a later opinion, the Court held that students are also not required to stand for the Pledge.[11]  
The easy thing to do, the convenient thing, the people-pleasing thing, would be to just say the damned pledge. Blend in. Play along. That's what the senators are doing, after all.  

But if I pledge allegiance to the Georgia flag when, in fact, I bear no such allegiance, then my pledge to the American flag means absolutely nothing. If a pledge is something more than mere words, as I believe it is, then I cannot say a pledge I do not mean.

So, no, I do not pledge allegiance to the Georgia flag.  I remain standing and I turn to face the Georgia flag out of respect for the people who are pledging. But my arm is at my side, and I remain silent.

Is it a stupid battle to pick? Probably. Do I feel weird not joining in with everyone else? Damn right I do. But for me, it's the right thing if I want to develop that elusive thing called integrity. Because for me, integrity has to be an action word. 

Saturday, February 12, 2011

On Integrity: A post in three parts, with apologies to Ira Glass.

Around 1999 or so, when I was in the beginning of my first "single" phase (a phase which would stretch for, gosh, an entire four months), I remember people describing me as having integrity. It happened often enough that I started to believe it. I don't think I understood what it meant -- I'm not sure I know even now -- but it felt good, solid. Sober. 

By the time I bottomed out in 2007, no one would have listed "integrity" as one of my descriptors. I had tossed that attribute to the side and left it behind, right along with indoor plumbing. I knew what I needed to do: Leave a destructive relationship, gather up my daughter, and realign my priorities -- but I was so immobilized I found myself completely incapable of moving even a millimeter in that direction. That inability to budge filled me with despair, hopelessness, and shame in a way I hope I never feel again.

About a month ago, a friend told me I have integrity. That caught my attention, and served as a happy little progress report. Since then, I've been thinking about the concept of integrity -- what it is, how I lost it, and how I can get it back. 

I have a feeling that integrity is like humility -- if you're sure you have it, you probably don't really have it. But for now, I'll settle for a working definition. The dictionary isn't much help, here, frankly. So how about this: I have integrity if my insides match my outsides; if my thoughts match my actions. 

Sounds good, anyway.

What follows is the first of three posts that examine the concept of integrity from different, but uniformly personal, angles.

On integrity. Part One: Juliet, oh Juliet, how do I judge thee? 

I have a good friend who has very specific ideas about who's beautiful and who's not. Indeed, there are certain physical features about which my friend is very, very picky. Anything short of the classic, perfect Greco-Roman ideal, she feels, is just plain unsightly. It’s kind of like how judges look at show dogs: Tail carried a little too high, nose too narrow, cowhocked, with a bit of an overbite... Such a poor creature is lovable in its way, but beautiful? No, certainly not beautiful.

I'm really glad I don't often think that way; at least, I don’t think I do. It’s one of the things I like about myself: I’m able to see beauty where a lot of people don’t. I realize it's not a unique, or even rare, gift. But a gift it is, and I’m grateful for it. Long nose, tiny eyes, a speech impediment, overweight, back hair, one leg longer than the other, bald.... I really don’t care. Or to be more accurate, my better self doesn’t care. As cliched as it sounds, for me beauty really does come from the inside, through the eyes and hands and smile and, well, you get the idea. However that beauty manifests itself physically is pretty much okie dokey with me.

But the rest of me, the darker me, is all too aware that a lot of other people do care about things like weight and eyes and hair. And that really bites, because I care way too much about what other people think. So, much to my dismay, I sometimes find myself judging people, especially potential mates, through the eyes of those others. 

Which brings me to online dating. For a shopper like me, online dating is almost as good as EBay. Hundreds of women to choose from, and most of them really are beautiful. But with each set of photos I view, the light shines a little brighter on my character defects.

Last time around, I had a list of 18 “must-have” characteristics for potential partners. It was a pretty good list, too. (I thought my ex-partner fulfilled every single requirement. That, dear readers, is called denial.)

I haven’t made a list this time. No need to, because my character defects are making it for me. There’s this little toxic spot in my brain that subjects each woman to exacting criteria that are even more superficial than those of my friend.

So. Who am I willing to date? Someone much younger than me? How about someone much older? A woman who is very heavy? Tragically thin? What about a transgender woman? Or someone androgynous? For that matter, what about a guy? I'm pretty sure I've narrowed it down to women, but some are pretty butch, and... God, what if I'm not gay after all?

And as all this is roiling, I’m getting mighty uncomfortable. Because by now, two thoughts have started to sprout through the mush in my brain: 

Wow, she sounds really terrific! But.... but what would people think?

Now, when my daughter was growing up, I never allowed myself to use that phrase, "What will people think?" If she picked out loud plaid pants to wear with a wild flowered shirt, I just gulped and kept my mouth shut. (Well, okay... I would enthusiastically pronounce to the day care that she had picked out her own clothes that day, and wasn’t it fabulous.). If my kid picked out two different colors of socks, I wore different-colored socks, too.

But still, there it is: What will people think if I go out with someone who’s that young/old/small/large/masculine/feminine/loud/soft? Will they think I believe she’s the best I can do?

And then, an even worse thought sprouts: But she IS the best I can do.

Which, you know, kind of takes the thunder out of my being all open-minded and spiritual and everything. It's an insult not only to myself but also to the woman whose profile I'm viewing. Worse, it keeps me from seeing the true red flags, things that really should give me pause. Really, it's just despicable on all kinds of levels.

To the extent that I let somebody else define who I'll date and who I won't, my ability to see beauty is meaningless and bankrupt. Being unwilling to see is worse, I am sure, than being incapable of it. That goes for the "good" characteristics and for the not-so-good.

For me to regain integrity, I have to do the near-impossible: Develop my own set of criteria, ignore everybody else's superficial standards, yet still be open to the wisdom of others so I don't make any really stupid-ass mistakes. If I can do all that, I may or may not get the girl, but at least my insides will match my outsides. It's a tall order. I hope I'm up for it. 

Shit. Where the hell is that list? 

Next in part two: I pledge allegiance to the flag... er, flags.