The Blue Hue Poo Revue

ink drop / adobe.stock.com

I think all of us have learned, from experience if not from science class, what color bodily fluids are. Pee is yellow. Poop is brown. Blood is red. Nobody knows what color bile is, though I think it is supposed to be either yellow or black, depending on your sense of humour.

But from what we see on television, it would seem that bodily fluids are uniformly blue. Except maybe bile. There aren’t many bile-related products advertised on TV or in print either, for that matter.

The blue hue started with pee. Diaper commercials were the culprits. In an effort to demonstrate how well their products absorb, the diaper companies showed people pouring blue liquid into a diaper. The fake pee then turned into a blue, or sometimes purple, gel.

As is well known, however, the only blue pee that exists in nature is Smurf whiz, unless you count what happens after you drink punch at a particularly rowdy frat party. If an actual baby produced blue pee, you’d take the child to a doctor straight away; Google to find out if Smurfs ever leave changeling children, as elves and fairies are said to do; or tell your SO to stop taking the baby to frat parties.

Now let’s consider poop, which even small children know everybody does, though it’s not strictly speaking a bodily fluid (usually, that is, one hopes). Thanks to toilet paper commercials, we all now know that unclothed bears somehow have underwear that they can leave skidmarks in and that the bears are obsessed with toilet paper. They even “enjoy the go,” a state of mind that I have never attained.

We all assumed, I assume, that because they left skidmarks in underwear that no bear wanted to touch, the offending substance was the normal brown color, despite the bears being blue in at least half the commercials and red in the rest.

Recently, though, in an attempt to illustrate how well a certain brand of toilet paper cleans, one company showed two women’s wrists with smears of a blue … substance … on them. The superiority of the touted brand of asswipe (or wristwipe, in this case) was shown when the blue poo disappeared from one wrist but not the other. Why the models were wiping themselves using their wrists is one of those unsolved mysteries I don’t care to speculate on. 

Blood, as we know, only exists on TV commercials when children scrape their knees, and then the liquid is satisfyingly and accurately red. But when women’s “feminine hygiene products” (aka “period pads”) are being advertised, if the monthly flow is mentioned at all, again the illustrations are blue, much the same as with diapers. (This is what happens in a society where women’s genitals are referred to as their “lady gardens” or, in one memorable commercial, ” a woman’s V.” But I digress.)

However, recently, one brave advertiser has dared to admit – and illustrate – what all of us knew all along. Pee is not blue. It is yellow. The makers of Poise pads for LBL (light bladder leakage, for those of you not up on your three-letter acronyms) demonstrate the product’s effectiveness by having someone pour light yellow fluid onto the pad, which promptly absorbs it without turning it blue.

It may be slightly unsettling that the first version of this commercial showed a woman pouring the yellow liquid from a coffee pot, though the association of pee with coffee is an obvious one. I think later they decided to use a scientific-looking beaker, or at least a glass that made the substance look like lemonade. Or pee.

Let’s get real, folks. We now have poop emojis to put in our emails and posts, and they’re not blue. I think adults are adult enough now to tolerate a degree of accuracy in their advertising. And frankly, if we’ve been trying to protect children’s sensibilities rather than adults’ with all this blue foolishness, I submit that we’re not fooling them in the least. Personally, I think that children would find accuracy in bodily fluids hysterically funny and giggle uncontrollably. Which, ironically, is how I feel about the blue pee and poo.

 

Let’s Talk Viruses

denisismagilov – stock.adobe.com

What’s up with viruses? What the hell are they, anyway? And how do those sly whatsits operate? Here’s a layperson’s guide.

Disclaimer first: I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. I’m not a microbiologist and I don’t think anyone plays one on TV. I’m simply a person who stayed awake in science class and has read a lot ever since.

First, let’s make this clear: Viruses have no brains. We can talk about a virus’s goals or intentions or strategies, but we’re at least partly anthropomorphizing or speaking metaphorically. A virus is a strand of DNA or RNA (in the case of COVID-19) wrapped in a shell which can glom onto bodily tissues so the virus can duplicate itself and move on to another host.

That’s what it does, and that’s about all it does. All a virus wants is to replicate itself and continue to do so. The fact that it makes you sick is quite incidental to that.

The incubation period – the length of time before you show symptoms of an illness – is important. It gives the virus time to multiply unnoticed within the body and infect others via bodily fluids before someone notices and tries to kill it off. The longer the incubation period, the more successful the virus is. Think HIV. It has an incubation period of years, which was what allowed it to be so successful at infecting a large number of people before anyone noticed.

The incubation period for coronavirus is, we think, about two weeks, give or take. You could have the virus without any symptoms during that time and all the while be spreading it by coughing, poor hygiene, or being too close to people. The masks that you wear may seem like they are protecting you, but actually they are preventing you from making other people sick.

Viruses are tricky bastards. They can – and do – evolve and mutate and jump species. That’s when a virus becomes particularly dangerous. If it mutates, as the flu virus does pretty much every year, no one has a natural immunity to it and unless a vaccine is created for that specific version, a lot of people get the flu.

Jumping species is another thing altogether. A virus can be living happily in a pig or a chicken or a bat or a monkey, not causing too much damage (at least not right away). But when a virus mutates so that it can infect and cause illness in another sort of animal (for our purposes, a human being), that’s when things get really tricky. The virus now has a population to infect that never encountered it before. It can burn through that population like wildfire. If the incubation period is short, the virus may burn itself out rapidly and not claim too many victims, as they die before having a chance to pass it on. But if the incubation period is longer, the virus gets a free ride to any number of new hosts.

And yes, people can get infected by eating the host animal. It’s not very likely, since most people eat their meat cooked, not raw. Bodily fluids and bites or scratches are much more dangerous, as is contamination with feces. But that’s not the only way that viruses are transmitted via animals. You know how viruses are passed from person to person without us having to eat each other’s flesh? Well, the virus can travel in the bodily fluids of other animals as well. So if you don’t wash your hands after feeding your chickens, or you stir up and breathe in some bat guano while you’re exploring a cave, or a mouse pees in your storeroom, any viruses lurking there can infect the unwary, if that virus is ready to jump species.

So, that’s a basic guide to viruses. And let’s be real about this. Viruses are all around us and spread quite naturally. There’s no real need to worry about a virus being manufactured and escaping from a lab. And need I say that Hillary Clinton, the deep state, Chinese supervillains, and George Soros have nothing to do with it? Yes, I suppose I do.

When the Pandemic’s Over

Right now there are a lot of blog posts that tell you how to get through this period when we are plagued with COVID-19, the coronavirus. There are helpful patterns for sewing masks. There are recipes to try and games to play to while away the time spent in self-isolation. There are exhortations to take up a new hobby or learn a new language or just take care of yourself – your mental and physical health. There are also entertaining conspiracy theories for the origin of the virus, which seem to involve germ warfare, Hillary Clinton, bats, the Deep State, and the elections. (Personally, “bats” is the word that comes to my mind to describe these theories.) There has even been a virtual science fiction convention online that has been running for weeks instead of just for the usual weekend.

But at some time – no one knows just when – there will be a break in the clouds of invisible invaders and we will all breathe a cautious sigh of relief. What will we all do then? Keep practicing our new hobbies and languages? Try to turn those masks back into bandanas or fetching little hats?

I have some suggestions.

Hug everyone you care about. One of the worst things about social isolation and distancing is that they make you feel … isolated and distant. We may be shy about returning to shaking hands as a social norm (I prefer the Vulcan hand salute). But hugs are life-affirming and life-sustaining.

I’m not recommending that we substitute hugs for other greetings for business or ordinary social purposes. But so many of us have been without hugs and long for a brief squeeze or a warm embrace with a friend, a grandchild, a lover, a niece – whoever has been involuntarily separated from you. It is my great good fortune to be acquainted with some world-class huggers (including my husband) and it is my intent to line them all up and hug every one of them. 

Be prepared for the next time. There will be a next time, make no mistake. COVID-19 may not confer immunity, leading to a second wave. There’s always the regular flu season, which I suspect will now make us all very anxious. And there’s been SARS, the Spanish flu, the bubonic plague, and countless other pandemics that crop up with surprising regularity (and not just at election time, either).

I’m not suggesting that we all fill one closet with toilet paper and another with bottled water, pasta, and hand sanitizer. But it couldn’t hurt to keep on hand at least one extra package of the things that the stores keep running out of. Take advantage of two-for-one sales. It’s like filling up your gas tank when it’s half empty (a thing my father did faithfully).

Eat out and shop locally. Bars, restaurants, and small local businesses are among the industries hit the hardest. Some may never recover. But those that do will need patronage to get back on their proverbial feet. And tip well. Servers in particular have been hard hit. I understand that with contactless pizza delivery now in place, customers are forgetting to leave some money in an envelope taped to the door for the driver. And the “delivery fee,” if there is one, doesn’t go to the driver. It goes to the store. (You didn’t know that?) Tip for food delivery the same as you would for a restaurant meal – 15% or 20%.

Educate yourself. There are good nonfiction books – reputable sources – that offer information on epidemiology, pandemics, zoonoses (illnesses transmitted by animals to humans), and epizootics (epidemics ditto). David Quammen’s Spillover, Richard Preston’s The Hot Zone, and Influenza by Dr. Jeremy Brown are good places to start. 

Maybe if more people understood a little bit about how these diseases develop and spread there would be less fear, scapegoating, and improbable chains of coincidences presented as theories.

Vote. Vote as if your life depends on it. It may.

 

Someone You Know Is Mentally Ill


Let’s say you have five people in your family and another five who are close friends. Or four and six – enough to make up ten people in your life, anyway. Statistically speaking, two of those people will experience mental illness at some point in their life. Or the person experiencing mental illness could even be you. The National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that one in five – or maybe even one in four – people will experience mental illness. That’s 20% to 25% of Americans.

Don’t assume you know who those two people are. Many people with mental illnesses never talk about their difficulties because of the stigma attached to living with a mental disorder. Many others are high-functioning, able to have relationships and work and lead a relatively normal life, especially if they receive proper treatment. 

So, what are we talking about when we talk about “mental illness”?

We’re not talking about the person who straightens pictures and has a neat desk.

We’re not talking about the person who is sad after the death of a pet or grieving after the loss of a loved one.

We’re not talking about the person who is overly bubbly and laughing most of the time.

We’re not talking about the person who always seems to be on a diet, no matter how thin she is.

We’re not talking about the person who has some mood swings.

We’re not talking about the person who’s afraid of spiders and germs.

We are talking about people with serious mental conditions like OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), major depression, mania, anorexia, bipolar disorder, and anxiety disorder. (There are other psychiatric illnesses, but they are much more rare.)

For harmless habits to be actual mental illnesses, they must persist over time and usually interfere with people’s abilities to accomplish the ordinary tasks of daily living. If a person’s depression lasts for weeks or months (or even years), he may have Major Depressive Disorder. Some of the symptoms are low mood, isolation, feeling hopeless or helpless, and changes in appetite. Of course, all those things happen to most of us at one time or another, but if they last for a long time and keep a person from going out or doing their work, they may be signs of a serious mental illness.

This is not to say that you can diagnose mental illness on your own. A psychiatrist or psychotherapist is needed to tell whether any condition is severe enough to be called a mental illness. And only a doctor can prescribe the medications that can alleviate the symptoms, lessen the effects, and help the person back to stability or mental health.

But if you do have a friend or loved one experiencing mental difficulties – and you probably do – what should you do?

If you are sufficiently close to the person, you could gently express concern and suggest that he might want to tell a doctor what is going on. With an acquaintance, it may be best to simply be understanding and supportive. Don’t be offended when she cancels an outing or can’t make it to a party. Her disorder may be preventing her from going, much as she would like to.

If the person seems to be in danger of harming himself, definitely have a talk with him. Tell him how worried you are and how you’re upset to see him suffering. If the situation warrants, make sure your friend has the number of a suicide hotline or knows that he can call you when he is having excessive bad feelings.

The best thing you can do, though, is to educate yourself about mental illness from reputable sources like NAMI. You’ll find that mental illness is treatable and not likely to lead to violence unless it is very severe. Don’t joke about mental illness. Once I did and it prevented someone with depression from speaking about her condition. Sharing our stories with each other might have brought us both connection and comfort.

Think of a mental illness the way you would think about a physical illness. If a person you know had a broken leg, you wouldn’t ask him to go skiing. If a person you know had cancer, you wouldn’t make jokes about it. If a person you know had the flu, you would understand and might offer to run errands.

Dealing with mental illness is not easy, but it is important. And I assure you, someone you know needs help and support. Think about how you can provide that. Then follow through. It’s often lonely having a mental illness. Do your best to be a good friend. That will help, even if your friend or loved one doesn’t acknowledge it at the time.

 

 

Eating Around the World

My mother, my husband, and I (in different combinations) have had some amazing travel experiences. England. Brazil. Croatia. And, like good tourists, we largely ate and drank our way through the various countries. 

There was the trip that my mother and I took to Brazil. When we arrived at our Rio hotel, we were greeted by our guide, who offered us a complimentary local drink – a caipirinha. This is the national cocktail of Brazil, made from lime, sugar, and cachaca (a local spirit reminiscent of, but different from, rum). It’s a pretty potent combination. My mother, who would have the occasional Tom Collins or glass of Mogen David, did not care for it, so she gave it to me. I downed both hers and mine.

Then the other little old ladies who were on the tour (there were a fair number of them) had the same idea and all gave me their caipirinhas rather than let them go to waste. It’s a good thing we had arrived in the evening and had no other events planned for that night, as I sat in the hotel lobby and got thoroughly sozzled.

Mom was not with us when my husband and I went to England (though Dan’s mother was). We lunched at pubs and tried authentic fish and chips, but passed up an Australian restaurant because I insisted we weren’t in Australia. 

But the most interesting culinary attraction there was when I noticed “spotted dick” on the menu at the restaurant we had chosen. (Insert your favorite “spotted dick” joke here.) I had heard of spotted dick before, but never knew what it was, really. Apparently, it’s a dessert, because it was listed under “Puddings” on the menu. (As those of you who’ve seen Harry Potter know, “pudding” is generic British for “dessert.” It doesn’t mean actual pudding.)

Naturally, I couldn’t resist ordering it. I tried to muffle my chuckles, but no doubt the waiter was used to this sort of behavior from tourists. When he brought out the dessert, it was rather disappointingly a sort of spice cake with raisins in it, topped with a thin custard. (I think it might have been crême anglaise, but I didn’t know enough at the time to call it that.) Evidently, the raisins were the spots, though I don’t like to think what parted represented the dick. Especially with that custard sauce.

The best treat of all, though, was one my husband and I had when we were on a tour that featured Venice, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Montenegro. There was interesting food and drink everywhere. In Slovenia, I ate Brussels sprouts just because they were served with the main dish, and discovered they were wonderful. (Unfortunately, I have not had them prepared the same way since. And I didn’t know how to ask for the recipe in Slovenian. I speak a little Russian, enough to order cabbage or buy books, but I didn’t think that would go over so well.  But I digress.)

In Istria (a peninsula that’s part of Croatia), a few of us from the tour stopped at a local tavern to get a hot buttered rum to ward off the chilly rain that was plaguing us that day. Dan and I, feeling a mite peckish, ordered a fish plate. We thought it might be something like a cheese plate, a small assortment of different kinds of samples.

But no. We were presented with an enormous platter featuring every kind of seafood you can imagine in vast quantities, including a huge, whole fish. Again, this was before Food Network, so I had to try to disassemble the fish without completely shredding it or leaving any treacherous bones. (I remember that I did it rather successfully, though that may just have been the rum punch talking.) Our tour-mates had to dig in to help us make a sizeable dent in all the fish, shellfish, and other marine life (think octopus), so as not to seem ungrateful.

But our best food encounter was on that same trip. In Croatia, there is a city named Split. (I was once trounced by a crossword puzzle that had the clue “Split country.” I thought of Korea or Vietnam, but neither one fit.) Near the end of the tour, Dan and I stopped in at a small restaurant to have a little something-something – not a full meal, just a nibble or a nosh.

There on the menu we saw it – a prosaic, all-American banana split! How could we possibly resist? We had to order one just so we could say, “We split a banana split in Split before we split Split. But we didn’t do the splits. We might have split our pants.” Opportunities like that don’t come along just every day.

Meeting With a Publisher

The other week, I met with a local editor/publisher, David Braughler of Braughler Books, to pick his brains about the publishing industry and how I could find someone to take on my recently self-published books. (It’s a long story. See https://wp.me/p4e9wS-118.) This was suggested to me by a friend from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, which I attended a few years back. Actually, I had met Mr. Braughler at that workshop, too, but only spent ten minutes talking to him.

So, here’s what I learned about meeting with a publisher.

First, it’s necessary to dither (at least for me, it is). I wanted to make a good impression, so I had to overplan every aspect of the situation. Where was the Starbucks we were supposed to meet at? What should I order? Would I even know how to order from their arcane menu, this being my first time at any Starbucks? Honey Citrus Mint Tea? Short Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate with 2% Milk? And OMG, what should I wear?

The next thing I discovered was that I needed to be prepared (yes, I was a Girl Scout). I rounded up copies of my two books. I got a small notebook to record any suggestions and placed it in my purse. I acquired a small thumb drive and loaded my work in progress on it, just in case. (I was going to ask for advice about that, too.)

And I followed the publishing company on Facebook and checked out the company online – how long they’d been in business, how many books they’d published, testimonials from satisfied authors, etc. Best to be able to ask a few intelligent questions or make knowledgeable remarks.

Then I started the conversation. What I most wanted to know about was promotion and marketing. I made a list of all the things I had done to promote my first book and ideas I had for the second book. Mr. Braughler validated the things I had done for the first book (a reading/signing, postings on Facebook) and some additional ones I had done or planned for the second book (an ad on Jenny Lawson’s blog page, since our audiences overlap) and an email to an author I know whose WIP is in the same genre as mine. (I never got a chance to give my WIP to Mr. Braughler, but I did give him copies of my two published books.)

I paid attention and made notes. I wrote down the info about the local authors’ day. I made notes on how to convert Word files to Mobi or to convert Kindle to Mobi (the software is free at Amazon) in case I wanted to take advantage of Amazon’s services in order to resurrect my first book, which was going out of print. I asked about Kirkus Reviews and received a suggestion about getting free reviews in writers’ or subject matter newsletters. He told me about a local library that has monthly author days and a local university that has a free workshop.

I followed up. I called the library and booked a date to participate in the local author day (assuming the libraries will be open again in May), and noted their suggestion that I get signage and a credit card reader for the occasion. I wrote to the author about my WIP and received a nice email back. I went ahead with the Jenny Lawson ad and am still debating the Kirkus  Review and an IngramSpark ad. I connected with alumni newsletters from my alma mater.

I evaluated what I learned. Mr. Braughler told me I was doing many of the right things when it came to promoting my books. I discarded the idea about producing a Kindle edition because of all the software hassle and went with IngramSpark to get my second book published and my first back in circulation. I learned that I should keep doing what I had been doing, only more of it.

I am grateful to Mr. Braughler for taking the time to talk to a local author and found the 30-minute conversation very informative and helpful. If in the future I need the services of a hybrid publisher, I shall certainly go to him. In the meantime, I will do my best to put into practice his wise suggestions and hope they will help my books, Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us, go viral.

The Only Foods That Existed

I won’t say I was a picky eater, but when I was a kid, I definitely had strong food preferences. In fact, only certain foods existed for me – and not just because it was in the days before sushi entered the U.S.

Take milkshakes, for example. Though even at the time strawberry and vanilla milkshakes existed, the only kind I would accept was chocolate. I still have this opinion to some degree. For example, when I eat at Wendy’s, only a chocolate Frosty will do. But when it comes to other milkshakes, my tastes have broadened considerably. I love getting peppermint shakes at Christmas and banana shakes whenever. But my new favorite is the salted caramel milkshake at Red Robin, especially if they add a shot of booze to it, something I never even contemplated as a kid. (Salted caramel wasn’t a thing and booze wasn’t an option.)

Then there was jelly. Grape. And only grape. Not apple. Not strawberry. And certainly not mixed fruit. My toast and my peanut butter sandwiches required grape jelly or none at all. In the absence of grape jelly, toast got butter and PB sandwiches got no J.

Now I sample all the varieties of jams and jellies on offer – orange marmalade, blackberry, peach, and whatever they give me at Waffle House, to name a few, not to mention my all-time favorite, apple butter, which I guess is not really jelly. Strawberry is still my least favorite, but I will eat it when required.

Back in the day, the only lunch meat was bologna. I wouldn’t touch pimento loaf or the salami with those little hard things stuck in it that I later learned were peppercorns and wouldn’t have eaten even if I had known it. And forget head cheese! I inspected lunch meat subs (the only kind then in existence) carefully, and picked off the kinds I didn’t like. That left me with bologna and salami with no peppercorns, not exactly a culinary masterpiece.

Back then, ham and turkey were not so much lunch meats, but a breakfast dish and a Thanksgiving treat, respectively. At least that was the only way they were served in our house. Now I find that ham, turkey, roast beef, and even pastrami are acceptable. Strangely, I can hardly eat bologna anymore. Maybe my palate (such as it is) burned out on it all those years ago.

Other foods I turned up my nose at because of the way they were served. Peas, carrots, corn, beans (especially pinto beans with ketchup), and mashed potatoes were acceptable side dishes. Not so with asparagus. At that time, the only asparagus I knew of came in cans. I had never even seen a fresh stalk. Naturally, I assumed that asparagus was a slimy, icky vegetable, somewhat like okra. (If I recall correctly, all our vegetables came in cans at the time, but, honestly, there’s not much you can do to corn or peas to render them inedible. I actually even liked canned spinach, for some reason.)

Now that I’ve discovered fresh and frozen vegetables, my horizons have expanded considerably. I’ve since had fresh asparagus and liked it enough to have it multiple times. I’ve learned to like Brussels sprouts, if they’re roasted. The same with parsnips. Back in the day, roasting was a thing for, well, roasts, and maybe potatoes and onions with them, but little else.

Now I pride myself on what foods I will actually eat. I love sushi, adore hummus and guacamole, and jump at the chance to eat calamari. I have eaten curried goat, octopus, jackfruit, escargot, and pizza with nearly everything, including anchovies (not as a regular thing, but just to try it). Even my mom, purveyor of all those canned foods, learned to sample the local foods and drinks when we traveled abroad. She didn’t always like them (in which case she gave them to me), but by God, she tried them, and I admired her for that.

One of the only things I refuse to eat now is liver and onions. It’s a texture thing; they make me gag. Literally. Even my mom gave up on making me eat liver and onions when she saw that. I have lived my life happily without them and will continue to do so.

So, if you have a picky eater in the household, just wait and keep introducing new things. I once knew a child that would eat only buttered noodles who is now an expert on all things sushi.

I also know an adult who still won’t eat foods that touch on a plate, but you can’t win them all.

 

The Parents Who Didn’t Read and the Daughter Who Did

Everyone knows that the easiest way to raise a child who reads is for the entire family to read. The child should see the parents reading, lots and often.

But that’s not the way it happened in my family. Oh, my folks could read; they just didn’t.

I never remember my father reading anything when I was a child. He got his news from the television. He might thumb through an issue of American Rifleman at the car wash. But he didn’t read books while we were kids.

(Later in life, when he was bedridden with bone cancer, a family friend who worked for the library would bring him bag after bag of Zane Grey and Max Brand and Louis L’Amour novels, which he devoured. But I digress.)

Despite the lack of reading that went on in the house, there was always plenty of stuff to read. Little Golden books and Bible stories at first. I learned to read at my mother’s side, as she read storybook after storybook to us girls. Although she didn’t read for herself, she read for us.

My sister read some. Being a very literal person, every year she would start to read Under the Lilacs while sitting under the lilac bush in our backyard. (I don’t know if she ever finished it.) When she reached the horse-mad stage, she read Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka, Misty of Chincoteague, and anything else equine-related she could get her hands on. Her reading tastes were largely satisfied with that.

I think the thing that turned me into the voracious reader I am today was not the example of my parents, but the sheer amount of literature that was available. Our parents purchased sets of children’s books. (I can’t remember what was in that series now besides Under the Lilacs and Uncle Remus Stories, which gave me fits with the dialect.) We had collections of Nancy Drew books and Tom Swift books.

My mother had a subscription to Reader’s Digest, but I don’t remember her reading it, or the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books that sat in fat rows on our bookshelves. When we weren’t making Christmas trees of the magazines by folding the pages, I read them and the Condensed Books. That’s where I acquired my taste for true adventure, I think. It’s not that big a leap from “Drama in Real Life” to Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. I first discovered To Sir, With Love as an R.D. Condensed book, then devoured everything I could get my hands on about teaching, my career goal at the time.

We also made extensive use of the public libraries and the ever-awesome bookmobile, since my parents’ middle-class income couldn’t keep pace with my reading tastes. And there were used book stores, too, where I could swap a grocery bag full of books for another.

There was no way my parents could screen my reading matter, so they didn’t even try. I didn’t receive a very balanced reading education or a very sophisticated one. I read whatever interested me, from novelizations of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. to histories of Russia. I discovered Dr. Seuss and The Hobbit and Erma Bombeck. “Serious literature” I got from school, but love for reading came at home.

Having parents that read is a good thing, and no doubt it does help turn some children into reading mavens.

But if you ask me, letting a child explore reading at her own pace and through her own interests can be as effective as any planned course of literature or example of parents perusing the Great Books.

It worked for me.

 

Don’t Mention It

Headline writers – love ’em or hate ’em. Sometimes they write hilarious headlines (though usually unintentionally) like “Murder victims seldom talk to police.” Those are the ones that make me laugh.

Then there are the ones that piss me off – the ones where the headline writer (usually not the same person that wrote the story) feels compelled to tell the world a woman’s reproductive status as if it were vital to the story. You know the ones I mean:

Grandmother locks intruder in basement

Mother of three wins science prize

Mom of the Year saved from serial killer

In each of these cases, the news is that someone foiled an intruder, won a prize, or escaped a terrible fate. If you must say it was a woman, which may or may not be relevant to the story, at least leave out whether she has managed to reproduce.

“Grandmother” headlines usually indicate that an older woman accomplished something. What do they put if she’s not a grandmother? That’s right, they focus on her age. “75-year-old woman locks intruder in basement.” I say, pick one. Either “75-year-old locks intruder in basement” or “Woman locks intruder in basement.” That’s enough information to make me want to read the story.

Or use a sex-neutral term: “Professor won science prize.” “Kettering resident locks intruder in basement.” “Intended victim saved from serial killer.” And think about it. You never see a headline that says “Father of three runs for city council.”  Deep down, the writers know that reproductive status is irrelevant to the story – as long as it’s a man who’s done something worth mentioning.

I also despise what is known as “inspiration porn” – those stories that tell how some brave boy invites a disabled girl to the prom. There’s always a photo so we can see that she uses a wheelchair, or has Down’s Syndrome, or something. We all applaud the boy for being so courageous and understanding.

These stories, while they may be meant to demonstrate that a person with a disability can still “live a normal life,” actually stress that it is rare enough an event for it to be news. The boy is the hero of the story, with the girl merely a prop for his altruistic nature. He’s seen as doing good by asking an “otherwise-undateable” partner to the dance. Frankly, I’d be embarrassed to be singled out in the news as either one of the couple.

Then there was Chopped, which I watched the other night. One of the guest judges had a prosthetic hand, a hook sort of arrangement. I was so pleased to see that no one even mentioned it, as it was not relevant to whether the man had a discerning palate.

Eventually, it was mentioned – by the man himself – during a discussion of harvesting stinging nettles. (He said that when foraging for them, he “used the hook.”) At that point, one of the other judges asked about it, respectfully, “if you don’t mind sharing,” and the guest judge told how he lost his lower arm to electrocution and should have died. I give all the Chopped team credit for carrying on as usual. Until and unless the man brought up the subject himself, I doubted that anyone would have said a word.

True, judge Chris Santos might have refrained from asking about the disability even then, but at least he had a legitimate opening. And once asked, the gentleman couldn’t easily back out of acknowledging his difference and answering the question on TV. But it was handled with a modicum of sense and sensibility.

It’s also worth mentioning that Guy Fieri often introduces contestants on his Food Network game show as a “father of twin girls” or “dad to five children” as often as he refers to mothers and their kids. American Ninja Warriors also announces the reproductive status of its participants, usually in heartwarming featurettes about Dad training with his kids.

I know “grandmother” stories are thought to be more interesting. I know that prom stories make people feel warm and fuzzy. I know that. But they also reduce people to stereotypes – a mom, a person with a disability. Maybe someday these aspects will not be deemed newsworthy, but until then such stories (or at least headlines) will continue to be written.

 

 

The Equal Restrooms Amendment

Back when I was in high school, the Equal Rights Amendment was in the news. (Yes, I am that old.) We debated it, researched it, wrote papers on it, and held mock elections. Boys carried signs calling it the “Equal Restrooms Amendment.” (They were making fun of the ERA, but in fact, restroom parity seemed like a good idea at the time, as there was always a line in the women’s room, but never one in the men’s. But I digress.)

Now, with the ERA poised to become law (perhaps) since Virginia ratified it, the most important issue to some is how it will affect restrooms. Pearls are being clutched over the idea that any male – and especially transgender ones – can just walk into a women’s bathroom, locker room, or shower room and peep at the girls. Or worse. There’s also a lot of talk about men being able to compete in women’s sports and win all the prizes.

People don’t believe me when I tell them that the entire text of the amendment reads:

ARTICLE —

Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Sec. 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Sec. 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

That’s it. Not a word about restrooms or sports. According to section two, the states can make any laws they want about restroom restrictions or sporting events, and the courts (now packed with Republicans) will decide whether they are constitutional – whether they abide by the ERA.

It’s also important to note that there are already laws that say men are not allowed to stalk, molest, kidnap, or otherwise harass women or children in restrooms, or anywhere else for that matter. Of course, these laws do not prevent men from doing so, but they establish penalties should anyone transgress. The ERA would not change these laws.

Really, the hubbub seems to be more about transgender individuals, who (at least according to the opponents) decide every day which gender they wish to be. And individuals with penises – always a danger to women who necessarily have their pants down. Or transgender individuals who have not had their penises removed. Or something. (The prospect of lesbians peeping in women’s restrooms is never addressed, perhaps because it is not a real problem.)

And let’s not forget men participating in women’s sports. Or having an unfair advantage if they do. Or something. Never mind that there are many sports, such as marathon races, that allow both women and men to participate. Yes, the men usually do better than the women, but that’s not the point. Women used to be arrested for trying to run in a marathon. Now they can, all without the ERA. (Title IX, which dictates parity in women’s and men’s sports in publically funded institutions like schools and colleges, is something totally else.)

But let’s get back to the intent of the ERA, those three tiny sections (not hundreds of pages of documents, as some have claimed and apparently believe). Their purpose is to establish equal rights for women – and men – in matters such as pay, law, education, advancement, opportunities, and areas where women are at a disadvantage simply because they are women.

But notice that men would be covered by the amendment as well. It’s not called the Women’s Rights Amendment, after all, and there’s a reason for that. In areas such as child custody, for example, where women have the advantage simply because they are women, men would have equal rights under the law.

It’s sad that there is so much fear, misunderstanding, and falsehoods about what is really a simple concept – equality under the law. The right to be treated equally by organizations and institutions. The explicit right to be protected by the Constitution, for all citizens.

But it’s not about the restrooms. It was never about the restrooms.