Monday, November 22, 2010

frog boiling slowly.

I was at work the other day listening to the BBC News Hour, and I heard a story about how great it is living in Singapore. It's an incredibly international place, with myriad Asian and Indian populations, and attracts businessmen and ex-pats from all over the world. It's clean, prosperous, cultured, crime-free, and its citizens are happy with their wonderful quality of life.

But it has these rules. Rules about things like spitting and littering and vandalism that get American teenagers caned, yes. But rules also about things like saying what you want to say about the government. According to this story--which I haven't found yet, google your heart out--speaking out against government leadership can get you publicly ostracized and economically blackballed by the government and anyone else who wants to save their skin and protect their interests. Not only can the government fine and/or imprison you, but anyone you know has to turn their backs on you. What baffled this reporter (and me too) is that so many of the citizens in Singapore seem just fine with this kind of censorship. The prevalent attitude seemed to be, "Yeah, okay, so we don't have your 'free speech' or whatever, but who needs it? We're clean and well-fed, we're educated and employed: our needs are met. What do we really have to complain about?"

Now there is a small community of people who believe this system of government is out of line, who are resisting this willful ignorance and are fighting for their right to speak their minds. But it is small, and what they're doing is dangerous.

What scares me about it so much is that it seems to be happening in so many places.

I've been hearing lots of stories on NPR about Chinese citizens who leave their villages and go to county seats, or even to the capital, Beijing, to complain about corruption, deceit, and destitution perpetrated by the local government on its citizens. These people, who complain, are imprisoned without any trial or cause. They lock their own citizens up in hotels that double as prisons, torturing them, barely feeding them. For months, even years. One girl, a twelve year old, is living on the streets; she went to Beijing with her mother, who was taken away for filing a complaint. She didn't want to stay home in her village. If she were still home, though, she could have been in school; now she's homeless, without any family. There are hundreds of these people, being denied their own humanity, because they are speaking out against their own government.

I'm not so naive as to believe that this kind of thing hasn't, or doesn't still, happen in our country. I know about people who lost their jobs in the Fifties because of one man's paranoia that he couched as vigilance against Communism. And I'm sure that I'd be sickened by the things my government does to its citizens in the name of protecting American Democracy. But are we so gripped by fear that we're willing to allow our basic human rights to be taken from us, just so we can live more comfortably?

This weekend an Ohioan raised a ruckus because she was allegedly violated by a TSA agent in a pat-down while flying. Someone wrote in to comment on the story and said, "if you don't like it, don't fly. I feel safer knowing my fellow passengers have been searched." This person's in good company, too. But I'm not sure: I'm not willing to let some security agent stick a latex-fingered glove between my legs just so that I know that everyone else on the plane has been subjected to as much scrutiny. When does good security cross the line and become sexual assault? Can we ensure the safety of our citizens without debasing them by subjecting them to such intimate and harsh scrutiny? And don't we have the right to protest if we feel we're being taken advantage of in the name of security?

My husband and I are getting on a plane in a few weeks. I don't know what to expect, I don't know who's going to touch me where, and I don't know what profile they're going to use when they look at me. But I know I can feel the temperature rising. And I don't like it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

a window into the work.

Poor—adjective, noun plural. What your parents work tirelessly to avoid being now that your family has moved to The Suburbs. Poor is delineated by: buying and wearing used clothing; having cooked rice for breakfast (because it is cheaper and more available than designer cold cereals) (ironically, as an adult you do both of these things by choice, not out of economic necessity); poor hygiene and mediocre grooming habits (a fact your mother would NEVER allow to be true about you, see also nappy); infestation of vermin and or insects; irregular bedtime patterns; inability to speak with proper verb tenses or subject-verb agreement; malnutrition; ashy skin and bare feet.
Both your parents were plagued with the concrete reality of being poor growing up. Your parents work for years at jobs they don’t like, in order to make the money that allows them to forget that they know what poor feels like: the rub against the skin, the emptiness in the stomach, the burning sadness and frustration churning in the heart of poor. They have survived it like warfare. They have toiled diligently, desperately, incessantly, to prevent the stench and infection of poor from touching their adulthood or your life. You are not poor and you do not know poor.

Monday, November 1, 2010


I feel the spirit of a wanderer on me today. I think it's been here for quite some time.

On the mat this morning, I realized that I've been torn between feeling the need to move and the reality of staying. It might be easier if there was something compelling me to set down roots and make something here, something steady and permanent. I whined to my Favorite the other day that maybe I should be more like the people we know, people with "real", steady jobs who want to make babies and knit doilies and invest in 401K's.

I can't help feeling like this is an inherently female struggle. I'm sure that's not the case, but it seems to me that the men I know just aren't beset by the question of life choices that make them happy and life choices that make them comfortable. I'm not saying men have it easier because they don't have to make these kinds of choices; I'm saying that I don't know how many men think like this, what they should do versus what they want to do. I don't know how many of them feel this tension.

My Favorite and I are looking at ways to make plans: immediate, middle distance and long term. I get skittish about the things that I want to be true about my life and how they accommodate--or don't--those plans. Is it reasonable to plan for a life abroad for a month? Three? Six? Is it reasonable to consider completing a PhD program in the next ten years? Do I even want a PhD? Is it even reasonable to hope that this book I'm working on will actually get me any of the things I want (namely, a wider scope of recognition as a writer and enough leverage to contend for a teaching position on which I can earn a decent living)?

I feel plagued by uncertainty. I'm not depressed about it, but I feel very much like I'm walking through fog, and that it's quite difficult for me to tell what it is that I want, which is rare. Even in all of this, I don't want to send my roots deeper into the ground; I want to fly. But I just don't know how the skies are, or if I'm strong enough.

Blame it on the falling leaves.