Frothing maddness

Its not quite yet 90 degrees on this sticky Philadelphia morning. A slight breeze relieves my skin every now and again, but its more of a tease. It comes and then goes quickly leaving me to the not so tender mercies of summer. I squirm slightly; I still lack the discipline to be able to sit seiza for a full ceremony, even a beginner one like the one we are practicing. Sighing, I focus on the anticipation of receiving the bowl of emerald goodness being prepared for me now. 

My love affair with Japan has been going on for quite some time now. Like most Gen-Xers, I can probably trace the roots back to some piece of offbeat bit of animation that distinguished itself from everything else on American TV at the time. Battle of the Planets, Voltron, Star Blazers, Speed Racer, might be the most common titles you hear. My favorite was the genre defining Ribon No Kishi with it's daring sword-wielding and cross dressing princess. But of course, not every Gen-Xer takes it as far as I do.

O-shoban itashimasu (Thank you for letting me join you.)

At some point, I got drawn in by Japan's legends and mythology. I got to appreciating it's ancient stories as well as it's modern ones. Had I been in college when this happened, I likely would have studied the Japanese language formally. But I satisfied myself by buying textbooks, flash cards and learning games to work with on my own. I became interested in Japan's native religion, Shintoism, reading all I could find about it. While that was great, it couldn't give me the full understanding I desired - I felt that would require a teacher (it's one of the reasons that though I like and admire what I've read on Shinto very much, I could not honestly consider myself a Shintoist). The Philadelphia area doesn't have any Shinto temples but it does have a vibrant Japanese cultural society. I had read that formal Japanese tea ceremony lessons were a good way to learn not just a small aspect  of Japanese culture, but also that is was a good way to get a bit of insight into the philosophies and mindset that permeate Japan's religious thought. That attracted me. Well that, and the fact I really like tea.

O-temae chodai itashimasu (Thank you very much for preparing the tea.)

It was a little daunting, learning all the motions at first. There seem to be so many of them, but after a while I came to understand that each of the movements has a purpose; the ceremony was designed to be as efficient as possible. It certainly doesn't feel that way at the start! Aside from the hand and arm motions, it takes quite a bit of getting used to sitting in the proper position and then rising gracefully, so as not to shower your fellow students in warm rinse water as you exit. Also, it's not always easy getting up extra early on a Saturday morning to drive an hour into the city. My mother, who has teasingly called me "Bruce Leroy" after the character in Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon, shakes her head at this latest passion of mine. (Hey mom, Bruce Leroy was technically all into Chinese culture, not Japanese 'kay?).

Yes, it is weird getting up early, driving a good distance to consume a boiling hot beverage on days when even my dog would rather be inside. It isn't logical. But then again, what great passions in our lives really are?  I almost think for it to really be a true passion, there must be just a touch of madness.

Finally it is my turn to get my bowl. I turn it the way I have been instructed after saying the proper polite lines. The tea looks and smells perfect with it's bit of froth floating on top. I raise my bowl, and although this isn't officially part of the ceremony I always mentally say, itadekimasu (literally, I receive). 

This posting is part of the fabulous Mad Tea Party 2013 blog party. Follow the link and take a peek at some of the other amazingly fun postings going on today

It's been a privilege

It's funny to me how many folks misunderstand the concept of "privilege". You can point out that certain groups have them and automatically people get angry and defensive. Let's get a couple of things clear:

1.) You are not evil just because you have privilege.

All privilege means is that some things are going to come easier to you than to others who don't enjoy the same privilege. A cactus isn't evil because it enjoys a water retention privilege over the hapless human that enters its desert. OK, that's a silly example, but it does make my point. The cactus has the odds stacked in its favor to survive the rigors of living in a desert better than a human.

2.) Most people have some sort of privilege

I am a Latina female. I do not enjoy the same level of privilege white women do. However I enjoy privilege as a heterosexual (I get to kiss my husband and call him sweetie without the fear of getting beaten up), middle class privilege (which isn't the same as upper class privilege, but it does mean that I can chose to not shop at Walmart and it only means a few less lattes at Starbucks - it doesn't mean not having enough food to feed my kids), educational privilege (which yes, I worked darn hard to get, but it does mean as a college graduate I have a lot more opportunities than someone with only a high school education, and worlds more opportunities than someone who never finished high school) and physical privilege (as someone who has all of her limbs fully functioning I have easy access to enter buildings without ramps, I don't need to depend on a helper to get around, etc.)

Now, going back to the first point, this does not mean that I automatically hate or am bigoted against LGBT people, people in difficult economic conditions, people who didn't go to college or people in wheelchairs. It just means that there are some things that just will come easier for me, things I may very well take for granted most days. I think the best explanation of privilege I came across described it as having cheat codes for a video game. Some tasks and levels are going to be easy for you while others might struggle with the same things.   

3.) Sometimes you don't get everything you want because you have privilege - but that doesn't mean you don't have privilege

This one drives me nuts. Privilege means that video game I talked about in the last point is easier, but it doesn't guarantee a win. People without privilege will have a harder time, but there is still a possibility a few of them can "win". Just because Privileged Person A doesn't get as far in life as Unprivileged Person B, doesn't mean the concept of privilege doesn't exist. The concept of privilege is more of a societal thing for one - stuff is harder for all the people who share person B's lack of Privilege across the board. And in general, people with person A's privilege don't have to put up with the same issues. Still not convinced? Still think if person B were a famous and beloved TV star he automatically is immune from not being part of a privileged group? Watch this and see what you think afterwards:

4.) Just because you find that your privilege is reduced or even disappears in some circumstances, if for the most part in the culture in which you live, belonging to a certain group gives you some advantages, guess what - you still have privilege (but don't worry, you still aren't evil).

No group of people of any race, color, religion, etc has a monopoly on jerks. White privilege is definitely a thing, but that doesn't mean there aren't people prejudiced against white people. However, you can fill a room (or neighborhood) for that matter with people who truly, deeply hate white people, that still doesn't mean you don't have privilege as a white American, because most of America is not set up the same way as that room (or that neighborhood). If there are more places where your race is an advantage rather than a disadvantage, then you have privilege. Again, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, it doesn't make you evil, it certainly doesn't make those folks good, but it doesn't take away from the fact that you have privilege.

So what brought this on? Well on Facebook (I sometimes think Eris must be the matroness of that damn site) there was a conversation about an article in the Huffington Post about a man and his White Pride Month float in a parade. While some people agreed that the symbolism displayed was offensive, they also wondered why there is no White Pride Month or why history books don't spend 5 minutes talking about white people and their achievements.

I just needed another Star Trek reference

Maybe it's escaped some folks notice, but every month is White History Month, because the achievements of white people are constantly on display around us. Again, it doesn't make them bad for achieving! But it's not hard to find examples of white people doing well for themselves and it is still easier for them on a general societal level. History books don't talk about white people? So I guess they never mention the Founding Fathers ever, or any of our white presidents, not to mention white poets, artists and scientists. All reference to George Washington must have been dropped to devote an entire chapter to George Washington Carver.


Look, I'll mention it one last time I swear - you aren't evil if you have white privilege, but you still have it even if you are the nicest person in the world who never had a bigoted thought in their head if you are white. Don't go around feeling all guilty over it - that won't solve anything. But do recognize it, because perhaps that way, if enough people do, things can change someday. And we can all of us be fortunate ones.

Song pick for this post: Fortunate Son by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Back off, I'm a scientist! (An Insecure Writer's Support Group Post)

I started this blog up to get myself more disciplined about working on my writing (so many cool writing blogs with fun ideas, so much motivation!). In so many ways that's a very funny statement. Although I adored reading once I figured out ABC was more than just a Jackson 5 song, although since for as long as I can remember I enjoyed making up funny stories in my head to pass the time, I never really saw myself as a writer or as even much of a creative person until later in life.

You see, the way the school system I went through was set up, there were certain tracks. I test ridiculously well and got dropped on the math and science track. To say I was good at both subjects would be something of an understatement. But somehow it became all that I was. My identity as Math and Science Goddess was pretty much set in stone and any deviation from that role wasn't taken well. There were no opportunities for me to take art classes of any kind at all in high school and I was strongly discouraged by my peers (and sometimes even my teachers) to branch out in any way. I was told stick to science and math, forget writing. It not only undermined any confidence I had in attempting anything artistic, it made me horrifically arrogant about my math and science aptitude. After all, this was all that I was, could ever be - without that identity, who the heck was I? (Oh gods, there's another story I could tell to go along with that, but I'll save that for another time)

Yes, it is extremely embarrassing that a song from High School 
Musical of all things pretty much captures all the blow back I faced.

So acting on any artistic impulses as an adult required a huge leap of faith. Funnily enough, that was one of the big catalysts that helped me take that leap - finding my spiritual identity as a Pagan. I'll spare you all the boring details, but somewhere in my 30's I got a little braver. I sang. I drew. I danced. Writing was the last frontier. I love words. I love stories. Always have. But it's hard to see myself as a semi-competent writer even after all this time.

I have no great success stories to share. I do have to say I owe a lot to my husband, who always believes in me, and one of my dear friends Absinthe, who is always an enthusiastic test reader. I also need to give a shout out to Magaly Guerrero, who's writing talents I am in awe of and who honors me with her encouragement to keep at it.

If my hubby, Absinthe and Magaly think there might be some decent stories and ideas rattling around my brain, well, I'll be brave and give this a try. Right now I'm just writing to please myself, no heavy expectations or delusions, all the arrogance that accompanied my math and science skills shed like dead skin. I'm trying to focus on having fun with words, on finding those elusive words that really capture what it is I'm trying to express. Yes, I'm very insecure about my ability to adequately express myself. But I also know that I tell my kids that you have to be willing to stink for a bit before you get any good at something. Here's to stinking up the joint, at least for a small while, while I find my voice.