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Archive for September, 2010

Benson

There is a new dog at my house.

Benson was actually adopted by my mom from a shelter, but for complicated reasons, he has wound up in my sister’s and my custody. He is somewhere around a year old. He is a Bichon Frise, like Felix, but my sister is pretty sure he also has some terrier relatives. He’s full grown, but he’s about half the size that Felix was.

Benson is very different from Felix. Where Felix would bark and growl, Benson will jump and lick your face. Where Felix did not want to be touched, Benson will curl up in your lap and snuggle against your arm. Where Felix was old and tired, Benson is full of energy and enthusiasm. Where Felix hated strangers, Benson welcomes them into the home (after a few initial warning barks). Where Felix would destroy dog toys in a matter of minutes, Benson will happily play with them for weeks. Where Felix was so smart he stayed anxious all the time, Benson is happily dumb.

I miss Felix.

After Felix died, it was initially so strange and sad to be in a house without a dog, yet the idea of having any dog other than Felix seemed abhorrent. Then, as time passed, the idea of having another dog seemed possible, even desirable. But my fear about getting a new dog was that I would unfairly compare the new dog to Felix, and have trouble bonding with the new dog in the midst of lingering sadness.

And that’s pretty much exactly what has happened. Benson is a great little dog, even though he can’t figure out that we don’t pee on the carpet. But much of the time, being around him just makes me miss Felix. It is so strange to have a dog in my house who is not Felix. Though Benson has been with me for over five weeks, I still hesitate every time I call his name, because it’s “Felix” that’s on my tongue. More than once, I actually have called him Felix. (And when I do, I feel bad about it, because I feel like I’m insulting Felix’s memory.)

When we first took Benson to the vet, everyone at the office was sort of amazed that we had a nice dog for once. For over 16 years, we had come in there with a dog who hated the world and hated being bothered. Now, we had a dog who will wag his tail no matter what you do to him. Our vet said, “You’ve had Benson just a few weeks, and he’s already better than Felix was!”

Oh, that stung. I know that it was hard for others to love Felix, when he so clearly had no love for them, but I still forget that not everyone could see how special Felix was, at least, to me. Even though Benson is a “better” dog than Felix, in that he doesn’t bite strangers, he honestly can’t compare in my mind. Benson is a sweet guy, and I like him a lot. Felix was a lot more than that to me.

But, I go through the motions. And it is really, really nice to have a dog in the house again. It makes it a lot less lonely. I am sure that I will love Benson a lot one day. It’ll just take some time. Time is what I had with Felix, and Benson just needs, I’m sure, his chance.

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College-Ruled

When I was getting ready to move out of my childhood home, I got rid of a lot of stuff. I was a panic about moving into a house with limited storage space (and moving with my sister, who keeps everything), that I purged a huge amount of stuff I had been holding onto for sentimental reasons.

One of the things I disposed of were my college notebooks. During college and grad school, I bought a brand new five-subject Five Star notebook for each semester. Each class got its own subject in the notebook. It was a beautiful way of organizing myself, and the end result was 11 thick notebooks, crammed full of quizzes and tests and papers, and pages covered in notes, written in complete sentences with a black ink pen, that stretched from one edge of the page to the other. We don’t need MARGINS in COLLEGE!

For classes that were too easy for me, there were notes written using my left hand. For classes that were taken with friends, there were notes written by others about how Eisenhower and Khrushchev were lovers during the Cold War. For blow-off classes (and I did take just a few), there were a handful of pages of notes, followed by blank sheets of paper. The notebooks were the story of my college experience.

Even at the time of my purge, I didn’t want to get rid of my notebooks. But I told myself it was silly to keep them. I had no use for pages of notes on the nineteenth century immigrant experience. I told myself that I was keeping all of my books, and papers I had written, to say nothing of my diplomas, so keeping all of my notes was excessive. I told myself that I was desperately trying to hold onto a part of my life that was over, and that even though it was the best part of my life so far, it was pathetic to keep hanging on to these pointless symbols of my glory days. I was like a worn-out, fortysomething football player and the notebooks were the high school letter jacket I still wore every day.

So, I not only got rid of the notebooks, I destroyed them. I ripped them to pieces, ostensibly so I could recycle the paper and throw away the non-recyclable materials. However, I think that if you wanted to read into my actions, it’s possible you could infer something about anxiety and anger regarding goodbyes to the joyous carefree days of young adulthood.

When it comes to personal life decisions, my gut is pretty reliable. It’s when I don’t listen to my instincts that I get myself in trouble. Last summer, my gut told me that I wasn’t ready to throw away those notebooks, and I should have listened. Those notebooks are at the top of the list of things I regret not bringing with me.

Increasingly, I feel like my brain is atrophying. I feel like I am getting stupider every day. This is tough, because for most of my life, my one point of self-esteem was that I have always felt fairly intelligent. These days, it doesn’t matter how many books by David Foster Wallace I read or how quickly I can recall detailed information at work or how many silly blog posts I write about The X-Files, I feel like all the cells that knew stuff good are melting.

Those notebooks represented the blood, sweat, and tears of my smarts. They were the work that came out of showing up to almost every single class and reading almost every page of the assignment. And as long as I had them, there was always the feeling that I could go back and re-read my notes and re-learn the things I had forgotten. All would not be lost!

Somehow, my gut knew that I was still going to need the security blanket of having my notebooks. If only I had been smart enough to listen to it!

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I thought lot during my re-watch of The X-Files about why it was so much a show of its era.

At the heart of The X-Files is a sweeping government conspiracy that “reaches into the lives of every man, woman, and child on this planet.” The X-Files began in 1993, less than four years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The Cold War was barely over. At that time, the government was still an institution that could exercise total control over its citizens.

In The X-Files, instead of an overtly totalitarian American government, as in the Soviet Union, there was a shadow government who managed to control the lives of American citizens–usually, without their even realizing it.

I have to imagine that broad reliance on government conspiracies would be less successful today due to increased skepticism about the competence of government. Those who oversaw the shadow government in The X-Files would have never been surprised by the terrorist attacks on September 11. They would have been the ones behind it.

In the first X-Files movie, Fight the Future, part of the conspiracy revealed involves the impending colonization of the planet by an alien species. The beginning of the colonization will involve an outbreak of an alien virus, which will be classified as a massive epidemic. When, in the future, that outbreak occurs, FEMA will take control–because, purportedly, FEMA has been set up to act as a secret government-within-a-government all along.

When my sister and I watched the movie on Sunday night, we both laughed when FEMA was mentioned. Back in 1998, FEMA sounded like serious business. Now, our primary association with FEMA is of Brownie, who was doing a heck of a job at letting people suffer and die during Hurricane Katrina.

The X-Files would never have worked during the reign of George W. Bush, when some Americans came to see government as an institution that is weak and that flounders and can’t even find Osama Bin Laden. FEMA can’t help New Orleans when there’s a flood. Would anyone really think that FEMA is capable of orchestrating a covert government-within-a-government takeover?

Beyond even the shadow government conspiracy angle, I would argue that the Cold War’s mentality of viewing the Other as an enemy also played into the success of The X-Files. Of course, fear of “the other” is a theme that’s relevant during all points in history. But it’s notable that in The X-Files, there are three really only three kinds of enemies: shadow governments, aliens, and Russians. Anytime people need to go someplace crazy–let’s go to Russia! Anytime a character needs to BE crazy–dude is Russian!

As I have done before, I can’t help but compare The X-Files with LOST. In The X-Files, the conspiracy is vast and institutional. Agencies and governments are that which cannot be trusted. Individuals, though, on the whole don’t put up many fronts. On the whole, the audience knows and trusts that Mulder, Scully, and Skinner are good, and that the Cigarette-Smoking Man, Krycek, and the members of the Syndicate are bad. There are some blurry lines when it comes to lesser characters like Mulder’s father, but on the whole, individuals are fairly straightforward.

LOST, on the other hand, is all about the conspiracy within the individual. The show literally takes place on an island, which has little use for institutions. Those that did exist, like the Dharma Initiative, were quickly overtaken by bands of “hostiles” roaming the island Uncertainty exists within characters themselves as to what or who is good or bad.

It’s interesting to think that, as a society, we may have transitioned from a post-Cold War environment in which the institution cannot be trusted to a more individualized culture in which it’s the people themselves whose motives are called into question. Perhaps instead of suspicion of government institutions, we are now more suspicious of individuals (terrorists, kidnappers, Barack Obama and his secret Muslim non-American birth certificate).

I wonder if it was September 11 that played a role in changing that attitude. On September 11, a handful of individuals brought a government and a nation to its knees. And it was a handful of individuals who, over a field in Pennsylvania, fought back. Immediately following that day, we turned to government and public figures for reassurance, rather than away from them in suspicion. And if there’s one thing that The X-Files encourages, it’s that when the shit hits the fan, you need to get as far away from the government as possible.

*I almost didn’t publish this blog post, because I feel uncomfortable about the sweeping statements I make, while having absolutely zero evidence to back them up. But, given that this is a blog post, and not an academic paper, I decided to go for it anyway. I am not so hardcore that I am going to go do research to back up the thesis of a blog post that will be read by, at most, 15 people. Unfortunately, it is not my job to write about the intersection of pop culture and history… but oh, that it were…

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The Duggars and Me

I don’t have many good party tricks, but I CAN recite the names of all the Duggar children, in order of birth.

(Josh, Jana, John-David, Jill, Jessa, Jinger, Joseph, Josiah, Joy Anna, Jedidiah, Jeremiah, Jason, James, Justin, Jackson, Johannah, Jennifer, Jordyn-Grace, and Josie. You have no way of knowing that I didn’t look that up, but trust me, I didn’t.)

My sister told me yesterday that the Duggars are going to be coming to my hometown to speak at a megachurch here. And how the air was going to smell like crazy while they were in town. I was thrilled to hear this news.

I have difficulty explaining my fascination with the Duggar family. Unlike the johnny-come-latelies, I knew the Duggars long before they had a television show. I spent untold hours browsing their website, reading about their beliefs and their penchant for tater tot casserole. When I found out that the Duggars were going to have THEIR OWN TV SHOW, I admit that I was really excited.

The Duggars and I don’t have a lot in common. They are seriously Christian. They don’t believe in dancing. They strongly believe in traditional gender roles. They have 19 children who they homeschool(ed). They have their own reality TV show. They are politically conservative. They don’t believe in allowing girls to wear pants, or allowing boys to wear shorts. They don’t watch unChristian TV or unChristian music. They are supposedly part of the Quiverful movement, which is sort of all about having lots of children to create an army for Jesus.

All of things are extremely untrue of me. So, I’m not sure why I am so fixated on people with whom I so profoundly disagree. I don’t think it’s the simple “car accident” analogy–that they are such a spectacle I can’t look away. Although, that does play into it.

There are things I like about the Duggars. I really respect their approach to finances, and how vocal they are about staying out of debt. They buy everything used or in bulk, they make their own laundry detergent, and they built their own house. That kind of attitude impresses me. And I don’t think we can have enough people speaking out for responsible spending.

And I can’t help but admire their consistency. It’s clear that they have beliefs, and based on all appearances, they are pretty damn faithful to those beliefs. Unlike John and Kate, who put up this charade of being a happy Christian family (and were actually crazy famewhores), I am pretty confident that with the Duggars, what you see is what you get. They are pretty upfront about their life, even when others perceive it as nuts. And I really cannot see Jim Bob becoming an aficionado of Ed Hardy apparel.

And, for all the haters, there is something to be said about choice and freedom. I often hear more liberally-minded people say that it’s wrong to have so many children, to raise all their daughters to be housewives and mothers, and to raise all their children with such a narrow mindset.

I am pro-choice, though, which means I believe it is a woman’s right to make reproductive decisions–whether that’s deciding to have no children or 19 children. And just as it is not the Duggars’ job to tell me how to raise my own (hypothetical) children–which would probably involve a lot of dancing and pants on girls and shorts during warmer weather–it’s not my job to tell them how to raise their children.

They may smell like crazy to me, but I’m pretty sure I’d smell like crazy to them, too. And that’s a little thing I like to call “diversity.” We are all our own special snowflakes, beautiful in our own way–even the Duggars, all 21 and counting of them.

I’m not, however, actually going to go SEE the Duggars when they’re here. Even I have my limits. Plus, I have dance class that night, so I will be otherwise sinfully occupied.

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