Sunday, February 9, 2014

Why is there a doily shortage?

Doilies. They broke me.
It seemed simple enough. After the fifth email Reply All message begging classroom parents (and c'mon, we all know that means the ones who identify as "mother") to contribute something for the Valentine's party, I caved. Lest you think I am ungenerous for waiting so long, I have donated my not-inconsequential weight in goods and years of my life in services for school parties, fundraisers, auctions, and teacher appreciation days (we appreciate you! We do! Here's a gift card). But this once, just for Valentine's Day, I was holding out for some of those women at our school who, yanno, don't work outside the home, for money, 60 hours a week, at four jobs, and homeschool, and well ... anyway, I was waiting for someone else to step up. Someone else to say those five simple words: I will bring the doilies.

Because it's Valentine's, y'all, and that means doilies. Right? Think about all the freaking valentines you made in school by folding a doily and an aligned sheet of red construction paper down the midline, just so, and then awkwardly carving a half-heart shape out of it with your blunted, sad little pair of safety scissors. What joy! How fun was that, right? Who wouldn't want their children to not be able to relive that thrill of flattening those folds to find that you, little old you, had created a heart. And not just any heart but one with frills and lacy designs and scalloped edges that made that plain, dusty-red construction paper leap with beauty and grace. I mean ... this experience is obviously a must-have.

But no one stepped up. No one. The room parent stooped to begging. "OK," she wrote, "we've got a lot of snacks here, but can anyone bring some doilies?" And that little plea, so plaintive and heartfelt and full of "enough with the freaking healthy snacks already!" broke me. And I emailed back from my traitorous phone (everything that goes wrong in my life is my iPhone's fault because my phone is an asshole) those critical five words: "I will bring the doilies."

Verily, she was grateful, and I felt like a true philanthropist. It'll be simple, I told myself. This weekend, days before the actual party, I'll stop at a drugstore or a Target, I'll find that flaming red and Pepto-pink aisle full of hideous cards featuring hideous cartoon characters that have nothing to do with love or Valentine's or saints or even holidays of any kind, saying ridiculous and sometimes vaguely suggestive things that might not be appropriate for grade-school children ... I'll find that aisle, I'll grab a packet of white, lacy paper doilies, and I'll have accomplished my duties, my burning need to bring the thrill of making paper-doily-layered valentines on that precious, precious day.

You can see where this is going. The title really was a spoiler, wasn't it? Sorry about that. Six stores--CVS, Rite-Aid, Michaels (Michaels, for God's sake), another Rite-Aid, a Whole Foods, and a Target. Target. One mystified and beleaguered Target employee told me that I was the seventh wild-haired, frantic woman to ask her that question in the last two hours. Not one fucking doily anywhere. Not one. This expedition required two driving trips during a three-day monsoon and took hours. No doilies. Not paper, not knitted, not red or white. Zip. 

After having a near-breakdown in Target (my last great hope, as always) among the leering Sponge-Bobs, the heartfelt Angry Bird bombs, and the apparently popular ugliest possible shade of pink ever to assault a retina, I gave up. I took out my asshole phone and emailed the room parent six simple words. I'm no Hemingway, so there's no genuine pathos hidden here: "Six stores. No doilies. Getting stickers."

So stickers is what they're gonna get. Retailers of the USA, what, exactly, have you got against the doily?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Three reasons I am a so glad to be part of the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism team

One: Jennifer Byde Myers

Two: Shannon Des Roches Rosa

Three: Carol Greenburg

Since 2010, I have had the honor of working with these three women (and some other wonderful people who've been a part of the editorial group in the past) to help build a network around one of the most controversial sociocultural issues of our time: autism. As we approach our fourth anniversary of working together as a team, I felt I should honor that association and the resource we've built. What follows is my personal observation and not an official statement from the Thinking Person's Guide to Autism (TPGA) team.

From the beginning, our attitude has been that autism shouldn't be controversial; that autistic people deserve respect, understanding, acceptance, and love; that it is just that simple. It's not easy to run a site and moderate a community that is so divisive while driving home a message that some people struggle to grasp or even find offensive or exclusive. It takes an ability to keep focused on a goal, to brush off attacks and setbacks, and to rely always on our collective moral compass that tells us what's right about respecting the personhood of autistic people and what that looks like. It also requires recognizing that everyone brings their pain to this table and that forgiveness and understanding are the fuels that further the conversation and move us forward.

Among the four of us, we have different ways of communicating this message, some of us more gently (ahem, Jen) than others. Some of us are autistic, some of us are BAPpy, and one of us is neither (ahem, our beloved Jen). But collectively, we're honest, candid, forgiving, good, empathetic, self-reflective, and always, always focused on putting autistic people first and taking an evidence-based approach to answering questions. 

TPGA can be an uncomfortable place for some people because social change is an uncomfortable process. Some folks aren't in the right frame of mind to listen and take action in forwarding that process. That's something we understand because we all arrived where we are now from very different starting points. As far as I'm concerned, I'll be here when those still on that journey eventually arrive. I hope my three reasons for being with TPGA are still around, too, because they truly are some of the best people I know, and anyone else would be lucky to have them touch their lives.

If you don't know about TPGA, an all-volunteer, grassroots effort, please check out our active Facebook site here and our blog archive packed with useful information here

Saturday, November 9, 2013

No, not back to our regularly scheduled program

The video is now posted at the NASW site.

[Another update: The response linked below has been removed by PLoS blogs. It was not something I had requested, but I appreciate the choice (ETA: in the context of their own writers' agreement, not my personal inclinations; there is a cache of their two posts here) and am glad to see that the comments have been left in place. There is some disagreement over PLoS's decision, but I can't speak to what the folks at PLoS feel they need to do in the context of their writers' agreement. Again, the other panelists and I expect to produce a formal writeup and review of the session and plans going forward once we have the video available as a source.]

[ETA an update: The two people involved in the post I critique below, Tabitha Powledge and Beryl Benderly, NASW board members, have posted their comments about my critique here. I will let their two responses speak for themselves and just reassert that the original post was an example of the problem in having foregrounded men in every aspect, from text word counts to links included to who was named and quoted to art to tags to "the most powerful and significant statements came from men," and that the tone of "back to our regular program" was inappropriate. Further, I add that because I was commenting on a high-profile summary of a very high-profile and edgy situation that is critical to our community, one written by a board member of NASW and featured on the site of another NASW board member, I also vetted my commentary with half a dozen relevant people before posting it. As for a formal post about the NASW panel from the panelists themselves, of which I was one, we await availability of the video recording of the proceedings so that the overview will be complete.]

Perhaps that's part of what got us where we were in the first place, this willingness to lapse back into the programmed complacency of sexual inequality and unreported sexual harassment. The "where" was a panel on women in science writing, and the "we" were the six women--Christie Aschwanden, Deborah Blum, Maryn McKenna, Kathleen Raven, Florence Williams, and I--who made up that panel. There were six of us who sat there, who presented, paneled, and answered questions, yet in this writeup on the session at the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) conference in Gainseville, Fla., where our panel convened, one of us doesn't even get a mention. The writeup appeared at PLoS blogs on the site of NASW blogger Tabitha Powledge, but Beryl Benderly, NASW treasurer, wrote the XX panel summary. [ETA: The NASW board has clarified that the board did not request the blog post, edit it, or even become aware of it before it was published.]

Instead of highlighting what each of the six of us said, the post, in what I must characterize as "business as usual," not only leaves out mention of a member of our all-women panel but also treats the standing-room only plenary session as an aside, something to roll into a longer section that talks about ... life on other planets? Indeed, of the 2285 words that make up the post at PLoS, 1335 are devoted to the possibility of Earthlike planets and life elsewhere instead of the possibilities of the lives of at least half of us right here. 

And of the 950 words allotted to the XX science panel at the NASW meeting, 264 were devoted to what the men in attendance at the session had to say. That stands in contrast to the 238 words given to what women on the panel and in the audience at this session on women in science writing had to say, words that trail off in the post without even an end punctuation. Not only that, but the section devoted to the men's commentary begins with, "But some of the most powerful and significant statements came from men."


Six women sit on a panel before a standing-room only audience, show data (courtesy of unable-to-attend Kate Prengaman) demonstrating the monstrous inequality of recognition and work that women in science writing receive, deliver powerful personal stories about the multitude of experiences they have had over their careers--some of them jaw-droppingly unbelievable--but the "most powerful and significant statements came from men."

As if that overshadowing weren't enough, in the post, the "art" included with the 950 words devoted to the panel is a huge graphic that references "The Blogfather." That would be Bora Zivkovic. That would be the very person who one of the panelists has revealed sexually harassed her. Yet instead of including images of the panel or of any of the panelists or even of a woman, this post on a women in science writing panel that addressed, among other things, problems of sexual harassment of women science writers, includes only an image that references someone who has ... a record of harassing women science writers.

As a sort of coup de grace, the post tags are as follows: aliens, astronomy, Bora Zivkovic, exoplanets, intelligent life, Kepler spacecraft, Milky Way Galaxy, On Science Blogs, science blogging, science journalism, science writing, Scientific American, sexual harassment, Tabitha M. Powledge, women. Not one of the names of the women who were on the panel appears in the metadata. A summary of the post on the NASW Website focuses, like the post itself, on astronomy and gives a single line to what ought to be a major issue for a national association of science writers representing its membership.

After that series of what I can only describe as mounting offenses, the XX panel summary comes to an abrupt end, offering a segue into the bulky remainder on Earth-like planets by saying, "We Now Return You to Our Regularly Scheduled Program." 

Based on the content and emphasis and oversights of that post, it looks to me like we never left that program. The old emphasis on male voices and the attitude of "phew, that's over" are the same old regular programming we've been watching and living for decades. And that, my friends, is the problem that put the six of us in front of a standing-room only crowd at NASW in Gainesville in the first place. And--I believe I can say this with certainty--not a single one of the six of us is content to return to that regular programming. There will be no sliding back into complacency this time.

[UpdatePZ Myers at Pharyngula offered up a critique, as well, making some very similar points.]

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Bright afternoon with sculptures at Crissy Field

Click first image to view as slide show.

Sculpture at Crissy Field. More on this Mark Di Suvero exhibit here.

Cairns at Crissy.

Catching a wave at Ft. Point.

Under the bridge.

Monday, May 13, 2013