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Friday, June 24, 2011

The Greatest Moral Dilemma: To Draw a Dick or Not to Draw a Dick

In recent years I've become a spectator obsessed with the artificiality that we as humans introduce into every area of our lives and the motivations behind why we do what we do, especially when what we do seemingly goes against all that is natural and human nature. Granted, these things we do and these reasons we do them largely depend on the culture in which we live and morals of our society. Here in America, we have a fairly diverse range of what I’ll call moral nuance, because our country is comprised of people from many different cultures and backgrounds and because we have the freedom to live our lives how we choose (to a point). Still, we tend to have the same general ideas of what’s right and wrong, including a lot of things that are not as cut and dry as, say, ending a life. Yet, what amazes me is that as a society we’ve gotten so far away from struggling to fulfill our basic needs to sustain life that we’ve spent hundreds if not thousands of years creating rules upon rules upon rules that are so artificial in nature that they actually punish people for being human. We’ve become so disconnected from our innate desires that it’s easy to see how the conflict created by imposing artificial constraints on our children since birth may possibly be creating some of the internal conflict that so many of us attempt to resolve by turning to pills prescribed by psychiatrists, alcohol, drugs, or an overabundance of food. By the time we’re adults our culture has confused us as to what’s right or wrong, yet deep down the part of us that’s older than our culture is able to identify that something isn’t right even if we can’t articulate it. We’ve been told all our lives that it’s bad to do X, yet we’re driven to do it anyway. In the grand scheme of things, like all living things, our main goal is to sustain our own longevity over time – to procreate and to keep on procreating so we continue to exist. But we as humans have perfected that, and in the vast majority of the world it’s easy to meet our basic needs for survival, which may actually be contributing to our own demise. Now that I’ve laid the heavy on you, it’s time for me to illustrate the absurdity at work.  

As a child I was only ever spanked once. The possibility of getting spanked terrified me. When I was 7 years old I had a friend who lived down the street from me who got spanked by her father a lot. Her father was an imposing man, over six feet tall, with what I can only now estimate to be a 60-inch waist. To get to her bedroom, we’d have to pass the bedroom of her parents, which we’d always run past, keeping our eyes in a forward direction. Lining one wall of her parents’ bedroom was a hand-made rack that held by all accounts hundreds of her father’s belts, but they weren’t belts that her father wore – surely 60-inch belts were expensive and hard to find. The sole purpose of these belts was for them to be provided as a selection from which my friend and her brother would be made to choose the weapon by which their father would deliver a spanking. By all adult accounts, my friend’s father was a fair, respectable man. He was very active in the church and he even led the neighborhood Bible study group that met every Friday night. He was a godly man. If asked to characterize his role as a disciplinarian, I imagine one might say he was strict. No one knew this more than his own children, yet despite being forced to stare at the wall and carefully select the belt they thought would hurt the least, receiving a spanking from him didn’t exactly keep his children from behaving in a way that would earn them fewer spankings. Chalk part of it up to the punishment not usually meeting the crime, however the frequent beatings that left persistent bruises and welts across my friend’s rear end and back still didn’t keep her from doing things she knew would land her back in her parent’s bedroom, standing in front of that wall, carefully selecting the belt that she thought would hurt the least.

It was during this time when we were friends that I received my one and only spanking. It was summer, and the back-to-school advertisements filled the center of the Sunday paper, which my father methodically purchased, dissected, and used to its fullest potential. Every article was read, every coupon was cut, and each week’s leftover paper was neatly stacked in the pantry to be used as kindling for the fireplace or barbecue. One such back-to-school advertisement caught my attention. It was for Kmart or Sears, and they were having a sale on the basics – a store-wide underwear sale. The first half of the circular depicted people of all ages posing like mannequins in their underwear, with the men and boys being featured on the cover and in the front few pages. Being a creative child who had been blessed with a brand new box of Crayola 64 and a 7-year-old’s curiosity of the human body, I decided to show off knowledge and my art skills by so cleverly revealing what I knew was behind those first few pages of tighty whities, as I carefully and painstakingly drew, colored, and cut out various dicks to poke out of a slit I had cut in the appropriate underwear opening of each male model in the circular. When I was done, I was so proud of my work that I decided to show it to my mom. A part of me knew I was going to get into trouble, but the other part was so proud of what I’d just done that I didn’t care. I wanted her to see it, but I didn’t want to see her get mad at me, so I hand-delivered my latest gem to her and ran down the hall back to my room, peering around the door jam to try and catch her reaction. It was one of horror and shock, but my mom didn’t yell, and she didn’t even respond to me. The day went on without mention of my artistic talent, and I thought I’d gotten away with it until later that night when my mom told me she’d shared it with my father and he’d be talking with me about it. I remember him calling me into their bedroom, holding up the flier, and saying, “Your mom showed me this.” I honestly don’t remember what he said next, but I don’t recall it to be much. He told me he would have to spank me because of what I had done, and that’s when I received the only spanking I’ve ever gotten – over his knee, a hand to my butt. While it was happening I remember thinking it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, yet being an only-child who strived for acceptance and perfection I was careful to never again do something that would cause me to disappoint my parents or make them angry with me, causing me to be spanked. That’s not to say I never again did anything that was spank-worthy, but I quickly became good at lying and hiding things to avoid the parental consequences. What my parents didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me.

Looking back on it, I think my parents overreacted. At that age, it’s normal for children to be interested in the human body, especially the parts of it that are methodically covered up. I can’t say exactly when modesty became important to our species or why, but at some point it’s clear that these parts were reclassified from public to private. To a child (and even some adults), not ever seeing these body parts makes them more desirable and interesting. It’s human nature! Take something away from me and I want it. Not to mention, if these parts are so bad, why do they play an integral role in the perpetuation of our species? Quite frankly, I find my parents’ reaction absurd, and I can only hope that if I ever had a child who did something similar I would handle it in a very different way. Nonetheless, I can only say their reaction was normal – not reasonable or right, but normal. It’s an unwritten value in our society that you just don’t draw dicks on things, especially things that will be seen by other people. This is why the majority of dicks can be seen scribbled on the stalls of public restrooms and carved into wooden desks at libraries. And while hand-drawn dicks may also reside on private objects that are only ever seen by the eyes of the individuals who drew them, there is no doubting the fact that people feel compelled to draw dicks and place them in a location where they can be seen by other people. For a handful of reasons (no pun intended), drawing dicks is a part of human nature that just can’t be stifled, and really, why should it?

To this day my mom has a drawer full of memories extending back to my childhood, and in it resides many impersonal things like birthday cards that I’m sure I hastily selected and signed my name to, yet the Sears flier containing my carefully crafted and precisely-placed dicks is nowhere to be found. I wish my mom had kept THAT!

As you go through life, I hope you’ll start to question some of the more absurd rules, and when you’re in a public restroom and you see a dick on the wall, I hope it will make you smile, because that dick is proof that despite how artificial and convoluted of a world we’ve created for ourselves, our human nature that lies at the core of all of us still yearns to get out and occasionally it does in the form of a dick.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Jamaica: (Extra)ordinary & Beautiful

It seems that no matter where I go or who I talk to, I continually come back to the realization that we all want the same things in life. I spent the first week in June on my belated honeymoon in Jamaica, and although we were segregated from the majority of real Jamaican life within an all-inclusive resort, like anywhere else, the heart and soul of a people and place always finds its way out, even if just a bit.

I’ve developed a really irritating habit over the last several years that came to a head while I was in Jamaica: compulsive social networking, or more specifically, compulsive updating. I see something funny, I think something smart, I hear a song I like, and it's like I have verbal diarrhea pouring out of my fingertips. I feel compelled to tell everybody every bit of the mundane that pops into my head at all times. My best friend says it's cathartic - that it helps her stop fixating on things if she can just get them out. For me, I think it’s just a case of overexcitement (or possibly an undiagnosed form of Turrets) - a new perverted outlet for my extroverted constitution. Unfortunately, the time and focus it takes me to record 50+ 140-character gems in a day means that I continually find myself not present - living instead in the land of perpetual editorial revision, ensuring I get the most bang for my buck in 140-characters, and also missing out on, well, much of the understated beauty and intrigue I love to share with others. So here I am in Jamaica, in a new place, on a new continent, and while I promised my husband I wouldn't social network on vacation, I quickly found a loophole while on the shuttle to the resort: I decided I’d keep a running note on my phone within which I would record everything I would have Tweeted had I been allowed to Tweet. Some of the finer non-Tweets included:

"Just passed Tits Bar (giggle). Tit."
"Fields and fields of goats."
"Jamaica: chock full of goat."
"I'm an infant. 'Supreme Jerk Center' makes me giggle."
"Man, this is just a whole lot of boob."
"And our room overlooks the NUDE beach."
"Champagne check in, smoke, shower, sex. Get hairdryer fixed. I swear to god I have a thing with broken hotel hairdryers."
"The drinks are strong and everything's free. Also, I think the natives are a fan of boobs."

So not only did I waste precious vacation time I could have spent taking in the sights and sounds, but I'm also apparently a 15-year old boy (with boobs that can't be contained). The good news is that about half way through our first day, after many disapproving looks from the hubs, and after raising my head to ask "What?" far too many times to count, I got it. Put the fucking phone DOWN, and just observe. Enjoy. Connect with my actual surroundings. Breathe.

I was initially struck by the level of poverty at which some Jamaican residents seem to live – tiny one-room shacks with rusted corrugated metal roofs set up on cinder blocks in an attempt to shelter the occupants and the contents from floodwaters. Yet while I saw shacks, I also saw colorful mansions – sometimes no more than 50 feet from a shack. In between, the way most Jamaicans seem to live, were dozens and dozens of single-floor cement-colored cement houses, curiously with rebar poking through the cement ceilings and no real roofs to mention. Why did so many homes seem to be in the middle of constant construction? After our first few hours on the resort, I couldn’t help but feel guilty about enjoying this paradise – one where the lodging was more than comfortable, where all the food and drink is free and only a question away, and where we seem to have the very best location along the beach. While I knew the locals didn’t get to enjoy their country the same way I did, I was sure tourism accounts for a huge portion of their economy and it does seem to provide for a great number of jobs. This realization made me feel slightly better about my extravagant vacation, yet I still wondered about the Jamaican way of life outside the resorts.

As my mom will tell you about me, “She’s always loved people.” As a child I was drawn to other babies and children, and things haven’t really changed in the 30 years since. As the days of our vacation passed, I found that some of the most memorable times I had were when I was talking with the people who worked at the resort. On our first day we were talking with several other couples while sitting on the outside deck of one of the bars, when all of a sudden one of the peppy Entertainment Associates (the resort staff who lead entertainment, games, and other activities) bounced seemingly out of nowhere to scold a woman from Louisiana for resting her jaw on her hand. Apparently, she told us, it’s an offensive gesture in Jamaican culture. “Why,” the woman asked. “Because it means you’re worrying,” our entertainment guru answered. “We’re in each other’s company, so we should enjoy it. No worries, Mon!” Worrying’s offensive??? I think I’m going to like it here, I thought to myself. (It bears mention that the second we walked off the plane we thought people were fucking with us by ending every sentence with “Mon”, however it’s really, truly how Jamaican’s talk.)

As the days passed we kept thinking to ourselves how awesome it would be just to work here at the resort, but still we wondered if you were to work here – if you lived here – where would YOU go on vacation? “To the city, Mon!” One of our servers was so kind in helping us to see the obvious. “We’re used to this,” she said. “We see this every day. Yeah, if I have a day off I’ll go to the beach with my family and friends, but when it’s time for vacation, I want something more exciting – different. I go to Kingston, the biggest city in Jamaica! It’s like New York City!” She went on to tell us how she likes getting dressed up and going out to the nightclubs – staying up all night dancing, surrounded by the lights of the city. She also mentioned Niagara Falls as a previous vacation destination. “I’ve seen the Falls on TV, but it’s different to see them in person! We don’t have falls here, so I went there to experience something I can’t at home.” It made sense, and I was slightly embarrassed to have assumed that our lives were actually more different than they are. When the rubber meets the road, we all really want the same things out of life: to make better lives for ourselves, to experience new things, and to be happy. But what really surprised me was that we shared the same concerns for others, even if we don’t know a thing about them.

The night before we left we stopped into the resort convenience store to look for souvenirs, and we wound up talking to the cashier for an hour. The conversation started as usual: when did you get here/when do you leave? We then started talking about the weather and how some neighboring towns had flooded due to all the rain (it rained a lot while we were there). Our cashier said she’d had the same laundry on the line trying to dry for three days, when she eventually wound up stringing it up in her daughter’s bedroom, much to the discontent of her young daughter who could have cared less that she needed clean clothes to go to school. Seems no one in Jamaica has a clothes dryer, because we were told, it hardly ever rains – there’s no need. Our cashier then began to tell us about her two experiences with hurricanes that have hit the island and how the last one to hit caused extensive damage to her “roof”, because they hadn’t yet built the second floor on their house and didn’t have a proper roof. Again, not usually a problem because it doesn’t rain all that much in Jamaica. “But,” she said, “You rebuild.” She then began to ask us about the Gulf coast. “I always see hurricanes miss us and head there,” she said. “Do people live on the coast?” “Of course,” we said. “And because they’re on the coast, there are a lot of resort towns – like here.” Her eyes welled up with tears and she told us how bad she felt for those people whose homes were and could potentially be devastated by hurricanes that had veered off course, previously headed toward Jamaica. I was honestly touched by her genuine concern for the Gulf-coast residents. At first I felt embarrassed that I had assumed our lives were so different, but then I realized it was the same empathy and concern we shared for each other that made us the same, and that’s nothing to be embarrassed about. I didn’t want to leave that convenience shop, but when I did I told Beth Ann just how much I enjoyed talking with her.

I’m so glad I spent this vacation in the present – that I detached myself from my phone. Had I not, I don’t know if I would have had the same meaningful experience. Correction: I KNOW I would not have had the same meaningful experience. I would have instead amused myself with dick and fart jokes and meaningless Tweets, which do have their place, however I think I’ll strive for that “place” to take up less overall space in my life moving forward. Instead, I want to open my eyes more so that I can see those small things, those simple things, those ordinary things that happen in the course of any other day, and that’s what I want this new blog to be – a snapshot of the world that I see through my lens: ordinary and beautiful.