communication, complaints, humor, rants

It’s a messy morning for me…

If you’re squeamish about sickness, you might want to skip the first few paragraphs of this post.

So, I think I brought home a souvenir from Belgium. I wasn’t feeling 100 percent yesterday. I had a sore throat and a runny nose. I was sneezing, too. It all culminated last night. I had been really hungry, because we didn’t have much food in the house after our brief trip. I didn’t have much of a lunch. So when Bill made bacon cheeseburgers for dinner, I was all for it.

Just as I finished my burger, my body erupted into a violent coughing fit that nauseated me. I froze, looking horrified, and Bill asked me what was wrong. I said I felt like I was going to vomit. I got up and made a move toward the bathroom.

I didn’t quite make it to the toilet and, let’s just say, it was quite the Technicolor yawn. I spewed puke all over the bathroom and the rug outside the door. It took some time to clean everything up, because everything got doused– the floor, the toilet, the walls, and any items that were in the strike zone. Since this house doesn’t have closets, that meant a few things got sprayed. Bill had to go to the grocery store to buy more sponges and I had to do a sudden load of laundry.

Then, after I got most all of the surfaces cleaned, I got out my steam mop and started to give the floors a once over to get the last residue from my sickness. In the process of doing that, I scalded the fuck out of my toe. Naturally, that led to a lot cursing and an urge to burst into tears, which I somehow managed to avoid doing.

I would definitely feel better if Bill did this nurse’s routine…

This morning, I woke up after a reasonably decent sleep, but my nose is running and I’m sneezing… This could be my allergies, or it could be a cold. Either way, I don’t feel well. However, I still have my senses of smell and taste, and I don’t feel overly tired or achy. So whatever this is, I’m sure it will pass. I’m still horrified about last night’s vomit fest, though I know it could have been worse. At least I didn’t also have diarrhea. I just have a very sensitive gag reflex and will hurl at the slightest provocation, just like the Maggie Blackamoor on Little Britain.

I relate.

And now that I’ve brought up Little Britain, it’s time to move on to today’s topic… because Little Britain offers a fine segue into what’s on my mind this morning.

A little while ago, I ran across an article in The Atlantic about comedy and comedians. The article, titled “When the Punishment Doesn’t Fit the Joke”, was written by Conor Friedersdorf, is partly about the comedian Dave Chappelle. Mr. Chappelle is no stranger to making jokes that sometimes go over like turds in proverbial punch bowls, as my Aunt Gayle would put it. Personally, I think Chappelle is often funny, but I’m not a super fan of his work. I never saw the Netflix special that got him into hot water, during which he made fun of trans people. Chappelle’s special was pulled from Netflix, and many people were talking about how insensitive and “bullying” he was toward a marginalized group. Some people tried to take it even further, attacking his career, trying to ruin him.

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know I’m not a fan of “cancel culture”, especially when it comes to comedians. I may not like every joke I hear, but I am a big proponent of free speech and letting people vote with their wallets and consciences. Also, I like provocative content that makes people think. Sometimes so-called “offensive” humor is thought provoking. Even if a joke is cruel, if it gets people talking, it’s not all bad, in my opinion. Moreover, I enjoy being able to make decisions for myself about what is, and what is not, acceptable humor. I don’t need “help” from the masses.

In his article, Conor Friedersdorf begins by writing about Chappelle, and the performing arts theater at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC. Mr. Chappelle is a former student at the school and has donated a lot of money to it, so the theater was going to be named after him. But then Chappelle got into trouble for his jokes about trans people. The renaming ceremony was postponed, and Chappelle eventually told everyone “that for now, the venue will be named the Theater for Artistic Freedom and Expression.”

Friedersdorf wrote that his colleague, David Frum, had attended the event and offered an interpretation of what happened.

In sophisticated comedy, comedians play with the tension between formal and informal beliefs, and Chappelle’s is very sophisticated comedy. The function of humor as a release from the forbidden thought explains why some of the most productive sources of jokes are authoritarian societies, because they forbid so much. In the squares of Moscow today, protesters physically reenact an old Soviet joke, demonstrating with blank signs because “Everybody already knows everything I want to say.” That same function of comedy explains why “woke America” is the target of so much satirical humor today, because so much of wokeness aspires to forbid.

When Chappelle deferred adding his name to the theater of the school to which he’d given so much of himself—not only checks, but return appearances—he was not yielding or apologizing. He was challenging the in-school critics: You don’t understand what I do—not my right to do it, but the reason it matters that I exercise that right. Until you do understand, you cannot have my name. Someday you will understand. You may have it then.

The article continued with Friedersdorf’s thoughts on modern comedy and what the role of a comedian is supposed to be. Comedians make jokes and offer humorous positions on any given topic. The great George Carlin once did a bit called “Rape Can Be Funny”. In it, he talked about how comedians run into backlash over “tasteless” jokes all the time, with people who try to tell them what is or isn’t funny, and what can or can’t be joked about. Back in 1990, Carlin said:

I believe you can joke about anything.

It all depends on how you construct the joke. What the exaggeration is. What the exaggeration is.

Because every joke needs one exaggeration. Every joke needs one thing to be way out of proportion.

Now… I want to state right away that, on many occasions, I’ve heard Carlin’s routine about how rape can be funny. I own a copy of the CD it comes from, and have listened to it enough that I can recite it from memory. Personally, I don’t think “Rape Can Be Funny” is Carlin’s best work. He makes some very tone deaf jokes about rape that, to me, just plain miss the mark. Carlin’s rape jokes aren’t funny to me, though, because he seemed to think rape is about sex and sexual attraction. In my view, rape is about people who want to take power over another person. It doesn’t have to be a man who does it, either. Women are capable of raping men. I know this because it happened to my husband during his first marriage. He trusted his ex wife, and she rewarded him by violently assaulting him when he was not capable of defending himself. I don’t think she did it because she was turned on, or wanting to turn him on. She did it because she wanted to hurt him, and show him who was in control. That had nothing to do with love, sex, or bonding. It was an act of violence and, to me, it was definitely NOT funny.

However– even though I don’t agree with Carlin’s opinions about rape, I will admit that he made a very good point in his routine about how anything can be funny to certain people. The most skillful comics can make the most horrifying topics funny. I think Carlin was one of the best comics ever, but sometimes even he flubbed things. I didn’t find his rape routine that funny, but I appreciated the one pearl of wisdom within it, in which his main point is that comedians should be free to tackle all topics. If we don’t like it, we don’t have to laugh. We don’t have to watch the show or buy the album. That would be a fitting consequence of not being funny. Trying to ruin comedians’ careers over one or two bad or offensive jokes may not be a fitting consequence– especially when a certain community presumes to make that decision for everyone.

This is the best part of the routine, in my opinion. The rest of it, not so much. But it would have been a tragedy if George had been canceled for saying this. Because most of the other stuff he said was genius!

As is my habit, I went to the Facebook comment section, just to see what people thought of Conor Friedersdorf’s article. As usual, plenty of people who didn’t read it were chiming in. There were also some virtue signalers in there– mostly white guys– trying very hard to prove to everyone how sensitive and “woke” they are, by calling Chappelle a “bully”.

First off, I don’t think that merely joking about someone or something makes them a bully. In my mind, the term “bullying” connotes abuse and harassment that includes threats and intimidation, not merely insults or ridicule. When I think of bullies, I think of people who use their positions of power to control or coerce others. Simply joking about a group, tasteless and mean as the joke may be, isn’t really acting like a bully. Now, if Dave was also trying to force trans people to give him money or property, or threatened to beat them up after the show, that would be more like bullying, in my view.

Secondly, the main virtue signaling offender in the comment section was being very insulting himself. Anyone who disagreed with him was labeled an “asshole”, among other derogatory terms. It seems to me that if one believes comedians should be kinder and gentler, one should be the change they want to see. Name calling those who have a differing viewpoint, especially when you’re pushing the view that people should be pressured/forced into being politically correct, is quite hypocritical. Below are just a few comments made by this guy. I thought about pointing it out to him that his habit of name calling isn’t very PC, but decided I’d rather frost my bush than argue with him.

…life would be better people were nicer to each other and didn’t try to fill the empty voids in their miserable lives by punching down at people more vulnerable than themselves. And it’s okay to call people who do that assholes and say you don’t want to be associated with them.

We’re having that conversation, and a lot of it is “wow, Chapelle really seems to be an asshole who delights in saying hurtful things about marginalized people from atom his giant pile of Netflix money”. But the Atlantic doesn’t like that conversation so they’re trying to shut it down. Fuck that.

…you say “that’s not the world we live in” like this is some divinely ordained state. But it’s a choice. Powerful assholes get away with attacking marginalized communities because others choose to accept it (as long as it’s happening to other people). But we could chose not to just brush off this kind of hate. We could be better.

There was one very sensible woman commenting who brought up that if people in the trans community want to be recognized as “mainstream”, they should be “tough enough” to be made fun of on occasion. One can’t ask to be treated like everyone else, and also demand “special” treatment or membership in a protected class. I totally agree with that notion.

I don’t find all attempts at humor successful, and some jokes really are tasteless, offensive, and too close to the bone, in my opinion. But it’s just MY opinion. Other people have different opinions, and personally I prefer having the right to speak freely over being threatened with being canceled if I express the “wrong” thing or have the “wrong” opinion. And to be clear, I don’t consider refusing to attend a show or buy a DVD to be “canceling” someone. Canceling someone is when a person or group tries to shut someone up or punish them by attempting to ruin their lives. That goes too far, in my view. Especially in a society that is supposed to be “free”, allowing freedom of expression and open exchanges of ideas.

ETA: I had to comment to the virtue signaling guy who was insulting everyone with name calling, as he also called for kindness. I wrote:

“Does it not strike you as slightly hypocritical that you keep labeling people ‘assholes’, as you preach about how we should all be more sensitive and kinder to others? Shouldn’t you start by being the change you want to see? Name calling isn’t the best look if you want to convince people that you’re a good person.”

I just had to do it. This guy seems to think that he should be the one who decides what is– and what is not– appropriate humor, and what jokes we should find acceptable. To quote him, I say “fuck that.” I can make up my own mind about what I find funny, and I can also vote with my wallet, and my feet. Moreover, I don’t respect someone demanding that we treat everyone with kindness and decency as he dehumanizes those who disagree with him by calling them “assholes”. He’ll probably come at me hours from now. Hopefully, I’ll be in an antihistamine induced coma by then.

I will hasten to add that I know I use the word “asshole” a lot myself. The difference is, I try really hard not to presume to “set an example”. I try not to tell people what they should be saying, thinking, or finding funny… or, at least I hope I don’t. I definitely don’t think anyone should necessarily look up to me, or value my opinions… I just like to express myself sometimes. I usually confine my expression to this blog, though, because otherwise, I’ll find myself engaged in a dialogue with someone preaching about being kind to the marginalized, as he calls me an “asshole”. Moreover, simply finding a joke funny– even if it’s vulgar, tasteless, or crass– doesn’t equate to “hate”. I can still laugh at Avenue Q or South Park, after all…

I saw this show in England a few years ago, and was crying at the end of it, it was SO good… it was basically about MY life as a Gen Xer! Should I not have found this funny? Some people might think that. Why don’t I get a vote, too?

As someone who loves humor, I don’t want to see comedians being canceled. I want them to be free to come up with jokes on any topic. I’m smart enough to decide for myself if I think something is funny or not, and I can choose for myself if I want to consume what they’re selling. I don’t need guys like the woke dude above, calling Dave Chappelle an “asshole”, as he condemns his comedy for being too “mean” and marginalizing groups that he deems “at risk”. I want everyone to have a vote, and I want them to be allowed to choose for themselves. That’s freedom, to me. And dammit, I love irreverent humor, even if it sometimes hurts.

Now, if I could only free myself from this runny nose, headache, fatigue, and sneezing, I’d be batting 500…

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book reviews

Repost: Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton

I originally posted this review on Epinions.com on March 4, 2012. It’s being reposted as/is.

A couple of months ago, I happened to see a Dr. Phil rerun about three adopted brothers who were estranged because the youngest brother had screwed the two older brothers out of an inheritance.  At first, I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention.  The subject matter seemed to be very typical for a Dr. Phil show and I generally find Dr. Phil and his ilk annoying.  But after the brothers started to elaborate on their story, I sat up and took notice.  It turned out this particular episode of Dr. Phil was about much more than just squabbling siblings and inheritance money. 

These three men were the adopted sons of jazz musician Billy Tipton and his “wife” Kitty, a former stripper.  Kitty Tipton was one of several women who had married Billy Tipton, who was a moderately successful entertainer in the first half of the 20th century.  By most accounts, Billy Tipton appeared to be a somewhat short but entirely heterosexual man.  What almost no one knew until the day of Billy’s death in Spokane, Washington on January 21, 1989, was that Billy Tipton was actually a woman! 

Though I was around in the 1980s, somehow I missed all the talk show hype about this case that came out after Billy’s death.  I was just hearing about the case for the first time as I watched that episode of Dr. Phil.  I immediately went to Amazon.com to see if anyone had written a book about Billy Tipton.  Indeed, in 1998, Diane Wood Middlebrook published Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton.  I’ve spent the last couple of weeks reading about Billy Tipton’s remarkable life and death through reading Middlebrook’s very thorough and well-written book.

Why she became he…

Born in Oklahoma City in 1921, Dorothy Lucille Tipton grew up Kansas City, Missouri.  Dorothy’s parents had split up, so she was raised by an aunt who insisted that she learn how to play the piano. Dorothy turned out to be very musically talented.  She could sing, play saxophone, and play the piano.  She was also a very capable bandleader and entertainer.  Unfortunately, at the time Dorothy was coming along, women were not commonly accepted as jazz musicians. 

At age 19, Dorothy initially started dressing as a man so she could play the kind of music she wanted to play.  Noting that movie star Joan Crawford’s real name was Lucille and people had called her “Billie” as a nickname, Dorothy was inspired to use her middle name Lucille as the basis for changing her name to “Billy”.  At first, some of her fellow musicians knew that she was just dressing in uniform so she could play jazz with them. 

As time went on, Dorothy’s original gender identity went by the wayside and she lived as a man 24/7.  She totally passed as a man, mainly because she was careful never to let anyone see her naked, and dazzled her paramours by being suave and debonair.  The different women who had relationships with Billy over the years somehow instinctively understood that Billy treasured his privacy and knew that they weren’t to touch him or barge in on him when he was in the bathroom.  Indeed, Middlebook reports that “Billy Tipton” was so convincing that even his several “wives” never knew the secret after their unofficial unions were consummated.  They were all shocked when the truth came out after Billy’s death because they had all had sex with him.  Naturally, the lights were always off.  One woman even called Billy “the love of her life”.

My thoughts

This book is absolutely fascinating.  Diane Wood Middlebrook does a great job writing Billy Tipton’s story and explaining all the angles of Tipton’s life.  Her writing is very readable and conversational.  I had no trouble falling into this book and getting engrossed in Billy Tipton’s amazing story.  Middlebrook also includes pictures, which I think are essential to this particular book.  Every time I ran across photos, I stopped and studied them just to examine how the people in Billy’s life were fooled.  Personally, I think Billy looked quite feminine, but I guess I can see how people fifty or sixty years ago would just take his word for it that he was a man.  People didn’t talk about such personal things back then as much as they do now… or so my mother often scolds me!

I will warn that there are a few topless photos in this book.  They aren’t of Billy Tipton, though, who never let anyone see his chest, which he had bound with bandages.  Tipton explained the bandages were there because he’d had injuries from an accident that had never healed properly.  As I look down at my own D sized breasts, I couldn’t help but wonder about how Billy handled the more personal aspects of being a female… like menstrual periods!  How on earth did Billy sustain marriages to other women and keep his periods a secret?  This is just one of many questions I pondered as I read this incredible true story.

Overall

Sometimes you really can fool all of the people all of the time.  This is a fascinating book for music buffs, show biz mavens, psychology fans, and people who just love outrageous stories.  I happen to fall into all four categories.  If you do too, I definitely recommend reading Diane Wood Middlebrook’s book, Suits Me: The Double Life of Billy Tipton.

A video about Billy Tipton.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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language, musings, politics

“Chickenshot…”

It’s amazing how quickly things can change. Looking at memories on Facebook is a reminder of how, in just a year’s time, our focus can shift. A year ago, people were up in arms about people in cages at the southern border of the United States. I was in Sweden with Bill, and we were going to pick up our brand new Volvo. Meanwhile, we spent a couple of heavenly nights at Gothenburg’s best hotel, the Upper House.

This year, we’re contemplating a quick weekend away in Gerolstein, a place two hours from us in the next state. It’s known for its mineral water, which I used to buy when we lived in North Carolina. It’s not Sweden, but I’ve been wanting to go there for years. And now that we live somewhat close and have a good reason not to travel far, it makes sense to consider a trip there.

Anyway… this topic comes up because as I was looking at my old memories, I ran across an epic argument I had three years ago about an ad the NRA had put out that was pro Trump. As of this writing, it’s still available.

She’s easy on the eyes as she spits out how evil liberals are…

As I watched this NRA ad again in 2020, it does seem oddly predictive. There have been a hell of a lot of protests lately, some of which have gotten violent. She seems to think the answer to this is a police state and everyone armed to the teeth, even though Trump is unraveling more and more by the day. It’s disturbing to watch him disintegrate. He’s supposed to be a leader, but I expect him to collapse and go into a fetal position any day now, a la Jim Bakker back in 1989 as he was convicted of fraud and sent to prison. Jim Bakker was initially sentenced to 45 years behind bars, but was paroled after almost five. You can now find him on YouTube, eagerly peddling doomsday “food” slop in buckets and stumping for Donald Trump.

This is an entertaining and disturbing video.

The NRA ad attracted a number of comments from my friends, including one of my conservative cousins (and I have a whole lot of conservative cousins). My cousin Timmy (not his real name) had to chime in on the NRA. Timmy is a dedicated gun owner and gun rights proponent. Despite having been arrested a time or two when he was younger and wilder, he’s very much in favor of the police. And yet, despite all of this bad-assery, my dear cousin will no longer say the word “shit”.

I’m not sure exactly how or why this change came about. I know he used to drink a lot. In fact, he is partly responsible for my very first drunken episode when I was fifteen, because he kept giving me bourbon and Cokes at a family party. I remember getting very sick in my hotel room… It was definitely not my finest hour. But I was a teenager at the time, while he was an adult. I later heard that alcohol had caused Timmy a lot of problems and he had finally sobered up. Now he’s exchanged booze for conservatism, legalism, and religion. And he won’t say “shit” anymore, probably because he thinks it offends God. Instead of “chickenshit”, he says “chickenshot”. Instead of “bullshit”, he says “bullshot”.

I’m not Facebook friends with Timmy anymore, because we had one too many contentious arguments in which he became overbearing, snide, and insulting. It reminded me of dealing with my dad, who would similarly be rude and disrespectful when discussions didn’t go his way. Still, because we’re family, I run across his comments now and again on stuff shared by mutual family members who are also “friends”. I have noticed that he substitutes the word “shot” for “shit” quite often. I wonder why he does it and if he really thinks it makes a difference. Does God really care if you swear? Seems to me like God would have much bigger issues to deal with than someone who says the word “shit”. It’s silly, and it makes it hard for me to take him seriously. But anyway, here’s an example. Timmy told Bill that he’s a “Constitutional Libertarian”. Bill asked him to explain what he meant. This was his first response:

I can only define myself. As Jenny would say “who are you that I must explain who I am or what I believe”. 

Since you took the military service oath it shouldn’t be hard…and as an officer there should be “no gray areas”

Actually, I only said that to Timmy once, and it was after he’d been relentlessly badgering me about some argument we were having. I basically told him that I’m not obligated to explain anything to him just because he says so. Bill’s query was a lot more respectful, as they generally are. To his credit, Timmy recognized that, and wrote this response:

Actually Bill…my answer was chicken shot. Yes I believe in the US Constitution in the “originalism” sense. 

I know it’s next to impossible for it t be applied in that sense…yet it’s what I feel we should strive for. So many years have passed with gross overreaching from representatives and our federal government into our personal liberties. Members of congress could enact Article V… but appear scared to do so. 

You join the ranks of many that ask me to explain what I mean…for crying out loud it’s written in black and white. 

It wasn’t fully applied as written for many years. We’ve made progress to instill those liberties but have much more to make. 

It was snide and childish to respond the way I did earlier. I respect you, your differences, your wife, and the service you embrace for our country.

He eventually annoyed me so much that I posted this photo. His response was, “Very nice! Good thing you have a Masters degree Jenny [sic]”
To which I responded, “I have two of them, Timmy. :)” I don’t think he likes “uppity women” like me.

Later that same day, he decided to chime in on a discussion some of my friends and I were having about a mother who wanted to have her seven year old transgendered child sterilized and save some of her own eggs so that the child could later have children biologically related. He left this comment, basically revealing how he feels about people who adhere to Islam. I don’t think he’s remotely interested in understanding transgendered people and has simplified it to a “perversion” that, at the very least, requires intervention and correction by a psychiatrist. I don’t know much about transgendered people myself, but I do think it’s a real thing and people who are transgendered aren’t necessarily mentally ill anymore than cisgendered people are.

I guess I over simply things when “sorting”. To me the bathroom issue appears to be about “plumbing” and possibly being sexually or physically assaulted. 

The desired “comfort level” while relieving oneself in a public restroom…cannot be reasonably achieved. 

Knowing 20-200 individuals have sat (or stood) on the same toilet seat never comforts me. Not knowing their level of hygiene, nor the frequency of janitorial services…what sex they were doesn’t affect my comfort. 

Surely I’m not the only one who feels this way

When no one responded to that, he left a snide comment about “Sybil”. I guess he was referring to Sybil, who had multiple personalities and was the subject of a book and a movie? I asked him if he had anything of substance to add to the conversation or if he was just there to add snarky comments. He finally backed off… and if I recall correctly, it wasn’t much longer before I kicked him off my page.

Timmy doesn’t mind being snarky, dismissive, and rude when he comments, but he has a big problem with the word “shit”. And I imagine that if he heard the word “fuck” uttered in front of him, he might have a major meltdown. It’s too much to bear. Actually, it kind of makes me chuckle, because my dad was much like that. My dad HATED it when people swore. When he was angry, you might hear him say any manner of hateful things. He’d turn beet red and his veins would pop out. He was legitimately scary when he was like that. But– I never once heard him say the word “fuck”. I think I might have heard him say “shit” once or twice in my lifetime. He would say “damn” or “hell” on occasion, but it wasn’t very often. And he would often lecture me about my language, but y’all know I’m a potty mouth. I cuss a lot. I would rather cuss than become hateful or violent. I have not seen Timmy get violent, but I know he has been that way. He proudly carries firearms and I know he’s been arrested for being drunk and fighting in public. Timmy is also a very short man– even shorter than Bill is (and Bill is only 5’7″). I imagine a lot of this behavior stems from the fact that he’s short, and carrying a gun and being an asshole makes him feel better and more powerful about his lack of stature.

Another one of my cousins shared a laughable meme… laughable especially since the person who posted it didn’t even consult Google Translate when he added German… Behold:

JamesJim Lawrence is not my relative, but my relative shared this. I think Mr. Lawrence should speak only for himself instead of declaring that “most Americans” have disgust for people who take a knee when the National Anthem is being played. Moreover, if the Germans had taken over the United States– minus Hitler, anyway– we might be better off than we are right now. Germany is not doing too badly.

Well, it’s probably a good thing that I live so far away from “home”. I do feel pangs of sadness when I see how close some of my relatives are to each other. I feel kind of jealous when I see how some of my friends are close to their friends and relatives and how all of the “social distancing” has been a real hardship for them. It hasn’t been much of a hardship for me, since I live so far away and I can’t relate to a lot of my family members anymore anyway. They have written me off as a “chicken shot” liberal, even though I definitely don’t agree with all liberal ideas.

I just think that right now, the liberals are much more in touch with reality than the conservatives are, and they have policies that seem more humane. I’m also pissed off that the conservatives cursed us with Donald Trump, who, I’m sorry to say, is the worst president in United States history. Or, at least, that’s my opinion. I will admit I’m not an expert, and I understand that a lot of other presidents reportedly were even worse. But, at least in my lifetime, Trump is the worst by far. He doesn’t even pretend to be a leader. My cousin, Timmy, the self-proclaimed “Constitutional Libertarian”, didn’t even have the cojones to vote for the Libertarian POTUS candidate in 2016. Oddly enough, this liberal “chicken shot” and her husband, did…

Incidentally, I think I could be persuaded to buy some chicken shit… I hear it’s a good way to season your poultry.

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politics, religion, social media

When learning guitar becomes contentious…

A few weeks ago, I bought a guitar. I’ve been wanting to learn how to play guitar for ages now, and since we’ve been locked down, it seemed like a good time to give it an honest try. I say “honest” try because back in the mid 90s, when I lived in Armenia, I bought a used guitar for $30 and tried to learn how to play it. But I only managed a few chords, and then one of the gears on the headstock broke. I was never able to get it repaired, so that little learning project went by the wayside until now.

At this point, I’m just using Fender Play for instruction, although I hope at some point to hire a real time teacher. I’ve made some progress. Changing chords is a bit challenging at this point, but I’m able to eke out songs very slowly and somewhat accurately. I have developed calluses on my left hand, too.

To enhance my study, I joined the Fender Play Community Facebook group. At this writing, the Fender Play Community has 48,879 members in it. In order to join the group, I had to agree to some rules. One of the main ones was not to use profanity, which is sometimes a challenge for me. The rest are pictured here…

Reasonable enough…

For the most part, I’ve enjoyed the group. People have been very nice and it’s reassuring to see that other new players are having as much trouble making clean C chords as I am. I’m on the “Folk” path, but since I paid for a year of instruction, I’ll probably continue to other paths once I’m finished with Folk. I just started level 3 today, although my playing is still probably more akin to level 1 or early level 2. People post videos of themselves playing. Sometimes it’s very inspirational.

I’ve also really enjoyed the virtual instructors, who really seem to know their stuff. I even have kind of a crush on a couple of the teachers. Fortunately for them, I’m old, happily married, and living thousands of miles away. But I will admit, I like a couple of the teachers more than others. And one teacher, in particular, is very inspiring. His name is Jen Trani. Jen, short for Jensen, is transgendered and recently underwent a double mastectomy as he transfers from female to male. He’s very talented and encouraging and often does live “office hours” to show off technique. I found a couple of cool YouTube videos about his journey and will add them to the end of this post for those who are interested.

But then today, someone decided to post this…

I have to admit, I’m kind of on the side of those who don’t necessarily want to see a post like this in a group about playing guitar. And fortunately, just after I took these screenshots, the post was removed. It had been up for about an hour. As you can see, a lot of folks were not happy to see it and some people are starting to become kind of ugly.

I don’t know about you, but lately I’ve felt really saturated by social media posts about certain topics. We’ve all been hit with post after post about the pandemic, for instance, and the importance of social distancing and wearing masks. I’ve already bitched about that more than a few times. Now, the emphasis is on the terrible issue of racism and police brutality. There have been riots and protests, and lots of people are making their voices heard both literally and on the Internet. I’m all for that. But– there is a time and a place for everything. A group that is devoted to learning guitar is not the place for posts about current events.

I’ve actually enjoyed the Fender Play group because the posts are mostly about learning to play guitar. That’s something fun, challenging, and exciting. It’s positive, and everyone in that group is looking to become better at playing guitar. That is one thing that everyone has in common, and it’s something in which everyone can share solidarity. However, as you can see by the comments above, not everyone is in agreement about the protests. Comments quickly become disparaging, and the mood of the group gets very contentious.

Aside from that, posts about the protests are literally everywhere on Facebook right now, except in groups that are about specific topics. For instance, I run a group about wine and food and we have not been discussing current events in that group, unless it has something to do with food or wine. Makes for a much more peaceful and fun environment, and everyone needs that sometimes. We all need a place where we can escape stress and forget about our problems or issues that affect us.

I’m not sure if a moderator removed the post or the original poster did, but it was gone immediately after I took screen shots. It was starting to heat up, though. I didn’t get all of the posts within it, but people were getting pissed off. It wasn’t the first political post I’d seen in there, either. I guess it just goes to show you the politics are everywhere right now. Everyone wants to talk about the protests and Trump’s ridiculous antics. But some places really should be sacred, otherwise people become jaded and bitter. We all need a rest sometimes.

Anyway… about Jen Trani. He came out as transgendered in 2018. Here are a couple of videos about his transition to becoming a man, and here’s a link to his official Web site. The first time I saw Jen, I was sure he was a “she”. In the videos on Fender, Jen appears to be a woman. Then, when I saw him playing guitar in a live office hours post, it was obvious Jen was transgendered. But I wasn’t sure if Jen was transitioning to female or male. Then I saw the mastectomy scars in a photo and found these videos about the transformation. They’re very interesting, so if this is a topic that intrigues you, I would recommend watching them.

Jen is already very much respected for playing a mean guitar and being a good teacher…
This is a very brave story, though, and I think he deserves a lot of respect for sharing it.

I’ve been enjoying learning how to play guitar, even if I still suck at it. Singing is a lot easier for me than playing instruments is. But I have always regretted not sticking with piano and I’ve been wanting to play guitar for a long time. I’ve even got Bill interested. He’s thinking about picking up a guitar, too. If he does, maybe I’ll learn bass or something.

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love, music, songs

… and cool, fresh, gender roles… My man is no knuckle dragger…

The other day, I was putting together my most recent jigsaw puzzle, listening to whatever Siri will play on the HomePod. For some reason, Siri won’t play specific albums or artists right now. Instead, I get a hodge-podged shuffle of my entire, very eclectic music library. One minute, I’m listening to opera or classic English hymns. The next minute, I hear Led Zeppelin or Rhonda Vincent. I have extremely BROAD musical tastes, and you’ll find a sample of just about everything on my iPod.

A lot of the music I have is classic stuff I grew up with, but I also have a lot of other stuff I download on a whim. Quite a lot of my downloads are what I refer to as “drunken downloads”… meaning I’m a bit lit when I decide to make a purchase. Consequently, I have a LOT of music from obscure artists. I’ll hear something I like and impulse buy. Such was the case on the day I discovered singer-songwriter Dar Williams. Fortunately, Bill doesn’t mind that I do this. In fact, he often appreciates my drunken downloads.

Such a pretty song. This is a live, solo version.

I don’t remember what day it was that I first heard her warm, comforting vocals. What I do remember was that she was singing with Alison Krauss, another singer I admire. I downloaded the song and it would occasionally come up on my shuffle. I’d think about how beautiful the melody was and how she and Alison were blending together.

Then one day, I got lit and downloaded another one of her albums, 2010’s Many Great Companions. I don’t remember why I downloaded it, and in fact, I don’t think I’ve even heard the whole thing. But there I was, a couple of days ago, listening to my HomePod and furiously finishing the 1000 piece puzzle I’d been working on for a couple of months (I had quit working on it for a few weeks). Dar Williams came on Siri, and I heard the incredibly moving song “When I Was a Boy” for the first time. It made me stop in my tracks.

I love this song… it’s deep on so many levels.

This song’s lyrics are incredibly profound to me. I went on YouTube to find a video so I could share it with friends. I noticed a lot of transgendered people had left comments on this video. The song really spoke to them, too, probably in ways I can never fathom. Of course, I am not transgendered myself, but I still really related to this. I was a tomboy as a kid, but later became more girly. I have never wanted to accept strict gender roles, though. I wasn’t one to fall into a specific role simply because I’m a woman, and I don’t necessarily expect that of other people, either.

Two or three days passed. My post got maybe two likes, both by people who like everything regardless. I was delighted this morning to find a comment from Lisa, a wonderful musician friend, who was once my accompanist when I was studying voice and is now herself a piano professor at the university that granted me my bachelor’s degree. She posted that she loves this song, too. It’s funny, because back in the early 90s, we didn’t know each other that well. I always suspected that back in those days, she thought I was obnoxious and weird. Her husband is also a music professor. He plays saxophone brilliantly and taught me sight singing. They are very cool, talented people, but when I saw them on a daily basis, I didn’t get to know them that well. Now that we’re on Facebook, she and I have discovered that we love a lot of the same music. Sometimes, it’s uncanny how close our tastes run.

Anyway, I got so excited that someone else liked Dar Williams that I shared Dar’s video with Bill. By the time the song was over, we were both in tears, profoundly moved by the lyrics, the music, and Dar’s voice. It struck me as pretty awesome that I could sit there at the breakfast table with my husband, play him some music, and share the emotions that came from hearing it. There was something really special about relating to that song with Bill– a sense of solidarity, closeness, and mutual understanding.

There we were, discussing how complex and incredible “When I Was a Boy” is… and sharing tears because we were both so moved by it. It occurred to me how lucky I am on so many levels… to be able to share this with Bill and talk about this and anything else with him over breakfast that he made for me. And that I have so many incredible, wonderful, talented friends who share this joy with me too, even if I was weird and obnoxious… and still am. I often have a bad attitude about things. I get depressed and hopeless, and feel like I haven’t amounted to much… or I write about how some jackass was mean to me because he thinks I’m fat and ugly and my only redeeming quality is a pretty singing voice. But then I have experiences like the one Bill and I shared today, and I realize how fortunate I am.

I am so grateful I married a guy who is in touch with his feminine side and can relate to Dar Williams’ poignant lyrics about how she was “a boy” as a little girl who liked climbing trees, getting in fights, and running around topless. And how, at some point, gender roles are forced upon us. Suddenly, Dar wasn’t tough enough to walk home alone and needed help from a “nice man”, even though she’d cut her teeth on playing with boys and knew how to fight.

Conversely, Bill talked about how men are always expected to be “on”. They aren’t allowed to cry or be emotional, and how so many people think men can’t be abused simply because they are men. They are expected to fix things and solve problems, with no tears and a minimum of fuss. We’ve talked about all of this before, too. The truth is, I have a lot of “male” qualities… it mostly comes out in my language and humor. I’m probably “tougher” in some ways than Bill is, despite his Army officer history. Bill, by contrast, is more of a soft touch. He’s kind, loving, and nurturing in ways I’m not, despite my bleeding heart social work/public health/writer/musician history. I used to cry a lot more than I do now. I can’t do that anymore, for some reason. Bill, on the other hand, can cry with ease.

Life is so strange. I met Bill in a place where one is very unlikely to find a life partner. I certainly never thought I’d meet him offline, and if you’d have asked me if I would have married him back in 1999, I would have laughed incredulously. In fact, the first time he asked to meet me, I was very reluctant and scared. But then it turned out he was this wonderful guy… a wonderful, intelligent, kind, sensitive, ethical guy, who would never hesitate to support me. I thought about the type of men I was exposed to growing up. A lot of them were perfectly decent people, but they would not care about a song like “When I Was a Boy”. They wouldn’t want to discuss current events with me. And they would expect ME to cook the grits. Some of them would not appreciate my greying hair or ample figure. They wouldn’t care about my writing or my music. And they sure as HELL would not cry over a song with me, especially one about gender roles.

I remember when Bill and I were dating. My sisters warned me about marrying a military guy. More than I had, they experienced the military lifestyle as kids. They knew it meant moving a lot, and putting up with some of the obnoxious sexism that can run rampant in military communities. They figured Bill, as an Army officer from Arkansas/Texas/Tennessee (he moved more than I did, and he wasn’t a military brat), would be a “knuckle dragger”. I was warned that I shouldn’t consider marrying Bill because, I guess, they figured I couldn’t choose my own spouse. I am, after all, the youngest of four. It’s true that a lot of their fears about the military lifestyle came to pass.

My planned career, that I worked so hard to train for and spent so much time and money on, went down the toilet. I have also seen a lot of people who fit the description of military guys that they knew, and if I had married one of them, I would probably be divorced today. And marrying a divorced guy with kids, particularly one whose ex wife is as batshit crazy as Bill’s ex is, is certainly a risky endeavor. But looking back on all the years that have so quickly passed, I realize that I could not have custom ordered a better partner for myself. I did just fine in choosing Bill, and I am so very grateful I took the plunge and met him offline… and married him despite all of the well-meaning advice to the contrary that I shouldn’t.

So… I love that man, and I love that we can share Dar Williams, and the emotional tears that came from her incredibly poignant music. I don’t know how it is that I got so lucky finding Bill in a chat room back in 1999. But I’m so glad I did… and I’m so grateful to friends like Lisa, who share a love for the same music, too. I’m also grateful that I went to Longwood University, which was not my first choice school. It was there that I was encouraged to study music, and there that I met Lisa and her husband… and twenty-six years later, I’m still remembered. That is amazing! I must be doing something right.

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