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.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Don't You Love Your Wife?

We designed this shirt. We would like one of our own. In order for us to get one, and for the other eight people who have ordered to get theirs, we need to get to a total of 10. Surely somewhere out there is a chick who wants this shirt, right? Then click right here and get yourself one.

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."

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Dear Merritt,

I had every intention of writing you for your fourth birthday, but now here we are on the last day of October, and I'm just now sitting down to write. Time has slipped away from me. I had a plan of what I was going to write here, but today you said something that changed the direction of this letter.

Sitting in the car this morning, Momma and I mentioned something about The Little Mermaid. I don't even know why. We were talking about it in passing, listing it along with a few other movies. But you heard it and piped up from the backseat to say, "I don't like some girl movies."

And while this may seem like a rather innocuous comment, it really, really isn't. It's the sort of thing that has always bothered me in life -- this concept of some inanimate objects being exclusively feminine, while others are entirely masculine -- but it has gotten even more irksome/mind-boggling since you showed up in the picture. These little "innocent" comments add up and begin to define what kind of person you will be, and I (along with Momma) just can't sit idly by and let it happen without having some sort of input.

And so we tell you, "No, bud, there is no such thing as a 'girl movie' or a 'boy movie.'" And while we of course have a great deal of influence in your life, you will learn as time goes by that we humans tend to remember the negative things we hear most of all. A million people will tell you that you look good or are smart or kind, but you'll always think about that one person who said you weren't any of those things. It's our job as parents to try to help you to not listen to those people, but once those seeds are planted, it's hard to get rid of them.

In reality, there isn't a whole lot we can do unless this country changes the way it sees things. I certainly don't have any hopes that the whole country will be reading this letter to you, but I have to at least tell you that these are the things your momma and I are doing our very best to combat. I need you to understand that the loudest voices are not always the correct ones. Our little minority is fighting quite the uphill battle, and it will probably always seem as if no one is actually listening, but that's another lesson certainly worth teaching you: When something really matters, you don't ever give up.

And this matters. Because these are the sorts of things that will shape who you are. Your momma recently showed me something from a man named Jeff Perera, who deals with gender issues in an attempt to "reimagine masculinity." He speaks to students and asks boys what they don't like about being a boy. You can read about it here. This list from a group of fourth graders was particularly troubling to us:

I know a lot of parents worry about things like "how to raise a man properly" and the like. I don't want to worry about that. I don't care about raising a "man." I care about raising a person. Specifically a good person. Specifically you. You are a boy. I don't even really know how to explain to you why you are one. The simplest explanation is that you have a penis. But there are people out there without penises, and some of them feel like boys, too. And I'm certainly not going to begrudge them that feeling. So I guess you just feel like a boy; if you told us you feel like a girl, we'd be good with that, too.

The point is that I don't believe there's any one way to raise a boy or any child. Every child is different. And the second we start to say, "All boys need to do this," we run into a whole world of trouble. Just look at that list above again. In this country we have determined that boys have to do certain things, and even little fourth graders start to feel that burden. The list of the trouble we can get into with this kind of stuff is vast. But where would we be if we could just step away from all that gender stereotyping?

So, without further ado, I tell you this: Nothing should be defined as a "girl thing" or a "boy thing." There are just "things." They are not gender-specific. A movie or book about a female character is not intended solely for a female audience. And even if it is, it doesn't mean a boy can't (or shouldn't) read it. I bet when you're able to read, people will still be reading Harry Potter books. And I also know that most people don't think twice about a little girl reading those books. But if you wanted to pick up Harriet the Spy, a book about a girl, someone might ask why you're reading that "girl book." Don't listen to that person. If you like that book, if you want to read that, then do it.

Pink is not a girl color. Blue is not a boy color. Do you like the color? Then you like it. So it's a Merritt color. Nothing more, nothing less. There is so much history with regard to colors, so if you do a little digging you will find that pink has been regarded as a male color in the past, and blue has been a female color. The point is, these things change over time. So maybe the best thing we can all do is just stop assigning colors to a gender, huh?

Sometimes you're going to fall down and scrape your knee. Or you'll get dirty. And someone might say to you, "Oh, you're such a boy." But I bet if you look around you'll see a girl with a bandage on her knee and a head full of more dirt than matted hair. That's because kids -- all of them -- tend to get scraped up and dirty. It's pretty natural. You play outside a lot. Your motor skills aren't fully developed. You're exploring and trying new things. These are not traits specific to little boys. So, instead of being "such a boy," I counter that you're just "such a kid."

There will be things that make you sad in life. And you'll feel like crying. Please don't believe anyone who tells you that it's not okay for you to cry over them, but that it is okay for that girl next to you to cry. Tears are a natural occurrence. Emotions are perfectly normal. Expressing them -- in any way you see fit, as long as it's not hurting someone else -- is the only way to truly be able to move on from the situation that has upset you. It's healthy. It's normal. So if you feel like it, cry.

Tonight Momma and I watched a show that featured some advertisement for a kitchen product. The person introducing this product referred to the fact that "moms" love to use it in the kitchen. Momma and I both heard this and wondered why anyone would approve that text. "Moms" aren't the only ones who cook. They aren't the only ones who nourish and nurture families. Boys can (and do) perform those tasks whenever they feel like it. Your momma is a great cook. I hope she will teach you everything she knows one day. The fact is, some of the most famous chefs in the world are men. So let's get past the notion that the only people who belong in the kitchen are women. You can be there, too.

I love you so much, Merritt. I love that you can sit on your grandfather's lap and comfort him when he cries over a death in the family. I don't want you to ever be the sort who believes that kind of emotion makes a person weak. Right now you are so perfect and accepting of the way the world works, but you are also inherently curious, and I hate to think that you will run into people who will shape that worldview in the wrong direction. Please stay that sweet boy who cares about how other people feel, who comforts them when they don't feel well, who is always so generous with his kisses and hugs and "I love yous." If you can always be that boy, you will be the strongest and best man I've ever met.

I love you,


Friday, September 27, 2013

Rapidly Coonin'

In my lovely wife's latest blog entry, she details the story of the art piece she created for our bathroom. It's currently my favorite piece in our house, though I think everything she (or we) creates is always my favorite until the next one.

In that post, Katie noted that the outline of Iowa has a small heart drawn in the location of a little town called "Coon Rapids." And she pointed out that I would explain why that place is significant. So here we are.

I can tell you that I have driven across Iowa at least once. Perhaps once with my parents, but definitely with a friend back in 2008, on my way from Los Angeles to Chicago. Google Maps tells me that this trip put me within 20 miles of Coon Rapids. But I had no idea it even existed. That's no surprise, of course, since Google also tells me that in the 2010 census Coon Rapids had a population of 1305, which was unchanged from the 2000 census. Not a lot happening there, as it turns out.

Except this thing, which rotates.

But while doing the art project, Katie was looking at a list of Iowa towns, just to see what's there. And when she found Coon Rapids, we knew we had to commemorate it in some way. And here's why:

Months ago, while driving back from Katie's parents' house after borrowing their truck to transport some wood for our homemade headboard, I asked her, "Why, after leaving Lowe's, did we go back to your parents' house, even though we didn't need to because we already had their truck and everything we needed? There was no point in doing that."

She thought for a second and replied, "Because we're idiots. We really don't think."

We started talking about all the impulsive decisions we'd made in our years together. Some rather innocuous, some not so much. I would list them specifically here, but then you would think way less of us. We're not talking about life-threatening decisions or anything. Just little things, like choices we've made in motor vehicle purchases, for instance. Other financial decisions. Paint colors. Projects we've taken on thinking, "Oh, we can totally do this."

"Why do we do all those things?" she asked.

And that's when I came up with a theory. Where the Red Fern Grows told me (before it made me sob uncontrollably) that you can easily trap a raccoon by putting something shiny in a trap with an opening that's big enough for a raccoon's outstretched hand, but not big enough for that same raccoon's closed fist. The idea is that a raccoon really wants that shiny thing and certainly doesn't want to be trapped, but is too stubborn (stupid?) to just let go of the pretty, shiny thing and get the hell out of there.

Don't you just want to be there?

So I told her, "We see something shiny and we go after it without thinking of the logic or the consequences. And sometimes even though we could probably get out of a situation, we're too stubborn/stupid to just let go and move on. We're raccoons."

This was in the midst of our months-long discussion to change our names, so I decided then and there that "Scot" should not be our new surname. No, instead, we had stumbled upon potentially the greatest name change idea in history: We are, now and forever, Coons. And if it weren't for the negative implications of that word (let me be explicit -- we are not being racist in any way), we might have gone through with that. Because what better way to totally "coon it" (a phrase we use on almost a daily basis) than to change our names to that of an animal best known for rooting around in your trashcans at night? I mean, while that might be an apt description for the two of us, I don't necessarily need to make it legally so, you know?

I guess the good news is that we've managed to draw a line somewhere. Our last name is not now -- and never will be -- "Coon." We may be idiots, but we're not that dumb. Now, that doesn't mean that we don't continue to make supremely horrible choices. But I guess as long as we're able to laugh at them later, even through the tears, we'll be okay. We've got our opposable thumbs, we've got each other, and we'll always have Coon Rapids.

Monday, March 25, 2013

What's In A Name?

Around the time that I first met Katie in elementary school (before I forgot about her existence entirely for two decades), I was big on signing my name the way my granddad signed his. The point in the middle of the "W" was aggressive and much higher than the other two ends. In hindsight, my version of it looked pretty ridiculous, but I was proud of it. It was copying something, but it felt like I was doing my own thing. I was eight.

As I got older, my handwriting sort of became more like my dad's. I don't print in all caps the way he does, but when I take the time to sign my name properly, it looks an awful lot like his signature. And we have the same initials. In fact, my brother shares them, too, making it 60% of my family who can claim "EMW."

Then there's the fact that my middle and last name are my mother's first and last name. Connections everywhere.

But tomorrow, I will part with that name, though not the larger connections that have made me who I am for the last 32 years.

Tomorrow, Katie and I will become Katie and Erin Scot.

This has been quite the lengthy decision process. We've thought about it for months, and we just keep coming back to the same conclusion: We want to do this. Like, a lot. Obviously changing one's name is not something to be taken lightly, though I do feel plenty of women across this country do just that daily. Here's where I could go into the absurdly patriarchal nature of our society and how I feel it shouldn't be the automatic assumption that a wife will take her husband's name after marriage (or even that marriage requires a husband and wife, for that matter). But while that is what I believe, it's not for this post. I'm not changing my name because I hate my father. And I'm not not taking my wife's name because of my sense of not wanting to feel like I'm just someone else's property.

We are changing our names because, to put it as simply as possible, we are madly, deeply in love and the concept of having a family unit -- small though it may be -- that shares a name is incredibly compelling. Merritt will still have his father's last name, which is of course absolutely fine. That was his name at birth; we don't have a desire to change it. But the great thing here is that we didn't just randomly pick "Scot" because we relish the idea of saying, "No, just one 'T,' actually," for the rest of our lives. Nope. We chose it because it is Merritt's middle name.

So now we will go from "La Casa de Tres Nombres" to "La Casa Con Dos Apellidos, Pero Uno de Esos Apellidos Es Uno de Nuestros Segundo Nombres Tambien." Or something like that. My Spanish is a bit rusty.

Of course, so much of me will still be a Wilson. I might not sign the name anymore, but you can't change your DNA. The name change doesn't mean I'll stop devouring sunflower seeds or loving Grandma's pool or playing the hell out of a game of Nerts. I'll just be doing all these things as a Scot now.

There's a certain beauty to this that I keep forgetting to embrace because I am so overwhelmed with all the things that come with a name change: Social Security, new driver's licenses, new debit cards, the fact that my initials will now make me a paramedic, and more.

The beauty comes from the fact that, for most people, even if it is a knee-jerk patriarchally-minded reaction, changing one's name after marriage means something. It is not removing individual identity from either of us. We will still be us. But we will have one little extra thing that makes us that much more connected. It is just one extra bond to make. The covalent kind. We'll be sharing our electrons even more now.

I only hope we're ready to hear, "Oh, so you guys are sisters?" for the foreseeable future.

Apparently, Katie and I have given this subject enough thought (and discussion) that we even write about it in the same way. We wrote our posts simultaneously, though independently. You can find hers here.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Come Talk to Me

When I was a kid, my mother took baths. So did Katie's mother. We have that in common. I'm not saying my mother never showered. I'm sure she did. But what I remember are the baths. And I specifically remember that when she'd go off to take a bath, she'd say to my father, "Come talk to me." And he would. She'd lay in the tub, and they'd talk about, I guess, whatever had happened that day. 

Now, I've never been a fan of baths. They seem great at first. You get that water nice and hot. Maybe you even light a candle. And as you're waiting for the tub to fill, you imagine how relaxing and wonderful it's going to be. But once you're in you realize that you're just sitting in a quickly-cooling puddle of your own filth. And the glamour wears thin.

As a child, I never really understood why my mom wanted my dad to come talk to her while she bathed. What was the point? Didn't she want to be alone and relax? But now that I'm all grown up, I get it. And even though I take showers -- and quick ones at that -- I still find myself saying to Katie, "Come talk to me." And if she can, she does. 

There is something so comforting about just having a conversation while I'm in the shower. It doesn't matter what we talk about; it's just the idea that she's there. She'll tell me about a phone call she had earlier or about something Merritt did. I'll open the shower door and ask her if my thighs are looking better lately. She'll tell me that they are, but that opening the door has now fogged up the mirror, so I should quit that. And then sometimes she joins me, even though we've gotten to the point that, while we recognize that showering together can certainly have its sexy moments, it usually just means one person is constantly freezing. And ain't nobody got time for that. So we work better when one of us sits on the (closed -- sometimes) toilet or plucks random hairs (it happens; get over it) and chats while the other enjoys her shower. 

So it took me a couple of decades, but I finally get what it is my mother was seeking in those moments. And I'm glad I've found it for myself. 

Really, this is all just to say that I love being married. And I really love my wife.