Punk Comma Women

A few weeks ago Lorna Doom, original member of the Germs, passed away. When I heard the news, I thought it would be a good time to revisit Penelope Spheeris’ The Decline of Western Civilization, get my snack on, rock out and maybe catch some footage of Lorna performing. After shelling out $4 (a pretty punk price) to Amazon (the least punk of all corporations) to rent the film for a week, I settled in with my crappy headphones and waited to be blown away by some woman punk power.

Doom had a total of about two minutes of screen time. The concert footage focused deliriously on Darby Crash’s antics, and the camera barely skimmed over to Lorna when he stumbled stage right. There was a talking-head shot Doom shared with a friend, holding the Germs album in her hands, not speaking. The more telegenic Exene had lots to say, but aside from a few colorful audience members, Spheeris didn’t dedicate much time to the women in the film. This got me to thinking.

Spheeris is fantastic. We saw her speak at Portland’s Hollywood theater a few years back and she’s eloquent and funny and fun. Wayne’s World is arguably one of the most crossover-y movies of all time (show me someone who doesn’t enjoy it and I’ll show you a kicker of baby animals) and her ongoing documentation of various music scenes are invaluable cultural documents. But what I was thinking about – and what continues to nag at me – is the film’s lack of representation of women. I suppose it was pretty representative of the LA early punk scene. Which was of course pretty much a cesspool of misogyny (yeah, I heard you, Fear).

History is just that, I reminded myself. Look at the great strides Women in Punk have made since then! In my lifetime I’ve seen so many amazing shows with, by, for women from that scene and beyond. I have had the privilege to see Alice Bag. Exene. Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde. The Go-Go’s, even. Later the Lunachicks and Team Dresch and Tribe 8. And so many of their progeny over so many years. Thinking of that made me feel better. All those punk and post-punk women, standing in a long row of badassness, making my life better all the time.

A few days after I’d gotten all my warm fuzzies neatly lined up, I was watching Saturday morning TV with my kids. On weekends, all PBS bets are off, and we were in the midst of a Spongebob binge when I heard a familiar punky refrain… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jRd7-RYYN-g

My fuzzies fled. Mediocrity DOES rule. Punk IS well and truly dead. And I know I’m not the only parent who recognized that jam, so then I’m feeling super sorry for all the other punk moms out there. Right back to my post-Spheeris bum out.

Lucky for me, I sometimes read the NY Post. https://pagesix.com/2019/01/25/courtney-love-thinks-bikini-kill-suck/

It is the best of all possible worlds.

 

 

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Shore missing it

The Jersey shore is perfect in September. No crowds, warm water, cool air and empty beaches. For three decades, starting in my mom’s junior high years, my grandparents would rent the same room at the Island Beach Motor Lodge for a month. Straddling the edge of Seaside Beach and the Island Beach state park, it was – and is – the last hotel on the strip; a quaint 50s two story motel with an ocean side seafood restaurant commanding incredible storm views. Elsie and Earl. Kay and Lou. Dot and Harry. Anne and Gloria. Four couples – one queer – I never did learn how they met – rented adjacent rooms annually.

When I was born this was already a longstanding tradition. My grandfather would work all week at the Plant and head down on the weekend. My own parents – teachers – would scoop me up at 3 on Fridays to head down. I remember how thrilling the strike of ’79 was – Mom and I spending not just weekends but whole weeks at the shore while Dad picketed. During the week the wives would fish at dawn – bluefish run at that time of year – listening to the weather radio for the seasonal hurricane warnings, cooking together and playing pinochle or Yahtzee or Boggle long into the evening, noisily drinking homemade kahlua or gallon jug wine. It was during those weeks as a fishing assistant tasked with predawn carting of sand stakes (and the horrifying death-bucket) that my nascent vegetarianism developed, I’m sure.

The weekends were far less stressful when the kids and grandchildren arrived. Now were evenings at Lucky Leo’s arcade and pizza at the Sawmill, or sausage and pepper sandwiches on the boardwalk followed by ice cream at one of many tantalizing spots. Anne would play the acoustic guitar and Dot & Harry’s grandson had a turtle who responded to his reflection in a hand mirror. I went to the mainland hospital twice – once for an inordinate amount of splinters in the soles of my feet, and again for a pebble up the nose. I was obsessed with puppets and put on shows from behind the army-khaki scratchy beach blanket. I saved my skeeball and video poker tickets all season to take home a frilly doll lamp or flocked bank – proudly displayed in the hotel room window alongside the now full jar of beach glass.

We stopped going to the beach in the mid 80s, when my grandfather’s heart became too weak for strenuous sand walking. We still drove down some Sundays for meals at the Top of the Mast or Rose’s (they made me pancakes in the shape of my initials! Incredible!) but the sense of belonging – and access to the heated pool – just weren’t the same. I think now of how much more it must’ve meant to my Mom – carting her portable turntable at 14, bringing her toddler at 28, her surly preteen at 36…

Our kids are already 2 and 4 and we don’t have a vacation ‘spot’ – the nation is their stomping ground – we’ve been everywhere together and it’s wonderful – but the strong and sweet repetitive memories of this place are so deep in me, I can’t imagine what life will be like for them without that sort of a touchstone. I still dream of the place a few times a year. I took my wife cross country to see it well before we got engaged – impressing upon her the importance of holding this spot dear to her own heart by proxy. We walked the shore far down into the state park together then.

When I was little I could go as far as I liked, since my Grandmother’s two-fingered whistle could be heard a mile down beach, prompting my return. I so appreciated the freedom they granted me then – in the moment and in retrospect. I can’t imagine letting my own kids roam as far as my family let me go. Maybe one day, we will find a beach where they can.

 

Doll in a Suit

We go to a lot of preschooler birthday parties. A lot. So many that I’ve developed a strong aversion to artificial cupcake colors. As it happens many of my older kid’s friends are boys, so when finally tasked with shopping for a girl’s big fourth I was excited…with my own little gal turning two I couldn’t wait to scratch the surface of all the fun, girl powered dolls that must be out there.

Here’s a challenge – go on Amazon – and search “lawyer doll” ( this gal’s mama is a lawyer so I thought it’d be keen to gift her a dolly with a tiny briefcase full of – well, briefs – but no such luck.) My search returned exactly one 80s troll doll in a suit. Ah, I thought, dolls are identified by how they look, not by what they do? Fine, I will search “doll in a suit”. Answer: 7000 dolls in swimsuits. OK fine. Real business doll. For this one I got lots of those creepy newborn dolls plus some hair extensions. Don’t even try searching “real doll.”

Bottom line is this; you want to get your four year old a ballerina or mermaid person it’s no problem. If you want to get them a doll that reinforces for them how cool it is to have a mom who wears a suit to work (beyond the swim variety) you’re SOL. I am worried that I’m not going to be a good enough at the sewing machine by my own daughter’s 4th to make an Ad Agency Production Manager doll outfit. Or a lawyer. Or at least a lifeguard. Beyond that I am deeply distressed that I am going through the same exact bullshit my own mother must’ve gone through FORTY YEARS AGO.

I HAD a cowgirl doll and an Olympic gymnast doll, a skateboarding rag doll and a tanning plastic one whose scalp rotated; I was pretty stoked at the variety in my collection. But I sure didn’t have a Plus Sized Art Teacher doll that looked like my mom. Though I didn’t feel like anything was missing at the time, that lack may have planted the seeds of dis-ease with my mom’s body type and my own years of struggle with societal beauty norms.

I got my son’s friend a brown-skinned ballerina doll. Not too different from my own black Ballerina Barbie. Maybe a slightly more realistic body type. Ballet patron, arts reporter and dance historian dolls were not available. 40 years on I was hoping for a little more choice.

Woo-hoo; spring break!

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My oldest is nearly four. He goes to school for a whopping six hours per week – seven if you count hanging out for lunch on nice days. His first official spring break begins today – a whole week without preschool looms on the horizon. What to do? Mommyblogs offer countless options. I’m guessing we will do a whole lot of what we normally do on our off time. Semantically, though, it’s throwing me for a loop. Spring break. He’s mastered spin art, has improved his sharing skills, and is ready to relax and recoup for a week, bro.

Here’s what NOT to do on your kid’s first spring break:

  • Think about what spring break is going to be like for him in fifteen years. (At all. Just forget it. Stop.)
  • Think about what his little sister’s first spring break will be like a few years later. (See parentheses above, bullet point below. Cringe, shudder. Repeat.)
  • Think about what certain young Trump supporters are doing to embarrass themselves and their families (or maybe not, who knows) while they visit Mexico this week.
  • Think about the fact that there is a whole strata of persons who – as a matter of rote – after completing a portion of a year of voluntary education – deem it necessary to reward themselves for their trouble. Take a break, sure. Take a vacation? OK. An expensive one? To another country? Because you finished some exams? Whaaaa?
  • Think about what college is going to cost. For both of them.
  • Ponder the creative ways you’ll tell them you don’t have any extra scratch for them to party down on a beach somewhere, and isn’t the idea of coming home to visit Portland in the spring just lovely?

I have so many days when I feel like I will never be away from the washable markers and tiny legos and pull-ups. But I will, and it will be too soon, I know.

So this week, gang, we’re going to bake some cookies. Go to a matinee. Work in the garden, our little family of four, and we will tuck the littles in with minimal bickering, extra stories and footie pajamas.

It’s going to be the best spring break any of us will ever have.

Seriously, Portland?

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OK we’ve had 48 hours to process this election. I’m no less sickened than I was two days ago, but I am much calmer and I am – as I assume most adults are – thinking about my game plan for the upcoming days. I had thought that this weekend it might be good to bring the littles out to protest the results of the election; give us a sense of unity in this misery, and show the kids that as a queer, women fronted family we’re not alone in our distress. This was until I viewed tonight’s PDX shenanigans online.

Fake anarchists breaking car windows (Toyota Dealership? Really, people? How is destroying mid-price economy cars Sticking It To the Man?) shouting “kill the rich” is the last thing I expected to see in video of tonight’s rally. Perhaps this is because I came up in thoughtful, well organized protest cultures in larger cities where dissent can be stated without striking fear into the citizenry that shares the same ideals. Perhaps this is just because I can see further than the end of my own nose, and I know the difference between a political protestor and a thug looking for an opportunity.

The left will not get anywhere with random violent action. You folks in balaclavas don’t represent me any more than Trump does. All this does is depress me more.

I call to my people – queers, women, the Others of all strata – to protest in peace. Make plans. Author useful civil disobedience. Come together. Leave the baseball bats at home.

Magic; not magic

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It seems that raising children is a continual oscillation between stellar moments of complete awe / overwhelming joy and total f’ing miserable drudgery.

I thought I had gotten over giant, dramatic mood swings in my teenage years, but the randomness of these explosions of beauty throws me off my predictability game. I have read many parents’ claims that these sparkling moments make everything else – the poop, the whining, Thomas the Train – totally worthwhile. I disagree. The contrast between the fantastic and the meh draws everything into relief and makes the horrible even more apparent as such.

Why? Because the things that amaze you about children are never what you expect, never the same thing they did yesterday, and certainly not anything predictable or repetitive.

It’s not at all unlike a pervasive ad campaign. WOW, you think, upon first viewing of that clever commercial or billboard. Innovative. Unique. Spectacular. What sticks with you about a fresh piece of marketing is the same thing that makes you sick of it once you have viewed it ad infinitum across various media.

A concise plea; mix it up. Don’t let the repetition of your clever work make your concept into mush. Different media demand different styles of visuals, text and  presentation. Tell a story across your media, say, with a beginning in print, a middle online, an end in email.

Keep surprising your audience and do something unexpected. Never draw the same picture twice. Be the preschooler.

I’m Not Like Everybody Else

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OK readers, you’ve probably gotten the idea by now that I’m not a fan of “if you liked this, you may like that” analytics or demographic-based marketing assaults. I bristle at being grouped together with anyone, even if we do share the same tastes/age/income/geo-political perspective. As I get a little older I think I am beginning to understand where this resentment comes from.

I am of Generation X. (Never liked the name – even though I was a fan of Billy Idol’s early band – the whiny 1994 Winona Ryder movie really drove home my distaste for the term.) Demographically, I sit right in the middle of the bracket.

Truth is, I like a lot of the same crap my peers do. I was into the Northwest Sound in the 90s and believed that the internet was going to be a DIY kind of cool place for sharing ideas. I did vintage 60s in the 90s (and grimace at folks doing vintage 90s in the teens). My kids are being raised to know the difference between Jello Biafra and Genesis P-Orridge. I like the trees and the oceans and want to work to keep them around.

So what makes me resent this collusion of marketing and gerrymandering? What do I have against my peers and why don’t I want to be grouped with them? At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, it’s because I don’t like a lot of them. Lots of people my age are jerks.

Lots of people of ANY age are jerks, though, yes? And sure, lots are cool. The difference between someone in their forties viewing their peer group and someone twenty years younger doing the same is this; my primary interactions with the people I know have been based on actual spatial contact. My friends are not my “friends” – they are the people I have spent time with. I have less than a dozen of them, not hundreds. I don’t agree with a lot of their tastes. I have no desire to be grouped with them in terms of marketing because I do not feel any great drive for the validation of my choices.If anything, I enjoy a healthy debate with any one of my buds about a movie or a musical artist.

When I was a teenager, few things frightened me more than the possibility of being mistaken for ‘normal.’ I was unique, I had deep thoughts, I wore dangerous looking shoes. I was different and I thought that was what made me cool.

Why on earth would I want to like the thing everybody else was liking?!?

If you tell me that my Facebook friend plans to go to an event near me I could really care less. If I found out my actual capital-F friend was going, I’d have already had an inkling that their plans inclined that way, based on my established knowledge of their tastes, based on our actual relationship.

No surprise, then, that “I may also like this”. No shit, really. My friends and I have probably already talked about it and made our own associations between cultural event A and B. We’ve got it figured out already, and we don’t care if you’re going.

 

 

 

Pride; sharing words and images.

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Today was the first day of Portland’s Pride festival. We were brave and went. I could write a whole post on that decision process alone – on the fear and the tension overcome, the safety plan, the days it took us to shape our resolve. Suffice to say, we were there, and we will go back tomorrow, because we have kids, and damn it, there’s a parade.

On the way into the event, in the expanse of grass along the Willamette waterfront park, a line of conjoined wooden doors were erected in the shape of a backwards question mark.  People had written their sentiments, mostly about Orlando, but also about self, about Pride, about anything.

Our son is three.  He knows what to do with a box of markers.  While he was going to town, my wife and I read what we could and contributed our own brief testimonials. The baby, toted along in the carrier, waving at everyone, craned her neck to see what we were doing.

I wrote what I say when I’m trying to calm our crying children –  it’s going to be OK.  It’s not something I know for sure, or even really believe, but saying it to my kids, the way it was said to me, offers us all a level of comfort that is difficult to achieve with everyday language.  Maybe it’s the omniscient authority of the statement that makes it powerful.

I watched as my wife drew a sweet rounded heart shape – the type many girls have drawn since grade school – but as I saw her add wings so much of the feeling I have been holding back for days came up to my throat and my eyes.  Love flying away.  Love flying out to the people who need it.  Love over and above us.  We ARE a community.  We are looking out for one another.  Our hearts are so heavy for the lost, but our hearts are also brave and strong.

The boy finished his drawing, put his marker away and asked where was the door.  I am going through the door, he said, and we followed him.  It’s all we can do.  It’s everything.

A Few Thoughts on Media Coverage of the Orlando shootings

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A return to The Blog after a significant absence with zero fanfare, out of necessity.  Niceties to follow at another time.

I woke up this morning to my infant daughter fussing. This isn’t unusual, but because I like to track her sleep, I checked the time on my phone when I got up.

Headlines from the HuffPost & BBC gut punched me awake. I read as I nursed; early reports with numbers posted that were too sickening to believe and would only increase as the morning drew on. Both alerts mentioned at six AM PST that this was a gay club. That information – that word – framed my interpretation of the news as I would read and listen to it all day. That single word made the unfolding coverage pertinent to me and to my family in a way that no other could. For us, it distinguished this unbelievably horrible shooting from a dozen other unbelievably horrible shootings in recent history.

As the morning wore on I listened to the nice folks on local and national Public Radio toggle between inclusion and exclusion of a most salient point; this was a hate crime, perpetrated against my community – against queer people. It was a little like waiting for my family to catch up once I had come out. Yes, Aunt Cookie, two girls together. It’s OK. We will still show up for Christmas. Thank you for including her on the card.

But this isn’t my beloved New Jersey relatives. This is a major media outlet. We do not have time or compassion for your learning curve. Call this massacre what it is. Some nut job got freaked out by some gay dudes and decided that killing a bunch of other gay people was an appropriate response to his struggles with his homophobia.

Imagine the rancor that would result from a news source deciding to omit – in a story about the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict – the cultural identity of either group. Imagine the outrage if the press had failed to mention racial factors in any number of police shootings over the past months. As PBS stumbled over the implications of queerness as a factor in this mayhem – searching for the Islamic militant connection – repeatedly referring to Pulse as  a ‘Florida nightclub’ –  they fell short of their primary responsibilities of complete and accurate reporting.

Invisibility is a problem. Omission is a problem. More than a hundred of my queer brothers and sisters were shot this morning. Call them that. Call them LGBTQIA. People died being who they were, enmeshed in their community, brutally attacked right in the midst of their safe space. Black and Latinx queer and trans people died this morning. Give them the respect of naming them with accuracy, compassion and honor.

Tonight I will hold my daughter, my son and my wife closer.  We will process this news together, decide to attend our local pride, or not. We will discuss today’s events with friends from across the rainbow spectrum. We will cry a little less tomorrow but we will not forget. We will galvanize, we will be brave and we will be proud of who we are.

Please don’t tell me what I like.

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Today’s post was supposed to be an essay about privacy, Facebook and keeping select things to oneself in the digital age, but there’s something far more pressing that I need to address at the moment. I have been working in marketing for years, attempting to motivate consumers towards a given brand, and have no qualms about trying to convince people that my client’s product is something that they need. Nor should anyone involved in any advertising or marketing business; it’s our job. But the current trend of ‘personalization’ in the digital realm as a marketing tool operates on such an insidious level that it smacks of, well hucksterism, deceit and generally icky tactics.

This morning my Pandora app told me it was me. “Pandora is You” is what it said, specifically, reasoning that since I had responded with a thumbs up or down to a series of songs, I had dictated the formula for the next tune in this analytically curated queue. Pandora posits that this series of votes on my part has honed the rubrics of song categorization to such a finite point that the resulting songlist is completely representative of me as a person. I for one don’t think identity is fashioned by a series of yes or no answers, and I certainly don’t trust the opinion of anyone who thinks I  like Cutting Crew.

I know I’m not the only person who feels a twinge of resentment every time Netflix or Amazon suggests something to me that is completely off base. I definitely know I’m not the only one who becomes unnerved when they hit the nail on the head. I even get a little apprehensive, in an Orwellian kind of way, about perusing items that have been suggested to me, lest these retailers get too deep inside of my brain.

This is a longstanding gripe of mine. When I worked in ecommerce http://www.ecommercepartners.net/ I was always hesitant to supply a client with the module for their site that would kick out a series of “YOU MAY ALSO LIKE” item options. Especially true for shoe stores, this is just an impossible task. Creating an algorithm of this type requires that the initial ‘liked’ option become as a sum of it’s parts, with those parts being subjectively categorized. That is not simply a gorgeous shoe that calls to mind New Year’s Eve, Simone Simon and a smoky brick walled nightclub. It is women’s shoe, black, heel, 3″ heel, d’orsay, satin, import, retro, buckle.  If another shoe matches enough of these categorizations, then blammo, I may also like this apres-ski bootie, those galoshes and the overstocked sandal to which the seller has assigned every possible adjective in hopes that he can clear his shelves.

This practice inherently demystifies shopping; denying intuitive, associative and instinctual choices actually leads to depersonalization.  Instead of courteously attempting to appeal to the taste of the consumer, retailers take it upon themselves to let their audiences know what those tastes are.  And that’s just plain creepy.