Thursday, April 23, 2015

I Am My Own Lilly Pulitzer

I started out intending to write this post about the Lilly Pulitzer-Target kerfuffle that happened over the weekend, but that story seems to have lost its fizz and even I'm tired of reading about it. To make a long, and frankly, not very interesting story short, I've been inspired to start making my own dresses out of quirkily-printed fabrics and be my own Lilly Pulitzer. After all, she allegedly made her dresses with those wild prints to cover up juice stains, a gal after my own heart.

But then I realized that I only have one more week with my work study student and our intern who will be graduating in less than a month. And this year, it'll have been 20 years since I graduated from college.

Yeah, I did the math. It did not seem right at first- 20 years?? Not possible. But yeah. 
2015- 1995=  20 years. 
These pretty people are in no way old enough
to be 20 years out of undergrad.

Oddly, I got to thinking more about the beginning of the process today- the research, the visits, the applications to colleges. Maybe it's all the prospective first-years that have been making trips to campus, strolling around the Commons and gawking with their parents, that reminded me of my own road to Ithaca.

They're everywhere here.
I went to swim camp at Ithaca College when I was 16 and I knew the minute I set foot in town that I loved Ithaca. I knew I belonged here. A year or so later, my dad started talking to me about what I should study when I got to college. He told me that because I liked to write and create (I'd written and designed a computer-illustrated book and won an honorable mention award at the area media arts festival, in addition to other projects) I should study communications or media arts. My dad is a pretty astute judge of character; he's always been able to observe someone and then offer up a remarkably on-target assessment of their abilities. I agreed with his suggestion and I started researching schools with good communications programs. (As we were pulling out of the visitor's parking lot at Ithaca College after our visit, my dad turned to me and said, "You know, if you go here, you'll be surrounded by weirdos." It was really the deciding factor for me in I.C.'s favor. He was right, and they were glorious.)

My parents didn't put any limitations on what colleges I could consider- the only rule was that I couldn't go out to the west coast for my first two years. I initially thought this was because they just didn't want me so far away, but after a trip to San Francisco many years later, my first trip out west, my mom confessed that they'd made that rule because she and my dad knew that if I ever got out to California, I'd never come back.

Starting around 10th grade, I think, we had to start having conversations with our guidance counselor about our future plans. I remember sitting around a small round table with a couple classmates as the counselor made us go around the room and talk about what we wanted to do after high school. I listened as one of our group- a really talented guy- said he thought he might like to become an actor. The counselor pretty much tore that to pieces, dismissing it as an unreliable career choice. Another classmate was applauded for wanting to be an accountant. (I'm not entirely sure she even knew what that job entailed- it might have been the first thing she thought of on the spot.) I was derided for saying I might want to be a writer. There's no future in that, I was told. Do you really think you're talented enough to make a living writing? I remember her saying that in particular. 

Do you really think you're talented enough to make a living writing? I shrugged it off at the time, but it burns me now. Is your job really to make kids doubt their abilities and destroy their confidence in themselves? And for the record, there are plenty of careers that involve and require writing skills. I write everyday for my job. What kind of guidance counselor doesn't know of the options that are out there? She could've steered me into speechwriting or journalism or copywriting or even technical writing, but instead she put all her effort into squashing any latent dreams of being another Stephen King.

In 11th grade, we had to sign up for one-on-one talks with our counselor about our college or trade school plans. I saw it as a nuisance. I knew what I wanted to study, and I had it narrowed down to two colleges. I'd done my homework. I knew the requirements of my chosen major. Hell, I'd even spent a week on campus at one of my choices. I went in to the appointment with my counselor and she frowned when I told her I planned on studying communications. 

"That's not very practical," she said. "Did you give any thought to law or business?" 

"Yeah, and I ruled those out.  I want to study communications. It's what I like and it's what I'm good at." (Ignore the grammar, this was a 17-year-old's conversation.)

She frowned some more, made some notes in my file and decided to let that pass for now.

"Do you have some schools in mind?"

"Yes, I've narrowed it down to Ithaca College or Lycoming College. My parents are making me apply to a couple state schools as backups."

"Oh no no no," she said, reacting as if I'd announced my intention to spend a semester farming in Chernobyl. "I don't think you could handle Ithaca."

"What? Why not?"

"It's too big a school. It would just be too much for you."

Okay, now wait a minute here. Let's pause for a second. I was at the top of my class, excellent grades without much effort, involved in music, theatre, dance, and sports, juggling them all easily. I had been put into a gifted and talented program when I was seven. I was in our local and National Honor Societies. I had no history of mental breakdowns or given any indication that I would crumble under pressure. I was a quiet, pleasant, talented kid. This woman had absolutely no reason to believe I was incapable of attending a mid-sized school like Ithaca College. There was nothing in my history or background that would lead someone to believe that I wouldn't succeed and thrive in that kind of environment. If anything, I was one of the few kids in my class who could handle the academic rigors and atmosphere. Yet, here she was, once again doubting and discouraging me.

"You should think about something smaller and less challenging. Maybe a two-year school close to home?" (I should mention that Ithaca is about 1 1/2 hours from my hometown- not across the country or in a different time zone.) "That would be a good place to try and see if this is really what you want."

I think my face might've revealed my disdain and disbelief. I had no idea what to say to her. She actually ordered me to rethink my choices and she scheduled a follow-up appointment with me.

I fumed. I went home and told my dad and he reassured me that this lady was full of bullshit. He knew me and I knew me, and ultimately, we knew what was right for me. "Just do what you have to to keep her off your back," was his advice. I decided to do it one better.

At my follow-up appointment, she smiled condescendingly at me and asked if I'd found some "more appropriate" choices. 

"Yes," I said, grinning.

"Where?" she asked, eagerly.

"St. John's University in Queens, New York," I answered. "I know they don't have dorms, but I'm pretty sure I can find a place to live and figure out how to get around."

Her heart may have stopped beating for a quick moment (a New York minute, dare I say?). She dropped the subject and let me go back to class.

My dad & I at graduation.
Good god, we were tired from
getting up so early.
I did go to Ithaca College. I studied public relations and advertising in the Roy Park School of Communications (along with a writing minor). I made dean's list. I ranked in the top 25% of my class. And I graduated. 20 years ago next month.

As I was thinking about my struggles with the guidance counselor, I tried hard to figure out what her motivation had been- why would she discourage one of the more successful students from challenging herself? I mean, good lord, if that's how you are with the students who are doing well in school, what the hell are you saying to the kids who are struggling and really do need guidance??? 

I continued to have run-ins with this lady. She gave me grief when I insisted on not taking pre-calculus. I'd looked up the regents diploma requirements which stated I only had to take three years of math,
which I already had covered. She tried to tell me that no college would accept me if I didn't have pre-calc. I replied by quoting from the course catalog from my chosen school and program, which had no math requirements whatsoever. I still have never taken a math class past high school Math III (no idea what they call it now) and I have not felt its absence in any way.

She also tried to tell me what topic I should write my application essay on, although by that time I completely disregarded anything she had to say to me, even though I was still required to have regular visits with her- total wastes of time, in my book. Jim Henson had just died unexpectedly, and I felt real grief and sorrow from this loss. I wrote my essay about his influence on me and how his work had inspired me creatively. According to this deranged old bat, I didn't stand a chance unless my essay was less about personal experience and more about current events, like the fall of communism or the Berlin Wall coming down. 

Turns out, my essay on Jim Henson was one of the deciding factors in my acceptance to the Park School. I found out later that there were plenty of kids who got into I.C., but not the Park School. The Dean made the final choices, reviewing the essays. The Dean at the time was on sabbatical when I applied; the Interim Dean who read my essay and decided whether I made it in the Park School or not happened to have been heavily involved in the creation of the Children's Television Workshop and had known Jim Henson personally. A lot of good the Berlin Wall would've done me.

And so, to all you bright-eyed, enthusiastic, excited, and a little scared high school and college seniors pondering your future, don't let anyone discourage you from pursuing what you love. Don't let well-meaning "professionals" pressure you into putting your dreams away in exchange for a life of conformity. Yes, think about how you're going to make a living, but don't forget to make a life. Give some serious thought to the life you want for yourself, then figure out what you need to do to get it. Talk to people who are doing what you want to do- ask them how they got there. Trust me, they'll be happy to share their story with you. And most of all, trust yourself. You know you better than anyone. Learn to trust your judgement. It's tough- we're conditioned to follow the crowd, not our instincts. The best piece of advice I can offer you is from a slip of paper my dad gave me that I kept above my desk all four years of college and that I remind myself of regularly to this day: 
It's sometimes scary to trust your intuition.
But it's always disastrous not to.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Riot, Not Diet

I had high hopes for this post; this week is the first time in about a month that I'm finally feeling healthy and back to normal after that dreadful cold that EVERYONE seemed to get at the exact same time, regardless of location or exposure. But the news this week has really only served to depress me.
Here's why:

Hillary Clinton is running for President of the United States. At first, I was overjoyed, then almost immediately saddened, because I know how polarizing she is and with the state of things in our country, it doesn't bode well for her. The offensive, terrible memes have already started about her, which leads me to believe she doesn't really have a chance and my childhood dream of seeing a female POTUS may not materialize in my lifetime. Also, it's depressing to hear people try to take her down knowing that so much of what fuels their ire is that she's a strong woman and unapologetic about her strength, which they fear. Seeing that I strive to be a strong woman who is unapologetic about it, I almost feel like their
take-downs of her are directed at me as well. Those memes, those commenters, the folks who put those misogynistic bumper stickers on their vehicles, are really saying, "We are against all women who try to achieve, who strive to excel. Who don't know 'their place' or simply won't accept it."

What especially irks me are the deniers. Not just the women who believe in equal rights but insist they are not feminists (honestly, I can only roll my eyes at them anymore) but those who insist the pay gap and discrimination and blame-the-victim politics are merely the invention of a group of whiners, that those problems really don't exist or are greatly exaggerated. NOT. TRUE. Almost every day, even in our enlightened little town (although certainly less often here than other places I've lived) there are discriminations, instances where I know was treated differently than someone with a Y chromosome would've been. Dismissed. Taken less seriously. My abilities and judgement doubted in a way that my male counterparts are not, simply because I am female. Mansplaining, being talked over, having my ideas dismissed then later introduced as someone else's and applauded, yeah, I've experienced all of that.

When I was working at a library in the midwest, I did the layout and design for our newsletter. I did a good job. In fact, our newsletter received a Best in Show award. The library decided they needed a new copier and felt that I should be the person to help decide what machine to go with, as the newsletter had some special printing requirements. A gentleman whose office machines company the library had done business with for years came by with a machine to show us and let us try for a few days. He set it up in my office. I introduced myself to him and he just looked amused. He asked for a copy of the newsletter to show how the machine could handle it. He looked it over and said, "Hey, this is really good. Where's the fellow who put this together?"

Politely, I told him I put it together. I was met with immediate skepticism. To the point that he laughed. "Nah, come on. Where is he?"

I showed him my name on the masthead and even pulled out my license to prove that we were the same person. He started to frown and his eyes narrowed. He still looked like he didn't believe me. I showed him my computer screen where I was putting together the next issue using Quark XPress. (Oh, how I miss Quark.) He started looking angry, and I realized he thought I was trying to take credit for someone else's work, that I was trying to pass myself off as something I wasn't. And that he genuinely did not believe that a young woman could've created that publication.

He finally sighed and told me he'd show me how the machine ran, and I should show the guy who did the newsletter when he got in the next day. But he could come back and show him, if I couldn't remember all the details.

He did not get our business. I used all the powers that I had to convince our director to go with a different company. But being dismissed like that, and practically accused of being dishonest about my work, still burns me almost fifteen years later.

I'm also depressed because I'm reading a history of the Riot Grrrl movement and I'm dismayed to see how little has changed, and in fact, in some ways gone backward. In spite of all our efforts toward progress, today we have a woman who has been sent to jail for having a miscarriage, a woman who had a pharmacist refuse to fill her prescription for a medication her doctor prescribed for her after she'd had a miscarriage, a woman in Ireland who died of sepsis because the emergency room she went to after she began hemorrhaging from the miscarriage she was having would not do a procedure on her that would save her life because they felt it was too close to abortion.

We have congressmen having closed door meetings about contraception and not allowing women to be part of the discussion.

We still live in a world where the victim of a sexual attack is blamed for what she might've done to invite the attack, but the violator more often than not gets a slap on the wrist and the sincere concern that the woman's allegation won't hurt the attacker's future.

A crazy woman in Arizona wanted a law on the books that would consider all women of childbearing age to be pregnant unless they could prove otherwise. Yeah, you read that right.  The proposed bill (which failed, thankfully) "contains a clause that dates gestational age from “the first day of the last menstrual period of the pregnant woman.” This effectively moves the beginning of a pregnancy to two weeks prior to conception.
Instead of being proof positive that she is not pregnant, her period will now inform every woman between the approximate ages of 12 and 55 that her latest pregnancy has just begun. And, she must assume that pregnancy exists until the moment her next period starts."
Yes. The only correct response to that is WTF?
And I don't feel I have the right to go into the horrors facing LGBTQ folks and women of color because my experiences are sugar roses on a honey-filled cake compared to the way they get treated and the things they have to face.
So yeah. I'm depressed. But I guess all you can do is your part. Keep fighting the fight, stand up for each other, learn more about and be respectful of each others' struggles, be a mentor to the younger girls coming up around you. When you meet a small child, ask them about their interests, don't comment on their looks. Teach the boys you know to be respectful of women. Support each other and speak out against those who want to hold us back. Watch and rewatch Tina Fey declare that "bitches get stuff done" and be happy that we have women like her and Amy Poehler out there.

Don't fall for the many ways society tries to trap women, like trying to get us all to fit into one body image ideal. Don't forget what Naomi Wolf said: "Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women's history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one." Count victories, not calories. 

As my new favorite shirt says, Riot, Not Diet.  (Although for god's sake, why does the photo only

show a man wearing it? Facepalm.)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Get in the back seat, baby

Ugh. How are you? It's been a hella hard winter, hasn't it? I was doing okay until about mid-February and I had just had ENOUGH of it. Then I got sick, and after three weeks, I still haven't kicked this cough. (I am sitting here writing this with my feet covered in vicks vapo rub under thick socks.) 

Anyway, I've heard from a lot of people that they struggled getting through this winter, and have suffered mightily through this beastly flu/cold, and so far, this spring has not delivered on what Spring is supposed to bring. So, for everyone who needs something to brighten their world while we wait for sunshine and flowers and green grass and warmth, I give you my friend Jason's recording of Get Outta My Dreams (Get Into My Car). When he was ten, his uncle brought Jason with him and his family to Busch Gardens. He bought five boxes of salt water taffy, and made this tape. Trust me- it'll cure what ails ya.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Bless us, O Divine Lady of Bottomless Martinis & Netflix Binges

First off, I must apologize for missing last week. I had the flu/cold/virus-from-hell/plague that was going around and it knocked me solidly on my ass. I'm still not 100% but at least I'm not propelling myself backward from the sheer force of my cough.

One of my favorite sites, The Toast, had a piece this week by Molly Priddy called My Secular Patron Saints. The author wrote about her Catholic upbringing and how it was at odds with her own beliefs:

"By middle school, I wasn’t looking to the Catholic communion of saints for life inspiration anymore. They didn’t apply to me, other than the women who died being obstinate. I learned that in order to survive, I had to find my own patron saints for inspiration. I had to build my own mythology, one in which my wants and dreams and desires were important, not just a lesson in sin or a second-class concern."

She kicked it off with Saint Idgie Threadgoode, Patron Saint of Tomboys.
I really liked this. I also was raised Catholic; like Ms. Priddy, it didn't stick for me, either. I questioned too much, not to mention bristled at the subservient role women play in the Catholic religion. But I've always loved the idea of patron saints. I love the idea of one figure whose special mission is to look out for those she was assigned. When I was confirmed, I took the saint's name of Brigid, mostly because she's one of the patron saints of Ireland (and dairy!) and it was the name my great-grandma had wanted my mom to name me. But as I read through Ms. Priddy's patron saints selection, I thought about coming up with a stable of my own patron saints, ladies who were "my own people, birds of my feather." And yes, it seemed necessary that they only be women. So here they are, in no particular order:

St. Bella Abzug

Our Lady of Hat-Wearing Feminists

St. Eloise

Patron Saint of the Exuberantly Misbehaved

St. Red Fraggle

Patron Saint of Gingers, natural and otherwise

St. Alice Roosevelt Longworth

Patron Saint of Ladies Who Could've Done the Job as Well as Or Better Than a Man If She'd Only Been Allowed

St. Rory Gilmore

Patron Saint of Voracious Readers

St. Liz Lemon

Our Lady of Night Cheese

Sts. Bailey and Lulu

Patron Saints of Blind Love

St. Amy Poehler

Patron Saint of Being Awesome 

(I mean, really, how do you encapsulate all that Amy Poehler is other than 'awesome'? Tied with St. Knope- Patron Saint of Lady Friends)

St. Grace O'Malley

Patron Saint of Female Pirates and their
Modern-Day Equivalent

Sts. Edina and Patsy

Our Ladies of Fabulousness, Sweetie Darling

St. Ramona

Patron Saint of Being True to Yourself

St. Lucille

Blessed Lady of Hospital Bars

St. Sally

Patron Saint of Fussy Eaters

St. Harper

Patron Saint of Writers Who Just Need Some Time Off to Write

St. Dorothy Parker

Patron Saint of Wit and the Stylish Comeback

St. Dorothy Zbornak

Our Lady of the Cutting Look

St. Joan Jett

Patron Saint of Bad-Assery

St. Eleanor 

Patron Saint of Doing the Thing That You Think You Cannot Do


Most Blessed Lady of Protecting Our Rights