In Defense of Slumming It

There has been a lot of talk lately about food stamps and other government programs. One notable story is Gwyneth Paltrow’s failed attempt at eating on $29 a week. Much criticism has been laid at her feet for what she bought, but there has also been criticism for her, and anyone, doing this challenge at all. Wealthy, or relatively wealthy, people can put on poverty like the latest fashion trend, and discard it just as easily. By slumming it, the argument goes, they don’t really understand what it’s like to be poor. In an ideal world we would listen to the people already living this struggle and believe them. The reality is though, we don’t. Collectively we as a nation ignore the poor, decide that they simply aren’t trying hard enough, and disregard their plight.

At numerous points throughout my life I’ve been on one, or many, forms of government assistance. I remember getting government issued food from WIC while in kindergarten, the giant cardboard can of peanut butter that was so disgusting I had to be starving to choke it down. The “checks” of varying denominations from food stamps — when I was in middle school — so that if our total came to anything and change my mother would always pay the change with cash, saving the $1 checks for bread or milk runs in the near future rather than lose part of a dollar. I remember living in Wisconsin, I was probably about 17, and my mother telling me that we were getting dinner that night at a soup kitchen. I remember being horrified, arguing that we weren’t that poor, it wouldn’t be right to take food from the people who really needed it. I remember being told we were that poor and I could eat there or not eat. I sat there, mortified, picking at the food I was convinced was old and would kill me. I thought I was better than that experience, than the other people sitting there. I’ve eaten at soup kitchens numerous times since then. The last time while I was pregnant, we were out running errands, I was starving and we had no money so we popped into a soup kitchen. It was pasta (it’s pretty much always pasta) and French cut green beans. I hate French cut green beans, so I gave them to my husband and felt guilty about it. We got our coffee and left. I would’ve eaten at one more recently but my daughter has dietary restrictions and I’m breastfeeding so I can’t. They don’t exactly check credentials at the door, but I am poor enough to eat there and always have been.

When I started dating my husband he lived in government housing. The same street of homes that my family and I had seriously considered moving into only a year or so before. I was in college at the time and speaking about him with a professor. She lived in the same town as him and knew the reputation of the area. She insisted that he was probably a drug dealer selling to little kids, she told me I was slumming it by dating him. And that’s the whole point. I was in college, excelling in college! He was poor and needed help to get by. I was one of “us,” he was one of “them.” The poor other. It never occurred to her that the two categories could overlap. It doesn’t occur to much of the country that poor people can be more than a nuisance.

This is exactly why people need to fail at food stamp challenges, and visit the “bad” section of town. This is why we should all eat at a soup kitchen. It is neither perfect, nor complete, but it does make us see people we might not and what they go through. None of us are “better” than that. There is no magical thing that makes someone above anyone else. I have a B.A., I won awards and scholarships, I had a magnificent GPA, I’m certainly not afraid of hard work and have given my all to the jobs I have had. I’ve lived in some of the nicest parts of the country, surrounded by wealth. And I’ve eaten in soup kitchens. I’ve used almost every form of government assistance there is. I regularly fail the food stamp challenge because I’m on food stamps and still often need to dip into what limited cash I have to make sure I have the basics. Until we all understand that none of us is better than the worst off of us then we will always devalue the poor. We as a country will continue to collectively demonize them. And when I say we I mean you, when I say them I mean us.


5 Reasons Why Technology Is Integral To The Academic Experience

So the faculty at my college- an elite women’s school- have this obsession with technology. Specifically, they want to eradicate it from classrooms (except for when it supplements their teaching). They claim technology is ruining the “academic experience,” and lament that they can’t “compete” with computers.  Many of my professors have banned laptops from their classes, allowing only special needs students to use them. This is problematic in a number of ways:

1. It demolishes special needs students’ legal rights to confidentiality. When only special needs students are allowed to use laptops in class, everyone in the room suddenly knows who has special needs and who doesn’t.  You may not care about this, but the beauty of this situation is that it doesn’t matter whether you care or not, because special needs students are guaranteed those rights by law.

Beavis and Butthead are apparently qualified to be professors.
They’re on the tenure track.

2. It reduces incentive for professors to improve their teaching techniques and approaches. This is particularly troubling to me, because students are tirelessly pushed to be unique, creative, and to think out-of-the-box. How can the faculty expect students to produce never-before-seen work when they can’t even manage it? They should lead by example. The world is constantly and rapidly evolving, and if colleges and professors want what they’re doing to remain relevant, they need to evolve, too. They should plan unique activities, and make the classroom more compelling and involved with small group competitions or written-talk activities. The content doesn’t have to change, but the delivery should. And yes, I know, not everything in “life” is interesting. But I don’t have to be interesting with everything in life, either, and I sure as hell don’t have to pay upwards of $40k/year for it. And, in the “real world,” I’ll be paid for the day in, day out boring shit I’ll have to do, and the rest of the boring shit I can either do myself (as it doesn’t take long) or pay someone else to do it. Or, hey, I can get technology to do it. Helloooo auto-bill pay!

Not that kind of bill.
Not that kind of bill.

3. Students are 18+ year old adults, and need to learn how to manage their lives on their own.  If they use a computer to browse Pinterest while a professor is droning uncreatively on, they have the choice to either pay attention, or not pay attention. If they don’t, there will inevitably be natural consequences for it, like a bad participation grade. Sure, the teacher will feel disrespected (boo-hoo) and the students will be pissed, but there’s a natural lesson that should be learned for both involved parties, isn’t there?

incompetence do not interest me
4. College is supposed to be preparing students for the real world. The faculty are in a very unique position to teach students how to balance their lives with technology and focus despite its temptations instead of eradicating their lives of it altogether. What kind of job will those students ever get that doesn’t have a computer involved in it? Some preparation college is, eh? The fact of the matter is, I don’t think professors themselves have figured out how to balance their lives with technology. Of course, if they can’t figure it out, how can anyone, right?

5. Banning computers/technology in the classroom greatly reduces the learning experience, much as professors disbelieve it. In the middle of class discussions, I can research a word’s definition in a matter of seconds on my computer to understand the conversation better. In a flash, I can look up that study that informed my opinion on the topic of discussion so others can learn about it. I can type 80+ words per minute, which is much faster than I can write, which means I’ll take better notes. And don’t give me that garbage about “writing notes is better,” because my grades haven’t changed a bit since switching from writing to typing. In fact, I’m MORE apt to review my typed notes because I know I can go back and edit or add to them in a hot second. However, my written notes often have various legible qualities depending on the length of my day, span far more pages than is necessary (typed notes are environmentally friendly), and include less material. Oh, and I can also phrase-search an e-book to find the passage I want to bring up or ask a question about in class, instead of spending eons detached from the conversation while I thumb through all the dog eared pages of my text.


In short, faculty at colleges need to get over the computer thing, stop being so offended by reality, and think of new ways to fix the problems that technology obviously highlights, like their uncreative, tired teaching styles. Technology is an invaluable part of the learning experience, as long as there IS any learning experience to be had in the first place. Professors need to reinvent the way they do things to make their lessons more engaging. Just because they’ve been doing something the same way for FOREVER, that doesn’t make it good, or even effective. Sure, the material can only be so interesting, but the  sky is the limit as far as the delivery goes. Everyone’s having to reinvent nearly everything they do to keep up with the changes in the world, so why shouldn’t professors?

So, you're fluent with Microsoft Office Suite?
So, you’re fluent with Microsoft Office Suite?

The more they resist the evolution of the world and its expanding incorporated technology, the more they contribute to their obsolescence. By failing to model moderated, balanced lifestyles that incorporate a healthy use of technology, and by failing to give the students the chance to make mistakes and learn how to be independent by banning technology, professors fail to do their jobs.


Sing a Song About the Heartland… (Guevara)

Ah, trips home. They never cease to amaze me. You know, I’ve not lived in Tennessee for thirteen years now, yet every time I go back, things are the same. The same unkempt brown roads, the same disgusting rebel flags flying everywhere, the same latent racism, buried, by force, by LBJ and the Civil Rights Act of 1964…the amount of hatred that takes place in Tennessee is unbelievable. Salon once called the state “Ayn Rand’s sadistic paradise” and I can’t help but agree. Staggeringly bad in education, in infrastructure, in unionization…anything in place that could be used to cripple the proles is used, with extreme prejudice.

But no, the South will rise again!

All that aside…home is home, and home is where mom is. Not only is Mom amazing, but she is an top-notch grandmother. She adores my little demons, and I’m sure they are quite fond of her. Plus, she is breaking her back to help me get to Columbia in the fall, so the awesome she contains is on so many levels. We may not agree on everything, but none the less, I feel she gets a lot of the genetic credit for my intelligence. The same can’t be said for my aunt, who we will call “Bonnie” here. You see, Bonnie was the family whiz kid before I decided to get my academic ass in gear. At one point, before pills got a hold of her, she was a RN, with a cushy salary and a good life. Now, don’t get me wrong, I know that drug addiction is a powerful thing, and a disease, but none the less, when help comes along, you take it.

Okay, the feminist in me is crying, but Jesus, Bonnie is a cunt.

I’m not the type that needs the approval of others. After all, one of the top universities in the WORLD has given me their approval, so why in the blue hell would I need it from a 50-something pill head who couldn’t tell her asshole from a hole on the ground because she’s stoned out? So, when Bonnie approached me and offered me a congrats with an awkward, stiff handshake, I took her corpse-like hand and took such laurels with a grain of salt. She was saving face, of course, and I was prone to let her, even as I could see the jealously seeping from every pore on her face.

Pic related: Her face

So, now with awkward handshakes out of the way, we went about our Easter, letting the kids follow ancient Pagan traditions as they hunted for dyed eggs. My son Nick, who is almost 11, seemed a little bored by the whole matter, and who could blame him? You’d have to know Nick. I’m a fairly intelligent person, and I know quite a few brainsters, but one day, Nick will outstripe anything I do, At ten, he’s already reading physics texts. Physics. I’ve always viewed any form of math as a tool of Satan, used to steal the innocence from virgins and defile the hearts of children everywhere, yet he reads this shit like it’s Shel Silverstein. He’s either going to win a Nobel Physics Prize or he’s going to be on America’s Most Wanted, I haven’t decided yet.


So, you can imagine my surprise when the aforementioned Bonnie throws a fit, because my step dad (whom we shall affectionately call “Pops”) decided to help some of the children, including Nick, I guess, find eggs. Her grandchildren, whom she invests little time and energy in, were hunting eggs as well, and, of course, Nick’s haul was substantial, while theirs was mediocre at best. (Side note: After the hunt, Nick graciously split his eggs between Leah, his adorable 9 year old sister, and a cousin whom he had met 45 minutes prior.)

Nick in his youth…

Bonnie droned on and on for a few minutes, before, finally Pops had enough. Now, mind you, Pops is not a confrontational person. There’s very little that upsets him, and even I have to admire his cool nature under stress. Perhaps it was the incessant grating of Bonnie’s voice, or perhaps it was the long work day that pops had put in the day before. It didn’t matter. The line he uttered will forever rest in the history of family gatherings as legendary.

“Shit, Bonnie, I’m willing to bet a hundred dollar bill that I could go out there, hide all the damn eggs again, and let Nick and you go lookin’, and he’d find twice as many as your stoned ass.”




…needless to say, the Easter party soon broke up, and we were left alone to sip on some suds and revel in the success of the past month. After all, how often does one get to see their Pops take down an “educated” woman?


Label Maker

So, Jeb Bush is in trouble. (Though I doubt this will gain the news traction of a missing email scandal.) He apparently declared himself to be latino on a voter registration form. Possible voter fraud implications aside, the hashtag #HonoraryLatino is exciting Twitter.

My personal fave tweet thus far.

And there is perfectly good reason to be outraged over a white man who is positively steeped in privilege to be claiming any marginalized status. When I — a white woman — first started waking up to the realization of the racism that surrounds us all I took to jokingly calling myself an angry black man. Over time I realized the problems with this. I was
a) using racist stereotypes to complain about racism, hello
b) I was using a label I had no right to.

Simply because I was now aware and angry about racism didn’t mean I could lay claim to the lived experience that justified the anger of any person of color against the racism regularly enacted by society. I had to understand that my relative privilege as a white person meant that I couldn’t claim certain identities. Even if I meant it as a joke. Even though I was dating a man of color (who I’ve since married). Think of it like the argument over the N word.
Jeb Bush says it was an accident. I want to get riled up, but honestly my Democrat voting self feels the need to give him the benefit of the doubt here. However, that hashtag gives one pause. Here’s the thing though, it didn’t originate with him. It was bestowed by his son. His son with legit Latino cred.
Like it or not a person of color has every right to grant, in jest or otherwise, an honorary anything status to the people they love. My husband is Puerto Rican. I am not and will never claim that status outside of my home. However he regularly calls me his Boricua girl. He talks about turning me Puerto Rican by teaching me Spanish and how to cook Puerto Rican food, etc. I would never confuse that with actually being Puerto Rican, but in my home and within my family it is a legitimate claim. It allow us cohesiveness, internal consistency. My husband feels better about himself and the legitimacy of his life choice in the face of criticism he may receive for not marrying a Puerto Rican woman. It means I am adapting, or trying to adapt, almost as much to my adopted family identity as my husband has to adapt to the whiteness that surrounds him by virtue of not living in Puerto Rico anymore. No, I don’t walk around my house declaring myself Boricua. I try to remain very conscious of my whiteness as I raise a daughter who will not be completely white. It’s not easy to internally straddle whiteness and ethnicity. I have no desire to police my daughter’s identity, but I can’t ignore the effect I will have on it either. Every aspect of Puerto Rican identity I can internalize will make it that much easier for my daughter to navigate her own experience. Perhaps some lighthearted labeling will help her feel secure in her own place within the complicated spectrum of race and ethnicity that will be her identity,
Tthough I am white what my daughter is facing is not completely alien to me. My father’s side of the family is the total WASP package, but my mother is Italian. That may not seem like much in the face of what many other groups in this country have been through, certainly Italians have now — for lack of better phrasing — achieved honorary white status. However, for this kid growing up in a VERY white area and being the most ethnic looking of my sibling bunch I felt that otherness, slight though it was. And I saw what my mother went through trying to impart my Italian American identity — and influence me to accept it — in the face of the rest of the world we lived in. It is only now, at 31 years old, that I’m finally understanding how much I rejected my own identity, and why. Anything I can do to ensure that my daughter fully embraces all that she is and sees how proud she should be of that Boricua heritage is a good thing.
And as for Jeb Bush Jr. we can’t really know his journey of self identity, his experience with his own heritage, and how his family may have reinforced the various backgrounds he comes from. Giving his dad that status, even glibly, may mean that same feeling of continuity within his family. He knows his father isn’t Latino, but it seems clear his dad tries.
For mixed race families like mine there is a blending, and melding, that needs to take place. Sometimes it allows for a fluidity of terms. I will never claim to be anything other than white to the outside world. I, unlike Jeb Sr., am always very careful about which box I check on forms. However within family one hopes that terminology is flexible, status is pliable, and people are comfortable, even publicly, with how they interact with each other.


The Vent (~Jacoby)

In the shared wall between my bedroom and the living room, there is an open, rectangular vent meant to deliver forced air heating/air conditioning, but functions more like an open window. Every noise my roommate or I make can be heard by each other.

I seee (and hear, and smell) yoouuu
I seee (and hear, and smell) yoouuu

I’m talking every sneeze, every cough (he is a chronic cougher for some reason), every single move. I can even hear the faint rustling of the suede couch as he shifts (which is where he spends his free time). I can hear the suction of the rubber seal on the fridge when he opens the door to retrieve snacks, and then I can hear the crinkling of said snack wrapper. He can hear the tapping of my typing and of course, my loud, hours-long phone conversations (during which he increases the TV volume).

I wouldn’t be so frustrated if, when I answered his “roommate needed” ad, he hadn’t been elusive about the fact that there is absolutely zero hope of privacy in this apartment unless you have the master bedroom (which of course, he has). When I answered his ad, we asked each other all the normal questions: do you have company over a lot; what are your cleanliness habits; are you a night owl or an early bird; are you responsible with bills, etc. Everything checked out. looksgoodtome The one thing he told me that even remotely hinted at this inevitable problem is that he watches “a lot of TV” and “stays up late.” To which I thought, IDGAF, ‘cos I don’t watch TV. I’m a full time student at an elite/demanding college. I’m also a night owl, so I figured, no problem there. But even if I wasn’t, it still shouldn’t be a problem, unless of course I could hear the TV when I have to go to bed early to be alert the next day for class. So I responded with, “as long as I can’t hear the TV, I don’t see why there should be an issue.” He replied that he watches “at a reasonable volume.” Soooo….I thought, why is that worth mentioning? Why do I care what he does with himself at night? He doesn’t usually have people over, he watches TV all the time, and has a weird sleep schedule. So what, who cares?

Well. He didn’t mention there’s a fucking HOLE IN THE WALL.            

With a tall LAMP situated RIGHT UNDERNEATH IT that FUNNELS copious amounts of light into my room.

With the TV RIGHT UNDERNEATH IT. Which I realized the very first night I was there, when the light and sound spilled into my room when I turned the lights off to go to bed. Right after I signed the lease. Fffffuck There was no way I could’ve known about this vent because a) I have no professional training with vents of any kind, b) I didn’t see the apartment at night, so I couldn’t have known about the light/sound problem and c) HE DIDN’T TELL ME. Yes, he said he was worried his habits would clash with mine because I’m a student and he’s not (which I thought was bizarre, but now understand). Yes, he mentioned he stayed up late and watched TV, but I knew we both had our own rooms, and I expected both of them to have SOLID WALLS. noprofessionaltraining He knew they did not.  Which he should have been honest about when I looked at this place. So mostly, I’m mad because I wasn’t told about this.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it could be worse- he could be late on bills every month (and he is with the utilities), he could have tons of people over, he could be a dick and steal my things, he could be a druggie or an alcoholic or whatever, and his habits could be a lot more gross than his typical bachelor habits are, so I’m thankful for that. And I know the vent is not his fault, and I know he doesn’t like it either, because recently (of course not before I moved in) he said, “we gotta do something about that vent.” yathink? Well, we can’t likely do anything about the vent. The research indicates it’d cost us money we don’t have, while only providing mediocre sound reduction at best. But we could switch rooms. He could have THIS room and give me the master bedroom, because I never spend time in the living room, and he spends just about all of his time there. He spends about 6 hours total in his bedroom per day, and I spend just about all day in mine. Fuck, he could have the living room AND his bedroom completely to himself and he would STILL have absolute privacy because I wouldn’t be able to hear anything he did because I’D HAVE A SOLID WALL SEPARATING HIS ROOMS FROM MY ROOM.

It will probably never happen, for reasons I won’t divulge here. I just know that I’m paying half of everything, but definitely getting the short, impractical end of the privacy stick.

Just…godddamn, I would like to fall asleep without hearing the mum of his TV, or him eating, or his laughing, or his coughing, or belching, or asking him to shut the lights off (I bet you he’d rather I not be able to hear that, too). I would like to have a phone conversation without anyone who happens to be in the living room hearing every. Fucking. Word. I would like to take my pants off and use a fucking sex toy without people hearing every move I make. Is that too much to ask that I have some privacy when I pay upwards of $700/month? i-mean-is-that-too-much-to-ask ~Jacoby