Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer Vacation

Hi All,

As is patently obvious, I do not have the time these days to appropriately and competently blog. My writing time is being devoted to the class, from which I hope to create a few publishable items. Which means the time--and material--I have for poor old SSHaggis is limited. So rather than intermittently suck, I'm going to take another sabbatical.

Thanks for reading and for checking back. To tide you over I am linking to Bill Shatner doing Sarah Palin's retirement speech. It is beat poetry at its finest.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Arrested for Being Black and Loud


The story of august and respected Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates being arrested on suspicion of breaking into HIS OWN HOME. The police report states that he was actually arrested for being disorderly and "tumultuous" with the police officer. Oh, you mean the police officer standing in YOUR house demanding to see YOUR ID to prove that YOU live in YOUR house?!! So apparently Dr. Gates showed his Harvard ID but none too happily, which devolved into being arrested for not being pleasant about being asked to prove he lived in his own house.

This is racist. This is racist. If you can't figure out why, I'm not sure I can help you because this is SO OBVIOUS. See all these ALL CAPS? That's when you know I'm pissed off on my blog. Imagine this scenario with a white distinguished professor at Harvard. A white woman sees a bespectacled older white man with a cane leaning into his door with a friend trying to open it. She immediately assumes these older gentlemen are obviously breaking into a house not their own. Why else would two white men be messing with a stuck door? When the police arrive, the white man takes umbrage at being asked to prove that he lives in his own house. He shows ID under protest, but is arrested anyway for being rude to the police officer because obviously anyone of any color and any social stature is arrested for yelling at a police officer who is, at this point, in your home with no cause.

How do you think that would play in the media? And yet, with Dr. Gates we have all the white people commenting that he should just have kept calm and showed his ID without getting all mad (read = uppity). Think about that. Some cop walks into YOUR house and demands proof that it's your house. You offer proof, and instead of saying, "Well, sorry about the misunderstanding" the officer remains unsure that the home is yours and arrests you for being pissed that he's in your house.

Officer, take a fucking look around at all the photos of ME in the house! Take a look at my cane! Look at my khaki pants and designer blazer, not to mention MY HARVARD ID. Do I look like I'm the profile to be breaking and entering in the light of day?

This entire situation is bullshit. First, the woman who made the call, who also (maybe, used to, at this point) works for Harvard. Every assumption about black men came into play with that phone call. She ignored every indication that this was not a B&E: his age, his physical condition, his deportment. All she saw was "Black Guy Struggling With Door" = obvious crime in progress. Let's all examine our own hearts and vow to not be this woman.

Second, the police officer. Completely ill-equipped to deal with this situation from a social, emotional and professional perspective. I'm certain that Dr. Gates asked for this man's badge number. The article stated that Dr. Gates wanted to get the Chief of Police on the line, and shouted that the officer did not know who he was dealing with. Well, that much is true. This is a clusterfuck from the word Go, and it should be put in training manuals going forward. For example, if you arrive at a potential B&E to find the avuncular owner of the property in residence after struggling with his door, consider your work here done. And do understand that you've just invaded and violated a person's home by accusing him of breaking into it.

All I'm saying is two things: Simply imagine yourself in Dr. Gates' situation and ask yourself if you wouldn't get "tumultuous" as well. I sure would. And also recognize that this type of insidious racism exists. I mean, how much does a black man have to achieve, how much money does he need to earn, how much of a beautiful home in Cambridge must he live in, in order to not be randomly considered a criminal? That woman most likely doesn't dislike black people, but when she saw this situation all she saw was a criminal. That is the bone-deep, reflexive racism we all have to root out and destroy within ourselves. Racism is a cancer on our society, but as the great philosopher Sting once sang, "Men go crazy in congregations; they only get better one by one."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Senate Follies

Some beautiful nuggets from the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings, all from Republicans of course:

First, a lack of basic civility and manners:

SEN. JON KYL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Judge, could I return briefly to a series of questions that Senator Feingold asked at the very beginning relating to the Maloney decision relating to the Second Amendment.


KYL: Yes...

SOTOMAYOR: Good afternoon, by the way.

KYL: Oh, I'm sorry?

SOTOMAYOR: Good afternoon, by the way.

KYL: Yes, good afternoon. You had indicated, of course, if that case were to come before the court, under the recusal statute, you would recuse yourself from participating in the decision.

Next, an apparent belief that judges of the same ethnicity should vote the same way:

SESSIONS: You voted not to reconsider the prior case. You voted to stay with the decision of the circuit. And in fact your vote was the key vote. Had you voted with Judge Cabranes, himself of Puerto Rican ancestry, had you voted with him, you could’ve changed that case. Sessions then deemed Sotomayor "unsuitable for the bench" because she had been involved with the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF). Sessions was obviously unaware that Judge Cabranes also served on PRLDEF’s board.

And, of course, Lindsey Graham, whose questioning of Sotomayor is available here http://www.washingtonpost.com. Did he let her answer even one question? He pretty much just listed his grievances, asked his moronic questions ("Do you understand military law?" Well, NO, idiot), and then moved on to his next talking point. I think Sotomayor spoke about 5 times, Graham about 50. What this transcript doesn't reflect is the sneering self-satisfaction of Graham as he's performing.

Each of these examples leads me to wonder under what circumstances the GOP will ever win the Latino vote again. It's less the questioning and more the attitude, the condescension, the cluelessness with which the questions are asked. These guys are relics and they seem not to know it. Which can only be good for the Dems. Viva le GOP!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oh Snap, Sessions!

From the Washington Wire:

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), seeking to discredit Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy, cited her 2001 “wise Latina” speech, and contrasted the view that ethnicity and sex influence judging with that of Judge Miriam Cedarbaum, who “believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices.”

Associated Press
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.), ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, questions Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, during her confirmation hearing before the committee Tuesday. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R., Utah) is at left.
“So I would just say to you, I believe in Judge Cedarbaum’s formulation,” Sessions told Sotomayor.

“My friend Judge Cedarbaum is here,” Sotomayor riposted, to Sessions’ apparent surprise. “We are good friends, and I believe that we both approach judging in the same way, which is looking at the facts of each individual case and applying the law to those facts.”

Cedarbaum agreed.

“I don’t believe for a minute that there are any differences in our approach to judging, and her personal predilections have no effect on her approach to judging,” she told Washington Wire. “We’d both like to see more women on the courts,” she added.

Cedarbaum, a pioneering woman lawyer who graduated from Columbia Law School in 1953, goes way back with both participants in the colloquy. Cedarbaum mentored Sotomayor after she joined the federal district court in Manhattan in 1992, and they have been close friends ever since.

In 1986, Cedarbaum and Sessions were both nominated to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan, and were members of the same orientation class for future judges. Their paths then diverged, however. Cedarbaum was confirmed, but Sessions nomination floundered over a controversy surrounding comments he made involving the Ku Klux Klan and the NAACP.

Bad Mommy

I’m thinking about starting a sister blog entitled The Bad Mommy Chronicles. Why? Because every week I tend to commit some kind of parenting malfeasance. If such a blog did exist this week it would be gettting updated hourly because I have had a bonanza of parenting malfunctions.

Let us begin with my child’s vegetarianism. You’ll recall that she’s five. And now an avowed vegetarian. If it weren’t for her obsession with cheese she’d be a vegan and probably 20 pounds, so vive le fromage mes amis. The difficulty level of her vegetarianism is this: she says she hates meat, but eats chicken nuggets. She says she hates beef, but eats Hebrew National hot dogs. She says she prefers soy, but barely nibbles the soy dogs and soy nuggets. All of which means, IMHO, that she likes the idea of being vegetarian but not the actual practice.

In any case, this week we made dumplings. Some of which contained beef hot dog cut up into tiny dumpling-filling size. She LOVED it, eating about three of them in swift succession. When she asked what it was, we kind of hedged. She ate more. So now the dilemma presents itself: do we tell her it is beef, or lie and tell her it is soy? My money is on lying, which is what I did. I didn’t necessarily say it was soy, but I didn’t go out of my way to yell, “Proudly presenting beef in your dumpling!” I made a jokey reference to it on facebook and got a few offline and online smackdowns for lying to my child, and breaching her trust vis a vis her ethical sensibilities. I felt bad about it, but then got the absolution from my old rabbi (the greater good is that she grows healthy and strong) as well as my mother (“A 5 year-old does not dictate what is for dinner. Who is in charge over there?!”)

So here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to obfuscate when it comes to the meat in her food. And you know what? I’m okay with that. When she weighs more than a 2 year-old and is making her own food, she can eat or not eat whatever she wants. While I still have to make sure she consumes some kind of protein at every meal rather than constant mac and cheese and carbohydrates, I’m serving her protein-filled stuff she’ll eat. Even—and especially—if it’s meat.

When she’s older I will treat it much like people treat the issue of Santa. Yes we sort of lied to you, but it was in the interest of you experiencing the magical joy of giving and peace on earth. In this case, it is in the interest of her experiencing the magical joy of, you know, growing taller and maintaining brain development. Have a holly jolly hot dog, darling!

Next up, I made my child cry tears of bitter disappointment, and all because I wanted to chit chat with the mommies. She told me in no uncertain terms that when I picked her up at camp yesterday I was to stay in the car, because only little kids’ moms get out of the car and go get them. Big kids just come out of camp and jump in the car all by themselves. I was so thrilled that she was excited to do big kid stuff. When I got there at pickup time, I saw her friend’s mom behind me in her car, so I jumped out to kibbitz.
Unfortunately, the kids were let out a few minutes early and she came running out to the car, all wide-eyed and smiling and drunk with Big Girl power—until she saw me standing outside the car. All of a sudden her eyes filled with tears, her lips started quivering, and she said quietly, “Mama, you promised you’d stay in the car.” I said, “Oops! I’ll jump in right now!” But the magic was gone. The tears came, the sadness, the agony of having her Big Girl Moment stolen from her by mean old chatty cathy mama. I gave her all my explanations and promises to really do it next time, but she was inconsolable at the loss of something she had obviously been thinking about and planning and looking forward to all day. If that afternoon had a headline it would have been, “MOTHER RUINS BIG GIRL’S DEBUTANTE MOMENT.” I really did feel bad because I could see how much it had meant to her.

She finally recovered from the disappointment when I promised that we’d do a Big Girl Dropoff the next morning wherein she would get out of the car all by herself and I would stay in it no matter what. However, the Bad Mommy struck again. I may have mentioned that Bambina likes Vitamin Water. I grabbed a couple of bottles on sale and gave her some at dinner. That night said she had a stomachache and was having trouble getting to sleep. I had to go sit with her until she finally settled down around 9:30pm. Today at lunch I grabbed the bottle to pour myself some, when I noticed that the water was yellower than our usual orange kind, and the small writing on the bottle read, “citrus + guarana.” GUARANA??! Oh my god, I caffeinated my kid at dinner! With some questionable herbal concoction! No wonder she felt unpleasant and sleepless, which I now felt, but for entirely different reasons. I called the BBDD to confess, as if he was the parental licensing board. He was so solicitous that it made me feel worse.

In any case, I’m 0 for 3 for 24 hours. Stay tuned, because the day ain’t over yet.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Writing Class: Week Two

Oh, it just keeps getting better, folks! Not necessarily my writing, mind you. But certainly the entertainment value of the characters in my class. Allow me to go around the room:

1. Me. Nutty as a fruitcake. My writing? Too much about me, not enough about the subject. Or rather, the subject as seen by me, rather than the subject as it is. Kind of a metaphor for how I roll, isn't it? Sad to say. But I'm havin' fun!

2. Next to me, Cloris Leachman. Sans the humor.

3. Next to her, Lewis Black's unfunny cousin. Best exchange of the night from this man who has taken four Memoir classes?
"I have literally no memories of my life. I don't remember anything, so I tend to make stuff up."
Teacher: "Please don't say that out loud to anyone else, because that's not memoir, that's fiction."
Him: "Ah, it's all the same." Okaaaay. Just don't piss off Oprah with your lying, okay?

4. Next, the Shaman. With a simultaneously effeminate yet overly-deep voice. He's had so many professions I can't begin to list them, but "shaman" is one that I recall from his bio in the first class. Leading me to wonder, how does one become a shaman? Are there courses for that too? And can you decide, as this man did, to just pack it in and go be a lawyer? He has found, in his writing, a way to describe water as the sun sets on it. It involves listing as many crayola colors as possible separated by hyphens. His single-spaced three page essay was, for me, unreadable. It reeked, as they say, of effort. Like, how many adjectives can I use to describe this thing? How many ways can I say "went" or "did" without using those words? How can I get my money's worth out of my thesaurus?

5. A professor from Harvard whose writing is fabulous. Sister, why the hell are you in this class?! If I'm uncharitable, I say that it's to embarrass all of us beginners. If I'm less uncharitable, perhaps she is a holdover from the Bush FBI and is infiltrating any and all fat-headed groups to ensure no al-qaeda poets show up.

6. A hippie girl. Ever notice that whenever there is a guy playing the bongo drums in a park that there is at least one hippie chick "dancing" to it, peasant skirt and long hair twirling as she goes? This is that woman. Her writing is florid, full of multi-adjectival clauses and medieval references, all seeking to pay homage to her cat.

7. Jeanne Kirkpatrick. Or at least, her very serious and humorless doppelganger.

8. Robert Redford's brother. In the Kevin-not-Matt-Dillon sense. You can see the genes, but the hot ones went to the other kid. He is actually rather interesting in a completely not-annoying way, as is his writing. So no slam this week on Kevin Redford.

9. Cute Semitic Man. He's cool and he writes beautifully and sparingly. He's also not in a race to Say The Most in class. I appreciate that kind of confidence.

10. My friend, the writer. Just a completely normal human who writes beautifully--and who has the ability to speak volumes with her eyes in this class.

11. Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. Kind of disheveled and utterly silent. It's almost like she was a presence in the room rather than an actual student. I bet she writes like Hemingway.

12. Finally, "It's Pat." She's definitely a woman. But boy does she make you jump through hoops to see it. She's in I.T. Her passion is microorganisms, specifically malaria. She speaks at length in class then follows it up with, "I'm not making any sense; I'll stop now." Courage, woman! Courage! If you're going to expound on one line of a story for 10 minutes, at least have the courage of your convictions to think, "I am talking sense!" Even if you're not.

Money well-spent, kids. Money well-spent.

Friday, July 10, 2009


Bambina has seasonal allergies. She has also been having headaches for a few weeks now. So we took her to the doctor to determine if she has additional seasonal allergies causing the headaches or whether they were a side effect of the meds she was taking for those allergies. At the visit, the doctor decided to do a blood panel to test for specific allergies. Well, let me tell you a story, friends, about that green piece of lab paper.

As soon as Bambina heard the doctor say, "blood test" she immediately began saying, 'I'm not doing that. I'm not doing that. I'm not doing that," as if repetition would make the grownups say, "Oh, okay. Never mind, since you're not doing that." I felt rather bad for her because it took the doctor some time to fill out the green form after having uttered the B word. So the threat was just hanging over her for a good five to six minutes as we sat there watching him write, during which time she kept alternating between, "Mama, do I have to get a needle?" and "I'm not doing that." When he finally finished the sheet, we walked to the lab. Cue the tears, the begging, the pleading. At the lab we encountered MORE waiting, which only gave Bambina more time to perseverate on her impending needle-induced doom, which made her cry louder, start screaming and swaying and generally just lose her shit in the waiting area.

When we were finally called, all hell broke loose. She ran for it. I had to drop my purse and chase after her, I kid you not. Then when I fireman-carried her back, I sat her on my knee in the lab chair. She thrashed and rocked and screamed like she was being abducted. I swear to god, I have never seen her so insane, so feral in my entire life. I had my arms all the way around her body and arms, with her legs stuck behind my legs so she would stop kicking the (rather useless with children, might I add) phlebotomist lady. It was hell on earth. She thrashed so hard I had to let go of her for fear that I might actually break her arm if I held on. I decided that today was not our day and said that we'd return when our heads weren't spinning 360 degrees and we weren't barfing pea soup on a priest.

I realized as we drove home (with an exhausted Bambina slumped asleep in her car seat) that I had violated the Prime Directive of Raising Bambina: No Surprises. This child can do anything if she is mentally prepared. Need to remove a splinter? I have to talk her through it for 15 minutes before she'll let me do it. The entire time I'm saying, "My love, if you'll just let me near your finger we can have this done in 10 seconds..." But she can't and won't do it. She needs to process it and accept it before she can let it happen. Then and only then can I take my 10 seconds and remove the splinter. Same with the dentist. We went for an x-ray and all of a sudden they had her in a chair to do a filling. I could see her Capital F freaking out and I told the dentist we'd come back another day. I'm sure they thought I was some indulgent mother feeding her child's fears, but the truth is that I just simply know what my kid can handle. That filling was not going to happen. One way or another, Bambina was going to sabotage that situation, and I didn't want it to happen post-novocaine or god forbid mid-needle.

But I forgot all of that until my child went rogue at the doctor's office and I painfully realized my error. So we went back two days later. I'm not going to insult your intelligence and say that she was happy, but having had a couple of days to process it, she accepted that this was her fate, that the blood would be taken. She still screamed, but did not kick and thrash. I told her not to look at the needle, to look at me, and to count all the way to 100, because if we made it to 100 we were going to the gift shop to buy one of those cool-looking $2.50 starfish she had been coveting. So there we were, me: "eleven, twelve..." Her: "THIRTEEEEN! FOURTEEEEN! Whimper! Scream! FIFTEEEEEEEEEEEN!" It was still a scene. But not a rout.

I dealt with the whole blood situation with a mixture of shock, horror and pride. I was shocked at the intensity of her reaction and of her physical resistance. I was horrified that she was running--RUNNING--away from me, screaming, in public. I was proud of her because (as I said to the BBDD that night) "this kid is not going down without a fight." Think about it. This 30 pound child outwitted, outlasted and outthrashed two grown adults. Two adults could not hold her. She was like Rodney King on PCP. I was proud because it spoke to a survival instinct; one that I never want her to lose. I told the BBDD, when the revolution comes, this child will not be against the wall. She will pummel the damn wall down and run for the hills. She will survive where others perish, because if this is how she reacts to 80 seconds of a needle, I can't fathom what she's got up her sleeve for something truly serious.

I have a little notebook in which I write to her, about her. It contains all of her first words, her first steps, and other milestones she'll perhaps want to know when she's older. In today's entry, I told her this story and finished with:

"When some people see you, they will see a cute, sweet, tiny, petite pretty girl. Those people will underestimate you at their peril." I sure did.

Louis Louis

Perhaps the funniest riff I've ever heard on having kids, by comedian Louis CK. It's long--and rather dirty--but so funny I was crying laughing. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Creative Writing I and II

So I'm taking a writing class. This particular class deals with the effective writing of essays, which seem to be my stock in trade. It's interesting to learn that there are different techniques for writing quality essays, depending on what effect you wish them to have. So in that regard, I'm enjoying it even if I feel like I'm a little bit in over my head, especially since we are "workshopping" which means we all read and comment on each other's work. I'm taking the class with a friend who is a fabulous and accomplished writer, so I derive comfort from having her there to discuss the work. But can we talk about the rest of the class for a moment? I recognize that perhaps these groups are like AA, so I'm not supposed to judge lest I be judged. But, seriously, folks. At least 80% of this class seems to be populated by what I can only call Professional Writing Class Attendees.

We went around the room for introductions/background/favorite books, etc. Me? "Hi, I'm E. I was in nonprofit and political work before being a stay-at-home. I write a blog read by tens of people. I'd like to learn how to do it better and to perhaps expand some previous posts for potential publishing. This is my first class ever. My favorite author is Flannery O'Connor." Almost everyone else: "Hi, I'm Jimbob. I work in IT for a major publishing company I won't name. Heh heh. This is my seventh course. I took Memoir I, Memoir II, Navelgazing III, Character Sketch I and II, Creative Nonfiction and Publishers: Friend or Foe." I'd like to find out how to have my book on antiques published. My favorite authors in no particular order are (insert 9 names here)...I'm hoping to get (insert long-winded somethingorother here) out of this class."

At first these introductions made me feel scared, like, wow, I am so green. How will my writing measure up to the writing of these experienced individuals? They are totally going to hate my writing, so lacking in formal writing education that it is. Oh my god, should I have taken Memoir I and Memoir II before doing this? Sh*t! Why didn't I sign up for Character Sketch I For Beginners before jumping into this Intermediate level class?!! I have no business being here! GAAAH! Then I gave myself the same advice I give Bambina when she is overtired and getting jiggy and silly: "Calm your body down now. Let's calm our bodies, okay?" So I took a breath, settled down, and decided to just let it happen. If I suck, I suck. It's not like I'm getting a grade. It's not like the world will open up and swallow me if Jimbob hates my essay. Let's assume these are all nice people, however literarily fat-headed, who aren't getting psyched up to wield a red pen on poor E's beginner works.

But then I got worked up again as we read Death of a Moth by Virginia Woolf. I was thinking, "Wow, this is the most boring thing I've ever read." Meanwhile, the rest of the class was waxing rhapsodic on how "it was at this point in the narrative that I really started to care about the moth," and "I can sense the narrator's ambivalence when she writes...." It was like people were competing to say the most erudite thing about anything we read. Meanwhile, I got none of those erudite things from the essay. None of them. So cue the internal drama once again: Oh my god, I don't get literature, I shouldn't be here..." Then we read Sacagawea by Sherman Alexie, whom I love, and I felt better, realizing that I don't have to like everything or pretend to just for the benefit of my classmates. I felt immensely better after the class when I confided my heresy to my accomplished writer friend, who said, "Oh my god! 'I started to care about the moth'?! I still don't care about the moth! That was boring!" I love her. For being so real--and for being real enough to not feel like she has to compete to be the "literati" of the class.

So this is my plan: Learn to write essays. Have fun doing it. Have fun exploring new things that make me feel unqualified. Live in that uncertainty and enjoy it. Know that I am SO using these people and this class as fodder for my first book. :)

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Resignation Consternation

Please promise me you will watch--or at least read--the Sarah Palin resignation speech:

Wowity wow wow wow. I generally don't find myself speechless about speeches, but darlings, Governor Palin has shut my mouth. A week ago I could not conceive of a political speech that would "out-Sanford" Mark Sanford's, but here we are. I can only describe it as manic, rambling, bizarre and delivered in precisely the same way in which I delivered the "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" mandatory speech back in high school. You know of which I speak: when you have memorized something for immediate consumption, and you must breathlessly blurt it as fast as you can in order to not forget any of it; pausing for effect = death.

What to make of this speech's content, then? She talks at length about all the "wasted" money spent investigating her dealings, and how that is not fair to the people of Alaska. She talks about the attacks on her new baby Trig. And then she boils it down to the fact that she doesn't want to be a lame duck governor who will "travel around the state, to the Lower 48 (maybe), overseas on international trade - as so many politicians do. And then I thought - that's what's wrong - many just accept that lame duck status, hit the road, draw the paycheck, and "milk it". I'm not putting Alaska through that - I promised efficiencies and effectiveness! That's not how I am wired."

So is that the choice? Stay and be a milker, or resign and be noble? How about staying and--since you are not facing reelection--be bold for the people of Alaska without regard to your electoral prospects? It could be liberating, and it's been done before by many many people. Which raises the questions: Why resign? Why now? Why so speedily? Why the nod to the unfair investigations? Well, the thought is afoot that some kind of corruption scandal is about to break, regarding state contracts awarded to companies who essentially built her house for free, among other things.

Time will tell. Is this really about family and the good people of Alaska? Or is it about something more? We'll find out. In the meantime, we can take heart with the following wise words to the people of Alaska from Governor Palin: "Our destiny to be reached by responsibly developing our natural resources. This land, blessed with clean air, water, wildlife, minerals, AND oil and gas. It's energy! God gave us energy."