August 24, 2010

Not Your Typical American

So true.

I got into a conversation the other night with some German and Spanish students about language and culture. I love talking with them because it's like speaking a new dialect of American English; foreigners that come here have been taking classes but only really start to learn the intricacies of our language after living here. One German student was explaining how he was laughed at after learning and using one of our idioms (pronounced "eye-dee-oms"). We discussed how long it takes a foreigner to pick up a language (3 weeks of immersion), and when you know you've really mastered a language, like automatically counting, dreaming or telling jokes in that language.

Quite often I'm asked by new students where I'm from. I always say California, then "near Los Angeles" if they ask further. Sometimes I'm pegged for being from the East Coast (and not just by students- random strangers I talk with think that, too) and a few times I've come off as European. I assume it's some combination of my skin color (very Mediterranean), that I'm not the stereotypical American girl (read: blonde), and maybe something to do with me driving a giant van full of kids in a skirt. They also always ask me if I like San Diego better, which of course I answer with a wholehearted yes. Without fail, all the students have the same opinion of San Diego: it's chill and full of friendly people. San Diego is not like New York or Chicago, other cities our foreign students frequent, and that's always said positively. I feel like California is separate from the rest of the United States, and I think the students pick up on that. I hope the feelings they get from San Diego are the ones they apply to all of the States, because everyone I've seen leave has been sad to go back. They make friends, learn the culture and feel like they fit in.

A financial analyst from the East coast was visiting my boss and I picked him up and took him back to campus, where he was staying. I was expecting someone older, but the guy who got in was young. We talked about my job (we're the only campus that has shuttles), my background and he asked why I'm not teaching. "You're already an EF employee and you have a degree in English. It seems obvious," he said. Well, sir, it actually does seem obvious. My favorite part of my job is talking with the students and discovering what it was that made them want to learn English and want to learn it in San Diego. A couple of the students even told me they learned more English just by talking with me in the van than in class. Which makes me think back on how language was taught to me: Spanish class was all grammar and sentence structure, things I'm not very good at explaining in English, so my Spanish skills are poor at best. Is this how we teach English to foreigners?

Just for fun.

As a shuttle driver I form a special bond with the students that teachers and other staff don't. I take them away from the school (which is in the middle of nowhere) to the beach, or downtown or shopping or the movies. I take them clubbing and blast dance music for them. The shuttle is their ticket away from the stress of school and because I'm the driver they feel like they can be honest. If I do teach I'd like to keep a few shuttle shifts- you learn so much more in the van than you do in the classroom, and that learning goes both ways.

August 23, 2010


Normally, it's a rite of passage for baby boys. It's painful, but something babies get over and forget ever even happened. When done properly in a hospital it's rare to see complications or accidents. In fact, many studies suggest that circumcision is healthier because not having that little extra bit of skin means there's less room for infection should some boy not be taught to properly wash his penis (that this is actually a valid argument is strange... what men out there don't spend some good shower time washing their johnson, cut or otherwise???).

Girls usually get to skip this little activity. You know, because we don't have penises. And I say usually because sometimes it does happen. Please, click that link and read that article. If reading that article doesn't at least make your skin crawl you are a demented person. The video is so horrible I could not watch it in one sitting.

To give you an idea of the awfulness of this practice, female circumcision is also called female genital mutilation. It entails cutting off the clitoris. I cannot fathom a way this is anything but extreme torture.

That female genital mutilation not only still exists but isn't waning at all makes me ashamed for my species. The purpose is to make pre-marital sex impossible. Girls are stitched up so that only a tiny hole for urine and blood remains. Then they are cut open again on their wedding nights, so their husbands can literally see their virginity. Sex will never be enjoyable for these women. It will always be a chore done solely for their husbands or for having children. And for some of these women the procedure makes them barren, thus less desirable for marriage, fucking up the whole goddamn point.

This is something extremely painful to think about, much less write about*, so this is about all I can say. Ignorance will be the bane of human existence.

Meanwhile, male circumcision is down in the US. Go figure.

*I ended up writing about it. Still too chicken to use actual photos though.

August 20, 2010

Anne Frank

Just finished reading (re-reading?) Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Anne Frank had to be the most intelligent 14-year old girl in the world. She was insanely smart for her age, well wise beyond her years, and so articulate and able to easily express the most basic feelings that people have struggled their whole lives to express. It's a huge shame on our species that she had to die at the hands of an evil, racist authority.

Anne was in hiding in a warehouse with her family and 4 others for over 2 years during World War II. During that time they did not leave the warehouse, did not breathe fresh air, came close to starvation, came close to discovery multiple times, and had restrictions on when they could run water, use the toilet and even get up and move around. Their lives depended on extreme secrecy and security measures. Annes only solace throughout this whole ordeal was her dependency on the privacy of her diary. She wrote about quarrels between the tenants, being chastised by her parents, her longing for her friends, her lack of anyone to confide in (except her diary, which she named "Kitty"), the goings on in the world, being terrorized by air raids, the pains their friends took to bring them food, their near starvation... all before age 14, young Anne experienced and documented a life none of us can imagine. And she took it all in stride: every so often when she became depressed, Anne would bring herself back out of it by remembering how lucky she was to be in hiding when her friends suffered unimaginable fates in the outside. Starving, alone and terrified for 2 years, Anne pulled her own chin up, even when the adults couldn't do so.

In her diary she wrote about her dreams for the future, after the war. She saw the life of her mother and knew that was not for her. She wanted
"to have something besides a husband and children to devote myself to... to be useful or bring enjoyment to all people, even those I’ve never met. I want to go on living even after my death!"
Oh, Anne. You have no idea.

Unsurprisingly enough, this part of her book resonated with me. I've looooong known that the housewife life is so not for me. Granted, I'm glad my mom did it, and I don't think less of women my age who want to do it, I just couldn't do it or even imagine doing it. Anne had considered having her diary published and wanted to become a journalist. She also laughed at herself, wondering who would ever read the dumb whinings of a teenage girl. In the mid 1940s, Anne started to struggle with the notion of doing things differently. It was expected that a good Jewish girl would marry and have children, but Anne wanted more. Things aren't so different now.

Sixty-plus years later, women are still expected to marry and have children. It's more acceptable to also have a career (or hobby or part-time job or volunteer) but the question of getting married and having children is ever present. Telling a curious asker that you have a husband and child(ren) doesn't require further discussion. Telling a curious asker that you have a cool job prompts questions of who you're dating and if you want to have his kids. Having a job is not an acceptable answer unless you also are at least engaged.

What is it about the older generations that want us to bear our own children and become a family so badly? Why is it not OK to skip that step in life? We are not animals in the sense that we bear young every year in order to ensure the survival of our species, and since it's such a HUGE deal to raise even one kid in this world why is it not acceptable to opt out?

Answer: They sacrificed happiness and freedom for the good of the younger generations and now it's our turn to do the same. People who marry young are, for the most part, viewed as more mature and responsible than those who marry late. We equate marriage with maturity and the later you do it the less responsible and more selfish you are. I suppose it could be said that marriage can force a couple to become more mature and responsible, and that having kids forces people to make decisions for the best of the child rather than what sounds fun, but is that really the path we want most people to take? Force someone, in the midst of learning to handle life, to become something completely different? This will only force people to suppress certain feelings until something happens (like divorce or the kids growing up) to make those feelings resurface. And now we have rampant 40- and 50-somethings back on the dating scene trying to just be happy. Maybe if they'd had the opportunity to do what made them happy in their 20s they'd have made better life decisions and wouldn't need to deal with the sudden resurfacing of emotions not dealt with in decades.

A New York Times article ponders the state of the twenty-somethings. Because we obviously have a problem if we're not graduating, finding a life-long job and partner, marrying and popping out kids ASAP. The article is very long winded and goes into the psychology of 20-somethings (including brain development and cultural expectations) but it also spends a few pages discussing if "emerging adulthood" should be the newest recognized developmental stage in life, which I'm not really interested in. Do we really need to recognize it as a stage? Can't we just settle with a continuous cycle of the older generation criticizing the younger generation for being different?

My mom has been unhappy with her job (and state of being, really) for the better part of a decade. She tried taking classes at community college but couldn't finish a whole semester. Her job offers stability, health insurance and a flexible schedule. She tells me she made sacrifices in order to obtain those things, for the kids, and suggests that maybe it's time I do the same. But why should I? I have no need to make those kinds of sacrifices. Sure, it'd be nice to have health insurance, but I'm young and in good health, so it's not something I'm willing to sacrifice happiness at work for. I'm 24 and living on my own, supporting myself fully, and am not looking forward to marriage or children. This is the time to deal with the issues my parent's generation ignored for the sake of starting a family, and dammit I'm gonna take my sweet ass time.

So, Anne, your thoughts are just as relevant and resonating in women, at least this woman, today as they were in the forties. I'm just glad the privacy of your diary allowed for the kind of frank opinion that is absent in most other books. And, of course, I'm excited to see you live on decades and decades after your death, untimely as it was.

August 10, 2010

Prop 8 Overturned!

Using this again.

Looks like we might have done something in the right direction, for a change. California Proposition 8 has been overturned!

I wrote a lot about Prop 8 and gay rights last year (March 2009, April 2009, May 2009, August 2009, September 2009). I'm still amazed that in 2010 there's even a question of gay rights, that people don't see the parallels to the civil rights issues of the 1960s.

I can see religious conservatives sitting in their bedrooms at night, after putting their young kids to bed, talking fearfully about this great country's downfall. They'll be nearly in tears, saying how they just don't understand how people could think that homosexuality is OK, disgusted at the thought of gay people being allowed to marry each other, terrified of their beautiful, innocent children having to grow up in a world where marriage is meaningless, where God is dead and where family values are forgotten.

I can also see gay couples siting in their bedrooms at night, too worried to sleep. They'll be nearly in tears, saying how they just don't understand how people could so blatantly discriminate against their love solely because they're of the same gender, disgusted at the thought of being second-class citizens, terrified that they'll never be able to live in a world where love is what counts, where all men are created equal and where marriage is recognized.

I can see myself sitting in my sister's living room one day, telling my nieces and nephews how I voted against Prop 8. I'll be proudly smiling as I explain that back in my day gays weren't allowed to marry each other, how disgusted the idea made me, that I was terrified they would be born into a world where love was only valid if it was between a man and a woman, where marriage was a privilege for the straight and where they would be treated differently for how they love.

I know in my heart that day will come, that we'll look back on this time and shake our heads at the ignorance. Now we're one step closer.