Archive | June, 2013

Dystopic Bookstore

29 Jun

Today my dad and I had breakfast at Viking Chili Bowl and afterwards went to Buns & Noodle, more or less the only bookstore in Valparaiso, Indiana. It was my first visit to a corporate bookstore since 2008, the year I moved to Portland, Oregon, where I have access to wonderful independent bookstores and work as a volunteer at In Other Words, the only nonprofit feminist bookstore and community center still existing in the United States. In Other Words (IOW) is quite a sanctuary, where I’m in charge of the lending library.

I strode into B&N looking forward to exploring the Mythology and Women’s Studies sections. I wandered around without seeing either and ended up in the science fiction and fantasy section, where I browsed for some time and picked up an anthology of fantasy fiction set in the Victorian era, called Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells (a title that would surely make Queen Victoria fume and possibly pop a blood vessel).

I wandered all over the entire shop seeking the Mythology and Women’s Studies sections, all in vain. I have been to numerous B&N locations and have worked at a couple in the past, so I’m well aware what the stores were like in the 1990s and early 2000s. Even in Bigotville (Topeka), Kansas, the B&N—again, the only bookstore in town besides Xian bookstores and a used bookstore run by an unbelievably rude jerk—yes, even that store has (or had last time I was there) a Mythology section and a Women’s Studies section. In fact, until today I was under the distinct impression that all B&N locations include Mythology, Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Native American Studies, and if I recall correctly a Queer Studies section (although I think the latter went by a different name). Yet today I saw none of the above! The B&N in Valparaiso, Indiana lacks the sections that make going to B&N worthwhile. WTF.

I found myself wandering around the store more than once in a vain attempt to find the sections that had brought me through the front doors in the first place. Nothing. It’s not as though there wasn’t enough space for Mythology, Women’s Studies, Black Studies, Native American Studies, or Queer Studies. This cooties-infested bookstore had three rows of Xianity books. I kid you not. This was such a transparently obvious dismissiveness toward perspectives other than a patriarchal white male perspective. I realized that I had set foot into a dystopic nightmare version of Barnes & Noble.

I’m not for segregation, really. It’s just that if you set foot into a corporate bookstore and you want to find a large number of books that don’t have a patriarchal perspective, that reject patriarchy and white male supremacy, you have to set foot in the sections for which I vainly searched. At this point in time, that’s how it is. I was searching for sanctuary and not finding it.

After discovering that my favorite sections of B&N (with the exception of fantasy and science fiction) didn’t exist in this store, I decided to examine the history and philosophy sections with the notion that maybe, just maybe, I would find books that in a different B&N would have occupied the Women’s Studies section. But no, the history section didn’t include, for instance, Marilyn French’s four-volume From Eve to Dawn: a History of Women in the World. It was definitely Whiteboyworld history. I had much the same reaction to the philosophy section, a celebration of white male philosophers. For instance, I spotted Sartre but not de Beauvoir. In passive-aggressive retaliation toward this bookstore and the creepy community around it, I purchased an atheistic anthology called The Christian Delusion and decided that after I returned to my parents’ house I would not only start reading that book but also resume reading Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism.

When I came to Indiana in order to help out my dad, I knew that I was entering the Midwest; I knew I was leaving my comfort zone and entering an overtly backward part of the world. I had that in mind when I chose books to take on the trip. I chose not only Gyn/Ecology but also The Earth Mother: Legends, Ritual Arts, and Goddesses of India, by Pupul Jayakar; In the Buddha’s Words: an Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon; Nation, Empire, Colony: Historicizing Gender and Race; Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World, by Anne Fausto-Sterling; Black Feminist Thought, by Patricia Hill Collins; Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape, by Susan Brownmiller; and Fighting Words: a Toolkit for Combating the Religious Right, by Robin Morgan. Thus I armed myself.

Although I anticipated entering an overtly conservative and therefore white male supremacist and fundamentalist Xian community, I was nonetheless stunned by that bookstore. It displayed such blatantly obvious disdain and dismissiveness toward the experiences of those who are not white males. I’m not saying the biography section didn’t have books by and about Nelson Mandela—certainly it did. However, such exceptions don’t compensate for the overall dismissiveness. Fortunately, I packed plenty of books to read in Indiana, but that’s not the point. The point is that Northwest Indiana is a very pathetic, horrible place that needs to evolve on a huge scale.



My dad wanted to browse magazines at the White Male Xian Buns and Noodle, so we returned. I was yet again appalled and disgusted, for essentially the same reason.

I visited the magazine section, and I was shocked and appalled and disgusted to discover that the store doesn’t even carry Ms. or Bitch! I discovered my favorite magazine, Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, at—of all places—a B&N in Bigotville, Kansas! This particularly store location is obviously run by douchebags. It stinks of “Let’s keep all overtly feminist nonfiction out of this store, because we don’t’ want this community to stop being white male supremacist” conspiracy. The population of Bigotville (Topeka) is about 150,000. The population of Valparaiso, Indiana, is about 30,000. However, that is not a valid reason for omitting feminist nonfiction and magazines. I say “nonfiction” because you can find some feminist fiction, which presumably isn’t too obviously feminist for the local patriarchy to feel threatened.

Down with Sociopaths and Destructive Narcissists

28 Jun

Perpetual five-year-old bullies are extremely fortunate that violence is against my nature. Otherwise, I’d leave a bloody trail of dead sociopaths and destructive narcissists.

For some time now, I’ve been telling people that it should be illegal for sociopaths and malignant narcissists to breed or to teach or indeed to have any contact with children whatsoever. I should add, on a more practical note, that childcare and psychology should be taught as early as high school—indeed, nonviolent communication (NVC) should be taught starting at the cradle and from kindergarten through twelfth grade, and for that matter in college. Anyone who wants to have or teach children should be required to take an exam, perhaps at the end of high school or right after high school; if they don’t  get an A on the exam, they are legally disqualified to have, raise, or teach children.

Before anyone has children, they should be required to get a license for breeding. (Actually, that was my brother’s idea.) Just because they’re fertile doesn’t mean they’re entitled to abuse and manipulate and destroy the lives of others, and by others I’m including children. That psychotic belief that they’re entitled to have and use and abuse children—just because they can—is unfathomably arrogant and evil.

If you have a parent or guardian who’s a malignant narcissist, the monster’s extremely limited and immature emotions—typically fear and anger—are contagious and contaminate those around them, especially their children. The contemptuous and verbally abusive messages that they force feed their children have a profound effect on how those children feel about themselves and indeed affect them for the rest of their lives. Even after the children grow up and become adults, if they spend some time with their malignant narcissist parent or guardian, they are again easy targets to the toxic energy and toxic emotions. When I was a child surrounded by sociopaths and malignant narcissists, I was vulnerable and defenseless. The same goes for all children who grow up in this toxic, sick society.


The Frog

25 Jun

About two years ago, on one of my dad’s visits, I took him to a wonderful imports store called Equal Exchange, on Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland, Oregon. Sadly, it has closed since then, another victim of the economy. At Equal Exchange, my dad came across an elegant, dark, wooden, hand-carved frog from the Philippines. It’s long, low, and sturdy, and it looks like it might be meant as a footstool.

My mother collects frogs, so my dad has a tradition of giving her frogs as presents. They are mostly kitschy objects and stuffed toy animals that I hope to not inherit; in contrast, this elegant wooden frog is tasteful and pretty. After some thought, my dad decided to get my mother the wooden frog; he spent eighty dollars on it.

On his next visit, my dad said he gave my mother the frog as a Xmas present, but she didn’t seem to appreciate it. She didn’t say anything about it, and she ignores it, letting it collect dust in the living room. Now that I’m at my parents’ house, I found the frog—indeed covered in dust in the living room—and I wiped it down with a damp cloth and set it in front of a chair. I’ve been using it as a footstool ever since.

This morning my dad asked me, “Does that frog make a good footstool?”

I said, “Yes, it’s fine.”

My mother curled up her lip and in her usual sneering, snarky manner said to me, “Well, at least it’s good for something.” Stunned, I looked at her in silence.

My dad said to me, “Remember, I got that at one of those stores on…not Belmont, the other street. In the southeast neighborhood…”

“Hawthorne Boulevard,” I said, smiling. “The shop was Equal Exchange.”

My mother snapped, “I just know you gave it to me for Christmas.”

My dad and I looked at her, and even he became silent. Wow. It figures that she hates the highest quality and most expensive frog that my dad has ever given her. She hates the most beautiful frog my dad has ever given her. She hates the one frog of hers that I actually admire. And since she’s a malignant narcissist, she expects my dad to telepathically know exactly what present she really wants and to give her that rather than tasteful and elegant presents. She has additionally shown scathing contempt rather than any semblance of gratitude, appreciation, or respect. Give her a bright green stuffed toy frog, and she’ll hug it like she’s a little kid; give her a high-quality frog meant for adults, and she’ll act like it’s the ugliest and most worthless piece of crap.

Some years ago, I became conscious that my mother’s tastes and my tastes are drastically different—actually, they’re polar opposites. She has always been disdainful toward my tastes in clothing, no matter what those tastes were (yes, my style has changed drastically since I was a teenager). And it’s significant that she has repeatedly shown that she’s a soulless barbarian who doesn’t appreciate or understand art.

When I was a teenager, she accused me of being vain; I was flabbergasted with shock, and it wasn’t until years later that I remembered that and reflected on how as a teen I didn’t wear make-up, I didn’t have piercings (not even pierced ears like all the other girls in school) or tattoos, I didn’t go to a beauty parlor and get my hair done, and I didn’t wear much jewelry. So many years later, I realized that this fool had accused me of being vain just because I made my own clothing, setting my own fashions, and she didn’t have any understanding of clothing as an art form.

When I was about thirty years old, I began redecorating the Federal-style, three-story dollhouse I’ve had ever since I was ten years old, when Uncle Buddy gave us each a one hundred dollar bill for Xmas. While she visited me in St. Louis, I took my mother to a small miniatures museum, run by people who were passionate about dollhouses and dollhouse miniatures and made them and displayed them in the museum. When we reached the front counter, my mother said to the woman behind the counter, “My daughter has a dollhouse. She’s a female version of Peter Pan; she’ll never grow up.”

The woman behind the counter didn’t smile or indeed seem impressed with that patronizing remark, and it didn’t sit well with me, either. My mother was too much of a soulless barbarian to know the blatantly obvious fact that dollhouses and dollhouse miniatures are art, not toys, and that I was redecorating a dollhouse, not playing with it like a little kid. I recently told a friend about this incident, and the friend pointed out that my mother not only insulted me in public, but also insulted the woman to whom she was speaking.

Several times, my mother has boasted to me, “You got your artistic streak from me.” She then goes on to remind me that when she was a little kid, she took an art class on the campus of Washburn University. One time I asked her why she doesn’t continue creating art, and she said that she had a disagreement with a teacher. She didn’t get into much more details than that. I was assertive enough  to risk getting my head bitten off by pointing out that if a teacher was disdainful toward my art, I’d strive all the more as an artist. She didn’t bite my head off but instead acknowledged that my approach would have been different. I don’t recall saying to her, “For me, creating art is like breathing.”

Recently my dad told me that my grandmother—as in his mother—studied art at Yale University. Far from giving it up because of a disagreement with a dismissive teacher, my grandmother was a portrait painter all her life. Um, yeah, I know from whom I truly inherited my artistic creativity: the side of the family that my destructive narcissist mother and her sociopathic siblings have demonized. No doubt if my mother knew that I know about my “other” grandparents studying at Yale, she’d get extremely angry and make snide remarks about how she dislikes status symbols, and she might (not for the first time) accuse me of being a snob. Fortunately, unlike during my childhood, I now see through her psychotic delusions and bizarre, deranged opinions.

Hanging Out with My Dad Today

24 Jun

My dad and I went to a supermarket today, and I remembered to take the two cloth grocery bags out of the trunk before we went indoors. This was fortunate, though we purchased so much that we needed four bags. The bagger asked, “Is plastic OK?” I replied, “No, paper.”

At this grocery store, an attendant takes your groceries out to the parking lot for you. As we reached the car, I said, “Plastic grocery bags recently became illegal in Oregon. It’s quite a culture shock.”

The attendant either didn’t hear me or had nothing to say on the topic. He asked us if we were going to watch such-and-such game on television. My dad knew what he was talking about, but I felt appalled. This was another culture shock—ever since I moved to Portland, I haven’t heard anyone talk about sports. I thought, “Are you actually talking about sports? Death by boredom!”

This evening, the nurse came by and said my dad is doing well. He has lost an alarming amount of weight, five pounds in two days, but the nurse said this is because the scar on his ankle (because the doctor removed a vein from his leg and put it in his heart) is draining steadily, as it should. She pointed out that his right ankle is no longer swollen, and that even the scarred left ankle is significantly smaller than it was last time she came by, on Friday. This was good news indeed.

My dad again brought up the topic of his hiccups and loss of breath. He said that he had a large lunch and that helped. The nurse pointed out that eating does indeed help put air into his diaphragm. I said, “There you go: pig out so that you can breathe.” The nurse explained that to help his breathing, he needs to eat slowly and refrain from talking while he’s eating. I said, “He eats slowly because he’s talking while eating.” My dad does talk constantly, and the nurse had noticed that he’s a talker.

I keep hearing loud thunder, and the tulip tree is dancing right outside the window. We’re in for a torrential storm this evening.

A Week After my Dad’s Open-Heart Surgery

21 Jun

This morning I mowed and trimmed the lawn for the first time, using my dad’s tractor and trimmer. Driving a tractor wouldn’t be scary if the yard were flat, but the house is on a bumpy, curvy, slight hill. Frequently I felt as though the tractor would tip to the side, and the blades would chop me up. I also thought I might lose control going downhill. None of this happened, but I refrained from cutting the steepest section of the back yard and used the trimmer. I’d prefer a regular push lawn mower for that part of the back yard.

I thought I broke my dad’s router, or at least burnt out the battery, but we took it to Radio Shack and found out that no, it simply needs to be plugged in while you use it. I assumed it was like a cell phone and that you use the battery regularly, but the battery is merely a backup and isn’t as strong as cell phone batteries. Anyway, I have Wi-Fi again, so I can check messages, research, and stream online.

Dad is doing well for someone who had open-heart surgery a week ago. He still gets hiccups and thus has trouble breathing. He needs to calm down, something he doesn’t do.

Also, he has a nasty scar on his left ankle, and it’s swollen and oozes, I think a combination of blood and puss. But the nurse who does house calls said that’s normal. During surgery, the doctor took a vein from his ankle and used it for his heart. One of my tasks is to change his bandages.

Yet Another Aggressive Type A Personality

18 Jun

I greet you with timidity and hesitance.

You charge up and roar,

impatient with my shyness,

and hurry off with inexplicable rage.

Cringing, I wish I were a turtle

with a shell in which to hide.

Portlandia Has Followed Me

15 Jun

I’m in Indiana, and to my astonishment I just saw a Portlandia-esque commercial. Carrie Brownstein was advertising American Express, and among other things she was at a record store browsing through LPs, perhaps at Jackpot Records on Hawthorne Boulevard or some other shop I’ve visited.

Seeing that ad really registered with me: my home-away-from home is actually quite famous. I’m referring to In Other Words, the feminist community center in which the Portlandia crew films the feminist bookstore skits.

Every day, Portlandia fans show up at IOW, and they typically want to take pictures. Some actually stick around and attend events and/or buy merchandise or make a donation. Some are dudes who only want to take pictures from outside and don’t want to come in. At least one volunteer (someone considerably less shy than I) opened the front door and invited a group of Portlandia fans to come inside; they did so, and were courteous and curious. That was a relief—I haven’t forgotten when a cisgender white male came into the space while I was busy with a customer, asked to use the restroom, and left without looking around. Visits from Portlandia fans are fine, as long as they respect In Other Words.

Some of the fans who show up at IOW are from Australia. That means we’re world famous! Of course, I’m not letting fame go to my head or to IOW’s head—it would be a nurturing, supportive, therapeutic, and important space even if it weren’t for the fame that Portlandia has caused. Often I experience reminders that outside the IOW community, misogyny and patriarchy and dismissiveness toward female experience are still very much the norm. In Other Words is the only nonprofit feminist bookstore/community still in business in the United States.

Day Three After My Dad’s Open-Heart Surgery

15 Jun

11:30 AM

A nurse mentioned that my dad’s moving into a new room soon, so I’m thinking this is his last day in the Intensive Care Unit. This morning we (family members) arrived at about 10:30, and he was lying down and had again slid in the hospital bed. He wanted to sit up, but a nurse said he had already sat up in the recliner for a whole three and a half hours, in the very early morning. Two nurses came in and moved him so that he’s not crooked and slouching; he mentioned having a crick in his neck, which is hardly surprising considering his awkward position when we showed up.

He’s much more coherent and vocal. He speaks in complete sentences, and I understand most of what he says, even though of course he’s groggy. When he hears my mother coughing (since she has emphysema and smokes), he asked, “Are you OK?”

He even asked about things that don’t have to do with his pain and needs: he asked what day it is, what time it is, and if it’s still raining. He said, “It’s embarrassing,” after asking what day of the week it is. In the past few days, I haven’t kept track of what day of the week it is or what the date is, and I’m not a drugged hospital patient.


7  PM

In the afternoon, my dad was transferred from the Intensive Care Unit to a regular hospital room. This is definitely quite a step forward. We visited him in the evening at his new room, where he nibbled a little at mashed potatoes and pudding. Yes, he’s actually eating real food now, though not much. He’s embarrassed about feeling weak, but it’s normal to feel weak after you’ve had surgery. His surgery included repairing the bad heart valve and a single bypass, so he’s had an extremely major surgery.

The gift shop opens at 11 on Sundays, and tomorrow is Father’s Day. I’m thinking I’ll get my dad flowers.

I just noticed that my dad’s not only hooked up to the IV and a white box on a pole; he’s still hooked up to the gadget that has a tube containing heart blood. He’s had that all along. But he just took a little walk in the hallway, with the nurse. She just tested, and he no longer needs oxygen.

That said, it looks like he doesn’t have huge bandages on his chest anymore. And he’s getting pain pills instead of a needle full of morphine.

The Day After My Dad’s Open-Heart Surgery

14 Jun

The whole family was at the hospital all day yesterday. We took advantage of the ICU Family Lounge, which has cushioned seats and recliners; we each took a nap at some point. The lounge also has a phone for nurses to contact family members, so we waited for phone calls giving us updates throughout the day.

9:35 AM: My brother just left the hospital for his flight back to Phoenix. He considered postponing it for one day, but when I asked about it this morning, he said the rental car company has severe penalties for turning in cars late. In hindsight, maybe I should have offered to drive him. But he hopes to visit again in July.

Right now I’m the only one in the room with my dad. He’s calmed down enough to no longer thrash, except once in a while. But he slipped off his mask and keeps trying to talk. I asked if he can talk, and he nodded, but he repeatedly cleared his throat and moaned rather than speaking coherently. Usually he talks constantly. Every time I slip the mask back on, he pulls it back down and tries to speak. He’s still drugged enough that he keeps seemingly falling asleep for a minute, before his eyes become slits and then open up. Sometimes he opens his eyes wide, and they look quite unfocused.

4 PM: My dad is still pretty out of it, drugged, and in pain. He’s rather ADD, so it’s not entirely surprising that he thrashed around last night (while he still had a tube in his mouth) and even a bit this morning.

Shortly after my brother departed, my dad started talking somewhat coherently, though that wasn’t until after a couple of nurses came in and removed the mask. It was a plastic mask, attached to a long plastic tube. The nurses also shifted him up, because he’s fidgety and keeps sliding downward in the hospital bed.

My dad was able to say things like, “Ah, man,” and, “Dang it.” He eventually said, “Dehydrated,” so I stepped out into the hallway and told a nurse and asked if he was hooked up to an IV or something, and she confirmed that he was. He repeatedly groaned about being in pain. When he coughed, he said, “That hurts.” That makes sense, because he has a sore throat; I remember having a sore throat after my appendectomy, because of the anesthetic that goes down the throat.

It was particularly disturbing when he said, “Help me.” I couldn’t make his pain magically go away.

While a couple of nurses were in the room, they explained that when he says he’s dehydrated, what he means is that his lips are dry. And when he says, “I can’t breathe,” he means he can’t breathe as deeply as he normally does, and it hurts when he breathes. A nurse brought him ice water and fed it to him through a straw.

I stayed in my dad’s room until about 11:30, when I went to the family lounge for a nap. When I woke, my sister was there, and we visited Dad again for a few minutes, until visiting hours ended at 2 pm. Probably due to a fresh batch of painkillers, he was less coherent, and his mouth was dry, so my sister gave him a few sips of the ice water that a nurse had left in the room. Visiting hours begin again at 5 pm, until 8, so we’re all (my mother, my sister, and I) are returning this evening.

Before the surgery, my dad said he’d spend a day or two in the Intensive Care Unit before transferring to a regular hospital room, but I rather suspect he’ll spend a couple more days in the ICU, under the circumstances.

In the Hospital

13 Jun

My dad is currently in the hospital experiencing the tail end of his open-heart surgery. I think I actually feel calm right now and have for some time. However, both my dad and I became increasingly more anxious as the date of the surgery neared. Last week was horribly stressful, in part because I’d think about my dad’s surgery and become nervous, even cry on a couple of occasions.

This morning I got up at 3:30 am and made a cup of potent tea.  I sat in a rocking chair and drank my tea while talking with my dad, who said he couldn’t concentrate on reading the newspaper because he was so nervous about the surgery. I began to feel queasy…and before long, I was in the powder room, vomiting. That’s the first time that I recall vomiting because of anxiety. Rocking in a rocking chair probably didn’t help.

But it sounds like his surgery is going very well, and the doctors and nurses are finishing up. The rest of the family has been hanging out at the hospital, in the Intensive Care Family Lounge. I’ve taken a nap and have otherwise worked on a novel.

Of course, it doesn’t all end with the surgery. Afterwards, my dad will be in the Intensive Care Unit for a night or two, and he will spend approximately one week at the hospital. After he goes home, he won’t be back to normal for a while. I’ll help around the house and yard, particularly with mowing the lawn and re-seeding the lawn. I also hope to do quite a bit of de-cluttering in the house, at the very least things that I left there years ago.

A bit later (3:40 PM):

He’s OK, and we’ll be going in to see him any time. In addition to repairing the bad valve, they did single bypass surgery.

8 PM: We’re back at the house, after another visit with my dad. He was still struggling, and the nurse resorted to sedating him again. It was rather disturbing.