Saturday, November 17, 2018

That Jewish Stuff

"That Jewish Stuff." That's what my mom calls it. 

I hadn't heard her call it that before. Not in those words. Keep in mind that my mom is a big fan and also a practitioner of therapy. She's always telling me to "get some therapy" and that my kids should have therapy. When she saw some signs of anxiety in Paige, she told me I should nip it in the bud and "get her some therapy."

"I wish I'd gotten you some therapy when you were younger," she said, referring to my bouts with eating disorders, depression, and anxiety. "This is just in our DNA. It's that Jewish stuff." She was referring, of course, to the genetically-encoded hereditary disposition to anxiety and depression that Jews typically experience. Epigenetic trauma is not a well-studied science, and what studies have been done cast doubt on the concept of trauma—which Jews have had a bunch of—as printable on DNA.

But it's as much a cultural thing as a DNA thing. My generation of Jewish children was only one generation removed from the Holocaust. We grew up hearing horror stories and could trace immediate family members to concentration camps. We were taught to bristle at the sound of the German language and to fear German Shepherds and boycot German products. We were always on some sort of high alert. We were communicated this idea that the Holocaust was around every corner and we should have our passports ready to flee.

It wasn't a constant onslaught of this message. It happened in hushed tones and whispers almost absorbed through the ether. I was raised by a Romanian Holocaust survivor who had fled to Israel and then America, and she wasn't shy about sharing her experiences, no matter how terrified or young I was. It was communicated that you don't reveal you are Jewish in mixed company unless you have to, but among Jews you code-switch and pepper your speech with Yiddish.

It was like living with the idea that the Bogeyman is real.

And I think all of this fear, be it inherited or learned, just has a psychological impact. My generation of Jewish children also grew up during a sort of halcyon time that allowed us to assimilate and take full advantage of the privileges of white skin. The period of domestic prosperity and tranquility between Vietnam and 9/11 was the exception, not the rule. And so sliding into darker times feels like The Moment™ is Here. At all times, we are ready to fight or flee in The Moment.

We are especially on guard about Trump and rising anti-Semitism, or most of us are. Many of us hustle hard for broad social justice because we know what happens when people don’t. We are primed to fear persecution for our intellectual work, abilities, or incomes. We have had property stolen from us and we are scared. 

And though I can’t speak for them, I imagine it's the same for ancestors of colonized and enslaved POC. I think people who have been colonized, persecuted, or enslaved simply experience persecution and threats differently. We feel them differently, more viscerally. And it makes it hard to stay sane, make good decisions, or maintain objectivity or hope.

But still you have to, because what else can you do?

Friday, November 16, 2018

OMG, Sophie Scholl is My New Shero

Full confession. 

I had no idea who Sophie Scholl was until this week, when a friend messaged me this photo from somewhere in cyberspace. I think she sent it to me because I often fume that too few people in positions of power and privilege are willing to take the personal risks necessary to advance social justice and advocate for real change in the world. 

Sophie Scholl’s very last words reflect the same sentiment, so I immediately went down an internet rabbit hole to read about her life, and to say this woman (a girl, really) was a bad bitch is the understatement of the century.

She’s been on my mind ever since.

You can go on Wikipedia yourself for her whole life story, but the gist is she was a Lutheran white girl in Nazi Germany who was having less than none of the Third Reich’s efforts to Hitler Youth-ify her. She spent the formative years of her very short life non-violently and intellectually resisting dictatorship as part of the White Rose Society. She was ultimately arrested for distributing anti-Nazi literature, convicted in a show trial, and executed a mere hours later by guilliotine.

Seriously you guys. Nazis chopped off a 21 year-old girl’s head for passing out written opposition to their genocidal bullshit. And by all accounts, Sophie sauntered off
 to the gallows with her soon-to-be-decapitated head held high and these words on her lips:
How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?
Sophie Scholl was walking the walk of righteous wokeness before it was cool, and she walked it straight to her own execution like it was NOTHING. 

Unlike me, who pretends to be badass AF for getting called a cunt on the internet sometimes and enduring the occasional empty threat to my body and livelihood from wannabe Nazis, Sophie proudly marched to her death in an enormous fuck you to *actual* Nazis!

The thing that amazes me most is that she didn’t have to do any of this. She could have just been a Nazi. She wasn’t Jewish and she wasn’t at risk of being persecuted herself. She was simply a member of the dominant Aryan culture who recognized that what was happening around her was unbelievably fucked up, and she decided it was worth resisting and dying to show the whole world how fucked up it really was. 

Talk about next-level allyship.

The very least I can do is read her Wikipedia page and put her on blast as my new number one shero. Sophie Scholl is #ResistanceGoals.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Alaska Fugitive Starter Kit

Just look at these four “good country people,” as their pastor called them. Don’t their mugshots make you want them for your neighbors? Not so much? 

Welp, turns out these wholesome Ohioans allegedly massacred 8 people (including their daughter/grandchild’s mother) execution-style over a custody dispute and went on the lam to the place where all such citizens go when they’re fugitives from the law: 


If you’ve lived here for any amount of time, you know that there are four main types of Alaska transplants: (1) people who follow peen/poon here; (2) people who follow a job here; (3) people who vacation or work here in the summer and decide to move here in the winter for some stupid reason; and (4) criminal fugitives trying to escape the long arm of the Lower-48 law.

I’m in categories (2) and (3) myself. Turns out Billy and Angela Wagner and their kids Jake and George fall into categories (3) and (4), so I guess we have at least one thing in common. As the ADN reports, the Wagners first visited Seward and then decided to make Kenai their permanent home when they needed to shake the heat they were getting for murdering an entire family on a farm in their sleep like a fucking Truman Capote book.

Which is no surprise, because all category (4) transplants have what I call the Alaska Fugutive Starter Kit, and in addition to an arrest warrant (obvi) here’s what’s in it:

1. Zero knowledge of Alaska: Alaska fugitives have a vague fantasy that Alaska is Mars; that there’s no such thing as the internet or law enforcement. They just know that there are bears and moose and snowflakes and lots of woods to hide in and it’s very far away from whatever meth hole they came from. Good enough!

2. Vague ties to a fringe church: Invariably, Alaska fugitives are members of some questionable church you’ve never heard of, whose central tenets are memorizing obscure scripture to overcompensate for and/or justify the commission of felonies.

3. Plaid: You need plaid. If you don’t own plaid, go on the lam to Hawaii!

4. A face that looks like it just met the business end of a 5 iron: See these faces? Especially the dad. You need a face like that to be a legit Alaska fugitive.

5. A janky truck: You can’t head up the Al-Can without a trusty rig! It’s simply not fugitive style to fly here. Plus, there’s TSA to worry about. So natch, the Wagners sold their farm, put all their shit in a flatbed and horse trailer and “drove north.”

Those are the key elements of the Alaska Fugitive Starter Kit. Pro tip: don’t go on the lam without ‘em!

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Pushing the Limits

I know a lot of people who do extreme sports and activities. This is Alaska, after all. Paragliding, big backcountry skiing and snowboarding, ice climbing. I don't do any of that shit. I hike and I ski and I love being outside, but I'm way too much of a wimp to get my pilot's license or take an avalanche class or jump off Mt. Roberts on a piece of canvas.

I'm fascinated, though, by all my friends who do this stuff. It seems SO SCARY to me. And the most interesting thing is that they all describe the exact same feeling: the adrenaline rush, the adventure, the sense of pushing a boundary. The focus it takes to get wherever they are trying to go. The ever-present specter of consequences.

That's sort of how I feel about writing and speaking my mind and "living my truth" or whatever. It's like I've new-agedly "set an intention" to be unapologetically and very publicly myself in the hopes that I reach people and open new perspectives for myself and others. You can call it over-sharing, but I just call it my hobby and overall it's very rewarding.

I understand that this particular hobby comes with risks. In the four years I've been writing O.H.M., many people--mostly men and older women--have given me a ton of unsolicited advice about what I should do and say on here. It's all cloaked in benevolent concern, but it feels like repression and accusation to me--with the implicit/explicit message that I should be embarrassed and afraid.

I should curse less. I should have ads. I shouldn't talk about vibrators. I shouldn't have my face in my profile. I should worry about being too frank. I should worry about my kids (I don't write about my kids as much anymore, and never without their permission). I should worry about my job. I should change this or do that or the other thing. And it's all sort of in service of this vaguely patriarchal concept that overall I should be less. I should chill, because I am "too much," and "too much" is dangerous. That I should say less and say it more quietly and safely, and be less salty and aggressive or something, and I guess I just don't want to do that.

My poor mom. 

I let her come to her grandkids' parent-teacher conferences when she was visiting last week and she was amazed. "I never got a good report like that about you," she said. "I dreaded parent-teacher conferences. Elizabeth went to the principal's office. Elizabeth fell out of her chair again. Elizabeth talked in class. Elizabeth spoke out of turn. Elizabeth is distracting the other students. Elizabeth fell out of her chair again."

She said the chair thing twice, because I guess I fell out of my chair a lot. And someone was always telling me to get back in it. And I guess now that I'm an adult, I'm just gonna sit back and fall over in my chair every day on the internet, because I fucking feel like it and no one can stop me. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

Four Great Pieces of Advice for All Adult Human Interactions

Here are four great pieces of advice my mom, a psychiatrist, gave me. Whether it's a personal or professional relationship with an adult, it helps to frame your interactions this way:

1. IT'S NOT WHAT HAPPENS, IT'S HOW YOU REMEMBER IT. It's not that what happens to you doesn't matter. It matters. But for most things, what matters most--what is most impactful--is how you remember them, and not the details of what occurred at the time. Everyone remembers the same event differently. This is called the Roshomon Effect. For example, my mom worked full time when I was young, but she made a real effort to come home every evening and not travel for work. However, what I remember is that she worked a lot. I don't remember all of the efforts she made to spend with me. That's a bummer for her, of course. But at least in terms of my own psyche, my perception is bigger than the reality. The way we perceive the past, in other words, is just as significant if not more so than what the past actually was.

2. IT'S NEVER ABOUT WHAT IT SEEMS TO BE ABOUT. By the time you become an adult, you've become sensitized to react to different things in particular ways. Everyone has different sensitivities that make them react--their "triggers." A casual interaction can be experienced as rejection or offense, for example, because you are primed to see it that way. You are primed to interpret things in the slanted way you've learned to in your childhood. And the more trivial the encounter, the more skeptical you should be about your reaction. This allows you to stay calm. It helps you understand that if someone is being infantile or unreasonable, for example, you didn't make them infantile or unreasonable. People behave the way they've learned to behave long before they ever met you. Acknowledging this allows you to assess human interactions more objectively. 

3. IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU. Ninety percent of a person's behavior has nothing to do with you. When you're a kid, you don't see that, because children are narcissists and believe they cause everything around them. As an adult, you can work to overcome the narcissism of childhood and acquire the ability to see that this isn't the case. Most human behavior is driven by pre-existing bias, prejudice, character, and coping mechanisms. When you understand that negative behavior directed at you isn't really about you, you have the chance to examine a more useful question: what someone else's behavior tells you about who they are. 

4. YOU CAN'T UNDO YOUR CHILDHOOD INJURIES THROUGH EXTERNAL SOLUTIONS. Children adopt coping mechanisms to deal with their powerlessness, and adults often try to deploy those same mechanisms in adulthood. They fail, though, because you can't fix what's already happened. In other words, you can't change the past. This is what Freud called the "repetition compulsion." The wish that things hadn't happened the way they did, and an attempt to "undo" adverse childhood occurrences by manipulating external circumstances in adulthood. All you can do is understand the impact of the past, and, critically, the fact that you have agency to move in another direction. You need an adult approach to leave childhood baggage behind. You're never going to relive your childhood in a way that reconciles and fixes things. You can't make it a goal to undo it. A new external experience won't change what happened a long time ago. In other words, the repetition compulsion is the opposite of choice. But as an adult you have agency, and you can choose another path.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

A Government of Laws, and Not of Men

Are we a government of laws, or of men? That’s the central question famously posed by Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox in 1973, and raised anew by Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions this week. 

Our modern-day Watergate moment is here. 

Robert Mueller’s sprawling investigation into possible collusion between the President’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government has quietly shadowed American democracy for the past two years. Never in my lifetime has the fabric of our Constitution, our values, our collective conscience, and our humanity been placed under the kind of relentless stress we have seen since Trump assumed office. 

Each day seems to bring a new outrage and affront to our ideals. Children in cages. Doctored propaganda from the White House. Mail bombs to political opponents. Media banned from accessing the government and called the people’s enemy. Dictatorial rallies. White supremacist dog whistles. Brainwashed friends and family. Lie upon lie upon provable lie. And if we are paying even the slightest bit of attention at all, we are overwhelmed, disoriented, despairing and more divided than ever.

But we as a nation have to keep our eye on the ball. We must use our time and our voices to assert that we are Americans who care about and will insist upon application of the rule of law. 

As Trump replaces Sessions—perhaps unconstitutionally—with a loyalist who like the President has called Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt,” we must again return to that central question of the Watergate era. People in power come and go but we remain Americans regardless. Are we a nation of laws, or of people?

The answer to that question is the true test of our patriotism.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Only My Giant Pores Can Make Me Sad!

Despair. That’s the only word I have. It’s only been 24 hours since the election, but whatevs. WHAT. EVS! Forget about the election. This is about my pores. Specifically, my enlarged nose and cheek pores.

I’m happy to report that only my ginormous nose and cheek pores can make me sad right now. That’s why I keep a 10x magnifying mirror and a tweezer in my purse at all times—so that I can pluck any stray hairs on my face and examine the circumference of my gargantuan nose and cheek pores in order to properly gauge my despair.

Yes, I take 20 mg of Prozac every morning and get heartburn if I don’t swallow it with water—which can you believe it? I sometimes do not! Because I am so lazy I can’t even be bothered to open a tap after I’ve opened a pill bottle. I can only open so much shit per day, and I have to save some of my opening energy for bills and car doors.

Yes, I am addicted to M&Ms and Mike & Ikes which are also the size and color of pills and just as terrible for you. Big Sugar and Big Pharma are in cahoots. Yes, I am a Jewess (is that even a thing anymore, or did that word die with Shakespeare?) in a gerrymandered white supremacist Potemkin village sham democracy with no change in sight. Yes, half my fellow citizens probably secretly/openly want to turn me into a bar of Ivory soap after they loot my house of all of its ill-begotten Jew goods.

Yes, I live in a melting resource colony and crypto-kleptocracy owned lock, stock, and barrel by Big Oil C-suite cowboy doofuses in bolo ties. Yes, the best STEM education my fifth grade daughter and budding petro-chemist received this year came with a T-shirt and swag from Exxon.

Yes, I feel temporarily better about all of the above when I can stand out in the sideways rain screaming into the void about toddlers trying to escape cages via a release form signed in Crayola and women who have been forcibly suffocated by Supreme Court justices as teenagers. 

And now an astrophysicist at Harvard thinks a “mysterious cigar-shaped object spotted tumbling through our solar system last year” is a sign that aliens are finally—FINALLY—making contact with our broiling little rock!

But it’s the pores—not the poors—that really move my needle of despair in one direction or another.

For the sake of one’s sanity, it’s important to be circumspect about the sources of despair we can control and those we cannot. And keeping my entire face from turning into one supernova size- black hole of a pore via the use of toners, serums, face masks, and other anti-aging snake oil is one of them. I don’t mean to be daft, but really it’s all about the pores.

Give me your wrinkles, your pores
Your tiny blackheads yearning to pop free
That wretched face of forty years or more
Send these, your hard-earned bucks to me!
With two day shipping youth can now be yours!