Tuesday, November 18, 2008


... an uninspiring topic for Spoken Word?

I have exactly one poem about work, but instead of also reading one or two off-topic pieces--I like the big picture a theme can bring to the evening--I decided to search my bookshelf for someone else's words on the subject.

It's no secret that I haven't done a whole lotta "work" since finishing my MFA last spring, but I try to make up for it at home: laundry, dishes, all the daily straightening I can stomach, the mundane and unpaid rituals performed by most women. I don't know if Naomi Wolf occurred to me before or after I thought of that, but one thing's for sure: I hate to miss a chance to share The Beauty Myth. This passage comes from the first chapter aptly titled "Work:"

"'While women represent 50 percent of the world population, they perform nearly two-thirds of all working hours, receive only one-tenth of the world income and own less than 1 percent of world property.' The 'Report of the World Conference for the United Nations Decade for Women' agrees: When housework is accounted for, 'women around the world end up working twice as many hours as men.'

Women work harder than men whether they are Eastern or Western, housewives or jobholders. A Pakistani woman spends sixty-three hours a week on domestic work alone, while a Western housewife, despite her modern appliances, works just six hours less. 'Housework's modern status,' writes Ann Oakley, 'is non-work.' A recent study shows that if housework done by married women were paid, family income would rise by 60 percent. Housework totals forty billion hours of France's labor power. Women's volunteer work in the United States amounts to $18 billion a year. The economics of industrialized countries would collapse if women didn't do the work they do for free: According to economist Marilyn Waring, throughout the West it generates between 25 and 40 percent of the gross national product.

What about the New Woman, with her responsible full-time job? Economist Nancy Barrett says that 'there is no evidence of sweeping changes in the division of labor within households coincident with women's increasing labor force participation.' Or: though a woman does full-time paid work, she still does all or nearly all the unpaid work that she used to. In the United States, partners of employed women give them less help than do partners of housewives: Husbands of full-time homemakers help out for an hour and fifteen minutes a day, while husbands of women with full-time jobs help less than half as long--thirty-six minutes. Ninety percent of wives and 85 percent of husbands in the United States say the woman does 'all or most' of the household chores. Professional women in the United States fare little better. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild found that the women in two-career couples came home to do 75 percent of household work. Married American men do only 10 percent more domestic work than they did twenty years ago. The work week of American women is twenty-one hours longer than that of men; economist Heidi Hartmann demonstrates that 'men actually demand eight hours more service per week than they contribute.' In Italy, 85 percent of mothers with children and full-time paid jobs are married to men who share no work in the home at all. The average European woman with a paid job has 33 percent less leisure than her husband. In Kenya, given unequal agricultural resources, women's harvests equaled men's; given equal resources, they produced bigger harvests more efficiently.

Chase Manhattan Bank estimated that American women worked each week for 99.6 hours. In the West, where paid labor centers on a forty-hour week, the unavoidable fact to confront the power structure is that women newcomers came from a group used to working more than twice as hard and long as men. And not only for less pay; for none."

I did get my usual jitters, the shaky voice and fumbling hands. It may even have been worse than usual because I was reading such a notoriously feminist text with an academic tone at an event meant to delight and dazzle. The last thing I wanted to be was a downer or heavy handed. But I pushed through it, replacing the citations with "blabiddy blabiddy blah," some nervous smiling and giggling. I even let my hair down to appear more feminine. Choosing to read such a passage at Spoken Word was a risk, but I also think I underestimated my audience. A few people thanked me for the enlightening reminders. One woman, French I think, even came over to my table before she left and asked for the name and author, wrote down Shakespeare when I told her I bought the book at the famous English bookstore, at which point I couldn't help but think, "My work here is done!"

It was only slightly easier to read my own words. I wonder what Naomi Wolf would have to say about my one poem about work. In any case, it's a published prize winner--California Quarterly's annual contest last year--so I can share it here... with you. If you'd like a copy of the magazine in which it appeared, (vol 33.4) click here and contact Julian Palley via email for ordering info. Be sure and tell them I sent you! (Note to self: Send more poems to CQ!)

Keep Them All

When you wait tables or teach, you don’t quit
one job for another. You keep them both,
keep them all because you need the money.

You skip a lot of meals because you're broke
or busy. You eat a lot of fast food and feel guilty
when you wait tables or teach. You don't quit

believing it will get better. You don't quit
drinking either. You drink and save up bottles,
keep them all because you need the money.

And you say you do it for the environment—
all that saving, reusing—you do it with people too.
When you wait tables or teach, you don’t quit

stockpiling lovers who ask nothing of you,
lovers you never leave and you never ask to stay.
Keep them all because you need the money.

Let them buy you dinner. Meet them for lunch.
Have sex. Keep living. Keep believing that
when you wait tables or teach, you don’t quit.
Keep them all because you need the money.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Boo Hoo...

The other shoe...

Amidst all the hope and celebration that last week's election inspired, and apart from the fact that the Electoral College seems once again unable to accurately represent the popular vote, there is one significant disappointment:

“…Bush’s one secure legacy will be [his] demagogic exploitation of homophobia. The success of the four state initiatives banning either same-sex marriage or same-sex adoptions was the sole retro trend on Tuesday. And Obama, who largely soft-pedaled the issue this year, was little help. In California, where other races split more or less evenly on a same-sex marriage ban, some 70 percent of black voters contributed to its narrow victory.” Frank Rich, New York Times

Now if that's not irony...

Why would a group of marginalized individuals vote to further marginalize another group of individuals? And maybe now I understand why Barack went soft on gay rights... to keep the black vote?

Granted, it took a lot more than just the black vote to approve the ban on gay marriage. It wouldn't have made the difference if other groups were less divided on the issue. I can only hope that "President Elect Barack Obama" will finally step up to the plate and remind his supporters that no group of individuals, no individual can be denied their constitutional rights. All (wo)men are created equal... blah, blah, blah.

I once heard the phrase "as goes California, so goes the U.S. and as goes the U.S. so goes the world." But many parts of the world are way ahead of us on this one. In France, there is already such a contract in place... the very one I entered into with my partner last December. It's a sort of civil union called a PACS. There was no white dress, though I guess there could have been... no bridal party, no table piled high with all the gifts we could want from any corporate store, no band, no cake, no crowd of witnesses pretending to believe in the sanctity of one of the modern world's most failing institutions.

I've never been a fan of marriage (click here to see, in action, the battle to define it)... for lots of reasons, and even a civil union seems like a ridiculous formality to me. I even said so much the last time I went to see the authorities about my work permit, which, I'm sure, didn't help my case any. Why do we need a legal contract to love each other? I wish the world would adopt Sweden's ways... no extra benefits for married people. In other words, equal benefits for all, regardless of categorical labels like marital status, sexual orientation, or race.

Marriage might be more successful if people were actually free to do it for other than legal reasons. But probably not. Monogamy itself is little more than social myth, and any governance based on myth is bound to fail... even if we call it love.

I dearly love my gay friends. I have two who are currently in different hemispheres because the U.S. won't acknowledge their relationship... They will probably end up living in the other one, far away from me. And haven't you heard about the gay brain drain calling so many educated, same-sex couples to Canada?
There is the occasional happy ending... my oldest and closest friend and his partner own a successful business and participate actively in their communities, hosting and attending charity fundraisers and offering scholarship programs to University students. They joke that they're so legally (i.e. financially) linked that they could never get divorced. I read a poem for their commitment ceremony several years ago--you see, with enough money and smarts, there are ways around the limitations of the law. At best--and as usual--we're dealing with a class issue.

So now the legal red tape unfurls once again as the fight for gay rights continues, and I have no doubt that one day, gays will be afforded equal rights on all fronts, whether it be legalized marriage or simply some other recognized contract... again, I'm not really sure what they want with our failing hetero institution and all its religious jargon anyway. But whatever they want, I'm on board... boo, hoo!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Woo hoo!

A few initial thoughts on Barack's election.

I've decided, just now as I'm writing this, to call him by his first name. It was so easy with Hillary. And yes, I was rooting for HER, knowing that I would vote for him too. But when Sarkozy and the French media so warmly embraced him, I started to realize what his election could mean on a global level. Could his can-do attitude actually make people like us again?

Being liked is very important to me. I want to say that it "has always been" very important to me, but the present perfect seems to hint at reform, the potential for change, and I highly suspect that wanting to be liked may well be the death of me someday... my Achilles heel and all that. I try to be a good ambassador, but when I'm not busy projecting my neuroses on my pets, I naturally project them on my country: My country needs to be liked. This balancing act is the essence of ex patriotism! (And on some days, narcissism--If people like my country more, they will like me more ;)

Some say that being liked isn't important, that respect is maybe more important. (I'm trying to think of someone I've respected but not liked.) Of course the U.S. hasn't had much respect in a while either. Now I should probably reread Kant before I go throwing the "L" word around "like this" (hehe!) but it's hard not to like Barack. And it's good finally to have a president elected by something other than corporations, fear, or hanging chads.

True, the "throngs" of supporters at the celebration in Grant Park did cast a pseudo rock star effect... The bullet proof panels on his stage--transparent reminders of the cultural divides in the United States. Just never mind how different that scene was from McCain's garden party! Barack clearly speaks to, and now FOR the next generation. This wasn't a black thing, or a class thing, or a gender thing. If any thing, it was an age thing... Babies of baby boomers taking the reigns.

Here's the thing about change: Change is inevitable, like pennies... and fall.

So the pessimist calls it waiting for the other shoe to drop. The romantic calls it hope, faith. Ultimately, the pragmatist in me wins out: It is what it is... Let's just hope those frat boys don't burn the house down between now and January 20th!

Spoken Word in Paris

a new home...

To say that the Culture Rapide Cabaret Populare is small would almost be an understatement. It was standing room only and the windows steamed up after just a few readers, right around the time we closed the door on the pickpocket who had been casing the joint. Nevertheless, this home of French slam—poetry, not the Denny’s delight—is booked every night of the week. The drinks are c-h-e-a-p and the d├ęcor keeps the conversation going… as if this were a problem for the French! From rue de Belleville, you can’t miss the giant mural on the side of the building—complete with dummy sign hangers…

“Be wary of words.”

Belleville is just ten minutes from our apartment, direct on line 11. This is the latest home of Spoken Word in Paris. I often go alone, but at the last minute, I asked him to go with me. The theme was furniture and I knew I had plenty of things to read, but it has been a season now since the last time I went in July, so I was feeling especially nervous.

He says I read better than some, worse than others. My voice shakes—and the poems in my hands do too, and I never know how to stand. I hate microphones, though I don’t always feel strong enough to project as I should… I haven’t considered myself a performer since back in my high school dance concert days, and THAT wasn’t about my voice.

Since graduation, I’ve been in wallflower mode. It’s easy here… so many characters and talented writers—sometimes one in the same—so many languages and cultural differences, and certainly Spoken Word is the richer for them. But we mostly notice the strange and telling similarities—like how we write more about beds than other pieces of furniture.

There’s music too. Musicians always make me feel inadequate, but the female songwriters are usually my favorite moments of the evening… nimble fingers on their acoustic guitars and velvety voices—instruments themselves stretching across the scale. We left at the break so I didn’t get to hear Erica—long time regular at David’s Spoken Word events, but I did get to hear someone new. She told me she liked the “piggy bank fattened/for April in Paris” in my poem, “Writing Desk.” Nice of her to say so. Hope to see her again…

The next topic is work. I don’t think I have a single work related poem… unless you consider poetry to be a kind of work. I guess that will have to be my angle. My horoscope says that I will soon have some very interesting job offers. Seems like reason enough to send out some resumes… see what falls into place and in which corner of the world.

And the next time you’re in Paris on a Monday… click here.

The Important Things

It’s Election Day in the states and I’m watching Barack Obama and Michelle vote, live on Euronews—where I can choose to listen to English instead of the ever-annoying French voice over. There are looped segments explaining the Electoral College. Reporters connect the election dots in all directions—foreclosures, health care, and the recession. (We are calling it that now, aren’t we?) Sharply edited interviews with Iraqi citizens reveal mixed opinions, a nation currently overwhelmed with change. The “no comment” segment shows the long line of Kenyans in Kisumu waiting to cast their hand-written votes into a cardboard box. Notice there are two boxes and only one line.

Though we have plans to keep track via the continuing coverage—over couscous and Scrabble—I’ve just gotten word of an all-night election party to watch the results come in and to celebrate Obama’s victory. “Barack Obagels and cream cheese beginning at 3 AM… a Sarah Palin pinata which will be filled, naturally, with hot air. This event is open to non-Americans and even Republicans (we can hope that they see the error of their ways).”

I do hope the results are as positive as anticipated. It would be nice to have a president that “most” of us want… “for a change!” (Sorry. Had to say it ;)

Don’t worry! I did send off my vote-by-mail ballot before I left. Meanwhile, the biggest change I’m experiencing is the weather. One week back in town and I'm finally not aching at the mere thought of the cold. Morning temperatures were near freezing just after I arrived, but then the rains came—and they were lovely—and now the sun, fallen leaves, intermittent clouds. Two days of UV rays and comfortable evenings is sooooo good for this Californian fresh off the latest heatwave!

Whatever the supposedly unusual weather, no matter the home I’m in, it’s awe inspiring how fall flies by. As a student, I became aware of the slow awakening that happens in the first few weeks of the fall, then the downhill spiral to Christmas before winter really sinks in her teeth. This year I’m learning that fall is also a pretty busy time in the publishing industry.

I have officially sent out several copies of two manuscripts to contests of various scope and prize, and though many of the poems—especially those in the longer collection—need some tweaking, it feels really good to just get them bundled and sent away. I always wait until the last minute thinking that I’ll finally get around to those final revisions! And there are plenty of poetry contests in the fall.

The most recent batch of submission was postmarked not long after midnight on October 31st… at the only 24 hour post office in Paris. We took the dog. It was only slightly raining.

Bring on the rejection letters!