Monday, June 6, 2011

Things I Meant to Do Before My 20th College Reunion

I am going to my twenty year college reunion this weekend.



Which would mean that I started college TWENTY FOUR years ago.

How did that happen? I don't feel that much older. I'm sure I don't LOOK that much older. My hair is still red*. I have no wrinkles**. I may have gained a little weight***, sure, but hasn't everyone?****
Fine, I probably look every day of my 42 years, but since I am an artist who lives in Granolaville, I don't even think about that most of the time. If I want to feel pretty, I just go to Walmart***** for twenty minutes.

But I honestly don't feel that much different than I did the day I graduated, or even the day my parents dropped me off at the Vassar farm and I realized I was alone in a state where I literally did not know one single person. I was a clueless 18-22 year old with very little idea of what I wanted out of life, and I spent the next five or six years going to school for a degree I finally realized I did not want. So I spent another year in school to get a degree in library science. With my MLS, I partially supported myself for the next decade and a half. Unless you are married, independently wealthy, or enjoy living in a wigwam made of empty packing crates, there is no way to support yourself on a public librarian's salary. But the nice thing about being a public librarian is that the whole time you are thinking about applying for food stamps, you can keep telling yourself "But My Job Is Important. I Am Helping People. I Am Making A Contribution To Society".

I was able to be a librarian Contributing To Society mainly because my parents were contributing to my bank account.

Being a librarian was possibly the only time in my life since I was 17 that I viewed the future without ongoing nameless dread. I hated college at first. I was homesick, I missed my family, my friends, and most of all my boyfriend. Eventually I settled in and by my sophomore year I loved it, had friends, was involved in activities, and was sorry when winter and summer breaks interrupted my life. Junior year was more of the same, but by senior year I realized, "Hey. This ENDS."

I had no idea what to do next. Hence, the misguided grad school years, and falling into my library career mostly by accident.

Now, packing for my 20 year reunion, I still don't know what to do next. I thought I'd have accomplished a lot more by now. I definitely did not think I would be living in my parents' basement without any appreciable income, single, childless, and somewhat crazy. My classmates all seem way more advanced in Life than me, but then, on some level, they always did. The whole time I was at Vassar I kept looking around me thinking "Who are these beautiful, self assured people? Has there been some kind of mistake? Why am I here? Did the admissions committee just need someone from the Midwest for this class?"

You'd think that someone who felt that way then, and still feels a lot like that now, wouldn't even bother to go to a reunion. And believe me, I've agonized about it plenty. Part of me is dreading it. But that's why I feel like I have to go. If I don't do, aren't I just admitting that I never did fit in at Vassar, and it was all a big mistake that ruined my life?

I do not believe "Things happen for a reason", in fact, I think that's one of the most offensive statements ever invented, and mostly amounts to blaming the victim.^* So I don't think that I Went To Vassar For a Reason, because if so, that reason might just as well have been to destroy any thoughts of a musical career and ruin my self confidence almost beyond repair as anything. And when people say that things happen for a reason, they usually don't mean something icky as the end point. They mean that something bad happens to clear the way for something good....well. Maybe it just hasn't happened yet, but I still think this concept is bullshit.

But I do feel the need to reconnect with my alma mater at least one last time, and see if I can figure out exactly how it fits....or doesn't.... into the rest of my life. After I lost my job and realized I'd have to sell my house and move home, I re-evaluated my life as harshly as possible, and I did not like most of what I found. It scared me to realize that most of my failures could possibly be traced back to Vassar. Such as quitting the cello, because of an asshole music professor with an inferiority complex. And quitting acting, because I wasn't pretty enough to be taken seriously. And never taking a studio art class, because the artsy things that interested me were sneered at as crafts. Giving up on singing, when I'd always wanted to be in an acapella group, because I had one bad audition and never tried out again. Never taking a writing class, because I was too scared.

College is supposed to be a time to expand your horizons, but I felt so insecure at Vassar that that the main expanding I experienced was that of my waistline. Which only made everything worse, since I now felt out of place, untalented, AND ugly. And, after years of being one of the top students in the class, suddenly I was near the middle at best. I'd never felt stupid before. I'd never written a paper longer than three or four pages, and had it not been for taking classes at I.U. my last semester of high school, I think the academic work load alone would have sent me home.

What I did do was develop a political consciousness, and I spent most of my time on some form of political activism, which I don't consider a complete waste.....except, I'm not sure if it's done anything except make me an angrier person. I did make wonderful friends who I treasure. But I wasn't much of a friend to myself during college. So I guess I'm going back to see if I can figure out what made me stop liking myself, and if its too late to start again.

*As red as the first time I dyed it...actually, probably redder now. Seeing as I used to put the color over dark brown hair instead of white.
**I highly recommend extremely oily skin and being fat if you want fewer wrinkles with no botox. Works like a fucking charm.
***Hey, at least I don't have wrinkles, haters.
****At least those of us who can't afford lipsuction, personal trainers, or surrogates to bear our three or four sets of twins
*****No, I don't buy anything. Not only do I hate Walmart and think they are the devil, I also don't have any money.
^* Yes, I do have a standard, full blown rant on this topic. Please contact me if you need the full version. Especially if you feel like getting smacked.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why no, I don't agree to disagree.

Unless you live under a rock, or in a country that treats humans like humans even if they aren't billionaires*, you might have noticed that political sentiments are running high these days. Personally, I think this is a good thing, but then again, I've lived my entire life like this pretty much since before I understood what politics were.

When I got to college, I realized that all of my opinions weren't just called opinions, they were actually part of a larger cloud called Politics. And by Politics, I don't mean, things involving government or at least, not just those things. At Vassar, in the late 80s and early 90s, your politics were much more than democrat or republican. Were you a capitalist or a socialist or maybe a Marxist? What about feminism? Moderate, militant, or separatist? Gay rights? What about bisexuality: just a stage or not? What about animal rights? Environmentalism: were you species-ist? "Politics" wasn't limited to how you voted; your politics were how you viewed the world.

In other words, as we learned over and over again, The Personal Is Political. Your politics and your self are not two separate entities. You are your politics, because they are your personal philosophy and way of connecting to the world.

It amazes me that in this day and age, I still have to explain this concept to people. Although, usually the people who don't understand this have never had to understand it. Politics become personal very quickly when, say, you have to sit at the back of a bus. Or you can't marry the person you love. Or when you need a medical procedure and can't get it because a group of zealots have chained themselves together in front of a clinic.

As most young people do, I assumed my college experience was fairly typical. Of course, it wasn't then, and it certainly isn't now. I think the one thing all Vassar grads agree on, especially as we get farther from it, is how atypical our education was. There are people who graduated from college around the same time I did, who even went to small liberal arts schools, who hardly gave politics a thought. And since I graduated in 1991, young people seem to have moved farther and farther from politics as student activity. I've lived in college towns all of my life except for when I was actually in college, and the activism seems to be almost non-existent. Which, if it isn't needed, is great. Although I'm not sure that's the case.

I fell out of my strident political activism sometime after the mid 90s, when I finished grad school. I got a "real" job and played at being a grown up for a decade or so. I thought it was time for the next generation to take up the banners for a while.....but apparently they didn't. I was shocked when I started reading "feminist" magazines again a few years ago and discovered that in the 21st century, the main issues twentysomething feminists talked about had to do with the politics of bikini waxing and knitting in public. No more Take Back the Night marches, apparently.

Maybe part of the reason politics were so important at Vassar at the end of the 20th century was because, after years of being the most liberal of all the Eastern schools except for maybe Brown**, Bennington***, and Sarah Lawrence****, we were inundated with a a new breed of students. These were people who apparently couldn't make it into their first, second, or even fifth choice schools. By which I mean, schools where you could be rich, mean, loud, conservative and fit in seamlessly. At Vassar, you could definitely be mean and rich, and you could even be Republican and mean and rich. But combine all of the above, and you stood out so much that your only hope was to create your own clique so you could have some friends.

You think I'm joking? Do the names Richard Miniter or Marc Thiessen ring a bell? No? What about Liz Murdoch? Her dad's first name is Rupert, by the way.

I cut my political teeth at Vassar, and it should be no surprise that then, as now, I was on the opposite side of the barricades as my wealthier, more infamous classmates. While Rich and Marc wrote for The Vassar Spectator, a newspaper funded by Liz's pop, my friends and I wrote for and published a feminist newspaper called Womanspeak. We didn't have any billionaire dads helping us out, so our little rag wasn't as slick as the Spec. What we lacked in funding and layout programs, we made up for with intelligence, good writing, and sheer obnoxiousness....and for our trouble, got smacked down in many a Spectator editorial. It might have been all in good fun, except, those people have been and still are shaping the political discourse of the far right.

So maybe I've had a little longer to think all this through than everyone else, because I came up against their hateful rhetoric earlier than most. We were college kids back then, and we were all, quite honestly, kind of assholes. The difference is, the members of Womanspeak aren't feeding the right wing monster that's destroying our country.

Which brings me, at long and tortured last, to my point.

So often, I hear liberals/progressives***** say things like "Oh, well, we can agree to disagree!" or "Let's just not talk about politics!" or something like "No matter what you believe, I'll always love you!"

And I honestly want to smack those people.

Not the Teapublicans. No. Their need for smacking should, at this point, no longer even need saying. The Republican party has made it very clear that they hate gays, that they wish to restrict not only access to abortion but to health care for women in general, that no one but the wealthy deserves to have health care anyway and now, with their blatant union-busting, they've made it all too clear that in this America, working for a living means that you should scramble for the few crumbs the corporations are willing to toss your way, and you should be delighted and eternally grateful for the privilege.******

No, the people I'm annoyed with in this instance are the supposed liberals, or should I say, progressives.

Side note:
I've noticed that those of us who still use the word "liberal" tend to be a lot less apologetic about our politics. Maybe that's because we're old or something; I don't know. Maybe it's because we just think "progressive" has too many s's. Maybe it's because "progressive" doesn't always mean "progress" in a good way, it can also just mean going forward in time, without any real benefit. Like a cancer that progresses, because it is growing, but that isn't a positive kind of growth.
End of side note

Whatever word you use, I'm just plain, flat out tired of always being expected to act as though ALL points of view are equally valid. Because, newsflash: THEY ARE NOT.

I know. I have just broken an essential rule of liberalism, which is to always respect other points of view. But, guess what. If you're a bigot, and hateful, and spend most of your time trying to keep other people down, then I reserve the right to tell you to fuck off, no explanation needed, and NO APOLOGY.

I'm done with other liberals making me feel like I'm somehow not liberal enough because I don't want to play nice.

Why the hell SHOULD I play nice with people who would like nothing better than to see me and most of my friends even worse off than we already are?? And in the name of all that is decent and right, why the hell would I want to be FRIENDS with people who believe the things I enumerated above? There are lots of things you can agree to disagree about: Sports teams. White after Labor Day. Spit or swallow. Beatles or Rolling Stones. Toilet paper over or under. Beets as a food.

But why in the world would you want to be friends with people who disagree with you about basic tenets of life? Why would I want to be friends with people who think poor people don't deserve to have health care? Who hate gay people? Who think Glenn Beck has anything worth saying to anyone, anywhere??? What possible redeeming quality could someone like that honestly have that I would want near me by choice?

I understand that you don't get to choose your family. But, you CAN decide how much contact you have with your family. Because, you see, I also know plenty of people disowned by their own families. So, because their families didn't agree with them, in this case usually their sexual orientation, they were unchosen by their families. Because it is more important to please an imaginary man in the sky than, you know, love your own son.

And you don't get to choose who you work around. I am all too aware of working in close quarters with fucking crazy ass republican fundamentalists. Even I tried to keep my mouth shut, but in my case, I would have had to remove my entire head for that to help.

But all of that is different than having friends you choose.

Now, I hear lots of you saying "But...but...but". Let's look at your butts. I mean, your buts.

".....what about learning from each other?"
"...what about reaching across the aisle?"
"....what about working together?"

Really? Do you see Republicans as being willing to do any of these things?? Ever? This is a party built upon lies. This is a party filled with hate, and which sees nothing wrong with discounting enormous groups of people based on nothing except bigotry. Why would you WANT to learn from them?

And, again, if there are people who still call themselves Republicans when by doing so they throw themselves in with the worst of their kind, yet who don't necessarily agree with some of the most radical views, well, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr:

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

So, lets look at those "buts" again, and see where you can agree to disagree:


"What about my jogging partner, Susie, who thinks all fat people are stupid and lazy? Can't we agree to disagree, even though my best friend is overweight and I know she's not lazy or stupid?"

"What about my friends I have coffee with on Tuesdays who all talk about how Jews control the media? Can't we agree to disagree about that, even though I think anti-semitism is wrong and horrible?"

"What about my neighbor's friend who is running for office on a union busting platform? Surely we can agree to disagree on this, even though I belong to a union and without it, I'll lose all the money I've paid into my pension?"

"What about my friend Joe, who thinks gay people should be sent to camps? Can't we agree to disagree on this, even though I have a gay son I adore and support?"

"I know WalMart is responsible for the destruction of the mom and pop grocery store, like the one that my family friends ran for 40 years until WalMart came to town. Can't we agree to disagree, and they won't be angry with me for shopping there now that they're homeless and live in a van?"

"What about Aunt FooFoo, who works for Operation Rescue? Can't we agree to disagree, even though I would have died if I hadn't been able to have a mammogram at Planned Parenthood?"

If you are one of those people who can, somehow, agree to disagree, well, good for you. Know that I am not one of you, and I never will be.

And I'm fine with that.

*Hint:not this one.

**lots of drugs,but still an Ivy

***very, very rich; student body mostly expelled from everywhere else because of drugs

****close enough to Manhattan to get really serious drugs; also,too small to matter

*****whatever term we're trying to use to not upset conservatives too much these days

******Oh, and just in case you want to have one of those "discussions" where you tell me that I shouldn't paint all Republicans with the same brush, because it isn't fairrrrrrr because they arrrrennnn'tttt ALLLLLL like that, and how maybe I don't know that because I'm a complete idiot who needs to have things explained to her in words of two or fewer syllables, well, just don't. Because I guarantee you, I've had that conversation with other people AND myself about seventeen million times. Starting about 20 years ago. And I've probably thought about it in way more detail than you have, because I'm totally comfortable with it, and you're still trying to "discuss" it. When a party has become so crazily far to the right, if you stay a part of it, well, you ARE tarred with their brush, and you deserve to be. If you aren't part of the solution, people, you most certainly are part of this problem.

I can go on about this. At great, unwanted, frighteningly mind numbing length. Way, way longer than this, and I can tell you're already annoyed. Believe me. This is nothing. Stop now, while you have a chance to escape.