Friday, December 28, 2012

Post-Holiday Wrap-Up

This christmas was really rough.

The week before, we were called by a good friend of ours to come and say goodbye to his partner of 25 years as he died peacefully in his home.

After having only a few days to recuperate from that loss, we were hit even harder; my partner's mother died. Their relationship and her death aren't my story to tell, but they were both complicated, and I can see the strain on my boyfriend. Death has cast a pallor on the holidays this year, and while we enjoyed some quality time with family, we both kind of wished we could be under the covers, hiding from the world.

I want to reclaim New Year's, or at least my birthday, which follows less than two weeks later. We won't have much money, but I want to do something grand, something I'll remember for the rest of my life. Something life-affirming. I don't have a single idea yet, but I'll be thinking on it.

But, back to christmas. I'm giving each family unit an aloe vera plant and a jar of sauerkraut, which some people have loved and others ignored. I don't worry about people who don't appreciate the gifts I bring, if they refuse to take one, there's more for everyone else. And the people who do appreciate it make up for the grinches in spades.

My boyfriend flew back home from dealing with his mother's death on xmas eve, so we kept it quiet that night. The next morning we drove to the city and spent the beginning part of the day opening presents, making pickles!, and leisurely chatting. It was pretty great.

We stopped at our friend's house, the one who lost his partner, and spent a little time with him, but before we knew it, we had to head off to the big family extravaganza.

I slapped in my earplugs as soon as we got there, but still only made it about thirty minutes before I was wishing it was over. It makes me sad how little I enjoy these big fmaily gatherings now, it used to be the highlight of my year, but my new reality is what it is, so I'm just happy I made it out of there without crying or screaming at anyone.

We're on day three of project holiday recuperation, and I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, I also see my birthday approaching, and that's usually a whole other ball of social gathering pain.

I do pretty well with my limitations throughout the year, but these two months never fail to remind me of just how sick I am. I miss having birthday parties, and looking forward to the holidays. But there's not point in moping over it, I'm making the best of a very difficult situation and all I can do is keep trying.

So, I do.


Friday, December 21, 2012

The Power of Choice

With the next episode I watched, Star Trek disproved nearly every statement I made about the show in my last post. And then it got real personal.

In The Menagerie, Parts 1 & 2, Spock goes rogue, losing his crown of sensibility, and every woman is treated as respectfully as the men (though one is still particularly scantily clad). There's even a female first officer, who is lauded as being the most experienced officer on the ship! (This is the future Lwaxana Troi of TNG, FYI.) Kirk is minimally featured, as the episode is predominately flashbacks to Spock's experience with his former captain, Pike, who is not at all grabby of women or smarmy with his crew and I wish he could be the captain forever.

But no. And also, he's a paraplegic now, unable to communicate save for a light on the front of his "futuristic wheelchair" that blinks once for yes and twice for no. Despite that method of communication, most of the people around him treat him as though he is unreachable, as if there's no possible way for the man to have a life.

Spock figures out a way for Pike to have a more able-bodied life, but instead of asking for Pike's permission, he KIDNAPS HIM, and the whole time Pike is blinking twice for NO NO NO, which I found horrifying. The disabled man has no agency, and his able-bodied friend thinks he knows what's best for him and there's no reason to consult the disabled guy anyway, what, is he going to blink at us? RAGE.

Of course, it ends happily, and Spock's deception is mostly used as a fuel for dramatic effect, but that drama is at the cost of a man's dignity and freedom of choice.

My partner is my caregiver, and sometimes we have to have conversations about agency. He has to make some decisions for me, I'm not always capable of higher reasoning in a moment, but even when I am, there have been times when he's forgotten to consult me. At a doctor's office, he and the doctor have agreed on a plan of treatment, were pleased as punch with themselves to have solved the next few months for me, only to look baffled when I disagreed vehemently. As if they forgot I might have a say in my own life. Luckily, my boyfriend has recognized when this happens and always immediately backs me up. It's a rare occurrence, but it's still rather frightening in those moments before my freedom of choice is acknowledged.

Our choices are so easily taken away, and it's terrifying how quickly the opinions of people with disabilities or illness** can be silenced and ignored. Just because we don't fit the default mold of a white, able-bodied, cis, male, bootstrapping capitalist, doesn't mean we shouldn't have absolute agency over our own lives, no matter how different we may seem.

** also, this stands for people of color, people of religious and racial minorities, women, and those of the lgbt etc persuasion. We should all be able to choose for ourselves.


Saturday, December 15, 2012

Star Trek: The Original Sexism

I've been watching Star Trek: The Original Series, and I have some observations.

Captain Kirk is really smug and unlikeable. In every episode so far, he's insulted his crew's intelligence and been skeevy with every single woman who comes near him, including a girl who was supposed to be about 12.

The portrayal of women is largely disappointing. Uhura seems to be good at her job so far, and Yeoman Rand (the one with the blond, weaved bouffant) is a stellar waitress, but is that really what yeoman are for? Honestly, she just serves Kirk drinks. Then there's also the easy sexual harassment of the women, which the ladies of course accept with either a flattered smile or a non-threatening quip. I wasn't nearly prepared for the attempted rape of Yeoman Rand by Evil Kirk, which was particularly disturbing, given the flagrant sexism in the series. Yeah, yeah, the times. Screw the times, it's awful seeing my whole gender categorized as sexual objects with almost no independent thought.

Bones and Spock are the highlight, they're both used as the voice of justice and reason when Kirk is flying off the handle and being manipulated by brain zappers or whatever is making him try to rape people this week.

But, there is just enough awesome to keep me watching. I just finished the one where the space-cube/yellow-ball-ship/wavy-grey-aliens (also known as S1E10, The Corbomite Maneuver) test the crew of the Enterprise by threatening to destroy them, and while I found most of the episode tedious, the end reveal was fantastic.

I've been wanting to write more about television, I end up watching a lot when my head's on high, and I have so many opinions. I'm interested in portrayals of minorities in media, as my paper a few posts ago would suggest, so I'm going to be talking about it more here. This calls for a new tag!


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Achievement Unlocked

So, I've been doing squats wrong for my entire life. I blame every apathetic, angry PE teacher I ever had.

This is a revelation, my friends, and I'm excited to add them into the little workout routine I've got going for myself.

A year ago, I wasn't nearly capable of what I am now, and I'm so proud of myself it feels decadent. A year ago, a hike up just a portion of our steep hill would have left me winded, my head throbbing, and the next few days shot to hell. Now, I can make it all the way up without stopping, often with no migrainous repercussions.

A year ago, I couldn't touch my toes without bending my knees to a nearly 45 degree angle. My flexibility has always been poor, but I've astounded myself with how much it's improved. Now, I can touch the floor easily with straight knees, and those deep stretches feel so good.

I walk up the hill on my best days, and on some moderate days, when I'm being brave. I go slow when I need to and always stop when my head sends out alarms, but making it to the top feels like such an accomplishment, I really only turn around if I have to.

I do some really basic yoga: dog and cat poses, some simple forward bends while holding onto the chair because I get dizzy really easily, and triangle and warrior, cause they're my fave.

I have some light hand weights I use while watching TV, they're just three pounds, but after a million or so reps they feel heavier.

And lately, I've been adding in some old-school exercises, crunches, pushups, leg-lifts and now, SQUATS! I'd only avoided them so long for the knee pain they always seemed to trigger immediately, but after reading a few people recommending them for pelvic floor weakness (which I strongly suspect I have), I decided to give them another go, and with a little help on my form from youtube, achievement unlocked!

I don't work out every day. If I'm not feeling well, I don't push it, but I do at least one thing on the above list nearly every day, and today, I did everything. Oh, I'm pretty done for now, my butt is firmly planted in this chair and I'm medicating liberally, but I'll probably recuperate enough in a few hours to make a decent dinner and hang out with my man, so I've got no complaints, really.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rhythm and Meaning

I have no sense for meter in poetry and sometimes I think that makes me less of a person.

I'm joking of course, but it is rather strange. I can sense rhythm in music perfectly well, but finding the beats in speech and naming them, it is a mystery to me how that works. Honestly, I've tried reading troublesome poems aloud over and over, listening to recordings, writing it out, tapping it out, and I even tried to cheat by googling for some kind of meter decoder and there isn't one. Internet, you have failed me.

But it seems that my deficiency isn't going to hurt me too badly, because I got my poetry midterm project grade, and it's a 50/50! I made involuntary high-pitched noises and wiggled with glee off and on for several hours after I saw it, it was the best migraine trigger I've had in weeks. The teacher heaped on the praise and said she hadn't given a 100% until my paper, much to my surprise and delight. I worked hard on that paper, and I put my whole heart in it, so I was pretty terrified about my grade. I feel like I have a knack for analyzing poetry, but it's all so subjective sometimes, like seeing patterns in the clouds, how do we know if our interpretation is "right" until someone else comes along and validates it?

While I've loved taking both of these classes, I'm so glad the quarter's nearly over. It was a lot, taking two classes at the same time (even though photo is more of a half-class at only 2 units to poetry's 4). Having my attention split, especially at more intense periods in the classes, was really difficult and more than a little stressful for my migraine-addled brain, so I'm only taking one class next quarter. I considered taking a break totally, I could use one after how hard I've had to push this quarter and considering the holidays are about to kick my ass, but I'm so looking forward to this next course, a career planning class, and I don't want to wait. My finals are next week and next quarter doesn't start for a month. That'll probably be about perfect for holiday recuperation.

My head's been highly symptomatic lately. I had knots in my scalp for the first time in months. I've been waking with a headache consistently for the past few weeks and I'm having trouble getting good sleep because of it. My neck has been spectacularly stiff and painful, and yesterday I went at it with the theracane for an hour just so I could turn my head without crying. The nausea's been a pain, and I'm getting more frequent dizziness when I move too quickly. It could be stress, it could be my bed's too soft, or the storms that have been rolling through every couple of days, or a combination of all of the above.

I can't control the weather, but I can try to control myself. The hamster wheel in my head is ever-spinning, and I often only stop and take care of myself when there's no other option. I worry that I'm stretching myself too thin, but if I'm not trying as hard as I possibly can at all times, I feel like I'm failing.

I'm not, of course, I'm succeeding more than I thought I could a few years ago, but my life is a bizarre, never-ending tug of war between compulsive overachievement and forced relaxation. It's like my personal rhythm and the rhythm of the world around me are at odds, and I can never quite get the tempo right. But, like poetry, it's the meaning of the thing that really matters, not so much the speed at which it's read.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Minorities on Television

Originally written a year ago for my journalism class, and edited a bit for academic overload, this article explores the representation of minorities on television, and how inaccuracies can be harmful to individuals and society.

American culture is media saturated. We consume television, newspapers, magazines, radio and the internet like they're food, and our technology continues to advance at an astounding rate, constantly increasing the amount of news, entertainment, and advertising we're exposed to. The messages we receive from the media, and especially television, can greatly influence our perceptions and our thinking as a culture. "Entertainment [has] important mass communication functions, including cultural transmission" and it can be detrimental to society when that which entertains "may perpetuate stereotypes or try to appeal to a certain segment of the population at the expense of others." (1)

While there are many minority groups that are underrepresented, and misrepresented, in all forms of media, for the purposes of this article, we'll be looking at people of color on television.

Irresponsible media can create racial divides, can make people of color the "other" to be feared, mocked, pitied, scorned, and mostly, ignored. “Representation in the fictional world signifies social existence; absence means symbolic annihilation.” (2)

The people who make our media are largely white. The number of minority-controlled broadcasting stations hovers around 3%, severely under-representing the solid quarter of the US population that isn't white (US Census, 2010). Those media-makers tend to reinforce their own life experiences by promoting and distributing content that is glaringly white, which leaves a significant portion of the population seeing an inaccurate representation of themselves on television, or worse, no representation.

"Viewers who consider media portrayals as valid and realistic are more likely to internalize stereotypical messages. Over a period of time, media representations that are internalized become chronically accessible from memory while making judgments... Media messages influence racial attitudes from a very young age, especially when direct interracial contact is minimal... the impact of television is likely to be quite profound." (3)

For example, seeing only smart and awkward Asians on television repeatedly would surely result in assumptions about the people as a group. Violent black men, the Arab terrorist, the flashy, opportunistic Latino; anyone who's watched American TV knows these stereotypes, and with repeated viewing, they become etched into our brains and influence our feelings about people of color in the real world.

As a first-world dwelling white woman, it's been easy for most of my life to take what I see on my television for granted. Most of the people in my family are white, most of the people on tv are white, there's a seemingly logical parallel there. Except, of course, when I look out my front door and there are people everywhere who aren't white. In researching this topic, I realized that I can only see this subject from my own (white) perspective and that I'd need to create an objective experience to be able to analyze this issue impartially. So, I conducted an experiment.

I decided to critically watch television shows, many from the Nielsen's Top Tens (4), but some were decided on in the moment. I stuck to programming available on basic cable channels, but watched in a variety of ways (live, via On Demand, on and avoided sports, news, movies and cartoons. Though I watched quite a few shows that are standards in my rotation, I watched many that I normally wouldn't, and commercials that I certainly would never sit through.

I kept a notebook handy and jotted down every time a person on TV spoke; I put a hash mark down to indicate whether they were male or female, and what race they were, using the US Census categories -White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, or Some Other Race- and my best estimations. I included people who sang, had one-word lines, but none who only laughed or had their voices drowned out by others. I didn't count voice-overs. If a commercial aired several times during a show, I counted each viewing. I did not count cartoon characters unless it was very clear what race and gender they were representing, ie Homer Simpson was noted, but not the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

In total, I watched 23 television programs, all from thirty minutes to an hour in length. These are the observations I recorded. The letters in parentheses represent whether the show was viewed: (L) on television, either live or via DVR, (O) using my cable company's On Demand feature, or (H) on my computer via The asterisks indicate whether the show or group of advertisements met the 25% quota required to represent our population's white versus non-white population accurately.

The results are undeniable: white people, mostly white men, dominate television programming. Only 26 of the 46 scored (23 shows, and their ads were scored separately) met the minimum 25% ratio of non-white to white, and that doesn't even take into consideration ethnic breakdowns beyond non-white. Of the 1079 people noted in my research, 278 were people of color. Of those, 44 were Asian, 44 were Hispanic and 198 were black. Only three of the twenty-three shows I watched - Dancing With the Stars, Everybody Hates Chris and My Wife and Kids - met that 25% quota in both the program and the advertising. The rest were deficient to varying degrees, but the least inclusive of minorities was Two and a Half Men, which had absolutely no people of color in either the show or its advertising.

A study done by SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) in 2006 stated that of the ethnicities portrayed on television and movies that year and the previous, the breakdown was this: Asians and Pacific Islanders - 3.4%, African-Americans - 14.5%, Caucasians - 72.3%, Latino and Hispanic - 6.3%, Native American - 0.2%, and Unknown/Other – 3.3%. In another study (5), it was found that minorities made up only 21% of the faces on television and that over the ten years prior, "the racial representation of television actors has not changed significantly. White actors continue to be in a distinct majority position, African American representation is in line with their percent of the U.S. population and the representation of Latinos continues to be in a distinct minority."

My research is congruent with this, showing some improvements for people of color and other declines. In the shows I watched, minority representation was up to 26%. Black people were represented the most of the minority ethnicities, at 18%, when they actually only make up 13% of the US population. Asian representation is also up, at 4% in my research, which is an improvement, but is still far from the actual goal of 6%. The visibility of Hispanics on television seems to have markedly dropped, at 5%, while their real-life population continues to grow and is currently about 9%. (6) Unfortunately, in my small sampling of television entertainment, I observed no Native Americans or Hawaiians, Native Alaskans or Pacific Islanders.

"[The] audience often assumes that the media pay attention to things that make a difference in society or things of consequence. The misconception might lead to the inevitable conclusion that Asia and Asian people make little difference in contemporary life, that they are of little consequence." (7)

When an ad comes on for, say, tires, tissues, beer, or microwaveable dinners, most of the time those actors will be white. If an ad is for a household cleaning product, it usually stars a white woman. Prescription drugs: white people. Hair dye: white women. Clothing: Thin, mostly white people.

The real problem is when our commercials are trying to sell us products, they show us something to aspire to. A group of people laughing, a stain coming out of a favorite shirt, nutritious and delicious convenience meals; whatever it is corporations are selling us, they are showing us something to want, something to aspire to. And when there are very few black people in those ads, and hardly any Asian or Hispanic people, we see that being a person of color isn't something to aspire to. In fact, they hardly seem to exist.

"Television portrayals of minorities in the United States can influence minorities' perceptions of their group identities and vitality." (8)

In a country in which racism is alive and well, in which people of color only take up a very small portion of seats in our government and a huge percentage of cells in our prison systems, we need to look closely at our media and what messages it's sending us. Are they helpful or harmful? Do they reinforce stereotypes or challenge ideas that are harmful to our most vulnerable people? Increasing the number of people of color on television, and other media, is the only way to change the inaccuracies being perpetuated. If it's equality we're striving for, equal representation in the media is a great place to start.


1. Pavlik, J.V. and McIntosh, S. (2011). Converging Media: A new introduction to mass communication. New York, New York, Oxford University Press.

2. Gerbner, G., Gross, L. (1976). Living With Television: The Violence Profile. Journal of Communication 26, 163-183

3. Ramasubramanian, S. (2001). Television Exposure, Model Minority Portrayals, and Asian-American Stereotypes: An Exploratory Study. Journal of Intercultural Communication, ISSN 1404-1634, issue 26, July 2011. Retrieved from:

4. Neilsen. 2011. Top Tens and Trends, November 7, 2011. Retrieved from

5. Monk-Turner, E., Heiserman, M., Johnson, C., Cotton, V., & Jackson, M. (2010). The Portrayal of Racial Minorities on Prime Time Television: A Replication of the Mastro and Greenberg Study a Decade Later. Studies in Popular Culture, 32.2 Spring 2010, 101-114. Retrieved from:

6. Humes, K.R., Jones, N.A., and Ramirez, R.R., 2010. Overview of Race and Hispanic Origin: 2010. 2010 Census Briefs, March 2011. Retrieved from:

7. Piehl, D. & Ruppel, R. (1994). Primetime’s Hidden Agenda: The Anti-Asian Bias of American Television. A Gathering of Voices on the Asian American Experience. Fort Atkinson, WI: Highsmith Press, 179-185

8. Pornsakulvanich, V. (2007) Television Portrayals of Ethnic Minorities in The United States: The Analysis of Individual Differences, Media Use, and Group Identity and Vitality. ABAC Journal Vol. 27, No. 3 September-December, 2007, p. 22-28. Retrieved from: