Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead runs from October 31st-November 2nd. And this raises an opportunity to again tell a funny story about my niece, M, who celebrates her fifth birthday on Saturday. Perhaps her connection with Day of the Dead is the reason for this amusing story:


M was with my mother at the cemetery where my grandmother was buried six years ago. My mother regularly goes to put fresh flowers in the urns at this family plot. While my mom was fussing with the flowers, M was playing around the "memory stones" - an activity all of my nieces and nephews seem to enjoy. They practice letters and numbers in cemeteries, learn about family and social relationships, and make up stories about the people remembered in cemeteries. Anyhow, M took a break from her playing and asked my mom, "Can we dig up Gigi's body?" Nearly choking my mother replied, "No M, we cannot dig up Gigi's body. Why do you want to do that?" And M replied, "Well, I've never seen a real live skeleton and I really want to see one."


Day of the Dead is a holiday observed most famously in Mexico - but observed in different ways in different cultures around the world. It is a time when the membrane between the living world and the dead world is thin enough for messages to pass between the two worlds, and families use this time to talk with their dead relatives and to give them objects they may need to sustain them in their next life. Who do you want to talk with on Day of the Dead this year?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Hellooo Kitty

Hooray for the folks at "Who Sucks" who pointed out this excellent news story which I found while I was searching for Hello Kitty paraphenalia to buy for my niece. I really need to get a cat.

What does "race" mean in today's politics?

In Boston there is a reportedly bitter fight for the State Senate seat in the 2nd Suffolk District. Incumbent Dianne Wilkerson, an African American woman, lost in the primary to Sonia Chang Diaz, an American-born woman who is (at least) 50% Latina. Wilkerson is now running a right-in campaign against Diaz. Part of her argument is that as a black woman she can better represent minorities in Roxbury, Dorchester and Jamaica Plain than Diaz, who isn't a minority. "Race is definitely an issue in this campaign," I heard Wilkerson say on a WBUR interview yesterday afternoon.

WAIT A MINUTE! Did I hear that correctly? Both candidates could be called minorities by the US Census. African American isn't more "racial" than Latina. They are both minority groups that that face systemic, institutional oppression. What the heck is happening in Boston politics that two women would be qwibbling over who is more oppressed and therefore more qualified to represent other minorities? If race is a qualification, who is to say that Wilkerson can represent the Asians in Chinatown that are part of the 2nd Suffolk District, or the Latinos who dominate Jackson Square in Jamaica Plain? Has the word "race" become a code to mean "black"? And, if so, why can't we just say "Black" or "African American"? And, how can this ridiculousness be happening while on the national stage our nation is rallying behind a strong, smart charismatic leader who happens to be biracial? Presidential politics show us that as a nation we are (finally) ready to see that an African American man can be the best qualified candidate. For many people the election isn't about race, but about qualification.

What qualifies someone to be an elected leader? I would argue that it is the ability to positively motivate a team of people toward a common goal or purpose. It is savvy intelligence, and the ability to identify and convene a complementary group of people together to work together to implement strategic priorities. A record of accomplishment - both in one's personal life and professional life, integrity, strong and inspiring communication skills, ability to communicate values of justice and fairness are also high on my list of priorities for a leader. An elected official doesn't need to look like the people s/he represents in order to represent them. If this were the case, we'd either need 20+ presidents working together to represent all the kinds of people in the United States, or we'd need to be satisfied with having only one or two constituencies represented at a time. A strong elected leader doesn't need to look like the people s/he represents in order to represent them. They just need to be able to listen and trust the experience of their constituents as expressed directly by the people or their proxies (e.g. union reps, other elected officials, advocates).

If I were a voter in the 2nd Suffolk District I would in fact wonder about Dianne Wilkerson's "character" because of her personal problems - bankruptcy, ethics violations and financial misconduct chief among them. I would also consider her accomplishments as an incumbent Senator in my consideration of her being fit for office. And, I probably would have voted for Chang Diaz in the primary. I believe Dianne Wilkerson's politics and rhetoric about race are dangerous and mistrustful and not what we need in Boston or America.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Gammy's World

I excerpt here an anecdote relayed to me by my sister E. Some relevant background. E and her family live in rural upstate NY, with dairy cows and windmills as their nearest neighbors. Their small community is approximately 30 minutes from Syracuse, NY - where my mother lives in a part of town with an increasing number of African-American families, Latinos and Asian immigrants. The high school I attended, six blocks from my mother's house, was more than 35% African American and there were race riots of a sort when my youngest sisters were in school - in the late 1980s. It is also worth noting that my mother, who is called "Gammy" by nieces and nephews, is currently a foster parent to several immigrant refugee teens, including a handful of boys from Sudan.

Now...on with the anecdote.


E and her 4 year-old daughter (M) were in line at Macy's. Behind them was an African American woman and her child. M tugged on E's hand and asked curiously, "Mommy, are we in Gammy's World?"

"Uhm, no. We're in Macy's sweetie," said my sister, barely containing an incredulous laugh. "Why do you ask?"

"Well, there are brown-skinned people here. And I only see brown-skinned people in Gammy's world."

E gulped, stifled the laugh recognizing the seriousness of this conversation, and said, "Well M. There are brown-skinned people everywhere! Not just in Gammy's world."

"Nooooh mommy," M replied authoritatively, "there are NO brown-skinned people where WE live."

E cocked her head, thinking about how to respond to this. Because M was right. There are in fact NO brown-skinned people where they live.


How would you have responded at that point?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bitter coffee drinkers unite!

Do people in other countries have as many sugar and sugar-like substance options when they go out for coffee? We have granulated white sugar, sugar in the raw brown sugar, Equal (blue packet), Sweet and Low (pink packet), Nutrasweet (yellow packet), and, in some tony location, sugar syrup.

Life is complicated enough without having at least four different sugar or sugar-like substances from which to choose at breakfast. I suppose it may be easier to focus one's energy on which sugar you prefer, rather than expending energy on, say, American presidential politics or local rezoning efforts (I don't like to pay attention to this stuff either). Or maybe we're flaunting the fact that we don't live in a nation where we have to deal with food shortages. Some countries are focused on getting ANY sugar to their people. We Americans have up to six options every time we get a coffee. "Ha! Ha! Poor people have no sugar! Look, we have SIX different kinds of sugar plus variations on the white sugar - cubes, packets, shakers! Aren't we lucky to be Americans!"

I've decided to give up sugar in my coffee as a form of slacktivist protest. I invite you to join me until such time that we have a simpler array of options.

Words I DON'T like

I did a short blog post on words I DO like - gems like crumbalievable (which means deliciously and unbelievably crumbly), and drunkle (a drunk uncle).

Now, I believe, it is time for a post on words I DON'T like. Or, the WORD I don't like. There is just one. At least today there is just one. And it is.....swipe. It conjures up the image of a slippery wipe. And there is not a single image I want in the imaging part of my brain LESS than a slippery wipe.

Let's all do our best to keep the world swipe free. Here are some suggestions to help.
1. Find yourself in a conversation where you need to talk about the furtive theft of a small item, consider alternatives like "steal," "pinch," or "shoplift."
2. Using your debit card at the grocery store? How about "sliding" your card instead?
3. Filing a report with the local police after finding your parked car was hit from the side? Described the accident as having involving a "parallel collision between one moving vehicle and one parked vehicle."

Okay, I've done my part to keep the world swipe free. Now it is up to you. Thank you very much.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


I just spell checked "Broken Up About It". The trusty spell check function here on blogger suggested that the word Somerville, my fair city, was not in fact a word. Their suggested options for the correct spelling included the word "Smellier."

Hmmmm. Maybe THAT'S why the city has had such a hard time shaking its unfortunate nicknames of "Slummerville" and "Scummerville".

Broken up about it

What is the "hip" term nowadays to refer to the person who does your hair? Is it hair stylist? I've always been unsure of how I'm supposed to refer to Umberto Rossetti, the "guy who does my hair." And now it doesn't matter. Because I broke up with Umberto yesterday. I broke up with him while driving home from work and I surprised myself by actually tearing up over it while stopped in traffic on 93 South.

Umberto has been cutting my hair every five to eight weeks for nearly seven years. Umberto is the one who gently told me that my home coloring job was a mess and encouraged me to get my color done professionally. I was part of the transition to Umberto being someone who rented a chair in a Somerville salon institution to becoming a small business owner. Every time I go to his salon, which he owns with his cousin Carlo, I feel beautiful. I have been known to go to the salon 30 minutes early just to sit and read magazines and relax amidst the banter.

Between my recent move to an oceanside suburb about 20 miles south of my old stomping grounds in Somerville, MA, the hectic pace of my job, and the wild success of Umberto's salon, I cannot make an appointment time work for me. It take nearly two hours to do my hair - 45 minutes for the color (rich heather) and another 45 minutes for the cut and styling and 15-20 minutes of waiting and other silliness. I don't want to be in Somerville for another 2 hours after the work day ends. I cannot justify taking two hours off (or even two 1 hour periods off) in the middle of the day, and I don't want to go back to Somerville on the weekend. I'm stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

So, yesterday I went to Deja Vu in Hingham (recommended by BMG's not particularly dowdy mom and his hip suburban sister-in-law) and booked two appointments - one for a color and one for a cut. And now it feels like I'm dating again. This is like a hands-on interview to learn if Robin and Sarah can possibly give me the experience of feeling beautiful and relaxed while in the chair. If not, I'll have to go back to Umberto with evidence of my cheating on him emblazoned upon my head, asking for forgiveness.