Category Archives: Family

Sayers in Noida

My sister and her family moved to Noida, which is just southeast of New Delhi, on Monday! They are keeping blogs about their experiences. My brother-in-law is writing the blog Swimming in India, and my niece and nephew are writing a blog called R.E.Lee India. Enjoy!

Advertisements

Helvetica

It’s Sunday evening, and I have been cleaning out the kitchen cabinets. We got new dishes, Santiago Square green dishes by Dansk.

Our new dishes

Those of you who are close to me know that I have been obsessing about dishes for quite a while. I’ve been wanting nice stoneware dishes, so I’ve done a fair amount of research. When I was in Buffalo, my mother and I went to Niagara-on-the Lake for her birthday. While there, we stumbled upon a Dansk store that was going out of business, selling dinnerware for 40% off. Woo-hoo for Sujal and me!

Another really cool part of that trip was that my mother and I saw two foxes. Here is a great shot I got:

I wish we had foxes in our yard. Foxes are the best.

Anyway, so I had to clean out space in our cupboards. Afterward, exhuasted and coaxed by my husband, I am now watching a documentary on fonts — Helvetica specifically. When he came and asked me if I wanted to watch a documentary on fonts, I rolled my eyes but was silently a bit interested. If he’d told me it was about helvetica — well, I’d have probaby said no. I’m not a fan of font without serifs. I know that probably sounds funny to most of you, but what can I say? I’m a serif girl. The documentary, Heletiva, was somewhat interesting, though I was writing this post through most of it. It goes through the genesis and life of the font. One aspect I found specifically interesting was one woman saw a correlation with helvetica and “right” politics. She associates the Vietnam war with helvetica. Check it out if you are: a. into documentaries b. into helvetica c. into design d. into font.

Tagged , , , , ,

Gender Identity: NPR, Zucker, and Ehrensaft

As I was driving on Wednesday, I heard this piece on All Things Considered. I heard most of it then, but I looked it up today after work. It’s part of a two-part series, and I listened to the second part today, as well.

The first part deals with small children (2, 3, 4) who strongly identify with the gender that is opposite of their genetic make-up. It details two boys, one on the east coast, one on the west — both who strongly identify with being a girl and with “girl-things.” The set of each boy’s parents goes to see a doctor about their son. The east coast set goes to Ken Zucker, and the west coast set goes to Diane Ehrensaft.

After listening to this piece, I began to read up a bit on Zucker and Ehrensaft. This article called “Drop the Barbie! If You Bend Gender Far Enough, Does It Break?” reveals how “behaviorist” and rigid Zucker is. As part of his therapy, he has parents take away all of the “girl” (in this case) toys. He has the parents disallow him to play with girls or pretend he is a girl character is his play. In the ATC piece, he brings up that if one were to bring a black child to a therapist, and that child says, “I’m white,” then should the therapist have that child live as white? or should the therapist try to make that child comfortable with whom s/he is? He says one would do the latter. He claims that both “confusions” stem from surrounding dysfunction.

This is not an apt comparison. At the very least, racial identity has more to do with cultural identity, since race is a social construct. Whereas gender is obviously cross-cultural, and it is biological to at least some degree. [Honestly, there is a lot more to this — I can intuit it. It is not an apt comparison, yet at the moment I do not have the words to fully articulate it. One one hand, a) a black child identifying as white — what does that even mean? White culture? The whole question of a black child claiming to be white relies on an idea that there is a limited way to be black and a limited way to be white. b) Does this happen? If anyone has thoughts on this — I’d love to hear them!]

In terms of Zucker’s idea that gender “switching” in small children is caused by dysfunction (thus nurture), he, of course, seeks to find the cause (from the article “Drop the Barbie!”):

Zucker and his colleagues try to uncover the psychodynamics in the family that might be at the root of the child’s gender distress. Girls may develop GID, he believes, because they’ve formed the perception that being a girl is weak or dangerous. One little girl he saw recently, for example, had witnessed her mother being assaulted by the mother’s boyfriend. A boy, on the other hand, in a family where the mother is suffering from depression and is emotionally unavailable, might make an effort to act like a girl to get closer to her.

He goes on to say:

Parents are encouraged to set limits on the cross-gender behavior of the child. “We urge them to say, ‘Let’s figure out what other things you can do besides play with that doll,'” Zucker says. “In some situations, we have to work hard with parents’ own issues about gender. Could be a mother who’s had difficulty with the men in her life and has a lot of mixed feelings toward men. That gets translated to the boy, and her fear that he’ll grow up to be like those men causes him to reject being a boy.”

Hmmmm. This smacks to me of the ol’ “Let’s blame it on the mother…” “Gay son — he was mothered too much!” Here, mom is the cause of both disorders. I can’t say I see sound logic here, either.

When Ehrensaft was interviewed, she said something that I thought was pretty profound (from ATC):

Ehrensaft, however, does not use that label. She describes children like Bradley and Jonah as transgender. And, unlike Zucker, she does not think parents should try to modify their child’s behavior. In fact, when Pam and Joel came to see her, she discouraged them from putting Jonah into any kind of therapy at all. Pam says because Ehrensaft does not see transgenderism itself as a dysfunction, the therapist didn’t think Pam and Joel should try to cure Jonah.

“She made it really clear that, you know, if Jonah’s not depressed, or anxious, or having anything go on that she would need to really be in therapy for, then don’t put a kid in therapy until they need it,” Pam says.

If it’s not a dysfunction, then don’t make it one. Human nature is such an odd beast, and I wonder if I’d take that approach if it were some behavior that seemed truly wrong from my perspective. I guess the difference is that in order for something to be truly wrong, I would think it would need a component of causing harm — causing harm to the self or to others. Part of what is difficult for me is that this feels like an automatic response for me, to use a phrase I don’t really like, a “no-brainer.” Yet, I am having a very difficult time articulating why. Anyway, check the series out and let me know what you think.

Cliche Update

Cliche came home today. She has two little shaved spots, and she looks a little thinner, though she seems very happy to be home. She curled up next to me on the couch. She’s on little kitty medications for a bit — and she just LOVES taking her meds. Last time we had to give her banana-flavored antibiotics. Apparently, they don’t make flavors for cats. It’s just the human stuff. In truth, everyone knows cats are bananas about banana.

We are just glad to have our little girl home. Tillie seemed fairly unfazed, though she liked having the couch to herself yesterday. She was extra snuggly while Cliche was gone. She actually gave a little cry as we gave cliche her medicine today. Sympathy?

Tagged , , ,

I Been Busy

Okay, so I haven’t written in like fifty years. This is mainly because I have been having the busiest semester of my life. Many of you know I am teaching a class on Bharati Mukherjee. It is taking up most of my time. This has also been the semester of many holidays and family visits. Diwali was a few weeks ago, and we went to visit my in-laws. And most recently, I was in Las Vegas for Thanksgiving. It was a birthday gift to my mother-in-law — and it was a lot of fun! On top of that, we just bought two rooms of furniture and we are selling some of our “old” furniture.

To top that off, I have helped run several events at school, including a parent book club — for which parents read The Middleman and Other Stories and a coffee house (open mic type thingy) sponsored by our school’s Amnesty International, which I advise. Sleep has been at a premium, and I have been facing a long string of colds. Though busy and stressful, everything has been good. I’m having a lot of fun, and teaching this class has made me a student again.

The Cottage

Here is “The Cottage,” where the accommodations may leave something to be desired, but the view and the company more than make up for it.

cottage.jpg

This is a long overdue post.  I finally brought Sujal to “The Cottage.”  My family has been going up to this cottage on Lake Erie in Canada in a small town called Wainfleet for the last sixty years or so.  It’s at a place called Long Beach (I cannot believe there is a wikipedia entry for Long Beach!). It’s a place I grew up with — for two weeks every August. It has been a very special place to me, a different place for me at different times in my life. Many of you may know I lost a friend when I was 21, someone I met at Long Beach. Sometimes it has meant being reminded of my own mortality. When I was 15 or 16, I wrote a bad poem about watching the sunset and realizing my own mortality, the finality of each individual sunset, never to be repeated again. I was pretty into Emily Dickinson at the time.

One aspect has remained fairly consistent through the years. The cottage has meant unrestrained indulgence of one form or another. As a child, the cottage meant unrestrained playing in the sand and lake all day, unrestrained access to candy, pop tarts, and sugar cereals. As a teen, it mean unrestrained indulgence in emotions, drama, romance, mischief. The cottage was a great place to be a teen, as it boasted a pretty typical beach seen of teens galore combing the beach for other teens to hang out with. It meant falling in love, getting my heart broken, trying on new personalities, pushing limits. As an adult it means unrestrained access to good food, good drink, good company. I wanted Sujal to come, because my extended family has two weeks together to simply lie around the beach and gab. We get to reconnect, which is a real joy. Below are some pictures from this past trip.

We celebrated several birthdays. One was my mom’s:

mom-b-day.jpg

Notice my extended family marvel and my uncle’s fashion choice for my mother. Truly stunning! Sujal also got his favorite gift from my mom

sujal-getting-jelly-beans.jpg

When Sujal and I went to DC, we got a kite at the Air and Space museum, so we took it a-flying. Here is Sujal and my first cousin once removed 🙂 , Hannah

sujal-hannah-kite.jpg

Then Sujal and I flying the kite:

suja-and-me-kite.jpg

Finally, the obligatory sunset photos:

us-at-sunset.jpg

I call these photos obligatory because we have albums full of sunsets at Long Beach. But frankly, this sunset never gets old to me. It is one of the most beautiful places on this earth.

sunset.jpg

Sural In Pisco

My sister-in-law, Sural, is in Peru doing a fellowship for ten months. She was in Lima when the recent earthquake shook Pisco and surrounding areas. We were quite worried about her, but she is fine. She felt the quake, and we later talked to her via Skype, and she described the situation in Lima. Shortly after, she and some fellow students went down to Pisco to help out. She normally has a blog on her travels, but the recent posts about being in Pisco are particularly powerful. Check out the rest of her blog, too. It is called Sirens and Lights. Not only does she provide a detailed description, but she uses vivid writing to do so. The opening of “Earth, Wind, Water, Fire” provides a visceral description of the dust, giving us not only sensual description of the place, but also a literal and figurative atmospheric description. Just read it and see for yourself.

Our First Anniversary

Sujal and I took a quick weekend trip down to Washington, DC for our first anniversary. Here is a little “anniversary blogging” by the White House. Those of you who know Sujal well know that he has quite an affinity for the current White House resident, as do I.

anniversary-blogging.jpg

Our intent was to go to the National Mall and see a few museums in the Smithsonian. I wanted to do a quick detour to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. On our way, we stopped to see the new World War II Memorial. Here is a photo:

wwii-monument.jpg

It was a beautiful memorial, and it was very traditional, but Sujal and I both felt it lacked something. For me it lacked the personal quality the Vietnam War Memorial has. Nonetheless, it is a beautiful piece of artwork.

While there, I read an inscription that was a quote (now I don’t remember the particulars) about the naval force (I think?) being victorious. I mentioned to Sujal that I know that the US was “victorious” in WWII, but that I had never really thought of it in those terms. I don’t really think of wars as ever being victorious. Of course I know wars are fought to be won, but I don’t believe that wars have winners. That is not to say that I don’t believe the US should have been involved in WWII. Hitler needed to be stopped for sure! But I still do not think of the US as being “victorious.” Yes, we “defeated” Hitler, but we lost a lot. I think of the poem “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen. These potential semantics made Sujal question me on my comment.

This line of thinking demarcates a zone where Sujal and I do not think alike. We have very different ways of conceptualizing and perceiving the world, thus it led to a bit of a confrontation. Being the established married couple we are (we are not newlyweds anymore), we easily weather all disagreements.

After we passed the WWII Memorial, we walked past the reflecting pool that separates the WWII Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial. One end was pure sludge — algae and whatever else might have been growing. It was just disgusting, stinking muck. And yet, we saw this:

dc-sludge-ducks.jpg

These two ducks were in the sludge with their little beaks in the muck. Somehow it just seemed like a metaphor for the state of our current administration. Sujal and I had been talking about Dickens on the ride down, and this was just too Dickensian of a symbol to pass up.

After a long, hot walk, we finally arrived at the History museum, to find out it was closed for renovations. We then headed to the National Gallery. I really wanted to see one of my favorite paintings — it hangs there. I saw it twice before, and I love it. So we went to find it in the wing of American art — also closed for renovations. Then I recalled that sometimes the artist is groups with the French Impressionists. I asked at the info desk, and yes, Mary Cassatt is grouped with the French Impressionists. The clerk asked which painting I was looking for, and I told her that it was Child in a Straw Hat. She looked it up and said that it was not on display at this time. I was a little heart broken, but I somehow managed to go on.

We went to the Air and Space Museum next. After seeing a few exhibits, we went to see an Imax movie called Adrenaline Rush which was about skydiving and base jumping. It was decent — the camera shots were beautiful, but the script was really cheesy. Then we went to see Cosmic Collisions, a planetarium show narrated by Robert Redford, which was also decent.

After getting our space ice cream, we hoofed it back to our hotel. We stayed at the Topaz Hotel, a very trendy and eco-friendly hotel in DC. It is part of the Kimpton Group, trendy, eco-friendly fairly upscale hotels. We really liked the place a lot. It is decorated in a modern and eclectic fashion, so it is kind of funky. We definitely recommend it, especially during a summer weekend, because we got a really cheap rate!

We then went out for a lovely dinner at Raku — An Asian Diner. We were so hungry, that it tasted like one of the best meal we’ve ever had. It was good, too. We each had pad thai. I also had the vietnamese spring rolls. I love them! I used to order them whenever I went to Lotus, a restaurant in Minneapolis. Vietnamese spring rolls are tough to find around here.

The next morning, we met Sujal’s friend Kim for a lovely brunch at another Kimpton hotel. Then we headed home on another traffic-filled highway. Of course we made a pit stop in New Jersey where Sujal got me a great anniversary gift (I’d already given him his). All in all, it was a pretty great first anniversary. We’ve both been fairly busy (he more so than me), so it was good to spend some time together.

Reaching for the Brass Ring

As I previously mentioned, my mother vsited for about a week. Among the many planned activities, I slipped in a visit to The Carousel at Bushnell Park in Hartford. She’d been wanting to see the Capitol building, and the park is right there.

It also happened to be the carousel’s 92nd birthday, so they had a mini-celebration by giving free rides. As the music started on the band organ, and I know this is crazy, I almost teared up. Here is a good site that has samples from the Wurlitzer 153 band organ that is part of the Hartford carousel. The tinny sounding music has an out of tune, eerie feel, and yet it easily summoned up nostalgia for me — like a cheap shot in a Lifetime, Television for Women movie. I also wish I had a picture of the Wuritzer that plays the music, but this will have to suffice. It’s a pretty amazing series of instruments — lots of pipes, drums, etc. I wish I could bring it to you, so you could hear the dissonant pinging, the low strikes on the drums, the slight whistles — it’s a mix of strange nostalgia and something stale that one does not quite understand how it has survived this long. And to see the instrument, it’s antiquey-looking — but intricate and beautiful as well.

As I mentioned before, it was the carousel’s birthday, and so they also had free cake for everyone. I, of course, can never pass up cake, so I waited in line for this yummy cake with the other Hartfordians — kids and adults. There were also quite a number of what seemed to be homeless people in line. Of course this makes sense, but there was a weird, multi-layered irony to it. It had a ring of Marie Antoinette’s alleged words, “Let them eat cake.” My friend Lara has more recently jokingly accused me of taking cake out of the mouths of the homeless. How is it that people come to be humiliated to the point where they stand in line for free cake because it is food? Let me add to this, and bear with me as I make my second point about the irony.

When we were on the carousel, I looked up for the brass rings — or the gold rings, as Holden Caulfield calls them — and I saw no brass rings. One hears about reaching for the brass ring on a carousel. Metaphorically, of course, it is meant to convey the idea of striving for something that seems just out of reach. It even has a sort of capitalist feel to it — that if you work really hard, strive to succeed, yes, you too can become rich, or in this case, grab the brass ring. I see this as the big lie of capitalism, because that belief system is not true. Timing, privilege, and access have a lot to do with whether or no one will succeed. Yes, hard work helps pave that way, but it is wrong to say that alone will bring success in the capitalist society in large part because a capitalist society relies on a large working class — a hard-working class. Keep ’em wanting more, and you’ll get more out of ’em. So here the carousel stands, the brass ring metaphor hanging in the air, and those who obviously have not benefitted from capitalism are waiting in line for cake.

On another note regarding the brass ring and Catcher in the Rye, I looked for the literal ring and didn’t see any. I have always been a bit confused about it and could never quite picture it. I know that expression comes from carousels, but I still can’t visualize it. Anyway, here’s an explanation of the term brass ring.

Finally, to round out our carousel experience, my mother and I spent two days in New York city. We strolled through Central Park, looking for The Central Park Carousel. Our rides on this carousel were $1.50 each, not a bad price for a lovely ride. The one had a Wurlitzer 150, and frankly it did not sound as out of tune. I think this one might have been a bit faster than the one in Hartford, but the one in Hartford had real horse hair tails.

Don’t worry. I don’t think I’ll become a carousel guru (or freak), but it was interesting to ride these two carousels. If you are around either of them, check them out.

Tagged , , ,

Genealogy

Today I received Henry Louis Gates, Jr’s newest book, Finding Oprah’s Roots. While I’ve never been a huge Oprah fan, I have enormous respect for her, because I think she’s a great role model. The fact that she has her extremely successful book club got many people reading again. She’s enormously generous and intelligent. I’m sure you can find her praises much more passionately laid out in many other places, so let it suffice to say that she’s clearly influential, and mainly in a positive way.

That she has let herself be the centerpiece for this work of research is inspiring. I’ve never given a lot of thought to tracking down my genealogy — for a number of reasons, I’m sure — I’ve historically been young and therefore a little less sentimental in the family roots sort of way (though each year, I feel it creeping up on me more and more — as my Polish roots become more and more important to me), and I know a decent amount of my genealogy already, in that I’ve heard lots of stories from grandparents and parents. It’s pretty clear that all of my relative emigrated from Poland, most likely in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This white immigrant privilege is not something I though about much, either, until I began Gates’ book. While I was aware in the abstract that African Americans who are descendants of slaves do not know their ancestry in terms of what country (part of Africa) their ancestors were brought from nor would they necessarily know who their slave ancestors were because of lack of records, I never thought of it in contrast to my own experience. I was just teaching Toni Morrison’s Sula, and there’s a passage where the narrator describes not knowing who one is, not having a language, a history, etc. The narrator speaks of this in reference to a character who is shell-shocked, but there is an obvious connection to African American history. But to think that here is yet again another form of institutionalized (even is historical) racism. If I wanted to research my genealogy, I would doubtless have an easier time than, say, Oprah. Granted, she has a lot more money at her disposal. Gates says as much, so I’m not sharing anything new, just the fact that I hadn’t yet realized it. I agree that it is important for people to know where they came from. I’m not too far into the book yet, but in flipping through, it looks very interesting.

A coincidental intersection — Sujal was just exploring this website, Geni, and he signed up for it and began getting our relatives to fill it out. As I’ve said, I really hadn’t been into genealogy much, but I’m finding it a bit more interesting suddenly. I don’t think I’ll develop a great passion for it, but at least I’ll have a better understanding.