Sunday, June 28, 2015

My Wife the Hero

Something happened tonight. It wasn't anything that big, or even something we'll necessarily remember in the months to come, but it happened and it caused my wife to have some feelings she should never have to have.

It doesn't matter what this thing was. It was simply a reminder that, when a person lives his/her truth, there will always be people along the way who don't get it or don't want to get it. There will be the people who choose to turn their backs on those they have always claimed to love, for reasons that make little sense under the harsh light of day.

Allow me to backtrack: If you've read this blog before, it's likely because you know me. And if you know me, you already know my story and, as a byproduct, my wife's story. But a quick refresher anyway. Katie was 29 years old, fresh off giving birth to her beautiful baby boy, when she finally asked herself the right question, after years of wondering why all the things she did with her life still didn't leave her feeling "normal." That question -- "Am I gay?"

When she finally asked it, the answer came crashing in, loud and clear. A resounding, "YES. DUH." And nothing was ever the same. Everything looked so obvious in hindsight, but the fact was that gender norms and a general feeling of "This is what I'm supposed to do" had led Katie down the path of marrying a man and eventually having a baby with him. This would be the final thing that would bring normalcy to her life. She just knew it.

But it didn't. And you all know where she is now -- married to me, a woman, and finally feeling freedom after so many years of not even understanding how she was chained.

I've written about it before -- how this revelation resulted in Katie blowing up her life and having to start all over. We had some rough years. It's still not always easy. But we've made it through because we know that we both did the right thing, ultimately, for everyone involved.

And that is what makes it all the more difficult to deal with those who turned their backs. There is an overall assumption, I believe, that what Katie did was just so easy. Obviously she had been lying to her husband the entire time, and then she cheated with me, ruining his life. This is the story that people want to believe. It's what they tell themselves to make it all better, I guess. After all, you can't play the victim without having a villain.

As a result, she was punished. Friends left her. Long-time friends. Even people who had been friends with her parents since before she was born, who had been a second set of parents to her. And all of these people didn't just leave her. They chose her ex. As though this were a competition and their morality commanded that they not have anything to do with that lying cheater any longer.

But it bears repeating -- and will for the rest of my life -- that this woman I married is easily the best person I have ever met. By far and bar none. She is the furthest thing from a villain. She is kind and thinks of other people always. And that's exactly why she left. Because once she realized who she was, she wasn't interested in lying. She could have stayed. Her ex asked her to stay. But that wouldn't have been fair to either of them. And it wouldn't have been fair to Merritt. So even though it seemed impossible and was the hardest thing she's ever done, she left.

I'm writing this because I want to put it out there in the world: If the situation were reversed, and Katie's ex had realized he was gay and needed to leave, Katie would have absolutely, unequivocally, supported the decision. There is not one question in my mind that if she were straight and it turned out her ex was gay, she would have let him go and loved him and marched in gay pride parades and been the best ex-wife a gay man ever had. And she would have done it without needing to be asked. There would not have been a thought of punishment or asking people to choose sides. This would have been the obvious course of action for her.

Yes, it would have been hard. It's never easy to lose someone you love. Which is why I almost understand some of the treatment Katie experienced after all of this happened. People often don't know how to deal with such huge events that affect lives so greatly. But after a little bit of time, I just wish that people could have seen the bigger picture -- could have realized that this was affecting Katie, too -- and maybe gotten past the hurt and moved onto acceptance and support.

Katie's ability to think of others is astounding to me daily. She doesn't act without worrying about how that action might affect someone else. And this is not a fake quality. It just comes naturally to her (while I certainly have to work at it). This is not just something it's easy for me to say in the hypothetical. I witness this from Katie every single day.

I have learned so much about compassion and being the bigger person in my five years of being lucky enough to spend my life with Katie. And so I wanted to write tonight because, yes, a reminder came that, even five years later, it still hurts to think about those people who so easily said goodbye. But my birthday is tomorrow, and so I am, naturally, feeling both nostalgic about the past and optimistic and uncertain about the future. And while I have a bachelor's degree in film and television and job experience in website performance, and I'm now old enough to be elected president, none of those things hold any interest for me. They can't change the world the way practicing a little bit of kindness and understanding can.

So when I grow up, I want to be Katie.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Giving Up My Right to Choose

What I want to do -- what I've always wanted to do -- is write. That's the reason I've had four (or maybe five) blogs over the course of my life. It's the reason I used to spend my time writing daily about two baseball teams. It's why I overshare all over the interwebs. It's why I published on HuffPo, twice, and subjected myself to the irrational hatred that internet readers can heap on those who dare express an opinion. Because I love to write.

And I've said it before and I'll say it again, without fearing your disdain for my hubris: I'm a good writer. I know I am. I know I can write about basically any topic, and I know that what I write will be at times informative, touching, hilarious, and/or more. I don't believe that it's cocky or self-involved to admit that you do something well, so I never shy away from acknowledging my intelligence or my writing ability. I realize that's perhaps still a unique quality for a woman in this country, but there it is regardless.

When I used to write about baseball every day, I didn't have a job. I could just sit around, watch baseball, write what I felt like writing, and publish it for everyone to see. I could mix in my personal life or politics and just put it all out there. I no longer have that luxury. I work. A lot. And when I'm not working, I'm busy pursuing my second bachelor's degree, in the hopes that I can one day put my family in a better position than we are now. The first bachelor's degree did absolutely nothing for me except cost a lot of money and look slightly prestigious on my résumé.

So, here I am, whittling away at a B.A. in "Computer Information Technology." Maybe it will lead to something that pays well and doesn't require me to work 80 hours a week anymore. That's obviously the goal. But there is a little piece of me that dies every time I crack open my computer to do statistics homework or read about the history of computing, instead of writing the funny things I thought of that day, or how it makes me feel to be a parent, or what an incredible privilege it is to have the marriage I have. Instead I settle for quips on Facebook and the occasional blog post if I have time. In the process of "growing up," I have lost the ability to do the thing I really love.

We all know those people who post memes about how "you always have a choice" and "it's never too late" and all that. Every time I see one I think about how, you know what, sometimes people actually don't have a choice. Maybe a person spent her 20s doing absolutely nothing except battling depression over being unceremoniously dumped from her dream job and living off her significant other's money. Maybe she thought she had plenty of time to figure out what she wanted to do and that she'd get to it eventually. And maybe now she's mired in debt and working her ass off to get out of that situation while trying to maintain a decent life for her family, so starting over trying to make it as a freelance writer or devoting her time to becoming one of those "mommy bloggers" (many of whom, I'm sorry, are just shit writers, but good for them for figuring out how to spin shit into cold, hard cash) isn't a choice she can make at all.

In other words, maybe some of us have already exhausted all of our choices. Maybe we're born with an allotment of choices for the course of a life, and when they're gone, they're gone. So barring an improbable lottery win (all the more improbable because I don't actually play the lottery) maybe now the only thing I can do is what has to be done. Not what I choose to do.

I didn't even have time to write this. I came on simply to give the update to my previous post. But today someone told me that I am a good writer and it felt good, if bittersweet. And I wanted to acknowledge it with something a little more than just posting the screen captures.

So, here's the update. As you probably know, on Wednesday I sent the fake cover letter for the dimensional metrologist job. This morning I received a response. Here's how it went down:

I proclaimed this as an example of the internet being awesome sometimes. As my friends put it on Facebook, "It's nice when people are people" and "I think we all won with this one. Such good natured action all around. Yay people!"

Yep. That about sums it up.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Metrologizing the Dimensions

On Facebook today I said that I was going to start applying to jobs even if I'd never heard of the title of the position. And I meant it.

The first title I didn't know was "Dimensional Metrologist." Here's the text of the listing:  

"Dimensional Metrologist - Full-time contract position in support of mechanical design product research and development at a large electronics manufacturer.

Experience with coordinate measuring machines using Mitutoyo MCOSMOS software and also PC-DMIS software is desired. Also desired is experience with other measurement equipment such as vision systems (OGP), laser micrometers, rolling flank gear testers, force analyzers, surface texture analyzers, hand gages, fixturing, and tooling.

The ability to read mechanical part drawings that use Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing is also necessary."

And now for my cover letter:

My objective: To dimense all the metros.

Now, obviously, you're going to be hearing from many qualified candidates from the field of dimensional metrology. My assumption is that most of these candidates have only performed metrology work in the third dimension, though. This is where I begin to set myself apart.

Work in the fourth dimension is obviously fraught with peril. Metrologizing via space and time is not for the faint of heart. So the first thing you need to know about me is that I possess unparalleled bravery.

I received my B.S. in Dimensional Metrology from ITT Tech in 2009. Since then I have worked as a fellow in Dr. Maskevicz's lab at UC Berkeley. While there, I published a paper entitled "Dimensional Metrologists: What Do They Do?" I have to admit, that paper did not come to any real conclusion. It was well received nonetheless.

I am seeking new opportunities ever since an unfortunate fire that resulted in the destruction of the Berkeley lab. As I said, fourth dimensional metrology is incredibly precarious. I'm pleased to tell you that all charges against me have been dropped, as the police could not prove that the fire had anything to do with my work. Sometimes it's nice to know how to metrologize the space/time continuum, huh?

One of my references, Lord Commander Tyler C. Tuszynski, will explain his vehement support of my fourth-dimensional project, which he still maintains to this day, despite the fact that it cost him the title of "Supreme Commander of Dimensional Metrology."

You have asked that anyone applying for this position have experience with "vision systems (OGP)." Well, I am certainly down with OGP. I also know a lot about rolling flank gear testers, since I use them in my slaughterhouse daily. I am less familiar with force analyzers and surface texture analyzers, but I'm sure you can tell by now that I'm a quick learner.

As for "hand gages," I'm not sure if they're the same thing as "hand gauges," but I'm excited to learn the nuances.

Finally, you can be sure that I know how to read mechanical part drawings that use Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing. I, too, believe those items to be important enough to capitalize. And I've also begun my own work in using Intolerancing for mechanical part drawings. It really is a diverse field!

I'm sure in the interview you will no doubt set up with me, you will ask about what I consider my weaknesses. I have to say that I have but one: I might just be too good at dimensional metrology. You know what I mean.


Erin Scot

Monday, May 19, 2014

Get Up, Stand Up

One time this horrible person wrote me after I called her out for her bigotry regarding our "House Hunters" episode on Facebook. She told the show that she'd no longer be watching and they "knew why." Lesbians ruin everything, you guys.

This woman and I exchanged several messages, each of hers increasingly more hateful. She stalked my blogs and reported back any "errors" that she found. Then at some point she wrote the word "blatent." And I couldn't NOT point that out. So I did. Except my computer autocorrected it. So that I wrote to her, "It's blatant, not blatant." Which looks absurd. I realized it immediately, and my next message was something along the lines of how I guess even my computer is smarter than hers.

But she ignored the correction and, since I blocked her immediately after writing it, she resorted to writing my wife instead. A fact we only learned this morning when Katie found the April 4th message in her "other" folder.

Your dumb as rocks husband wannabe wrote the following on my FB page: 
Erin Scot
NOTE>>>>>> It's "blatant." Not "blatant." 
The chode can't even successfully write a comeback that doesn't show the dumbass's stupidity! 
He wrote 'blatAnt' both times, LMAO!! That doesn't even make any sense. Please tell it that I took great pleasure in knowing that the moron now knows that I have read and thoroughly relished in the jackass's error while attempting to "correct me". I will smile about the hypocritical error for days to come. And imagining how embarrassed and foolish your pretend husband must surely feel now has and will bring me joy for hours to come! 
Elizabeth....grinning ear to ear : )

If you're ever wondering if the battle is over just because we have a few federal judges "legislating from the bench" these days, I implore you to come back to this and realize that the people who write things like this are your neighbors. Some are even your friends. On Facebook or otherwise. And you tolerate it because they aren't your friends in real life or you think you can change them or you have a history or you just don't care enough to put up a stink and tell them how horrible they are.

So think about those "friends" and their beliefs in life and remember that Katie -- someone many of you know and love and support -- tried to read the first line of this out loud to me and couldn't get through it because she was so choked up. Think about the fact that Elizabeth refers to me -- a person you know and, in theory, love and support -- as "he" and "it" and "moron" and "chode" and "dumbass" and "pretend husband." All because it turns out I like being married to a woman. That I was BORN to love this woman.

The only way we truly win is to actually change hearts and minds, not just wait for all the old people to die off. This Elizabeth person isn't old. And she's raising children to be just like her. So it's time for people to quit buying into the "you're not tolerant of my beliefs" nonsense and call these people what they really are: hateful bigots who wouldn't know love if it gay-married them on the courthouse steps.

The fight is far from over. We'll win, sure. But we have to see these people for what they are. Ignoring them doesn't work. If you know someone like Elizabeth, someone who takes such a sick amount of pleasure in berating another human being because of who she loves, and who does it under the guise of (in her own words) "Christ's love," don't just ignore it. DO SOMETHING.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Happy Mothers' Day!

(in our house, that plural possessive means EVERYTHING)

Even when I was younger I didn't think that I would end up being a mother. I didn't really relish the idea of getting pregnant, perhaps because even my child self knew that would involve a man in some way. I didn't picture my wedding to a man, didn't envision us having kids and a lovely suburban life, though I saw plenty of examples of that working quite well for others.

I remember telling my mother at some point that if I did have a kid, I would adopt. She was upset by this. "I want a grandchild who looks like you!" But that didn't seem important to me. I mean, sure, I was an adorable child. Would it be nice to see how that DNA would carry on? I guess. But I think even the adoption thing was a concession on my part. Growing up, aren't most girls just sort of expected to want to be mommies? After all, we're given dolls and told about the joys of motherhood. I probably thought, "Well, obviously I'm going to have to do this, so I'll just adopt."

Then the whole gay thing happened, and adoption looked like the most likely scenario for my potential motherhood anyway. But it just didn't feel right in my previous relationship. We talked about it, but not really very seriously, and after six years it was starting to become clear that it probably wasn't going to happen. I was only 30 at the end of that relationship, so it wasn't a case of feeling too old to start the process. It just didn't happen because it wasn't the right time or place.

But then I fell in love with a woman who had a six-month-old baby named Merritt. And before you knew it, I was fully in a relationship, living with Katie and Merritt. After not too long, and without any prompting on our parts, he began to call me "Mommy." Katie was already "Momma," so it's like his little brain knew to switch it up. It began as a sort of gruff "Ma" sound and evolved from there. But even before he gave me that name, I was his mommy.

I don't know the moment it happened. At first he was just this cute kid who was around, but after a little while it became more than that. I had to protect him at all costs. I had to provide him with a good life. I loved him because he came from the woman I loved, but also because of him. He was Merritt. A real person with real needs who kept me from sleeping normally and who bit me one too many times, but who also gave the best slobbery kisses and ran up to hug my legs all the time. I had no chance.

There are so many times where I've held him and looked at him and thought, "I need to memorize this very moment." Not even a special moment; just one I want to remember. But it never works. He keeps growing, and then I look back on pictures from nearly four years ago and wonder how that's the same kid who now plays tee-ball and gives us shoulder rubs and sleeps on the top bunk.

Before I met Merritt, I used to think it was interesting how parents knew their kids well enough to describe their personalities. I mean, I had been around tons of kids all my life, thanks to cousins and babysitting. But if someone had said, "What's [insert name here] like?" I don't know if I could have ever given a thorough description. But now I have this kid. And though he surprises me damn near every day, I would know him anywhere. His voice, his laugh, the way his fingers stay close together when he's gesturing with his hands. I know him. 

Yes, I am Merritt's mommy. And I always will be. But I can't imagine what it would be like if I had grown him in my body the way Katie did. Because how could I possibly love him any more than I already do? I don't know how it could be, but I know that Katie and Merritt share a bond that is impossible to replicate. And I am grateful for it every single day. 

You see, this post isn't about me. No, the real reason to celebrate Mothers' Day is the lady who, without knowing it, exemplifies everything every mother should be. My wife, Katie Scot. She, too, never really pictured herself having a kid. But from the second she found out she was pregnant, she was hooked. And her natural gift at being a mother was apparent immediately. It should probably make me feel inadequate to share parental responsibilities with someone so perfect for the job, but I just stand in awe of her abilities. No room for insecurity.

This is not the way she anticipated raising her child. He's not supposed to be away from her for any amount of time. We both harbor a great deal of guilt over that situation. But the fact is that in order to be a good parent, Katie had to be true to herself. And that means that the second she realized she was gay, she had to leave. Staying wasn't an option. After all, what was she to do? Hold out until Merritt turned 18 and then say, "By the way, all of this has been a lie"? Or wait until he was old enough to remember his biological parents as a unit and then change everything?

No, that wouldn't work. And so she made an agonizing decision to leave her old life. It wasn't because of me. It wasn't because she "cheated" on her ex. It was because she struggled for months after I came into the picture (and years before that) before realizing that the reason she had never felt normal is because she wasn't living her truth. And it was because she was strong enough to make the hardest decision of her life, knowing that it was the right thing to do.

The right thing isn't always easy. And it wasn't just Katie's initial decision that was hard. It has been a hard reality ever since. Constant stress. A lot of tears and agony. But somehow we're still here. And that perfect little boy is thriving and happy. Because of his momma. She left a life that never quite felt right, but she didn't leave him. In all things, she puts him first. Which is all anyone can ask of a parent. She has always been thoughtful and considerate of others' feelings, and that just gets amped up to infinity when it comes to Merritt. We make sacrifices to make his life better. And as a result, those sacrifices don't feel like losing anything. When we make him happy or do something to improve his life, we're gaining everything.

So on this Mothers' Day there's one thing I can say with certainty: I have never seen a better mother than Katie Scot. She is selfless and creative and loving and thoughtful and sensitive and generous. She whips up costumes and complementary tee-ball hats and spaceman sandwiches without thinking twice. She comes up with games that teach Merritt without him even knowing he's learning. She plays "store" or Legos for hours. She goes to the park and the library and the trampoline-jumping place (okay, that one was also for us) and preschool and gymnastics. She understands implicitly that Merritt didn't choose to come into this world and that it's up to her (and me) to make sure that if someone were to somehow take him back in time and give him that choice, he'd choose her and this life every time.

I know Facebook friends see us write lovey things to each other occasionally, and they probably wonder if it's all a show. It's not. My words never do justice to what we have here. Our marriage is not perfect, because we are not perfect, but it is remarkable even in its lack of perfection. It is a union of two people who want the best for each other and for our child. Being mothers is a huge part of that marriage, and Katie is simply the best mother there is. She is what all mothers should strive to be. She makes me a better wife just by virtue of being married to her. But being a mother with her makes me a better person. I could not ever have picked a better example to see day in and day out. There is simply no comparison. 

Five years ago I could not have imagined being a mother and having the sort of life where I have to think about swimming lessons and buying new jeans because someone got too tall for 3T. But now I can't imagine my life any other way. Even with all the heartache and misery that comes along with it, I know that Merritt's two moms are doing the best we can to raise a simply spectacular person. And thanks to my wife, it looks like we've already succeeded.

Monday, March 3, 2014

An Honest Conversation About Debt

My wife's right temple is swelling. It happens occasionally. When she bends over sometimes, it "puffs up" and then calms back down once she gets upright. It's mostly just an annoyance, and the reason we had to stop doing yoga, since she couldn't handle all those downward dogs.

This has been happening for quite a while. She had it checked out in 2001, with a CT scan and all that. The doctors wanted to do a biopsy of her temporal artery for a condition that basically only occurs in people over 60. Katie was 20 at the time, so her dad deemed it too invasive a procedure. 13 years later, she's still alive and not blind, so odds are she doesn't have whatever doctors back then had speculated.

But she does have something. Your head is not just supposed to swell up because you bend over to tie your kid's shoes. This morning she woke up and told me that her "tender spot" (which she has always called the area because it is always tender to the touch) was really hurting. The pain woke her up and she'd just been laying there with the throbbing ache, wondering what was going on.

There is no question that if we had health insurance, we'd be at urgent care at this point. But because we don't, we can't run the risk of having extremely expensive diagnostics only to tell us that there's nothing wrong and/or nothing they can do. We went through that with the breast cancer scare. And with that it was, of course, nice to know that there was nothing wrong, but then there was all the kicking ourselves for bothering to go to a doctor when it turned out to be nothing but a huge expense (and just a regular old lump). And it's an understatement to say that we still don't have room for that kind of expense in our lives.

I spent part of my day yesterday looking into WIC benefits. Admitting that is making me want to throw up, though we all know I'm a bleeding-heart liberal who believes in everyone's ability to get assistance when necessary. It's one thing to say that in principle, though; quite another to find yourself confronting it in reality.

I was pretty certain I wouldn't qualify, thanks to making "too much" money, but I wanted to see for sure. Turns out I was right, as I make at least $10,000 more per year (or at least did last year) than the maximum for assistance for a household of our size. According to the state, I'm damn near rich.

The problem is that programs like WIC don't take into account a person's debt. They don't take into account that nearly four years ago I left California with a paid-off hatchback and my entire life crammed into the back and that the next day I had no access to the joint checking account I had shared with my ex for six years. They don't take into account the realities of starting a life over with nothing in arguably the worst job market since the Great Depression. The people who run WIC didn't see me calling USAA and cashing in my $7,000 IRA, which then had to last me for who-knows-how-long until I could become gainfully employed. They don't see a situation where my wife finally realized that she is gay -- not because she was hiding it her whole life, but because she truly didn't know -- and therefore had to leave her old life, also with nothing. Except for the knowledge that she had never wanted to put her child in daycare because she didn't have a baby so someone else could raise him, so going back to work wasn't really an option.

So WIC doesn't seem to know what it costs to start a life over like that. To be fair, I didn't know what it would cost, either. I was giddy and in love and thought that love could conquer all. I thought, "I'm incredibly intelligent. Who cares if I worked in the entertainment industry and then didn't hold down a 'real' job for five years after being fired from 'Ellen'? People will want to hire me."

But, no, people didn't. And so I worked as much as I possibly could at my transcription gig, eventually getting to the point where it could resemble full-time income. But that has only been by working 12-hour days, often six days a week. I can't bring myself to break down what I am actually making per hour, but I'm reasonably certain the number is below the federal minimum wage.

The credit card debt began to pile up. It came in small amounts at first, which we could mostly pay off in a reasonable amount of time. But then there were bigger things, like Merritt's tubes for his ears and the fee we paid to get out of our apartment in Oregon early so we could move to Washington and be 30 minutes closer to Merritt every other week. We did not purchase frivolous things on credit. We weren't financing Hawaiian vacations and shopping sprees. Katie and I have each had one new pair of shoes in the last two years. We have purchased new jeans twice in our nearly-four-year relationship. We have gone on a beach "vacation" one time, driving to the Oregon Coast and hanging out in a hotel. In order to pay for it, I took some super-rush overnight transcription gigs just beforehand. But those gigs don't come along often; if they did, I'd take them every day.

We stay at home. We do puzzles. We read books from the library on our Kindles. When we don't have Merritt we stay in one room and only keep that room warm enough for us to not have ice blocks for hands. We don't turn heat on in any other part of the house. That's not an option when Merritt is here, of course, and so last month's electricity bill was a staggering $215. It was due two days ago. I haven't paid it yet. I don't know when I'll be able to do so.

Last year I did work for a company called JR Media Services. I did a lot of transcription for them, creating what are called "as-broadcast scripts" for shows like House of Cards. I've had to fight them tooth and nail for every payment they've made to me thus far, despite the fact that I signed a contract in which they stated they'd pay on a "net 30" schedule, which means I'd get a check 30 days after I turned in an invoice.

Right now I'm still waiting to be paid on invoices that date back to December 5, 2013. The last time I turned in an invoice was January 14. So my payments range from 18 to 58 days late. They owe me a total of $2,127. I've emailed numerous times to find out what's going on. On Valentine's Day the "vice president" of this company told me I was harassing his employees. He called the cops. A cop called me and said he would be acting as a mediator and that the VP of the company had said he would be cutting a check for "partial payment" for me that day. Today is March 3rd. I have seen no money. Neither the cop nor the people at JR Media Services will respond to me. I have basically decided I will just not be getting paid for this work. I can't fly to California and file in small claims court. I can't afford an attorney. And JR Media Services knows all of this. So they just won't be paying me. Which sucks, because it's dumb how much that $2,127 would help right now.

These are, unfortunately, the kinds of things one has to deal with when self-employed. I don't have a set amount direct-deposited into my account every two weeks. Some months will be huge and others will see me hardly making any money at all. This month, largely thanks to the JR Media debacle, I don't know how to pay the mortgage or another loan payment (the way we consolidated most of our debt) or the credit card payment (the debt that didn't get consolidated) or the car payment (for the car that just cost us $2,000 to replace the hybrid battery). We had to put $90 worth of groceries on the credit card yesterday. I have no idea when that will be paid off.

Not including mortgage and car, we're roughly $25,000 in debt. Hell, more like $30,000 when you include student loans. When I was in my early 20s I used to love going to bed every night, just so I could lay there and think about what my life would be like when someone else was sharing that bed. Now, every single night I go to bed with the girl of my dreams and fantasize about what it would mean to have a job that paid me $60,000 a year. I seriously put my head on the pillow and before I even know it, that number pops into my head. That's it. It's not even that big of an increase from what I made last year, but if it were a steady job where my taxes were taken out automatically so that I didn't have to pay them quarterly on my own, and maybe even a job that included some form of employer-paid health insurance, then maybe there wouldn't be this overwhelming, crushing stress that has me thinking things like, "Well, my life insurance policy is worth $250,000. So I'm worth a hell of a lot more dead than alive."

It is amazing how much money can affect every single aspect of life. The stress of knowing we have no money is just unbelievable. It affects our moods daily. It affects the way we eat, at least for me. "Who cares if eating this sugar will kill me? It's cheap and it makes me feel good for just a few minutes." It makes me bitter toward other people I know who have money and, at least in my eyes, don't really deserve it. They lucked into it or married into it. Or maybe they earned it but get my wrath because they won't shut up about it.

The annoying thing is that if our debt magically disappeared, we'd be shipshape. No problems at all. We do not live outside our means. But when we have to pay over $1,000 every month just to cover the minimum payments on all the debt, my income suddenly feels very inadequate. But it's virtually impossible for me to set up a regular payment plan and see our way out of this in the next four to five years because my income varies so wildly from month to month.

I feel like I should point out that I recognize that we are much, much better off than many people in this country and around the world. We are lucky enough to own a home. I don't think we made the greatest choice, considering some of our debt comes from buying a home that needed a lot of work to be livable (and still needs more), but at least we have a roof over our heads. Even if I can't, at the moment, figure out how to pay for it this month.

I also want to note that I am at fault for a large chunk of the debt. A lot of it was just circumstance and necessity, but some of it can be attributed to poor decision-making as well. The problem is that debt begets debt. I think I read that in Genesis somewhere. A company doesn't pay me for a while, so I have to put something on a credit card and/or get a cash advance to cover some other payment, and slowly but surely that credit card balance climbs upward.

Meanwhile, I'll keep seeing posts on Facebook about friends buying BMWs and going on vacations and, hell, even going out to dinner. We can't do any of that. And it's beyond embarrassing to admit it. Because I was supposed to be better than this. I was going places. I was going to be someone.

But now I'm just a statistic. Another American with crushing debt. I thought maybe being honest about it would help something. But I don't feel a burden lifted. I just feel sad and overwhelmed and hopeless. So this was fun.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Something Stinks. And It May Be Huffington Post.

I originally posted this over on Huffington Post, as many of you may know. The backlash there was pretty spectacular, and while I'm trying to focus on the fact that more than 15,000 people "liked" it, a few of the comments (on HuffPo's own Facebook page) left me really wondering what people were reading and/or how they graduated high school and/or function in the real world. 

Before I post the original (including a line that HuffPo edited out without informing me, even though I thought it was hilarious and saw no need for its removal), allow me to share with you one other thing that happened, and then clear up a few misconceptions that people had in the comments section.

First of all, when anyone, including HuffPo itself, shared the article on Facebook, it had a different title. Someone over there took it upon his or herself to remove the word "vagina" and place it with "body." See for yourself:

I wrote to the "blog team" at HuffPo immediately (20 minutes after the thing posted) and complained that this didn't make any sense, given that the entire point of the piece was to illustrate that it's okay to say "vagina." So removing it just proved my point that some people have a real issue with the word, I guess. Should I be thanking them for that? I don't think so.

The first response from HuffPo, from someone named Jonathan, was this: "That's odd. I'll let the editors know. Perhaps it's fixable."

By the next morning I still hadn't heard anything. So I sent another email. And then another. Finally, someone named Jessica responded and completely missed the point:
Thanks for writing and for sharing your concerns! The title of your post remains unchanged -- the url and on-page title is the same. If people are sharing it with an alternate title, I'm afraid there is not much we can do. Our social media teams have really been behind your post and I hope it starts a larger discussion about how we talk about women and sex. Thanks again for writing.
Apparently she was under the impression that I was saying, "Hey, when people share this, they have the nerve to insert their own opinions about it. Do something!" So I wrote back and included the above screen capture, showing that HuffPo's own Facebook page had the word changed and that I am, in fact, smart enough to understand the difference between someone writing a comment and the actual embedded title of the post.

This was the next response:
Thank you, and I appreciate your concern. I know a major point of the post is the fear of saying vagina out loud. Only a tiny fraction of posts that run on the site are chosen to be shared on Facebook, and it's a very competitive selection process, part of which means giving our social media editors, like any other Facebook user, the right to tease the post the way that they want. I can't speak for them, but imagine 'body' gave the post more of a tease/enabled men to click on it, too -- then come to it and read your words, the ultimate goal. All of our editors are trained to get as many eyes on a post as possible, which is part of the reason, I hope, that people publish with us. As you can see from the longer pull quote in your sample below, vagina is used. Thanks!
So the new logic is now, "Well, yeah, the editors changed it, but that's only because the word 'body' would obviously get more clicks than the word 'vagina.'" I feel like I shouldn't even have to point out how absurd that is, but allow me to do it anyway -- that is absurd. And given that the entire piece is about the use of the word "vagina," there is no justification of removing that word from the title.

It would have been a lot better -- though still infuriating -- if someone over there had just admitted, "That word is a little scary for us to use in a headline. We better save it for just the 'pull quote.'" Honesty is apparently not highly regarded over there.

So despite the fact that I'll never be able to get that many readers on my own, I think I'm done publishing with Huffington Post. It's left a bad taste in my mouth and I just don't think I need to subject myself to it again.

Now for a few of those misconceptions the oh-so-educated commenters had:

1) I guess some people only read the title and decided I was trying to start a debate about whether or not women should wash their vaginas at all. I wasn't doing that. And I don't think any part of the post indicates that. If you just read the title, though, you may have thought, "Wait, she's saying vaginas don't stink? I am outraged!" But calm down. I said no such thing. I will quote Sarah Silverman here, who many people somehow thought I ripped off, even though, once again, my piece was not about whether or not you should wash your vagina: "Just use whatever you wash your asshole with. Surely that's strong enough for your 'disgusting' vagina. And if there's still a rancidness, go to the doctor. Don't spray perfume on it. That's what a crazy person would do."

2) I am not a person who is terrified of the smell emanating from her own vagina and somehow acting out against the "feminine hygiene" industry in revolt.

3) I did not have a husband leave me because the stank from my vagina was too much for him to bear.

4) I do not work for Huffington Post. Nor do I get paid by them for any posts. I received all this stress for free. 

5) I'm sorry (not really) if you think I'm too "sensitive" or lacking a sense of humor for writing about the pervasiveness of sexism in advertising. It's out there. And I'm of the opinion that we need to point out sexism -- in advertising and everywhere else -- every single time it happens. Because if there's this constant "It's a joke; don't worry so much" mentality, then nothing ever changes. And I want it to change. It's the same reason I don't like gay stereotypes being used as punchlines. Things need to change. I recognize that this is "just a commercial," but it speaks to a larger problem. I'm sure someone told Rosa Parks, "It's just a bus seat." And I'm certain my detractors will jump all over me for that comparison, but the fact of the matter is that injustice is injustice. And a Summer's Eve commercial didn't cause the GOP's War on Women or the glass ceiling or income inequality, but it is a byproduct of that mindset. And I'm not just going to sit idly by while advertising executives -- or anyone -- continues to perpetuate the notion that my vagina somehow makes me an inferior (and smelly) human being, not worthy of the same rights as the penis next to me.

Edited to add #6:

6) I realize there are many important things going on in the world -- Syria, Ukraine, etc. -- but writing about one problem happening in the United States does not mean that I am ignoring every other. I got a lot of flak like "Meanwhile, in Syria," or "Can't you find anything more important to write about? You must have a lot of time on your hands." Setting aside the logic of people who took the time to read my piece then complaining about me having too much time on my hands, I don't know why there's some lack of understanding that every single article/column written in the world can't be about every problem in the world simultaneously. So, yeah, I wrote about a feminist issue. That doesn't mean I don't care about the plight of the people in Ukraine or the gun violence in America. I just didn't write about those on that day in that particular piece.

And with that, here's the original piece, including an Oxford comma removed by Huffington Post (guess they're not into that sort of thing) and the line that they removed for whatever reason. The word count on the HuffPo version and my version is still off by four words, even when I add in the missing piece, so I'm not sure what else they removed. Regardless, what you see below is what I submitted to them.

The other night I happened upon a commercial for a body wash made by Summer's Eve. One of those "formulated for a woman's pH" sort of things. And with it, Summer's Even is approaching -- and perhaps surpassing -- Axe levels of sexism. And that's saying something. 

In this commercial, a man is in the shower, cleansing his parts, when his wife points out that he's using her body wash. He is instantly horrified, and sets off on a quest to remind himself -- and, of course, all of us -- that he is, indeed a man. This includes doing things like towing a car with his teeth, building some sort of metal helmet (Viking? Roman? Not sure.) and then mowing the lawn with said helmet on his head.

The worst thing that could possibly happen in that man's world is to be accused of being a woman.  And so he must do everything in his manly power to prove otherwise. I suppose only to himself, because it's not as though he's performing these feats in front of any sort of world. It's just a man. A man and his pride. A man, his pride, and a warped misogynistic viewpoint that continues to be foisted upon the American public in seemingly every commercial on television.

While I won't dwell on it here, I will point out that men should share some of the offense as well. After all, Summer's Eve wants us to think that dudes are so dumb that they could believe using soap in the shower might take away their penises, testicles,, and Y chromosome. And that somehow playing the drums or belly flopping into a pool will help him regain that lost "masculinity."

But let's get back to the ladies, because Summer's Eve certainly didn't think of us. I don't know if they remember that women are actually the target audience here. It seems like they must not understand that at all, given that their entire mission statement is to sell products aimed to make all your lady parts less icky.

Instead, I'd like to focus on the fact that the company that sells feminine hygiene products is incapable saying the word "vagina" on television. I don't think the commercial should have made it out of a pitch meeting in the first place, due to its incredibly sexist nature. But since some illustrious ad exec thought, evidently, that it was the greatest thing since the 1984 Apple commercial, allow me to at least ask why the hell the slogan for this company has to be "Hail to the V," as opposed to actually using the proper term.

Now, maybe that's the company itself; maybe it's that the networks won't allow it. Either way, some people have some really warped priorities. Not to mention that it's confusing. If I saw it in print, I would read it as "Hail to the Five."

I don't know about you, but I'm not afraid of my vagina (or vulva, which is the external genitalia that I assume this body wash is actually meant to cleanse). It's a body part, just like an elbow or a nose. But somewhere along the line, someone decided that women ought to be ashamed of their bodies. Tampons must be manufactured to be as discreet as possible, since no one can know you have to deal with such a horrifying thing. And products that likely do more harm than good, such as douches, are pushed as necessary items because your body's natural chemistry is just too much for men to handle.

Meanwhile, we are constantly subjected to the billion-dollar industry that ensures their dicks stay hard well into old age. "Erectile dysfunction" is not on the list of words/phrases deemed unfit for television.

If you look at it from an objective point of view, you can't possibly see that it would be a problem if the ad said "Hail to the vagina" at the end, right? I'm a firm believer in the idea that we give words their power. Cursing doesn't really offend me, because sometimes that's just how people need to express themselves. But "vagina" is not a curse word. It's a body part. If Summer's Eve wanted to call the body wash "Pussy Perfume," I for one would commend them for their alliteration. But I would also understand why some network advertising departments might not want to put that on air. Though I would probably disagree with that censorship, it would make some sort of sense. Omitting "vagina" from a commercial about vaginas is completely senseless.

I hate to do the whole "this is okay, but that's not?" comparison here, but this situation is just begging for it. Countless violent commercials for video games and movies are acceptable TV fare, but using the anatomically correct term for a female reproductive part is not?

Scantily clad ladies selling everything from beer to cheeseburgers is okay, but the thing that virtually all of us came out (or were going to, if we weren't removed via C-section) on our way into this world (and that 50% percent of us possess) is taboo?

Cartoon creatures flipping up a human toenail is all just fine and dandy dinnertime viewing fare, but the very mention of the word "vagina" sends folks across the nation Googling the phone number to the FCC?

This can't be the way the world really works. The real problem is that even Summer's Eve -- a company that makes products specifically for women -- doesn't believe that women are worthy of being hailed in any way. Unless it's to bring their men another beer from the kitchen. You're not putting women on a pedestal if the best you can do in a commercial is reinforce the concept that there is nothing worse than having a "V" in the first place, and that if you do have one, it's probably too dirty for any men to love anyway. Unless you use Summer's Eve, of course.

So perhaps what I've been missing all along is that the "V" in this ad campaign doesn't really stand for "vagina." It seems the better slogan for Summer's Eve might be "Hail to the Vacuous."