Because I Said So . . .

I Promise Never Say To My Children Some of The Bizarre Things My Mother Said To Me

“Someday you’ll have a daughter, and I hope that she’s just like you” (mom)

How many of us remember swearing when we were younger that we would not be like our parents? That we would never ever answer a questions with the completely nonsensical words “because I said so”? How many of us have used those exact words out of complete and utter exasperation only to realize two seconds later, ‘I’ve become my mother/father’? I’ll admit to doing worse. I’ve actually used the mother’s curse: I’ve said, “I can’t wait for you to grow up and have children of your own some day so that you can see what it’s like to have an ungrateful child.”

Yep. I have gone there. More than once. Even when I swore in my oh so holier than thou youthful twenties that I would never say that to my children, that I wouldn’t resort to the same tactics that my mother used. But of course, that was before . . . before my daughter went through her teens, decided to use her bedroom window as a door to the world, decided to run up $500 in long distance charges on our phone bill because we didn’t get her a cell phone, to name but a few. But that was nothing as compared to my oldest son, who really was supposed to be born to very rich parents because his sense of entitlement is beyond astounding.

However, I am told that this is not a phenomenon belonging to him alone. If all is to be believed, his entire generation is rich in its sense of entitlement and completely lacking in a sense of sexual morality. Okay. Let me stop here. I know, you will say that this is a generational thing, that each generation believes that its younger counterpart has no morals when it comes to sex. Our parents were astounded with the whole idea of “free love,” and then living together before marriage and then living together with no intentions of getting married. Admittedly, each generation breaks boundaries of the generation before.

But there are a few significant differences between the generation that grew up having sex from the 90’s on, and the biggest one, of course, is that no other generation before could literally die from having sex. You could catch some nasty diseases, but they were all curable. Herpes came along, and that one, we found out, stayed around forever, but no one died from it. It could cause birth defects if a baby delivered vaginally while the mother had an outbreak. But with AIDS, we were moving onto a new playing field.

“Babies comes from mommy’s tummies, but don’t tell anyone” (mom)teens-sex

So when you gave the lectures on sex and birth control and being responsible, you also told your kids about AIDS and what it was and what it could do, and you told them that birth control was not AIDS control, and you prayed that they listened and you hoped that they would be a little less free with their love than maybe you were and that they would wait a little longer than you did.

Turns out you were wrong. The average age at which teens lose their virginity today is 15, and more young girls are shooting for 14. I’m not using the phrase “shooting for” lightly. That whole peer pressure thing is a bitch. Only about one in seven uses birth control, often because the male pressures against condom usage, and the girl is afraid that if she pressures for a condom, he will find another willing partner. From the statistics, it seems that he probably will. A new study from the Kaiser Foundation shows that more than a third of new HIV infections in the U.S. occur among young people between the ages of 13 and 29, those very people who do not believe in their own fallibility, the ones who are not using condoms religiously like their older counterparts.

May I just pause here to say, What In The Hell Is Wrong With This Picture??? If you just read the paragraph above and are thinking that those statistics only apply to a certain ethnic group or only apply to urban high schools, well I hate to burst your great big bubble of unreality, but WRONG. In one of the surveys I read, 14 percent of the 10,000 participants said that they are having sex at school (http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/27706917/). Something even scarier: one in five girls claimed that she wanted to be a teenage mom. Teen pregnancies already occur in about three quarter of a million girls a year. Whoa!

What a lot of these young women, (using the term loosely) do not realize about frequent sexual activity at such a young age is the risk that they are taking with their bodies and how it might affect their ability to have children later in life. Their cervixes aren’t fully formed and are at greater risk for diseases such as chlamydia. Left untreated, chlamydia can lead to cervical cancer. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease often goes undiagnosed and untreated and can also lead to infertility. Undiagnosed STDs are passed from partner to partner, and male partners are not invulnerable.

“Women aren’t supposed to enjoy sex” (mom)

But what about intimacy? What about saving yourself for that special someone? That does not even seem to come into play with this generation. Sex is truly casual, referred to as hooking up; oral sex is seen as non-sexual, which, pardon the expression, blows me away. Something that we used to save for special relationships, fiancés even, these kids perform in the gym on people they aren’t even dating.  I found the following statistics from the The Guttmacher Institute staggering, and as you know, I’m pretty liberal:

  • More than 75 percent of teens have had sex by the time they are 19 years old.
  • Some 25 percent of virgins over 15 have had oral sex; of those who’ve had intercourse, almost all have also engaged in oral sex
  • Eleven percent have engaged in anal sex.
  • Of kids under 15, about 14 percent have had sexual intercourse
  • One quarter of teenagers have had at least one sexually transmitted disease
  • Young people account for half of the 19 million new STD cases each year.

holding-handsThe problem—as far as I can determine from reading about it in article after article—is that young people who are sexually active with partner after partner, treat sex like a party favor. They don’t understand the concept of intimacy, of finding closeness with one person and how that intimacy actually changes the whole sexual experience, transforms it. In an age of entitlement, in which the man-child wants what he wants when he wants it when he wants it and sees no need to wait for it, how does society convey intimacy against a backdrop of video games, movies, and comedians in which the badass refers to women as hoes and bitches, demeans them to non-entity status? How or why should one seek intimacy with an inanimate object? Bros before hoes, right?

How does a young female with limited self-worth thrive against such a backdrop? Bros before hoes—it’s the mantra she hears, and she grows accustomed to it unless someone tells her no, that’s not how it should be. You are worth something. And you hope that she hears you, actually hears you.

No matter what our teenagers are told at home, no matter what kind of loving, respectful relationship they might see between their parents at home, how can that compete with what happens when they walk out the front door? You talk and you talk and you talk, and then you read about how camera phones allow teens to send each other explicit pictures of each other that end up on the internet, and they may have just been playing around, but never thought about the consequences of a wired in world.

Being a good role model, taking the time to have those special talks, showing respect to one another within the family unit, reinforcing treatment of women as people not objects . . . how much more can you do? It tends to make me want to crawl back under the covers and never come out again, just when I was beginning to think that it was safe out here.

Too much to think about. Peace.

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Insomnia Leads to Bad Television Habits

“Last night I dreamed I had insomnia. I woke up exhausted, yet too well rested to go back to sleep.”

~ Bob Ingman

Every once in a while, when I cannot get to sleep and I have already seen the episodes of “Without a Trace” and “CSI” that are on at 2 in the morning, I’ll try to find something else to watch on television that will bore me enough so that I can fall asleep. That is when I find bizarre programs like “Bridezillas” on WE. I’m not even sure what network WE is, but I must admit that the show “Bridezillas” and its companion show “Platinum Wedding” or something like that are really something to behold, especially if you are looking for polar extremes.

bridezilla
WE's Show "Bridezillas"

Apparently, “Bridezillas” is television’s answer to “Cops” for women. I haven’t seen behavior like this since I taught middle school for one year. These women actually do things on this show that cause the censor bleep button to have to be used repeatedly. One wedding, and I’m using the term very loosely here, used shotgun shells as part of the decor. In another, the bride left her rehearsal dinner to go to the store and returned two and a half hours later. All of her guests were gone, and her fiance was a tad upset. She managed to turn the whole thing around to an impeachment on her guests’ impatience. The show is like an accident waiting to happen, and the viewer wants to turn away but just can’t because it’s only going to be worse, which means that it will only get better.

One bride’s rehearsal in the church turned into such a fray with the groom-to-be’s side of the family that the priest actually had to ask them to leave. Another bride-to-be gave the wrong location to her bridal party on where they were supposed to get their nails done, and then she had the audacity to throw a tantrum because half of her party didn’t show. She got on her phone and told them all that they were out of the wedding because they “didn’t care enough to support her on her big day.” At this point, I’d be thanking my lucky stars that I was out of the wedding party, but no, the bridesmaids always want back in. What, are they crazy?

But the best one was the bride who got upset when her nephew turned up missing during the reception. Everything stopped so that everyone could search for him. The bride threw herself on the couch and had a complete meltdown because no one was paying any attention to her. Luckily, the boy was found safely and all eyes could be turned back on the bride before her makeup was smudged. I’m not making this up.

In “Platinum Weddings,” viewers are treated to weddings that are examples of the most incredible examples of conspicuous consumption known to man. Everything from traditional Indian weddings in which the groom rides in on an elephant, to weddings in which the lighting alone costs $50,000. One wedding had a drink that was designed especially for the bride and groom to be served at their after dinner cocktail bar and dance room. Of course, fireworks were set off at the appropriate time. Cakes can cost upwards of $50,000, and the flowers can run anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000. Where do these people live? On Venus?

Needless to say, I don’t fall asleep when I watch these shows because I get caught up in the complete idiocy of the whole thing and end up watching three episodes in a row. I then find myself totally disgusted with myself and feel as though I need a bath to wash off the excess in which I have immersed myself.

One day, I was unable to get out of bed at all, and I watched an entire season of “America’s Next Top Model” from beginning to end. Usually on days like these I read, but my head hurt too much, so I tuned the television to something inane, hoping that it would put me to sleep. Of course, the reverse happened. I found myself watching the progression of these 14 or so candidates, slowly being weaned down to the final 3, then 2. I had a personal favorite, and I had one candidate that I particularly disliked. Why? Why did it matter to me? Was the winner going to go on to find a cure for AIDS?

I mean, Tyra Banks is a multi-millionaire. She has managed to turn her career as a model/Victoria’s Secret runway model into a television icon. She’s savvy, and she’s incredibly full of herself. The show is just as much about Banks as it is about the women who are competing. Tyra is always talking about how she did this for this photographer and that for said designer. Supposedly, it’s a lesson for the gawky young women who are learning to become models. And you do see some of them break out and change from show to show, but really, what’s the point? The two Jays are more interesting than the models. Trying to figure out what bizarre outfit Tyra is going to wear to judging is more interesting than some of the photo shoots. I can sleep through two episodes, wake up, and still not have missed much.

I suppose that is the point of reality television. There is no point, and to try to find one is an exercise in futility. I know that there are people out there who love their reality television. I just don’t happen to be one of them. I’ve never watched one episode of “The Real Life” or “The Surreal Life” or “Survivor” or “The Great Race.” My daughter tells me that “Jon and Kate Plus 8” is a nice show, but the thought of eight children scares the crap out of me. We did watch “Holmes on Homes” for a while to get some tips on home renovation, but that got too depressing when we ran out of money to continue renovating.

I will admit to loving “Project Runway” because I love Tim Gunn, and for some odd reason, I like “The Real Housewives of Orange County.” I think that it’s because Vicki is insane, and I’m waiting for her children to snap on her. I don’t like the other Housewives shows. They were bizarre knock-offs. But late-night reality shows are an entity all their own. I once was flipping through the channels and came upon some kind of dating show on which one man and three women went on a date, or something like that. I cannot remember the name of it, nor do I particularly want to. Five minutes of the Barbie-like verisimilitude, and I thought that I might be going mad. The women were flaky, too.

I suppose what makes late-night television interesting is that I haven’t seen it before in the way that I’ve seen every episode of Law & Order, Law & Order Criminal Intent, Law & Order SVU, and CSI. Whenever there is a Law & Order marathon on, I’ll watch, but I will fall asleep. The whole idea of watching television to cure my insomnia isn’t always truthful on my part. Maybe I’m watching just because I’m bored and because I don’t want to get out of bed to peruse our extensive DVD collection to figure out what I could put on the player.

theghost
Asia Extreme "The Ghost"

Which brings me to another point: I will watch good movies over and over again, but I have to be in the right mood for a particular movie. For example, right now, I’m in a vampire/horror mood. I’m watching the Blade movies, Saw (all of them), and maybe others, but not zombies (zombies freak me out). I have discovered Asia Extreme movies on Sundance, and I really like them. I’m not really sure as to why, but part of it is that the movies can be pretty darn scary, and I haven’t seen all of them before. I think the other part is that almost all of them are based on some kind of ghost story, which is better than a slasher story any day.

What does all of this have to do with sleeping? Nothing, except that after watching scary movies, I can go to sleep and not have nightmares. Odd, huh? You would think that I would, but I don’t. I think that it’s because my brain knows that between an Asia Extreme movie and an episode of “Bridezilla,” the episode of “Bridezilla” is definitely the scarier of the two because it’s real. There are real women out there behaving that badly and thinking that it’s perfectly acceptable to treat people like crap simply because they are getting married.

Personally, I can really understand why some men run from the alter. If I were marrying some of these women, I’d get my butt in the closest pickup truck and floor it to the next state, change my name, shave my head, grow a beard, and go to work in a field that required me to be out of the country for extended periods. Those women on that show are crazy. It’s Cops on progesterone.

I’ll watch a scary movie any day. I find them to be much more soothing and less anxiety-filled. I kid you not. But lately, I like my new technique of trying to go to sleep: I turn on my latest bedtime music playlist, turn on one of the soothing visualizations on my great big screen, and turn off the television. The dogs seem to like it, not that they really care as long as I stay still long enough for them to get comfortable under the covers. And then I try to let Hypnos carry me off to sleep so that Morpheus can bring me dreams.

“Come, cuddle your head on my shoulder, dear, your head like the golden-rod,

and we will go sailing away from here to the beautiful land of Nod.”

~ Ella Wheeler Wilcox

More later. Peace.

Mark Doty’s Incomparable “Sweet Machine” of Wordsmithing

Mark Doty Book Covers

Doty Wins 2008 National Book Award

Renowned poet Mark Doty recently won the National Book Award for poetry for his book Fire to Fire: New and Collected Poems. Fire to Fireis a collection of Doty’s work from seven books of poetry spanning over 20 years. Doty’s poems are full of images about the human experience, fierce declarations about love, life and loss, and rich sensuality. His themes have included AIDS, death, and homelessness. Doty has won numerous awards for his poetry and his non-fiction, and his titles include Atlantis, My Alexandria, Sweet Machine, Heaven’s Coast: A Memoir, Dog Years, to name but a few.

Below is one of my favorite Doty poems from Atlantis. “Faith” is the first part of a series of six poems written about the eventual loss of his partner Wally as a result of AIDS. The series, entitled “Atlantis,” the same as the name of the book, is an incredible psychological and emotional glimpse into the intimate experience of caring for and eventually losing someone you love.

1. Faith
 

 

 

 

“I’ve been having these
awful dreams, each a little different,
though the core’s the same-

we’re walking in a field,
Wally and Arden and I, a stretch of grass
with a highway running beside it,

or a path in the woods that opens
onto a road. Everything’s fine,
then the dog sprints ahead of us,

exicted; we’re calling but
he’s racing down a scent and doesn’t hear us,
and that’s when he goes

onto the highway. I don’t want to describe it.
Sometimes it’s brutal and over,
and others he’s struck and takes off

so we don’t know where he is
or how bad. This wakes me
every night, and I stay awake;

I’m afraid if I sleep I’ll go back
into the dream. It’s been six months,
almost exactly, since the doctor wrote

not even a real word
but an acronym, a vacant
four-letter cipher

that draws meanings into itself,
reconstitutes the world.
We tried to say it was just

a word; we tried to admit
it had power and thus to nullify it
by means of our acknowledgement.

I know the current wisdom:
bright hope, the power of wishing you’re well.
He’s just so tired, though nothing

shows in any tests, Nothing,
the doctor says, detectable:
the doctor doesn’t hear what I do,

that trickling, steadily rising nothing
that makes him sleep all say,
vanish into fever’s tranced afternoons,

and I swear sometimes
when I put my head to his chest
I can hear the virus humming

like a refrigerator.
Which is what makes me think
you can take your positive attitude

and go straight to hell.
We don’t have a future,
we have a dog.
Who is he?

Soul without speech,
sheer, tireless faith,
he is that -which-goes-forward,

black muzzle, black paws
scouting what’s ahead;
he is where we’ll be hit first,

he’s the part of us
that’s going to get it.
I’m hardly awake on our mourning walk

-always just me and Arden now-
and sometimes I am still
in the thrall if the dream,

which is why, when he took a step onto Commercial
before I’d looked both ways,
I screamed his mane and grabbed his collar.

And there I was on my knees,
both arms around his neck
and nothing coming,

and when I looked into that bewildered face
I realized I didn’t know what it was
I was shouting at,

I didn’t know who I was trying to protect.” (1995)

 

Congratulations Mark, on a much-deserved award. Your poetry continues to inspire those of us in the trenches. I can still remember exactly where I was the first time that I read “Faith” and how much it moved me then. It still moves me in the same way today. To me, that is the sign of a poem’s true test of time, and the endurance of a poet’s ability to see words, to take words and cast them upon the page and make them his in a way that bypasses the mundane, the expected. The dog licking your partner’s face, the visit to the shelter for another dog, the need for something living in the last days of dying, these are all images that I still remember years later because they were curiously poignant in the very act of being ordinary.

Thank you for continuing to share your words. Peace.