How indifference to differences can get a little… weird

I know that this sounds like the first half of a joke, but seriously, what’s up with people not seeing things like color, gender, or weight?

Let me repeat: what’s up with people not SEEING color, gender, or weight? It’s nice to know that people are beginning to treat others equally, or at least claim such, but don’t pretend that differences aren’t there entirely. It makes you look like you’re hiding something. Or you’re just insufferably awkward.

If someone is black, someone is black. There doesn’t have to be attachments or undertones to that statement. People try to step around or gurgle “black” because acknowledging and saying the actual word “black” is supposed to be racist or something. It’s not. It’s a fact.

Stop defying sound, natural observations because you are uncomfortable for some unsaid or said reason. And it’s also not a matter of juggling political correctness. It’s a matter of being plain weird.

I have some examples. One is in real life. And another from popular culture.

So, my boyfriend and I watch the show Louie. We don’t have FX, so it’s excruciating, but worth it to buy the new episodes off Netflix. Actor Louis C.K. writes, directs, and is the star of his own show. It’s one of my favorite things I can get my grubby fingers on when it comes to television. I wish I had a t-shirt with Louis C.K.’s face on it, that’s how much I love him.

If you know anything about C.K., you know he’s a realist and tells things like they are. There is no place C.K. doesn’t go—from farts and jacking off to divorce, depressive tendencies, and class differences—nothing is truly off limits for him. Sometimes, his honesty is painful to look at or so unfortunately true, you can’t help but laugh. Even when he’s being distasteful, it’s done tastefully, which makes for a genius of a comedian.

There’s an episode off the most recent season in which Louie (Louis C.K.) goes on a date with Vanessa (played by actress Sarah Baker), a fat girl—a hilarious, charming, intelligent, and cute fat girl at that.

But she’s still a fat girl. Thus, it takes a lot of work for Vanessa to score a date with Louie, himself a round fellow who runs into rejection a lot. But she still has to court his favor because like the majority of people still stuck in the physical portion of first impression mode, Louie isn’t interested.

Louie determines that she is undateable, which is not to be confused with unfuckable. Sure Louie would fuck her, she points out, but he would have a harder time with getting to know her a on relationship level because she’s fat. And when she calls herself fat, Louie says “no, you’re not fat” because he is uncomfortable, and that’s what uncomfortable people say. That’s a lie, and she calls him out on it. She’s disappointed in him because the lie contradicts what he stands for, or what she thought to be true about him, one of the reasons she was attracted to him in the first place.

See scene for yourself. Awesome stuff.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8KiRrqrlZc

This is what makes this show brilliant, not to mention gut-bustingly funny. It calls human nature out on its bullshit when it thinks it’s being completely transparent.

…which is why I’m confused about something very pertinent to the show. It’s not an episode at all. It’s a casting decision.

So here’s my question: why is Louie’s ex-wife, Janet (played by Susan Kelechi Watson) on the show black? Or the reverse question: why are Louie’s children on the show not interracial? I’m not mad. I’m not pulling a racist card on Louis C.K. But on a logical level, why is this not so?

ImageImage

The show is good. The writing is good. The acting is good. But still, the discrepancy is distracting. It pulls me out of the viewer/story experience, and the plausibility of a character(s) in a show that aims to be as raw real life as possible.

I’m not the first person to ask this question or its opposite. I sure as hell know everyone is thinking it, but they either don’t care or are afraid to address it, just on the off chance it’s racist, which it’s not.

Actually, the topic was publically addressed in a Jimmy Kimmel Live interview. When asked why he chose a black actress to play the mother of his white children, C.K. responded, “If the character works for the show, I don’t care about the racial.” This in my opinion is the equivalent to “I do what I want.” And that’s cool; it IS his show.

But I don’t buy that. C.K. is a keen observer, a more careful creator than that. I believe his casting choice to be a social experiment on viewers. Maybe he is daring viewers to see past color.

And this is great on a wider cultural, social level, but doesn’t add up on the basic 1+1 level. It’s weird, and it doesn’t make sense. It’s common for C.K. to be weird, but he usually somehow explains his weirdness. So… I feel like I’m missing something.

My follow-up question is: if you could use a fat girl to convey a message, why can’t you use a black woman to convey a message, too? Or an interracial family? Those would not only make more basic sense, but could be used to address real color issues THAT STILL EXIST. I feel like the show is missing out on these elements that could make it that much better.

A second example has to do with a webinar I attended for work recently. I won’t go into any specifics because I’d like to keep my job and feed my family (my boyfriend, my bird, and myself). The host of the webinar works for a company in the industry I work in and for. The topic was on attracting and retaining women in an industry that is predominately male. The people attending the webinar, keep in mind, were WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY. Also, keep in mind “Women in Industry” was in the title and description. He didn’t miss the literal memo.

So, I was confused when he spent the majority of his interview sweating to be politically correct about gender. I felt that it was distracting and defeated the whole purpose of the presentation. He continued to clarify himself after every question, which all began with something like: “What do you think women in the industry…”

Basically the host reinforced that there is no difference between male and female employees. He cleared his throat and bumbled over the actual word “women.” Over and over again. I began to feel bad for the guy.

I thought, okay… that’s great that you are at the point of acceptance, at least for rhetoric’s sake, but the reality of it is that women are asking questions on behalf of themselves and other women so they may further themselves in the workplace. They are the target audience here, so you don’t have to tiptoe around the fact that they are clearly women.

Another fact: there still is inequality between men and women in the workplace because women are still paid less and are still less likely to hold positions of power, particularly at an executive level.

If we want to promote women in the workplace we have to first simply acknowledge that they are indeed women (not men) and also accept that they need more of a boost. Being a woman in a male dominated industry should be taken as an advantage. I’m not saying we should throw a parade every time a woman gets hired in this industry, but still some acknowledgement on the strides and tangible examples of excelling professional women would be helpful in bringing more women in (the objective).

Going into deeper meaning of things: not seeing in color, gender, or weight (for example) may sound ideal, but in my humble opinion, it actually does more harm than good. It takes away from the whole uniqueness, diversity, and celebration aspect. It makes us seem like we’re all the same when we are clearly not (and that’s a good thing!).

It also says “We are now wiping our hands clean of isms or ists because, guess what, those things no longer exist. We’re good now. Everyone is on the same page about equality.” Nope, this is simply not true.

Denying differences may pave a smoother road for more passive forms of isms.  These forms are not blatantly aggressive or hurtful, but they still always stick out like a sore thumb. I just don’t think it will do us good to waltz around differences, ignore them, or pretend they don’t exist. Maybe I’m just being a pain in the ass, but I remember when it was cool to embrace our own and each other’s differences.

I’m going to write

Image

“I’m going to write tomorrow. I’ll wake up early, you’ll see,”

I told my couch ridden boyfriend whose sight was set on bed.
He lulled his neck like a banana, spilling its peel over a paisley pillow.
His mouth stretched a yawn, a long “sounds good, babe.”

It’s tomorrow,
and my alarm sounds like dandelion seeds clinking softly against wind.
Whoever made this ringtone hit SNOOZE on commonsense, I think
as I pile the words NEW CLOCK WEEKEND
on the pad of paper I keep on my nightstand.

Just in case I dream in stories.

Like the one about the earring farm.
The land the farm sat on was neither flat nor hilly.
It was more like a platform of air, of nothingness, really.
There I was plowing a spaceless field for delicate droplets of jewelry.
The sky was knitting a blanket above me.
The clouds were orange as Dreamsicles.
Then suddenly they shifted to storminess.
And then the clouds began to fold around me.
I was tossed into a basket of swirling scenery.
I tussled about like soiled laundry
around and around.
I couldn’t catch my breath,
started to claw my way out,
but my arms were like plucked weeds,
useless, tired without the ground…

WAKE UP. TIME TO GET UP.
(Sweat. Dandelion seeds chime.)

I take mental notes on my slumber.
Just in case I know what it means,
how to de-discombobulate dreams.

No frets, I’m going to write.
I’ll skip breakfast, I say.

Instead, my eye catches the sink, dirty as an unfiltered fish tank,
the drowning dishes call for help and utility.
There’s one fork left in a drawer shy of spoons.

My car door slams shut.
I’m the hellbound bat dipping in and out of lanes.
At a red light, I smear on eyeliner.
Maybe I can jot down a few lines before

“Good morning, everyone.”

There’s a week left until the magazine prints,
so we race like white rabbits,
pit patter on the keyboards

until we fall into a state of dizzy busyness.

The air is a 9 to 5 kind of dry.
Every now and then someone coughs,
or looks out the window to detect rain.

“Weatherman said sunny, mid-70’s.”
“Yup. Hopefully it warms up. I’m slightly cold.”

I have to urinate despite my lack of water.

As I edit, I can hear pounding through the drywall.
Our neighbors work with metal, or rocks they throttle
into the thin borders between us.

I respond to emails from other realms.

Dear so and so,

I am writing to you because I’m interested in your company’s story. I would like to set a time to talk to you, so I can write about how awesome you are.

I will jump through hoops to meet your schedule.

Regards, sincerely, best.

Name
Lengthy, important title
Address
Phone number
Here, have my cell too.
Email
I’m on Twitter.
And LinkedIn
And Facebook
The End.

Lunch time breeds freedom, the nourishment of words
I’m going to write then.

I sit on a wooden bench with a recycled notebook open on my lap
The lines on the page entice me, whisper secrets in my pen’s ears.
I turn to the first leaf, and breathe in until I can feel my bellybutton.

Where was I again?

My phone rings.
It’s my sister from the other side of Illinois,
the cornstalks, no burbs with freshly renovated parks,
large mall lots, or helicopter parents in Sedans.
She’s away at school for the first time.
She says she’s homesick and needs money.
I talk to her like a mom who knows better,
and I can hear her roll her eyes through the phone.

We strike up a deal,
I’ll send her a pot so she can cook spaghetti.

FINALLY,
I bow my head downward to the white space.
“I’m going to write,” are my first lines.

“How about a drink of water, Max?”
asks this silver haired woman to her bulldog.
I look up and watch her pick up her dog,
lean her body against the fountain,
and let him lap from the flowing faucet.
“Now, that’s better, isn’t it?”

The next time I sit down to write,
I juggle raviolis for dinner, gulp coffee
in uncomfortable lumps,
read text messages from people
I’ve ignored throughout the day.

I use the last of my words to explain.

I say the same word over and over.
I try to teach my bird how to talk.
Her feathers ruffle her annoyance;
I tell her not be cheeky.
“Say hello, Khaleesi.
Hello. Hello. Hello.”

I flip on the T.V. and let whatever’s on fill my ears.

The door creaks open, and my boyfriend wipes his feet on WELCOME.

He sniffs the air, asks what’s cooking,
how my day was, if I wrote.

I tell him almost,

I’m going to write tomorrow,
I’ll wake up early, you’ll see.

Love’s blue skies: a letter from aunt to nephew

Image

Skylar,

I’m starting to warm up to your name in my ears and on my lips. It’s a good name. After all, we are made of bright little flecks of sky, right? You are here, and what they say is true, you’re a miracle. Welcome to Earth, Skylar.

I have only seen you once, and I can still feel your body in my arms. You were wrapped tight in a blanket, a creature stirring in its cocoon. Your head nestled where my bicep and forearm meet. This has been permanently impressed into my skin like a birthmark inked in the womb.

Last summer I cradled a stingray in my arms. Its slippery, cool, gel-like underside pressed against my palms. Its fins flapped over the water, but it remained flat as a board, resting and pressing its smooth skin against my hands, which were quivering against the waves just below the water’s surface. I tried to stay still so I could feel it breathe. And also so it wouldn’t sting me. The terror of being stung seized me, but I couldn’t help but be invigorated by the life I held in my hands. It was pure intimacy to be so close, to hold something so strange and beautiful that  inhabits the sea.

You are the most delicate thing I have ever held. You were heavier than I thought. Probably because the weight of knowing what could happen to you if you fell from my arms was unbearable.

After coming home from the hospital, I retraced your nose, eyes and cheeks in my head. I thought about your mouth sucking the air like a fish. I thought how every now and then, you’d open your eyes and look around, waywardly, almost drunkenly. That day was the first time you ever used your eyes. Your gaze was lost and trying to find your way. You were tired from the long trip, and your best bet was to close your pink, wary lids.

Your mom looked quizzical when I mumbled if I could hold you. “Of course you can,” she said and smiled warmly, despite how exhausted she felt. She stretched out her long, tattooed arms and shared her newborn baby. In your mother’s hospital room, your grandmother and father sat on either side of me. We looked down at you in my arms. It was a long time before we remembered that we, unlike you, had voices in our throats with words to say. Your dad spoke first with a joke to break a silence dominated by loud thoughts.

“I hope he’s good-looking,” he said.

“I hope he’s smart,” I said.

“I hope he has good health,” said your grandmother.

And there we sat and stared at you some more. I thought of the Wizard of Oz like gifts we wished for you. Later on, I went back in time in my mind to change my answer to include a whole list more.

Baby Skylar, please, please forgive me for this: truthfully, when I found out about you, I was sad. I was not on board. I was afraid you wouldn’t be able to get what you what you deserve.

But now that I’ve met you and seen how people on both sides of the family have flocked like birds to be in your life and support you, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude and positivity. I hope to be a part of your life. You have already affected mine, and I’ve been in a room with you for less than an hour so far.

Yes, your parents are young. But here’s the thing: plenty of young parents have given birth and successfully raised children throughout history. Even now, young parents have surprised many of the same ones wagging their fingers. Human nurturing is a powerful natural instinct that kicks into gear even during the darkest of times and direst of situations. And even more, people have the tendency to change, to grow like thirsty sunflowers when they know life has assigned them an essential worth-living kind of task.

It’s easy to be negative about young parents. It’s harder to look young parenthood in the face and accept it, embrace it.  It’s easy to turn a cheek instead of becoming another voice of support, another link to the chain that a young family can hold onto.

Your parents have each lived lives so far that they may or may not know exactly how to put into words. Now, your parents work together and make the best of what they have. I hope that you will help them come to terms with some of the tough times they’ve lived through and also remember the beautiful things about them that caused them to rise and move forward.

I hope you are the beginning of a strong, close family. I know how hard your mom fought to keep you, to make sure you arrived safely. I have a feeling she will fill you up with everything she has. You are not a bad decision. You are a living, breathing piece of new life.

For the first time in a long time, I have prayed. Not only for your safety coming into this world, but more importantly, finding happiness in it. What you don’t know because you are too young to know: life is really hard. Especially for those who don’t have much and at the same time are still struggling to figure themselves out. Sometimes when you don’t have much, you feel like you deserve nothing more, like you should stay right where you are. This is a circle that is hard to understand, but is not impossible to leave.

I’m not exactly sure what I believe anymore. When I was a little kid I loved learning about and loving God. Knowing that there is something big out there looking out for you and wishing you happiness is a powerful thing to hold inside you. It can carry you through.

But let me be clear, you can believe whatever you want to believe. I hope you at least believe in yourself. Because that was the other half of the equation for me; I also believed in my own goodness, and I found my own happiness. I found things excruciatingly funny, interesting, and moving. I gave and continue to give with all the love I have.

Skylar, never hold back on the love you feel. I know you will probably get a lot of advice from people throughout your life. It is your decision what you choose to accept and reject, but this is my best, and I hope you accept it. It has been said many times before: love and be loved.

I wish I could say it was as simple as that. Sometimes it hurts and sometimes you love people who don’t know how to love you back or won’t. But it’s never a waste. Don’t let painful experiences with love stop you from loving, seeking people who fully reflect love back, and things that bring love outside your body. One last thing, and certainly the hardest, love yourself. Don’t take that lightly. Please, please, please, love yourself. Make it routine. Brush teeth. Wash hands. Love yourself.

I need to share something very special with you. Do you see this man?

Image

He is the most solid proof I have for you to love and be loved. Your great-grandfather Anthony J. Cimarusti, passed away a little over a year ago. He was someone who made love look easy, that’s how much he fully incorporated it into his life.

He gave a tremendous amount to his family. He was not a rich man, but he was always available for support.  The times when he gave the most were at family gatherings, where he divided himself up, shared his warmth and time equally amongst us all. We gobbled him up.

He never turned anyone away, especially when they were filled with pain. Every single time I knocked on his door, he opened it, greeting me with a mischievous smile, wave of Old Spice, and a sweater stained in spaghetti sauce.

Up until I was 14, I held hands proudly with my grandfather in public, introduced him to strangers on the street. We walked a lot through parks. He showed me how to feed ducks, how to make the best turkey sandwiches, and how to swing on a swing. He taught me how to drive. He had warm, big tree bark hands that he used to fix things around the house, give big hugs, dance, and sift through books.

He loved movies with classically pretty girls. He loved history, learning about ancient peoples and wars. He loved his country. When I used to work at the library, he would come visit me. “Excuse me, Miss,” he’d joke and ask me for a book.

Then he’d sit at a table and read. I recall books on Lincoln, the Nazis. We would whisper to each other for a little in the book stacks, and then he would be on his way. He left a trail of admirers on his route out the door. “Sarah, I just saw your grandfather. He has such a kind, warm soul,” my co-workers would say. “I love that man,” I’d say.

Everyone he knew wanted in on his overflowing goblet of love that he drank from heartily. Even after my grandfather retired, he still worked as an in-house kind of electrician. People requested him for side jobs, and he continued to light up homes because he truly understood his life’s calling was such more than changing burnt bulbs.

My grandfather was married to your great-grandmother for 63 years. He freed her from a difficult family past. Then he made her happy. He took her to all her school dances. He even scrubbed her kitchen floor on his hands and knees. She took care of him too. One of my favorite memories I have of my grandmother is when she was bent over my grandfather’s hospital bed, and she was massaging lotion onto his feet.

63 years is a long time. It’s hard to understand what that feels like, to love someone after all that time. But it’s possible.

I have my fears about what kind of life you will have, what kind of person you will be. But you will soon realize that for the majority of your life, it is up to you.  I hope these feel like warm wishes, something to fall back on if you ever need it, rather than heavy expectations. This is letting you know that I’m here, and I will always care.

I’m beyond excited to know you, Skylar.

Love, love, love,

Auntie Sarah