Monday, November 24, 2014

I hate Christmas.

Jeremiah 10: 2-4, James 1: 17, 4: 1-6

If you've read me before, you know that I work retail, and if you have ever shopped in your life, you know that we have descended into our busy season, Christmas.  Now, I don't mind being busy, but the Christmas shopping season is out of control.

Even as I doubt that anyone would disagree that American Christmas has become far too commercialized and sensationalized, I do think that we, as Americans, are unprepared to execute the solution to our little Christmas problem: to change ourselves and the way we celebrate this holiday, and impose that change on our children and families, for their own good and ours.

In my experience, the happiest Christmas shoppers, the ones who have enough holiday cheer to spread around, are the ones who make this holiday the easiest on themselves.  I remember one customer vividly: I watched the girl at the register next to me ring up a polished, polite, and well-mannered elderly woman who purchased nothing more than a handful of gift cards, ten dollars each.  The customer looked at her cashier and said: "That's all my shopping done!  Merry Christmas, dear!"  And walked out of the store with a smile on her face.  

I admire that woman.  She refuses to stress herself out for the sake of an abstract concept like 'Perfect Holiday.'  She will not be tortured by a battle to win her family's love and approval with the 'Perfect Gift.'  She will not be stifled by burdensome, unwanted 'Tradition' in her celebration.  She will have some money left over for bills in January.  And I guarantee she has comfort and joy aplenty at Christmastime, because she passed it on to us, strangers she may never see again, but touched forever nonetheless.

We can all be this free at Christmas.  We can all take a break from buying too much, eating too much, drinking too much, and doing too much.  No one is making you spend time with people you hate or fear.  No one is making you stress yourself out trying to be perfect, trying to force meaning, trying too hard to make too much of what amounts to a baby's birthday party.  

"Oh, that's blasphemy, BC!  Jesus is the reason for the season!"  You say.  Actually, most of our Christmas traditions have pagan origins, and there is nothing in the Bible saying that we must celebrate the birth of the savior.

I could go on and on about the horrible rude customers at Christmastime.  I could complain about how much more messy and entitled and snotty and demanding and crazy everyone gets at this time of year.  I could tell some stories.  Because I get a twist in my gut every time Christmas rolls around.  There is no wonder in having merchandise, money, pens, bags and anything else you can think of snatched out of your hands by ungrateful strangers.  There is no joy in getting yelled at because you ran out of a particular item that no one could have predicted would be popular.  There is no goodwill toward men in having to help a customer who is proud of herself (Proud of herself!) for cutting in line ahead of all the other customers.

So if you are going to cite religious reasons for going above and beyond at Christmastime, you had damn well better watch your behavior.  If you're going to parade yourself all over town in a loud sweater declaring that we all have to say 'Merry Christmas' instead of 'Happy Holidays' then you better be handing out free hot chocolate and smiles while you do it.  If you are going to buy nothing but religious-themed Christmas cards, and make sure everyone knows about it, you better be really nice to your cashier.  If you're going to dive deeply into shopping, baking, decorating, and hosting, then everyone you come into contact with this holiday season better get the impression that you are having the time of your life; they better be happier that day for having met you and your Jesus.  Because otherwise, you are doing your savior and his holiday a deep disservice.  Otherwise, your witness is a total failure.

If your Christmas is about presents, tradition, or indulgence, just give up now and spare us all.  And if your Christmas is about faith, then make sure it is about building up the faith of everyone around you by displaying the Christian values of kindness, self-control, and joy.  Anything you do for Christmas that compromises your witness for Christ in the way that you interact with people around you, especially strangers, has to go.   

Spread joy.  Be kind.  Experience wonder.  If you can't do those things, then stay home.  Stop ruining Christmas for the rest of us.     

    

Friday, May 16, 2014

I'm racist.

Leviticus 19: 33-34, Numbers 15: 15-16

You never think you're racist.  You always like to think you would never be that kind of person, and you justify slightly sketchy thoughts and behavior you see in yourself so you don't have to admit to yourself that you might be a racist.  Everybody does it.  I do it, all the time.  And recently, I caught myself doing it, in a big way.  This story is funny, and largely benign, and I feel lucky and grateful that I got to see myself clearly in a funny, benign, manner.  It's nice to be aware of God's gentle nudges before the real lesson-learning pain has to start.

I started watching a show on Hulu called: "Little Mosque" (original Canadian title: "Little Mosque on the Prairie") and I love it!  (I have a love/hate with how Hulu (and other services) can read your mind and recommend things to you that become life-changing loves. I find it creepy.)  It's about a small group of Muslims trying to both run a Mosque and become invested members of their larger community, a small, fictitious town called Mercy, Saskatchewan.  The characters are quirky, the humor is dry, and the faith is real.  My favorite character is Rayyan, a young, single Muslim woman who is a doctor, calls herself a feminist, and wears a hijab.  She lives every day proving that a woman can be both devout and talented, righteous and ambitious, submitted to Allah and standing up for herself.  I love her character, but I did not realize the impact she had on me until I went to get new glasses.

I hate shopping for glasses, it makes me very anxious, but I gathered my courage and stopped by the optometrist.  I was hoping for a walk-in, but the harried receptionist, already helping two other patients, told me I would need to wait to make an appointment.  Then, the doctor herself came out to wait on me, and I felt all kinds of emotions at once.  First, I was impressed with her leadership skills.  No, 'I'm too good to do that job,' attitude for her, she pitched right in.  Second, I noticed she was wearing a hijab, and thought my customary, condescending 'Poor dear!"  Third, I looked at her face to find she bore a striking resemblance to someone, but who?  And then I realized: 'OMG, it's Rayyan!"  And suddenly my annoyance, anxiety, and misplaced pity melted away and I felt safe and happy.  I made my appointment, and went on my way.

About five seconds after I left the office I started to feel horrible about myself.  I realized that not only had my attitudes about Muslims been totally based on stereotypes, but that those stereotypes were being systematically busted up by, of all things, a corny Canadian sit-com.  I Will-and-Graced myself without even realizing it, and I felt horrible for being so racist and shallow.

(The 'Will and Grace effect' is a real thing.  Positive media portrayals of denigrated or marginalized groups can inspire a marked reduction of prejudice against those groups.  It's cool or evil, depending on whom you ask.  See also: The Cosby Show.)

Yes, I still believe that forcing women to cover up is oppressive and sexist, but on "Little Mosque," Rayyan's use of the hijab as proof of piety is a powerful non-verbal rebuttal against those who would accuse her of using feminism to be lazy about her faith (an indictment Christian women suffer from as well).  So now that I know not every woman wearing a hijab feels oppressed by it, what right have I to feel pity?  (Yes, pity is a negative emotion and a prejudicial viewpoint.  I hope I am now aiming for, and inspiring others to aim for, empathy, instead.)  And now that I have seen, if only fictitiously, a range and variety of Muslim people, thought, and philosophy, what right have I to assume all Muslims must be just a little bit sympathetic to terrorists?

Now, I'm not saying for one second that I am cured of all racism, or even just cured of prejudice against Muslims.  I'm still human, and if I think I'm cured, it's a sure sign I'm not.  But I am just a little more aware now, and I am very grateful for it.  Now go watch "Little Mosque."  

  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I'll skip the racket.

Galatians 3:28

I wish my brain worked faster.  It seems I need some time to stew in order to really figure out how I feel about things, and why, which can negatively impact my ability to write timely, relevant blog posts.  Sometimes, it takes me months to figure out why a book, joke, or incident made me depressed, happy, or angry.

Several months ago, an incident at work made me so angry I couldn't see straight, and even though I complained (and got good results) at the time, I still felt as though I had not fully articulated my position.  I was almost there, good enough to set the record straight and demand better behavior, but it has taken me until now to have down what I really think: I don't want protection.

See, women have made great strides toward equality in our country, so much so that men are starting to take up the feminism banner as well.  But we still have a long way to go toward true equality, and most of the battles we fight in the future are going to be the 'hearts and minds' type that are so much harder to win.  Not just with men, but with women themselves.  Oppression can be really comfortable.  It can feel like protection.  For instance, no one really wants to be drafted or to go into combat, so it has fallen far, far, down the list of ways women fight to be equal to men.  But if we want to be truly equal, we have to take up the responsibilities of equality as well as the rights, and we will have to take them up ourselves, and not wait for men to step aside and allow it.

Protection, chivalry, 'acting like a gentleman', and other such euphemisms stand for a particularly pernicious type of sexism that I abhor.  Yes, yes, there is a difference between common curtesy and treating someone like they are weaker than you because they are female.  Let me tell you what happened to me at work.

We instituted a new policy, that we station an employee at the front door as a monitor for the customers leaving, and trying to come in, at closing time.  I assumed, because I am the senior employee (under the managers) on the sales floor every night, that this would be my responsibility.  But a (male) manager told me I was absolutely not to do this job, because I am a woman.  He only wanted male employees to do this job.

It sounds logical, even benevolent, doesn't it?  It sounds like he's trying to protect me, to give me privileges, even, because I am female.  But I don't want that.  Because to me, in that moment, when he looked me in the eye and said: "I only want a man to do this," I was scared of him.  Why was I scared of a man trying to protect me?

Why did protection feel like a threat?  Because it's not really protection when it's a protection racket.  Physical strength is the only thing men have left with which to dominate and intimidate women.  We make our own money, we get custody of our kids, we hold positions of power and influence in politics and society, but the one thing we cannot yet reliably do is physically defend ourselves from assault and rape.  Maybe some men really are kind, and believe that they are doing good, even being feminist, when they offer us protection, but I cannot help but wonder: what kind of ego boost do they get out of reminding us that we still need their protection?

It feels to me like offers of protection are merely reminders of weakness.  It doesn't matter how smart or accomplished women become, we can still be raped.  So we better let men go ahead of us, and walk behind us, and set themselves as a shield between us and the big, wide, world so they can police our behavior, just as if we were not smart or accomplished at all, but the same, weak, childlike brides we always were.  Let us protect you, or something bad might happen.  Need us, or we'll turn on you.

An offer of protection feels intimidating when it's just a subtle reminder of how easily you can be hurt, especially since conservative estimates say that two-thirds of rapes are committed by someone the victim knows.  It's not just a feeling.  Statistically, you are in more danger from the white knight walking you to your car after dark than the random dude minding his own business in the parking lot.  Because when we know someone, we trust them, and we let our guard down.  This not only leaves us more vulnerable to assault, it also makes it infinitely harder to defend ourselves.  Carry a gun if you want to, but be prepared not to shoot a stranger, the bogey-man jumping out of the bushes, but your friends or even family members.  Could you do it?  (Remember, don't take your gun out of your purse, just shoot through the purse.  You'll be much faster that way.)

If you are a man reading this, and you're horribly offended and think I've just called you a rapist, well, you may be right.  It wouldn't be the first time I've offended people.  But if you thought that you were doing the right thing trying to protect the women around you and now you feel hopeless and unappreciated, take heart.  There are still things you can do to prevent rape and protect the women around you, but it will take far more effort on your part.  It only takes a small amount of false courage to walk a women out to her car.  It takes a much larger amount of huge, brass, courage to make yourself a better man; to hold yourself and the men around you accountable for your thoughts, feelings, and behavior concerning women.  When it comes to rape and sexual assault, men are the problem, therefore men need to focus on policing themselves and other men, not women.  (That could be a whole other post.)

So I'll stand in front of the door every night, and I'll go without the protection.  I know that I am taking risks, I know that I could die taking this risk, but I believe that if women are ever truly going to be equal with men, we have to present ourselves that way, and not cower behind men until they decide to grant us the safety of their self-control.  The more of us who stand up and demand to be treated with respect, the faster we will earn that respect.



    

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

I am bossy.

Judges 4:4-9

As much as I love Sheryl Sandberg, and Amy Poehler, and Beyonce, I cannot get behind the 'Ban Bossy' campaign.

I do not ban words, even figuratively speaking.  Nothing gives a word more power than letting your enemies know just how much you hate it.  Just like children testing out curse words, the word that gets the reaction is the one that gets repeated.

How do you take a way an opponent's power to hurt you with words?  By owning those words.  For example, the African-American community has so thoroughly owned N, that now most civilized people are afraid to even use it.  I call that progress.

Nerd and Geek are also now badges of honor as smart and imaginative people have taken over the entertainment industry through sheer force of awesome, promoting not just fantasy and science fiction, but real science as well.  Cosmos, Ifuckinglovescience.com, and xkcd.com (be sure to roll over the comic for great commentary) are great examples of this trend toward smart entertainment.

I own Bossy.  I have been 'bossy' and 'know-it-all' and 'teacher's pet' since kindergarten, and I don't plan to stop any time soon.  If you are too stubborn, stupid, or sexist to communicate with in a neutral tone, then I will get bossy on your ass, and I will enjoy it.  Bossy gets it done.  I don't use it every day, but when I need to, I whip out my bossy and it gets results.  Every time.

I don't like: "I'm not bossy, I'm the boss."  I prefer: "Bossy?  Damn straight I'm bossy.  Get to work."

  

Monday, November 4, 2013

I'm alone at last.

Proverbs 16:3, Colossians 3:23, Mark 6:45-47

I can always tell the magnitude of something I'm about to do by how badly I freeze up right before I'm about to do it.  If there is any time to think about it before I get there, I will think myself right into a frozen stupor.  When I was applying for my life-changing summer semester at Middlebury, I sat on two acceptance notices from two different programs for two weeks.  I literally let the two envelopes sit on my desk for two weeks before opening them.  I went to Middlebury because I had not acted quickly enough to inform the other program that I wanted in.  More recently, I have spent weeks unable to write before big events in my life, like surgeries.

And I haven't written any posts in the past two weeks because I have been staring down a vacation.  Well, a working vacation.  I've taken myself off to a hotel to try to write.  There is a long, writerly tradition of getting away from it all to try to get the work done, and I would like to see if joining that tradition will benefit me and my work.  So I'm spending a few days alone away from home.

(I probably shouldn't even be telling you all this, I'm going to jinx myself, or be too ashamed to admit if it didn't work.  Privacy versus accountability.  That's a whole other post.)

So far I have checked into my hotel room, brought all my stuff inside, called DH, spent two hours farting around on the internet, and started writing this post.  Granted, this vacation has taken some prep work.  Since I'm not really leaving town, I cooked and brought all my food with me, and have made a couple of appointments to see people and do fun things.  (And, damnit, I just remembered I left the ice cream I bought for myself in the freezer at home!)

I feel better now that I have written something.  And I'm sorry if you've missed hearing from me or my blog.  I know that this week is going to be about more than writing, it will be about me, taking care of and motivating myself by myself.  Which is a huge challenge, a much bigger challenge than I would care to admit.  I've never lived alone.  I've only a couple of times been alone in a home I would usually share with someone else.  Granted, DH is a phone call and a half-mile away, but I can still hear every little sound in this tiny place, and the way I spend my time is entirely up to me.  You are who you are when no one is watching, or when you're starting to get sad and paranoid that someone is watching, even though you know they're not, just because the fridge knocks and the lamp buzzes and it's rainy outside and you forgot your ice cream.  (Damnit!)  

So, time to be a grown-up.  Get yourself up, do what you came here to do and make something to show for yourself.  Join the great tradition of writers who got away from the cares and distractions and let all the crazy right out onto the page.  Or, cuss, kick the fridge, write a blog post, and eat a peanut butter cup before dinner.  Thank God I didn't forget my candy!

Monday, October 14, 2013

I have a dirty job.

Exodus 23:12, Matthew 20:1-16, Colossians 3:23

I love the show Dirty Jobs.  I have often said that the host, Mike Rowe, is the hottest man who will never, ever touch me; because I know exactly where he's been.  Rowe is also an admirable and decent man, with good comic instincts and boundless humility in the face of his own ignorance and inability.  Even though he began his career in the arts and has a fine (and lucrative) speaking and singing voice, he focuses his television career and activism promoting the traditional trades in the American job market.  His slogan, Work Smart AND Hard, means a lot to him, and inspires me.

While Rowe specifically promotes the skilled trades, his general ethic of respect, even reverence, for hard, unpleasant, and necessary work resonates deeply with me, as I have a job characterized by hard, unpleasant, and necessary work.  I work retail.  My job would be categorized as unskilled, which is a joke, because it requires lots of different skills, some of them very difficult to learn and teach.  Mostly, since economic pressures have changed the retail business drastically in the last few years, what the job now requires is the ability to motivate and direct oneself: to evaluate the job environment, identify and prioritize the various jobs that need doing, and do them, correctly and in an appropriate time frame, welcoming constant interruptions from customers, coworkers, and supervisors.  (Obviously, that is not how our corporate offices would characterize my job, but we often disagree.  On myriad topics.)

And like garbage men, sewer workers, and toilet scrubbers, we get no respect.  I believe that the more necessary the dirty job, the less that white-collar professionals want to acknowledge us and the jobs we do.  This is consistent across humanity.  The gauge of respectability is the degree of removal from one's own dirt: how can you tell he's a king?  "He hasn't got shit all over him."  I don't believe this for a minute.  Whether society gives you respect for your job is a separate issue from how you respect yourself.  Sure it's hard to maintain your dignity in the face of social stigma, but you can do it, and take pride in your work, and that's what makes you a king among men.

On the other hand, I've heard others, with great smugness, say that they would never hire a maid to clean their homes.  People who can't clean up their own filth are victimizing others by forcing them to do it.  I don't believe this either.  My mother cleaned houses, briefly, when I was a small child, and there was nothing wrong with the work itself.  The only real unpleasantness was the behavior of the people she cleaned for.  In fact, there were few things in life that satisfied my mother like doing a good job cleaning something.  She only quit her last cleaning job because the client accused me of licking and sticking candies to the carpet under her couch.  Silly woman.  Poor kids do not waste candy, not even stale lemon drops.  She probably didn't really believe I did it, she just couldn't face the idea that her spoiled grandchildren were the real culprits.    

There is great dignity in service, there is self-respect in a job well done, especially a hard, dirty job.  There is an iron core of character that grows and strengthens every day that you do what you know is necessary for society to function, and do it with pride.  It has nothing to do with living your dreams, exploring your passions, or following your bliss.  It has nothing to do with your education or intelligence.  Just because you believe that you, or your child, are too good for certain jobs says nothing about those jobs, it only says bad things about you.  

Will you be able to look yourself in the eye if you find yourself one day scrubbing toilets to put food on the table?  Will you still be proud of your child if they pay off their student debt by taking their degree to the dog food cannery?  I still struggle with internalizing society's (and customers' (and occasional acquaintances',  friends', and families' )) low opinions of me, my job, and my pay (I get it, I have a pretty low opinion of my pay, too), but every day I get a little better, both at my job and at my attitude.

Work is dignity.  Keep that in mind the next time someone works for you: waiting at your table, ringing up your purchase, or scrubbing your toilet, and try to offer a little more respect.  And a tip.  Tips are good, too.

    

Monday, September 30, 2013

Customer Service, Part 12.

Proverbs 31:30,

I judge people.  I do, all the time.  I'm judgy. I am Judgy McJudgerson.  And I enjoy it.  I enjoy it a lot. Superiority is one of life's finer pleasures, and I have it down to an art.  One of my favorite kind of people to judge are women who try too hard to be pretty or young.  We have a regular customer in our store who looks about fifty, because she is about fifty, no matter how hard she tries to plump it away.

Everything about this poor woman is fake.  She is: Fakey-lady.  From the top of the brown roots in her fried orange hair to the impossibly high heels that force her to take tiny steps like she lived in the time of foot-binding, she has completely enslaved herself to a false standard of beauty.  She has puffy injected lips, big, obviously fake boobs, and her skin has been deep-tanned, probably every day, for at least twenty years.  She wears nothing but short shorts and skirts and low-cut shirts.

She doesn't just look silly, she talks silly, too.  Every time Fakey-lady comes to the register, she brings a whole pile of books, but then only buys one or two, taking about ten minutes every time to decide which ones,  asking the cashier's opinion of each one, whether we've read them or not.  (We don't like it when customers try to make us choose for them, we imagine that if they don't like our recommendations, they will come back and complain.)

So obviously, I think I know Fakey-lady.  I think I've got her pegged.  Especially after I rang her up myself, and she did her little decider-dance with me and made me have to call up two extra cashiers to get through the rest of the customers.  But after all the other customers were gone, and we finally decided on two books (and then left and came back for more money (and then added a tote bag to her purchase)), she managed, just like all the others, to surprise me.

See, even though her total was still under one hundred dollars, she handed me just over one hundred, and a random amount of change.  And I knew I was wrong about her.  Usually, when a customer hands me a random, over-large amount of cash, it's a guy, and he hands me the money and looks at his shoes and says: "Sorry, I'm an engineer."  Because when someone pays like that, what they are looking for is even change.  And indeed, Fakey-lady's change was exactly $30.30.

So I was happy that Fakey-lady is now Math-in-her-head-lady, but on the other hand, it makes me really sad.  Just because she's smart doesn't mean her life is perfect, or that she is immune to believing silly things like that tanning and lip injections will make her young and beautiful.  So now, what silly things am I doing and believing?