Trying to drain my swamp, and have a cookie.

It has been a struggle to form coherent and meaningful ideas in my head these days. This is my swamp – filled with Twitter hashtags, Facebook feeds, editorials, vitriol, Trump’s transition team. Perhaps, with a president elect who communicates through disingenuous and poorly formed ideas in 140 characters or less, this will be okay – perhaps an inability to effectively communicate is part of the “new normal” I keep hearing about.

Fnding time and space to allow my thoughts to try to reassemble – to find the signal in the noise as Nate Silver has always, until the 2016 Election, been able to do, remains a challenge. I considered deleting all the “social” media, but like an accident one cannot look away from, I keep returning. I feel like I am still waiting for people to see how badly they got played – are still being played – by believing that SOCIAL media is NEWS media. I am waiting for people to see that when China warns you about bad environmental policies, Germany is leery of your understanding of human rights, and Netanyahu says be better to Muslims – to say nothing of Glenn Beck announcing that we have done our nation a terrible disservice electing the likes of Donald Trump – that we have crossed into uncharted territory. This is real. This is happening.

I want to drain my swamp.

I do not even know how to have the conversations that need to be had – the ability to have discourse is gone, one look at the comments on any given news item will make this clear. When presented with unfavorable opinions and ideas, there is always some “news” we can turn to that presents our feelings and opinions as facts. And as we have seen, they are shared and repeated over and over and over until, somehow, they become truisms.

I have likened this impossible kind of conversation to dealing with a small child:

*Toddler takes cookie from cookie jar*
“Stop. You are not allowed to have cookies before dinner.”
“You never told me I could not have cookies.”
“I did, and I am telling you again. Put the cookie down.”
“Put the cookie down, you cannot have a cookie before dinner.”
“I do not have a cookie.”
“You are holding a cookie in your hand. I see the cookie right there.”
“This is not a cookie.”
“It is a cookie, and you need to put it back.”
“My friend said this is not a cookie. It is fruit and cake.”
“You cannot eat that before dinner.”
“You never said I could not have fruit and cake, you said no cookies.”
“So you know I said ‘no cookies’.”
“It doesn’t matter, this is not a cookie.”
“You may not have that before dinner.”
“But I want it! You get cookies! You get everything!”
“I am not eating the cookie.”
“But you will! You will eat my cookie and then I will get nothing!”
“I will not eat the cookie.”
*toddler completely falls to pieces screaming about the non-cookie crushing it and rendering it non existent*
“YOU STOLE MY COOKIE!”

How do you have conversation with people who look at the exact same thing as you and see something totally different? How do you avoid being so totally patronizing – as might be appropriate with the toddler in certain instances? More importantly, now that we have made conversation impossible, and the basis for determining FACTUAL information has disappeared with the ability to always find something on the INTERNET that says what you feel is factual and what you do not believe is a LW or RW media conspiracy?

What do you do when feelings become more important that facts – or completely replace them?

I had my students read this article months ago. The premise is that “a democracy is in a post-factual state when truth and evidence are replaced by robust narratives, opportune political agendas, and impracticable political promises to maximize voter support.”

In class we talked about the impact of “fake” news long before the presidential election results made the rest of the country start getting serious about it. I asked my students if they shared political stories on social media, to which they generally said yes. I asked them is they fact checked the information. They said, no – unless it looked ‘outrageous’. On getting to the point of what in the world might be outrageous in these days, we concluded that things which brought out our negative disbelief were the only things we fact checked. [A couple of them said that they considered me their fact checker, which although mildly flattering is really pretty scary if you take that to any number of logical extensions.]

In spite of the declaration that “the global risk of massive digital misinformation sits at the centre of a constellation of technological and geopolitical risks ranging from terrorism to cyberattacks and the failure of global governance,” from the WEF, no one wants to talk about the cookie in their hand. They want to talk about how they feel about the cookie, or their right to the cookie, or how your criticism of the cookie is unfair/wrong/hurtful/a conspiracy against the truth.

When feelings become more important than realities facing the world [climate change, human rights, for example], we have lost the ability to communicate.

Sitting with this frustration I came across this article [yes, the author is a white male, no, that does not invalidate it], and it provided a clearly articulated (much more than 140 characters, I’m afraid) explanation of so much of what I have been witnessing in my community, my work, the world. If there is a place on the planet that embraces, condones, and validates identity politics, it is Berkeley, California. Interestingly (and many may find, counterintuitively), as many of my intimates know, I have consistently said that Berkeley is the most racist and sexist place I have worked in my entire career. I actually don’t think those labels really accurately express what I have meant. Basically my sense has been that Berkeley is one of the least tolerant places in which I have ever spent time.

This year I have been faced with an even more extreme version of all of this, a result, I would guess, of an incredibly charged political year, but also a consequence of the notion of identity politics. I have students with whom I cannot talk about a growing variety of subjects because the subjects are unsafe for them. While I am not opposed at all to the preservation of safe spaces and acknowledging that trigger warnings are real and must be respected, I find myself constantly stuck in a tough place when I ask a student to meet an academic responsibility and they do not because said responsibility is causing them anxiety/panic/stress/ideological discomfort.

The fixation on diversity in our schools and in the press has produced a generation of liberals and progressives narcissistically unaware of conditions outside their self-defined groups, and indifferent to the task of reaching out to Americans in every walk of life. At a very young age our children are being encouraged to talk about their individual identities, even before they have them. By the time they reach college many assume that diversity discourse exhausts political discourse, and have shockingly little to say about such perennial questions as class, war, the economy and the common good. In large part this is because of high school history curriculums, which anachronistically project the identity politics of today back onto the past, creating a distorted picture of the major forces and individuals that shaped our country.

I am so frustrated by this reality.

Last year on a field trip with some of my very favorite students, we ended up at the Jewish Museum in San Francisco. The exhibition was a retrospective on Bill Graham. There was a photo of the iconic SF Mime Troupe in the exhibit. One of the players was in blackface. My students were horrified by the photo. HOW COULD THEY HAVE THIS PHOTO ON THE WALL IT IS SO RACIST OF THEM!

In my efforts to explain several things to them [1. What the SF Mime Troupe was actually about; 2. What satire is; 3. That photos of racism/ists, while uncomfortable – and by the way not at all what this was – are not in themselves racist, they are historical artifacts which document our racist history and are therefore useful tools] I realized that their sense of self was preventing them from understanding what they were looking at. And these are good kids who want to learn things and understand things. Because they were never taught the historical context of the photo, and instead have been told to focus on their personal identity at every turn of their education, their feelings were impeding them from hearing the objective details and contextual history of the photo. These feelings are not inappropriate or something to bury, but they shouldn’t preclude the ability to take in information. In my work, feelings have become so paramount that if school work or historical information gets in their way, it must be set aside.

This is where the two articles intersect. Stories have power and the moral energy surrounding identity has, of course, had many good effects. Our identities largely give rise to our stories, and the effort to acknowledge people’s stories is real work that should not stop. The trick is remembering that they, the stories and the identities, are not mutually exclusive realities, and that their coexistence requires understanding the real facts behind all of the stories. And yes, FACTS ACTUALLY DO EXIST.

In a country as actually diverse as we are, the stories are some of the best parts – but stories are not policy. They are not data. They are not that which mandates for everyone should be built upon. [Filed under one more reason I love Joe Biden.]

The articles could come together thusly:

Because these narratives typically involve a selective use of facts and lenient dealings with matters of truth, they have given rise to symptoms of a post-factual democracy. A post-identity liberalism would also emphasize that democracy is not only about rights; it also confers duties on its citizens, such as the duties to keep informed and vote. 

Until there is a place where there are some baseline realities that can be agreed upon, I remain at a loss as to where I go from here.

Maybe the only thing to be done is to insist that a cookie may be a cookie – or it may be fruit and cake – but it is my responsibility to do the work of reading the boring details of the label and the background of the naming of things, regardless of not wanting to for whatever reason I might have… triggers or facts or bursting my bubble.

And now we are here.

When I woke up the day after the presidential election in 1980 at the ripe old age of 10, and my parents told me that Ronald Reagan would be the next president of the United States, I cried. I was sure that we were all going to die. We were entrenched in nuclear proliferation and Reagan had this weird anachronistic bone to pick with the former Soviet Union.

We did not all die – though I would argue vehemently that a huge number of people did die who should not have as a result of the Reagan presidency [see the War on Drugs and denial of medical attention to HIV/AIDS patients], and to be fair, the disasters of Reagan’s trickle down economic policies and gutting of social programs are directly related to myriad contemporary social problems in the country today.

Today we are still alive – though I would argue vehemently that a tremendous number of people feel that status to be incredibly tenuous as a result of a possible Trump presidency, and somehow Reagan has become the epitome of Republican values. A man who spurred our national debt to as-of-yet unrecoverable measure, considered a conservative. I would think it strange, but for the more recent turn of events.

I feel pretty confident that I am not going to die – literally or metaphorically – as a result of a Trump presidency. Not 100% percent, but pretty sure. But this is because I am a white, middle class, straight, CIS-woman, with an education. However, I do not feel at all confident that my friends of color are safe. Or that their children are safe. Or that my LGBTQ friends are safe. Or that their children are safe. Or that my Muslim friends are safe. Or that their children are safe. Or that my working, tax-paying undocumented friends are safe. Or that their children are safe. They are all at terrible risk of brash executive action (eventually) and rogue populist rage (currently) that has been normalized, rationalized, accepted, and therefore condoned by 26% of the eligible voting population who chose to allow a man of such little character as Donald Trump access to the presidency of this country.

Although I feel pretty confident that I am not going to die – literally or metaphorically – I have already seen how this new set of circumstances will impact what it means to be a woman in this country. Having suffered more than a year of being told that I was voting with my vagina; that I was ill-informed because of my dissent; that I was acting emotionally about something that required reason; that an incomparably more competent woman will still not be chosen over a man because she won’t smile, is not personable, is not a “10”, is too pushy/ambitious/sneaky; that my experiences are not valid – and possibly not even real – because I am playing a woman card, I am certain that I am at far greater risk for assault, abuse, disrespect, and disregard.

As a woman who was sexually assaulted in college (did you know most of my friends were assaulted and some of us did not even know that it was assault at the time, we thought it was normal? Did you know that when it happened to me my friend’s boyfriend freaked out that I might sue his fraternity because it was one of his fraternity brothers? Did you know years later this SAME person contacted my on OKCupid in Hong Kong and wanted to date me, apparently unaware that he knew me? Did you know that I chose to meet up with him – with a group of friends – to see if he would remember and he greeted me by saying I had a nice ass? Did you know that right now in 2016 not one single person would believe that I was “legitimately assaulted” by him because I never said anything at the time and that I was willing to face him again?) I already know that I am facing an uphill battle trying to explain – even to “woke” men that the kind of misogyny we are facing in this country is possibly more insidious than the racism, and that is a bold statement, but the evidence is there. When a student posts on Facebook “got totally wasted tonight and decided to walk home alone in the rain and it was such a beautiful night it made everything better” and I comment #MalePrivilege, his Berkeley raised and educated friends tell me to lighten up – it’s just a walk, and when I ask them if I could do the same, they say, sure if I wanted to risk it “like he did.”

So I wonder then, what hope I can offer the young women I work with who are not only women, but black and brown.

Today we are still alive – although I am getting killed by people on social media telling me that suddenly we are “one nation” and we need to “get along” and respect the democratic process.

Really?

Where were all you people when Obama tried to do… well, the list is too long so I will just say: appoint a Supreme Court Justice, for an example. Or how about the efforts to remove Obama based on the birther movement that was largely the creation of the now president-elect.

Yeah, I will remind you: you were not insisting people get along.

Eight years of disparaging the Obama family in ways far to gross to repeat and now #notmypresident is offending you?

Really?

Two years of “lying cunt”, “lock her up”, “shoot her for treason”, and threats of “fire and pitchforks” if your candidate did not win, and now you are trying to sound out kumbaya (I won’t hold you to spelling it, it’s a bigly word.)

The elevation of Reagan to Republican hero status makes me giggle these days. A man who inspired fear and terror in my 10-year old brain, seems different to me through the lens of history as well. Less demagogue and more Wizard of Oz, Reagan has become a work of fiction that few bother to actually study. If they did they would see that he would never have supported the kind of policies Trump is suggesting, and as Reagan’s family has made clear – he would have never endorsed a man as unhinged as Donald Trump.

When I woke up the day after the presidential election in 2016, I was shell-shocked, nearly catatonic. I could not believe that an electorate – even a numerically weakened one – would have allowed for such a coup. I did not cry, but I felt heavy. And so disappointed in myself that I did not see it coming: that I did not truly acknowledge it wasn’t  Trump who created in this country what I was seeing, he just encouraged these people to show what they have been all along – a group of people fueled by fear and dogmatic adherence to concrete understandings of a nuanced world.

We were not all dead – but little bits of me started to crack when I saw people saying “voting for Trump does not make someone a racist or a misogynist, they like his policies.” The thing is, he has no policies, and allowing someone to represent us that is truly as demeaning to human beings as Donald Trump is does make you – us – complicit.

Today I am sitting with the reality that 58% of white women voters voted for Trump. This was the group – the group I am a part of – that the pollsters never saw coming. 58% of voting women in this country hate another woman (or a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body) more than they hate a man who is facing child-rape charges, upwards of 12 sexual assault accusations, and believes that you can do as you please to women because there is nothing a quality piece of ass cannot solve.

Although I am devastated, scared, and bewildered by all of this… all I can think to say is you get the democracy you deserve. A climate denier has been appointed to the EPA transition team with the intent of dismantling the agency. A Wall Street banking savior is being floated as a chief financial advisor. The architect of the unconstitutional stop and frisk may be the next secretary of homeland security. Germany is warning us about violating human rights. China is warning us about dismantling environment protocols. When Russia starts lecturing us on the protection of civil liberties, maybe people will start to understand irony.

To the 26% I say to you, we are getting what you deserve. And because we allowed it to happen, I suppose we deserve it too.

So this just happened. For real.

My colleague mentioned an article that came out on Slate.com today that harkened back to my post of yesterday about the state of political discourse dialog general abuse rampant in the US at the moment. 

I chose to post the article as a comment, without any added commentary, to the thread that had inspired my original post. This is the article.


The following immediately ensued.









Interestingly predictably the only thing that got “B” to stop was an insult. 

Not that this kind thing needs any further explanation, but I think it is worth pointing out that the original article I posted was not about Sanders v. Clinton and was not calling for “B”‘s ‘education’ and we were told that he would only stop posting if we did because he is “stubborn.” I don’t think I need to point out too much else, I did wish there was a shovel emoji to help him dig his own hole…

This is what my (girl)friends and I are having to deal with -regardless of the candidate we support- every single day. 

This is a post about politics. But I wanted it to be about Prince.

When Prince died on April 21 of this year I was devastated. I was totally unprepared for how deeply and personally I felt the loss. I did something akin to sitting Shivah for nearly a month – all I did was listen to his music and think and reminisce and wonder. I wanted to write about how meaningful or profound or important Prince was to me, but I couldn’t do it. What had been so easy to explain about Bowie was lost on me when it came to explaining my feelings about Prince. I just sat there with his music and thought about all the ways he touched my life. It was a loss that defied any explanation for me. I loved him and I feel like he personally spoke to and for me in spite of the fact that there were things about him that I did not understand (his faith) or made me uncomfortable (consistent vague misogyny) or simply did not jive with other beliefs (LGBTQ rights to name one) to which I fiercely adhere.

Then I realized: I did not have to explain this to anyone. These are my own sentiments and opinions. They are not a result of being brainwashed, or a acting as a lemming, but a response to my own experiences and understandings of the complex world in which I exist. I can love Prince for whatever reasons I want to.

And no one considered for even a moment that they needed to explain to me how what I felt and thought and believed was wrong, and that if I could just be effectively enlightened I would understand what I thought and felt was incorrect.

Because we are talking about music.


I used to have a very dear English friend who told exceptional jokes – most of the time. On the occasion that he told a joke that I did not think was very good, I would not laugh. And every time this happened he would say to me, “Oh, you didn’t get it…” and tell me the joke again. I would say to him, “No, I got it, I just didn’t think it was funny.” And we would go around and around.

I have another friend who used to wind herself up to the point of insanity when someone would do something that she saw to be so ridiculous, infantile, or plain stupid, she could barely stand it. She was convinced that if she could just explain to them their lack of understanding (or stupidity in simpler terms) that they would change their behavior: that they would “understand.” I spent years as her sounding board and reminding her that she was the one suffering… that her need to “help” them fell on deaf ears and made her feel like a crazy person, no matter how valid her logic.

My recent experience discussing politics falls somewhere amidst these vignettes.

Maybe I’m just too demanding
Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold
Maybe you’re just like my mother
She’s never satisfied (She’s never satisfied)
Why do we scream at each other
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry

I am deeply conflicted about the state of American politics. While this is not new, it somehow seems more urgent. I wish, like many people, that there was a perfect candidate for president, but there is not. And frankly, what kind of person would want that job? Any examination of that question certainly makes me take a second look at anyone who’d strive for such a position. That being said someone’s got to step up and do it.

As a registered Democrat I will be voting in the Democratic primaries for the nominee to be the successor to the Obama administration. I am intentionally a member of a political party and as such voting in the primaries for my party is a privilege I rightly get for being in the party. Allowing non-party members to influence the outcome of our primary is inappropriate; if you want to vote in a primary, do so for your party, or join a party – or flip flop parties – I don’t care, just don’t bitch and moan about not being able to assert influence on a group you do not want to be a part of.

I’m under no illusion that any of my choices for the nomination are devoid of faults. But I also firmly believe that it is my fundamental right to choose who I want to vote for based on what matters most deeply, internally, and inexplicably to me without owing an explanation anyone, especially strangers on the Internet.

Since this campaign kicked off on the Democratic side, I’ve been really interested in who I consider to be the two viable candidates: Clinton and Sanders. And since the Sanders campaign has gotten some legs under it I have been on the receiving end of incessant and unsolicited, patronizing behavior from his supporters. This ridiculous over-explaining has largely come from young, white, men of privilege. Don’t misunderstand, I know lots of people of color, of all ages, and gender orientations who also support Sanders, but it has been the white privileged Sanders supporters who have come at me aggressively time and again to tell me that I am: ignorant, brainwashed, confused, hypocritical, not checking my privilege, emotional, small minded, uneducated, uninformed, etc., etc.

I appreciate many of Bernie Sanders’ policies. I’m not very impressed with his position on guns or immigration, I’m not entirely convinced about his economic policy, and I am wholly unconvinced in his ability to be effective and nuanced in foreign policy, which leaves me very uncomfortable as we move further into an era of intense global interconnectedness. But this doesn’t mean I can’t see the good ideas he has, and recognize core beliefs he holds that that I also hold. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, is a politician who also has ideas that I hold dear. She also has a record that I find impressive, and I believe she is a deep thinker who understands that it is actually a sign of intelligence to change one’s mind if new information informs the choice, knows how to get things accomplished, and sees the importance of compromise. These are all things that have become ever more important to me as I’ve gotten older.

Still, none of these circumstances prevent me from voting for any other candidate if I choose. One of the fundamental aspects of American culture is that I am allowed to vote for who I want to and I do not owe anyone any explanation about this beyond what I am comfortable with.

I find the constant attacks on Clinton’s policy changes as flip-flopping, or catering to victory, simpleminded and defensive. The idea that she is somehow a career politician while Bernie Sanders, who has been in the senate for nearly three decades is not, is laughable. And while Sanders has voted on many things I agree with, so has Clinton. And to be honest, Sanders is the ultimate flip-flopper: he has not even been able to commit to a political party. [Interestingly this could be his undoing because by encouraging people not to join a political party he is now crying that people can’t vote for him in a political party primary. Again, at what point does it seem reasonable that nonparty member should be allowed outcome influence the outcome of party politics? I understand there’s a lot of problems a party politics but this is what we’re working with.]

Further, the risible idea that somehow Sanders can create a political revolution is shortsighted, un-researched and shallow. The fact of the matter is Obama was supposed to inspire such a revolution. But the reality is he was not able to initiate even the seeds of a revolution for two very real reasons: 1) it wasn’t his agenda; and 2) none of the would-be-revolutionaries did the job of meeting their responsibility to vote in the midterms, and so he got screwed and was unable to push anything through the resulting obstructionist Congress.

What will be different about a Sanders administration (on the outside chance that he gets into the White House)? What on earth makes anybody think that a Republican Congress that was defiantly obstructionist to Barack Obama – middle of the road by anyone’s standards – is going to accept Bernie Sanders policies? Ultimately, it must be acknowledged that I do not trust that the Sanders revolutionaries have the fortitude to stick with it and vote in the more mundane midterm and elections that are necessary and will follow. These are things I think about, deeply and seriously. Which does not mean I am asking for you to tell me how I am wrong, just that I am considering all of it.

Perhaps I have a new or overreaching respect for Machiavelli, but I’m a firm believer that you cannot affect change if you can’t get a seat at the table.

Still, in the end – these are just my beliefs. I’m interested in why people think/feel/believe the way they do, especially when it is counter to my natural inclinations, but my interest is not an invitation for a semantic deluge extolling the rights and wrongs of bloody opinions.  I fundamentally believe people are entitled to their beliefs and it’s entirely possible I won’t always understand why they think the way they do… There is not one singular truth in this complex universe.

[And as a preemptive response to criticism about not sourcing or providing evidentiary material to this post, let me reiterate that I am speaking (venting) about my right to choose, not trying to provide rationale for my choice.]

Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism’s in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, “I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.” Good point there. After all, he was the walrus. I could be the walrus. I’d still have to bum rides off people.

That I disagree with you (or whoever) doesn’t make me uninformed or ignorant: I GET THE JOKE. It makes me a unique human being with my own ability to formulate rational thought- although being a woman I do keep hearing that I am not rational, I’m emotional and voting only for Clinton because of some apparent vagina coalition. STILL, FOR ALL OF OUR BENEFIT, YOU CAN STOP EXPLAINING THINGS TO ME.


Prince understood all this. He understood that he could be straight, gay, not a man, not a woman, something that you never understand, fundamentally faithful, viscerally sinful, that no one could tell him what was right or wrong, or what he should think, or believe, or act upon.

Maybe that is what I loved the most about him.

Prince would have voted for whoever the hell he wanted to and he would have waved away your patronizing, didactic, dogmatic insistence that you know better with a graceful wave of the hand and an incomparable smokin’ guitar solo.

 

From Uzes to Marseille and why Frenchie hates whales

The day we left central Provence for Marseille was hot. Literally and figuratively. Frenchie and I would be traveling as a twosome from here on out and in some ways it was a big relief. I had grown weary of feeling misunderstood by both the French and the English speakers among us. The subtleties of friendship are complex, and I believe that good friendships will endure the oversights and misunderstandings that can arise, but feelings can still be hurt. And under the blistering sun of the south of France there were some hurt feelings. On our own Frenchie and I got to explore these feelings. No blood, but some sweat and tears transpired before we boarded the train. [For a moment our timing suited us both not too early or too rushed and things appeared to be running on time.]

Up and on board, we moved on out of Nimes and began the two hour journey to Marseille.

And then we stopped.

For a really long time.

Apparently, there was some mishap with the tracks and we would be waiting until it got sorted out. It was incredibly warm and there was little shelter outside, and the electrical system had been shut down so there was no air con on the train either. Things were getting sticky. Really, really sticky.

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We ended up sitting there for nearly two hours. The train employees were as hot and frustrated as anyone trying to explain what was happening. I am pretty sure no one really knew. There was a tour group from Japan who were losing their shit about the heat and kept telling everyone how hot it was and that someone must do something about the heat. That communication with the French train employees was particularly interesting. At one point hand trucks of warm bottled water were wheeled out to at least try to calm the increasingly agitated crowd. Frenchie never got out of the train, which was really impressive in some sort of medieval torture challenge sort of way. She must have been really enjoying those magazines she was reading.

When the train finally started moving again there was still no air con and we were not at speed. Ah, the perils of travel.

When we arrived in Marseille we sort of forgot all this.

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After dropping our things at our hotel, Mama Shelter (more on the hotel later), we headed out for a walk. Frenchie and I have competing senses of direction, which I always thought had to do with our totally divergent (though generally -strangely – compatible) world views. It turns out that our senses of direction are diametrically opposed because of the things we orient to: in this case, Frenchie to the tourist office; me unabashedly to the Intercontinental. In my bougie defense, it had been a long day and I was not interested in hunting down the tourist office which I suspected would be closed because France. I was very interested in cocktails.

As another vignette that will be added to my upcoming compendium How You Know You Have Become Middle Aged, the young lady at the front desk of our hotel recommended several places to us to try out for dinner and drinks in town. We enthusiastically noted them and headed out. With each place we looked at that she had suggested it became clear that they were the most expensive places in town. As a cute young thing would do when speaking to middle aged women traveling together in a way you’re not entirely sure you understand. Frenchie was not amused by this, and I get it, because the five-star life is not a very accurate way to see the world, and Fenchie does not want to be seen as that kind of traveler. And in general, I don’t either.

But after a hundred degree day and a train ride that took three times as long as it should have without ventilation, I was down to be that middle aged lady of means (or not) at the five star hotel.

Still, I was patient (ish) as we walked around checking out the marina and looking for the tourist office (it was closed). We did find out about a boat trip Frenchie wanted to take the next day, so when I subsequently insisted that we go to the highly recommended Hotel Dieu, she acquiesced. As we walked into the hotel, she looked at me and said, “This is why you always dress how you do, isn’t it?” I guess I never really thought about it, but yes, I believe being ready for anything is a good strategy, pls  you can always take it down a notch if you look too fancy. And, hey, what better place to be ready than the French Riviera?

The Hotel Dieu was originally a hospital built in 1188. The last patients left the hospital in 1993. It opened as a hotel in 2013.

How lucky for us.

In spite of her initial dismay with the reality that we would end up at the Hotel Dieu rather than somewhere more quaint (authentic?), I noticed Frenchie got over it pretty darn quick. And really, how could you not?

We would only be in Marseille for three days and two nights… and JM’s partner had given us a bunch of tips so this was really Frenchie’s show. We made plans over a glass of rosé. And then reassessed them over another glass. By the third glass we were really getting ambitious. Our plans included a boat tour of the Clanques, the MUCEM, a sunset swim, checking out the church we were staring at from the Hotel Dieu, eating bouillabaisse, and buying soap. Seemed totally doable in a couple of days. Sated in several ways, we left the lovely Hotel Dieu and headed back to our hotel.

Mama Shelter is quite a kitschy little place. It was a nice enough hotel, but the most hilarious element was the in-room camera’s that they have. Guests can take photos of themselves and then subsequent visitors can view the… well, yeah. And the headboards light up.

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We started our next day headed to the Calanques. As far as I can tell calanques is the French word for fjord. Which is clearly not an English word, but anyhow, high walled inlet. This is something Frenchie had wanted to do for some time, and I am hardly going to complain about a boat trip in the south of France. The trip would be about four hours and the only sad part was there was no disembarking or swimming and we would cruise out past the Château d’If where Edmond Dantès was imprisoned in the novel The Count of Monte Cristo and along the coast to Cassis.

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It was gorgeous and hot and geographically stunning. I would do it again by kayak given the chance, and the little towns along the coast would be fabulous places to stay if you were looking for a real getaway.

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On our return to the harbor we had lunch at an outdoor cafe and directed our energies to the MuCEM. This was a perfect choice for the heat of the day and one of those places where it is hard to decide what is more impressive, the inside or the outside. Seriously. Currently there is an exhibit on panoramic photos, so clearly, it is a place after my own heart. The building was designed by Rudy Ricciotti and is awesome. The whole time I was there I was also watching the locals swim off the side of the building which seemed somehow perfectly incongruous.

We were so glad to get to the MuCEM as a respite from the heat… but it was a fabulous museum as well, much more than we could see in a day.

On leaving the museum, we headed back through the old part of town. The streets were narrow and winding, replete with street art and soap shops. Marseille was interesting in that it had the provincial feel of other parts of the South of France, but it ale had the edginess of a port city with a dynamic and diverse population more akin to that of Paris insofar as I saw in France.

 

…to be continued…

San Francisco Cyclists: The Mission (mostly) Edition

In a class discussion last Wednesday about cultures of honor (we are reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers) my students asked me if there was anything or anyone that would engender the kind of emotion (rage) that would be required to act out in the way the subjects in the Harlan, Kentucky chapter behaved. Was there something someone could say or do to me that would trigger me. I had to think about this for a while, as I generally avoid that kind of conflict because it makes me uncomfortable, but also because as a woman it is simply too risky to actually address those who act inappropriately towards you in America anymore.

I thought about it for a minute and imagined who could make me feel so angry I wanted to actually do something to them that might be permanently damaging. My former step-mother came to mind because she is a truly Bad Person, but I am trying to let that go, so, nah. Then it hit me: CYCLISTS. My friend Justin has a saying: ‘When I am walking I hate cars; when I am driving I hate pedestrians. But I always hate cyclists’ and as a non driver a third of the sentiment is not relevant to me, but the latter thought: YES.

To be fair, I never really had an opinion on cyclists until I lived in San Francisco. For most of my life I have had a bike, and I have ridden bikes in more cities and countries than I can count. It never really seemed like a “Thing” to me. It was just an activity, or a conduit to one, I suppose.

But since I have been in San Francisco it has come to my attention that the cyclists in this city are the worst examples of people. Now, I am not saying all cyclists are the worst people, but I am definitely saying that all the worst people I have met in San Francisco have been cyclists.

The cyclists in San Francisco act as if they are the most maligned and put upon population that ever lived (puh-leeze), and there are constant outcries about how they are mistreated by cars and public transportation and, well, any one who gets in their way. Which is interesting because they are about the ONLY people you will see yelling at, and accosting, pedestrians, busses, and motor vehicle drivers in this town.

In no particular order here are things I have seen:

  • Speeding down crowded sidewalks (and being annoyed that people are on them)
  • Chasing down and banging on cars
  • I cannot count the broken traffic laws, but mostly it is running lights and I am fairly certain I have yet to see a cyclist stop at a stop sign
  • Shoving people out of the way on Bart (trains and escalators and platforms)
  • Speeding aggressively close to a pedestrian about to step off a sidewalk and yelling “THAT IS JAYWALKING!”
  • People crossing through the bike lanes on foot (I do this in the early mornings on Valencia Street when there is little to no vehicular traffic and limited bike traffic) and a singular rider, rather than negotiating the space, speeds up to ensure proximity and admonishes: “THAT IS NOT A GOOD PLACE TO BE”
  • Cyclists knock over kids and elderly people

My favorite is “Bike to Work Day” which brings out hundreds of the most entitled riders you have ever seen. Those of us who keep our eco-footprints small by always using public transportation are not super impressed with your one day of awareness, by the way. Ironically, a majority of these hyper-aggressive individuals not only ignore traffic laws and signs, but they are riding fixed gear bikes, often with no brakes or single brakes, and frequently they are helmet free.

Oh, and in every example I have listed above, the cyclist was a white male.

Just saying.

The most famous event since I have been back in the city was the guy who plowed through a cross walk and killed a man. In spite of the fact that the guy had no remorse, and blogged about the whole things as he was riding for “time” he only received probation and community service. Gross. [Also, white male.]

Now, I realize that the fact that I can list and identify my issues with San Francisco cyclists definitely suggests that the majority of cyclists cannot be this loathsome, and that these assholes must be outliers. But I am not sure that could or should quell my distaste.

In a very interesting turn of events, on the very same Wednesday that I had been having the aforementioned conversation with my students, I had a very unpleasant experience with just the type of cyclist I am speaking of.

I was coming home at what would basically be considered rush hour and arrived at my Bart station at around 6:00 pm. My station is one of the most crowded, and according to Bart information has the greatest number of people walking to and from the station. As we filed out of the train on to the escalator from the platform a white male cyclist, somewhere in his twenties, approximately 6’1″ maybe 180 lbs, in standard tech-bro normcore clothes (jeans that allowed his Oxford boxers to show and a generic shirt and zip up jacket) with sandy hair and glasses, shoved his bike on to the escalator.

For what it is worth, bikes are not allowed on escalators in Bart stations.

He shoved a few people for the simple fact that the escalator was totally full and held his bike upright resting on the rear wheel so that the front wheel was bumping the woman in front of him. I looked at him as I made my way up the escalator on the left and had a thought of how fun it would be to drop some knowledge on him about how there are no bikes allowed on the escalator.

I did not say anything to him because: 1) It had been a long day and really what point would there be; 2) as a woman I do not have the freedom to say what I want to men because there is ALWAYS the very real reality that it could be dangerous to me.

I made my way through the turnstile and headed up the stairs to exit the station. As I reached the top of the stairs I became aware of the fact that this cyclist had sprinted up the other stairs (so clearly he did not NEED to be using an escalator…) and as I stepped off the stairs, he physically blocked me with his bike and got in my face yelling, “YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH HOW I HAVE MY BIKE ON THE ESCALATOR?!” I looked at him in total shock and took my ear buds out.

“Are you talking to me?”

“YEAH, BITCH I AM. YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH HOW I TAKE MY BIKE ON THE ESCALATOR? YOU WANT TO SAY SOMETHING TO ME? BITCH?”

“Uhh…”

“YOU GOT SOMETHING TO SAY?!” (At this point, he is still physically obstructing me while I am trying to walk, and takes one hand off his bike raising it as it to… well, who knows.)

“Are you serious? FUCK OFF.”

“YEAH WHATEVER. BITCH.” Now he swings his leg over the bike and begins to pedal away – through a very dense crowd – and yells back, “I WOULDN’T HAVE FUCKED YOU TEN YEARS AGO!”

Wow. He went there?

And he rode off up the sidewalk towards Bartlett regardless of the steady stream of foot traffic in both directions from the station. Then he crossed 24th on the diagonal, from the SE corner of Bartlett and 24th to the NW corner.

Now this encounter brings up myriad issues, not all related to cyclists, but likely all related to white male privilege, and in my neighborhood, the two more often than not overlap. And then of course there are the obvious facts that I am completely within my rights to look at people around me and not only for general safety and awareness, and his waning insult suggests his problem might have had little to do with any look I gave him, but much more to do with some larger issues he has, dare I say, with women. 

Here is the (hardly inclusive) list of things it brought to my mind:

  • How is it possible that no other person stopped to see about this potentially problematic situation?
  • Who the fuck was this kid?
  • Would this have happened had I not been a woman, walking alone (albeit in a crowd)?
  • Would this have happened had the cyclist not been a white male? (I tried to replay the situation where the rider is black or latino or Asian or female and the resulting image is laughably fictitious)
  • Who the fuck is this kid?
  • How is it that the most offensive and entitled cyclists are the ones who do not follow the rules?
  • Why did I not think to retort that his aggressive ass was not supposed to be on the escalator in the first place?
  • Did he think I said, “Fuck YOU” prompting his retort about how he would not have fucked me ten years ago? Or is this just the go-to kind of insult for a young man to level at a middle-aged woman?
  • Did he think I would have actually ever wanted to fuck him? (I know this is not the issue, but it makes me think about how homophobic straight guys always think gay men will want to get with them – and I had to remember that a great number of young men in San Francisco must somehow by into the mythology that San Francisco women are desperate for them.)
  • Ultimately, my largest question (aside from what I should do about the situation) was: WHAT IN THE HELL WAS THIS KID’S DAMAGE?

This is the kind of shit that ONLY women have to put up with. And I know it is not only from cyclists, but anyone reading this can be absolutely sure that this little prince would not have done this to a man, or a woman who was with a man. Further, not that I should ever need to say this, but let me add that I was dressed completely normally, coming home from work carrying a load of stuff – there was nothing setting me apart from any other person returning from work that day, and certainly nothing sexualizing about my appearance.

The situation agitated me enough that I spoke to the Bart station attendants the next day, who told me that they were terribly disappointed I had not come back in to report the man the night before, and that they did have him on video in the station as a matter of policy if I wanted to file a police report. I considered it for sure. At this point I have not done anything else about it, but I certainly have considered how the experience speaks to so many of the social issues we are facing in our society everyday including white male privilege, sexism, misogyny, entitlement, dangerous self-interest, ageism, to name but a few.

It is a shame that this guy was on a bike because all it does, even in my rational mind that knows it is unfair, is make me more unforgiving of the bicycle culture in San Francisco.

At the end of the day, if I had to name a group of people who bring our any sort of Hatfield-McCoy energy in me, it remains SF cyclists. How unfair it is that I am unable to express this because of cultural norms that endanger me for responding to this sort of thing in kind.

Earlier in the day when I had arrived at my answer for my students, their response (many of them skaters and riders) was a chorus of agreement, and nearly every one of them had a story about an egregious act perpetrated by an urban cyclist. As Malcolm Gladwell would say, one example is just that, but 30 is a pattern.

Watch yourself out there people.

Not So Super (Bowl) in the City.

Ok, I will start this post with the requisite caveat: I really do not care for American pro football. This is noteworthy because I love sports. Really. I can get excited about just about any athletic competition. To name just a few, I can get psyched for golf, track & field, cricket, gymnastics, swimming, lacrosse, soccer, polo, rugby, basketball… I love them all. But I just cannot get on board with football. And I promise I have tried.

When I think of football, especially the NFL, I think of murder, child abuse, spousal abuse, misogyny, cheating, rapists, medical irresponsibility, racism, unfair labor practices, and abusive treatment of labor (Here is what are considered the “worst” crimes committed by NFL players.) On top of this, in an average game that lasts for three hours, there is approximately 11 minutes of play.

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So, yeah, this is not a game I like.

A couple of years ago, the San Francisco 49ers moved from San Francisco to Santa Clara. The how and why of this are not all that interesting (or surprising): it is all about the $. And of course, anyone who ever spent much time at Candlestick knows that was its own set of circumstances. Interestingly, since the move the 49ers have gotten progressively shittier. Again, this is not something I care much about since I don’t really watch football.

Why, then, am I spending any time at all writing about football (especially when I am inundated with absolutely stunning basketball at the pro and college level in the men’s and women’s game all around me)? Because, for reasons that are also not so interesting or surprising, San Francisco bid for the 50th Super Bowl at some point and they won the bid. Regardless of the fact that San Francisco is no longer home to an NFL team. So, they got the rights to host the Super Bowl and I am sure there are more economic interests and manipulators in play here than I could ever imagine (or want to). The word from the city is that it is going to be some sort of windfall for local businesses. Thus far that has not born out at all, but the game is a week a way. The Mayor was all keyed up to present the best of SF and so he decided he had better hide solve the homeless “problem“, so he shipped them out. #compassionate

And all of this for the Super Bowl City.

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Super Bowl City has made a key area of our city completely inaccessible for a period of three weeks. Thankfully, I will probably be able to avoid this situation in my day-to-day. However, there are thousands who will not.

This was a terrible idea for San Francisco. When cities like London, Paris, Rio, Beijing, even Los Angeles, host events like this they are able to sustain the regular functions of the city – albeit with greater crowds, but those are not necessarily a negative if the people who live in the city can manage to continue living. Those cities are big enough in land area that they can offer reasonable and feasible workarounds. This is not the case in a geographically tiny city like San Francisco. This is a 49 square mile area with no feasible workarounds.

As I stood in line waiting for a ferry I didn’t even know was running because the ferry I intended to catch had left  early because it was at capacity, I was speaking with a lovely older lady who had had to walk 15 minutes out of her way to get to the ferry on her way home from the airport. She too missed the boat. Another woman lives across from Pier 70 where most of the big shows will be, is going to be unable to access her home by car and cannot get her daughter to school unless she takes the F-Market, which will take her more than an hour. To say we felt frustrated would be a vast understatement.

Really, if Santa Clara is good enough for the football players, how can it not be good enough for the football fans?

In spite of all the gross feelings I have about this situation in SF, I would be terribly remiss to not mention the people working in and around Super Bowl City. Every single person I have encountered, regardless of my state of duress, frustration, or confusion, has been unbelievably kind, patient, informative and helpful. Seriously, these people are showing the very best of our city, and they deserve so much more of a shout out than a temporary job. My mom told me she was talking to a worker down there who was telling her she was so grateful for the work. It kills me that our city cannot provide permanent work for these people, but that is an economics lesson for another time.

For now, if you are trying to get anywhere stay away from Super Bowl City. If you are excited about the events of the next few weeks, then enjoy. Oh, and pro tip: if you need to get from Bart to the Ferry Building for any sort of transportation situation, try going up and over Embarcadero 2.

Good luck.

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