Impulse Control, the Key to Gun Control?

Want to change hearts and minds about gun control? Control your impulses.

I recently read the first Facebook thread I’ve seen since the Orlando massacre where respectful discourse between disagreeing parties occurred. Like a mythical unicorn, this thread reignited my belief that real change might be possible.

By real change, I mean a more peaceful existence. With very few exceptions, we all share this desire. Disagreeing about how to achieve peace is what trips us up. It’s a human nature trap that’s as common as our predisposition to fight about the best driving route to a given destination.

For that reason, I humbly submit the opinion that the “how” and not just the “why” of mass killing (and killing in all forms) matters, and is part of the equation we must solve.

There are some instruments which, when coupled with poor impulse control in disturbed individuals, invariably lead to death. The British Coal Gas Theory, discovered by accident, proves that when humans have easy access to sure-fire deadly instruments, the rate of killing increases.

In the 1950s, Britain used a form of cheap and plentiful coal-derived energy. The unintended consequence was that coal gave off a high level of carbon monoxide which, given an open or leaky valve, could induce asphyxiation within minutes. By the late 1950s, “the gas chamber in everyone’s kitchen” (as one psychologist put it) accounted for 2,500 suicides per year, or half the nation’s total.

By the early 1970s, nearly every home in Britain had converted to cleaner energy. During that conversion period, the national suicide rate dropped by one third and has remained there since.

With the utmost care and diligence, we must untangle the “they’ll-just-find-some-other-way-to-commit-suicide” argument, and it’s next-of-kin, “they’ll-just-find-some-other-way-to-get-guns.”

Here I must pause, acknowledge and apologize for my ignorance in using that exact argument in opposition to the high fencing added to Seattle’s Aurora bridge, second only to the Golden Gate bridge for number of jumpers. Our environment matters. It offers very few natural, painless ways (gorges? canyons?) to kill ourselves and others. When humans add deadly elements to the environment, it is our responsibility to restrict access to those deadly elements.

We are impulsive creatures. Some of us, in moments of despair or rage, seek a physical solution to a spiritual crisis. Assault rifles reward impulsive behavior with immediate and catastrophic results.

And some of us, in moments of despair, lash out with words of anger and condescension at the continuing ignorance.

The “how” and not just the “why” of our debate tactics will determine whether we successfully ban assault rifles. Like any major shift in tide, it will come down to you and me, and the tone of our conversations on the street, on Facebook, and in our homes.

Credit: AMERICAblog

Credit: AMERICAblog

Peace lovers, if you want change, control your impulses. Challenge yourself to engage respectfully with even the most obnoxious anti-gun control proponents, or not at all. Post open ended questions and be kind and genuine in your responsive moderation. Do not allow impulsive responses – especially from your side of the argument – to go unaddressed in your feeds. Channel your inner elementary school teacher.

It has been a long road, an uphill battle. The hair-trigger responses are nothing if not understandable, but the unintended consequence there is, they stall change. Convert to a cleaner form of energy. Renew your inspiration and perspective by remembering those revolutionaries who continued to respectfully speak the truth even when they knew it could cost them their lives.

I don’t know exactly how, but it all comes down to impulsivity. To “win” this debate and change the culture, we need to exhibit impenetrable control of our impulses though our ability to respectfully engage.

Beneath the surface of every anti-gun reform argument is a foundational belief that ultimately, humans are incapable of controlling their impulses. Ironically, clinging to weaponry provides a sense of protection from that lack of control. This underlying belief, that humans are incapable of impulse control, must be proven wrong.

You can start that process right now by respectfully engaging in discussions at all costs.

 

References

Anderson, S. (2008). The urge to end it all. New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/06/magazine/06suicide-t.html

Gardner, J.R. (2011). The girl on the bridge. Seattle Met. Retrieved from: http://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2011/6/29/seattle-aurora-bridge-suicide-prevention-july-2011

Klapper, E. (2011). Automatic weapons vs. french cheese: Which is easier to buy in the u.s.? The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/23/automatic-weapon-french-cheese-gun-control_n_1696200.html

 

Open Letter to QAE Community Member “John Smith”

[Note: “John Smith,” is a pseudonym used by a person who first appeared on the now defunct “Seattle Wants David Elliott Back” Facebook page. John Smith shared a letter from another anonymous QAE community member, who in turn represented many QAE families (you still with me?) who were displeased with David Elliott. John Smith and the families for whom he claimed to speak cited fear as the primary reason for their lack of both prior communication and present identity disclosure.]

Dear John,

I’m writing today with the goal of mending this community. I must be honest and say that my heart is broken. I saw a genuine striving for good in David Elliott, and I am grieving the loss of that effortful goodness for our children and the state of education in general. My strategy now is to focus on striving for goodness within our community, to look closely at what we know and what we don’t know, to try to make it whole again. As NPR’s Sarah Koenig would say, “all facts are friendly.”

Heart pin

I have a lot of questions before my healing can begin. Though I have not seen your pseudonym pop up in the forums lately, I trust that you are still heavily involved in the discussion, based on your previously communicated level of information clearance and concern.

  • When you referenced the fear involved in having a dissenting voice, I felt empathy for you. When my friend pointed out and surmised that you had been removed from the “Seattle Wants David Elliott Back” page for expressing that voice, I sent you a friend request. If community support is what you’re after, why didn’t you accept?
  • It is clear we disagree on the subject of whether or not David Elliott is fundamentally good. When there are two other well-loved public elementary schools within a one mile radius, can you shed any light on why your representees would willingly send their children to an option school with corrupt and adversarial leadership? I respect their right to a different opinion, and am genuinely curious as to why they would not use their parental powers of discretion to seek a better education for their children.
  • Regarding the level of fear you communicated, I can’t help but conjure images of people trapped inside a cult. If your representees feel as though they are surrounded by unsympathetic people who drank the Kool-Aid, why break the silence now? Which part of SPS’ dismissal of David Elliott- based on missing paperwork- felt like the kind of support they had been waiting for? Does your group have any concerns about the future educative implications of aligning themselves behind an establishment that has acted in such bad faith toward a community majority?

As someone who is currently obtaining a masters in teaching, I am deeply affected by SPS’ blatant and unilateral flex of power in opposition to hundreds of discerning and well-informed parents. It has made me, along with some extremely talented future educators in my cohort, actually reconsider our career paths. It is one thing to be a cog in a wheel, it is quite another to be a cog in a broken wheel.

  • Now that justice has been corruptly served in accordance with your representees’ personal beliefs regarding David Elliott, will they continue to take part in a school community which, to them, must seem almost entirely comprised of ignorant followers? I can’t imagine willingly partaking in that level of daily frustration, nor subjecting my children to it.

I met with David face-to-face regarding the cyber-bullying incident, which I assume is the primary impetus behind your involvement. What made the cyber-bullying incident so difficult to address was the lack of accountability due to hidden identity. Though we may ultimately disagree about David’s handling of that situation, let us not forget that the perpetrator of this sad and desperate move was not David, but a child within our community.

  • If we are a community joined in the holistic effort of education with a technology focus, how are online pseudonyms and speaking for large swaths of unnamed others addressing the fundamental issue of accountability which first began these divisions? How are you modeling the behavior you want to see in our children, John?
  • If you (and those you represent) continue to hide your identities, then it is clear you do not trust your community. How is a community lacking in trust supposed to heal?

The many voices which comprise a community are rooted in individual identities. To sever an identity from its voice is to undermine and call into question the empathic and reasoning capabilities of all other vocally integrated members. I want to come together to heal, but healing will not take place until we address this issue of identity and accountability.

I look forward to hearing from you, John.

Connor

 

An open letter to Larry Nyland regarding David Elliott

Dear Dr. Nyland,

In the past few days, Seattle Public Schools has offered several recommendations for how we are to speak with our children regarding the abrupt removal of their principal, David Elliott, from Queen Anne Elementary. I am writing this letter in response, on behalf of my children, Ruby, Asa, and Zane Desai.

Excerpt from the SPS letter to QAE parents.

Excerpt from the SPS letter to QAE parents.

I first met David Elliott in the spring of 2007 on a tour of Coe Elementary. As he concluded the tour, perched on the corner of an empty classroom desk, encircled by anxious, and inquisitive parents, I was struck by his candid and open demeanor. We had found our school. This is a man who lives by principles and not by systems.

In 2010 when we discovered that David Elliott had been asked to open a new elementary school in Queen Anne, it did not take us long to decide to follow him there.

When the teacher he picked to teach 2nd grade agreed to meet at my neighbor’s house for an informal Q and A, we made a plan for all our incoming 2nd grade children to play outside. At the conclusion, certain she would want to get home, we thanked the teacher, Katie Cryan-Leary, for meeting with us. She thanked us and then asked, “Is it okay if I go outside to talk with the kids now?” And so began the school governed by principles, and not by systems.

In the nearly nine years since that first tour at Coe, I have seen David Elliott outside, rain or shine, greeting each and every child as they arrive at school in the morning, and depart in the afternoon. This is not a part of his contract. I have seen him on daily classroom rotations; often on his knees to get a better look at a student’s work. This is not a part of his contract. I have seen him deeply inspire hundreds of school children on the merits of perseverance. This is not a part of his contract. I have seen a succession of dozens of David Elliott’s handwritten birthday cards to my children, well-loved with food stains and taped precariously to their bedroom walls. This is not a part of his contract. Even though my twins have an August birthday, his letters arrive in the mail.

Letter from David Elliott to my son, Zane.

Letter from David Elliott to my son, Zane.

As a kindergartner at Coe, my daughter Ruby (now 13) was struck by a car in a crosswalk in North Bend. The following day, I answered the door to find David Elliott and Ruby’s kindergarten teacher, Christie Stabelfeldt, bearing a giant kindergarten-class-made get well card. This is not a part of his contract.

I applaud the PTSA for welcoming and supporting interim principal, Amy McCue Jessee. I reject the SPS-implied rhetoric that in order to continue supporting our school and the new interim principal, we must stop asking questions and accept the contract-invoked, forced resignation of David Elliott.

I stand with the staff, teachers, and classroom coordinators who, with clarity and autonomy of mind, decide to keep their classrooms informed regarding the movement to reinstate David Elliott, despite pressure to desist from the unseen powers that be.

According to the SPS website, “Dr. Nyland says his personal mission has always been to bring people together to do what it takes to improve student success.”

Dr. Nyland, permit me to quote the motto of your alma mater, Roosevelt High School: “What I am to be, I am now becoming.”

Our children are to be informed, compassionate, and active citizens of a democratic nation. Their “becoming” is fostered by curiosity, respect, self-advocacy, and perseverance. Our children, SPS students, have witnessed their universally beloved principal removed by people who, to my knowledge, have never set foot on Queen Anne Elementary grounds.

We are, and always have been, coming together to improve student success. Where are you?

"Hair ice" on the PCT

“Hair ice” on the PCT

David Elliott is a leader who walks alongside our children, literally and figuratively. Perhaps my favorite thing about him is how contagiously inspirational he is. He is an avid lover of nature, sometimes writing blog posts for no other reason than to tell his families to take in the splendor of fall leaves at Discovery Park, or to share a picture of the rare and glorious “hair ice” he found on the Pacific Crest Trail.

FDR's motorcade. Port Angeles, 1937.

FDR’s motorcade. Port Angeles, 1937.

As a frequent reveler in the majesty that is the Olympic Mountain range and National Park, I want to leave you with a story. On September 30th, 1937, President Franklin Roosevelt arrived at Port Angeles amid an embroiled battle between conservationists and the US Forest Service for the rights to much of what is now the Olympic National Park. According to wikipedia, the President was greeted by more than 3000 school children. According to historylink.org, “a banner hung across the courthouse saying: Mr. President, we children need your help. Give us our Olympic National Park.” The Roosevelt High School band, “burst into spine-tingling strains of ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’”

“Mr. Mayor and my friends of Port Angeles,” the President said, “That sign is the appealingest appeal I have ever seen in my travels. I am inclined to think it counts more to have the children want that park than all the rest of us put together.”

And I am inclined to think it counts more to have the children want their principal than all the rest of us put together.

Please, Mr. Superintendent, we children need your help. Give us our principal, David Elliott.

A Present Perfect Reality

When is the time to be happy?

 

I don’t know about you, but there are a great many unknowns about aging that frighten me. Questions like: What if I can’t control my body? What if I lose my mental faculties? What if I end up all alone? are so abysmal that they tend to be punched down, whack-a-mole style, just as soon as they pop up.

 

Paradoxically, the last time questions like these carried any relevance for me was when I was a child. For better or for worse, the old and the young share an inescapable focus on the present. The old because there is no telling how much time they have left, and the young because they have so little concept of time to begin with.

 

Because of the scary questions, modern society has controlled what it can by compartmentalizing the old and the young, like carrots and peas in a TV dinner. These compartments allow for interaction with their adult caregivers, but not each other. Though we are not any closer to answering the scary questions, the bond between old and young perspectives has been severed. The community that delights in the present has been dismantled, and caregiving adults are left scrambling to approximate it.

Present Perfect

About four summers ago, I sat on the front lawn of my sister Evan’s house watching our kids play. She had just been to an estate sale, but instead of regaling me with what she wanted to buy for her new home, she fixated on the former inhabitants’ lives. As she described family photographs she saw, she became overwhelmed with concerns for their present whereabouts. My sister is not really a crier, so this took me by surprise. What followed was a stream of consciousness; hard-forged, well-intentioned, and courageous, on the the state of the elderly in America. She had looked at all the scary questions, turned them over in her hands. She came to believe in a better way.

 

I now see how that exchange foreshadowed “Present Perfect,” her film about a preschool housed in a nursing home. In addition to my previous post back in Sept, I am honored to submit this perspective alongside ViralNova, NewslinQ and the countless other national news outlets that have resonated with the redemption in this idea; the 380k (and counting) viewers of the Present Perfect trailer since last week, and the 310 donors to the Present Perfect Kickstarter campaign (now a Kickstarter staff favorite).

 

And maybe one day, when I am of questionable mind, unsound body, and all alone; a little boy with a black eye will bound toward me with a book in hand. He will grab my gnarled fingers, and accept my wrinkled face. We will read and inhabit the present together, and then I will know I am still a person. And just maybe I will have some dim memory of–some residual pride in–the seed of change that is Present Perfect.


I am honored to support this film, and I hope you will too.   

 

 

The Glass Ceiling of “Feminism”

In September 2014, Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson delivered a powerful speech to the UN on gender equality, launching her #heforshe campaign. Within that speech were these three lines:

  • “It’s not the word that’s important, it’s the idea and the ambition behind it.”
  • “We are still struggling for a uniting word, but the good news is we have a uniting movement.”
  • “How can we expect to change the world, when only half of it is invited, or feels welcome to participate in the conversation?”

The answer to this last question is of course, we can’t. We can’t change the world when only half of it is invited, especially when the uninvited half is the oppressed half.

Gender inequality is different from other equality issues we face as humans. It’s manifestations are intimate, spanning a spectrum from subliminal to overt which is often sexual in nature. Men and women around the globe live in the same homes, sleep in the same beds, and lay claim to the same children. Male dominance exists from bedrooms to boardrooms, and infiltrates all races, religions, and socio-economic classes.

Each day the solution to this problem eludes us is another day the world suffers. Childhoods are stolen, virginities sold, motherhoods forced, voices silenced, bodies broken, and educations denied. These sisters, daughters, and mothers are trapped; emotionally, psychologically, and physically. A female’s innate desire to see her family thrive is routinely and often violently manipulated into the primary device of her servitude. The slightest infraction can lead to death, terrorization, or still more restrictions on her freedom.

It’s easy to assume this degree of brutal male entitlement is relegated to places like Taliban-controlled Afghanistan or the acid-throwing practices of Pakistan, but it is propagated in the US too. When Eminem released The Marshall Mathers LP, it contained a hit song about his then-wife, eponymously entitled “Kim.” In this song Eminem can be heard imitating Kim’s screams of protestation, murdering her, dragging her body through leaves, and dumping it into the trunk of his car; but not before he tells Kim how he slit the throat of her four-year-old son. The Marshall Mathers LP won a grammy for “Best Rap Album” in 2001.

According to an article in “Huff Post Women” (not sure what makes these stats unsuitable for male consumption) the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq between 2001 and 21012 was 6,488. The number of American women who were murdered by current or ex male partners during that time was 11,766. Of this staggering number (nearly double the casualties of war) 75% of the women were murdered after leaving or attempting to leave their relationship. This constitutes an epidemic.

Men who exert control over women in their homes, in the workplace, in politics, and in religion first learn these controlling behaviors as children. These men most likely had mothers whose desire for peace, whose love of family (coupled with her lack of legal recourse) was turned into the device of her servitude. This model is what fuels the entitlement they feel to a woman’s service, and sadly, sometimes her life. When protests must occur within a woman’s own home; where will she go to get relief? How will she care for her family? It is not our lives most women fear for most, but our families.

If a woman doesn’t possess the freedom to walk out or lean in, she can only keep railing at her oppressor. In this way the term “feminism” persists as a defense mechanism. She is hoping this will make her father/husband/boss/colleague finally see her, value her. It is this dynamic that feeds oppression.

The most basic history lesson in civil disobedience proves this point further: Oppressors are sustained by the polarity they create. The movement may be uniting, but “feminism” as a term is polarizing. Any retaliation on the part of the oppressed, however just, becomes yet another arrow in the quiver of the oppressor. Worse yet, those on the sidelines waiting for their minds to be made up eventually walk away shaking their heads. They saw only bickering, and concluded that no one was beyond reproach and therefore worthy of back up. And for what? A name? Our adherence to this term costs us valuable allies every day, the same amount of time it takes for three women to be killed from domestic violence in the US alone.

So although the term “feminism” succeeds in recognizing the systemic victimization of women, it does so by employing the conquering male mentality it seeks to cure. Women are predestined to know, inherently and biologically, that life is not about conquering, but coexisting. In the words of one of my adolescent heroes, Ani DiFranco, “As long as you play their game girl, you’re never gonna win.”

Feminism Glass Ceiling

Despite the shocking stats, the fact remains that women in developed nations experience more freedom today than most any other women in history. This advantage must be what the Dalai Lama had in mind ten years ago when he surmised that western women would save the world (no pressure).

On that call-to-action note, what if we simply stopped engaging? What if we all walked away? In 1975, 90% of Icelandic women walked out of their homes and jobs for gender equality. The country shut down. Airports, schools, and hospitals could not function. Icelandic parliament became half women as a result of the strike, and passed an equal pay and paid maternity law the following year. Four years later, Iceland elected the first female president in the world.

The fight for gender equality is a giant chess game, and it’s our move. Maybe we shock the world, especially the ones who fail to grasp that their rabid hatred of “feminism” is actually disgust for their own domineering mindsets in disguise, and we walk away from this word. What will happen when we switch out our banner from the red herring that is “feminism,” and replace it with a name that more accurately represents our movement’s unalienable, unifying truth? When equality exists, everybody wins.

My bid is equivalism. It is pronounced like equivalent, and means equal value. It’s important that the word easily absorb the -ist suffix (i.e., Because I’m an equivalist, Bob! Aren’t you?). Do you have a suggested replacement for the term “feminism?” Or do you disagree with the name change? I welcome your comments.

What have we got to lose? As Emma Watson said, “It’s not the word that’s important, it’s the idea and the ambition behind it.” Let’s invite our brothers to the conversation. We need them, and they need us.

 

Give us This Season our Yearly Death

If the first electric light was invented in 1800, and scientists estimate the first modern humans appeared around 500,000 years ago; then electricity has been around for roughly .04% of the time humans have.

Let’s imagine we are part of the other 99.96% of human existence, and the dark-dispelling stimuli (lights, radios, TVs, computers, cars, etc.) of the past 200 winters does not exist. It is now that we must have faith: Faith in the pattern of seasons and of love, faith that darkness and death have a rightful place in the sequence of lightness and life.

The winter season, properly observed, seeks to prepare us for death.

If we ignore the example nature offers us, how can we expect to face the inevitability of loss? Is there any greater common desire than to live, and die, with dignity and grace?

When we clear a path through the artificial clutter, now beefed up on commercialized-Christmas steroids, it is possible to reclaim our rightful place in natural reality. Buried under countless, insulating layers is our vulnerable and unadulterated reliance on the natural world. Here the daily increase in darkness can’t help but remind us of that most troubling of all human problems: Mortality.

Is it any wonder why we are all addicted to distraction? The onset of winter makes us even more susceptible, like stampeding black Friday shlemmings (shopper-lemmings), to the frenzied pace of the unfocused. Where has our light gone?

Weren’t we all just drunk off the sun’s liquid gold attention? Our heliotropic faces, with eyes closed in the ultimate expression of trust, turned involuntarily skyward? Didn’t I just marvel over the produce in the Farmer’s market stalls, the juices of a perfectly globular Yakima peach running down my forearm? What are we to make of our lives, when the supple, oceanic undulations of trees are replaced with a skeletal score?

We must connect with each other. There is no other way. We need a communal pact to push through the suspicion that the impending obsolescence of life around us, and of our own lives, is just cause for apathy. For what is apathy but premature death?

I know! Let’s put a tree inside our homes. I know it sounds crazy, but let’s just try it.

The considerable hassle of bringing a tree into our homes befits the quixotic, noble-fir humility of our intent. Though our world appears to be dying, we can bring life inside, to symbolize our beating hearts. We will walk by this life and breathe in its greenness. We will place candles in the windows to fill our eyes with sun. But this will be our sun, and this will be our tree. We will see more trees and candles in other homes, and our joy will multiply. Our shared intention makes it so. The limitation of mortality, observed together and with compassion, provides meaning to life.

Christmas Tree

A dozen years ago this past October, in a high rise hospital room, a young woman with an unplanned pregnancy was about to give birth. She insisted on playing Christmas music. The doctor and nurses; her mother, husband, and mother-in-law; her two sisters and her cousin (all three of whom are coincidentally pregnant) can attest to this.

I must have known subconsciously then what I am beginning to grasp more fully now. Manifested in the birth of my daughter was the fearful, ponderous, and complex process of life giving way to life.

Hadn’t I just been born? Wasn’t I just a little girl, immersed in daughterhood, running naked through the tall summer grass and into the open embrace of my parents?

I recently received an email from my dad, a devout Christian. To my utter astonishment, he ended with the line: “I feel God’s smile upon you as She lovingly observes you.” To me, these words were so revelatory they brought to mind an anecdote I learned about Susan B. Anthony. When young Susan’s public school teacher refused to teach her long division on account of her gender, her father, Daniel Anthony, opened his own school.

While I am still digesting the transformative properties of my father’s radical expression of love, I feel in his statement the meaning of life, and the audacity of the Christmas tree.

Allow me to leave you, my time traveling companions, with a favorite carol reimagined.

In winter’s loss and love,

Connor

O Holy Night

The stars are brightly shining

This is the night of our dear baby’s birth

Long lay the world

In sin and error pining

Till she appeared and my soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

Fall on your knees

And hear the mothers’ voices

O night divine

This is the night when Life was born

 

 

Mission: Inequality

What percentage of movies have you seen that meet the following criteria?

  1. contains at least two named male characters
  2. who speak to each other
  3. about something other than a woman

Unless you’ve recently watched Little Women, or Barbie: The Pearl Princess, seems close to 100% right?

We’re approaching the 30th birthday of the Bechdel Test (pronounced bek-dle) which, for those of you who don’t know, is exactly like the test above with a slight variation. In order for a movie (or novel) to pass the Bechdel Test, it must:

  1. contain at least two named female characters
  2. who speak to each other
  3. about something other than a man

The Bechdel Test first appeared in a 1985 comic strip entitled Dykes to Watch Out For by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel. According to Wikipedia, “on average, films that pass the test have been found to have a lower budget than others, but have comparable or better financial performance.”

Dykes_to_Watch_Out_For_(Bechdel_test_origin)

The Origin of the Bechdel Test

Last night I sat down to watch a movie. As Edge of Tomorrow‘s opening scenes unfolded, and Tom Cruise put on his ready-to-flex-some-serious-male-badassery face, I found my mind wandering to the Bechdel Test… just before I found my body wandering away from the screen.

This morning found me entering every one of Tom Cruise’s 43 movies into the Bechdel Test search engine.

Why Tom Cruise, you ask? Well, for starters, I have it on good authority (the highly controversial “Trapped in the Closet” South Park episode) that he suffers from homophobia, which is especially problematic given that he is most likely homosexual; an assumption I surmised from the aforementioned reference, a stylist at Nordstrom who will remain anonymous, and Planet Unicorn.

What we know of him beyond the big screen: three head-scratching marriages, unsolicited medical advice to Brooke Shields, couch jumping, Scientology, etc. depicts a highly motivated, well-intentioned individual with some serious [insert badass face] self-awareness/actualization issues.

I think we both know what this means.

I think we both know what this means.

Basically, the man is a perpetual actor. On and off-screen Tom Cruise pretends to be an American heterosexual male, which could account for the fact that, of the 23 Tom Cruise movies listed in the Bechdel database, only six pass the test.

That’s right folks, only six of Tom Cruise’s movies contain two named females speaking to each other about something other than a man.  Below are some, including Cruise’s top four highest grossing films, which fell short of this litmus test:

  • Top Gun
  • Rain Man
  • A Few Good Men
  • Interview with the Vampire
  • Magnolia
  • Vanilla Sky
  • Minority Report
  • Collateral
  • Tropic Thunder
  • Valkyrie
  • Jack Reacher
  • Edge of Tomorrow
  • All four (4) Mission: Impossible films

To be fair, there are several notes on the Bechdel Test website under Edge of Tomorrow defending it’s content. One viewer writes: “May not pass the Bechdel Test, but it really gets a strong female character RIGHT. Rita never loses her agency like so many others do.” Several additional commenters agree with this assessment.

To be fair again, here are the Bechdel Test comments from three of Tom’s six passing movies.

Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 1.05.46 PM Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 1.15.57 PMScreen Shot 2014-09-25 at 1.17.30 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although it’s never bothered me much that there aren’t more females in the military or running oil companies (will these institutions exist in the same capacity once female intellect is tapped as faithfully as the female body?) the one thing that really frosts my vagipper (pronounced vah-jipp-er) is their lack of representation in the arts. Quick! Name a female classical composer.

As far as I know, in any given geographical area you will find a somewhat equal number of males and females. That said, is there any reason on the planet why art galleries, radio stations, entertainment and book publishing industries shouldn’t offer an equal roster of male and female work?

Here are some stats about female artist representation from Seattle and beyond:

  • What Music Matters most to KEXP? At Seattle’s favorite local, independent radio station… apparently male music. Of KEXP’s top 25 bands played in 2013, 86 musicians were male, and 6 were female. That amounts to .07% (rounding up) female representation. One band out of 25 was female-fronted (Neko Case at #21).
  • According to this 2012 article in City Arts Magazine, “only 5% of the art on display in U.S. museums is made by women, although 51% of U.S. visual artists today are women. In the current edition of H.W. Janson’s textbook, History of Art, only 27 women are represented—that’s up from zero in the 1980s.”
  • This week old article from Slate laments the 9:1 (male to female) ratio of authors nominated for the National Book Foundation‘s 2014 non-fiction award.
  • In the Hollywood film industry, women make up 5% of directors, 14% of writers, 18% of executive producers, 25% of producers, 20% of editors, and 4% of cinematographers, based on a 2014 study published in Screen Daily.

As a music and art teacher, I make it a point to introduce my students to an equal ratio of male to female artists. It takes extra time to seek out female artists who illustrate a given concept, but I do it because I have an equal number of male and female kids in my classes, and I want them all to succeed.

In no way does the quality of the music or art suffer, but my students’ confidence might, should I deny them a proper frame of reference for their dreams.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to treat Tom Cruise as America’s gender equality weathervane. Much like a Hollywood robot; the world’s on-demand, archetypal hetero hero has much to show us about ourselves if we examine his career beyond the immediate entertainment value.

Perhaps the day will come when women in Tom Cruise films are given a psychological and emotional depth equal to and independent of men, then we will know the winds are changing.

 

Present Perfect

I am blessed with two sisters: one is two years older than I, and one is two years younger. With doses intuitively mindful of efficacy and vital signs, these two women provide me shelter from, and exposure to the realities of life in equal measure.

My younger sister, Aynsley, is a nurse at Swedish Hospital in Seattle. Her work days are filled gathering shreds of human dignity among physical wreckage, and weaving them together over gaping fears of obsolescence. Her accomplishments in the medical field of life improvement are given; the most humane nurse knows that glimpses of the abyss mutate more stealthily and predictably than any infectious disease ever could.

My older sister, Evan, is a documentarian in the midst of producing a film entitled Present Perfect. True to sisterly form, the film studies our society’s questionable approach to aging and death through a most enveloping lens. From the Present Perfect website:

Set in a preschool housed in a retirement home, Present Perfect is a story at once simple and intricate, about the poetry that lies in the day-to-day interactions between the very young and the very old- those at the beginning of life and those nearing the end- and ultimately, what those relationships can reveal to us all about the way we live now.

Still from "Present Perfect"

Still from “Present Perfect”

While traveling through Turkey over the summer, a tour guide pointed out the absence of homeless people. Despite archaic aspects of Turkish society (a woman’s lack of choice in her own marriage, a caravan heralding the circumcision of a seven year old boy) I was stunned by this apparent triumph of civilization.

[Homelessness is primarily urban and inherently difficult to quantify, however recent data suggests that the US has 10 times the number of homeless people per capita as Turkey. NYC has a population of roughly 8 million, with nearly 54k recently documented as homeless, while Istanbul has a population of 14 million with 10k homeless.]

Besides imploding my stereotype, Turkey’s minimal homelessness demonstrates the malleability of cultural landscapes. They seem static because we are standing on them, but in reality cultural landscapes are tectonically shifting positions made of well worn collective wisdom. I imagine a societal norm is born much like a regional cuisine, out of necessity mixed with ingenuity, bubbling up in all it’s messy ethnocentric and communal glory.

If Turkey can show us how to make hummus, can she also show us how to house our people? What would happen to our cultural landscape if everyone had a home?

And what would happen if we were more accepting of aging and death? In Evan’s words:

The inspiration for this film stemmed from a longstanding desire to explore the topic of aging in America. Stepping into most any nursing home, it’s hard to ignore the sense of isolation one feels on behalf of the residents living there, and even harder to reconcile that with the fact that old age will inevitably come for us all. Does it have to be this way

 

If my experience in Turkey has taught me anything, then I would have to say… no.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Who knows where mindful, mature acceptance of aging will take us? I often wonder if our stubborn refusal to look death squarely in the eye, to absorb it for the intrinsic truth of life that it is, has something to do with our societal addiction to violence and gun culture on one side, and our inability to allow natural death (AND) on the other. A child who desperately needs sleep would sooner thrash about to distraction before laying himself down for a nap.

Present Perfect is a gift, a new and improved recipe, gently stirring us into redeemed humanity.

If you are feeling the groundswell of this shift in collective wisdom, would you consider joining me in supporting this film, either with a donation or by spreading the word?

That we may be free to dance across every stage, here’s to the meaning of life.

 

 

Letters In Your Music Heart

The following is a small sampling of snapshots from my experience teaching elementary school music this past year:

  • Twenty five first graders marching and conducting to Russian composer Rimsky-Korsakov’s Procession of the Nobles the day after the Seahawks’ downtown victory parade.
  • Playing Irish composer, Enya’s Storms in Africa to Kindergarteners who danced like animals in a thunderstorm, and the little boy who begged me to play it again at each subsequent class.
  • The nothing-short-of-holy hush that fell over 3rd graders as they listened to Bob Marley’s Redemption Song and absorbed the essence of mental perseverance even in the face of physical slavery.
  • The universal pride and sense of purpose of the 2nd graders singing and clapping their “Clean Water is a Human Right” Motown song for Water 1st and the school community.

Shortly after receiving word of the program’s cancellation last week, a bundle of letters arrived in the mail from a second grade teacher at the school.

Encouragement was not among the many emotions I expected to feel upon reading the letters, but that’s precisely what came. These children were not just speaking to me, but existentially to me, with their boundless hearts and minds, their utter lack of cynicism. The teacher was speaking to me too, not just with her letter, but also with her sense of timing and thoughtfulness. She closed the loop that the kids had opened.

Below are two of the letters, with signatures removed for privacy (although with any luck, the world will one day know their names).

In your music heartFeel how we feel

 

While the blueprints for my new chapter unroll in Seattle, my Aunt B has been painstakingly dismantling chapters down to the studs in her parents’ home in D.C., getting it ready to sell. She sends periodic group email updates to the family about her befuddling discoveries. Would anyone like a 1903 Victorian Chickering grand piano in Honduran Mahogany? It’ll only cost you $15-20k to restore, and be worth less than that upon completion.

My Aunt E, on a recent visit from California, joined Aunt B in the trying task of home redistribution. Together my aunts came upon a Christmas letter saved by my Great Grandfather, a West Virginia farmer born in 1898, known to me as “Gandy.” Though Gandy didn’t achieve his final goal of living to see three centuries (he passed away just months shy of the millennium) he did live to be 101, and in the process gave me a truer perspective on the purpose of personal goal-setting.

Nanny and Gandy

My Great Grandparents, Gandy and Nanny

Aunt B: “Today, while E and I were going through some papers in the room above the attic, we came across an envelope addressed to Nanny and Gandy, post marked Dec 13, 1971. It is a Christmas card from Harry and Emaleen Saville (and children) who lived in Herndon.”

These friends of Gandy’s wrote to him without prior knowledge of his loss: his beloved wife Nanny had passed away less than two weeks before.

Aunt E: “To think that Gandy wanted to weigh in with those thoughts from his side of life was something B and I were so thankful to have been together to share. And all because she, God bless her, is unwilling to just throw the whole box of junk away without sifting through for these treasures. By the way, this was from the bottom drawer of the file cabinet which contained a little packet of these cards (all of which were otherwise throw aways) and years and years worth of old Annual Reports and proxies from Lucent and ATT!!!! Talk about junk – and then, that hidden treasure…”

Though raised in a christian household and extended family, in adulthood I’ve found myself at odds with religion. This new orientation feels less like a choice, and more like a consequence of my gradual awakening to gender inequality. I can’t help but see the imprint of religion, a tool as unpredictable in its overall effect as smartphones, throughout the struggle. God’s name has been invoked time and time again, in every corner of the globe, as justification for the oppression of a gender.

In Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s Declaration of Sentiments, a document presented in 1848 at the first ever Women’s Rights convention organized by women, signed by 100 men and women (including key attendee and former slave Frederick Douglass) she writes: “He has usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself, claiming it as his right to assign for her a sphere of action, when that belongs to her conscience and her God.”

Stanton’s literary and spiritual grace lies in her ability to separate an ideal of love or community from it’s maladaptive conduits. The letter that Gandy saved follows this same plumb line, which, despite the fact that Stanton’s assertion remains true 166 years later, I still believe is the one true path to social redemption. Scrawling “SPECIAL” over the envelope before tucking it away, Gandy must have realized (rilized) the same thing, that this letter was for him, in much the same way I had with the second grade students’.

For all the times the thrill of discovery has been dashed (most recently looking up producer Leslie Kong from the back of a Jimmy Cliff record, in the sincerest hopes that it would be a woman I could identify, hungry as I am for additional points of reference for my daughters and me, but it was not so) I would like to gratefully and publicly recognize – to take, if you will – my aunts’ role in the reorientation of my spirituality.

In reconnecting me to my past, they have cast a light into my future.

The contents of the letter, copied from a correspondence written on Christmas Eve 1513, follows:

“A Letter to the Most Illustrious the Contessina Allagia Dela Aldobrandeschi” by Fra Giovanni

 

Envelope
There is nothing I can give you which you have not got; but there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take. 
No Heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it to-day. Take Heaven! 
No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!
 
The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see; and to see, we have only to look. Contessina I beseech you to look.
 
Life is so generous a giver, but we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendour, woven of love, by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the Angel’s hand that brings it to you.
Everything we call a trial, a sorrow, or a duty: believe me, that angel’s hand is there; the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing Presence. Our joys, too: be not content with them as joys, they too conceal diviner gifts.
 
Life is so full of meaning and of purpose, so full of beauty—beneath its covering—that you will find that earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage, then to claim it: that is all! But courage you have; and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country, home.
 
And so, at this Christmas time, I greet you; not quite as the world sends greetings, but with profound esteem, and with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.

 

 

 

Equivalism not Feminism: Part III Privilege and Responsibility

Does word choice matter?  The recent rash of “I don’t need Feminism” articles such as this one, with over 1.5 million views, answers with a resounding YES.

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Courtesy of Women Against Feminism

Imagine those placards with the word “Equivalism” (meaning “equal value”) replacing “Feminism.” They would look absurd.  To anyone who understands Feminism, the signs look absurd as is, but here’s the rub: We don’t need to reach those who get Feminism.  We need to reach, and reason with, the ones who don’t.

Let me back up and say a few words about my courageous, battle-tested old friend Feminism.  Feminism fought for me to vote, has my back when I disagree with my husband, sits next to me as I devour a book, and helps me choose what clothes I want to wear.  Feminism has opened the doors of universities and office buildings for me.  Feminism has empowered me to have control over whether or not I reproduce and how I give birth.

And with this image in mind, I know Feminism swims beside me whenever I choose to forgo the buoyant accessory of a full length dress.

 

 

"It's still 1922 in many parts of the world," reads my favorite comment of this photo.

“It’s still 1922 in many parts of the world,” reads my favorite comment of this photo.

 

Feminism is our matriarch, whom I will forever honor, and to whom I am forever indebted.  Changing a name doesn’t mean changing a movement. Sometimes changing a name is necessary for growth and refocus.  MLK Jr.’s contributions to the civil rights movement are no less valuable because he employed the now-outdated term “Negro,” as in this poignant line:

The Negro needs the white man to free him from his fears. The white man needs the Negro to free him from his guilt.

Similarly, should we change the name of the gender equality movement, any and all previous uses of the term “Feminism” would carry the heft of historical as well as present-day significance.  Our mothers and grandmothers fought in the battle of Feminism.  They put women on the map.  Now that we are on the map, the new front to defend is Equivalism.  

I recently listened to This American Life‘s podcast entitled “Got Your Back” in which an Afghan woman, Hamida Gulistani, relayed the story of how she was unwittingly thrust to the forefront of women’s rights advocacy in Afghanistan.  Formerly a nurse at a clinic in Ghazni City, where “patients arrived all the time, in burkas, with bruises and broken bones,” Gulistani recounts (via interpreter) the fateful exchange which occurred during the height of US presence there in 2005:

As she lay down, I noticed that she had these brown dark spots around her eyes. And then also, as she lifted up her arm, I could see she had all these scars. And I asked her what happened. She wouldn’t tell me at the beginning. She said, oh, I fell.

Well, I just joke with her. I said, oh, I fell once too, and I was also hurt. And then she all of a sudden starts crying. She had guests over, and somehow she had messed up the food. And the husband had beaten her up. And she lost her baby when she was two months pregnant because of the beating.

With US presence came US news media outlets.  Sensing a new source of support, Gulistani encouraged and somehow convinced this young woman to speak out in an impromptu press conference at the clinic about what happened to her.  Can you imagine the desperation and courage involved in the leap between hiding domestic abuse details from a female healthcare provider, to sharing them with the world?

What women in the US don’t understand is that it is far too costly for us to quibble over issues of nostalgia and bravado where the gender equality movement is concerned.

From what I gather, Feminists are not willing to change the name because they see it as an accommodation, and women have done quite enough of that, thankyouverymuch.  Anti-feminists (see above article) don’t want to change the name because it’s essential to their assumed male bravado, or they are completely ignorant of the worldwide plight of women, or those two things are actually the same.

The tenacity of the term “Feminism” gives me the defeatist notion that privileged people actually feed off the conflict more than the solution.

The ability to empathize is strong in women.  If we could transmute our internal quibbling into empathy for these women in Afghanistan, still not permitted to vote, read, autonomously dress, disagree, or make mistakes without fear of physical harm; wouldn’t we make significantly stronger, longer-lasting progress? Honestly, how on Earth are these women supposed to take up the mantel of something called “Feminism”?

Women need safety, women need education, women need equality, women need influence.  Not more than men, but the same.  Not just here, but everywhere.  If we are privileged enough to live in a country where we can make these statements, let’s make sure we are making them clearly.  

Equivalism not Feminism.  It’s time.