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Friday, June 28, 2013

privilege

Whoa, we're about to get deep up here in the blog, folks! I am prepared to lose some followers. 

(I always do.)

I am a lot more laid back than this blog would probably imply. In my real life, I don't run around lecturing people about appropriate social media behavior or feminism or the marketplace of ideas or why I hate (and secretly shame-love) True Blood so much. I care about these things, but I am mostly a live-and-let-live kind of person. I try not to do battle unless I have to.

But there is one thing that perpetually bothers me, like a ringing in your ears that won't go away, and is acceptable in the short-term but infuriating over time. And that is when people don't recognize their own privilege.

Privilege, in case you never had a pompous professor (or in this case, blogger) explain it to you, is a benefit that you have that you did not earn. Sometimes it's hard to tell what that is. What might be a privilege for one person might very well be actually earned for another.

To be clear, I don't think being privileged is a bad thing to be. We all are privileged in one way or another. Nor do I think you can't be proud of your accomplishments just because you had some help along the way -- if that were true, no one could ever stand on the precipice of his or her own achievement and think, Look what I've done. And that's something everyone ought to be able to do, once or twice in their lives.

But being unaware of your privilege is not awesome.

And if you're actually wrong about your privilege, and think you earned it? Absolutely awful.

Most of us have lives built on a foundation that is part privilege and part merit. I went to college on a full scholarship. I earned that scholarship through hard work in high school (good grades, solid extra curriculars, volunteerism), but the taxpayers of Utah paid for it. I'm also really smart, something I cultivated, but also something that I owe to genetics, the environment in which I was raised, and the good luck to be born in a good school system as opposed to a bad school system.

I don't think that devalues my achievements. I am still proud of them. But I have to acknowledge that they aren't all my own.

On an episode of Mad Men, a wealthy man described his heir by saying, "My son lives in a cloud of success, but it's my success. Perhaps when that evaporates and his face is pressed against the reality of the sidewalk, he'll be of value to someone." The issue is not whether you were born wealthy -- the issue is whether you have the good sense to realize whose wealth it really is.

I would guess that most people are able to see and acknowledge their privilege when the issue is money. But what if the privilege is not about the socioeconomic class your parents gave you, but something else entirely?

What about the little societal bump you get from being a man? You don't have to pretend to talk on the phone as you're walking to your car at night. You don't have to worry in job interviews whether a potential employer is wondering if you'll just get pregnant in a few years and therefore not worth the training. When you go to the movies, the characters (even the minor ones) will almost certainly resemble you. When you are assigned to read "the classics" in high school, they will be written about people like you, by people like you. If you are assaulted, no one will ask you what you were wearing at the time. Your life, by and large, is (at least) a little bit easier because you were born with an XY chromosome pair instead of XX.

What if you're white? If you haven't read Peggy McIntosh's essay Unpacking the Invisible Backpack, I'd recommend it, but a few of the highlights -- if you're white, you don't have to worry about your race being a problem if you get into legal trouble. You can put on a band-aid or "nude"-toned makeup or shoes and they will match your skin. If you're having a bad day and you are rude or poorly dressed out in public, no one will attribute your rudeness or slovenliness to your race. You can easily find toys and books for your kids that will resemble them.

What if you're straight?

What if you are not disabled?

The list goes on.

The fact is, some groups (and if you don't know who those groups are, the chances are good you're one of them) in society start out with a better shake than others simply because they were born one way and not another. They did not earn that. It's a privilege. And it's a problem if you can't see that.

I'm not writing this because I want everyone to sit around feeling bad about the fact that they were born one way and not another. I don't feel guilty about being white any more than I feel ripped off about being a woman. I like who I am and I wouldn't change it. But I would like society to be a little more fair (for me, for people less privileged than me).

I don't have any sympathy for people who feel like the straight, white male is under attack in our society. I just don't. First of all, it isn't true. Straight white men run this country. They fill Congress and our courts and legislatures and head up our major industries and companies. They make a dollar for every $0.80 a woman makes. And people (particularly Fox news) will try to tell you that is because women generally choose jobs that make less money and that women don't ask for raises. (Girls wanna be teachers! Boys wanna be doctors! Girls are nice! Boys are demanding!)

Except that isn't true. Men fresh out of an MBA program are offered substantially higher starting salaries than women out of an MBA program. The same is true for doctors, and the gap grows over time.

And if a straight, white male feels like something has been unfairly taken from him (reverse discrimination!), it is usually just because he felt entitled to it in the first place. (Entitlements are only wrong if you're a minority, you see.)

I say "straight, white male" here, but the fact is, anyone can be ignorant of their own privilege. Look at Abigail Fisher, a woman who was rejected from the University of Texas and sued, taking her case all the way to the Supreme Court because she believes less qualified students were accepted due to their race.

It looks unfair, until you realize that the University of Texas accepts every student in Texas who graduates in the top 10% of his or her high school class. So if she wasn't automatically accepted, that means Abigail Fisher was a borderline student in the first place. She's just mad that another borderline student got picked instead of her, that in her case the weird societal bump (which is unearned, no matter who is getting it) went in a different direction. She had to settle for going to an equally excellent school that was not her first choice.

And I don't say this to defend Affirmative Action as a policy in higher education. I have mixed feelings about Affirmative Action and whether it's accomplishing what society had hoped it would. My point is simply that I'm not sure you can show actual harm to people like Abigail Fisher, who might be an excellent human being in real life, but who was never entitled a spot at UT to begin with, and who would have been admitted to UT if her grades had been better.

I don't want to imply that everything for women and minorities and poor people and disabled people and gay people sucks, and we should overthrow The Man. (Though between the women and the gay men, can't you imagine what a fabulous revolution it would be?) Things (generally) don't suck. And in fact, things are better. I am better off than women 20 years ago, and I am grateful for that.

But I think I will always be troubled by people who think society is moving in a bad direction.

Whenever someone waxes nostalgic about the past (and is it just me, or does that seem to be happening more frequently these days?), I want to shake them. Because the past wasn't better for anyone. When things get better for one group of people (the poor, racial minorities, women), they get better for all of us. Life in 2013 is better than life was in 1950, no matter how many episodes of Leave it to Beaver you've watched recently. And that includes the straight, white men. Their power differential might be different, but it's better to be Phil Dunphy than Ward Cleaver, hands down.

Does that mean we have no problems? Certainly not. But we should be hopeful about the future, because things (usually, eventually) get better, not worse.

And one good way help things along the path of progress is to realize, "It's not wrong for anyone to want what I've already got."

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

the internet community

Sometimes I get frustrated that my job requires me to keep a lot of things to myself. Not just lawyer-style secrets, but thoughts and opinions that I normally wouldn't think twice about sharing.

Intellectually, I know that my job is worth it. Not just financially (because for reals, the finances do not even factor in, given my sad little paycheck), but because I love my job. And part of my job involves remaining a cypher on certain issues in person and on social media -- a fact which I understand and accept.

But every once in awhile, I would like to have a grand freakout (or celebration, as the case may be) with the rest of you.

On to other topics --

1. Have any of you seen the series premiere of Under the Dome? I think it looks pretty solid, but I give the side eye to anyone who was ever involved with Lost, so I guess the jury is still out.

2. If I were to do another giveaway, what types of prizes would you all most prefer? Gift cards? Books? Critiques? I mean, that's all I've really got for ideas, so any thoughts you could share would be greatly appreciated.

3. Super excited to see Much Ado About Nothing.

4. I might be a little too wired this morning. Red Bull!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Winners

Hey folks! So thanks so much for entering my giveaway. The winners are ....

Allison Merrill! You have won a copy of Cait Greer's novel EYRE HOUSE!

Prerna Pickett! You have won a 10-page critique from me. :)

I will email you ladies with the details. Thanks everyone for entering!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Dorky names

Well, little North West has arrived to steal the Dumb Baby Name Crown from the Apples, Suris, Bronx Mowglis, and Moxie Crimefighters of the world.

And I have to say ... I don't hate the name.

North West. Sure, it's dorky. It's so dorky, in fact, I can't even say it without chuckling a little -- which I think is actually a good thing. Little North has got a lot stacked up against her (have you heard who her parents are?) and if she can make people smile when they hear her name, she's got a leg up on the world.

As anyone who has read one of my manuscripts knows, I love a slightly weird name. In fact, my sister Echo's primary complaint EVERY TIME is, "I hate his/her name." Mary K, Lulu, Jayma -- I'm sorry my sister disparaged you so, but dang if I still don't love your names.

Sometimes a name is just so wrong it's right.

The first three Harry Potter books I read mentally pronouncing Hermione "Herm-y-own." It wasn't until Hermione taught Viktor Krum to say her name in Goblet of Fire that I went, "Ohhhhhhh." And I'm sure I wasn't the only one.

I recently read Mind Games by Kiersten White. When I'd first heard of this book about two girls named Annie and Fia, I initially resisted. Why? Because of the naming disparity, a phenomenon I despise. Why would parents name one daughter "Annie" but the other daughter "Fia"? Don't people know that the first child sets the tone, be it whimsical, old fashioned, sturdy, or completely imaginary (as is the case of every child in Utah born south of the 45th exit on I-15)?

And then I read the book and realized there wasn't a naming disparity -- the Rosen parents named their daughters Annabelle and Sofia, and then each took a nickname that reflected her personality (Annie steady and solid, Fia fractured). Dissonance resolved!

Chev Chelios, I watched the trailer for Crank just for you. Stephanie Perkins, you sold me on Cricket Bell. I mean -- the romantic lead's name was Cricket Bell. And it worked.

What about you all? Do wacky names make you roll your eyes, or do they make you smile? And if you also have a fondness for the Cindy Lightballoons out there, what are some of your favorite wacky character names?

PS: Don't forget to enter the giveaway!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Clark Kent never remembers to turn his phone on silent in movies

(I have a friend who is firmly against repeating jokes and stories -- and in general, I am as well. But not this once. So if you've already heard me tell these, I sincerely apologize.)

"Ya know how I know Clark isn't Superman? Superman could write a 500 word story without passive voice."

"Superman would know not to bury the lede."

"A split infinitive?! Who do you think you are, Kent, Captain Kirk?"

I saw Man of Steel over the weekend. I have some very mixed feelings, but I didn't dislike it, which I suppose is good. It definitely got me in the spirit of Father's Day, let's just say that.

It's not a spoiler to say that at some point in the course of Clark Kent's life, he dons a pair of nerd glasses and joins the staff of The Daily Planet. I don't think it's too big of a stretch to say most fans find this disguise pathetic at best. (Though the good folks at DC did apparently once try to come up with a scientific explanation for the poor investigative skills of all the investigative journalists around Clark.)

I think the reason that people don't realize or assume that Clark Kent is Superman is pretty simple -- human beings believe what they want to believe. No one wants to believe that Clark Kent (the guy who screws up their coffee orders) is a demi-god. No one wants to believe that the shmuck who picked up the tab at happy hour is also faster than a speeding bullet.

Superman as a character is pretty perfect -- moral, altruistic, loyal, handsome, and all that jazz. But I think it's safe to assume that the Man from Krypton was also imperfect. He might not have tripped in the hallway, but I don't think he was any better at loading the toner into the printer than anybody else.

A character's flaws are not just necessary to make a character interesting -- they make that character believable. No one believes that Clark Kent is Superman because on some level, Superman is just not believable -- not even to the imaginary denizens of Metropolis.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Giveaway: EYRE HOUSE and 10 page critique

You guys, I have been a terrible blogger. See the sparse posts of June and May? But I am about to make it up to you.

The lovely Caitlin Greer has offered one lucky winner a copy of her soon-to-be-released book EYRE HOUSE! And no folks, this isn't an ARC (advanced reader copy), Caitlin just got her final copies last week and wants to celebrate!

And because I am just that excited for Caitlin, I'm also throwing in a 10 page critique as well -- and trust me, lawyer brain is something you want on your side. (And if a non-writer wins the 10 page critique? Never fear, an alternative prize can be arranged.)

Contest runs through Friday at midnight, and you can get up to four entries (but none are mandatory). Get crackin'.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

What's up with your brain today?

I usually read more than one book at a time.

Lately I am reading Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. I am also starting in on new-release One by Leigh Ann Kopans and almost-released Eyre House by Caitlin Greer. (Jealous?)

In fact, Cait recently sent out a teaser ad for her soon-to-be-published novel. Want to see?


I don't think I've ever blogged about this before, but I am so impressed by authors who can self-publish well. I think we've all been lured in by the curiosity of a self-published book before, only to be disappointed by bad writing and worse editing.

To me, those disappointments just make it even more exceptional when writers like Leigh Ann and Cait and so many others can balance writing a good book, getting it professionally edited, commissioning or self-designing a great cover, rolling out promotions, and all the rest that comes with publishing on your own. Frankly, self-publishing is not for everyone, and the people who knock it out of the park ought to get an extra little tip of the ole hat.

So what are you reading these days?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A tale of two (central Utah) cities: An epic (ly long) blog post

My sister Echo got married a little while back. Did I mention that? She and my new brother-in-law (hence dubbed "Beta," in keeping with my "name family members according to the NATO alphabet" scheme) got hitched down in the Manti, Utah LDS temple.

Ain't it pretty? Our grandparents got sealed there many moons ago. (FYI: "Sealing," in Mormon parlance, is the religious form of marriage, separate from the civil side of things, and it only takes place in a temple. Back in the day, it was very common for people to get married in a civil ceremony, like our eloping-to-Washington grandparents, and then get "sealed" later. Now it's more common for couples to go for the all-in-one package, though going old school is still an option. Religious diversity lesson for the day!)
Now, for those of you who aren't familiar with Utah geography, Manti is a little town about two and a half hours away from Salt Lake City. E and B picked Manti for many reasons (it's pretty, it's less crowded, our grandparents grew up around there, etc.), but clearly convenience was not one of them.

Manti is about ten miles from another little central Utah town called Ephraim, which is where our hotel was. And yes, this detail is relevant.

After the ceremony, Beta's parents took his four-year-old daughter Sierra with them back to Salt Lake so E and B could have a romantic drive back to the big city for more photos and the reception. Our dad took E's car, and E's dear friend and hairstylist Broderick, back to Salt Lake. Diego (my roommate, for those of you who are new to the blog) and I stuck around for awhile to make sure everyone else got off to Salt Lake in a timely manner.

Diego and I drove across the street to the Manti Drive Thru Ice Cream and Donut Shoppe to get some burgers and fries while we waited for everyone else to finish up.

And when we got back, things were in quite a state.

Everyone had left Manti except for me, Diego, Echo, Beta, and Echo's friend Riley. And Beta had just realized that his parents had driven off with his car keys, tucked safely inside Sierra's bag.

This normally wouldn't be that big a deal -- you call them, they drive back. Except everyone turns off their phones inside the temple, and apparently B's parents had not yet turned theirs back on. Calling a locksmith was also out of the question, since Beta drives one of those fancy cars you open with a button instead of a key.

So we loaded up the bride, the groom, the dress, the giant styrofoam container of flowers (that the florists had messed up, naturally), Riley, myself, and Diego into Diego's Sentra. In case you were wondering where all of that fit, the giant styrofoam container of flowers was on my face: I had to lean the passenger side seat back in order to fit me and it inside.

It was roughly 2:00 pm at this time and everyone else had left at least an hour before. So we came up with the best plan we could think of.

Diego and I would drive Riley, E, and B up to their reception, get the keys from B's parents, drive back to Manti, and then bring his car back to Salt Lake City, arriving around 9:30 pm (if we were lucky). I would miss the family photos and neither of us would have any chance of attending the dinner reception, but we'd hopefully succeed at getting E and B their luggage for their honeymoon in time.

E was freaking out -- for many reasons. She didn't want anyone to miss the reception, one, and two, Diego and I were supposed to be in charge of going to her condo and getting all the place settings and favors for the reception. With us out of commission for Operation: Car Rescue, that responsibility would fall on our younger brothers, Charlie and Alpha. Despite insisting that an 17-year-old and 25-year-old could probably read a seating chart and do okay arranging candles and scattering fake pearls on a table top, E was pretty sure they would need help. ("Could you call Hannah? Or Abby? I'd feel better if Hannah or Abby were there to help." - E. Brides, amiright? But alas, Hannah and Abby could not help, since the only people with a spare key to E's condo were myself, Charlie, and our dad. Brothers it was!)

We set off from Manti -- and as we were approaching Ephraim, E thought she saw B's parents driving back to Manti.

So B frantically kept calling his parents while Diego flipped around and headed back to Manti. We followed that car all the way back to the temple parking lot, when we discovered they were not in fact B's parents, but just an older couple with the exact same car.

So we headed back toward Ephraim -- and as we were leaving the city limits on our way back to Salt Lake, Beta finally got through to one of his siblings. His sister texted him to let him know that they had stopped to get ice cream at the malt shop after the ceremony and his parents were there.

So we turned back around and headed to Manti. Upon arrival at Manti Drive Thru Ice Cream and Donut Shoppe, we looked around for B's family. Nada.

B texted his sister, who once again was not answering the phone. Now it was about 2:45 pm, because the speed limit between Ephraim and Manti is about 40 mph, due to an abundant lamb population that might cross the road at any moment.

B got through to his parents. "We're at the Ephraim malt shop."

Yes, folks. In a combined population size of about 2,000 souls, THERE ARE TWO MALT SHOPS. (Utah! We love our ice cream.)

So we headed back to Ephraim.

When we finally got B his keys, it was about 3:00pm, and we were due back in Salt Lake City for photos at 5:00pm. That was not going to happen, but at least we would make the dinner and our driving back-and-forth was limited to Manti-Ephraim-Manti-Ephraim-Manti-Ephraim-Manti-Ephraim, instead of Manti-Salt Lake-Manti-Salt Lake.

Did you count an extra Manti-Ephraim back in there? Well NO YOU DIDN'T, because obviously once B got his keys in Ephraim, we had to drive back to Manti to drop the happy couple off at their car, and then head back through Ephraim to get home.

That day, my friends, was my Vietnam.

And it wasn't over yet. 

About an hour into our new drive home, Charlie called me. "Did Echo change her locks?"

I thought about it. "Yeah, she lost her keys awhile ago. Why?"

"She never gave me a new key. When are you going to be in Salt Lake?"

The answer to that question was, In an hour and a half. "Call Dad," I said. "He left first, I don't know how you beat him back."

Unfortunately, once Charlie called my dad, he found out that our dad (who had left in the first wave of modern-day pioneers) had decided to treat Broderick the Hairstylist to a scenic tour of central Utah. After all, they'd left first!

Note to all friends and family of future married couples: NEVER TAKE THE SCENIC ROUTE.

So Charlie and Alpha sat outside Echo's condo until my dad arrived at roughly 4:45 pm. That gave them fifteen minutes to get the decorations and place settings and get over to the reception in time for family photos.

Diego and I dropped Riley off at her car, ran into Echo's to change back into our respective suit and bridesmaid dress attire, and hauled off for the reception center. Despite promising my dad we would not speed (sorry, Dad) we were only running thirty minutes late, which I would consider an impressive feat.

About two blocks from the reception center, stuck in downtown Salt Lake City traffic, I looked over at Diego and said, "Did you hear me telling my brothers that they needed to grab Echo's iPod?"

He looked back at me. "No. Were they supposed to?"

The answer to that is yes. E had actually picked our late grandfather's birthday for her wedding date, and as he'd been a jazz musician during the Depression, she wanted a playlist of 20s and 30s era jazz playing during the reception.

I texted Charlie. Did you get the iPod?

No answer.

Diego stopped the car outside the reception center. "You get out, I'll park."

"Okay." I jumped out of the car and leaned in through the window. "Do you have your iPhone? Download as much jazz as you can!" And then I ran into the reception center.

(You want to know the mark of a solid friendship? Tell your friend something that arbitrary and unexplained, and then watch them do it anyway.)

Any fun wedding stories you'd like to share?


Awww, the new Shapeface Family. All's well that ends well.