what you could stand to learn about addiction

As promised, as part of my writer’s hustle to support a family scholarship, here is another article in a series. 

Smashed

First, a bit about who I am, and a bit about who I am not. I am a sober alcoholic, clean and sober two years this coming May if I don’t fuck it up. I have a good life today. I come from a large family who drank and drugged throughout my childhood, and I share my writings about this, and about my life today, trusting it will help you to read a bit – and hoping my personal and public information won’t be used for exploitive or hurtful purposes. One of my passions is working with and helping other alcoholics and addicts, as well as their families and friends, and to that end I pen this piece.

I am not a therapist, doctor, social expert, or chemical dependency counselor. I am merely an addict who works daily in the field with many other addicts. I don’t earn money or a professional reputation, and I’m not trying to sell you anything. So: there. Those are my qualifications, or lack thereof.

As I see it today, here are some things I wish more people knew about addiction.

Everyone has an addiction – or several. YOU are addicted.

One of the most interesting things about substance abuse is how quickly people want to be on one side of the fence with this. “We” aren’t as bad as “They” are.  “Poor so-and-so, her father was a such-and-such.” “I like a drink – but I’m not an alcoholic.” Even the most honest of those who admit they might indulge a little too much are very loathe to have their behaviors pathologized or even remotely subject to criticism (as the refrigerator magnet says, “I’m not an alcoholic, I’m a drunk. Alcoholics go to meetings. Drunks go to parties.”)

Addiction is not relegated to narcotics we might put into our body. Gambling, eating disorders, codependency, rage, self-harm are all examples of process addictions and behavioral illnesses that can be as deadly as a heroin habit (and not just to the individual with the behaviors; I have a close friend who ran over someone while driving and in the throes of food-binging). When you become willing to see similarities instead of differences, and when you become curious about your own addictions (rather than frightened of or ashamed of them or actively resisting the label No Matter The Evidence), you are beginning a wonderful journey of self-discovery and healing. So very many people never get to this place at all!

Finally: addiction is a continuum. The things we do compulsively and obsessively rarely start off with a bang, but instead creep up on us, progressing quickly or very slowly. They are as personal as a snowflake and to my mind, as beautiful too! Recognizing our compulsions and obsessions with great kindness and curiosity is a wonderful way to ensure they do not metastasize into something incredibly harmful.

Another person’s addiction has nothing to do with you.

When we think “addiction” we usually think of another person, or persons. At this moment I invite you to realize you will never, ever, wrest control of another person’s addiction and their pathway to healing, if they ever find one. Addiction is one of the most personal experiences I can attempt to describe; it is as personal as sex, as parenthood, as childhood, as our deeply-held moral or spiritual convictions – and it encompasses all those things, as well. When you meet someone in addiction who tells you they are in addiction, recognize they are handing you a gift, almost as if they offered to let you paint them in the nude. You can be confused, terrified, or repulsed – but remember, it is not all about you and if you act like it is, you are missing a tremendous opportunity.

Your addiction has everything to do with you.

No one can diagnose you an addict in any meaningful, lasting way; even if they did, you could continue to resist this as much as you like. I have seen people resist the awareness and admission of addiction to the most astonishing lengths; conversely, I have seen those who’ve only felt “the first nip of the wringer” demonstrate profound awareness of their addiction. Addiction is personal; you are an addict when, and only when, you say it and know it for yourself. As the phrase goes, when you “fully concede to [y]our innermost [self]” (and I’m going to add, when you admit it to another human being). In my story so far, one such moment of concession was both the worst in my life, and my most sublime.

This profound necessity of self-diagnosis is, to reiterate, true of other people, even those you might lie awake wishing they would only wake up and see. They will see when they are ready. The question is, are you ready to see what you need to see?

If you’re not getting help, you can’t be much help.

There are plenty of resources for discovering the nature of one’s own addictions and taking that first step in learning to care for them; there are plenty of resources for learning how we can help the addicted in our lives. To name a few: yoga, a variety of forms of spirituality or religion, meditation, counseling, reading, behavioral therapy, and avocational peer-work. Personally, I caution against relying wholeheartedly on anything that involves you paying a professional. I also believe altruistic peer-work to be the most effective strategy (although I have utilized all others listed here). With regards to substance abuse, or imbedded troubling familial patterns, 12 Step groups and Al-Anon (which is a 12-Step group for the families and friends of the addicted) are often regarded as one of the most effective and widely available peer resources to help – not to mention, participation is free. My husband and I are both members of Al-Anon which thrives even in our relatively small community.

Remember, it is more difficult to ask for help if you are invested in the self-soothing act of arrogance.

***

Here are a few practical tips if you’re having trouble with the whole Existential, “we are all addicted” stuff. This is kind of the section of, “please don’t make life Shit for other people unnecessarily, while you’re bumbling about with the rest of us trying to find the way”:

Stop stigmatizing.

Please, stop calling people tweakers, junkies, crack-whores, drunks, whatever – even in jest. How individuals refer to themselves is their own business – not yours (although if you’re curious feel free, if the relationship is appropriate to do so, to ask why they use the terminology they do). Even in cases where you do not have a pet name for someone suffering an addiction – perhaps someone with an eating disorder or who compulsively works out, or who has a gambling addiction – please hold this person very gently in your mind and heart and quit setting them aside as an Other. The moment you start pretending their suffering is elementally different than yours or their plight is one they “deserve”, is the moment you lose Consciousness and you cannot help them or yourself.

Addiction is an illness; it is a disease. If you would not call someone with a physical disability a “cripple”, then stop saying “dusthead”, or “tweaker” or whatever. If you keep using these terms myself and others will likely identify you as ignorant, lacking compassion, and part of the cultural problem that helps facilitate addiction at the unprecedented levels we see today.

Stop trying to “get it”.

I work every day with many addicts and it seems the more I do this work, the less I know. Addiction is one of the most fascinating, cunning, baffling, and simply amazing phenomena I’ve seen. In addiction – mine and those I work with – I have experienced the most genuine Buddha-belly laughs, the most heartwrenching tears, the most terrifying rages, the most sublime highs (while actually high, or while clean and sober!), and the deepest quietudes.

I’ve long enjoyed the term “spiritual malady”, as it puts its finger on the Unknowable that medical science still – still – has not been able to define, let alone cure; this phrase sums up the endemic nature of the illness. If you don’t understand addiction – your own, or anyone else’s – that’s okay. That means you might be able to do something intelligent from here on out.

Stop being a buffoon.

Since becoming clean and sober I have been treated with almost universal kindness and consideration by my friends and family – those who are clean and sober, and those who are not. However, there are a notable and very small population of people who’ve been most unskillful or even rude. Since I understand the topic of addiction, especially substance abuse, can be a very confusing, embarrassing, or frightening one, I offer some practical advice.

To wit: do not offer someone in Recovery a drug or alcohol, nor offer someone close in their family a drug or alcohol. If they want drugs or alcohol they’ll find it somewhere, trust me. The same logic extends to someone with an eating disorder. Put food out at a gathering like you normally might, but do not harass or cajole your friend into eating or drinking.

If you know someone in Recovery, do not point out their addiction unduly and do not joke about it (sorry! You get to joke about this shit only if you’re in Recovery, and even then, please do commit to sensitivity and tact). Do not gossip about it, and by gossip I mean, use their life’s experiences to get that juicy ZING in a conversation. You know if you’re doing this; I don’t need to describe it to you.

Conversely, don’t make a big show to alter your own social behavior, or whatever, out of fear you will trigger a relapse in the addicted. I am not going to get drunk because you’re drinking; your friend is not going to go on a gambling spree because you bought a scratch ticket. Obviously. Remember: the addicted friend or family member has trusted you with something very special, something very personal and amazing. So if, say, he has told you he has an eating disorder, to make self-effacing comments about your own food habits is the height of unskillfulness.

Educate yourself.

I am convinced some addictions are more stigmatized than others; some are downright tacitly encouraged. It is the process of a lifetime, weeding through information and mis-information, but there are plenty of passionate, humane people out there who are bringing great awareness, sensitivity, and intelligence to the field of addiction and healing. As we educate ourselves we learn more and more that the power of our speech and the import of our actions both have the ability to help heal; conversely, the ability to further harm.

Which path shall we choose?

***

I will close this piece with a little anecdote. From the beginning of my sobriety I was “out” about being an alcoholic in Recovery, which is a pretty brave thing (I add, however, that many people view these kinds of things as medical and/or private, as is their right). For the most part, my friends and family rallied around me and were incredibly supportive and loving.

A month sober, I was invited to our friends’ house for a barbecue. As we walked across the grass, one of my friends turned and asked if it was okay they served beer at the gathering. Let me tell you, that was a beautiful moment in my life. Not just because of the vulnerable uncertainty and care my friends were showing me in that moment, but because of the intense relief of being able to be Out and honest about my illness. These days, when I’m at social gatherings hardly anyone knows or notices I don’t drink; when offered, the times I’m with people who do not know me, I simply say “No thanks,” and that’s it.

However, I have also excused myself early from social engagements, not because the drugs and/or alcohol distressed me, but because I have spent enough time in the company of maudlin, sentimental, violent, self-pitying, drunk people being asses. Because, you know, sometimes that’s how people who drink and drug act. When I was a child I didn’t have a choice to excuse myself; today, I do. I can always treat myself with the same courtesy as my friends did on the night of that barbecue.

Living in Recovery is one of the most amazing things; it is a true freedom I thank the Universe for on a daily basis. I hope in any way this little piece extends some of that exciting, breathtaking world from my heart to yours.

Film Feministe: 4 Upsetting Films I Adored

"How YOU doin'?"

How you doin’?

(This review is part of my writer’s-hustle to garner support for our Unschooling conference scholarship)

I’m no stranger to films that have squirm-inducing scenes, questionable motives, and bleak morals. One of my favorite films, or it was a few years ago anyway, is David Lynch’s Blue Velvet which has amongst other elements a completely objectionable and unnecessarily-protracted rape scene.

That said, I’m a bit selective and capricious when it comes to this kind of thing. I’m never sure what it is that might make me switch off a viewing for what seems cruelly exploitive (as I did recently for the first collection of “Trial and Retribution”), or what I might sit through for the sake of the larger story arc (as I recently did for the film The Long Good Friday).

The following films are intense; some are gory, some involve scenes of torture, some are at the very least highly upsetting. For some they may be triggering. Please do not say I didn’t warn you. Spoilers.

Shame (2011)
I keep thinking I’ll make a list of media that, in my opinion, present the experience of addiction in sublime, convincing, and authentic ways. Shame is one of these, although to my knowledge the term “addiction” is never mentioned. The film centers around an adult brother and sister pair, Brandon and Sissy. Brandon has a good job, a good apartment, and is a good-looking guy. He presents himself as reserved and sophisticated while hiding expensive and dysfunctional relationships with human beings and pornography; his sister Sissy, in contrast, is a free-spirit, an active alcoholic, cannot hold a job, and is prone to codependency and publicly unhealthy relationships.

There are intense sexual manifestations in both brother and sister’s problems. As the movie unfolded I was at first tensed up for, let’s face it, some kind of twisted/noir/sexy/”damaged” incest romp. Shame instead renders, in a poetically wretched way, the roots of addiction: deep emotional pain, obsession, compulsion, and a profound disconnect from other human beings. Addiction and pain manifest itself in different ways and it would seem those responsible for the film know this: Brandon snorts coke, maintains a tight profile at work, and holds a taut repressive anger he only occasionally gives vent to with his sister.  Sissy is sloppy, emotional, willing to be publicly messy, and also more willing to try to talk about what’s bothering her.

Over the course of the film we witness Brandon coming to his bottom – but whether it is his last, the film does not tell us. It doesn’t really matter, not to me anyway. I have not experienced sex addiction and compulsion, but I do know addiction. For anyone else interested in the subject, I’d direct them to view this graphic, and deeply sad, piece of film.

Descent (2007)
Rosario Dawson is thoroughly convincing as Maya, a bright, beautiful college student whose life is abruptly changed after her experiences with a fellow student named Jared. Although initially reluctant to engage with her new would-be suitor, she gradually begins to take a chance, believing that romance might be possible. After all Jared is charming, ardent, and persistent. On a date she talks about her feelings. Alone with him she begins to accept his ardor. But once he is in the position to do so, Jared acts on an intense hatred for Maya (or rather, what she represents to him) based on his own sense of inadequacies, his own internalized racism, misogyny, and entitlement. Maya, shattered after the horrific experience, is lost for a time being until she makes a few new friends.

Unlike so very, very many films centering on a rape – and a resultant revenge – Maya’s experience is not portrayed as exploitive; that is to say, shown as “sexy” in any way – and Maya is not reduced to a caricature of a victim, either. Even better, Jared is not reduced to a caricature; it is clear he doesn’t think he’s a rapist, which is something many films miss while they center on stranger-assaults in alleyways.

In my opinion this film is less about rape and a revenge than it is about power and sadism, misogyny and racism as played out in the personal level. Maya, almost by chance, meets an even more successful sadist than Jared, a man named Adrien. Adrien is intelligent and powerful; he also gives voice to the experiences Maya is struggling with in regards to race and power. Maya gets her power back and makes a plan.

I can’t say enough about the nuance of this film; however not all is subtle. The final scene, which is extremely hard to watch, is best described by the NYT review: “its Grand Guignol particulars resist euphemism”. I ain’t gonna lie, it’s not a happy ending. I suppose to some viewers it might be more terrifying than to others; most women, especially women of color, already know what it’s like to live with the constant threat of, if not the reality of, sexual assault.

The Deep Blue Sea (2011)

Young, preternaturally-beautiful housewife in a sexually-tepid marriage with an older, rich husband meets a young, dashing man and has an affair (Rachel Weisz, Simon Russell Beale, and Tom Hiddleston, resp). We’ve seen it before; it often goes to predictable places. I can tell you this film did not go anywhere I predicted, and for that I’m grateful. In watching it I thought it might be sourced in a play, and as it turns out I was right. Having no familiarity with the original work, I will give you my impressions of the film on its own merits.

The affair and the marriage are showcased in a series of vignettes that are at first a bit confusing. We expect to see the film linger over the forbidden courtship and consummation; largely the film skips this because, we all know lust and infatuation. Early on it is apparent Weisz’s Hester is more deeply in love with Hiddleston’s Freddie than he is with her; however he is not a womanizer nor particularly coldhearted, he is merely a human being. As Hester falls deeper into obsession and depression, he struggles his best to satisfy her, but he is only human (and an alcoholic, besides). In addition, Hester’s position as a British 50s-era separated housewife is a vulnerable one, and the film presents those difficulties in a nuanced, snowflake-delicate rendering of oppressive mores. Weisz is stunning in every way in her role.

I’ve been on both sides – as if there really are “sides” – of obsessive love. That’s probably why this film was so painful for me. The pleading and the promises not to “make a scene”, the cruelties, the suicidal ideation, the self harm. A dense knowledge the other party does not share one’s experience and there is no choice that seems liveable (hence the movie’s title). However, the film provides a few counterparts to Hester’s obsession; first by her mother-in-law who, while not a sympathetic character, cautions Hester that “a guarded enthusiasm” is a wiser choice than unrestrained passion. But my favorite moment in the film was towards the end, when Hester’s landlady Mrs. Elton speaks about the true nature of love.

The film closes on a vision of a blitz-ravaged portion of Hester’s flat’s neighborhood. The scene could be interpreted as sad, ominious, or devastating. I interpreted it as a bittersweet realization of possibility and renewal.

Audition(1999)

Of all the films reviewed here, this is the one I’d like least to discuss in any detail, because it is my belief the themes reveal themselves only gradually in what we originally might think is merely a horror film or twisted drama. So: go watch Audition, if you’re in the mood for a torture scene or two. I’ll wait.

Briefly, the plot: the film introduces us to widower Shigeharu Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi)). He is a fairly well-to-do man in a position of power at his job, and has a good relationship with his live-in teenage son. At his son’s urging, he entertains the idea of dating again. His friend Yasuhisa Yoshikawa, a film producer, talks Aoyama into devising a mock casting audition in which young women audition for the “part” of Aoyama’s new wife. Aoyama gets more excited about this process and quickly becomes fascinated with young Asami Yamazaki (Eihi Shiina). He takes her on a series of dates and continues to interview her, finding her more suitable for his purposes and quickly, despite red flags about her past, setting his sights on her.

But who is auditioning who? In final analysis, both Aoyama and Asami audition one another and both are convinced they’re getting something that they’re not. This film is probably experienced by some as a Fatal Attraction type of fable, but there is more to it than that. What is Aoyama really trying to hire, to obtain, to buy? Asami, as it turns out, is not who Aoyama wants to insist she is. Yet instead of the common trope of woman-as-(psychotic)-deceiver, the film demonstrates Asami has been telling Aoyama about her past; he has chosen not to see it, instead searching for the compliant, obedient, young, problem-free wife, an accessory for his bottomless vanity.

The film has a notorious reputation of being SO horrible and having SUCH an awful torture scene at the end; if you’ve seen the film you know the sequences I’m talking about. Many male film critics have called out this torture scene as being particularly barbaric or even making the film the worst horror they’ve seen. However, in comparison with the Saw Part 15 HOLY SHIT PEOPLE GET TORN APART IN EVEN MORE RIDICULOUS AND ELABORATE FASHION gore-porn saturating even our Cineplex mainstream market, the torture scene in Audition is very brief. Only a few shots show the subject being tortured; most show the perpetrator’s perspective of the torture. And notably, the torturer is female, the one being tortured is male.

And that, my friends, is why so many, especially men, are upset by the film. We want to believe Aoyama is “the good guy” – especially given the film opens on him as he is newly-widowed. But watch how he speaks about women with his friend, watch the degrading interview process, watch his memory of conversation with Asami versus what she was telling him. Aoyama is not the Good Guy, and his treatment of women and the role of wife is what really should be making us squeamish. Aoyama’s treatment of women and girls and Asami herself mirrors horrific experiences in Asami’s past. It is the reversal of the typically black-and-white concepts of “villian” and “victim”, the willingness to show complexity in these roles, and the very personal portrayal of both individuals, that makes some people uncomfortable.

At a horror level, the film delivered wonderful surprises that no amount of Hostel Caro-syrup and HUGE MUSIC SCORE can complete with. A body discovered: along with three extra fingers, an extra ear, and an extra tongue. The phone ringing, ringing, ringing – and then suddenly movement from a sack on the floor. Audition doesn’t overplay these creepy surprises but delivers them in a most satisfactory manner.

I welcome feedback; email me your responses if you’d like them published them here. kelly AT hogaboom DOT org.

putting children in their place

Unschooling Beach
Unschooling Beach
Unschooling Beach

My children Phoenix & Nels – having a typical “school day”

“I have used the words “home schooling” to describe the process by which children grow and learn in the world without going, or going very much, to schools, because those words are familiar and quickly understood. But in one very important sense they are misleading. What is most important and valuable about the home as a base for children’s growth in the world is not that it is a better school than the schools but that it isn’t a school at all. ” – John Holt, Teach Your Own

It’s that time of year again. At a meeting recently a few acquaintances of mine caught up and compared notes as to how much their schedule is uprooted when their children are out on summer vacation, and how the new school year restores order. I (innocently enough, I swear!) shared aloud, “Our lives don’t change that much, because our kids don’t go to school.”

Immediately: one of those awkward record-scratch-at-a-party moments. The atmosphere in the room abruptly shifted and the talk suddenly fell silent. Then one woman sternly corrected me, literally giving me side-eye as she admonished: “Your kids go to school. They just do school at home.” Everything in her demeanor and tone was one of chastisement, likely (I know today) originating from fear. Quick, immediately assure me of The Order of Things so we can go back to pleasantly talking again. Or something like that.

This would be kind of funny, except it happens to me almost without fail now that I no longer let people off the hook by offering them their own perceptions – that is, by using the word “homeschooling”. The cumulative effect of so many acquaintances and strangers repeatedly correcting me about our family life is surreal. That is, people are more or less constantly telling me we’re living our lives in a way we are decidedly not.

When we first removed our children from forced institutionalism, I was nervous – as anyone might be – about departing from the mainstream. Like most parents and guardians, I wanted to do the right thing for our family. I personally had been a “success” in public school and then at a state university – yet now in untrodden ground I allowed others to put me in the extraordinary position of homeschool apologetics (a position I am underqualified for). And for a number of years when casual conversation brought up home education, or unschooling, or life learning, I thought the adults we were talking to had honest and founded doubts about how children learn. That is, I thought these adults’ objections, questions, assumptions, biases, and cynical commentary stemmed from their honest desire that children be given the best educational opportunity possible (“The Conversation That Never Happens”Life Learning Magazine July/August 2010).

However as years have passed and I’ve had hundreds of these conversations, I have come to a much more unsettling conclusion. Simply put, many adults believe with every fiber of their being that children belong in school. Full stop. Whether school is that great a place or not is not really the main issue on the table. Most adults simply don’t have better ideas for kids. It’s not that they don’t care. It’s that they’re overwhelmed. It is precisely because it is so daunting to face our responsibilities of caring for vulnerable citizens – draining emotionally, mentally, and physically – that many adults don’t want the job (be it children, older, frail or sick people, or anyone marginalized or oppressed). When it comes to the child class, we find comfort in our cultural arrangement that children are second-class citizens for us to herd like cattle (although few grownups will want to own up to this bleak strategy in such a direct manner). If you threaten the correctness of this arrangement – by say, merely living as a radical unschooler and not closeting – many people become quite upset. True story.

If they’re honest with themselves, many adults simply equate compulsory schooling as a type of cultural hazing, a necessary evil, and in a weird way justified simply because it exists. School isn’t too great, or sensible, or effective – and every one I’ve met can elucidate on long lists of the ways they personally found it dissatisfying – but it’s just How Things Are. They had to go through it, so today’s kids should too. As an operating strategy, many adults don’t want children to have much better than what they themselves had (but again, good luck getting a grownup to admit this!).

This makes it sound like I think these people, or even most people, are terrible. I used to think that, kinda, but I was incorrect. I now believe these people are merely frightened and overwhelmed. I used to be one of those people, so I can relate.

Most adults believe we should do the best by children that we can reasonable manage. However this desire – be it altruism, spiritual principles, or evolutionary strategy – has been consumed to skeletal remains by a lifetime of cultural indoctrination and in many cases, deep-seated shame and resentment. Rare indeed is the adult who, upon listening to our family’s experiences (or those of other life learners) and after observing our children – thriving, vibrant human beings who regularly get praised and commented upon regarding their maturity, intelligence, and inner strength – suddenly says, “Well then kids don’t need to go to school at all!” It happens now and then, and at that point our conversation immediately gets about four thousand times more interesting than, “But what about math?” – or, when speaking to my children – “How old are you?” and “What grade are you in?” (and those latter questions reflect the typical patter of grownups who actually think kids are worth talking to – many don’t!)

I wish these conversations, the ones where we imagine better opportunities for children, happened more often.

But instead, I am met with the same objections day after day, and the days pile into years, until now there is a general sameness to people’s objections and self-labeled “skepticism” (read: cynicism – also, some commentary at “Unschooling for Haters […]”). As this adult begins to tell me why we can’t let kids A, B, or C because X, Y, or Z would surely result, they are on a predictable quest within their own deep country – that of their ingrained social conditioning and heretofore unexamined biases. While they voice aloud their predictions on how unschooling won’t or can’t work, their mind simultaneously closes to what is before their very eyes: a family with many years’ experience unschooling, two children who’ve not been forced into institutionalism – and who can speak up for themselves – and our collective experience knowing many, many other unschoolers.

It’s been pointed out to me that in moving from childhood to adulthood we experience one of the only, if not the only, instances where we are nearly guaranteed to move from a position of oppression to a position of privilege. The truth of this is worth contemplating. Unless we are very careful and very wise and very dedicated, we reify what was so heavily imposed on our own little bodies and our own terrific minds. A sobering thought: I can tell you I have worked very hard over the past decade to actively strip adultist framings from my consciousness. And yet to this day if I’m feeling cranky I will command my child(ren) in a completely terse tone, expecting in some part of me their obedience, apparently believing in these moments that such demands are my right and responsibility. (Tangentially, my children know they can say, “No” without reprisal – most children cannot.)

If I have worked harder on this UNlearning, harder than anything else in my life, and yet the irresistible oppressive reflex still remains indelible within – where does that leave your average adult who has examined the implications of childhood oppression only a little – or not at all?

“We who believe that children want to learn about the world, are good at it, and can be trusted to do it with very little adult coercion or interference, are probably no more than one percent of the population, if that. And we are not likely to become the majority in my lifetime. This doesn’t trouble me much anymore, as long as this minority keeps on growing. My work is to help it grow. ” – John Holt, ibid

I have to leave behind my sorrow that so many cannot, or will not see things for how they are, built upon pessimism and fear; let alone try the work of living a different way. It’s not so much hard work as it requires, like all honest effort, a continued return to the work. Faithfully. Daily. Each day I return to my desire to do no harm. I return to my practice of allowing my fears to inform me instead of driving me recklessly. I return to knowing I have a responsibility to help my children – not an edict to [try to] control them. Days of that effort accumulate; over time I have a body of work and a new way of living. It’s not magic – but then, having a few years under my belt – it kind of feels like it is.

I see today that from the moment my children were born I was not willing to subject them to what I was subjected to. Out of that willingness grew action, and out of that action grew not only love and stewardship as I’d not experienced as a child, but another gift: forgiveness for those who raised me in the ways they did. I am truly grateful for the practice, as it keeps me from despairing when our deep commitment to humane family life is often labeled “fringe”, radical, and strange.

unschooling for Haters, especially my favorite kind of Hater, the “skeptic”

Wynoochie River With Friends

a typical day for my kids

Hi. I’m a radical unschooler named Kelly! Listen, I feel ambivalent about labels. On one hand they are helpful for the human mind to process; on the other, the human mind invariably dredges up bias and preconceptions the minute it can label a thing. That’s just how it is. As an experienced unschooler, I thought I’d flesh out many of my encounters with those who hear the term “unschooling” for the first, second, or third time, and the biases so many continue to hold on to.

If you stop reading in a few seconds there is one takeaway I’d like to leave with you: the term “unschooling” means different things to different people. If nothing else, if you go about your day remembering that whenever you hear that word, it could mean something different than what you’ve previously perceived, EXCELLENT. My job is halfway decently done.

I’m actually not going to write tons on what unschooling and autodidactic learning looks like in our family. I write a bit about how our lives play out here and on my personal blog. I’m happy to answer any specific queries you have. You can reach me best by email at kelly AT hogaboom DOT org.

I hope what you read here is helpful.

Unschooling For Haters, Especially My Favorite Kind of Hater, the “Skeptic”

or, how my family life is not all about YOU, but thanks for playing

I resent your choice of words. I’m not a Hater, but I am a skeptic. My cousin unschools and her kids are noisy/dirty/can’t read etc.

On balance, skepticism never helped me much. It didn’t make me smarter, kinder, nor gave me a roadmap to life. A lot of time my skepticism was actually just a barrier I put up because other people’s lives, ideas, strategies, or existence frightened me deep down in the pit of my gut (for me that wall-building action is part of… being a Hater). I understand it’s human to be frightened of the unknown but any strategy – including one of perception and thought – that I develop out of that place is usually a poor one.

Anyway I’m sorry but I think unschooling is irresponsible/neglectful/elitist/etc.

I think contempt prior to investigation is irresponsible. I think you should come to my house and hang out with my kids – or give them a call or email and talk to them directly – before you decide I’m neglecting them. As for elitist, this might make more sense if I didn’t passionately and consistently work with, and know of many other unschoolers who work with, many schooled children, and if we weren’t learning in a much deeper way how to participate in public life, rather than being daily confined to age-segregated institutional procedures. In short, any of these charges might make any kind of sense if unschooling didn’t, you know, work so well at increasing our sense of humanity and our experience of community.

(Oh, and I know you’re not really “sorry”. But, that’s cool.)

Well that’s just my opinion and it’s a free country.

I have a little experiment. Let me ask: is your opinion defensible enough you’d warrant it’s worth five dollars? I mean after all, your opinion influences the choices and realities of so many, and you’re deciding what’s best for like, tens of millions of children (in the US alone). So, are you willing to back up your opinion? Listen to Jeff Sabo’s talk addressing the hundred varieties of “it’s just my opinion and I have a right to have it” conversations he’s had. It will be money well spent. Promise.

I went to school and I turned out fine.

Really? Are you “fine”? I went to school too. I’m “fine”. I smoked for 17 years and I’m “fine”. Is “fine” what you want for your children? And mine? Do you begrudge the parents and carers who might want to explore beyond “fine”?

I went to school and I turned out fine. Kids need discipline.

If you can look deep, deep, deep inside your guts, inside your Knowing Place, and tell me you have absolutely no bitterness at the thought of today’s children having a better life and more freedom, autonomy, and opportunity than you had as a child, I mean if you can really dig in there and tell me that’s not even a tiny part of why you want to force kids into school, then I am willing to entertain that line of thought.

If you know that’s not a part of how you feel, please do read some of Idzie’s blog. She has a great resource, interviews with many grown unschoolers.

On the subject of compulsory schooling being requisite for character development; my unschooled children age eight and ten demonstrate more discipline, sense of self-worth, self-control, kindness, openness, interest, critical thinking skills, and social abilities than most grownups I meet. Full stop.

And briefly: discipline is an inside job. You cannot inoculate a child with discipline no matter how much you coerce, praise, blame, hit, scream at. You do, however, run the risk of creating a praise-dependent, risk-averse, and fearful person.

I’m glad I went to school. I learned blah blah blah

I’m glad I went to school too. I learned wonderful things there, including the experience of forced institutionalism for young minds and bodies. If things had gone differently, I’d probably tell you I was glad to have been unschooled; but we’ll never know, as I wasn’t given the choice to NOT attend school. I think it’s pretty cool my kids get to choose. I won’t be haunted I didn’t let them. My grandkids, should I be so fortunate to have any, will probably get more choices and more nurture still.

Addendum: I used to be someone who took a great deal of pride in my degree, my education, and my soi disant expertise. You know, having those letters before or after your name, having an office with a big important desk and stuff. When I had children I fully planned on raising them academically-achieving, clean and well-mannered, etc. Problem is, when you decide for another human being how they should spend every minute, and how they should act/look/behave (even if you don’t admit to yourself you’re doing this), there will be intensely unpleasant fallout. For everyone. I’m grateful I started to perceive this early on in parenting.

No one stripped my degree from me and no one can take away my accomplishments (real or imagined). Today I willingly relinquish the illusion my education, my position in society, and my privilege make me a better or more deserving person.

If I didn’t make my kid/forbid my kid to X, Y, or Z he would A, B, C (eg. watch TV all day, never bathe, ONLY eat cookies, et cetera).

Yeah. As an unschooler, I hear that stuff a lot. Often from people who don’t ask us if our children watch telly all day, or eat only marshmallows and white rice (they don’t, to either). Most fear-disguised-as-anger, handwringing, and pearl-clutching about unschooling or non-coercive/non-punitive parenting comes down to just a few issues. Screen time (computers and television), bedtime (on the adults’ schedule of course especially since a school schedule is required), hygiene, math worksheets, and food. I can tell you I’m grateful to have left behind mainstream schema on all of that business. My kids’ hygiene is fine, they are active, they eat all kinds of food, they get enough sleep, they have mad life SKILLZ, et cetera.

You’re saying I’m a bad parent.

I haven’t met a “bad parent”. I’ve met sick parents, parents who were lost and overwhelmed. I’ve met parents who’d entirely abdicated their responsibilities. I’ve met parents who chose their addiction over their children (usually not even knowing they were doing so). I’ve met parents who parented with strategies different than mine. I’ve met many, many parents. I’ve never met a “bad parent”.

You’re saying I’m a bad parent.

No, I’m not. Do you think you’re a bad parent? What, specifically, do you have doubts about? Are you seeking help for those or are you surrounding yourself with strategies of Ego-preservation? Why do you care what I think? Your opinion matters more than mine; if not, it should.

You’re making me feel bad.

That is not my intent. This is not all about you. If you can put aside this experience of persecution for a moment, understand this: if others hadn’t written boldly about this non-mainstream way of parenting and living family life, I would have never had a choice of my own to parent a way that has yielded tremendous dividends. I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to those people, and I’d like to pay forward to other parents and children. I’m sure you can understand.

Well this is all fine for YOU but I’m not ______ enough to homeschool (rich, brave, smart, educated, patient, etc).

I’ve met parents with disabilities, mental and emotional health issues, single parents, poor parents, impatient parents, chronically-ill parents, who homeschooled and/or unschooled. I myself used to think I could never hang out with my kids all day, good Lord I needed a break! I’m so glad I faced my fears; I had everything to gain.

I don’t have to defend myself to you or anyone else. 

Nope. You don’t. And you also have the option not to take the piss re: other people’s lives. If you were really relatively serene about your own parenting style, why would you need to pick on others’?

Listen. I’m not the unschool police. I don’t have the right nor responsibility to come to your house and see what you’re doing and hit you with a cat-o-nine tails. No one does. You might be beating yourself up a little but I can assure you I’m not beating you up. There’s nothing I can do about your skepticism and/or rudeness and/or ignorance and/or self-doubt, although sometimes I wish I could. Your judgment and your fears are affecting others’ realities.

Good luck!

 

the personal: how the fuck did i ever survive being a new mama?

This post is dedicated to my friend Kiara, a kick-ass mother.

Please No Thank You

A few years ago my mother announced she had a complaint. When she came over to pick my two kids up for the odd playdate (a less-than-once-weekly occurrence), they weren’t always fully dressed. “Can you make sure to have them in coats and boots in case I want to take them somewhere? It was terrible today as I wanted to take them on a walk and we couldn’t.” She was actually mildly pissed.

The blood rose in my cheeks as I experienced, lightning-fast, a series of emotions. Shame, because I failed as a mother, of course, by not having My Shit Together 100% Of The Time (and also, my small children’s Shit Together, that too is requisite), then a mixed-up flaring of resentment, impotent rage, and despair. The same old despair I’ve felt in every restaurant when my two year old’s happy laughter received glares, in every mom’s playdate group when women would talk about their duty to do all the nighttime parenting because, of course, their husbands did “real work” during the day and shouldn’t have to care for their own children at night, the same despair I’d hear when people sneeringly spoke of “soccer moms” and “housewives” and their opting-out and how it destroyed Feminism plus America, et cetera. I could go on.

The despair was so familiar it just made me tired. Here I was, 24/7 with two small children, working my ass off around the clock, around the clock, to feed and clothe them, often without being able to eat or take a crap by myself – let alone have quality private time to reflect and pursue my art and craft, or to read, or to watch some trashy television uninterrupted – and yet someone who comes over every two weeks to take my kids for an hour or two can’t be bothered to spend five minutes finding jackets and boots? What the fuck, mom? Don’t you remember having kids and having to do everything, all the time?

It gets better, because before I could say anything at all my husband assily weighed in. “Yeah, I notice sometimes when I get home from work the kids aren’t fully dressed.”

FUUUUCKK YOOOOUUU. Just: Fuck You.

That’s what I thought, anyway. What I said, I can’t remember. I think it was something like: if you want to go on walks with your grandkids, keep spare coats at your place. Husband, do you not remember your one year at home and how much work it was to care for small children, P.S. you only had ONE to care for at the time and you only did it for ONE year. I don’t remember what I said; I only knew I had the presence of mind to stick up for myself relatively politely. Because: yeah, it would be nice if the kids were fully dressed whenever was convenient for, you know, other adults, and if I was on that 100%. But it would be even better if other grownups understood that caring for babies and small children is demanding on every plane – spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical – and the primary carer needs as much help as he or she can get. Have a little grace, people.

You know, 99% of the help I received as a new mother- and I am not exaggerating here – was from other new mothers (and occasionally, some veteran moms). Full stop. Looking back on this I feel despair for how undersupported we were – and many of these women were middle-class and college-educated, with a variety of privileges, et cetera – and how this culture of “moms can do everything [& therefore they better damn will]!” stunts the humanity of so many who haven’t had the opportunity nor responsibility of 24/7 care of a dependent. Shit, during infancy and toddlerhood I can count on one hand the times a friend without children watched my kids for more than five minutes. And a father, without his wife or female partner helping – including my OWN father? ZERO. Motherfucking zero! My own brother and sister have never watched my kids nor hosted them for a playdate or sleepover, with one exception a few years ago when my daughter hung at my brother’s house for a couple hours while I caught up at a bar with a friend about to get married.

I know what you’re thinking. Well, those of you readers who are jerks, anyway. The world doesn’t owe me anything because I hatched a few kids. You’re right. The world owes me and my children nothing, I suppose. But then, the world didn’t owe you anything, either, when you were a baby and infant. Right? Good thing someone gave and gave and gave and gave, no matter how half-assed or whatever! Looking ahead, presumably the world won’t owe you anything should you live a long life and see your body fail with age, or should you become disabled or dependent in any way. Yup. Nobody owes anyone nothing, right?  What a lovely little world that is you’ve dreamed up.

What some of you other readers are thinking, is: new moms are goddamned heroes. And  they are! The women who helped me when I needed help, are the absolute keystones in my faith in humanity. The only regret I have – the only one! – is I didn’t ask for more help when I needed it. See, I was operating on that whole Self-Sufficient, Perfect Mom thing. It is an absolutely debilitating meme to live by, and the children involved suffer more than anyone else.

Now, I’m aware my experience isn’t universal (it is, however, visceral, as you can probably tell by my writing style here). I’ve had things easier, & harder, than others.

In some ways I’ve been rather privileged. I’ve always had enough to eat and always had a home. I was raised by a family that, while definitely idiosyncratic, demonstrated a lot of love for one another (and yeah, just so you know… I’m a lot easier on my mom and my husband, today, now that I respect my own needs more). I’m a white working class woman, married to a white man, the father of my children. I’m cis-gender and occasionally have passing privilege as middle class. I’m not physically disabled and I’ve had an actively invested partner, however brilliant or poor his strategies as a father have been.

But on the flip side, I know there are many new mothers out there who receive or received support from not only their partner but many people in the community – not just other new moms. I think this is far more rare than it should be, but I know that this is some women’s experience. And for several of the years I was parenting I also was battling the disease of active alcoholism – a subject for another writing some day – and the resultant and root mental and emotional health issues, which I will briefly say kept me in the veil of Self-Sufficent, suffering mama. In other words, I didn’t ask for nor accept help as much as would have benefitted me. I would have told you I was supported just fine. I would have told you I had it covered. I was determined to be a Good Parent and raise Good Kids.

My kids are ten and eight today and not a day goes by people don’t try to place their every behavior – and their education, and their clothing, and their social niceties or lack thereof – as an issue that should be addressed directly to me, their mother, because you know it’s All My Business to control, basically. And I say, No. I can’t live that way any more.

It is an act of radical feminism that I no longer allow people to push me around on this noise; that if someone has a complaint regarding my child’s behavior (which is rare), whenever possible, I arrange for them to discuss it with the child. It is an act of radical feminism that I “let” my kids go begging at my mother’s for food – which they do on occasion – because, if she doesn’t want to feed them, she has the right and responsibility to say “No” just as I have and exercise a similar right and responsibility regarding the other children in my neighborhood, when I don’t have the groceries or time to spare. It is an act of radical feminism I “let” my kids dress as they see fit, I “let” them cuss, and I “let” my kids have their own life, so I can watch it unfold and, when it seems needed or warranted, I step in to help them.

Because as their mother I am their nurturer, advocate, and Helper. I am not their Warden nor their Jiminy Cricket; they need their own conscience, their own spirituality. It is an act of radical feminism I no longer apologize for my children or for bringing them on this planet; it is a sheer act of Will that I don’t operate from this place. You think mothers aren’t indoctrinated with this? You’d be wrong.

I still don’t have the ovaries to send my kids on the Amtrak down to their uncle’s place in Portland and say, “Hang out with them for a few days, your future family life could benefit.” I still feel that sting of Obligation when I see the kids’ socks are worn-through because their father doesn’t track that stuff (because he knows I will). I’m not perfect as a mother, nor as a feminist.

I don’t resent the help I didn’t get – anymore. Honestly, I don’t. I just feel sad about it. Sad my family and friends – and larger culture! – couldn’t do better, because they were scared and self-protective and selfish. Sad about my inability to ask for help, because I was full of pride and fear. I’m sad about my history, but no longer ashamed or angry. Today one thing I can do about my past – hustling my ass to be the Perfect Mother and never letting my kids make mistakes, nor allowing myself this courtesy – is help other children and carers, especially mothers. I can open doors and smile at them and show compassion when their child is melting down in the grocery store. I can tell them, You Aren’t Imagining It when they tell me they feel unsettled, overworked, and under-appreciated. I can tell them, obliquely or directly – you don’t have to apologize for being a child, or a mother who cares for a child.

Not on my account, anyway.

Creepitude!

My mom “nurses” a creepy alien baby at the Art Festival.

"Do Your Job"

My son & I.

quick hit: an open letter to victim-blamers

Victim Blaming

(one of many responses to today’s news of a mass killing in an Aurora, CO movie theater)

Victim blaming. Anytime anything terrible happens these kinds of attitudes emerge in social media, the mainstream media, and conversations with family and friends. Depending on our personal circumstances we experience this insensitive, ignorant, and ultimately fear-based commentary in a variety of ways. Sometimes we agree and parrot this kind of ish. Sometimes we wave off the absurdity.  Sometimes we are personally stung and feel ill-at-ease, without being able to put our finger on Why. Sometimes we are absolutely devastated, re-injured after what was already painful news (or, if it happened to us, perhaps the most terrifying or hurtful experience of our lives). We turn off our computer and our emotions overwhelm us – and for a time, we can’t cope, can’t make sense of the world.

Victim blaming. Perhaps we experience these types of statements as grandiose and absurd – for instance, when a zealot cites a frightening natural disaster as just deserts for a partial history of an entire people, or when a cultural mythos diagnoses AIDS as a “gay disease” meant to smite sodomites. Sometimes these attitudes are deeply painful and endemic, reminding us of a larger culture that oppresses and wounds in the most personal of ways. Sometimes these attitudes emerge in the most highly-charged social and political atmosphere while concerning a profoundly grieving family; we remember Geraldo Rivera’s “hoodie” comments after Trayvon Martin’s violent death. Maybe most painful, but at least a bit easier to personally respond to, for me: sometimes we see these attitudes in the actual people living in our community. Case in point – in my county three years ago a young girl was abducted, and is still missing today – and I have personally, I’m sad to say, heard people in my community placing this young woman’s mother as at-fault for such a horrible, devastating ordeal (demonstrating the same insensitivity and ignorance as the abovementioned Aurora, CO tweet and others like it).

I am not going to write an angry screed in response to victim blaming statements and ideologies, no matter how horrific they may be; all of these examples, by the way, are off the top of my head this morning, as I sip coffee and await my children’s wake-up.

I’m going to write to those who say or think these kind of things, and tell you there’s hope to rehabilitate your mind. Because I believe people victim-blame for a number of reasons, and I relate to all of them, even if I no longer condone these strategies nor perpetrate this mindset.

So here goes.

I don’t know you personally, but I have some guesses at why you say things like this, because I’ve been there. Maybe you can’t grasp the nature of horrible things that happen. Perhaps you are angry at God when terrible things happen, and so you need a story. Maybe you love God, and need a story. Perhaps you don’t believe in a God and you’ve put your security in principalities – you want to believe the world of Man can through laws, public shaming, and rage-fueled invective, somehow make people behave and put down the guns, or stop eating so much junk food, or stop using drugs and doing inhumane things while on drugs. Maybe you want to believe certain preventative measures will ensure nothing bad happens to people who are smart enough, or not overwhelmed, or not sick, or not poor, or not socially-marginalized, or whatever (and that “someone” will be – you! Lucky!). Perhaps you believe if you just don’t make certain kinds of mistakes – like say, enjoying a movie with your family – nothing horrific will happen to you.

Perhaps it is more insidious, whether you are faith-based or no. Perhaps you are simply frightened for your own skin. Not only do you not want to be raped, or shot, or terrorized, or get a disease – you actually don’t want to deal with learning how to support or even comprehend someone who’s going through something you haven’t gone through. Concomitant: perhaps you are sometimes responding to something you DID go through, or think you did, and thus believe you can diagnose other peoples’ thoughts, feelings, and responsibilities in said scenario. If so, congratulations (she said, dubiously). Your life experiences have transformed you and not in a good way, ultimately eroding the empathy naturally granted your average three year old.

Here are a few problems with victim blaming. Besides the gross insensitivity and ignorance that attitudes like these demonstrate, they also perpetrate them in the most egregious fashion, creating an atmosphere where fewer people are safe – not more – and fewer people are empowered to trust themselves. Victim-blaming does not result in an environment of perfect vigilance that somehow keeps bad things from happening to guarded people (as if!). For example, and in brief: how many young women grow up believing if they act, dress, or behave a certain way, they essentially invite and deserve sexual assault? (raises hand). With this kind of pervasive social, cultural, and often familial indoctrination, what are the chances these young women will be imbued with any sense of personal worth and personal boundaries – qualities essential to grooming the very intuition that will help them navigate a dangerous world? And with such cultural lore, what are we doing for perpetrators or potential perpetrators? Where does that leave the issue of sexual assault? Culturally-sanctioned and enforced, mythologized, and poorly socially-managed. (I know a lot of people don’t “get” this about sexual assault. Go ahead and read like, hundreds of excellent web resources and books. You’ll get there eventually.)

Here’s another problem with victim blaming; it promotes a false sense of security. Let’s take another common example. You may think if you were a parent you wouldn’t let your kid do X, Y, or Z, or participate in A, B, or C (or: exist in a movie theater). And before you actually become a parent, such a simplified and narrowminded perspective can feel very safe (superficially); I can at least tell you it is rather typical. Problem is, these untested incipient strategies deaden you to compassion and mute your intelligence, so you won’t learn much before you have kids (if you do). And when you become a parent – if you do – such judgments will terrorize you, haunt you, nip at your heels, and maybe even keep you up at night. Worse still, if you don’t grow a bit more compassion and intelligence you risk passing such attitudes on to your kids in the most entrenched and spiritually-damaging ways; you will forbid your children a thousand freedoms and teach them they cannot trust themselves, leaving them an incredibly fearful adult underqualified to manage their life’s challenges. All in the name of false security; your fragile belief you can somehow manage things so bad stuff doesn’t happen to you, or those you love.

Victim blaming automatically turns off our ears, our minds, and our hearts to those who suffer. It automatically keeps us from growing. Smugly (which is to say, fearfully) looking at the man suffering health problems at the clinic, assigning blame and making diagnoses you’re underqualified for (He smokes and he’s fat! He “deserves” his problems, of which you’ve guessed at just by looking!), is not only profoundly ignorant but represents the lowest denominator of human strategy.

Victim blaming wrongs those who’ve been hurt, or sick, or assaulted, or devastated. It is the single most insulting thing we can do, barring perpetrating the original act (which we, in effect, are ensuring for future sufferers). Victim blaming says: “Your suffering is inconvenient to me, please go away.”

Because, ultimately, victim blaming keeps us self-obsessed and self-absorbed. It feels safe, but it’s deep-down a terrifying place to be. When I victim-blame, I keep myself preoccupied by making little checklists and pretending they will protect me, or my kids, or whomever. Well I would never let myself A, B, or C – so that means I’ll never have to deal with X, Y, or Z.  I’ll eat all organic vegan food so I’ll never get cancer. People that get cancer deserve it and I don’t and I won’t. I’d never marry a man who ended up unfaithful. I’ll never struggle with mental illness nor am I required to learn more about it, because it scares me.

The list goes on and on.

I know – from experience! – that such strategies of false security do not work. In my case, they kept me less humane, less perceptive, less compassionate, and less supportive for those who suffer – including myself. They kept me petrified from speaking out with tact, directness, and intelligence when a wrong was being committed. They kept me saying horribly insensitive things, and hurting God-knows how many people. They kept me in my own head and unable to be present, unable to deeply listen to someone who suffers – I was partially occupied in being glad it wasn’t ME and having a TOTAL PLAN how it would NEVER be me.

And then when it happened to me? It hurt worse than you can imagine.

***

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rogers

And you know what is beautiful? You can be a helper. But being a victim-blamer significantly erodes this ability. You get to choose. Good luck!

quick hit: this is why i can’t have nice noir

Drive (2011). Spoilers.

Thinking about picking up a case of Armor-All

Yeah real quick? So I just watched the 2011 action crime thriller Drive. If you have any pop culture sensibility you probably know this is a recent-to-Netflix offering about a stunt driver who falls in love with a Good Girl and, oh-so-reluctantly-yet-heroically, gets tangled up in scary criminal activity because the Good Girl is all haplessly involved with Bad People. (I was gonna image-link to the phrase “damsel in distress” but there was far too much sexually-violent content associated with that phrase. Boo.) Things abruptly go from sweet and ethereal to really grisly and revenge-y. Think Man on Wire or The Professional, except we’ve replaced a sexualized little girl with a sanctified and sweet single mom.

Here’s what I liked about Drive. A lot, really. It was stylish, artsy-fartsy in a distinctly Michael Mann way, boasting a perfect New Wave-y score and a tasteful blend of millennial and eighties production design (although the title character’s muscle car is a seventies model). It showcased sexy cars and sexy driving and sexy cinematography and a sexy locale. We had the obligatory beautiful people. Ryan Gosling wore a cute jacket and a cute little t-shirt and was pretty cute, when he wasn’t stomping someone’s head in (I’ll get to that in a minute). The film took its time to develop a real romantic flair, if the romance itself was rather regressive. And the most fun for me, many of the actors looked like they had a good time making it. Maybe I’m just thinking Gosling and Albert Brooks. They looked like they were enjoying themselves. The latter was pretty good at being a sonofabitch. Last time I watched him I think he was Nemo’s dad.

Here’s what I didn’t like about Drive. By way of illustration: a couple photos of the two ladies in the film. That’s right, there were two. Just two. Who’s surprised? Not me.

First:

Carey Mulligan in Drive

And then.

We can probably guess a lot about who was who, and what happened to whom. Femme Fatale there (as played by Christina Hendricks) is only in the film a couple minutes. But she meets her boilerplate grisly noir demise, expect this is neo-noir so it’s really graphic. However, in traditional-noir fashion, the good guy gets to slap her around first. Yay! And let’s see, before that… yeah, she struts around being very sexilicious and pouty, and then she does a bit of hysterical screaming and crying. Before getting beaten then dispatched. As per her ilk, countless Treacherous Slut tropes who preceded her.

The Angel-Single-Mom (Carey Mulligan) is also great. If by “great” you mean, EXACTLY WHAT WE’VE COME TO EXPECT in this sort of thing. She’s perfect. Virginal, beautiful, childlike. White and blonde of course. A lot of honor and all that. We see her pluckily slap someone for offending her. She’s a nice mom. I assume. We don’t really see her “momming” so much, because her kid is kind of like a cute accessory and less like a child. When the Driver first meets her she’s somehow supporting herself and her son with no muss and no fuss, Strawberry-Shortcake-adorable in a waitressing outfit which inexplicably affords her a cute, spacious, shabby-chic apartment that’s never messy. Her kid is perfectly behaved and mostly exists to be quiet or sleeping or both. You know, like kids in film. Alternatively convenient versus being pawns in peril.

Virgin Mom-Supermodel is also subtly or not-so-subtly at the root of our eponymous Driver’s problems. She’s the Eve, introducing the snake into the heretofore undisturbed Driver’s existence. Nothing new there, either.

Still, when it got down to the thuggery I was a little surprised at the gore and coldblooded killing carried out by our hero. But then, as in so many other films, this is all done in the name of the Great White Male’s Justified Reproductive Rage. How many times at the supermarket have I glanced up and seen another DVD sleeve, showcasing a hulking star in the foreground (Costner or Neeson or Gibson or some such) gripping a shotgun as he protects a blonde white woman and a couple frightened little kids huddling against the doorway. The film’s tagline demands of us, “How Far Will A Man Go To Protect The Ones He Loves?”

You know what? I already know. Pretty far. Like by the end of the film I’m going to see some people getting stabbed in the neck, heads getting twisted off and all that.

So we get an eyeful of that stuff, and you know how that all goes too.

Drive was fun, but I really like noir despite its historical trappings that exclude my ladyness from being the Action, as opposed to the Object. I wish they could change the formula a teensy bit besides just upping the exploitation from the old days, you know showing actual bare breasts and then heads juicily exploding. Heck, maybe even some noir where, in the words of Danny Trejo’s bartender in Anchorman, “Lady’s can do stuff now!”

One can always hope.

posted without comment, re: Salon. OK. Maybe a TINY bit of comment.

2 Chocolate Milks

Chocolate Milk!

I was cited in an article on Salon today discussing home education (“Home-schooled and illiterate” by Kristin Rawls, Salon.com March 15, 2012). In the interests of informing any advocates or interested parties regarding unschooling, homeschooling, alternative education, parenting, etc. – as well as friends and readers – here is the entireity of the exchange between myself and the author.
 
I received this email on March 2nd 2012, which was I believe mostly copied and pasted:
 
So, thanks for agreeing to talk to me.  I only know fundamentalists who homeschool, and I’m willing to admit that, for that reason, I’m a bit biased against it. I would do it myself in certain cases if I had children, but I’m skeptical of homeschooling or unschooling as a “movement.” I’ve only spoken with Christian fundamentalist or former fundamentalists who were homeschooled in Quiverfull families. They tell me that their parents had an extreme fear of any government oversight whatsoever, and now think their parents’ fears were overblown and gave them a warped view of the world outside their small communities. This article is about what kinds of regulation homeschoolers actually have to deal with, notwithstanding the paranoia about it on the Christian Right.
 
1. Could you tell me a bit about the type of state oversight that you have experienced as an unschooling parent? What were the requirements? Did you have to do portfolios or list a curriculum? What about standardized tests?
 
2. Do you feel that the oversight was overly intrusive in any way? If so, how? Was it merely annoying bureaucracy? Or did you experience it as more ominous than that?
 
3. In brief, why did you decide to homeschool?
 
4. In hindsight, what do you view as some of your successes and/or mistakes as a homeschooling/unschooling parent? And what kind of impact did these have on your kids’ education?
 
5. Some homeschooling parents neglect their kids’ education. I’ve heard horror stories from the Christian homeschooling movement over the past few days. One girl was functionally illiterate when she entered the public school system at 16, and there were no disabilities that made learning difficult for her. She was just fine once she got into a rigorous educational program and caught up. One woman tells me that there was very little emphasis on education at all since homemaking skills were viewed as the most important education for girls. She never got past pre-algebra, which I remember doing in the sixth grade. So I’m very curious – have you seen any of this kind of neglect happen in the secular homeschooling world? If not, do you think it could happen in the wake of new stressors (moving around, illness in the family, etc.)? How do you guard against getting overwhelmed by life and letting education go?

 
6. Given the kind of neglect that many in the Christian homeschooling world experience, what kinds of regulations do you think should to be in place? Should a home educator have a college degree? A teaching degree? What kind of education or training is needed? Should curriculum be more strictly regulated so that, for example, young earth creationism doesn’t replace science? And that Bible-reading and home economics don’t take the place of academics?
 
7. Have you ever been investigated by the legal system for truancy? I’ve heard of a few cases of this involving Christian homeschoolers, but I wonder if it happens to other homeschoolers as well? Have you ever known anyone who was arrested or jailed for neglect involving homeschooling? Christian/secular? How do you feel about the current state laws in place to investigate neglect? And do you think conservative Christians’ fears of investigation are valid or not?
 
8. Have you ever had anything to do with the Homeschool Legal Defense Association? Does this organization serve non-Christian homeschoolers in any capacity?
 
9. LOGISTICS: What state(s) have you lived in while homeschooling? How many years did you homeschool, and through what grades? I assume it’s okay to quote you by name since you write under your real name?

Here’s my response:
 
Hi Kristin,
 
Wow, what a complex and multifaceted topic! This would be best discussed in person over coffee. But, you know, you’re in NC and I’m in rainy PNw, so there’s that!
 
I’m going to decline participation in the questionnaire, but thank you for emailing me. I do have a few things to add which you may or may not find useful.
 
First, homeschooling and unschooling mean vastly different things to different families who self-identify as such. Those of us in the so-called alternative education world are used to being treated with a broad-brush, unfortunately. It’s always my hope a more nuanced piece might emerge in the MSM, but so far that’s been rare.
 
Like yourself, I too had not only anti-homeschooling bias but a deep fear of religious fundamentalism and an erroneous belief state institutions could and should stamp it out. And, ha, I also remember the revulsion I first felt when I read the term “unschooling” (as in, I remember the room I was in and everything – years and years ago!). Myself, college-educated (chemical engineering) and a straight-A student who would’ve said I enjoyed school had you asked, “unschooling” sounded like dirty hippie neglect (I’m not trying to be offensive… I had an unkind mind at the time. Also, I was raised by hippies. In a bus with planets painted on the side, and everything.). Hee. I was also under the erroneous impression that unschooling (or life learning, or autodidacticism, or whatever label is most fun to use) was a “movement” or a new trend; it’s not.
 
So I can relate to a lot of where many people come from, when they write me.
 
Secondly, the 2010 Swidler article I referenced in my article (“a blueprint for courage”, which you seem to have read at least parts of) – http://www.naturallifemagazine.com/1002/unschoolers_re-imagine_schools.htm – addresses some of the concerns you sent my way via Twitter, and also fields typical objections self-labeled progressives/liberals have to home education. Swidler’s article also cites some of the culturally-popular myths in the US – specifically that alternatives to compulsory schooling are primarily religious families (and religious home ed families are, of course, the Boogeyman), and that those who do not send their own children to institutions have therefore turned their back on schooled children and schooling families. Like I said, the topic is complex, and Swidler’s is one piece that’s kind of a go-to seminal piece for those new to secular/progressive home ed.
 
Additionally, I found a few authors tremendously helpful in overcoming my own anti-homeschooling/anti-unschooling bias. Idzie Desmarais’ blog, http://yes-i-can-write.blogspot.com/, and Wendy Priesnitz’ work (easily available online) are two of my favorites; today I have the privilege of working with these women. I’ve written for their publications as well as a few others, full disclosure, although I am not paid to do so.
 
If you are serious about learning more, there are so many resources on the internet. My advice is, don’t sell yourself short, and read the best of the bunch! 🙂
 
If you’re interested, I am @kellyhogaboom on Twitter, and @underbellie as well (more social wellbeing stuff than personal tweets). My kids are on Twitter as well – you can always write my daughter @phoenixhogaboom – who turns 10 today, yay! – if you have any questions as to her experiences! I get a laugh how many grownups enjoy talking amongst themselves about what’s best for children. 🙂
 
I saw your tweets on Rush [Limbaugh, re: Sandra Fluke]… and a few others alluding to his latest public comments. Do I even want to KNOW what he’s said this time? #assery *headdesk*
 
Good luck in writing your article! 🙂
 
Kelly
 
***
 
No personal communication thereafter.
 
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Ms. Rawls got two things wrong about me in the Alternet/Salon piece. One, that I was “irritated” by the exchange (I wasn’t). Two, that Underbellie is a “popular home-schooling blog” (it’s neither a popular blog nor a home-schooling one!).
 
And finally, anecdotally, obviously I am not addressing the Salon article’s content here, for a variety of reasons. What’s funny is, a few minutes ago the kids and I were at Homeschooling Sports at the Y – populated almost entirely by religious home educators, and tons of kids laughing and playing – and I was really amazed at all the curriculum-talk there. Kinda funny in juxtaposition to the Salon piece.
 
Hello new readers! I actually haven’t written much here at Underbellie regarding homeschooling and/or autodidactic education and/or unschooling, but I write about our day-to-day lives quite a bit on my own blog – kelly.hogaboom.org.
 
Toodles, my lovely readers!

Film Feministe: Room With A View OF HELL!, Or How Sometimes I Just Want To Watch An Orc Split In Half, In Peace

Like all reviews in The Film Feministe, I strive to reveal a brief synopses of a film or television series as well as an analysis. Occasionally my reviews include plot spoilers.

“Game of Thrones” (HBO, 2011)

marriage

Ask Rape what it can do for your marriage!

In a rare coup where Kelly Hogaboom occasionally gets caught up with pop culture hits, I just finished the first and currently only season of HBO’s grim fantasy work, “Game of Thrones” (see: one hundred other popular shows I haven’t managed to get around to: “Sex And The City”, “Big Love”, “True Blood”, “Six Feet Under”, “The L Word”, “Mad Men”, “The Walking Dead”, “Breaking Bad”, etc.). Yeah, so. Obviously I’m no television, pop culture, or fantasy/sci-fi expert and you shouldn’t expect an in-depth analysis here; just a few impressions.

I figured I was none too smart to jump into HBO again, knowing what I do about the intense levels of violence heaped upon women and children, concomitant to insultingly minor and narratively-neglectful roles afforded them. Sure enough, as I tweet within a few minutes of starting the pilot: “we have ‘babies on spikes’ – and now tits in 3, 2, 1…”  Yes, this episode’s first dramatic image depicts a gored child and the last dramatic image is that of a ten year old thrown out a window to die. These bookend, by the way, lots of prostitutes giving blowjobs and a big ol’ rape narrative of a young lady virgin – several scenes of screen time leading up to the rapey payoff. Oh this is gonna be fun.

Robb

So another white-dude "gritty" epic then? Cool, brah.

The show is sprinkled with the usual and typical varieties of kyriarchy. Eating my lunch: race-fail (almost everyone’s white, except horse lords who are vaguely dark and “ethnic”, speak Klingon, are very animalistic, don’t understand how the ocean works, and don’t have a phrase for “Thank You”. I’m not kidding!), oppositional sexism, misogyny (more in a minute), and adultism. As for non hetero- or cis-normative character development, the offerings are grim. The show has several instances of “lady kisses” – that is, pseudo-lesbian sexual behavior showcased only as exploitative sexual fodder and primarily designed for straight males – and one gay male couple, depicted for about three minutes. The season also offers one eunuch, and they have to mention all the time he’s a eunuch, and he’s mocked for not having the beans and/or frank, because that means he’s less of a man and therefore (in the show’s construct) less of a person (he at least, unlike the ladies and kids, is written as an interesting character).

So yeah, it’s the misogyny that really gets me. Like eye-rubbing-really?-they-gonna-go-with-that? levels of lady-hate. Ah misogyny, how do I count the ways? Sure, none of the characters in “Thrones” are particularly subtly written, but the women and children are considerably less so; in the case of women, they are all varieties of girlfriend, mom, daughter, or whore (mostly whore). We have the seductress, the harpy, the mother (either naive and overly-emotional or vengeful sociopaths), and in one particularly irritating depiction of breastfeeding-as-creepy, the batshit-fanatic.

Naked women are aplenty (hey – it’s HBO, after all!), as the show depicts prostitution by the bucketful of young, (mostly) white, nubile, and giggly prostitutes. Many scenes do that particularly chafing thing where these pretty women’s bodies, sexual moans of ecstasy, and nudity are staged in the background while some dude is going on at length about his power/political strategy (see: almost every strip club scene in a gangster movie, ever). You know, to show how GRITTY stuff is. And how women are primarily commodities. And how all prostitutes are young and beautiful and having a great time. No downside, they’re like bowls of tasty Werther’s Caramels on the coffee table.

There’s more. Misogyny, I mean. In general, the few female “players” of the show have a morally developed and fairly monogamous sexual construct, prone to jealousy (natch!); while in general the men happily take advantage of aforementioned gaggle of willing prostitutes. Children are alternatively conveniently out of site, then put in peril repeatedly (hitting maternal viewers where they live). Of course, birth is really scary, sudden-onset, and makes perfectly strong women faint. Birth, unlike death, isn’t shown onscreen which is probably a mercy as usually in these sorts of things we’ve got blood squirting everywhere when it is (again, implicitly threatening women vis-a-vis their sex). Women revenge themselves only in relation to their boyfriends or children; men revenge themselves according to a number of personal agendas. Women are raped helplessly, and men are prone to rape and/or revenging themselves for the rape of the women they believe they “own”.

And the rape. Man, the show is so pro-rape I was thinking they should byline it: “Rape, There’s Literally No Downside”. When they aren’t raping away they’re making intensive rape and anti-woman analogies. You could make a pretty good drinking game.

"Give me ten good men and some climbing spikes. I'll impregnate the bitch."? Aw shit. Again? I'm gettin so wasted.

OK, so, those are a few impressions of the show, and parts that are tiresome, even as familiar as they are.

Now here’s the deal: I want, just like everyone else, to enjoy huge sweeping cinematography and beautifully bleak or lush locales, detailed costumes and fantastic sets, plot intrigue, zombies and supernatural shenanigans, lovable and/or sinister characters, and your occasional grisly beheading coupled with juicy foley-work. Just because I’m say, really really tired of seeing the same old crap on the screen doesn’t mean I don’t want to be entertained like everyone else.

I’m aware if you raise an objection to a portrayals of (Hollywood) Business As Usual you get labeled a killjoy. This”hands off!” admonishment is ironic, coming as often does from fans who spend hours editing the Wiki. As Pablo K points out in “Race, Gender and Nation in ‘Game Of Thrones’ (2011)”:

There are two standard responses to these kind of criticisms: that it’s only a story and that these tropes only reflect reality (either because their portrayal of difference is true or because their portrayal of attitudes to purported difference is true). […] But fiction is an important stage for ideas about war, diplomacy, sex and race, not least because we’re freed to engage in a more fulsome emotional investment precisely because it’s not real.

It’s no accident such offerings reinforce typical mainstream white supremacist and patriarchal narratives (like White People Are Who’s Important To Talk About, Kids are Boring/Subhuman, and Women Get Raped A Lot-That’s Just How It Goes) whilst simultaneously employing liberal doses of creative license, millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours spent in inventing detailed histories and entire languages, and throwing in freakin’ zombies and dragons and giant spiders. Yeah, we can spend all this time imagining a fantasy universe in all its minutia, but we’re still gonna invest in and reify the oppressive and violent strategies that re-victimize, offend, or (worse yet) socialize viewers in the same harmful ways. If we keep telling the story that way we can evo-psyche ourselves into believing misogyny, racism, disablism, etc. are universal (and alternate-universal) truths and not only shouldn’t be messed with, but shouldn’t even be rebuked, let alone examined, in a meaningful way.

After all, in drawing up a different world why imagine, let alone engage in, a truly different world? It’s just too much work.

Meanwhile let me get back to drawing away on this really really detailed map and sketching lots of different kinds of sigils for armor. Toodles!

quick hit: I write elsewhere too!

Elizabeth from My Milk Spilt was kind enough to publish me at her site; my piece “Missing the Mark” went live today. If nothing else, Michelle Allison’s linked-to piece is a go-to for some sense and sensibility regarding the USian (and AUian, at very least) “War on obesity”, etc.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of a BLT with homemade bread and lovely summer tomatoes.

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