Greatest Hits: TV Episode Version

I’ve been in Rerun Land lately as I write my thesis (I haven’t been blogging much because all of my Writing Energy is taken up writing my student teaching blog and my thesis–neither of which are for public consumption, certainly not at this point) and it has gotten me thinking about what makes a perfect episode of television. Why do I return to certain eps over and over and over? What makes them so close to flawless? 

With that as my guiding question, herein find what is the first part of a discussion of my favorite episodes of my favorite shows:



Best Episode:

Two Cathedrals, 2.22 

This is one of the most flawless episodes of television I’ve seen. It opens just after Charlie delivers the news to Leo that the President’s longtime secretary, the wonderful Mrs. Landingham, has been killed by a drunk driver on the way back from purchasing a new car. It also comes on the heels of a half season plotline in which the entire staff has been reeling from the knowledge that the President hid his diagnoses of MS from not just the American public but his staff, the people who love him and are fiercely, fiercely loyal. 

TWW didn’t engage in flashbacks all that often, but when they did–see, for example, the marvelous S2 two-parter opener, In The Shadow of Two Gunmen Parts 1 and 2–they were often excellent. These flashbacks go back the meeting and longtime partnership between Bartlet and Mrs. Landingham. She was his teacher in his prep school, the one where his father was principal. As it turns out, his father was a jackass. When a young Mrs. Landingham asks a young Bartlet to consider the fact that the women at the school are paid less than the men, she knows he’s going to do it when he smiles and looks away. It’s a pleasure to see these glimpses of their early relationship echoed in their modern-day relationship. 

Over the course of the episode, Bartlet must prepare for a statement to the press about his MS and coverup as well as attend Mrs. Landingham’s memorial service. This leads to two of the best moments  ever seen on television. Let’s start with the famous scene shot at the National Cathedral, right here in Washington DC. After he flashes back throughout the service to his meeting with Mrs. Landingham, Bartlet asks for the cathedral to be cleared and proceeds, essentially, to curse out god. The way his voice breaks on the word “son”–as in, “what was Josh Lyman, a warning shot? That was my son” is heartbreaking. He breaks into Latin, which Sorkin apparently wanted to use because he wanted Bartlet talking to god in god’s language. He calls god a “feckless thug” which is just fabulous. And he closes with an angry “you get Hoynes!” and puts out a cigarette (that cigarette is why no one else can shoot in the National Cathedral) and storms out. This deeply religious man, standing in one of the best known churches in the world, screaming at god–it is something I think we can all relate to, that urge to curse the universe, whatever god you may believe in, when someone you love dies too soon.

Mrs. Landingham returns in a vision–not a vision like on Charmed, as a figment of the President’s imagination–to tell Bartlet that god has nothing to do with car crashes and he knows it, and to echo what she said to him many years ago: if he doesn’t want to run for office again because he doesn’t want to, that’s fine. But if he doesn’t want to run because he’s scared, or he thinks it might be hard–well, she doesn’t have time for that nonsense.

As the song “Brothers in Arms” starts up, Bartlet gets into his motorcade and heads to the presser. Instead of calling on the science reporter first, as CJ has ordered, he calls on an average reporter, knowing he will get The Question. Sure enough, the reporter wants to know: will the President seek a second term?

Jed Bartlet asks her to repeat herself. She does. The cameras click. He puts his hands in his pockets, looks away, and smiles. 

Two Holocaust Novels

Recently I picked up the latest Jodi Picoult novel, The Storyteller. I actually am not much of a Picoult fan, but I find her books reasonably compelling–something decent to whip through in a day. the real problem i have is that Picoult always saves One Big Twist, and once you’ve read a couple of her books you can guess the twist.

But anyway, I liked this new book much more than I’ve liked any of her more recent books. (SPOILERS)

i’m going to ignore the parts that felt much more typical–girl meets boy etc, quarterlife crisis, blah blah blah). the part that i felt was an interesting choice on Picoult’s part was to use some of the chapters in a first-world account of being a Nazi. I found this part incredibly compelling. Gut wrenching and rage making and also compelling. There’s also a narrative of a camp survivor, which was exactly as horrifying and depressing and soul-crushing as you expect. Picoult clearly did her research, and there were details in both of these narratives that I certainly was unaware of. So it was certainly not the sort of light reading I associate with Picoult. It was, instead, well….draining. But I want to say that I really respect Picoult for writing such a book. It’s true taht WWII has been written about a lot, but equally true that there are still Holocaust deniers out there, and quite honestly I think it’s a good idea for popular fiction to include descriptions of this atrocity.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is a much different book, told entirely through letters–a concept I often dislike–and it is much lighter. Quite honestly it was a relief. Ever since I read the two books I have been super into WWII, and I listened to some podcasts and a book on tape and now I am watching a documentary, and after this this is going to have be it for me for awhile.

I remain fascinated by the complicity of everyday Germans–SS soldiers and citizens–in the wholesale massacre of other human beings. I think this is the part of the Holocaust that we all find fascinating and terrifying, because it gets to the very fundamental question of humanity. As I was reading especially the narrative “by a Nazi” in Picoult’s book I kept thinking that the asshole should just say NO for gods sake, stop being such a horrible person, etc etc. I wish that I could say that I know for sure that I would not have participated. But I can’t know that. I don’t think anyone can. I suppose I am as sure as I could be that I wouldn’t have participated–but I also know that it is impossible to say that completely. You never know, outside of context, what anyone will do. You cannot.  I think that is part of what leaves the Holocaust so full of ongoing mystery. It is so frustrating to listen to the news on any given day and here about the other mass murders still happening; and yet, sometimes it seems as though isolationism vs interventionism will never be resolved. There is a huge part of me that believes firmly that it is totally unethical to just stand by, and for that reason alone Roosevelt will never be a good President to me. And yet we have seen evidence that outside intervention sometimes makes things worse.

Well. I think what we are learning is that I clearly do not have any good, clear answers. Basically, sometimes people are evil, and sometimes people are complicit in atrocities, and sometimes the rest of us have no good options.

May Books

1. Whitey Bulger, Cullen/Murphy a fascinating account from two Boston Globe reporters about that city’s most notorious gangster, who was finally caught and who will be tried this summer. This is a very well sourced book, rich with info and inside info. I loved it. It also made the FBI and Bill Bulger look very, very, very bad.

2. The Guilty One, Ballantyne–a good mystery that wanted to be more than it is

3. Tuesday’s Gone –Nicci French. I dont really remember it except that it captured my attention. All my notes say is that I called the bad guy.

4. Notorious Nineteen, Janet Evanovich. Eh. I mean, these books are what they are, which is diverting enough for a couple hours.

5. The Hunger Games–reread. I really, really like this book and think its the strongest of the series.

6. Catching Fire–still pretty strong.

7. Mockingjay–I still can’t believe she killed Rue. Although actually I think that brutality is a real strength of the series.

8.  The Woman Upstairs–Messud’s new book. Wonderful. Evocative and challenging in all the good ways.

10.  Dark Tide–Davidson–good mystery–excellent atmosphere

11.  Tiny Beautiful Things, Cheryl Strayed. I will post a longer review of this on my blog at some point. If I could give every high schooler one book, it would be this. Luminous.

12. Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore–a lovely ode to the mysteries and wonder hidden on the printer page. It’s quite funny and very much of its time, with shouts outs to the market collapse, google…also an interesting use of the real and the fantastical.

13. Chomp–Carl Hiassen–i was in the mood for Hiassen but I’ve read all of his adult novels a zillion times.

14. beasts and monsters–the new denise mina–great as always.

15/16. White Heat/The Boy in the Snow–wonderfully atmospheric mysteries starring a woman who lives in the Arctic. It was a little weird at first reading all about how eats a lot of blood soup and walrus flipper and such but also fascinating. The atmosphere is definitely the biggest draw here though the mystery is quite compelling in both novels (the second of which is set in Alaska). Also a bit of a critique on the vanishing Arctic.

17. When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man, Nick Dybeck–a suspenseful morality tale. I mostly liked it, but the ending made me angry. Not an unreliable narrator exactly but not one I’d want to be friends with. Ever.

18. Accelerated,Bronwen Hruska– basically a cautionary tale, if a well-written and engaging one, about giving ADD meds to kids. Imagines a whole conspiracy with devastating results. I had mixed feelings. I am definitely a fan of giving meds to kids who legit need them, whether its for cancer or ADD or a headache. I am also definitely NOT a fan of overmedicating kids or of medicating kids who don’t need it. I think that in my hippie ed circles people can conflate any medicating with overmedicating, which is a dangerous mistake to make. So..hmm. Amusing as a book, and it did make me think about the ways in which we shortchange especially boys in the classroom.

19. Chillwater Cove, Thomas Lakeman. A very competent mystery.



(xposted Books Are Pretty)

You know what bugs the ever living hell out of me?

Pseudoscience. Pseudoscience bugs the ever living hell out of me. The fact that every single day my facebook feed is filled with stuff and nonsense for which no empirical evidence exists–vaccines cause autism! not eating gluten will cure depression! antioxidants will fix your cancer!–bugs the ever living hell out of me.

Barbara Enrenreich’s Bright-Sided, which I cannot believe it has taken me this long to read, is essentially a giant debunking of another kind of pseudoscience: the power of positive thinking.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, well, positive thinking HELPS US! It helps us to be healthier and strengthens our immune systems and that which does not kill us makes us stronger so slap a colored ribbon on your car and lets run a 5K!

God that bugs me.

Ehrenreich’s book, which I tore through in an afternoon, includes a fantastic exploration of the history of positive thinking, which rose, essentially, in objection to Calvinism–I agree constantly monitoring yourself for sin to see whether you are predestined to burn in hell seems a perfectly dreadful way to live. I am just not sure that replacing with the constant self-monitoring for negative thoughts is a whole lot better. A little better, but not a whole lot. And as Ehrenreich shows, there are a lot of parallels between Calvinist thinking that you ought to cast out the sinners from your life and the exertions of positive thinking gurus to stop associating with negative people–even if they happen to be, say, your spouse. There’s a lot of what she calls (heehee) “inescapable pseudoscientific flapadoodle” inherent in much of the guru-led nonsense, like The Secret and its ilk. Tell me “inescapable pseudoscientific flapadoodle” is not the exact phrase you have been searching for to explain your facebook feed!

I’m not even going to try to explain all of the ways in which Enrenreich disproves the various IPFs, but I will say that she provides some damn compelling evidence that America’s over-reliance on positive thinking–with its genuinely fascinating historical and religious roots–contributed significantly to the economic collapse. This is one of the more interesting chapters in a text where no chapter disappoints. For me, though, the highlight was the chapter on cancer. Enrenreich, who had breast cancer, talks about the pervasive belief that getting cancer was somehow a Good Thing: it was meant to happen! It would lead her to better things! She could get a pretty wig and a free makeover! She should look at cancer as an oppurtinity to find her true self!

Well, if you will pardon my French, bullfuckingshit. As Enrenreich discovered, this relentless focus on positivity actually meant that she, and other patients, didn’t have a chance to think critically about treatment options–which in the world of cancer, where chemo can hurt as much as heal, is pretty damn critical. It made it hard to pull out important information from malarky.

America has some weird strains running through it. One of these is our idea that if we just work hard enough we can all become President, or at least a ballerina. This is garbage and we should really stop saying it. Yes, you can achieve a lot of wonderful and amazing things with the right amount of determination–if a lot of other factors are also present. I can dream lots and lots of things. I can do very few of them. This is not a defeatist attitude. This is an attitude that reflects reality. This is part of why I think social programs can be so hard to get through politically–a strain of America believes that people don’t need the government to help them, because if they just worked hard enough, they wouldn’t need health care because they wouldn’t get sick, and they wouldn’t need federally funded early childhood education because they’d make enough money to send their kids to the 30K a year preschool down the road. Again, this entire notion is garbage. That’s not to say that having goals and sticking to them and working incredibly hard and paying your dues are not all important. They are tremendously important. It’s just that in addition we have this thing called reality, and the fact is that there are people for whom the deck is stacked right from the beginning, and for those people the traditional American dream requires more than hard work. It requires luck and help. This is true for everyone, actually, its just that its infinitely truer for some than for others.

So there’s that, and related to that I think is our idea that wishing can make it so. That if we just will ourselves to get better, or assume that we got sick or hurt or poor for a reason, we can Make Something Of It and Come Out Stronger and whatever other cliches you want to throw out there. This is nonsense. I can tell you right now that struggling with chronic depression does not make me a stronger or better person, or more in touch with reality. It makes it harder for me to do the things I want to do. That’s it. Having cancer did not make my father stronger or better or wiser. It meant that he had to go through a lot of pain. That’s it. Sometimes there is no deeper meaning. It is tantalizing to believe that there is.  I get that. I wish that having had depression brought me some sort of special powers of empathy or clarity or artistic talent. But sometimes shit just happens. Oftentimes that shit does not make us stronger or better or wiser. Suffering is part of the human condition, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get to be angry about that suffering. If you have cancer, if you are dirt poor, if your parents beat you, it is okay to wake up in the morning and curse the universe. The universe can take it. The universe is not going to turn into a spiteful third-grader and smite you for cursing it. Some things are not fair and some things never will be. Sometimes there is nothing the fuck up with that.

This isn’t to say that science knows everything. It doesn’t (scientists would be the first to admit that). There are not explanations for everything. There are lots and lots of things about the universe that we don’t know and probably never will. But science is and remains the best way we have to measure actual truth. Actual truth, in the way I am thinking of it, is different from your own truth; actual truth is, say, evolution, or gravity, or the way that the earth is round. You can have all sorts of truths of your own, things that you believe way into the fabric of your gut. You should have those things. It’s just that those things are beliefs. They are not fact. And there are all sorts of things we will discover that may well change the way we currently conceive of the world; chemicals that we think are safe now may prove not to be, for example. Actually I think we can all agree that’s going to happen. But we have to do the best that we can with the science and the facts and the medicine that we have now. I am not going to try to repeat the ways in which the book refutes various studies on happiness but if you are into science I suggest it.

Ehrenreich is not suggesting that we suddenly start looking at the world with mud-colored glasses–in fact, as she points out, depressed folks tend to do just that and it is certainly no healthier than unrealistic optimism. Rather, she is suggesting that perhaps we look at the world as it really is. That we use critical thinking skills–those of us that were lucky enough to learn them in school, and I am not being remotely snarky here–and reality testing and evidence based claims to decipher our world. As she says, “the alternative to both [overly pessimistic or optimistic thinking] is to try to get outside of ourselves and see things ‘as they are’ or as uncolored as possible by our own feelings and fantasies, to understand that the world is full of both danger and opportunity–the chance of great happiness as well as the certainty of death” (Ehrenreich p.196).

So if you are diagnosed with breast cancer and it makes you feel better and more able to face the day and make informed decisions about your own health care to fill your room with pink ribbons, go for it. Just don’t expect it to cure you. It will not.

Happy Easter from a friendly UU

I don’t believe that Jesus was the son of god, or that he rose from the tomb (though it’s totally cool if you do!)

I do believe in the possibility of ongoing renewal, of new beginnings, of what the Quakers call continuing revelation brought about by the light, the that-of-god, within each of us;  of trees regaining their hard-won leaves; of sheets of ice melting to reveal the life-giving water within; of that simplest, barest hope, shoots breaking through the cold hard ground;  of the possibility of miracles.

I do not believe that Jesus was the son of god. I do believe that he was a prophet, the original flaming liberal,  someone who perhaps started our proud tradition of prophets who would show us how to live. And I believe that the story of his resurrection is a marvelous, meaningful fable, the telling of which reminds us that we, too, may rise from whatever tomb we have buried ourselves in.

There are aspects of winter that I love: the bracing cold, the quiet during a snowfall, the clarity of ice. It is also the time when cold and bitterness may seep more easily into the human heart, where the iciness outside may settle itself inside. It is the time when nothing grows, when everything is in hibernation, waiting for the chance to begin anew.

This is my favorite UU Easter prayer. We must all roll back the stone. Over and over. No matter how tired our arms get, how heavy the stone; that is our work. We are here to build the house. 

And so I celebrate Easter, proudly, as a Unitarian Universalist. I do not celebrate it as the day that Jesus, son of god, rose from the dead, although I see no reason why you should not celebrate that.

I celebrate it as the reminder that spring has arrived, that that which sustains life may finally grow again, that all that we love may return to us in varying forms, that after a long time hidden in the cold and dark we may arise and walk, squinting and stumbling and blessed, into the sun.

Talking to children about rape

I’ve been reading a lot about the devastating rape case in Stuebenville, OH.
I’ve read a lot of brilliant, incisive commentary about how screwed up the media’s reaction was, centering the rapists rather than the victim. I’ve read a lot of fantastic stuff about how this reflects rape culture. I’ve read this just amazing letter to Moxie’s boys.

I don’t write this now because I think I have something unique and special to add but rather because I feel the need to write something. Because it sickens me to think of that girl who was so brutalized, whose life will never be the same. It sickens me even more, though, to think of the thousands of other girls just like her. To think of them all together boggles the mind.

I’ve been teaching comprehensive sex ed for about six years. This reminds me; parents who are invested in this kind of work, get yourself to a UU church and sign up for OWL. its an amazing program that has a genuine impact and we usually take kids from outside of the church.
Anyway. In that time, I’ve done a lot of reading, a lot of research, a lot of soul-searching, about the things that we tell our children about sex and sexuality and consent and rape. I’ve had a number of tough conversations.

And I want to tell you what I’ve learned.

In my humble opinion, there are some things that every child ought to be taught. Not math, silly. Math is pointless. I’m talking about things like this, things that are much much harder to teach:

–your body is your own.
–nobody is allowed to touch your body unless it is ok with you. this is why it’s a good idea to teach even babies and toddlers that they are allowed to refuse to hug grandma.
–some parts on your body are private. i worked with a family that called this the “bathing suit rule;” no touching someone’s body where their bathing suit would cover. That’s horrid syntax, but you get the idea.
–these parts are private not because there is something wrong with them but because they are used in special ways when you are a grown-up and those ways are private.
–no one is allowed to touch those parts except a trusted adult helping you wash and the doctor, if she or he needs to, and if your parent is there too.
–it is totally ok for you to touch these parts, but only in private.
–it is always ok to ask even a trusted adult to stop touching you.
–nobody is ever, ever allowed to do something with your body that makes you scared or uncomfortable. the only exception is an emergency like a fire where an adult might tell you to do something scary like jump.
–it’s always, always, ALWAYS ok to tell a grown-up to stop touching you if it makes you feel weird. It is ok even if the grown-up tells you it will make them sad, or angry, or disappointed.
–if a grown-up or another kid does something that makes you scared or uncomfortable, tell a grown-up you trust about it.
–this is why it is important to learn the proper names of body parts. calling your vulva your hooha or your penis a weewee might be cute but it is dangerous not to know the real names of all of your body parts, from your elbow to your vagina.
–sex is a wonderful, magical, fun thing for most people, IF two people who really want to have sex are exploring it together.
–having that kind of sex takes practice.
–having that kind of sex is a big commitment. there are lots and lots of things to think about when deciding whether to do it. (obviously you’ll want to talk about this in greater detail).
–sometimes, people don’t know or don’t care that other people are not allowed to touch your private parts or to do something to your body that you do not want them to do. it’s important to remember that not all kids know that rule. if a kid does something to your body that makes you scared or uncomfortable, just like if a grown-up does, you are allowed to tell them to stop.
–a lot of times when we talk about sex, we talk about consent. lots of people think that consent just means the person doesn’t say no. but real consent means that the other person says YES.
–it is so, so important to make sure that the person you are engaging in sexual activity is saying YES. remember how sex can be magical and fun and amazing? this is only true if everyone is saying YES.
–especially if you are a boy, people might expect you to not wait for someone to say YES. your friends might assume that it doesn’t matter. if you remember nothing else, remember this: it matters a lot. always, always, always wait for YES.
–sometimes people can’t consent. if someone is asleep, drunk, high, a child, an animal or has a certain kind of cognitive disability, they cannot say YES and you cannot engage in sexual activity with them.
–you might, one day, see someone engaging in this activity with someone who did not say YES. maybe this person is asleep or drunk. maybe she is saying no. maybe she is fighting back. maybe she isn’t saying no but she looks miserable. the best thing you can do, the most helpful thing you can do, is to step in. tell the boy “that isn’t cool.” say “stop that.” say “she didn’t say yes.”
–if it is not safe for you to step in, call the police. tell them you need to report a rape. even if you somewhere you weren’t supposed to be, doing something you weren’t supposed to do, your parents will be OK with you stopping this. it is important.
–a lot of the reason that people get away with rape is because other people accept it. that is why it is important that you be brave enough to step in.
–even if you never see someone being raped you will hear and see many, many things that are related. you will hears boys talking about girls in ways that are nasty and threatening and related just to their physical appearance. you may hear girls do the same thing. you will hear jokes about rape. you will notice that rapists are often given a pass. you will notice that women are given lots and lots and lots of tips on “preventing rape” but that men are not given tips on how to prevent being a rapist.
–that is why one of the most important things you can do on this earth is to call out that behavior. it all exists on a spectrum. Every single time you refuse to laugh at a rape joke, every single time you tell someone to stop catcalling a girl, every single time you step in, you are helping to stop rape. Every single time. What a gift you have to give.
–it will be hard, sometimes. some people will make fun of you. some people will be assholes about it. that’s ok. we are not here to make everyone like us. we are here to have whatever impact we can have, and you are in charge of making sure that impact is positive.
–it’s a big world. there are lots and lots of people in this big world who are wonderful, funny, smart, generous and big hearted. you will find them. unfortunately you will also find people who want to use their power and their impact to hurt others. one of the jobs of being human is to decide which side of the line you’d like to fall on. choose the side that works actively to help the world be a safer place. choose to step in, to stand up, to say: enough.

February books

1.The Seige (White) –good mystery
2. Speaking from among the bones–the new Flavia de Luce. I LOVED IT.
3. The one I left behind (McMahon) definitely not as good as her other books
4. How fiction works (Wood) James Wood is a New Yorker writer and this is a fantastic explanation of how literature functions.
5. China lake (Gardiner) re-read, love her
6. Number the stars (Lowry) YA i re-read because love
7/ The hours (Cunningham) haven’t read since probably high school. enjoyed the re-read
8. The playdate (Millar) a good pysch thriller
9. The casual vacancy (Rowling) No Harry Potter, that’s for sure. Traces of JKR’s themes and language came up, but it is essentially a bleaker story-the HP books are mainly predicated on the idea that people who band together in determination to do the right thing can defeat great evil. This feels more like decent, but very flawed, people defeated by inertia and the more mundane forms of “evil.”
10. Manhunt –Peter Bergen’s book about capturing bin Laden. Made me much less uncomfortable than No Easy Day. I like the intellectual distance.
11. When will there be good news (Atkinson) reread, love
12. Teaching reading a textbook about…teaching reading
13. The betrayal of trust (Hill) a pretty solid mystery
14. The hypnotist (Keplar) pretty good. fast paced if not skillfully written
15. The young unicorns
16. Meet the Austins
–both of the above are the great Madeleine L’Engle. I was in an L’Engle mood. Meet the Austins I hadn’t read since I was very young and its strange to see what an old book it is–there’s talk about the kids not using seatbels, for example. It did make me sad that she kept having Dr. Austin spank the kids, since I Do Not Approve of hitting your children and in later books I love Dr. Austin.
17. Teaching for Joy and Justice
18. You Gotta BE the Book
19. Deeper REading
–i half read half skimmed these three to learn how to teach reading to adolescents. To START learning, I should say.

January books

1. Last king of Texas
2. Devil went down to Austin
(Both Riordan, who more recently wrote the Percy Jackson ya novels. These are serviceable mysteries, though I prefer Percy).
3. No mark upon her- Crombie
Pretty solid.
4. land of the living- Nicci French. Eh.
5. The way men act- Elinor Lipman. Reread. I love her.
6. Mean little deaf queer- Galloway- a pretty good memoir
7. A kiss gone bad
8. Cut and run – both Jeff Abbott and reasonable thrillers
9. Size twelve a d ready to rock- Meg Cabots Heather Wells books are a huge guilty pleasure
10. Freud for beginners – a comic book. Decent.
11. Charm city – Laura Lippman- a reread, the Tess Monagan books are a favorite!
12. Ariadne’s thread- case studies in therapy. Quite interesting.
13. No easy day- mark Owen. I skipped bits and pieces because I was mostly interested in the raid that got bin laden. I was quite uncomfortable with a lot of the book. I have Peter bergens account to read and will have more to say after that I think- but basically the rah rah yay we killed bad guys part made me feel weird. I know I know it’s war but….
14. The nightmare thief- meg gardiner- also a reread.

This was a light month book wise because I was at school for a week and didn’t read at all!





when I was sixteen, I had been begging my parents for a dog for a solid decade. They had tried to pacify me, and my younger sister Nicole, with some birds, and then a pair of kittens, and some ferrets, and all of that, but what I wanted was a dog.

as ocean wears down a rock, Nicole and I wore them down. We went to the Humane Society but were rejected for reasons i still don’t understand (2 responsible teenagers! 1 parent who worked at home! fenced in yard! WHATEVER, humane society!) and it was sad when we fell in love with a certain dog and all of that, but then it turned out that a neighbor’s sister’s dogs were having puppies.

(NOW: you should NEVER EVER EVER do what we did. do NOT get a dog from a backyard breeder. it is a terrible idea, the “breeders” we used were pretty terrible as dog owners and thus as people, and this is why Z has such hip problems. If you must use a breeder rather then rescue, do your research etc. Now let’s move on to my dog).


ANYWAY. we went out to their house and chose the smallest black female. The litter was huge–12 puppies, half black and half yellow, all Lab. Our girl was a disgustingly cute little thing who dragged the camera case across the room.


When she was seven weeks old we brought her home. That first night Nicole started to sleep with her downstairs to let her out and then decided that she was too tired (she was only 12!) and I did it, instead.

Zoe was basically the cutest puppy ever. She was so easy to train. Having decided that her name would be Zoe (it means life) I started researching training methods like whoa. and it was SO MUCH FUN. we did clicker training and we went to the dog park near our house almost every day. She played with her friends Tonka and Darby and Nelsonm fetch and tug and chase. It was adorable.


Now that we’ve lived by ourselves since May I have a new appreciation for how much work a dog is. It turns out that it can be stressful, always having to arrange to make sure the dog is being cared for. But it also makes living alone so much better. In the morning, Zoe and I have snuggs times; she curls up next to me so I can rub her belly and scratch her chin and play with her delicious, soft ears. It’s such a great way to wake up. And in the evenings, she slides against me, and rests her head against my shoulder while I fall asleep. It’s delightful. 

I sometimes call her my Mary Poppins dog, as in practically perfect in every way. Oh sure, she barks sometimes, and occasionally she is agitated and wants All The Attention. OK, and she will steal food, especially from children since they are easier targets.

But she never runs away. and she stops at the street. and she is so good at cuddling. and she is so adorable. It slays me that she is starting to have Health Problems. that I have to give her frequent pain pills, that her leg vibrates sometimes because her arthritis is so bad, that she sometimes won’t eat. I hate seeing her any less vibrant.

It’s a good thing she is still so damn cute, eh?


Imagepuppy Zoe! Image thirsty baby dogImageLOOK HOW TINY


and here is my little banana girl, today, on her eleventh birthday, holding a toy. Though not her birthday present today, because the platypus toy is too new to take outside




When the shootings in Newtown first hit the news, I felt all the things I usually feel at a mass murder: a pang of sadness, a jolt of fear. I didn’t realize at first that it was a school, and I didn’t realize at first that it was young kids, and I didn’t realize that it was twenty.

All day Friday, I curled up in bed—I had the day off—and watched twitter and facebook and eventually the New Yorker, NYT etc, watching as details trickled out. My horror mounted. Twenty children. Twenty first graders.

In the days since I find that I cannot get it out my head. I’ve always been a sensitive sort, and when I was a kid I vaccilated between reading very sad books and not being able to read books that contained words such as cancer, because they reminded me that those things were out there, that our lives are so very fragile.

I cuddled my dog. The Onion nailed it.

I went to a party for a little boy turning seven on Saturday. I watched the children run around in a church basement, learning to dance, coloring. One girl cried quietly, missing her dad, and I sat with her, trying to cheer her up. I hugged the children I know close to me, squeezed them as hard as I could.

On Sunday I went to church. I talked to my youth about it. I told them that I knew that it was scary, and overwhelming, and sad. They were mostly angry. I told them that I was angry too.

On Monday, I held a newborn for four hours as she slept on me. I kissed the soft down of her head, her starfish hands and her seashell ears, and I said a silent prayer.

On Tuesday I played with a young toddler. She shrieked with delight when we did TIMBER and peek-a-boo, found my eyes for me, sang songs and ate lunch, and I held out my arms for a hug, capturing that moment when she crashed into me and snuggled up, patting my back, and I hoped like hell.


And here we are.


It’s been a few days. This afternoon I was flipping through the Post and I came to an article about the children, with their pictures, their stories, the one who loved superheroes, the one who carried markers with her. There is no bad picture of a child that young. They are all so full of promise. So full of life.


I can’t say anything about twenty children being slaughtered that hasn’t already been said. And oh, I know, I know it happens all over the world. I know that children die all the time, of all sorts of things, many—even most—of which are entirely preventable, if only humanity didn’t suck quite so much. And I know that part of the reason Newtown is getting so much attention is that the children were white (although I refuse to believe that if the kids were black we would not mourn so fully. I’m halfway convinced that the only reason Anne Frank said people were mostly good is that she hadn’t yet spent a lot of time with the Nazis, but I still have a tiny bit of hope). And I know that kids are killed with guns all the time. I know.


And yet. There is something about an entire classroom of first graders being hunted down, in school, that just guts me.


So I’m sad. I cannot imagine what their parents and siblings are going through. It is unspeakable, to lose a child. It is my greatest fear, I think. I don’t know how anyone goes on living after that.


But mostly, now, I am angry. I am so, so angry.


I have always been pretty anti-gun, but I’ve been willing to tolerate those who are not, or those who feel that we don’t need gun control. No more. Oh, I’m not going to automatically hate anyone who owns a gun—although I don’t like it—but if you think for a second that your right to own a semi automatic or assault rifle, to use high volume magazines, is greater then the right of children not to be massacred in school—then you are scum. I am not kidding. I don’t want to hear any of this bullshit about how more guns would make us safer and if only teachers were armed (this is simply not true anyway. If you are part of the gun lobby, if you are part of the people who have actively fought against commonsense gun laws, then you are complicit in the murder of children.


How does that feel? How do you live with yourselves?



I know, I know. This is not how we make progress. We make progress by understanding, by building bridges. But I am too angry to care. There is no excuse.


And the mental gymnastics these people go through is just astounding. One person I know posted the following on facebook: “would you rather have all your fingers chopped off by a madman or be shot to death? If those were your options for your child, would you prefer they be killed or live a life unable to do even the most basic things independently, and be forced to live with that trauma?”




But since you asked: I would rather my child be attacked by a knife then a gun, yes. You are damn right, I would. Do you know why? Because knives are a hell of a lot less lethal, you fuckwit.


Someone else, on the comments of a thread somewhere—never read the comments, and now I don’t even remember where I read it—that he always uses a semi-automatic when he hunts, because what if you miss the bear (WEEDS CLIP).




And of course, Mike Huckabee (R-prehensible) as well as one former fb friend, suggested that we just need god back in our schools.


Then there’s the mental health stuff.


Now look. Mentally ill folks are far more likely to be victims . They are usually not dangerous. Psychopaths more often are dangerous, but not always, and we have NO IDEA what was up with Adam Lanza (and btw, you are not Adam Lanza’s mother).  


Do we need mental health reform in this country? Duh. Do we need to deal with the fact that there may well be some kids who have very, very serious issues and that are a danger to their families and that we offer almost no support for those families? Obviously.


And I’m sure that our absurd culture of toxic masculinity doesn’t help, and yeah, obviously, obviously, we should look at that.


As Dave Cullen points out, there are basically three types of mass murderers: the truly insane, who are utterly out of touch with reality (the Tucson and Virginia Tech shooters) the sadistic psychopath (Eric Harris, Columbine’s mastermind) and most commonly the suicidally depressed. So yes, we should be screening all adolescents for depression, duh.


But you know what? In every culture, there’s always going to be a segment of the populace that is mentally ill. Probably there will be a segment that’s psychopathic. Every culture will have its dangers.


You know what really, really helps negate that danger?




Can we just do that, first? Because if the folks working for change get distracted by the very valid roads of mental health reform, we will lose track of gun control. And the very first thing that we can do, the thing that we can do most immediately, is to push like hell for that.


Look, I’m not happy with ANYONE having guns, but I really do understand that some people are responsible gun owners, and that there is some Constitutional basis for this (although I think you could very easily argue that the Founders meant something very, very different, and none of us should have guns. Since that fight is not going to be won anytime soon, though…)


 But there is NO reason not to immediately ban assault and semi automatic weapons and high capacity magazines. Start with that.


I am glad to see that Obama has been angry. He should be. We should all be angry. And angry Obama is the one that gets shit done. But he is going to have to step up, as our all of our political leaders, and make change. To do otherwise is simply unconscionable.


There is no excuse for not acting. Have you no shame?


If you need a reminder, well, you can remember these names:




Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Olivia Engel, , 6

Josephine Gay, , 7

Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Madeleine F. Hsu, 6

Catherine V. Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattioli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Allison N. Wyatt, 6

there but for the grace of simply everything go i

I went to Washington Episopical School for grades 6-8. At the time, the head of the middle school was a man named Chris Kloman. He taught me geography (well, sort of, I never really learned much…) and he gave me a discipline notice, I think, or at least a warning, for wearing a non-uniform sweatshirt. It was at WES that I my tumultuous adolescence began and it was Mr. Kloman who told my parents about my self-injury, that very first time.

Yesterday, my sister (also a WES alum) shared a link to a news story. Mr. Kloman–my middle school principal–was arrested for child molestation charges, including “abduction with intent to defile” (they are using charges based on the laws written at the time of the alleged abuse, in the very late 60s).

It was such a weird feeling. I want to state at the outset that I was certainly never abused by Mr. Kloman, or anyone else. I never witnessed abuse. This is NOT a witch hunt, and I have absolutely no personal knowledge, whatsoever. And yet I find that I am not particularly surprised, despite the lack of evidence that I personally possess. Part of it is statistics: false accusations are rare, its not exactly uncommon for victims of child sex abuse to wait many, many years before reporting, schools and religious institutions are notorious for hiding–intentionally or not–sex offenders, and many sex offenders come across as professional, good people. So the statistics are not on Kloman’s side. And although again, I want to be completely, utterly clear that I NEVER witnessed anything, on some visceral level I am not surprised.

What it really makes me think about, though, is narrow escapes.

If the accusations are true–and I have no reason to doubt them, and in fact the comments on this piece make me believe them even more–then it makes me wonder why I was not a victim, why as far as I know no one I know was a victim. It makes me think about all the narrow escapes in my life. My adolescence went badly wrong in several places, but it was never irredeemably so. I was lucky. It’s the same finally I get when I hear about another teenager who attempted suicide: I don’t know what put me into the category of not trying that; by all rights I should have. All I can do is feel grateful that I was not.

And also, I do not want to hear any victim blaming nonsense. I don’t know for sure that Kloman is guilty, although as I said I certainly believe it. But I also know that false accusations are rare, that coming forward is very difficult, and that victim blaming is as much a cultural meme as McKayla is Not Impressed, only much much more dangerous.

Tour Takeaways









So I went to the famed Kellogs Tour of Gymnastics Champions last night. Thank the sweet lord, I went with someone who knows gymnastics, because I think only someone else who knows the sport could really appreciate the horridness and lurid spectacle.


First there were a group of kids from local clubs doing some sort of weird dance and waving red flags. Then the gymnasts came out, all wearing that absurd flag leo Aly sported in EFs. The star visitors–one boy and one girl, from local clubs–did a little on bars. The girl was clearly level 5, maybe, didn’t even do a flyaway, although she was cute and Jordyn and Aly were “spotting.” Oh, one of them on beam did something too. The boy actually did a full out off HB while Jo-Ho (that’s what I am calling Horton these days) “spotted” although she did a poor job not catching the kid when he handsplatted. Still, that part was cute.

Then…Chellsie I think came out and did some floor! Chellsie, I love you. Girl is a stone cold badass. I want to put Chels at her peak against Aliya Mustafina at her peak. Gymgasm just thinking about it. She did her arabian! She looked good. COME BACK CHELLSIE. God, USAG did fuck her over. Anyway.

John Macready was sadly already there, wearing his flag suit and looking like an idiot, although not as utterly moronic as he would look later. Then OMG. Aly, Jordyn and Gabby came out in tiny tiny black and pink shorts and pink bras and did some sort of “dance” to some song about girls running the world. A bunch of the girls then chalked up in disco ball chalk bins and hopped on UB, and wow. Just wow. Becca Bross, who I always have a soft spot for, was there, and easily recognizable from her knees. Anna Li was on tour but sadly apparently not allowed to do anything b/xc of her neck–my companion thinks USAG is afraid she’ll sue which would be awesome. Sue, Anna, sue! So no Li on bars. But a few of the girls actually did real dismounts–I think I saw a DLO from Gabby, and there were several decent releases. Both Becca and I think Aly fell, which I found amusing. Then the girls did more “dancing” and then the boys brought out their mushrooms. They were apparently pretending to be all “street” in their hoodies, because in the ghetto everyone does pommel skills. McCready came out and for reasons I will never understand whipped off his suit to reveal a red skirted leo, so that was a nice bit of absurd misogyny. THEN the boys started “dancing” to some song about being sexy as they ripped off their shirts. The takeaway here is that girls have vaginas, boys have muscles.

Anyway.Jordyn  did a watered down floor routine that included, I believe, at least a double pike. But otherwise it was all layouts all the time. Then the rhythmic and acro folks came out and I must say I do not understand rhythmic but acro can be cool. Then Nastia, with her very blonde very Texas hair extensions, decided to pretend that she too was a rhythmic gymnast, which, ok, whatever. More fake floor from Aly, although I think she did a full in? Maybe? Her floor routine is oddly less offensive then Gabby’s.

The boys came out in what looked like a combo of tinfoil and saran rap to do p-bars. There was a little real gymnastics although pbars doesn’t do a lot for me. Then OMG. Nastia “I’m still relevant dammit” Luikin came out and did something in a silk in which she was lifted to the ceiling? doing splits and spinning a lot? It is true that I don’t understand how she didn’t get dizzy. Oh lord, then everyone–except McKayla who really can’t do much of anything–came out in absurd costumes and “danced” and somebdoy else got lifted to the ceiling, and THEN Jordyn, Aly and Gabby came out and did MORE fake, really horrid dancing. Oh my god it was awful.Also, Gabby is just really, really, really tiny.

There was a little tumbling though, including Chellsie BAMF Memmel and her DLO.Blah blah the boys did stuff on rings while fawning scantily clad girls watched. The acro pair did something. And then BEAM HOLY SHIT. So for beam, the beams were arranged in a cross and the girls were wearing all white. Nastia, in flesh colored sparkles, did nonsense on the silk in the middle while the girls were on beam. Gabby did a nice front tuck. Becca did a front aerial, wobbled and caught herself the exact same way she always does, and then did a BHS LOSO. Aly and Jo both did basic tumbling as well. Then they all stopped and stared at Nastia in the middle, and wow, who the hell thought it was a good idea to put Nastia in charge? Girlfriend, it’s NICE that you can still do a front aerial, but please, enough. Go back to Texas. I;m over you.

As usual high bar featured the most actual gymnastics, with a few of what I think were Kovacs and even a triple back dismount! Gabby did her AWFUL floor routine, which is usually good only for the tumbling but her “passes” were: bhs LO, double back, and…BHS LO. So. not exciting. Then because somebody put Nastia in charge she climbed into the Olympic rings with the other Fierce Five (Kyla is not on tour) and they arched their backs. Luckily, Chellsie had a turn on the rings as well, with the rhythmic girls; unluckily her costume was just…unspeakable. The shirtless boys hopped on the rings, Becca did a little more bars (she actually looked better here then she did at Trials, maybe because Valeri was not in attendance; side note, I really, really want to take Becca home, feed her milkshakes, and reassure her that she does have worth. They were all “introduced”–Anna Li was out finally–and then the remaining Fierce Five hopped in the rings. McKayla is moving OK–she didn’t have any sort of boot or cast on, which is a good sign. She really needs to master a TTY or Y double back and get that shit in the CoP next Worlds.

I didn’t mention John McCready’s stupid, stupid baby act–in which he came out TWICE wearing a “diaper” and pretending to be a baby, if babies can shake their hips suggestively–because it was just so disgusting and offensive that the only redemptive thing would have been for him to just splat. Ugh. I have no idea how that man is married.

So. Was it worth it? Well, I wouldn’t have paid to see it, that’s for damn sure. We need to stop pretending that ANY of these girls can dance. They cannot. And we also need to stop wildly appropriating rich white Texans ideas of “urban” culture. That said, it is always fun for me to see Chellsie, and Sac, and Li, and Becca, and the Fierce Five. I really wish they had done more actual gymnastics though. Nastia did nothing but front aerials and butt shelves, and the other girls did more (except McKayla and Anna, but they are injured, so) but surely not what they COULD do. If I were in charge we’d do more gymnastics–even if it were basics, it can be gussied up in a cool way–and less pretending to dance. and John Macready would never, ever be allowed out in public again.

The pics are pretty bad because of the lighting but might give you a sense. You should be able to find Becca from her knees and Aly from her feet!







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I Write Letters to Television

Packet Four, due October 29: I will turn in the majority of the revisions to my senior study.
Dear Revenge,
OH! You make me so happy. You also make me want to throw on a sweater, run down to the end of a jetty in the Hamptons with mansions rising up behind me, and howl REVEEEENNNNGGGGEEEEEEE at the moon. You are just so deliciously campy, and your actors take the camp thing so seriously–none of this “wink wink we are campy!” at the audience–that you could not possibly be more fun. Keep up the great work, and make sure you surprise us with that body in the boat.
Love, Vanessa

Dear Parks and Recreation,
OMG I LOVE YOU. you aren’t yet back to Season 3 greatness, but I have faith. Shall we discuss why? YES WE SHALL. 1. you are the most feminist show on tv. Leslie doesn’t give up her dream career for her boyfriend! They make consent jokes rather than rape jokes! Andy tells the women’s studies teacher that she can pay for her own dinner “because equality!” THERE IS A LAURA MULVEY/MALE GAZE JOKE. The characters all like each other! There isn’t any meanness but it’s still incredibly funny! There’s a really solid female friendship at the core! Even though I am a hardcore vegetarian I agree with Ron Fucking Swanson that too few people look into their food’s eyes. Also Ben and Leslie and April and Andy! EEEK.
Love, Vanessa

Dear Parenthood,
You are my favorite hourlong show currently on. You really are quite well done, and the Race Talk Jasmine had with Jabbar was one of the most bracingly honest things I’ve ever seen television do. Now just give Sarah something better to do and let Drew and Camille have the occasional plot. Keep up the excellent, excellent work. Win some Emmys next year!
Love, Vanessa

Dear Modern Family,
you are obviously never going to hit Fizbo like heights again, so let’s let some other shows win Emmys, kay? Start with Parks and Rec. Amy should have won for the episode “the Debate.” 
Love, Vanessa

Dear Glee,
you are terrible and somewhat offensive 93% of the time, and then you set something really lovely and meaningful to a decent version of a song and I love you again. WTF.
Love, Vanessa

Dear The Middle,
I don’t know why no one is watching you either. You are actually quite funny, and Eden Sher is just brilliant as Sue, and I don’t know why she doesn’t have an Emmy either. Girlfriend COMMITS. way to rock, show. also, more with the kids conspiring together. Also, i still don’t know why they named their son Brick.
Love, Vanessa

Dear 30 Rock,
This is your last season, and you used to be one of the most fast paced, innovative comedies out there. So let’s just go balls to the walls for your final season okay? do every joke you can think of, and leave Kenneth in charge at the end.
Love, Vanessa

Dear Up All Night,
Eh. Not loving the reboot. Fix it.
Love, Vanessa

Dear Arrested Development:
I have seen you at least a dozen times and I STILL catch new jokes. Best make the currently shooting fourth season EVERY BIT AS TIGHT. 
Love, Vanessa

Dear Breaking Bad:
Love, Vanessa

Dear one hit wonders Kidnapped and Terriers:
Thanks for being on Netflix. 
Love, Vanessa

Dear Veronica Mars,
I still love you. Want to be besties? 
Love, Vanessa

Born This Way? Fine, but children first.


I just read this piece (from Gawker of all places) (GIANT trigger warning for molestation/child rape) and I had Some Feelings about it.

The piece basically argues that there is scientific evidence that pedophilia–used in the sense of being sexually attracted to children exclusively–is not criminal but rather sexual orientation. The article compares pedophilia to homosexuality and presents a whole bunch of (actually interesting) evidence.

Now, here’s the thing. If it’s true that some sex offenders really are “born that way” well–fine. I don’t wish Sandusky, for example, to be raped in prison. That merely perpetuates rape culture. An eye for an eye–a rape for a rape–is not the way to handle this. But we also know that the recidivism rate for sex offenders is pretty damn high.

I don’t have a solution, but I do have an opinion. If there is a way to deal with pedophiles by treating them–in a 12 step type program for example–great. But the thing we need to focus on here is the children. We already know that locking pedophiles up doesn’t really work, since sentencing seems to be low and they usually do it again anyway. But child sexual abuse is so harmful, so devastating,  that our first priority must be the children. It seems that more careful monitoring of pedophiles, more of an emphasis on treatment, and even places for decent men who happen to have a sexual attraction to children to get help might be useful. People have all kinds of weird sexual fantasies, and all of that is fine and healthy and whatever. The problem comes when you do anything with consent, and of course children cannot consent–ever.

I’m not even sure where I’m going with this. Honestly the article just disturbed me so much, not only because of the awful descriptions but even more because of the clear implication that pedophilia can’t be cured, or changed. We just have to keep our children safe. The rights of pedophiles matter, but what matters a hell of a lot more is the fact that we must keep our children safe. That’s the bottom line.



All The Advice I Have

Someone I know via Teh Interwebs has a teenager daughter who is in a pysch hospital. I asked if I could write the girl a letter. Below, with a few very minor details removed, is that letter. 

Reading about your hospitalization really struck a chord in me and I felt compelled to write to you.

I’m a bit hesitant to tell you too much of my story because I don’t want to trigger you. but I do want to tell you enough so that you will trust that I know of what I speak. So I’ll just tell you this: when I was a teenager I was a complete disaster.  I had issues with self-injury and food and panic and anxiety. Eventually, I was briefly hospitalized. I was furious. I’m sure you were too. There can’t be a whole lot of things that are worse then feeling like your parents are imprisoning you. And of course pysch hospitals always suck. The fact is no one has come up with a really good method for dealing with hospitalized teens. If your parents were like most good parents—and they are—they made the least bad decision, putting you somewhere where you can’t hurt yourself.

I know it sucks. And what sucks even more is that after some combo of meds and therapy has gotten you past the most dangerous part, you will still be left with the hard part. Meds and therapy, as I’m sure you know by now, can’t fix everything. They can’t fix the parts that are so deep down you don’t even know they are broken. And even then, you can’t do it by yourself. You have to use therapy, and meds, and friends, and family, and dogs, books, hot baths, drawing, movies, music, dancing, long walks…every single resource you have, and all the ones you don’t know you have.

Some days will be terrible. Some days it will feel like you walking uphill, in the mud, while hail hits your face and wind pushes you backwards. But you have to keep walking, because it’s the only way to survive. And you have to work hard. Harder, even, then you can imagine. You will have to examine how your choices hurt your family, and how their choices hurt you. You’ll have to look hard at the places you’d rather run from. It will be tough. You will not enjoy it.

I knew an anorexic once. She spoke English as a second language. She was about to go to a treatment facility in Germany and she had a choice: she told me that she would either get better or she would die.

She got better. She is also the girl who told me that being in the hospital was like climbing a mountain—going up was so hard, but then you get to go down.

And that’s the good part. Actually, that’s the great part, the amazing part, the part that I am grateful for every single day: once you have begin to do that work, things get better. Oh, for awhile there will be still be bad days. But then there will be fewer and fewer. When you are older, this whole period will be an anecdote. The kind of thing you tell your girlfriends about in a bar. It will not define the rest of your life. It will just be something you remember occasionally, something you’ve worked so very hard to get past. You will have drawn the line, and you will be on the right side of it. And you’ll stay there, if you work at it.

It isn’t fair, of course, that you have to work at what comes naturally to most people. You can be angry about that, and resent it, but you can’t change it. All you get to do is fight like hell, until the day comes when you no longer have to.

So work hard. Let yourself talk. Let yourself be open and honest, even it feels like it will shatter you. It won’t.

I send you all my best.

Olympic Awards

Sometime this week I am going to write an actual thoughtful post about these Games, which had a whole lotta ups and downs, but in the meantime the eagerly awaited (ha!) Olympic Awards are here:

Biggest Upset: This is a toss up between a whole bunch of things, but let’s go with McKayla Maroney not winning vault. After an amazing performance in both team competitions, McKayla did a good (for her, it would have been unreal for anyone else) Amanar and then sat down her Mustafina, for the first time anyone can remember. She still won silver, but it was a big upset. If ever there was a sure thing, it was McKayla’s gold. Also her coach apparently said “well, there goes your gold” as she came off, which, asshole. Speaking of McKayla…

Best Single Piece of Gymnastics Performed: McKayla Maroney’s Amanar, Team Finals. That was quite literally the best vault anyone, male or female, has ever done. It was stunning.

Biggest non-powerhouse country routine: Elisabeth Seitz, bars. The German has been inconsistent in the past with her huge skills, but not this time. She hit the hell out of her Def every chance she got. It’s a shame her form is so sloppy, but hopefully she can clean that up and hang on til Rio.

Biggest Sentimental Disappointment: Oksana Chusovitna not medaling at all in her 6th Olympics. I had goosebumps as the 37 year old waved goodbye to gymnastics. She has given a whole hell of a lot to the sport.

Best Sentimental Medal: Beth Tweddle. The Tweds is by far the best British female gymnast ever and she has done a great deal for the sport in that country. Her bar routine was basically flawless until the dismount, which alas she took a bunch of steps. I think she might have won if it weren’t for that. But still, the first Olympic medal in the sport for GBR. So glad it went to Beth on bars.


worst final ever

I dont even have words for how much I hated vault finals today. I mean good for Izbasa for hitting two clean vaults, but what the hell, Chuso didnt even medal, Maroney fell for basically the first time ever, Pena didnt stand up her Prod, Paseka’s Amanar was in no way all around…just a crappy final. I am seriously bummed. I do hope that that gives McKayla motivation to continue to Worlds, if not to Rio, to get a vault named after her.And I did think the BBC announcer guy being concerned about Ellie Black was adorable, and it was also adorable to hear how confused Shannon was.

I also got chills watching Chuso say goodbye to gymnastics. That woman is on her sixth Olympics at the age of 37. She’s a fucking legend.

America’s Team

Today I want to talk about the five girls that make up the American team. I think they all have a role that has become clear in these Olympics.


Everyone has always underestimated Aly Raisman.

But that’s all over now.

Throughout team qualifications, finals and even the all around, Aly has been a rock for her team. True, she did not manage to hit beam when it mattered only for her, but as I’ve said before I actually find that pretty damn endearing.

Throughout the competition Aly has really stepped into the role formally occupied by her training partner Alicia Sacramone. She has been the perfect leader. And I love Sac, but she did have two major falls in her Olympics (which sucks, and did not in fact make the difference between silver and gold for the US women, so don’t even think about going down that road, yo).

During team qualifications, Aly went out and hit all of her routines–including bars–and she did so well. Extremely well. She talked her teammates through their routines. She told Gabby to calm down and hit beam the way Marta says to. She huddled her teammates. She performed well. And her reaction upon learning that she had made it to the AA was adorable. Mihai told her she had made it and she went “I DID? Where does it say that?” and Mihai was all “I say that.” I love watching the two of them together. Nobody can replace Chow as my favorite elite coach, but Mihai seems like a total teddy bear. I love one competition where Aly wobbled a tiny bit on beam and when Mihai asked her what happened she said she looked up and saw her mom. Mihai was all “well, don’t look up!” Hehe.

Anyway. Aly did a great job. I cannot say enough good things about her. In team finals she competed two events and was rock solid on both beam and floor (truly, AA was the only time I’ve EVER seen her screw up beam. It was a fluke, I think). And what has come across is that she is a real leader. During the AA you could tell that she really really wanted Gabby to get gold and was cheering her on like crazy. It’s telling that Aly–dependable, solid Aly–as their captain. She is solid and she is supportive, and that is what you want in an MVP.


This one is easy. Gabby Douglas has already garnered a lot of attention in the two days since she won the Olympics. She’s actually gotten even more than the usual American AA champion. I think a big part of it is that she is the first person of color to be the WAG AA champion. That means something. There have been idiotic comments about Gabby’s har, sure, but there has also been an outpouring of support and love sent her way from the blogosphere as well as the New York Times. Gabby is an amazing gymnast, but more than that, her smile and her story–mother working extremely hard to put her daughter through gymnastics, father serving in Afganistan, daughter moving away from her family to train with a coach that smiled a lot–is exactly what Americans want in a backstory. It has everything. We love a good rags-to-riches tale in this country, and Gabby has one. I do not mean this to devalue her achievements in the slightest or to say that her story is in any way the reason she won. She won because she was the best that day. But her story is a fantastic one and its the kind that Americans eat up. Her mentions of god–which bug me a bit, if only because I wish she’d give herself the credit–appeal to another demographic. And she comes across as genuine and smiley and sweet in her interviews. She is America’s Golden Girl.


There’s just something about McKayla Maroney. She’s classically beautiful. She’s incapable of taking a picture without her trademark smirk, even if sometimes its just a half smirk. America likes its rockstars, and we like them to have a bit of sass. McKayla has sass. And more than that she knows how good she is. Sometimes gymnasts talk about how they just wanted to hit for the team. McKayla did a dance after sticking that Amanar. She had a giant grin on her face that told the world she knew exactly how good it was (and it was!) And, too, the fact that she only did vaulting in these Games helps her rockstar image. McKayla went out there and did, basically, one perfect piece of gymnastics. It’s the kind of piece of gymnastics–and the kind of perfection–that sticks in the public mind. Couple that with her delightfully smirking photos and her post vault prance and you’ve got a rockstar for the public.


Jordyn Weiber‘s Olympics have obviously not gone as she had planned. As I’ve discussed, this sucks (really and truly). But Jo has come back out fighting. She was disappointed, of course, at the AA results. As well she should have been: sometimes two per country really sucks. And Jo is still the fourth best gymnast in the world, so of course she was bummed.

But she came out swinging during team finals. She did by far the best Amanar she has ever done, and I think it is true that the first routine in the competition really does make a difference. If she had fallen, it might well have made it harder for the other girls. We see that kind of domino effect more in NCAA, but it happens in elite, too. And her bars were, for her, just fine–she had to fight a bit but she always does. Her floor was just terrific. And she was a real fighter the entire time, and a real cheerleader. She was able to put aside what must have been tremendous disappointment and come out to lay it all on the line for her team. Good for her. And really, no one looked happier than her when that score was flashed.


Kyla Ross. In articles about the team she is often mentioned almost as an afterthought. She doesn’t have the same WOW factor as McKayla’s vault, or Aly’s floor, or Jo’s beam, or Gabby’s bars, which may explain it. But Kyla has been a cool, collected competitor for the entire cycle. And don’t forget, she competed on bars–the weakest event for team USA–and beam, the scariest event for everyone, in Team Finals. She led off on the latter, which can be a dangerous position. And her gymnastics may not be as exciting as some of the other athletes, but she is a beautiful, beautiful gymnast with a whole lot of grace. And she is consistent. She did as much for that gold medal as anyone, so let’s give her some kudos, OK?

Aly Raisman, 2010. Photo copyright Vanessa SV Steck.


Floor is the event that the casual fan probably is most eager to see, because it involves all aspects of the sport. Dance, music, and crazy ass tumbling.

There are basically two kinds of tumblers. One kind is Kyla Ross and the other is Aly Raisman. Kyla’s tumbles are fairly boring but super clean and she has nice dance. Aly’s tumbles are crazy hard, especially her first pass; she does the hardest tumbling in the entire world. However, her form tends to be messier.

(I like big tumbling and I cannot lie….)

On floor there are lots of things to watch for. One is how well the gymnast performs. Now, there are theoretical deductions that the judges can take for artistry, but they very often don’t. Otherwise Aly, Shawn Johnson, Beth Tweddle, Lauren Mitchell etc would never do well on floor. However, they tend to reward good musicality and fluidity in the routine at least somewhat.

Gymnasts must include a variety of tumbles in their floor work. They must do at least one backwards tumble and one forward or sideways tumble, as well as different kinds of jumps, leaps, etc.

Some of the common tumbles you will see:

double tuck: this is a double back flip with knees to chese

double pike: double back flip w straight legs at 90 degrees

double layout:double back flip with straight body

double arabian: double back tuck with a half twist so the gymnast lands facing forward

full twisting DLO: a double layout with a full twist

double double: two back flips (tucked) PLUS two full twists

1.5-double-2.5.-triple-3.5 twists: in order of difficulty. Generally done backwards; forward single or 1.5 twists are also sometimes done.

double front: two tucked flips done forward

you will also see a lot of gymnasts punching out of tumbling runs. It used to be that female gymnasts could take a step out of a tumbling pass and not be deducted, but that changed, and now there’s a deduction for anything that isn’t stuck. To get past this–and to add connection value–gymnasts will often punch out of a skill. Most often they do this with a leap of some sort–a split leap, or a sissone (which is a little like a split but without actually hitting the split) or a wolf jump. Sometimes they will do a front tuck or front layout out of it. Basically, as soon as they hit the floor from their bug skill they will use momentum from the bounce to do a leap or salto.

Gymnasts are supposed to do actual dance. This…only happens some of the time. They must also show at least a double turn as opposed to a twist, so watch for the girls doing assorted kinds of spins and turns and jumps. And they must do some sort of low to floor work. where the chest touches the floor. This often looks absurd but occasionally looks good.

What else? Oh, they need to not fall (duh) but its also a large deduction to go OOB, or out of bounds.  This can be an issue with the especially springy gymnasts, like Aly Raisman.

So who will we see from the Big Four on floor? Well. Let’s see…


Now that our lovely Larissa  is out of all around (DAMMIT)  she won’t be doing floor–its the most pounding on the feet–which means we will see

 Bulimar, Izbasa and Ponor. Izbasa is a world champ on this event and her routine should be excellent. Alas both she and Ponor prefer thong leos so prepare to shield your eyes. Not having Iordache on this event definitely hurts them, but they should survive, and Ponor has a chance to medal in EFs.


Sui Li, Yao Jinnian if she isnt injured (rumors!) and then either Deng Linlin or HQS. I’m going to go with Deng because she’s cuter. This will be a weak rotation for them, frankly.


Ah. Here we go.

Komova could go up in TFs, but I doubt it. She has a tendency to headcase, and I think her coaches will go with Mustafina for reliability’s sake. Then we wll have Grishina, who now appears in podium training with a double double! She will score at least reasonably and may make finals if she’s lucky. Then we have my favorite floor worker of the whole quad, one Ksenia Afansayeva. She is just a brilliant floor worker and should bring in a HUGE score. She is a world champion on this event as well, and I would not be surprised if she medaled in EF.


Douglas, Weiber, Raisman.

I would have thought it possible for Maroney to compete floor in TFs, but the poor thing broke a toe, so Douglas it is (and it may well have been her anyway). She is quite good if she hits, and she should! Weiber does a very powerful routine and I actually think its more graceful than many others do. Raisman does the hardest tumbling in the world, of course. Its possible we will see WEiber/Douglas in floor finals, and we will certainly see Raisman.


Other EF contenders:

Lauren Mitchell, AUS: a world champ on the event. Solid work, usually.

Victoria Moors, CAN: a darkhorse contender, really innovative and cool work.

Beth Tweddle, GBR: another world champ with big skills.


What to watch for–Vault

So! there are, as we know, four events in women’s gymnastics. Since I know that there are four year fans out there (whatever, guys. Gymnastics is exciting ALL THE TIME. And if gymnastics were easy, it would be called football) I figured I might as well throw down some knowledge. YES I SAID IT.


So vault. Such a weird event. It’s over so fast, unlike the other three events. And it basically involves a gymnast running full speed at a stationary object. So, there’s that.

The vault we are most likely to see is Yurchenko style. Basically, that’s a round off onto the springboard–that’s the entry style. We might, from the very low level teams, see what’s called an FTY, which is a full twisting Yurchenko (Zam does a great one for NCAA). This will be rare, though.

The 1.5 is a vault we might see once or twice from underdogs, and in fact its what Liukin vaulted last time for the AA (all around) gold. But vaulting has gotten harder, so we are unlikely to see it from any serious competitors.

However, we will see roughly 2342343 DTYs, or double twisting Yurchenkos. Kayla Williams did one of my favorite DTYs–its the second vault (2.08) here. Quite a few of the teams will have vault rotations stacked with a mix of DTYs and Amanars, if they are lucky, or they will just have DTYs.

Then there’s the Amanar, which is two and a half twists. It’s tremendously hard. There are three kinds of Amanars we might see at the Games: “oh shit” (Nabs actually won’t be at these Games, but she has the best skanky vault and the best bitchface, so). Then there’s “serviceable” (we will see Musty at the Games, but almost certainly not doing this vault, since she blew out her ACL on it). Hmm. its not letting me add links, but heres that vault: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=endscreen&NR=1&v=YMSUqdN7gpA.

And then there’s McKayla Maroney: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BU-LA8QgMMs. This is the best vault that’s ever been done, by anyone. It is just truly incredible.

NYT did a cool infographic about the Amanar: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/07/19/sports/olympics/the-toughest-vault.html?ref=olympics

They used Weiber instead of Maroney, but you can get a sense of how the vault works.

These three examples should basically tell you what to watch for on vault.

1. Height. McKayla sometimes gets 10 feet up in the air.

2. Form, important in all aspects of gymnastics. The only deduction–aside from a step–that Maroney gets is maybe .1 for preflight (before her hands leave the table) leg separation. Someone like Nabieva will get .3 for her leg separation, because its huge. They will also take large deductions, depending on just how skanky it is, for things like bent arms and legs, flexed feet, helicopter (crossed) legs, etc.

3. Distance from the table. You want to try to land in the next county, if possible. But you also want to land on the landing mat and right down the middle.

4. Landings! A stuck vault helps a LOT, not only because you avoid a landing deduction (.1-.3, usually, depending on the size of the step/hop) but also because it really sticks in the judges minds.

5. Keeping the start value. The SV, or D score, is what the routine/skill is worth, so its the max that it can score if everything is done perfectly. If a gymnast tucks too much during the vault, or doesn’t rotate the full amount, the vault can be downgraded, which means that the gymnast will get a lower score.


Now, you may be wondering: are there any other vaults besides Yurchenko style? Well! I am so glad you asked!  In fact there are. They are just not as common.

Alicia Sacramone, who we will not see in London, did something called a Rudi (front handspring on, 1.5 twist off) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WkyswxnVOVY. We will see a couple of these, especially in event finals, which reminds me: to qualify for event finals, a gymnast must do TWO vaults. (in team and AA , the gymnast only has to do one). She must compete both in qualifications.

Then there’s the Tsuk (1/4 turn on, twisting back flip off) which is done by our friend Oksana Chusovitna, who is 37 years old. Girlfriend is a fucking legend. She has a 13 year old son. Her first Olympics was 1992, for gods sake.  Two decades later, she’s at it again. Honestly her Tsuk is a bit wonky and I dont even care, because she is the most badass gymnast ever Here’s her Tsuk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2_QZnBR9C90.

Then there’s the Prodnova, which has only been done in competition once or twice–first by its creator, whand now by one Yamilet Pena. Quite honestly she has only a very small chance of actually standing it up; its a handspring double front, which is just completely and totally insane. and her second vault is pretty bad, honestly (its a Y1.5, although maybe she’ll upgrade). But her main vault, IF she can stand it up, is hella impressive…of course she almost never stands it up. see her vaults here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8S6gtsdAD8

So! I am not going to talk too much about which gymnasts will be doing what in team finals, but of the big four, thoug, the US is by far the frontrunner. They have 3 Amanars in TFs (actually all five years have done Amanars, some better than others) and in TF we should see Raisman/Douglas, Weiber and of course Maroney. One of the reasons the US is so excited about this is because the Amanar is jsut worth so much more than any other vault.

Vault finals is where it gets interesting though. There are almost never medal winners in TF or even AA outside of the Big Four (US, China, Russia, Romania) at least not recently. But event finals often do feature gymnasts from non powerhouse countries. So in EFs, we will see Maroney for sure if she isnt injured (there is a rumor going around that she is injured: if this is true, someone should just take Marta Karolyi somewhere and…punch her lights out). We might also see Pena. We should see Chuso. My dream poduim at this point is:

1. Maroney

2. Chuso

3. Pena

but if Pena doesnt stand up her Prod, then I’ll sub in Izbasa or Than.

The Right to Not Bear Arms

I hate the second amendment. 


I know, I know, the supreme court upheld it, etc etc etc. but here’s the thing: the constitution is a living, breathing document. The Founders didn’t know what kinds of morons we’d have running around this country. They didn’t know how a longstanding history of rape culture, misogyny, violence, and American exceptionalism would lead to disgruntled men shooting people.


These people, many of them children, were killed by guns bought legally. I do not want to hear your arguments about the second amendment. It is not worth the lives of children, and that’s all there is to it. 


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