Sunday, March 21, 2010

Off Line & Upward Bound

It's been a while. I've been kinda off-line lately because sometimes I like to rebel against the machines. Not like desert-island rebel (yet), but a cut-down for sure. I've been in and out. I guess FB is good for that. My cell phone gets on my nerves, too. I really hate the image of people walking around texting, or unable to do anything without their heads down, thumbing at their phones. Not that I don't too, but I get self conscious about it and ignore the cell phone for long stretches. I feel that way about the computer too sometimes. But I miss my friends, and a good number of you live right here in the internet!

So, our SAMO girls basketball team made it to the 3rd round of the state playoffs and went down in a heart breaker against Clovis West, a team out of Fresno. We lost by 4 in a back and forth battle. We shut down their 6'3", 250lb center, but we could not contain their star guard who played out of her gourd. She dropped 39 points on us out her team's 61. She bombed threes, drove on three girls at a time and dove on the floor for many balls. She said after in an interview, "I never wanted anything more. I wasn't going to lose." And you have to respect when one's ability matches their drive. She was amazing.

Mina just finished her Y league. They lost today in the championship game. She's a superstar though. Her natural athleticism is pretty phenomenal. Here is the other star, Cloe, also 10. This was the team's one-two punch. While Cloe grabbed a defensive rebound, Mina would have already bolted to the other end. Cloe would cock back her arm and rocket a pass to Mina, who was the only one able to catch a pass like that, and would usually finish with a lay up. This happened about five times a game. Can you beat the stance of these girls? Is there anything more beautiful?
I went to a volunteer orientation on Saturday for the Upward Bound House, which is a transitional housing program for homeless families in my neighborhood. I pass the main facility all the time and I looked it up online last year. I just now got around to committing a small amount of time to volunteering. I've wanted to do it for so long. I told UBH I was willing to work in the food pantry which means stocking the food donated by the Westside Food Bank in a makeshift store where families can come and "shop" twice a week. They are able to fill up a box for free. There is a thrift store too for clothing needs. Each UBH apartment is decorated with unique touches -- plants and paintings -- and filled with pots and pans, towels, toiletries, etc. When the family moves on to permanent housing, they are able to take with them the pots and pans and dishes and plants -- everything but the big furniture -- so they don't have to start all over again in the new place. The program is amazing because it is a real catapult into a thriving life. Families can stay for up to a year. Parents take mandatory financial planning classes and three elective life classes are chosen too; classes in resume writing, interviewing, parenting classes and other life skills. After the year, another year of aftercare is available to them where they can utilize the food pantry and thrift store. The program is entirely supported by the community through many volunteers and contributions from many local businesses because the philosophy is that a strong community helps our people most in need, and not just with the very barest of essentials but with a strong leg up. We don't send them off downtown or to struggling neighborhoods; we embrace them and get them on their feet. I mean, exactly, right? So, I went to the orientation and I got to talking to the coordinators and the next thing I know I'm going to teach and demo a baking class for the Kids Club on Thursday night. I'm not sure if I'll teach the class every Thursday, but I am this week. We're going to make Lemon Poppyseed Muffins. We're talking about a healthful cooking class for the parents too. I'll keep you posted. I am overwhelmed that something so right is succeeding in my neighborhood and I can't wait to lend my hand too.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Serious Fun

Our Santa Monica Girls basketball team, for the first time in our school's history -- since 1891 when we were hooping it up in long, wool black dresses and sporty hats (and you know I'm giving SAMO the benefit of the doubt that they even let us ladies look at a basketball then) --, we will raise a banner in the gym stating that our girls are the Southern Section Division 1A CIF Champions. We are the Champions! We start our state tournament at home on Tuesday.

The night we won the CIF finals, we traveled down to Orange County in ancient school buses, yellow rounded bullet-type buses where the insides looked like vaults; the best that a shoe-string budget can buy. I haven't had my teeth rattled like that on a road trip since my own high school away games. Maya traveled on the team bus and Mina and I traveled on the family bus. There was a third bus that transported faithful students, and the entire boys varsity and JV teams. We brought the noise. We screamed, we stomped, we competitively bantered with the opposing crowd across the court. Man, I swooned when I saw our boys teams clustered together with their rally shirts and painted faces, jumping up and down and creating chants, stomping their feet. In the end, our girls were too strong. They played amazingly.

Security wouldn't let us rush the court after the game. The post-game glory was for players, coaches and media only. I gave Mina the camera and told her to weave among the trees on the court and get us photos! They didn't stop her. Here the girls were posing for our local newspaper.

I love this picture of our star player, the one signed with a full scholarship to UCLA for next year. She already knows interview politics. All star athletes do, but I love her nervous tick of shoving her hands in her uniform like that. She does it during games too, sometimes. It's the only vulnerability she shows usually. All the players know Mina already. Here's Mina showing love to players she looks up to. I ask Mina, "Will you play that intensely when it's your turn?" And she says, "Shoot, more intense." I believe her. Here's Mina with our other star player, my favorite player. Both of these girls have a competitive intensity that is incredible to watch. I love when it makes people a little uncomfortable, like, yes we want them to win, but should young ladies act this way. And most of us shout, Most Definitely! Git 'em girls! We like our warriors with swagger, please. And we love them even more when they're gracious and loving to our warriors-to-be.

Sunday morning, I ran the Malibu Creek Trail 10K to fulfill my fundraising promise. The night before and the morning of, I thought about blowing it off. It's a normal nervous reaction, not something I consider seriously. Of course I thought of the Face Your Wall speeches so off I went feeling underprepared and out of my league. The morning was beautiful, blue and cool sunshine, not the rain we were anticipating. But it rained the night before so I knew we were in for a muddy trail. The crowd was mellow, laid back even. It was a different vibe than a road 10k, like people were happy to be in nature, they didn't seem as nervous. The elite runners even seemed more down to earth. The crowd was fairly small. Just about 150 runners were there for the 25k and 50k events and about 110 runners for the 10K. As they announced the start of the 25k & 50k, before my race, they explained the markings of the trail and that the Malibu Creek, which they'd be crossing, was about waist deep now. I thought, Whoa. Then I got myself all excited about the prospect of jumping in a deep creek, soggy shoes, the shock of cold water only to be told the 10k'ers would not be crossing the creek. Damn. 90% of my route was a single track trail with sharp, stair-like inclines, leveling out then steep descents. 60% of the single track trail was layered with four-inch deep soft, wet mud. We slipped and slid up and down the thousand foot elevation. And man, I laughed every time I slipped, every time someone else slipped. It was so fun. In my mind, I thought I was very strong on the hill especially in the mud. Good runners were tentative, but as a good athlete I just jumped in and when I slid I was strong and balanced enough to not go down and to keep moving. The last three quarter mile, the flat stretch before finish, was the most challenging part of the race for me and I got passed by a strong runner who I had passed on the mountain. I was tired and I questioned why I thought it was so hard at that point, but lord if I didn't keep plodding away. I slowed considerably, but I plodded along. I finished unceremoniously with the pleasant staff telling me good job. I got my tote bag, touched my toes, looked around and shrugged and headed home. I had had a complete blast. This morning I'm sore from the mud stair climbing and stabilizing my ligaments and joints on such an unstable surface, but I feel great about the whole experience. And when I got an email this morning listing me as the third place finisher out of twelve in my age group, my head swole up to the size of a hot air balloon. Man, that felt great. I compared my time to the 30-39 year olds and I would have come in 4th in that category. I compared my time to the youngins, the under 30's and I would have come in 10th. Head = swollen. Now I'm jazzed for the next race. Now I'm jazzed to get even stronger on the mountain.

Five minutes after I crossed the finish line.
5lbs of mud on each shoe is a challenge. The best was when I thought I'd lose my shoes entirely in sticky mud puddles.Here's the mountain we climbed. I don't know if the 10K'ers got to the top.Coming home with my fancy tote, which reads "Serious Fun" at the bottom; my girls yelling, "Mami, we're proud of you!"I represented the SAMO girls during the race.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Secrecy of Women's History Month

March is women's history month. Yea, I didn't remember that either until I saw a full-page interview with Gloria Steinem in the paper this morning. The interview was on page A23 and I accidentally stumbled on it when I flipped through trying to find the second half of a front-page story. I would have missed it all together had I not seen the unmistakable doe-eyed stare down of Steinem's photo. Man, she's great-looking. P.S. Saying that is hardly anti-feminist. It's just a fact. Also a fact: Steinem, who turns 75 this month!, is still very relevant and radical. I don't think her message is dated in the least, even when her rhetoric is laced with the same she has used since the late 60's. She's a goddamn hero even if she's hidden away during Women's History Month no less. At the end of the interview, I realized that this article was still not the whole interview, which can be found online. Below are excerpts, not necessarily in order. You too can read the full article HERE.

Here was the last question asked:
What does having women's history month mean anymore?

It means that every other month is men's history month. At least we have one month!

Here was the first question:
How do you pick your fights?



On to a few of my fav answers:

There are people who'd suggest that when it comes to women's liberation, it's game over, a done deal.

That's ridiculous.

The first argument was, you don't need this movement, you're fighting biology, it's impossible. Then we did it anyway. Then the second argument was, it used to be necessary but it's not anymore. [That's] just obstruction, and the civil rights movement is suffering from it too, as if having an African American president has now meant that the huge disparity in health and income and employment didn't exist. It's a tactic to stop the movement.

Are the biases against women more nuanced now?

No, they're not nuanced at all. They're unequal pay, pink-collar ghettos -- 70% of women are still employed in primarily female occupations that are less well paid. A parking lot attendant who's a guy makes a lot more money than a child-care attendant who's a woman. We have moved forward from 59 cents to 70-some cents on the [male] dollar. By the fact that we value our children more than our cars, it does not make sense that a parking lot attendant who's a guy makes a lot more money than a child-care attendant who's a woman.

I wonder whether you think the war on terrorism may have elevated feminist awareness in this country because of how hideously the Taliban treats women?

We don't need martyrs and we don't need examples. I think we have a bad case of first-ism in this country. We seem to think that women here are better off than they are in any other country, and that's not true. We are the only modern democracy in the whole world with no national system of child care, no national system of healthcare, no system of family-friendly workplace policies. Women are a lesser percentage of elected officials [here] than in India. We are not "first."

You wrote critically about Sarah Palin for The Times in 2008. What do her political persona and Hillary Rodham Clinton's say about us?

She is, as I said in that column, a young Phyllis Schlafly. There'll always be a Clarence Thomas, a Phyllis Schlafly, someone who goes against the majority needs of their group. We create jobs for them too. If it weren't for the women's movement, there wouldn't be anything to sell out!

I do think Hillary Clinton's candidacy changed the atmosphere. I never for a moment thought a woman could win. It's too soon. But I do think that her candidacy made it possible for many more people to imagine a woman president. How she got up every morning and took that much punishment, I don't know. She was so strong.

Who's at the forefront of the women's movement now?

Now it's pretty much everywhere. The reason people know me is because there were so few of us. We were, like, 12 crazy women, and now there are all kinds of leadership going on. If I could have one wish for the women's movement worldwide, it would be to have feminist groups everywhere. We're communal creatures. We need to gather together once a week or once a month and discover that we're not alone, and to be able to tell the truth together

Rally & spread the word, my tired Sisters, that the movement continues. I mean, 75 cents on the dollar is not good enough for me or my daughters no matter how far we've come. And Steinem can't live forever.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Face the Wall or Bust!

When I woke Mina this morning, she was wearing an old wrap-around dress of mine from my more corporate dress days, a contribution to her dress-up box. Mina was completely naked underneath the ill-tied dress. She likes to be free, she says. The best part is that wasn't what she was wearing when I tucked her in last night.

Y'know, parenting is a trip. There's no such thing as auto pilot or having it down or I got this completely. I mean, I'm working with complex human beings, as complex as me. How they process and handle things can be a world apart from how I do or the other child; or maybe exactly the same and it could be something I need to iron out myself. Sometimes it all feels natural; zone-like. Other times, I'm improvising like a motherfucker. Like when I realized that Maya has been shrinking a bit in the face of her biggest challenges. It has been a subtle shrink, barely detectable. Her personality is so upbeat and her social life is so on point right now it took me a minute with close examination to realize her shit hasn't been as together as would seem. Believe me, it ain't a major slide or anywhere near drastic -- I mean, she's juggling a lot right now -- but maybe it could have been a tipping point, or a crossroads of a possible, total Fuck Off. I don’t want to wait to find out. There's been a tiny slip in her grades; she's been blowing off difficult reading for honors English; she's been shirking her solo basketball skills practice. Her phone/text game is tight though! And her friends worship her. Boys flock and flounder around for her attention. She treats the boys perfectly; as her goofy, beautiful self, as a homie; "No, I don't want to date you. Let's stay friends!" But in the shadow of her social stardom, a tiny storm cloud looms. And I was all sitting back, admiring her sense of responsibility and the ease with which she handles everything when I happened to notice the lining of the storm, hidden, and I was like, Oh shit, that's my cue, right? I gotta get back in the game, full-press. She broke down a bit when I confronted her. First, she did a nice little teen push back by getting defensive about her chores, another thing she’s slightly blowing off. She told me I was overreacting about not being able to get to them all at the exact time I wanted them done and damnit, she was right. I told her so. I told her I was sorry for overreacting. But the meat of the whole problem -- the slipping and the shirking -- has been fear. A sort of freezing up when things get harder than she thought they'd be. Her English class for example. This teacher is no joke. He's challenging them at a near college level, I think, and she's freezing up more and more because of it. She's locked up, feeling unable to do good enough work or give any worthwhile analyses for this guy. I think she's doing well, but she's feeling the pressure instead of enjoying the challenge. More subtly, she has not been working on the more challenging skills in basketball -- improving her dribble left and right, shooting rhythmically and repetitively -- for fear of not making JV any way. There are only four spots for JV next year and she wants it so badly that she has sort of iced herself mentally. And on top of it all, she's pushing back on chores because, well who wants to do chores? So, man, I could only reinforce that facing all these challenges is the only way not to feel squashed by them. Fuck it; bring it on Charles Dickens and double-team defense. If you can't fully understand the language of Charles Dickens, then understand some of it and do the best you can, right? If you don't make JV, fuck it, at least leave your heart on the court trying. There is absolutely no relief in hoping it all goes away. I know she wants to impress her teacher and I know she so badly wants a spot on JV, but really giving it her complete all for herself is what matters to me. I know she will not be able to top that personal sense of triumph no matter the outcome. I hope she believes me until then. I told her I wish I had given her the genes that made us prodigy-naturals at things, but I don't have that. I only know about working hard. A lot of times, hard work makes me really good at things, and sometimes it makes me just ok. It's her lot too. I think it's a curse to expect to do well at everything you walk into. She has a little bit of that. She doesn’t understand why everything, at any level, isn’t at least kind of easy. The discomfort of realizing that this just isn’t the case is confusing to her. The thick wall of a really tough challenge holds her back. Very gently I asked her, "When was the last time you gave a 110% at something?" She was crying and said, "Tae Kwon Do." I said, "That was so hard, wasn't it? The tests, the tournaments? And you thought you wouldn't get through them, secretly, right? It seemed too much. And when you did, when you did well even, how did you feel?" And she cried and cried.

Y'know, facing it and giving 110% never gets easier, does it? I mean, sometimes it down right sucks ass -- it's so hard! -- but the best thing about being older is knowing what it means to one's sense of self, to defining who we are as a person. I love it/I hate it/Mainly, I love myself for it. Man, I hope it clicks and holds with her. She's so far from mediocre. I mainly wanted to let her know that. Extraordinary is heavy sometimes especially when you have to work at it. It takes a lot of courage.

I had a very similar talk with Mina the week before.

I often think about the speeches I give the girls. Like when I thought I was going to throw up on the spin bike this morning. Or when work seems too much sometimes, or when the (extra)chores get on my nerves, or when my writing waits patiently, again. Just the mustering of energy to be brave can feel too much. I started a new story. The novel became so demanding, and I was making myself feel badly about it until I just faced up and started a story, started to just write. No need to squash all the love out of something just because it's a challenge. My point is, I can't give such heartfelt speeches if it means nothing to me too. It means a lot. I know how important this kind of stuff is.

Speaking of extraordinary, our girls varsity basketball team is playing in the regional CIF final playoff game tonight! If we win, we go on to play for state. State! This is the farthest our girls team has gone in our history. We're all getting on the party bus to travel to Orange County to watch & cheer. Then, I'll give the president of the booster club the $650 you guys helped me raise for the program. Thank you so much. I'm so proud to be able to give that to him today. I run the 10K on Sunday. It's supposed to rain this weekend so that will be fun, on the muddy trail. Can't wait to tell you about that. Or about our win tonight.

Face the Wall or Bust, y’all.