Sunday, February 10, 2019

On blackface.

I cannot tell you how disheartening it has been to be a Virginian this week -- standing by and watching our top elected officials' careers implode.

First it was Governor Ralph Northam. After he made a statement about an abortion bill that abortion opponents deemed too soft, a conservative website got hold of his 1984 medical school yearbook and found, on his page, a photo of two people, one in blackface and the other in a KKK hood. Immediately, folks on both sides of the aisle began calling for Northam, who's a Democrat, to resign.

First Northam apologized for the photo. Then, in a stunning reversal, he said neither of the people in the photo were him and he didn't know why it was on his page. He did, however, wear blackface to dress up as Michael Jackson in his youth. Moreover, he wasn't going to resign.

Then on Wednesday, attorney general Mark Herring, who's also a Democrat, met with members of the General Assembly's black caucus. When the meeting was over, Herring admitted that he too had worn blackface -- at a party in 1980. In a you-can't-make-this-stuff-up twist, before the announcement of his own transgression, Herring had been among those calling for Northam to resign. Now there were calls for his resignation.

Normally in Virginia, if the governor resigns, the lieutenant governor would step up and become governor. But Lt. Gov Justin Fairfax -- a Democrat and the only actual black man of the three -- is now embroiled in his own mess. Two women have accused him of sexual assault. And of course, there are calls on both sides of the aisle for him to resign.

(It's not lost on anyone that if all three men are ousted from their positions, next in line would be the Speaker of the House -- who's a Republican.)

You would think sex assault charges are the more serious. But this is Virginia, the capital of the Confederacy. This is Virginia, where in the late 1950s, under Massive Resistance, the governor ordered public schools in several localities closed rather than submit to court-ordered integration. This is Virginia, where in August 2017 a bunch of white boys brought tiki torches to Charlottesville and one rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing one of them.

This is Virginia, where racial prejudice still runs deep.

So this isn't just about blackface. But for the record: blackface is unacceptable.

Library of Congress | Public Domain
The practice of white folks donning makeup to appear black has been occurring for hundreds of years (you can bet Shakespeare's first Othello was a white guy under the paint). It became especially popular in the United States in the 19th century, during the heyday of the touring minstrel show, in which white performers would don blackface with clownish red lips. Wikipedia says, "Stereotyped blackface characters developed: buffoonish, lazy, superstitious, cowardly, and lascivious characters, who stole, lied pathologically, and mangled the English language. Early blackface minstrels were all male, so cross-dressing white men also played black women who were often portrayed as unappealingly and grotesquely mannish, in the matronly mammy mold, or as highly sexually provocative."

The practice continued well into the 20th century, moving from vaudeville to movies (Al Jolson appeared in blackface in the first-ever "talkie," The Jazz Singer) to radio's Amos 'n' Andy.

African-Americans see blackface as demeaning, and they're right. Blackface implies all blacks are like the caricature -- shiftless, lazy, cowardly buffoons -- when of course they are anything but.

In an interview yesterday with the Washington Post, Northam said he believes there's a reason why this has all come out now -- a higher-purpose-type reason. He intends to stay on and finish the rest of his term, and he's adopting as his mission an effort to make Virginia come to terms with racial equality and white privilege. "There are still some very deep wounds in Virginia," he told the Post.

No kidding.

I wish him the best of luck. It would be great to be able to say someday, without embarrassment, that I live in Virginia.

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These moments of head-spinning blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Games night.

I hear there's some kind of sportsball thing happening tonight. Which means some of y'all will soon be really happy, some will be angry and/or sad, and some will be too stuffed from the buffet to care.

Then there's the contingent who suffer through the game just to watch the halftime show. From what I'm seeing in my Facebook feed, those folks are already regretting their life choices tonight.

Well, fear not! I have here a thing that everyone can win.

Do you guys like word searches? I loved them as a kid. I was already good at spelling, and it turned out I was also good at spotting letter combinations in word search puzzles. You wouldn't think that would be a useful life skill -- but then I became an editor.

Anyway, below you will find a word search puzzle. The word list consists of the names of some of the deities in the Pipe Woman Chronicles universe, as lifted from the table of contents of A Billion Gods and Goddesses, 2nd Ed.

I used an online word search generator for this puzzle, and I haven't tried it myself yet. The words can go in any direction -- up, down, across, forward and backward, and diagonally. The generator wouldn't take a word that was more than 15 characters, so White Buffalo Calf Pipe Woman has been shortened to "goddess," which is what Naomi calls her most of the time anyway.

Also, the graphic is a .png converted from a pdf. I hope it's clear enough. If not, Adobe owes me fifteen bucks.

Enjoy!


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These moments of bloggy fun and games have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Netflix and take notes.

I had every intention of getting a ton of stuff done this weekend. But this past week turned out to be pretty wrenching for me emotionally. (Fun Fact: Growing up with a bully, and then having to deal with a succession of narcissists and sociopaths later in life, can give a person Chronic PTSD. And watching a bully hold 800,000 federal employees hostage financially for no good reason, and apparently with no remorse, can be a trigger for that person, especially when it happens close to the first anniversary of resolving a similarly pointless financial hostage situation with her original bully.)

Anyway, I ended up tossing most of my original plans for the weekend and giving myself a day off. Yesterday, I stayed in my jammies, knitted, and watched a bunch of episodes of one of the Great Courses.

Stolen from their website. I hope they don't come after me.
Some of y'all may remember when I groused on Facebook a few weeks back that this company appeared to be stalking me. First I received their full-color catalog in the mail, and then, without ever searching for their website, I started seeing their ads on Facebook. They weren't really stalking me, of course; I suspect they're just really good at targeting their potential customer base. Anyway, they were running a deal on a bunch of courses for $35 each. So I bought several to try them out.

These are college-level courses, and the production is about as low-tech as you would expect from a college course: Mostly it's the professor lecturing, with some maps and photos. The episodes are about a half-hour long apiece -- not quite long enough to start nodding off, unless you're very tired on a Friday night and you watch a bunch of them back-to-back (don't ask me how I know).

One of the courses I purchased is called The Celtic World. I decided to try that one first, as I already knew a bit about the subject and figured it would be a good test to see whether I was wasting my money. Not to worry. The professor -- Jennifer Paxton from Catholic University -- was engaging and knew her stuff. I never felt like arguing with her. Well, maybe once or twice: I would have liked more information on the Celtic pantheon (of course!) and a little more technical information about the ornamentation in Celtic music. (Fun Fact: Ornamentation -- all those extra little notes -- were added by bagpipers first. Most wind instruments are played by the musician blowing directly into the instrument; the musician differentiates notes of the same tone by using the lips and tongue to stop the airflow. But a bagpipe has to keep the airflow moving for the drone -- that sustained note that runs under the whole song -- so bagpipers had to come up with another way to separate the notes in the melody from one another. They hit upon adding in grace notes, and the practice became more elaborate over time. Because that sounded cool, other melody instruments, like the fiddle and harp, added them to their repertoire. Another Fun Fact: Those extra notes aren't written in the sheet music. You're just supposed to feel where to put them in, which isn't a hell of a lot of help when you're first learning to play Irish music. I never got the hang of it.)

But for a survey course that covered a ton of material, from the ancient La Tene and Hallstadt civilizations to Riverdance, it was fine.

My initial impression, after this first course, is that the Great Courses are college-level introductory classes you can take for the fun of it -- no tests or homework. If you're the sort of person who used to look through your college catalog and drool over the classes you couldn't fit into your schedule, it's something to keep in mind.

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These moments of educational blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Tidying up, or: The simple living backlash.

Shofuso Japanese Cultural Center, Philadelphia
Copyright 2018 Lynne Cantwell
This past week, much was made on social media of advice supposedly given by Marie Kondo. Kondo, who is Japanese, has been described as a decluttering guru. She has made a career out of helping people get rid of their excess stuff. She now has a reality show on Netflix in which, I'm told, she visits couples who need to make their living space more livable and makes suggestions on how they could do it. She brings a Shinto aesthetic to the process, thanking the house for providing shelter and thanking each individual thing for its service to the household. And then, she says, if you hold the thing and it doesn't spark joy in you, out it should go, to someone in whom it would spark joy.

The thing that set people off was a comment about her view of books. She says she has gone through her collection and now keeps just 30 books. Total. She says that feels like the right number to her.

To which the booklovers of America collectively retorted, "You'll get my books when you pry them out of my cold, dead hands." 

Well, words to that effect, anyway.

I saw someone on Twitter sniff that Americans' criticism of Kondo stems from racism. I don't agree. I do think she comes from a culture where living spaces are smaller and where extremely spare decorating schemes seem to be the ideal. In the Indie Wire interview that I linked to above, Kondo admits that. And she also says her book-collecting advice is practical in Japan, where the humid climate rapidly damages books. There, if you're not going to read a book, it's better for the book to be passed along.

Also in that interview, she says, "The question you should be asking is what do you think about books. If the image of someone getting rid of books or having only a few books makes you angry, that should tell you how passionate you are about books, what’s clearly so important in your life." And if you're that passionate about books, and you have the room, then by all means, keep as many as you want. In other words, when you're decluttering, keep only things that are meaningful to you.

That's advice that's not specific to any culture. I first heard it twenty years ago in a book called Your Money or Your Life by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin. Their idea was to pare your living expenses to essentials while building up your savings and investments, with the aim of retiring early. Paring your expenses necessarily means bowing out of most of the consumer culture that's so prevalent in the West. Besides, the more stuff you own, the more time you have to spend cleaning and maintaining it. Pretty soon, your stuff owns you.

I was active in the simple living movement for several years, but gradually drifted away. It got harder and harder to keep a lid on my expenses; something always seemed to throw a monkey wrench into my plans to save. These days, I know it was partly because while prices have kept going up, wages have been stagnant in this country for the past four decades -- basically my entire working life. 

Anyway, my point is that Ms. Kondo is simply the face of the newest iteration of a philosophy of living that has been around for a long, long time. It's not a bad idea to consider, every now and then, whether you own your stuff, or whether your stuff owns you. 

And feel free to own as many books as you like. I do.

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These moments of sparsely-furnished blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.