Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fun Facts

Things have been pretty heavy here on Adventures recently so I thought I would whip up something delectably frivolous for your consumption.

I’m kind of the worst at trivia. Filed away in my brain amidst row upon row of messy cabinets filled with old customer orders from when I waited tables and key strokes to computer systems I will never use again, is useless information about celebrities, history, and authors.  But how often do you get questions like which well-known author and publisher passed on publishing James Joyce’s Ulysses (Virginia Woolf) or which well-known actress stole the script for Shakespeare In Love from Gwyneth Paltrow in an effort to poach the role from her (Winona Ryder)?  Eeeexactly.  You’re more likely to get questions about Russian diplomats or Greek words or who won what world series championship when whatever and...truth be told, I just don’t know that shit.

So why am I telling you this?  Why do I tell you anything?  Why do I exist?  All good, if not even vaguely existential questions. I say this to you primarily to temper your expectations--so that when I tell you I have compiled a list of fun facts, you know that "fun" not only has a big fat ring of relativity to it but that the facts you are about to encounter boast a comfortable range of innocuous to random to why would anyone know this? to you lose, good day, sir.

Nevertheless, we proceed.

Fun Fact #1

Killer Whales aren’t actually whales; they are a kind of dolphin  When I learned this during a binge watching session of every whale-related documentary on Netflix, I felt betrayed by every elementary school science lesson and National Geographic Zoo magazine that failed to make this distinction.

Fun Fact #2

Dunkin' Donuts started in Canton, Massachusetts. Maybe that’s why they are e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e here.  Competing with Starbucks in New York City to see which franchise’s locations can most closely resemble a Russian doll.  

And inside this Starbucks...another Starbucks!

Fun Fact #3

Everyone talks about the hanging man in one of the wood scenes in the Wizard of Oz but that's just a rumor.  And trust me when I say this because I'm a bonafide Wizard of Oz expert.  From the time I was 3 to the time I was 5 or 6, I watched that movie at least once a week and that's a conservative estimate.  So you do the math.  No really, you do the math, it's too hard for me.

Someone did die on set; however, it was one of the canine thespians in the role of Toto.  He was accidentally crushed to death by one of the witch's guards.  How's that for a bleak end?

Fun Fact #4

Miley Cyrus has a tatoo of a Teddy Roosevelt quote: "So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I personally would have gone with: "Walk softly and carry a big stick."

Fun Fact #5

Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton used to routinely grab dry martinis together after their poetry class.  This fact makes me so happy, which in so doing evokes the polar opposite sentiment as their poetry.

Fun Fact #6

There is such a thing as oyster beer.  I've had it.  It's delicious.

Fun Fact #7

Rubies are just red sapphires.

Fun Fact #8

There was a 16 year old girl named Sybil Ludington who did same midnight ride as Paul Revere to warn the American colonialists that the British were coming. Except she made the ride in New York and she rode twice as far (40 miles instead of 20).  This fact comes courtesy of Drunk History.

Fun Fact #9

In the early 90's Sylvester Stallone and Sandra Bullock futuristic action movie, Demolition Man, all of the restaurants are Taco Bells. Except in the European version of the film when all of the restaurants are Pizza Huts.  My guess is that they needed all the product placement dinero they could get. You know...for the amazing costumes and special effects...(and if you haven't seen it, just insert a "not" here so you can get the gist of the joke.)
Fun Fact #10

The expression "sleep tight" comes from a period when bed mattress consisted of a series of ropes and you would want to pull the ropes tight in order to have a more comfortable night's sleep.

Fun Fact #11

I may have made up that last fact but I could have sworn that I remember a guide telling us that when my family and I toured the Rose Hill Mansion in Geneva, NY.  

Because that' what you do with your kids over the summer, n'est pas?  Take them on historical tours...

Fun Fact #12

Speaking of which, Elizabeth Cady Stanton's house near Seneca Falls NY was not only in the middle of a swamp (she and her kids were constantly fighting off mosquito-born illness) but it was also down river from a tannery.  My guess is that her backyard during the summertime was less than a pleasant place to be.

Fun Fact #13

Most of you probably already know that the original versions of the beloved Disney fairy tales are incredibly dark. Sleepy Beauty is perhaps the most disturbing.  In the Grimm version, Sleepy Beauty is raped by the Prince (while she is sleeping) and only comes to after one of the twins she gives birth to (again while she is sleeping) sucks out the piece of flax, thus breaking the spell of her slumber.

Fun Fact #14

I saw Titanic in the theaters and did not cry.

Fun Fact #15

And I cry at everything.

Fun Fact #16

The song "Maniac" was originally written about a serial killer.  It was altered for the movie Flash Dance, so that the lyrics are talking about tearing it up on the dance floor instead of chopping up your neighbors into little pieces.

Fun Fact #17

I've never seen Flash Dance, despite the fact that one of my roommates freshman year of college would watch it regularly.

Fun Fact #18

One fleck of jalapeno in the eye may be all that separates you from resembling James Joyce.

Fun Fact #19

We're all half centaur.  Isn't that true, Ron?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The C-word

I've thought long and hard about whether or not to write a post like this but, in the end, this is the purpose of my blog: to chronicle, to cultivate, to excavate, and perhaps, above all, to process.

If you've been reading recently--but what am I saying?  Of course you have--you know I've been pruning a small(ish) bouquet of complaints about a variety of topics, ranging from cultural perceptions of feminism to the idleness of unemployment.  Those stem from real frustrations that, at the time, I felt truly troubled by, so, in that sense, I don't feel ashamed that I grumbled about them.  But, there is this little thing called perspective that's hard to have in those moments, until an involuntary tilt of the head forces you to see everything differently.

On Wednesday of last week, I was offered a really exciting job at Berklee College of Music online.  After months of applying and interviewing and hoping and being disappointed, I was elated and immensely relieved and I accepted the position immediately. The malaise of joblessness was soon to be lifted and my sister and I promptly went out to celebrate by drinking several glasses of red wine and chatting and laughing until it was uncomfortably late for the working folk. The next day marked Moses and my 10th anniversary. I relished the lovely lazy morning (something I could now enjoy as my seemingly infinite leisure time suddenly had a limit): I drank coffee and wedding planned, only left the house once to turn in my mound of new employee paperwork.

I felt generally cheerful about life with a few minor exceptions.  The fruit fly infestation in our kitchen had reached biblical proportions; that wasn't so nice.  I was having some trouble finding suitable venues for our wedding reception; that was less than pleasant also. That afternoon, after I returned from my errand, I called my parents' house to talk them about these and mostly other trivial things. My father answered the phone and started talking to me as if we were already in the middle of a conversation, telling me that my sister was thinking of coming to Ithaca that weekend and how he wasn't sure if she needed to yet. I was utterly confused; I had no idea that my sister thinking of going anywhere in the near future and I had just seen her the night before.  When I questioned him about this, he replied: "didn't you get my text?" I hadn't; the text had somehow gone astray. It was a text telling me that my younger brother John had been diagnosed with Leukemia. He is 17.

As many of you know, I come from a large Polish-Irish Catholic family.  Is there any other kind of Polish-Irish Catholic family?  Probably not.  There are six kids altogether and my siblings and I are considerably spread out in ages: my sister Genevieve is the oldest at 31, I am 29, Scott is 25, Jeremiah is 19, John I just mentioned is 17, and my brother Isaiah is the youngest at 11.  The names, as you can see, became progressively more biblical as time wore on.  Perhaps if my parents had another child they would name him Jesus Joseph Kozak. 

The wide gap in our ages has always had a tendency to perplex or shock most people; they ask if our parents divorced and married other people (they didn't) or if having younger siblings so much younger than me was hard on me (it wasn't).  Mostly, it makes everything more fun and it causes you to let go of a lot of your more primal selfish urges, which makes you a better partner, a better friend, and a better person.

Maybe it's because we're a big family or maybe it's because we have a sprinkling of introversion dashed with aspergers but we're a pretty close-knit bunch.  Sure we have our quarrels but we all genuinely care about each other and look out for one another.  In many cases, we were each other's first friends.  In many cases, we are still each other's best friends.  And when you are 12 years or 18 years older than a sibling, it's hard not to feel slightly maternal towards them. That was one of the reasons it was so hard to live on the West coast; I missed a lot of events in my brothers' lives that I wished I had been there for, making those rare occasions when I could swoop in for a birthday or a graduation feel like the biggest treat ever. 

To say that I was shocked when I learned my brother had cancer is an understatement.  I was utterly confounded.  I couldn't understand how this had happened. We have no family history of cancer.  My paternal grandparents lived to be in their 90's, my maternal grandfather died in his 80's, and my maternal grandmother will ring in her 91st birthday this year.  I knew that my brother John had been sick with a stomach bug for the past week, but there was nothing to indicate, nothing to prepare us for it being anything other than a virus.  In fact, that was precisely what the doctor initially thought it was.  He blessedly decided to run some blood tests just to be safe.

I was alone in my apartment when I got the news.  I hung up the phone with my father--my poor father who had been tasked with telling his children this terrible news, who I couldn't even find the words to comfort, who had to listen me robotically repeat "Oh my god.  Oh my god." a phrase that he had taught me as a child never to say.  I immediately called Moses and the second I heard his voice, I burst into tears and cried harder than I ever had before: so hard that it echoed in our now full apartment, so hard that my eyes were swollen the next day, so hard that I wondered if it might have been easier to have received this diagnosis for myself.

Since that day I have felt every cliched five-stages of grief bullshit emotion that they always say you'll feel when faced with a situation difficult to understand: outrage (Why him?!  Why our family!? Why do bad things always happen to good people!?), denial (Maybe they made a mistake, maybe it's just a strange virus or an autoimmune disease--as if either of those would be better...), and sadness. Sometimes, I feel it all at once. Sometimes I just feel angry and have to talk myself out of it.  But what has been most pervasive is the sadness.  I feel sad that this has happened to my brother and to my family.  I feel sad that this happens to anyone.  I feel sad that my brother has such a long road to recovery before him. I feel sad that he won't have a typical senior year of high school.  I feel sad that even with a 90% survival rate, that he will ever wonder if he is in the 10%, or worry that the cancer might come back.  I feel sad to think he might never have a "normal" life again.  And although I am not entirely sure why, I feel sad to know that he will forever be identified as a cancer-survivor.

One thing I was not expecting to feel; however, was gratitude.

I know it may seem strange or trite but when I drove down to Ithaca this past weekend and spent the day in the hospital with my family and the night in the hospital caring for my brother, I felt overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude.  I am not grateful that this happened to John or to my family, by any means, but I am grateful that if this had to happen to John, that it at least happened to him at an age when he could understand it. When John was in the ICU on Sunday morning, I walked past a nearby room where I saw a baby sleeping in a crib and was overcome by just how awful it must be to not understand what you are sick with or why you are in the hospital and why you are being given these treatments that make you feel so ill.

I feel grateful that in spite of everything, my parents remain unfailing kind to everyone around them. They thanked the doctors and nurses profusely, they opened doors for people, they smiled at people in the hallways, they are supporting each other and aren't letting the stress of the situation divide them.

I feel grateful that I have siblings who are motivated only by what they could do to help John and our parents; who take turns staying overnight in the hospital with John and go grocery shopping for my parents and babysit Isaiah.  We hardly even need to coordinate, we simply all said "what can we do," the roles were all clear and we played them uncomplainingly.  Not all families can come together so cohesively in times of strife and it makes me so incredibly proud to be part of one that can.

I am grateful that this has made me much more conscious of sharing all of those words of love and admiration for my family that I always think but rarely say.

I feel so grateful that all of the nurses and doctors caring for John are so nice and gentle with him and take the time to explain what they are doing and why.  I feel grateful that my parents have medical insurance; I can't even begin to imagine how difficult this must be for the families who don't.

I am grateful for the outpour of support and encouragement from our family, friends, neighbors, etc. I always knew my friends were awesome; but, it makes my heart so full to know that there are so many good people out there who want to help. I cannot tell you how such a little thing like a text or email from a friend saying "thinking about you," has comforted me during some of the more difficult moments.

Perhaps most of all, I am grateful that despite everything that has happened to him, my brother John isn't bitter. Even that night I stayed with him, when he was so miserably sick, he still thanked the nurses every time they helped him, he thanked me for being there with him, and kept apologizing that the one night I was there he kept "losing his lunch."

There was one moment, during that long night, which I think really speaks to John's character.

He had had surgery earlier that day and was woken up by the nurses every few hours during the night to take some medication that could not be given to him in IV form.  The combination of chemo and the anesthesia really did a number on his stomach.  He was sitting up in bed, I was holding, for lack of a better term, the throw-up bucket in front of him and rubbing his back.  He looked up at me and drowsily said:  "Thank you for being here with me and coming all this way.  I know you have better to things to do."  I replied: "John, of course."  And without skipping a beat he smiled and said: " Of course, you have better things to do."

That reader, is my brother John in a nutshell: steady, funny, and kind.

I still get overwhelmed with sadness from time to time--it ebbs and flows and as with anything else, some days are better than others.  But I will do my best to be uncharacteristically positive and to dwell in that feeling of gratitude as much as I can over the coming months; because it's no use dwelling in those other kinds of feelings; because reminding myself of that gratitude ultimately reminds me of everything good and meaningful and that goodness is easy forgot and therefore worth the remembering; because cancer and chemo are hard enough and there will be days when my brother will be tired and weak and in those moments, it's only through love and gratitude that we can truly supplement his strength.  

But I suppose that's the easy part, really.  

Not because any of it is actually easy but because of how much love and gratitude we have for him.

Monday, August 11, 2014

In defense of women (and men) and feminism

Okay, let me make one thing perfectly clear here:  I am not trying to troll with this post.  I am fresh out of riddles and I actually don't mind if you go clip clopping over my bridge.  But seriously, I don't wish to pick a fight with you.  I am merely writing this because I feel frustrated by what I have read on what seems to be the hot cultural topic of the moment. Or, at the very least, hot fodder for the internet/my facebook news feed.

Oftentimes, to understand where someone is coming from, you actually need to know a little bit more about where they came from and I come from a family of strong women.  My Polish grandmother survived the holocaust and worked several jobs in America to support her family.  My Irish grandmother raised six children, helped run a farm, and is famous for being a fiery and speaking her mind.  My mother also raised six children while working part of the time and studying for her graduate degree; she's a pillar of emotional strength for everyone in her family (not just her children) and has been a long time advocate for women's rights.  But this alone has not shaped who I am and what I feel and think, particularly about this issue: I also come from a family of strong men.  My Polish grandfather survived the holocaust as well and with my grandmother, worked several jobs to support his family.  My Irish grandfather worked long hours to run his farm and provide for his six children. My dad has faced struggles all his life: he was an immigrant, he grew up poor, he was often at odds with his parents, but he overcame every challenge he ever faced and he taught his children to do the same.  These men, in particular my father, demonstrated what good men should be and do.  As a result, I have virtually no hang-ups about men; they don't mystify me and they don't intimidate me. At all.

For these reasons, I feel slightly indignant when reading the rash of recent articles on the internet that seemingly detail how weak and hysterical women are: women are scared to go out in public because men use public places to assert their power over women through sexual harassment (like cat-calls) and even assault.  This, these articles claim, is symptomatic of a larger cultural trend: a pervasive patriarchy that primes young men to believe that women are lesser and can and should be dominated and subjugated.  Sometimes men act on this consciously by groping women on the subway and sometimes men act on this unconsciously through body language or through their denial that such a problem actually exists.

What I find so problematic about all these articles is that they are often written by or posted by men, masquerading as feminists; these articles have become a vehicle for men to demonstrate just how sensitive they are to women's issues.  But the underlying implication of these articles is that women are delicate, feeble, and fearful creatures.  When a man calls out to a women from across the street: "I want a piece of that hot ass," these women are rendered powerless, they are victimized, and in some cases, they are petrified that the man making this comment will attempt to physically overtake them in the form of rape.

 I find it equally problematic when I see women writing and positing similar articles and participating in similar dialogue, that makes similar insinuations.

The thing is that a guy who shouts something like that at a girl is just a jerk.  He's probably a dick to his guy friends too.  He probably starts fights in bars and he's probably deeply insecure about his masculinity for reasons that we can only speculate about.  Insecurity almost always breeds aggression, the same way that bullies are often themselves rather cowardly.

In other words, ladies: you can't let what a jag like that says to you bother you.  When you let it bother you, you are giving him power over you. You are choosing victimization.  There are some cases in which you can't choose being the victim (such as in assault cases) but there are some cases in which you can.  Should this guy be allowed to talk to you that way?  Absolutely not!  But it's not the cultural climate that validates this behavior, it's his own self-doubt. And sure, his equally douchey bros might high-five him or slap him on the back after saying something offensive to you, but ask 99% of other men and they would tell you that it's not okay to behave that way and that they would never do so themselves.

Reasonable men don't think this is the right way to act, which is why not every single man you encounter treats women in this manner.

Now, I'm no Miranda Kerr but I am okayish looking (#notamutant) and I've experienced my fair share of on the street "harassment" but I never feel threatened by it.  Most of the time, it's really innocuous, like some guy coming up to me and telling me that I am beautiful.  Whatever, that's nice. He is probably attracted to me and thinks this sort of bluntness will charm me (it won't).  It's rare that I get anything really offensive hurled my way by someone other than a crazy homeless person.  It's probably only really happened once or twice in the past twenty-nine years of my life and in those cases, I gave it right back to the guy: I made fun of his manhood (or speculated lack thereof).  Vulgar?  Yeah probably but sometimes you need to stick up for yourself to show that person that they can't talk to you like that, rather than wait for this person to realize it on their own (spoiler alert, they won't because they are obviously not a rational person). Maybe they will be more hesitant to say something to someone in the future, maybe they won't.  But in my experience, embarrassing the person attempting to shame and embarrass you is the best way to assert your dominance over him.

I don't pretend that my experiences are the embodiment of every woman's in America and I certainly don't fault any woman who felt weirded out by some creeper.  Sometimes it's hard not to be.  I just don't think that you should give him the satisfaction of upsetting to you. Pardon my language, but I certainly don't intend to take shit. From anyone. In any form.

The thing that bothers me most about the expressed outrage in these articles, is that it feels misplaced.  It's vilifying all men, for the actions of a few.  Not all men speak to women this way, not all men beat their partners, and not all men are rapists.  This is a sheer statistical fact.

You should be angry that rape happens.  You should be angry that there is human trafficking, molestation, kidnap, murder, and other violations of human rights but, no reasonable person would argue with that. Sometimes, when I read these posts I think: "why are you yelling? There is literally no one on the other side of this argument."  The mere fact that reports of rape are increasing is a good sign;  it's not further evidence of rape-culture, it doesn't mean that more women are getting raped, it suggests a cultural climate less tolerant of rape since more women feel compelled or comfortable to actually report it.  It means that they believe they will be heard and taken seriously and that is a great thing.

I am not saying that sexism doesn't exist.  It does.  Some people are still sexist or racist or homophobic or just generally hateful but the difference between now as opposed to ten, twenty, or thirty years ago, is that it's not okay to be that way openly.  That doesn't mean that people don't act that way openly, it just means that when they do they are met with enough cultural opposition as to force a public apology or to ruin their reputation for good.  I am thinking in particular of the Chris Brown and Rihana scandal or Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Fluke.  What they did and said was not acceptable and the backlash they faced demonstrates that most people are in agreement about that.

Sure, I think there are still injustices towards women.  I take issue with the fact that drug dealers typically get longer sentences than rapists and I think the recent supreme court ruling regarding small companies and birth control sets a dangerous precedent and we maybe disagree about those things but at least we all concur that violence against women=bad. That wasn't always the case and in fact, is not the case in many countries.  To act like calling some girl "babe" is evidence of rape-culture in the US not only trivializes actual cases of rape in this country but also belittles the experiences of women raped in other countries, who have less social and legal resources.

I love women and I want them to feel empowered.  It breaks my heart that any female feels threatened by a man after hearing a lewd comment or seeing a man walking towards her on a darkened street. I want these women to know how defend themselves and I want them to know that if, heaven forbid, something were to happen to them, that they could report it without judgement, that they would be supported, and that their assaulter would suffer serious consequences for their actions.

But I don't think that all men need to apologize for the fact that some men are rapists.  Just like how I don't expect all humans to apologize for the existence of serial killers. That's insanity.  And I don't think men need to prove how much of a feminist/non-rapist they are by isolating "trigger words," which suggests that the mere mention of the word "rape" would send a fragile creature like me into a hysterical fit of temporary blindness. Prove how much of a feminist you are by not acting like an asshole to women, by supporting your female partners or friends, by teaching your daughter to respect herself, and by slut shaming as little as possible (even though it's hard sometimes because we are all naturally inclined to be judgey).  And the same goes for women too.

The term feminism has become a very contentious one as of late, as evidenced by the "We don't need feminism" tumblr, featuring photographs of young women holding signs explaining why they don't need feminism. Initially I found this appalling because when I think of feminism I think of it from a historical standpoint. Much of my research in graduate school pivoted upon how female authors critiqued, challenged, and transgressed unfair and unequal gender norms during nineteenth century America.  So for me to say "I don't need feminism" is denying the important role that feminism played in slowly building gender equality in this country. But then I read what these girls had to say and I found myself agreeing with a lot (but not all) of them.  It made me think a little bit more about what that term means now.  In some respects, feminism is relative: it is only really meaningful when it has some opposition pressing against it (like sexism) and when most reasonable people believe women and men are equal, then what becomes of feminism?

I know it seems like I've using that term willy-nilly in this post and I mean it mostly in the classical sense: in support of women and women's rights but I've been thinking a lot about that question--what becomes of feminism?--recently and I'm not sure I know the answer.  I think we still need feminism and I think we need to redefine but I don't think that reviling men and playing the victim is the way to go about doing it. The sooner we stop crying rape-culture and being divisive and making hasty generalizations, the sooner we can actually be productive and collectively progress as a society.  And not to get all Barney on you or anything, but it seems to me that the more we create divisions between the genders, the more the opposition pressing against feminism become opposition against feminism itself, giving those remaining sexist people (or even some normal folks) out there reason to discredit the good things that supporting women and women's rights has accomplished.  So let's not do that, shall we?  Good?  Good.

And that's all she wrote.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Real Housewife of Boston

The last couple of weeks have been challenging.  Mostly emotionally but I guess if you count the few times I've attempted exercise--after two months of nothing but moderate walking/biking and torso-heavy car dancing (I do this far more than I should probably admit to) keeping me active--they have been pretty physically taxing too. Tell us more!  You say.  We want you to over-share about your luxurious and comparatively problem-free life of leisure!  Well, okay.  Lest I leave any stone unturned for my faithful reader, let me render for you here a quick portrait of my life at present:

Wake up, put on pot of coffee, shamble out into living room, lie on couch, turn on computer and commence all day online shopping, refresh email every five seconds, remain fully jammied until (conservatively) 3PM, enjoy infinity cup of coffee on (seemingly) infinity consecutive day of Real Housewives marathoning courtesy of Hulu Plus (which I caved and signed up for solely so I could do this and watch hour after hour of Top Chef--just filling the cable-sized void in my soul one Bravo TV show at a time.) Wait for Moses to come home, make dinner, watch more Bravo TV, go to bed.

And...that's about it.  And at the risk of keeping it a little too real: it's frustrating.  I am frustrated.

Transitions are hard enough as it is and every major transition in my adult life has been punctuated with periods of stagnation like this and they're usually filled with rest that I really really need but somehow simply knowing they are beneficial, doesn't help.

This is a recurring motif in my life and in blog (same tune, different year, in perpetuity): I don't seem to know what to do with myself when I am not working.  If I am not working, I feel like I am not being productive.  If I am not being productive, I feel like I've lost all purpose to my life.  I know I shouldn't feel like this and I wish I knew how to shuffle off this feeling but try as hard as I might, I am rarely if ever successful.

Woe is me, blah blah blah, you get it.

But things are getting better.  Each day I am feeling a little bit more at home, a little bit less stressed and overwhelmed, and a little less like venting to anyone who will listen.  Of course, I've put it on the blog so my complaints are now etched into the temporary permanence of the internet.  But, I am not terribly concerned. I am sure this will swiftly be replaced in your Facebook feed by another Huffington Post article about Justin Beaver doing something atrocious and almost being punched by another celebrity or another buzzfeed quiz about which buzzfeed quiz you are. And so it goes on the www...

So, as to the title of this post. Last week, when I was still in the thick of it all, in an effort to cheer me up Moses said: "just think, you're like one of the real housewives of Boston."

Well, if this picture is any indication...

She did WHAT?
he's not wrong...