Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Trade in that Dirty Mind for an Open Mind - Part 2

Recently this year, the PBS children program "Postcards from Buster"” featured a visit with two families which were producers of Maple Syrup. The families in question were non-traditional families. Not having seen the program, and at the time of this article, not having received a reply from my inquiries to PBS, I can only paraphrase the situation as I have heard it. In reality, the familys’ that were featured were gay, One household consisted of two men with their children. The second family consisted of two women and their children. During the program, the word "“gay"” or "“homosexual"” or "“lesbian" was never mentioned. Nor was mention made of the arrangements between any of the people involved. The families were presenting their jobs: making maple syrup and taking care of their maple trees.
Margaret Spellings, Bush administration Secretary of Education, requested that this program be axed from the PBS lineup as it presented views contrary with the Bush administration policies. Since our federal government is still contributing funds to PBS through tax payer funding, the censorship agenda is still followed. The Bush administration’s view was such that PBS, in presenting such family arrangements, was instilling in children the belief that homosexuality in any form was acceptable and normal, and therefore, the program should not be shown or aired as childrens programming.

While most would deny it, many people have dirty minds. Their imaginations conjure imagaes which are salubrious in nature. While asking that ‘dirty minds be kept in check is simply another form of censorship, one must wonder if people don'’t have enough to keep their minds occupied by something other than sexual innuendo.
When I hear about a couple who has been married for 60 years, I certainly don'’t entertain notions of their sex lives. And when hearing that there are 30 plus members of a mixed gender commune living in Colorado, I don'’t waste my time thinking about who has sex with whom.
It is a limiting way of life to imagine what one can not know. Or to impose upon others an individual's own morals.
How can we evolve our species and human necessities when our very steps are dogged by small minded - and dirty minded questions?
What do neo-conservatives make of the new ‘communes’ of senior citizen Florida, in which retired middle income women will contract the purchase of a home for shared living? Will the Neo-cons call them lesbians and condemn their choices? And what of young people who struggle for years to pay off college loans and need the shelter of shared living arrangements to afford to live on their own?

As a society we need to become more accepting of others and not live to question the choices of those who walk in ‘other shoes’. We need to realize that while we might live in a traditional family unit, there may be a point in time where this can change and we too might have to move in with someone who is neither lover, blood relative or same gender.

For more on PBS Progarm, “Postcards from Buster”, program #39, and an interview with Margaret Spellings, visit:

Trade in that "Dirty Mind" for a more Open Mind

When I was in my thirties, a series of unfortunate events led me to the conclusion that financially, it was near to impossible for me to continue to live alone in a rented apartment. It was time to find a room mate.
While attending university, I lived in a room mate environment; I rented a room at a less than full fraternity house on campus. As a single female, I found this to be a very interesting arrangement, a house full of single men and I the only woman. It did not take long for me to realize that yes, men tend to live like bears in caves, and the shortsighted female can on occasion ignore this fact. But in my thirties, a frat house was not an option. I surveyed my personal landscape for likely room mates.
Eventually, I chose to move into a larger apartment with a single man who worked second shift. This seemed ideal as my job hours were typical 9 to 5.

We began this room mate relationship with the clear understanding that we would not be seeing much of each other because of our different schedules; this was very acceptable as I was happily dating a number of men while maintaining a serious sexual relationship with another.
It never crossed my mind to explore any more of a relationship with my room mate other than, well, room mate. As convenient as this situation was for me, it definitely had it's retractors. My father, who I did not allow to influence my decisions, looked upon this arrangement as "questionable", while other people, mostly family members, snickered behind their collective hands. Friends, who I thought might understand the situation as well as understand me, were the worst of all. They did not mince words with their forecast as they asked again and again if I and the room mate were "sleeping together". Since the apartment had two bedrooms, one of which was occupied by my furniture, it would seem that this question was moot. When I told everyone an emphatic "No" to the questions, they hypothesized that it would "only be a matter of time" before the room mate and I started a sexual relationship.
For me, this was highly offensive. I had a sex partner, a darned good one. One that did not share my bed, require his clothes to be washed or dinners cooked. Why would I consider messing up a nice, tidy arrangement like that with a live in lover? And if I was moving in with a sex partner or boyfriend, why, I'd just have said that. The consensus of friends and family was doubly bothersome as it seemed that while voicing their own thoughts, they were commenting on my morality, which I might add, was no ones business but my own.
The arrangement ran its course; in less than two years, the room mate went his way and I went mine. But in the span of time we shared space, things went as I predicted: we did not become lovers, we did not part as enemies, the time we spent in each others company served to keep us, and our future lovers and spouses as friends which we remain to this day.

When I look back to that time, I realize that the things that were said to me, the fears expressed by my family, were not necessarily a judgment on my morality, but perhaps only a reflection of the choices of those same individuals. What worked for me, may not have worked for them. They might have seen a close member of the opposite sex as a handy bed warmer on a cold or lonely night. They may have walked down that road themselves before and were revealing their own past choices or regrets.

I also come to wonder at an age that does not allow platonic relationships without passing judgment, and I wonder if those who do point condemning fingers aren't guilty of more than negativity - perhaps they are the owner of a "dirty mind".
A "dirty mind" is a funny thing. We can all laugh at an off color joke, yet many people are quick to judge anyone who they think is living in a sexually gratuitous manner. When did the behavior of unrelated adults begin to absorb so much of our attention? And how many people find that a clear option for them may be unavailable because of familial pressures and opinions?

The 1950s were considered to be a repressive time in the history of North America. Times were good for the returning WWII veterans and they were welcomed home with full understanding that all they did was good and well intentioned. Veterans enjoyed many benefits provided through their service to their country, such as education bills, housing grants and job placement. The 1950s saw the largest housing boom in the history of this country; could that have been the source of the belief that traditional family was the only life and that each American should be able to buy a home of their own?
Even in today's climate of in your face reality, it is difficult for some segments of society to accept that lifestyle is different for each person.
In many ways our culture demands that we all live within the narrow boundaries of what is correct and right in the eyes of the majority. It is not uncommon for the basic liberties of our constitution to be denied to anyone living outside of the accepted norm.

Monday, October 17, 2005

From Cheesehead to Hoosier

Recently, after much angst and whining, I relocated from Wisconsin to Indiana. My husband, whose salary is considerably larger than mine, works for a very large corporation which decided he would be better used working in another state. We had been talking of moving anyways, but were interested in a warmer climate and in a future timeframe - like retirement.
Since both of us were originally from Chicago, even after 15 plus years, we were never really at home culturally in Wisconsin.
Please don't get me wrong - Wisconsin is a beautiful state with much land devoted to public use and parks, the people of
Wisconsin have had the foresight to dedicate huge tracts of land to conservation. Which is why we considered moving there in the first place. But the people of Wisconsin traditionally are from agricultural beginnings, although this is not so much the case any longer. There are still family farms and miles of corn, sorghum and wheat, but more and more Wisconsin is becoming the land that wants to be like Chicago. It is competitive, anxious for it's future and bitter about what it sees as the high cost of living. It is also somewhat shortsighted in so far as it does not recognize that it is it's own fault, by virtue of population growth, that costs are rising.
On the other hand, Indiana is for me, an unknown. My father's family is from Indiana. But we lived in Chicago and the difference between how we lived and my distant relatives lived kept us from becoming close.
When informed about relocating to Indiana, I envisioned endless corn fields and a paucity of trees, a strong tie to the past through history and heritage and a loneliness I did not look forward to.
On our first excursion into Indiana to house hunt, my preconceived notions were almost proven correct. Our first realtor, a misogynist, narrow minded, Walmart shopping red neck, did his best to show us (with pride) new housing developments which happily claimed close ties to the farming community. It looked like corn stalks and I would become intimate. I was devastated. Not that there is anything wrong with corn, after all, central and south American indigenous people survived with maize as their primary food source for thousands of years. But I am an artist, and a temperamental one at that and prone to fits of needed mental and visual stimulation. Which was not to be found in the vast fields of corn.
Our second trip to Indiana and a new, cosmopolitan realtor was much more familiar. We saw miles of shopping malls full of the brand names we knew. Shiny malls with full parking lots of gleaming cars and minivans. Looked like northern Illinois.
This wasn't much better, but at least the choices of restaurants were more suitable to us.
"Moving house" as my British and UK friends call it, is hell. From the loss of privacy from the first moving estimators to the endless packing my life took on a feel of the surreal. The first thing to be gone was the sanctuary of home. With realtors and potential buyers coming through the house, it seemed like from the time I signed on with a realty company, the house was no longer mine.
Now, it is almost 4 months later and my first admission is that I am exhausted. Not tired, but exhausted. I don't want to deal with the minutiae of 'the last electric bill' or transferring insurance, paying vehicle registration fees and establishing new services. Prior to the physical move, friends reminded me of the stimulus of fresh decorating new configurations of furniture. Well, I'm tired of that too.
Today, with map in hand, I ponder the choices for new stores, new neighborhoods, new back roads that want discovering. Yes, a move can be refreshing. Yet I wonder at career choices which determine where we live. Wasn't it just the opposite a scant few decades ago? Didn't we all find jobs in our neighborhoods and communities? It was the rarity rather than the norm, that people traveled for their jobs. Now a career dictates where we live and how we live and the community we move to. If one is relocated once, chances are, relocation will happen again. And once on that treadmill, employers "suggest" suitable areas for living - based on resale value of homes.
I am fortunate as I have no children which needed uprooting and introduction to a new school and to new friends. I can not imagine what the difficulties of relocating with school age children are. And then, is this a fair and equitable way to live? What about the spouses of relocated employees? Many people need double incomes today, and many spouses want to have careers as well. Being self employed, and employed online (a virtual job, so to speak), I can in essence go anywhere and still do what it is that I am good at. But in families where both husband and wife work, someone is going to have to give up their job, and friends and community. Is there no consideration for the spouses of relocated workers?
Life has become very complex when one can not rely on settling down in a home that one has made their own. Or keeping the friends they have made, the social lives they have built, the community of closeness that so many of us count on.

Within a couple of months, the agony that I felt at the prospect of moving will be a dull memory. The home I have moved into will be personalized and it will feel like it has always been mine. Yet, the specter of having to do it all again in a few years may haunt me until my husband retires or finds another job.