Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Congrats, Josh. You Made the Right Choice.

Posted By on Tue, Mar 26, 2013 at 7:34 PM

Look, Coach, it’s not the loss that hurts. Not really. Y’all had a good year, and you lived up to the hype and expectations that built slowly back up after the season’s bumpy start. So when you won your first NCAA tournament game, the celebration was deserved. The sinking feeling that came after the subsequent stomping, however, wasn’t simply because the season had ended. It was because everyone in Memphis knows by now that the end of a successful basketball season means the start of Poaching Season. There was no “we’ll get ‘em next year,” because there was very little hope of having the same “we.” And that included you.

As soon as teams began falling out of the tournament and open coaching positions materialized, every fan in Memphis wondered the same thing: Where’s Pastner going to go? Surely our golden boy would be happier in, say, the Golden State. We couldn’t expect a rising star like yourself, coming off of a perfect conference record, to hang around and withstand the inevitably tough transition into the Big East. Not when an established national team comes calling. Likewise for many of your star players — a big year in a small place makes a great stepping stone toward bigger, brighter things. It happens. We’re used to it.

But bless your heart, you proved us wrong. Instead of looking off in the distance for a better offer, you used that legendary optimism to see what’s already right in front of you.

Memphis, man. It’s so freakin’ great, right?

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I mean, you already know about the sports stuff, but I would remind you that not every town takes college basketball as seriously as this one. UCLA is a good school and all, but if you asked 100 Angelenos who coaches their basketball team, you’d be escorted out by security at least 37 times.

Beyond that, though, the fundamental essence of Memphis is something that simply can’t be duplicated. On paper, sure, other cities are richer or exercise more or have the slightest clue how their school system will be running in six months, but still. As much as it pains me to ask, how many songs are written about Minneapolis? No, not counting plinky-dinky folk songs. Yeah, that’s what I thought.

What’s really amazing about Memphis right now — and what must surely set your positivity phasers to stun — is its potential. We have as much history, both fantastic and tragic, as the entire constituency of the Big Ten combined, but for the first time in decades, we also have the heart and drive and energy of a dozen All-American freshmen (not literally; you’re a good recruiter and all, but not quite that good). Remember when Forbes magazine told everyone how miserable we were? They’re now calling us one of the country’s emerging cities. At a time when people could easily give up, pack up, and settle around the newest suburban big box oasis, residents are pushing for reinvestment in the heart of Memphis. From South Main to Crosstown to Overton Square, the holes are being filled in, not with random commercial scrambling but through creative, innovative, and responsible urban planning. We’ve been one of the country’s 20 largest cities for quite some time, but now we’re finally starting to act like it.

Look, Josh — can I call you Josh, since I’m old enough to be your, um, aunt? — I know you had a lot to consider, and the same questions will probably come up again in a year’s time. So as you think about what will bring your family happiness, what will make your career most fulfilling, and what will best shape your legacy, I’d just ask you to keep in mind that this city is everything you could want in a winning team. It’s tough, loyal, diverse, adaptable, humble, and a little goofy. Making it be everything it deserves to be isn’t going to be a fast or easy job, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

You and your top guys could go to plenty of other places right now. And really, so could a lot of us. But instead of trawling L.A. craigslist ads for $1,500 one-bedroom apartments, we choose to stay and make a great place even better. It’s not the one-and-done philosophy that dominated your predecessor’s program. It’s a long-term plan that builds on collective strength and talent, both of which Memphis has in abundance.

Some people are going to question your decision, JP, but as a Memphian by choice, I totally get it. You could go coach anywhere, sure. But where else but Memphis could you be part of such an incredible team?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hillary Clinton vs. Michelle Shocked

Posted By on Tue, Mar 19, 2013 at 8:30 PM

Attagirl, Hillary! Glad to have you on board. Although really, the only thing surprising about Secretary Clinton’s statement of support for gay marriage this week was that she hadn’t already made one. I could have sworn that already happened, but maybe I was just thinking about all the work she did to get international governments to stop condoning the execution of their gay citizens.

Michelle Shocked
  • Michelle Shocked

No, the real shocker this week — pun unavoidable — was that a folk singer with a significant LGBT following decided to use a San Francisco appearance to clarify her opposition to gay marriage, homosexuality in general, and, by my unscientific estimate, the home lives of 67 percent of her fan base. I saw Michelle Shocked at the Hi-Tone a few years back, and if everyone who identified on the LGBT spectrum had walked out, there wouldn’t have been enough people left to fill a table.

Now, to be fair, Michelle Shocked never embraced being a gay icon. She sure did embrace gay money, though. For a songwriter who has concentrated on representing the downtrodden and voiceless victims of corporate and government wrongdoing, it was natural that oppressed folks of all varieties would be drawn to her work, and she was more than happy to capitalize on that. She certainly kept her anti-gay opinions to herself while she was crossing the country with the Lilith Fair gals.

So at this point, you may be wondering, “Andria, what the hell does some has-been un-hippie matter? And why did you even mention Hillary Clinton in the first place? And what is your face doing – is that supposed to be a smile?” Stay with me, though. Here’s where it gets sort of mind-blowing. An artist just got publicly scorned for having an unpopular opinion. Earlier on the very same day, the former secretary of state and possible next president publicly declared the opposite position. We haven’t made it to the magical land of Equal Protection Under the Law, but holy shit, y’all, do you see the seismic shift that represents? Marriage equality has gone mainstream. It has totally sold out! Yay!

The job isn’t done, of course, just like it’s still not done for women or minorities. But it’s at least underway. What happens next will determine if the cause has gained overwhelming popularity or simply jumped the shark. This month, the Supreme Court hears arguments in two cases that will have a dramatic impact on the future of gay rights, whichever way they’re decided.

Most people probably don’t know that the case against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) hinges on a married lesbian being taxed for $383,000 after the death of her wife, an estate tax penalty she would not have been expected to pay had she been married to a man. A personal ceremony or a domestic partner checkbox is nice and all, but the law matters.

The court will also hear arguments for the dismissal of California’s ban on gay marriage. When Prop. 8 was passed in 2008, a flurry of local governments were already pushing for similar bans and constitutional definitions of marriage (including, ahem, this one), but just four years later, the legislative tide was already turning. My own home state of Minnesota was one of the first to reject, by voter decision, an amendment defining marriage as strictly heterosexual. (Go Gophers.)

The idea that this is an issue best left to the states to decide ignores one thing, however: Some states aren’t going to get there for a long, long time, if ever. Are we comfortable telling certain citizens that, sorry, we can’t get a majority vote on your legal status. American approval of interracial marriage didn’t surpass 50 percent until … here, I’ll let you guess. What do you think? 1970? 1980? Here, I’ll give you a hint. Nineteen hundred and ninety … seven.

Let’s face it. Some states are dumb. Not everyone in them, of course, but apparently more than not. And those people don’t get to penalize their tax-paying, law-abiding, yard-maintaining neighbors just because said neighbors don’t share their romantic preferences. Look, I don’t understand why people marry pageant moms or competitive eaters or Hugh Hefner, but they do, so bless ‘em. There’s room for everybody. We all bring our own plate to the potluck.

Or, as a wise woman once wrote, it takes a village.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Dorothy Didn't Surrender

Posted By on Tue, Mar 12, 2013 at 9:09 PM

My 9-year-old daughter has been having a rough week, although she probably doesn’t know it. I was reading a newish New Yorker profile on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that brought up how recently, and often unsatisfactorily, civil cases have been brought before the court to assert women’s equality. Then I was listening to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg talking on NPR about the lack of progress women have been making in reaching leadership positions. And then, to top it all off, we went to see Oz: The Great and Powerful.

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Call me dually biased. I was raised on MGM’s 1939 vision of Oz and its inhabitants, and I became a mother during a time when the Disney princess mythology was heavily criticized, if not rejected outright. But even without that background, it would be hard to deny that the Disney-fied version of Baum’s stories takes liberties that are both creepily modern and uncomfortably retro.

One of the great things about The Wizard of Oz is that it represents a child’s perspective. It doesn’t rely on unnecessary plot points to draw in adult viewers, because adults can be just as taken by the reminder of how confusing and joyous and sometimes terrifying life can be for a child. The film didn’t try to wedge in a romantic storyline. And ultimately, the hero is a young woman. She kills two witches!

On both sides of the twister, the female characters of Oz: The Great and Powerful are presented as gullible, naïve, clingy, manipulative, and/or downright wicked. And, despite much talk about their power, Oz’s witches are basically helpless, waiting around for who knows how long for some guy to fall out of the sky and save them from themselves. I was the most disappointed by the story of Theodora, the eventual Wicked Witch of the West, whose wickedness is explained away as a stalkerish over-reaction (prompted by her own sister, of course, because women are, like, SO MEAN to each other). The only “good” witch, Glinda, is the least assertive of the three, banished from her home and unable to do a thing about it until some half-assed con artist shows up. Even when she “wins” against her wicked siblings, it’s on a technicality.

Power balance sidenote: I couldn’t help noticing that the wicked witches, played by Rachel Weisz and Mila Kunis, were the dark-haired, exotic, foreign ones (they even inexplicably let Weisz use her British accent). When I asked my kids after the movie which of the women was the most powerful, my 5-year-old son immediately replied, “The white one!” He meant her dress, but still, she was the whitest in every way. (Side-sidenote: Oz author L. Frank Baum was a known feminist, but his very not-okay positions on Native American relations are a topic for another time.)

Really, the most relevant detail is probably the fact that there is not actually a book called Oz: The Great and Powerful. The plot line was mostly fabricated for the movie. Producer Joe Roth told the Huffington Post “ […] during the years that I spent running Walt Disney Studios -- I learned about how hard it was to find a fairy tale with a good strong male protagonist. You've got your Sleeping Beauties, your Cinderellas and your Alices. But a fairy tale with a male protagonist is very hard to come by. ... Which is why I knew that this was an idea for a movie that was genuinely worth pursuing.” Ah, yes. Because all those other fairy tale protagonists were such independent women and we barely got to appreciate the men who continually rescued them (well, except Alice; she just got high and told everyone what she thought. Funny that I rarely see her in the toy aisle).

It’s not that having a male lead is bad, but what you do to the rest of the characters still matters. When Disney got hold of the Wizard, they imagineered themselves up a pseudo-prequel that combines the worst of modern focus group mentality and old-fashioned gender roles. Congratulations, guys. At least one part of the film accurately pre-dates the original story by 20 years.

Look, I know it’s just a movie. I don’t think the course of feminism is being redirected here. But that’s the problem, really. There was such a great opportunity to update this franchise and infuse it with Baum’s ideas about female gumption that were maybe a little too progressive for 1930s MGM, or at least not lose ground from the girl-power ambitions of the original film. At a time when women are holding steady at a mere 14-percent of corporate leadership positions, continue to underearn men despite higher levels of education, and are still waging legal battles for equality, it’s clear that, more than 100 years after their publication, the original Oz stories are still ahead of our time.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Living a Gluten-Free Life-style

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2013 at 8:20 PM

I’ve lived a life of physical privilege. I realize that now. Other than a few minor illnesses and an accident in Home Economics that required stitches, I had a healthy childhood. The closest I’ve come to breaking a bone was a particularly violent toe stub. I had two normal, drug-free childbirths. Whenever an intake nurse asks me what medications I’m on and I say none, she pauses to make sure she heard me right. I get a little seasonal hay fever, but nothing I would specifically state as an allergy. I can eat anything.

Or could, anyway. As I mentioned a few months back, I was recently diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes my body to attack itself when I consume gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. There is no medication for it. The only way to stop its damage is to avoid gluten altogether. Not doing so compromises the body’s ability to absorb nutrients, leading to malnutrition and increasing the risk of gastrointestinal cancers. It also makes you feel awful in a variety of ways and is often associated with other autoimmune disorders.

“Well, at least you can fix it with just a diet change.” I’ve heard this pep talk dozens of times since my diagnosis, and while I appreciate the sentiment, it’s not really true. Going gluten-free isn’t a diet change. It’s an entire lifestyle change.

People eat together. It’s a thing we do for survival, but also for connection, for pleasure, for love. I’ve never been confused for a foodie, but I have always enjoyed the experience of sharing a meal with friends and family. Since my diagnosis, however, that pleasure has faded, especially when it comes to dining out.

“There are still lots of things you can eat!” Well, yes, in theory. But the reality is more complicated. Celiac disease is triggered by the smallest trace of gluten, so the risk of cross-contamination is always a factor. And thanks to the miracles of modern science, seemingly safe foods can be rendered unsafe through the use of grain-rendered flavorings or preservatives. There’s a long list of foods I should be able to eat but simply can’t because of the way they’re handled or packaged. Even natural, unprocessed foods can be easily and unnecessarily “ruined” in gluten terms by something as simple as using a contaminated pan or not changing gloves after making a sandwich.

It’s estimated that 0.8 percent of the U.S. population has celiac disease, but as many as 6 percent may have other forms of gluten sensitivity more comparable to an allergy. Add to that the people who are making a conscious choice to reduce or eliminate wheat from their diets and there’s a sizeable group of people (and potential customers) who benefit from having gluten-free choices. Still, I feel weird expecting or even wanting my particular food needs to be accommodated. I recently gathered the courage to ask a chef about a menu item’s wheat content and he rolled his eyes and said, “Oh, you’re one of those.” He was being playful, but it still stung. The phrase “gluten-free” has entered the public vocabulary, but it’s often seen as a diet fad or trendy pseudo-science following a long line of other things we’ve been told to cut from our food.

Besides, I can barely manage to accommodate all my food rules in my own home. Regular cooking annoys me enough (see above re: Home Economics). I don’t have separate gluten-free utensils, I use the same sponge to wash wheaty dishes as I do for my own, I don’t scrub my hands between packing my kids’ lunches and making my own breakfast. And that’s probably why I don’t feel significantly better. Trying to fight a non-stop battle against a dust-mote-sized foe feels, quite simply, impossible.

And that’s how I’m finally seeing my privilege. I’ve never had to think about my health before. I’ve never had to advocate for what I need to be well. I’ve never had to weigh my needs against someone else’s convenience (or my own). I now realize that this is what millions of people have experienced and live with every day, and without their willingness to speak out, we wouldn’t have food labels or allergy warnings or public bathrooms that can fit a wheelchair. A disease doesn’t define who I am, but it is part of me, and if I’m going to live my life to its fullest, I need to make that part fit.

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