paging Ms. Dowd

I had the chance to read a rather scary little essay entitled What’s A Modern Girl to Do?. Composed of excerpts from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s upcoming book Are Men Necessary?, Ms. Dowd seems to be meditating over the absolute failure of the brand of feminism she and her peers fought for in the 1970’s. Women are expecting men to pay for (the first few) dates. Women are becoming “Rules girls”. Women are taking their husbands’s names when they marry. Women are playing dumb because men prefer to marry their secretaries, not their bosses. Women at Ivy League schools are considering leaving the workplace to have children. Oh, the horror! The horror!

The criticism was made over the weekend in the feminist blogsphere that Ms. Dowd essentially reduces the failures of feminism to “I’m over 40, beautiful, and successful. Why can’t I get a man?” In part, I concur. The essay reads like some kind of dating manual… where Ms. Dowd seems to be trying to sound bitter about not being more airheaded in order to be popular, like people did in high school. There is some irony in the fact that even though feminist were supposed to adopt the mantra “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”, Ms. Down still seems to spend a lot of time talking about men want.

I am reminded of something that a woman friend told me once after seeing a profile of a successful fortysomething executive with no family and no kids. She effective said “Why did they comment that she had no family and no kids like it was some kind of crime?” Indeed. I think one of the great lies that feminism perpetrated in the 1970’s was the “have it all” myth — women can have this wonderful career and this wonderful family life, possibly without a regular man in their lives, all at the same time. They could be both their fathers and their mothers at the same time. I say: there aren’t enough hours in the day to be two people and something’s got to give.

Unfortunately, it’s still a man’s world out there… and that needs to be fixed. Our society needs complete pay equity, badly. I tend to think that one of the major incentives for women to choose to be the ones to stay home with children is that they make less. Certainly, I could never take care of the kids instead of Mrs. Geek — of course, that is also due the fact that Mrs. Geek is a school teacher and therefore woefully underpaid compared to other degreed professionals. There are many other social conventions that need change but pay equity is a good place to start.

Another part of it has to be some sort of change in how American culture approaches work. Our work culture is largely based on a level of commitment to employment that I think sometimes borders on insanity. You want to get ahead in the working world to day? You have to be working every minute of every day, or the world is passing you by. A key part of the American identity is what you do. While I think this is better than basing identity on where you were born or who your relations are, it can (and has been) taken to extremes. A casualty of those extremes is that you cannot seem to be a) a full-time or near full-time employee, b) a concerned and active parent, and c) a “success” at the same time. The inequality is that it is a crime for a man to chose anything but a) and c) and a crime for a woman to choose anything that doesn’t involve b).

I think that once you get those two things straightened out in a way that still leaves us with a productive society, women and men can finally have some choices. Men or women can be caregivers. Men or women can be focussed on careers without sacrificing everything else in their lives. We can all be a lot more equal.

oh Lestat, where are you?

Roman Catholicism is really powerful stuff. Really powerful. I should know. Born and raised with it. Married a woman who teaches in a Catholic school by her cousin, the Monsignor.

Maybe it’s the blood. You see, as Catholics, we believe that the wine we get with Communion on Sunday is really blood. It may taste like wine, and look like wine, but a miracle occurs every Sunday where that fermented grape juice literally turns into the blood of Jesus thanks to the miracle of transubstantiation. Then we all drink it, giving some credence to the quaint theory that Catholics are really cannibals.

Why all this banter about Catholicism? Well, I read this week that Anne Rice has another book coming out, a book called Christ The Lord: Out Of Egypt and I heard that she’d returned to the Church, I knew that Roman Catholicism had done its work yet again. Yes, if you hadn’t heard already, Anne Rice had a life changing medical emergency a little while back and had to have life or death surgery. Though long out of the fold, this encounter with mortality has brought about her reconciliation with the Church. Now she is ready to do God’s work, she says. That and her new trilogy of books about the life of Jesus told from Jesus’ point of view may not be something that all her long time diehard fans will want to read.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not down on her in the least for doing this. I’m just not surprised by it. People use the phrase “Mother Church”, and it is literally true… she is a mother to all of us. Some may love her, some may come to hate her, but she has shaped and nurtured all of us in ways that we cannot always fully discern. Maybe that’s true of all religions… but I can only be familiar with the shapes and patterns of my own.

I was thinking about Anne Rice and Catholicism today… and I realized where her villians come from. They are always dark, gothic creatures… kind of like Catholic Priests in their old school, pre-Vatican II flowing cassocks. Cut off from regular relationships with other human beings, they are either almost celibate or highly sexualized in ways that embody all the dark fantasies that Catholicism rails against. No, even in her work that attempts to get away where she came from… all the marks and signs of Mother Church are there. Eating? All you want. Drinking? Get drunk, get in a fight, and fall down… well, not every night, but within reason. Music and dancing? No problem. Sex? Once a year and only to have children, if you are really serious about getting into heaven. What do you think she’s writing about?

So Anne Rice has made her peace with the Catholic Church. Good for her. I just hope that some of those people I knew in high school who were such avid fans of hers… like the one who I heard later was screaming Satanic epithets during her step sister’s wedding ceremony… I hope those people can handle it. Welcome back to the fold, Anne. I haven’t read one of your books in a while… but I’m sorely tempted… we have the same the mother, and I’m curious about what you have to say about your journey as a Catholic.

still the nervous, shy adolescent in some ways

An old ghost came back to haunt me a bit this week. I got an e-mail out of the blue from a woman named J. who was the object of a dreadful crush on my part back during my freshman year in college. She had somehow found my e-mail address by accident (my guess: some kind of Google search hit my University web page) and wanted to say “hello”. Not having seen her since a cocktail party preceding our 10 year high school reunion in the late 90’s, her note was a bit of a surpise… and one which reminds me, yet again, that I’m still only a few steps away from being a nervous, shy adolescent in some ways.

I’m not sure what I can even say at this point about what happened between us during that first year of college. The memories of specific events are fading, and only emotional impressions remain. J. and I knew of each other thanks to a few shared classes in high school, but never really interacted. We then went on to the same local Community College where she caught my eye as a familiar face. We were polar opposites in many ways; I think she’d been dating or hanging out with older guys through much of high school, and I was a social late bloomer who hadn’t dated at all. Fools often enter where angels fear to tread however… and I tried to attract her attention in whatever naive, feeble ways I could.

Her reaction was rather opaque to me. She didn’t outright discourage me, but she didn’t encourage me either. I think she had me pegged right off and figured that I would eventually get the hint and move on… which I did after some months. Months, you say? Well yes… I was basically clueless, and it’s not like I was camping out on her front lawn, or anything. I was well meaning and tried to feel my way along very unfamiliar ground… a phone call here, and chance encounter there. Ah, such is the agony of the adolescent crush. I just got to have one at age 18-19 instead of 14-15, late bloomer me. It must be hell to be a very pretty 19 year old girl — lots of clueless guys circling around you, some nice, some not, all vying for your attention in addition to the ones you actually want to date.

We didn’t see each other for several years after that. I finished my two years in community college, moved on to a four year college, and then to grad school. She transferred to another school after that first year to get a teaching degree. We next bumped into each other at our 10 year high school reunion. I’m sure I’ve documented that encounter in this diary somewhere (again, I need to index this thing — I’m a trained scientist and scholar damn it, and want to cite work properly!) I’ve met several people over the years who speak the same language I do (English), yet we tend to annoyingly misunderstand each other at almost every turn. I came away from seeing her that last time realizing that she falls into that group.

Hearing from her again bugs me. I’m not entirely sure why. I think some part of me is embarassed about being young and stupid half a life ago. As I said in my last entry, I find myself daydreaming about being younger and able to skip over all my insecurities and false starts and get right to the “good stuff” that is part of my life now. At the same time, another part of me is pleased to be able to communicate with her. Perhaps it is some ego-driven bit of logic that I wasn’t that annoying because she sought me out to say hello when given the chance. Most of all, I’m very annoyed that any of this matters one bit. It’s been almost 20 years and half a lifetime since most of this happened. Why should it even be worth the effort of being annoyed?

There is some wisdom in all this somewhere. Something about letting go. Something about being able to laugh at oneself. Something about the glass being half full. Something about growing up. I’m sure this will all resolve itself soon.

new dreams and old dreams

I’ve been thinking that one way to improve traffic to this diary is to occasionally come up with a new catchphrase that will attract the attention of the search engines. Today’s first attempt is:


Paris Hilton bisexual iPod porn

I’ll be waiting to see if anyone wanders over with that as a search result.

I woke up at 5am this morning after a rather unusual dream. I dreamt that it was summer and Mrs. Geek and I were traveling to the Land Of My Birth to attend some type of school reunion. About half way through the dream, I discovered that Mrs. Geek was pregnant, and showing… really showing. This was the first time that I’d ever dreamed about such a thing and it was a little disconcerting.

Not wanting to sound like I was unsure about my love for Mrs. Geek or the children we will one day have, I tried to describe the dream very carefully to my wife as we were both preparing for work. It turned out that the idea of her being pregnant right now was a little scary for her too. I believe she ultimately said something like like “I’m freaked out about it, and you were the one having the dream.”

Manifestations of my subconscious mind aside, I find that a lot of my daydreams lately revolve around wanting to be younger. I find myself thinking about what it would be like to be 10 or 15 years younger than I am now, yet knowing what I know now. Not that I would necessarily want much to change about my life… I wish I could just skip over all those nightmare dating experiments and dissertation insecurity I had in my 20’s, and get to the “good stuff” that is going on my life, without the graying hair, 20-30 lbs lighter, and generally in better shape.

I think this morning’s dream and these daydreams are linked. In our heart of hearts, I think Mrs. Geek and I would like to have a couple more years before seriously considering children. We’re both the age that we are… and certain biological imperatives prevail. Having a family also means having space for all of us to live, which in turn means the purchase of real estate. Given the price of housing, buying a house probably means relocation. So, the basic desire to have kids means changing pretty much everything in our lives in near future. I wish we were younger by 5-10 years and living the lives we have, so we could have some more time to sort this out.

Well, that and the ability to easily fit into a 36″ waist. That would be nice too.

the disadvantages of the working world

One of the things that I liked about working as a grad student researcher was you always knew when the data was due. It was the end of a quarter for a class project. It was for a paper deadline. Well established deadlines existed. Yes, sometimes those deadlines made for late nights and no weekends, but there was also some security in that, too.

The data is always due in the corporate world. You want it when? Yesterday? I’m sorry, that doesn’t fit with our testing roadmap. We have data to collect for these five other projects first. So, if you want it yesterday, you have to explain to us why we should re-prioritize.

The quality of the data suffers as a result. We seem to be making decisions all the time… and I’m finding lately that those decisions are coming back to haunt us. We’re groping around in the dark; we make so many decisions without much time to think about what they mean.We then tell people about the data, including upper management… and they get upset when we go back and say “Oh sorry, we have to restate things.”

There are, of course, some good reasons for the poor quality of our decisions. A good workman never blames his tools, but… when lousy tools that you don’t always understand are all you have, quality will not always be want you want. That really bugs me.

I hate that we have to keep restating things. I need to be able to do a better job of being able to step out of the moment. I need to take in the bigger picture. I usually get so stuck in the moment, a few paragraphs worth of words come tumbling out of my mouth before I’m able to sum up and say something meaningful.

I guess this is why I often prefer the written word… you can edit.

I need to remember that everyone else is struggling along in the darkness too. I am not the only one. I just need to figure out how to light a candle.

notes from the creative bullpen

I’m taking a little break from developing my new death metal/surf rock band concept, named Ümläüt, and their first album (which will be named either “Bury Me With My Board” or “Wipe Out And Die!”) containing a speed metal, hard core version of the “Hampsterdance Song”.

Instead, I’ll be spending the next few days working up a pitch for a March/December romance along the lines of Anna Nicole Smith and J. Howard Marshall. They can meet while she’s pole dancing at a local strip club, she gains weight, he dies, and then the fun ensues over who gets to inherit. The film can cover all the big Hollywood bases: big breasts, tight abs, lots of food, B movie sex, fueding with high society neighbors, low comedy, pole dancing, gun play (the couple can shoot skeet in their spare time), and court room drama. It could become the Giant(James Dean’s last film) of the new millenium.

They say that 90% of directing is casting and I figure that casting will be key. Marlo Brando is dead, so he won’t have quite the right look for the role, almost but not quite. Jack Nicholson could probably work… though he’d probably only sign on if there was a legitimate chance that he would actually be able to sleep with his co-star. If not him, maybe Dennis Hopper would do it, though he’d probably want to do it on helium. For his co-star, Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan would probably be ideal… though some bust augmentation would probably be preferable to truly capture the stripper look. I wonder if someone like ILM can do CGI breast augmentation? Note to self: develop CGI breast augmentation software for use in film and make a killing for the porn industry.

Yeah, Jack Nicholson and Britney Spears… there would be a movie for the ages. Well, gotta go pitch that baby, take the money, and run! Oh yes, must file with the Screenwriters Guild for a professional alias, so as to be able to go out in public when the film finally comes out in a year starring James Brolin and Mariah Carey.

a momentary wish for poetry.

Something there is about October sunshine. It is softer and gentler than that of the summer, but not the pallid creature seen from November to March. It calls up memories of cold, frosty nights, crisp mornings, and long sleeves and jackets in the afternoon. It reminds me of the colors of autumn leaves, red and gold against bright blue sky.

Days like today make me wish for some skill at poetry.