Collie muse

Happy Friendsgiving!

I love the idea of a day for giving gratitude for friends and family, for one's warm/fed/dry/whatever circumstances, or even simply because feeling grateful helps one to appreciate life more. Just for fun I cooked for a few years… and then I'd had enough of that! We started celebrating at nice restaurants instead. Good food served to us with no worries about cleanup or whether there'd be enough or if the cats had gotten on the counter with the whipped cream… perfect solution, we thought!

So we'd celebrate Thanksgiving each year with friends on the proper day — but then again, it always seemed like this friend would be out of town, or that friend had family obligations, or whatever… and the poor restaurants were a madhouse! Our favorite ones had strict menu choices and allowed us two hours — but only with a reservation, please! — and once the time was up it was a polite but firm 'thanks goodbye we need the table, please!'

Now we celebrate Friendsgiving (I love that term!) at a nice restaurant on the day before Thanksgiving. It's a fantastic solution, I think: we get to see all the friends we often don't get to see much during the regular year, and the restaurant is much calmer. We can take as long as we like to chat with our friends to catch up, and we can order whatever we want off the menu. Win all around! 

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Collie muse

Review: Bristly dog toothbrush

Goldie's Bristly Dental Set Christmas gift finally arrived a few days ago! Here's my review.

The (slightly crumpled) package I received had three items in it: the big, green, sturdy Bristly itself; a smallish tube of "Bristly pre-biotic toothpaste"; and a triangular blue, umm… thing… which is apparently a tongue cleaner. It has a wide, round suction cup on the back so you can stick it to the floor for your dog. I'm not sure how useful it is, though, since Goldie ended up doing a great deal of licking on the Bristly itself.

While I couldn't really detect it, Goldie very much liked the added-on "meaty" smell of the Bristly toothbrush! She was happy to take it after I tore off the packaging and offered it to her. She took a few chews & held it between her paws the way they show in the video… but then she seemed a bit put off by the spiky bits, so a few licks later she paused… then quit. I'm guessing the taste didn't match up to the smell?

So then I brought out the meat-scented toothpaste — that certainly caught her attention as well, since she gave it too lots of sniffing as I opened the package! I tried to pour some down the inside of the Bristly, like they suggest in the video, so it would ooze out the little holes further down — but the large, round, squeezed-out 'worm' of toothpaste wouldn't go at all into the narrow opening at the Bristly's top. The toothpaste is also much runnier than human toothpaste… which I messily discovered when I tried to simply layer some on the outside of the Bristly. However, Goldie really liked it — she enthusiastically licked it all off my fingers and the Bristly. I guess at least her tongue got nice and clean? :)

No chewing yet, though. I even left the Bristly for a day out where she could get to it easily to see if that encouraged her at all… which it did not. So my third try was, in my head, the Bristly's final chance: I took a blunt table knife and used it to gently work toothpaste down into the Bristly through the narrow opening at the top. Then I smeared a bit down two of the four sides, and then I even added a little bit of peanut butter (a real favorite for Goldie) on the other two sides.

Doing so, I also noticed that the toothpaste which had dried on the tube's outside cap had turned into a thin, gummy substance rather like rubber cement! I peeled that off & made a mental note to always clean off the tube before putting it away… and then handed the Bristly off to Goldie. She was — as always, with peanut butter — excited… and I was watching to see if the Bristly was a win or a fail.

Unsurprisingly, Goldie first carefully licked off all the peanut butter and toothpaste on the outside of the Bristly… but then she could still smell, and occasionally taste, the toothpaste inside. She initially tried licking the more spiky bits, but seemed put off by the texture… and then, to my great delight and relief — she chewed a little bit on the Bristly! That became her pattern: chew a little, lick a lot, chew a little, lick a lot, and so on.

So I'm going to tentatively say the Bristly is a success, since Goldie loves the toothpaste, and I'm willing to put the toothpaste into the Bristly to encourage her to chew more. Admittedly, I'm not thrilled that the toothpaste is about $14 per 4 oz. tube, but hopefully I'll find something else that's runny enough to put into the Bristly, that she also loves to lick up. With time, practice, and some encouragement from me, Goldie will hopefully get used to chewing more on the Bristly, and her current dental hygiene will improve.

Hope this helps all you dog owners! :)

Later edit: I've discovered one very unfortunate side effect of squeezing toothpaste (or any gooey substance) into the inner well of the Bristly. Because the Bristly cannot be taken apart for cleaning, and Goldie is still not chewing very much on it, the gunk inside dries into a hardened mess! I'll try washing the Bristly in the upper shelf of the dishwasher later today — hopefully it's sturdy enough to withstand that.

Final edit: the toothbrush easily withstood the upper shelf of the dishwasher. Unfortunately the little inner well is small enough that the hot water couldn't really get into it. Thus about 15 minutes of scrubbing with a bottle brush and a lot of swearing was required to finally get it completely clean. Considering Goldie doesn't chew on the brush unless she's after something in the little well, and crap dries into a sticky and difficult-to-remove mess in there, I'm afraid the Bristly toothbrush is definitely not a win for us.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Collie muse

Bragging on Goldie! Things that make me happy, pt. 3

Later edit: I was notified that some of the video links weren't working. I think they all are now, but please do notify me if any of them don't?

Yesterday I bragged on Goldie's Novice Trick Dog title, so today I'd like to share some of her awesome work on her Intermediate and Advanced titles! To receive the titles a dog has to successfully perform 15 tricks for the Novice, 15 more for the Intermediate, and then five more difficult tricks for the Advanced, and five tough ones for the Expert.

Goldie in new bandanna & ITD certificate!

Goldie in her spiffy new purple DMWYD bandanna & her ITD certificate!

For me, a fabulous part of this was discovering that there are Facebook pages by accredited coaches which are dedicated to helping folks reach the various levels they wish to accomplish. Best of all? They give you excellent tips on teaching the tricks, and they'll witness your films of the tricks for free! I'm currently working with Kim Mayes' Rockin' Dawgs Spark Teams. They are, of course, closed groups but they're easy to join; the link will take you to the Novice one. It's a ton of fun. ;)

So here's Goldie doing some of the tricks required for her Intermediate Trick Dog certificate. The first one is visually not very exciting, but takes quite a bit of training: Goldie puts her paws up on a target, then circles her rump end around so she stays standing next to me. Very proud of how well she got that one! Next is her doing a "Have you been naughty?" with the rug on the floor, followed by a leg weave, and then a "play dead" followed by a "miraculous" revival — though Goldie seems to be the happiest "dead" dog I've ever seen! :) Finally we do a roll-over in both directions.

While Goldie eventually did successfully perform the shell trick, I've included a blooper reel of her getting too excited while practicing — to the point that she simply shoves an offending "shell" right off the bench!

So that's some of the Intermediate tricks. Here's a few of the Advanced tricks: a very nice paw cross and some good "touch your button" work. The last video is where Goldie & I do some distance work at 10' or more ("crate" followed by down), then she performs backing up. I'll add in a photo of the Advanced Trick Dog Certificate as soon as it arrives!

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Collie muse

Bragging on Goldie! Things that make me happy, pt. 2

Later edit: I was notified that some of the video links weren't working. I think they all are now, but please do notify me if any of them don't?

So there's this thing called patellar tracking disorder which, if you are a middle-aged or older woman, is apparently something you have to watch out for. In a nutshell: the muscles that hold the patella, or knee cap, in the right place for your knee joint can weaken to the point that the patella sort of drifts away from where it should be — and ends up rubbing painfully against other bones in the knee. It was not something I knew about, but I've become intimately acquainted with it in the past couple of months. Did I mention painful?

According to my doctor, for two to three weeks I needed to stop any running or twisting motions with my knees — which effectively wiped out my agility training with Goldie, and my ATS bellydancing. Drat! Fortunately, the "fix" for patellar tracking disorder is relatively simple: exercise. So I did the doctor-recommended exercises for about two weeks, and one of my wonderful housemates gave me my Solstice gift a little early: a gym membership with a trainer! I've consequently been working out there for the past three weeks or so, and now I am deeply pleased to report that my knee is doing much better! It's funny, though, how often physical and mental issues I have are resolved by exercise. Geez, you'd think maybe I should, like… do it routinely or something! ;)

So because I wasn't able to do any agility training with Goldie I decided I would do some other type of work with her, so she wouldn't get bored. It had to be something we could do inside, where I wouldn't be required to move around too much — so I chose trick dog training. I'd been idly training her to do tricks to relax in between agility training elements, after all, for the past two or three years, and it was clear she enjoyed doing them… so surely it wouldn't be too much of a change for her?

The funny thing is, I'd never heard of trick dog titles before a month ago. I mean, I knew you could train your dog to do tricks, but not that they were titles the AKC would recognize. But as it turns out there is a woman named Kyra Sundance (love her name!) who trains Weimaraners to perform tricks using just positive reinforcement, which I am now a huge fan of. She's put out several nicely thorough books on training your dog to do tricks — her system is called Do More With Your Dog — and set up a certification system to encourage folks to (effectively) do more with their dogs… and the AKC decided to recognize it, and have a program of their own as well.

What she does is have you perform a certain number of tricks for each title, and then have someone accredited witness it, and that's how you get your titles. The AKC recognizes the DMWYD accreditations, and it cost about $20 for title regardless of which group you go with, so I'm going to support the woman-owned business. Once Goldie is an Expert Trick Dog I will send in the request for her to be recognized as such by the AKC. Pretty cool!

Goldie & her NTD certificate

Goldie & her NTD certificate

So Goldie & I have started doing some more focused trick dog training with an eye towards getting her some "alphabet soup" after her name. Luckily some of the agility elements (e.g.: the teeter or the weave poles) are considered "tricks." Thus we blew through her Novice, Intermediate, and even Advanced Trick Dog titles pretty quickly — so she's now my Golden Girl NTD, ITD, & ATD!

I'm very proud of my beautiful, clever girl right now! The Novice and Intermediate certificates have arrived in the mail already, and I've included both pictures of her titles below, as well as the official videos of several of the tricks she did. Her Advanced certificate is on its way — doubtless slowed down by holiday traffic — but once it arrives I'll post that one too.

Here's the first batch of tricks by Goldie for her Novice Trick Dog title! They include, in order, a come that got slightly cut off by the video taking a while to start, then a sit up pretty, down, sit, stay, paws up on her mark, nose touch to hand, high-five, shake hands, bow, crawling low to the ground, figure 8 through my legs, and a "leave it" for food! That was 13 of the 15 tricks needed for the title — though I later redid the come and sit up pretty so they could be more easily seen.

Two more very short videos show the tricks Goldie did that I think look the cutest: the "Have you been naughty?" trick, where you unfortunately can't really hear me, but can certainly see Goldie's (unrepentant) enthusiasm for hiding her face! — and the "Say your prayers!" trick. Amusingly enough, as it turned out I taught Goldie the trick incorrectly — she's supposed to lower her nose down between and below her forelegs — but I still think it's awful cute! I'll have more videos tomorrow for the later-earned titles!

We're currently on our way to getting Goldie her Expert Trick Dog title — only four tricks to go! — which will make both she and I very proud! She seems to really enjoy learning and performing the tricks, too — which is great as far as I'm concerned. If I can't keep her running around madly with me in agility training, at least I can keep her brain running just as fast, as she learns the new tricks. Of course, I suspect the multiple treats don't hurt any either. ;)

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Collie muse

Things that make me happy (part 1)

Because I'm feeling somewhat under the weather due to a touch of stomach flu, I've decided to put today's writing time into happy thoughts. The following occurred about two years ago, but it still makes me smile, and people laugh when I tell the story, so I thought I'd write it down to share to a larger audience.

At a recent steampunk convention I was at I noticed there was a sort of scavenger hunt in which one could participate. I eagerly signed up, and learned that the things to be collected were stamps from different locations at the con, which you had to figure out from the clues. Several of them turned out to be in the dealer's room, and in order to get your stamp you had to do some funny little thing the dealer asked you to do. These varied from doing a "proper villain's laugh" to singing a short bit from a song about balloons to decorating a little steampunk cog and adding it to a board of interlinked and moving cogs, and other similar things.

There was one dealer I located, but I noticed two girls were there before me — so I politely waited and watched. The two girls were standing in front of the little desk/table, swaying slightly and making low groaning sounds. That… was odd… but the dealer smiled at them, told them that was good, and stamped their papers. They scampered off and I stepped up and explained why I was there. He said he was happy to stamp my paper, but first he wondered: had I ever seen the legendary Galapagos Tortoise, and heard its beautiful song? It was reputed to sound a bit like whale song. Did I know the Song of the Galapagos Tortoise?

Ah! I thought — that explains why the girls were behaving so oddly! I was having fun, so I brightly replied to the man that alas, I'd never visited the Galapagos Islands… but thanks to the wonders of the internet and youtube, of course I'd heard the beautiful Song of the Tortoise! Why, it was so lovely… words failed me! Would he like to hear me sing it?

By this point my almost alarming perkiness had both the man and his wife, seated behind him, eyeing me with wary amusement. Su-uu-ure, the man said, he'd love to hear it! I took a deep breath, straightened and put my right hand reverently over my heart — then belted out powerfully:

"Hello, my baby!
Hello, my honey!
Hello, my ragtime ga-aa-al!

The two folks at the booth nearly fell out of their chairs laughing! As he stamped my paper, still chuckling, the man said it was a pity he couldn't stamp twice! I was very pleased they'd enjoyed themselves.

As my sweetie and I walked away, he grinned and murmured that I'd gotten to be quite the smartass! To which I smugly replied that I'd learned from the best — him! Curiously, he seemed pleased. ;-)

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Collie muse

Review: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Author: Maya Angelou

Review first posted April 2004

It took a while to decide to review this book. There is an unfortunately strong current societal meme which says if you are: (less victimized, &/or more financially secure, male, white, privileged, whatever) then you don't get to comment. I understand it's a natural reaction to the horror of being silenced due to not being recognized as even human, and I emphatically don't want a return to that. But as Angelou herself notes, bigotry perpetrated by those who have suffered bigotry doesn't make it right.


Too, if I am silent due to fear of censure but blame society for it, who is really at fault? I strongly believe in both facing one's fears, and in allowing all to speak, so meaningful dialogue occurs. How else to learn from each other? So here's the review. I feel contributing one's thoughts & experiences to on-going societal dialogue is good, even if — especially if — one's personal experiences are different than those of others. After all, wide variety in experiences makes for more interesting shared commentary.


And as always, grateful thanks to George!

I should note up front, my life and Angelou's were very different. Reading about her childhood was varyingly eye-opening, horrifying, inspiring, tragic, and touching. I've heard, however, the story apparently deeply touches some who read it — the librarian who helped me find the book mentioned it was an often-stolen item.

I found the book interesting, I found much of it tragic, it was often sympathetically or brilliantly written, and I am glad I read it. Just because I am not touched to my very soul by it, however, doesn't make it — or me — any less good.

That being stated up front, I had a few interested thoughts on the book. The first thing which hit me was the title. It's a lovely, evocative title, but it is never referenced in the book — not once. I found this a fascinating expression of Angelou's writing style. She lays out the pieces of the puzzle with graceful, evocative prose, but she expects you to have the wit to put the pieces together into a coherent and meaningful whole.

I rather like that. It allows for some subtlety and depth in her writing. It is obvious little in her life is a simplistic binary issue — things are not just bad or just good — and she portrays that complexity with grace.

Her depiction of her grandmother is an excellent example. "Momma" was a strict Fundamentalist and disciplinarian, but also a kind-hearted, shrewd, practical woman who faced the racist sniping of quotidian life with inspiring dignity. Angelou's childhood relationship with this imposing guardian figure is written with warmth, affection, and honesty.

Her view on organized religion (as opposed to her view on her grandmother and her faith) is nowhere near as kind or respectful — probably with good reason. The traveling black minister is portrayed as a greedy, overweight, self-centered gossip; the behavior of the more "ecstatic" fundamentalist churchgoers incites the children into laughter — for which they are later duly punished.

Later, Bailey's innocent use of an everyday euphemism is interpreted by their grandmother as blasphemy against god, and Bailey is beaten without mercy. This leaves both Maya and the reader with the perception of the church as a powerful but distantly capricious master, in some ways to be as greatly feared and misunderstood as the thoughtlessly malicious white folks who created the religion the church is based on.

Indeed, the entire scene of the traveling revival tent show presents a carefully crafted satire on the uselessly palliative nature of the church, on a par with (and, I believe, more beautifully written than) Mark Twain's funeral scene in Huckleberry Finn. Angelou goes one step further, in fact, portraying the self-righteous emotional purge of the community of church-goers as ultimately equally ineffective as the desperate, shrill gaiety of the partying gamblers.

It is my guess this complicated thread of religious fervor against all common sense has the most impact on Maya's life towards the end of the book. Having little good experience with sex, and no training in normal human biology, the young Maya worries she is a lesbian. At 16 she decides to prove conclusively she is not one by having sex with a boy.

Unsurprisingly the encounter is rushed, joyless, and without much meaning for either of them. Also unsurprisingly, Maya gets pregnant. She keeps the pregnancy a secret, revealing it only in about the 8th month. At that time she receives help and comfort from her family, bears the child, falls in love with this perfect thing she's created almost completely on her own but fears she will accidentally harm it.

The final scene in the book is Maya's mother forcing her to sleep with the baby, then waking her later to show she's cradling the baby quite naturally, and without harming it.

That's it.

No, really, that was it — that was the end of the book. I admit, I was quite confused, and a bit disappointed. I turned the page to see if I'd missed something — but there was nothing to miss. I checked to see if pages had been torn out? No. That was really, truly It — The End.

I felt like her editor had snatched the manuscript randomly from her hands to publish it unfinished. It was dissatisfying, confusing. It left me with a strong "So? Is that it?" feeling.

It was a friend of mine who gave me what I believe was the critical point to my understanding the book's ending. As my friend pointed out, I have no desire to be a parent. I don't wish to bear or raise children, and I believe the mystique of "motherhood" is in its own way as much a cultural construct as marriage or corporations.

However, as my friend noted, authors present those scenes and situations they personally feel are meaningful. Obviously, Angelou considered the final scene deeply personally significant, or she wouldn't have included it in the book.

This was what I'd initially missed. For the young Maya, successful creation, possession, and nurturing of her child, without accidentally harming it, was an incredibly important moment in her life. I think she realized at that moment that despite her poor self-image, to have been the originator of such a beautiful and perfect child, there must be something of worth and beauty in her as well.

Once I grasped that, I found the ending rather touchingly apropos. It's hard not to feel sympathy for the young Maya as you read about her troubled, difficult struggle to find herself in the midst of the often indifferent or even deliberately malicious environments she was dragged through as a child.

To discover she finally found personal peace and joy through motherhood becomes a source of satisfaction for the reader as well as for her, and an encouragement to face life as unflinchingly and fearlessly as she, with dignity and self-respect. Perhaps it is also a sign that someday even caged birds can escape, and sing in freedom.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Collie muse

Thoughts on cultural appropriation (pt. 3)

This makes me feel bad — so it must be bad!

On deeper examination of this issue, I believe the selfish desire to profit regardless of the pain or damage it causes others is behind the deliberately inaccurate reframing of cultural appropriation as something good. For example, I've seen terms such as "cultural evolution" and "anti-censorship" tossed loosely around as justification. Let's try unpacking these phrases to see what they really mean.

The concept of cultural evolution is an attempt to broadly apply the theory of evolution, based on biological natural selection, to a different intellectual field. However, if we more deeply explore the theme of cultural appropriation as a form of evolution, how do we account for the hurt and damage it causes in the unjustly appropriated culture? If we are matching this to some sort of biological exchange then aren't we perilously close to admiring what is in effect cultural rape? Do we really want to take that route to self-justification?

Fortunately cultures (unlike individual organisms) are not biological organisms, and therefore cannot engage in natural selection — there are no "culture genes," for example. As a consequence, trying to apply natural selection to cultures makes about as much sense as trying to apply it to, say, mathematics. True, mathematicians are biological entities which perform the math in question — but you cannot point to, say, a gene in the math itself that will lead to the creation of calculus from algebra. Similarly, you cannot point to a gene in a culture that helps produce authoritarianism or egalitarianism or whatever.

But it's censoring me!

For those who argue that cultures cannot and should not become gated communities: I agree. I believe cultural exchange is a useful and necessary means of social growth. However, there is a major difference in having an exchange between social equals… as opposed to a more powerful society simply stealing from a smaller, less powerful one. There are fortunately ways to shift a possible cultural appropriation into a fair exchange — but it involves acting like an adult and having some empathy for others. As I mentioned above, one step — perhaps necessarily always the first and last one — is to listen to those with less social power; to hear what they consider just compensation and fair representation.

Speaking of acting like an adult… I've also seen people refer to themselves as anti-censorship when they champion cultural appropriation — because having to be sensitive to the potential pain they might cause others censors their ability to do whatever they want, whenever they want. Apparently they believe their desires — however inappropriate or damaging — trump everyone else's. Curiously, these expressed cravings always seem to involve bullying those weaker than themselves rather than tweaking the metaphorical nose of powerful social institutions such as the police or a major corporation. I suppose it isn't really a surprise, though, as that way such individuals are less likely to either face any real consequences, or be harmed by their selfish actions.

I privately refer to this as the 'special snowflake' argument: like a spoiled child, they apparently believe the entire world does and should revolve around them. Consequently any effort to teach the child to become a thoughtful and responsible adult is met with screaming and tantrums. Frankly, this not a valid form of rational argument.

But I don't know what to do!

The really sad part is that when it's done right, cultural exchange can be a huge win-win situation. I am, in effect, attempting to accomplish this with my dissertation: I want to do research through interviews which will reveal information which is potentially helpful for others — and maybe, if we are all really lucky, it will be one of the little pushes that will help in changing our society for the better as well. Guided by my university and my committee chair, I have been very careful to ensure (to my best effort) that my interviews are not harmful, my questions are respectful, and my interview participants realize they can both ask questions themselves and stop the interview at any time should they so wish.

In the dissertation itself, I am required by the university to use aliases to protect the identities of my participant collaborators, but in the Acknowledgements section I will definitely be thanking all my interview partner-researchers for their willingness to work with me. Further, as I write my dissertation I will be sending the relevant bits to each of my interview partners so they can review it and ensure I am not in any way misrepresenting them or their words. Perhaps most importantly, they know that if they are unhappy with what I have written and/or any changes I have made at their request, they can ask to withdraw from my research and my dissertation work at any time.

Is this scary for me? Oh, hells yes! I have (fortunately infrequent) nightmares where I dream that they all decide they hate me and my work and tell me they're withdrawing — and I'm left with no research at all. But in the warm light of day my rationality reassures me: these are women who more often than not are trying to help — they're being kind to me. How could I not return that generous favor? It is emphatically not acceptable to treat these women as nothing more than lab rats or renewable personal resources. I don't want to be the ivory tower elitist who believes they know better than everyone else, nor the selfish narcissist who has peculiarly convinced themself that they somehow deserve to profit at the expense of others.

In the end, in order to end up with an excellent dissertation I am required to do the work — to truly listen to the words and needs of these kind women who shared part of their lives with me. In a way I find it a scarily straightforward equation: if I wish to be treated with respect then I should treat others respectfully as well — the way they wish to be treated. By so doing it is my hope to create something wonderful and useful, not through cultural appropriation of these women's lives… but rather via friendly and mutually supportive exchange.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Collie muse

Thoughts on cultural appropriation (pt. 2)

But why does it matter?

Well, I feel it's always easier to understand something when it's personal... so let's do a little thought-exercise. Yes, I know what this example will most properly describe is something more like a copyright issue, but work with me here; I'm trying to explain something conceptual in an emotive matter, and it's not easy. :)

So. Imagine yourself as the proud creator of something -- a song, a painting, a story, a ritual, a dance... whatever speaks to you. You're justifiably proud of this creation because it came from your heart and your culture: it is a beautiful fragment of all that is quintessentially you, brought to life in your creation. You start to become somewhat known for your marvelous work, and one day a man comes to you and asks to talk to you about it.

You show it to him with great pleasure -- you like sharing beauty! He is flattering and complimentary, and you realize he's going to write a truly amazing article about you. You open up to him, telling him things about the work's creation that you've not told anyone else -- personal things. When he leaves you're very happy that more people will read about your beloved work, and maybe purchase things from you that are based on it. Life is good!

You look forward eagerly to the copy of the article which the man promised you, though for some reason it doesn't turn up in the time frame he suggested it would. Unfortunately things start to slow down very soon after that too, though you don't know why exactly. People aren't as complimentary about your beautiful work, or they dismiss it as primitivist, unoriginal. Then one day someone refers to it disdainfully as a copy of someone else's much more polished work -- and you are rightfully incensed! You didn't copy anyone. Who is this guy anyway? You look up the work you're supposed to have copied, and with a shock of dismayed recognition... you see the name of the man who interviewed you.

At first you're sure it's just a mistake -- he wouldn't rip you off like that! You email him, but you never get an answer. You try repeatedly, until the day that your email is bounced. Then you try snail mail and the phone -- but there's no reply to your letter, and the man's administrative assistant always says he's too busy to talk to you. While this is happening, of course, his work is receiving more and more accolades, wider viewing, and financial support. He's feted at parties and invited to speaking engagements and making good money -- all on a copy of your work! Worse, your work is getting dissed and ignored and laughed at for pretending to be as good as his work! It's frustrating and hurtful and infuriating -- how could he?! You'd thought he was a friend!

He won't talk to you, he won't reply to your missives, he completely ignores you. Finally, in desperation you go to see him at a talk at some conference -- so you can ask him to his face: why would he do this to you? Has he no human decency? He listens to you... then smiles out at the audience and tells them your story -- except it's not your story, not really. He's misrepresenting you, misquoting you, making you out to be someone who is nice enough but lacking in any real gumption -- it took him taking your half-formed ramblings to turn them into something truly beautiful, useful, and valuable. You're appalled! You cry out that he's lying -- that's not how it was at all! The crowd turns against you, yelling and snarling at you: how could you accuse their hero so?! You're forcefully escorted out of the auditorium by security guards... for your own safety, of course.

The next day the reviews of the conference are full of you -- of how you're abusing the poor man, trying to steal his ideas and take credit for his work. People refer to you scornfully as a thief of ideas, as pro-censorship and anti-creativity. The man talks sorrowfully in interviews about how he tried to help you, but you just wouldn't listen. People talk about how your 'supposed' creativity is only a poor product of the man's efforts to boost you up -- and you're too mean-spirited to admit it. Your business suffers too... because who wants to purchase creativity from someone who appropriates it from others, after all? Perhaps in the end, adding insult to injury, the man even files a slander or defamation suit against you. You don't have the money to hire a lawyer to go to court... and so it goes about as well as could be expected.

Do you think maybe you might be a little bitter after all that?

But Elvis did it, so it must be good!

The most common example I've heard of why cultural appropriation is good is part of the music industry: Elvis and/or jazz. The usual trope is: "but if it weren't for cultural appropriation we wouldn't have had [Elvis/jazz/insert favorite ethnically-inspired, white-controlled genre]!"

Let's take a moment to review what this statement is actually saying: it is blatantly re-casting theft as a good and necessary element of cultural growth. Not only is socially-approved theft a staggeringly bad idea, but to frame Elvis' appropriation of black culture as somehow required is, quite frankly, nonsense. Barter, gifting, sharing, and financial selling are far more ethical and responsible elements of cultural growth, as any principled economist can tell you.

Further, the appropriation-approving trope also betrays a tragic ignorance of human potential. Sure, we have Elvis and jazz now... but how much more might we have gotten, had the white musicians all chosen to acknowledge and work with the black artists whose music so inspired them? Indeed, completely aside from the wonderful musical possibilities, might we have had the jazz subculture effectively peacefully leading the way to a more egalitarian and less racist world?

What potential wonders have we now completely lost... due to the impatience, ignorance, and selfish greed of cultural appropriation?

Collie muse

Thoughts on cultural appropriation (pt. 1)

A few years ago I was in a class about being a good ally to people of color, or POC. It is a sad fact that often any such class on allyship is least well attended by those who most need it. As a white woman I can certainly understand that -- had it not been a required class I likely would not have chosen it, due to a fear of butting in where I wasn't really wanted. Regardless, I took the class… and found it a fascinating and enlightening experience. There were no men in the class, of course -- it is vanishingly unlikely to see a man in any Women's Spirituality class -- but there were more women of color than white women. I learned a great deal, and I hope I wasn't too obnoxious. ;)

At one point, and with some trepidation, I asked what it was that I could do to most help POC -- what did they most want from white women? I was nervously braced to receive some anger or racism in reply, considering that most of the time POC have to simply swallow rightful rage at the social injustice they face on a daily basis. As a consequence the answer I received was extraordinarily startling to me: they wanted me to listen. Just listen -- deeply and truly. I remember saying incredulously, "That's it? You just want me to listen?" Looking around the room, I received nod after nod after nod of agreement: yes, listen to them -- no interrupting, no 'correcting' them or shouting them down, no telling them what I thought they should be doing. By truly listening I would no longer be ignoring, erasing, or appropriating them; rather, I would help to socially validate them, their beliefs, their needs… their very right of existence.

So that's what I've tried to do with all the POC I know, both on-line and off: I try to listen with respect and caring. Since I also believe in continuing to fight for a just society I have simultaneously attempted to share this received learning with all my white friends. As a feminist once put it, misogynist men are not going to suddenly start listening to women and decide to be good allies… but they ordinarily will listen to other men. If a man therefore truly wishes to be a good ally for women, he should speak up to stop misogyny when he stumbles across it in men around him, and if he can, take the opportunity to teach a more feminist perspective. Equally, most white people aren't going to truly listen to POC because that's not how they were taught -- and so it is incumbent upon white people, not POC, to teach other white people how to be respectful to POC.

I mention this because I've recently discovered a handful of my conservative white friends and acquaintances believe cultural appropriation is a good thing. I find this horrifying but I don't want to simply antagonize them all -- I'd rather take this opportunity to maybe help them see a different perspective. So I'm using my blog as a tool to sort out my thoughts on the matter in an attempt to reach out constructively -- and maybe get across just how unjust cultural appropriation truly is. I see a couple of main issues in discussions about the subject: it's easy to engage in cultural appropriation without realizing, and it's hard to define. However, it is my hope that engaging in this discussion will help myself and others better understand cultural appropriation so we recognize it and learn how to avoid it.

But what is it really?

Unfortunately cultural appropriation is not something we can easily condense down to a single-sentence definition that works in all cases. Simultaneously it appears there are far too many who are willing to deliberately misrepresent the issue so as to either ignore it or misuse it. Thus, as a starting point I'm going to borrow from K. Tempest Bradford's thought-provoking article Cultural Appropriation Is, In Fact, Indefensible, where she states:

Writer Maisha Z. Johnson offers an excellent starting point by describing it [cultural appropriation] not only as the act of an individual, but an individual working within a 'power dynamic in which members of a dominant culture take elements from a culture of people who have been systematically oppressed by that dominant group."

Knowing this, it is perhaps unsurprising that those who most approve of cultural appropriation are also those who stand to profit the most from it, and have the least to lose from it.

Collie muse

The town hall with Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren

Just got back from another personal first: a town hall meeting with my Congressional representative, Zoe Lofgren, at the Mt. Pleasant High School. She's a Democrat and has been this area's Congresswoman since 1995, if I heard her correctly. She mentioned returning home (this area) each week, and she's got that smooth way of responding to questions that says she often communicates with her people. I can respect that, especially compared to those (hopefully few) cowardly Republicans who choose to hide from, lie to, and ignore their people. As someone who lives in California — one of the possibly safest states to be in during the Trump administration — my heart goes out to the poor folks who live in those areas whose representatives are claiming ever wilder excuses to not hold any town halls or actually do their jobs and represent the will of their people. But enough of that… for now.

Returning to the town hall: apparently far more folks RSVP'd than actually attended — which didn't surprise me considering what an utterly gorgeous day it was today. Here are some quick cell phone snaps (apologies for the blurriness!) of the auditorium before Congresswoman Lofgren arrived. Incidentally, that gray-haired gent in the suit seated at the white table right in front of me was Dave Cortese, representing District 3 on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.


There were eight rows ahead of me and four behind my row, for a total of thirteen rows. By the time the talk started just about every seat I could see was filled. More folks filtered in during the talk, and a few left, so that at the fullest point there were folks seated on the stage as well, as you can see here:


It was a relatively diverse crowd from what I could see. I spotted a few families and several much older folks. Perhaps the most visually striking attendees, though, were this handful of nuns. ;)Nuns at the town hall


It was also a (perhaps unsurprisingly) well-behaved crowd, since I suspect the vast majority of folks there agreed with Lofgren. The high school's ROTC were on hand (you can see some of them behind the nuns) to hand out index cards to those folks who wished to ask questions, and then collect them up again. A few of the teachers had volunteered as well, and it was apparently their job to sort out the cards by subject so as to ensure Lofgren could answer as many different questions as possible. This worked relatively well, I thought, despite the teachers apparently being a bit overwhelmed by how many index cards they were being handed… since there were also handouts placed on each seat which you could fill out for later replies if you had a private question or wanted to state an opinion.

Before the talk started I sent up one question — "how can we most effectively stop Trump's agenda?" — and another very early on during the talking: "is it actually legal for ICE (US Immigration & Customs Enforcement) to put up road blocks in sanctuary cities, and how can those best be hindered, stopped, or avoided?" However, neither got directly answered since, as Lofgren noted, political activism issues weren't appropriate during a town hall that was being paid for by the government! I can respect that too, though I hope she holds a political activism meeting at some point — she mentioned there being plenty of interest in one, so perhaps she will do so sometime soon.

The high school's ROTC had something that I think was called the presentation of the colors where they came out with the US and the CA flags, and Lofgren led us in the Pledge of Allegiance. It was particularly poignant to me to stand there and say with the crowd: "…indivisible — with liberty and justice for all!" May we all help make it so.

Lofgren ended up talking on a number of subjects: Trump's supposed Wall and second attempt at a Muslim ban, the ACA/Obamacare and the Republicans' increasingly secretive and absurd attempts to repeal or replace it, Medicaid and Medicare, the intended defunding of Planned Parenthood, the Republican attempts to close down the Environmental Protection Agency, how bills are brought forward to be voted on (short version: if the party in power is mean-spirited then minority party bills never even get a chance to be voted on), the problem with focusing more on Trump's whiny narcissistic tweets rather than the dangerous repeals of Obama's presidential orders which are being sneaked by with little to no public attention (such as not dumping poisonous mining slag into headwaters, as that pollutes the entire river — or what a bad idea paying for religious school tuitions with vouchers funded by taxpayer monies would be, which Trump thinks would be a spiffy idea… does he not remember the US is supposed to separate church & state?)… what else… how impeachment works and how to legally counter the Electoral College, the shameful state of our care for our veterans… that's all I can recall off the top of my head.

Actually, now I think on it I was impressed by Lofgren's ethics. For example, one of the questions went something like: "do you think Congress would keep the ACA if they had to be on whatever health care bill they come up with too?" While replying to that query she mentioned that she and several other Congress members voluntarily put themselves on the Washington DC ACA! I thought that was quite admirable of her, especially considering what a shockingly plush insurance package is available to all past and current Congress and Senate members.

blurry shot of Zoe Lufgren

Very blurry shot of Zoe Lufgren

As an aside, the comparison between the creation of the Democratic and Republican versions of healthcare are quite stark. For example, it took the Democrats almost a year and a half to come up with the ACA — because they asked a great many people from a wide array of associated industries for an awful lot of input. In comparison, the bill the Republicans are trying to sneak by this week was created only last week! According to a friendly (and unnamed, so s/he doesn't get into trouble) Republican, the Democrats were informed that the Republicans were working on their version "in the basement"! Further, no Democrats were allowed in to see it, and no Republicans were allowed to take a copy out — to maintain the secrecy! Also, according to Lofgren the (only two!) committees (one of which had nothing at all to do with healthcare) which reviewed it pulled all-nighters to do so… because exhausted and irritable people always make the best decisions, right?!

Yeah, no. This is so… so absurdly un-American I don't even know where to start… so I won't. I'll just feel pity for my Republican acquaintance who constantly struggles with joblessness, inadequate finances, and health problems — but who proudly considers himself a "one note" voter who is supposedly "fighting the good fight" against (of all things to hurt yourself over) gun control. Talk about stupidly cutting off your nose to spite your face!

So anyway… Lofgren talked pretty steadily for almost an hour and a half, pausing only to have questions read to her. On the whole I'd have to say I'm quite pleased to have her as my Congresswoman, and I admire her poise: she remained calm, candid, friendly, honest, and open through the entire talk. As an example, she noted there are parts of the US-Mexico border which are already walled, such as when the border goes through an urban area and people are wandering across highways and getting hit by cars and killed. In those situations it's a good idea for safety reasons to have a wall there. However, as she also noted, walling the entire border is absurd — not only because Mexico is never going to pay for it no matter how much Trump bloviates — and boy does he! — but also because it would be a ridiculously wasteful expenditure when the money is desperately needed elsewhere.

Lofgren was also quite honest about when she wasn't able to do anything about a situation, such as the new ICE office in Morgan Hill — which the city didn't want there at all! She was amused to relate, however, that ICE was at least partially thwarted by Morgan Hill. The office plans initially included "holding cells" — a polite euphemism for jail — but Morgan Hill's city officials refused it because the area wasn't zoned for jails! Who knew zoning laws and the National Park Service would be at the forefront of thwarting Trump's paranoid xenophobia? :-D

Perhaps the most personally inspiring part of Lofgren's talk, however, was her insistence: our voices do matter! She gave an example of a recent bill that almost all the Republicans had casually signed on with, where the news of how it would screw over the people got out just the day before the day of the vote. She laughed as she mentioned walking down the hallway to vote, and hearing phones ringing madly in every office she passed — and how just before the vote Republicans were jumping up from their seats and running down to the front to have their names removed from the bill!

When asked what was the best way to communicate with our elected officials Lofgren replied that best of all was, of course, actually meeting with your representatives. Second best was phoning and writing letters, since that took some effort and indicated sincerity — petitions, for example, are just a list of names and don't have anything to either personalize the signers or indicate why they care. Third was writing and calling the leaders of the House and Senate — because even though Lofgren always passes on letters she receives that are intended for representatives of other states, apparently not everyone does… and apparently a lot of representatives will simply toss out-of-state letters they receive which contradict their viewpoints. However, even within those (very small) constraints, Lofgren was quite adamant that we should never underestimate the power of our voices! I intend to take her words to heart.

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.