on politeness and the fallacy of political correctness

In other news, I wrote about intent vs impact a while back, which prompted this response from someone I know:

The only reservation I would have about what you had to say, there, is that I fear “politeness”…
Seems innocuous enough, politeness.
But we don’t love our friends because they BEHAVE

Which I interpreted to mean that if people are too on guard, afraid of offending, friendship suffers; if you can’t be “real” with someone, how can you truly connect? Sometimes people are afraid of debate, turning disagreement with someone’s ideas into labeling that person as inherently disagreeable.

I’m quite possibly wrong in my interpretation, and, of course, being a woman, I felt compelled to point out that girls know better than anyone the pitfalls of politeness. If you are raised to be “polite,” the parallel consequence is, standing up for yourself feels “rude,” which means you can be taken advantage of. People that grew up able to speak their mind don’t understand how the trained among us might find ourselves wordless in the face of abuse, but that is what happens; the cop who hassles you unfairly, the guy who shoves his hands onto your body, the boss who demeans you – if you’ve been discouraged from making others feel uncomfortable, you learn to absorb the discomfort yourself.

But that’s definitely not what my colleague meant, so let’s step back and address politeness between friends. I believe in the higher principle of etiquette; making others feel at ease is a good thing. Being able to assess a situation and respond accordingly is a skill of the highest order. Don’t confront someone at a wedding, for example. Talk to the person who looks lonely. Arrange your face into a sympathetic visage when the child in front of you breaks down into the tantrum to end all tantrums and the mother is helpless in the face of it – if you have children, you know how insane they can be, and if you don’t, revel that you’ll never have to know. In either case, the high road is the right road.

But again, I digress. Who are we with our friends? That, I suppose is the question. And yet still, I tend to err on the side of being polite. I love my friends. They matter to me as much as clean air, drinkable water and windless, sunshiney days. I know that friendship means accepting people when they are less than their best and in return, the same people continue to love you despite your insecurities, flaws, ridiculous drinking habits, but still – if someone loves me so much to tolerate my endless texts about the same tiresome problems, wouldn’t I want to return the favor by being kind, thoughtful? Take our interactions as an opportunity to reenforce how much I value and respect them?

Politeness that results in timidity? Bad.

Politeness as a way of being a functioning, compassionate human? Good.

Maybe it’s all semantics.

Which leads me to the concept of “political correctness.” First, I thought we were done with that term – it seems outdated, a way for the politically conservative to reduce new and important conversations about race and gender to eye-rolling – but then a friend posted a link to a column in which several comedians decried political correctness as “killing comedy.”

I think what’s killing their comedy is a refusal to evolve. Robin Tran wrote a response in xoJane that reflects my own thoughts:

I know lots of comedy fans who are just yearning for something new and different, and they’re tired of hearing the same old clichés and stereotypes. There are only so many times you can hear jokes about black people stealing, Asians’ inability to drive, and heteronormative dating jokes where “women do this but men do that” before it gets exhausting, boring, and unfunny. These comedy fans are generally progressive-leaning, and they’re oftentimes unfairly accused of being humorless.

Many progressives love Inside Amy Schumer, a show that is not “PC” at all, and more liberal-leaning websites are constantly posting articles about what a genius Louis CK is. A few of these liberal comedy fans may take some jokes too personally, but to brush this entire group as humorless and PC is dishonest and lazy.

I could go on, but I need to hit the road and besides, funnier and smarter people are already on this one, so let me leave you with a clip from one of my comedy heroes, Aziz Ansari:

surf session #10: tiny plastics (not fun), small waves (fun)

Thousands of tiny pieces of plastic, a few millimeters in diameter littered the sand, dotted the seaweed left strewn by the tide.

We were combing Point St. George’s beach for trash and anything that might have washed up from the 2011 Japan tsunami. This included part of a buoy, several plastic water bottles, a lot of rope bits and other random debris – several buckets’ worth of garbage. But the microplastics defeated us – too numerous and too small for us to make any but the slightest dent.


All fun and games until someone loses an…

In the meantime, the sun shone, a light northwest breeze picked up and the tide swelled in. Conditions looked promising for our next move – a quick surf at South Beach. We’d been warned that a jet ski contest might compromise our good time and parked at the north end to minimize any interaction. (The controversy over the contest had resulted in poor attendance, which worked out very well for us.)

Bobby came out with me for the first time in months and, of course, caught a wave within a few minutes of paddling outside. I envied his easy athleticism for a moment, then was awash in happiness to see him having a good time. I caught plenty of my own waves, easy waist-high, longboardy rights that seemed like they might fade out, but kept peaking back up until I was almost to shore. Ridiculously fun.

I watched a couple preteen girls catch whitewater on softtops and flashed back to all the times we’d brought our kids and their friends to South Beach. Nostalgia threatened to flatten me for a moment. Oh, my little children! Now all grown up and catching waves in Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara. I miss them, miss surfing with them. But glad they took this gift I was able to give them out into the world. I smiled, and paddled for the next wave.

surf session #9

It’s taken me a week to get around to chronicling this!

I wonder how different my experience would be if I’d started surfing as a child. Would I be less hesitant, less hung-up? Or is that just an unshakeable part of how my brain is wired? Given how much I love being in the ocean, why would I ever sit on the beach thinking, “Oh, I don’t know. It’s cold. Look at all those people. Ugh.”?

The ghost of the shy kid I was lingers.

Another truth: One’s comfort zone is determined by the regularity of engaging in the activity. When I’m surfing daily, the hesitation fades – I’m tugging on my suit while sizing up the waves, perhaps unsure how it will be, but not going ceases being part of the conversation. I paddle for more waves, sit deeper, assert myself better.

And given the burgeoning crowd at my favorite spot, there’s no room for anything less than the confident taking of a wave. Given a choice, I’d ask for a nice day full of head-high rights and the occasional overhead set with me and maybe six familiar faces in the water. Reality, on this day, was overhead lefts, no rights to speak of (but the lefts were glorious) and about 35 people crammed into a 10-foot takeoff zone. I did not recognize many faces. And I’m still babying my shoulder. And I lack confidence because I’m not surfing so much. See? All the usual hangups. It was good to be in the water, to paddle, to readjust my attitude and reacquaint myself with the scene, but I did not catch many waves, just a few leftovers – my fault, as I opted to hang on the side and wait for something to swing wide instead of planting myself in the pack.

But even if I were more competent, having to fight for waves undercuts the joy of being in the water – and joy is the point. The only solutions are to either surf elsewhere, in lesser quality waves, or be good enough that the crowd issue ceases to be so significant.

Although – irrespective of my own situation – this was the worst etiquette I’ve ever seen at this spot. Several times, multiple people dropped in on a wave. I saw boards fly a few times as surfers jerked away trying to avoid collision. A friend who was out commented that although she doesn’t endorse bullheaded localism, some old-fashioned regulation sure would be helpful.

last bit about the ol' checking accout

I’m sure I’ll catch up; I always do. Besides, tax return time is coming right up!

But this reminded me of a piece I wrote some time ago, so I thought I’d post it.

“Insomnia #3”

Finding the poetry in love affairs comes easily. The river as metaphor, the cry of the geese as wildness incarnate, the passion that bursts like overripe fruit upon the birth of a child, these I can revel in as easily as a dolphin riding a sun-drenched wave.

Tragedy, or the specter of it, lends immediately to elegance in words. Injustice awakens eloquence. Even certain small moments glow with universal meaning: two hands touch as both people reach for the pot of just-brewed coffee, the sunrise slanting orange and pink between the blinds, the trill of the birds lightly in the distance; the laughter, exhuberant, of a small child who has spied a butterfly paused on a sidewalk crack; the nervous look on the face of a first-time Little Leaguer as dad and granddad look on; the baking of bread.

But where is the poetry in the small struggles, the ones that singly may be slight, but together overwhelm the way water eventually wears away even most stoic stone?

Where is the lyricism in checking a bank balance online to discover the $3 check I wrote went through right before my deposit cleared and now an overdraft charge has left me $22 poorer and that $22 blow means I now have no money to put gas in my empty-tank car so how are I supposed to drive to all the various places a responsible working mother-type needs to go to?

And I can’t really expect a room full of strangers, or even friends, to suffer my complaints as I still have my health and my children’s health and a lovely home on the beach and a job, a job that even though it barely pays at least has good perks, and a husband who says I’m beautiful as often as I’ll let him and what’s $22 anyway when millions of people are starving and dying while my husband paints a sea dragon on my new custom-made surfboard a friend carved as a favor.

After all, I do know how good I have it with the kids and the husband and the house and the surfing and the lifestyle, but then again I also know the whole enchilada balances both on fate’s whim with regard to my luck and my own strained and rather questionable ability to accomplish absolutely everything work-wise and mom-wise and wife-wise and homemaker-wise that needs to be done every day to maintain the front I’ve so successfully established and this is what it’s like living on the edge of zero and this is why I can’t sleep.

Because I know the effects of that $22 loss only begin with the gas and will continue into the PGE bill and snowball onto the oh-so-inconveniently due car registration and wouldn’t I know my son needs field trip money for school today, right now, and so I sigh and write another check and pray that this week at least I get to the bank before that check does and I wonder, again, what ever happened to the poetry in my life?

and a bit more

For the record, my biggest problem with money is likely a lack of time to properly pay attention to my bank account combined with the constant demands of needing food, gas, etc. I always think I’ll figure it out later, which is never a good idea.

But yeah, as M said, cash is the way to go.

On the happy-making side of things, I had the nicest email at KSLG from a dad who had requested some songs for his daughter who was on her way to compete in a swim meet. I played his request and then some; he wrote back how happy I’d made her, which made my day.

this is ridiculous and then some

I need a financial advisor. Or a bookkeeper (did you know “bookkeeper” is the only word in the English language with three double letters in a row?). In either case, having one cannot possibly exceed the amount of money I spend on overdraft charges and related bank fees. I am truly missing some vital piece of information explaining why what I budget out on paper never matches up to what actually happens in my life. I’m not stupid, I swear. I’ve had a raise and acquired another job; I should be comfortable, not scrambling. And yet, there I was as Target, listening to the clerk tell me my $2 debit card transaction was declined. Fortunately, I had an alternative option: using my Wells Fargo card, as that bank’ll approve anything and screw you over for it later. I need to get a grip. I need someone else to handle my money since I’ve proved so incompetent. I’m good at lists, good at math, good at understanding how things work. Why is properly budgeting so continually problematic?

In better news, I surfed yesterday. Camel Rock. Beautiful, clean, small swell. I hustled out, caught a few fun rights. But my wetsuit is so, so, so beyond worn out. The cold permeated every bit of me. I actually skipped surfing today because I couldn’t bear the thought of suiting up in that damp, holey suit and facing the icy air, chilly water. I keep thinking, “One more paycheck,” but then Christmas happened and now I’m still catching up.

Thursday night, I’m again hosting spoken word at Muddy’s Hot Cup. Wouldn’t it be nice to write something new for that?

At least I have some good interviews set up for the Eye over the next couple weeks. I thought I’d start the year off with a resolution to write a kick-ass column every week, but so far, that hasn’t happened. At least there’s always hope, right? Just like another wave comes along, so another paper does, too – damn, but surf metaphors are always so corny.

Nick’s doing well. We’ve had some low moment this past week, but not enough to change anything. He and I sandboarded twice over the weekend. What a blast! Falling, which I did every time, wasn’t too bad, since the sand was soft. Not that I wasn’t sore the next day – I was! But I didn’t break anything. The “run” is a gradual slope, not too steep, but I get going fast enough to get a rush. The speed and height are intense compared to surfing, and I think this whole sandboarding thing might be helpful. Suddenly, snowboarding has appeal. Assuming there’s a lodge nearby.


Hung my 2007 surf calendar (1 day so far) and tallied 2006.

80 sessions.
Pathetic. That’s the least I’ve surfed since 2002, when I started. No wonder I’m taking so long to get better.
My goal each year is to surf at least half the days – 183 times. I’ve come close, but never made it, what with the shifting sandbars, huge winters and other life commitments. But maybe 2007 will be the year of dramatic improvement. One can hope.

(And yes, from another perspective, the fact that I found 80 chances to surf last year evidences the relative cushness of my life. Not forgetting that. That said, the fact is, one must aspire to actually do the things one is passionate about. Surf. Write. Parent. Otherwise one’s not really a surfer/writer/mother/etc. – don’t you think?)


(Writing in a “something is better than nothing” frame of mind, wishing a creative epiphany would somehow make this all sound more interesting.)

I had the best surf on New Year’s Day. Perfect size (head-high to head-and-a-half) and intensity (just enough to catch the waves easily, but gentle enough that a wipeout wouldn’t destroy me) for me. I had a quick session because I was on deadline and needed to get to work, but what a fun, fun time. If only I could have a week/month/year like that! Perfect way to start 2007. One thing though – a new wetsuit needs to happen soon. I froze from the moment I entered the water and never warmed up.

I’m too cold to sleep right now. The fire’s out. I could go sleep in bed, where I’d be warmer, but I’m trying to stay near Nick, hence my campout on the futon. He came downstairs with a stomachache and is sleeping on the couch. I’d already fallen asleep in the living room, three pages into a new book, and didn’t hear him calling to me from upstairs. He was quite upset when he came down, so I’m making sure to sleep in the same room. I keep listening to him breathe, feel his head for signs of clamminess, trying to intuit his blood sugar level from observation. He’s been running just slightly lower than previous weeks; I’m guessing we might have to adjust his insulin again, but nothing’s definite yet.

When he’s doing well, I worry my vigilance will slip. My attention is spread thin right now. Much as I’m ready to move on from the holidays, I haven’t even put Christmas stuff away. I think I need a couple days off to catch up on my life: pay bills, buy food, clean the house, recycle – all the stuff that’s so unsatisfying when it’s all one does, but reaches catastrophe level quickly when ignored. I haven’t dealt with any of the DMV stuff I need to, I’m gearing up for a fight with the student loan people tomorrow, and my trunk is stuffed full of boxes and packing peanuts (why some people still use those, I don’t know).

Thinking aloud again. Time to say good night.

holidazed and confused, recovering

The combination of rushing around in the Christmas madness, being doped up on Benedryl for the terrible cold I caught, having the kids out of school, coping with a three day power outage, and having the Sunday deadline my life has revolved around for the past five years moved to a Thursday and then the following Monday has had me so thrown off and confused this past week. What day is it? Where am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to be doing? Is anyone making more coffee?

I’m sure it’ll all return to the normal state of chaos soon enough. Power’s back on and I surfed today; that’s a fine start toward righting things.

Surf report: My short, pre-KSLG session consisted of paddling out, paddling over to chat with R, paddling around in an attempt to find the right spot, paddling back toward shore after realizing the rip had pulled me out twice as far as I wanted to be, paddling over to the better-breaking next peak, failing to catch a left, succeeding in catching a sweet, small, easy right that took me close enough to shore that I was able to make it to the beach, the car, the station in time to be on air.

It was wonderful. I’ve surfed so little, and the morning was so clean and clear, that just being in the water was worth the going out. Catching a wave in was icing on the cake. Sometimes that’s all it takes to make things right. Man, did I need the exercise, too. The water is full of debris from the dunes. The big swells and high tides are sucking the beach into the sea.

A Christmas Miracle

The sky is once again aflame with pink and orange – the sunrises this month have been especially spectacular, excepting the mornings of steady rain and fog, of course. I am writing quickly and hopefully quietly in a room full of my sleeping people. Three out of the five of us chose to sleep in the living room by Bobby’s roaring fire. I am again thankful for this house, the woodburning stove, the health of the children (even with the diabetes), that somehow we remain intact.

Chelsea’s sleepover plans fell through last night – she’d planned to stay the night at a friend’s, but the friend’s mom wasn’t prepared for it – so she called us at 10:30 p.m. asking if we could pick her up instead. Now, the girl whose house she was supposed to be staying at is dating the roommate of Chelsea’s boyfriend. We’d okayed them staying over at the boys’ house until 10:30 p.m., but then they were supposed to go to the friend’s house. When that fell through, Chelsea called. We weren’t checking up on her, so theoretically, she could’ve been sneaky and stayed the night at her boyfriend’s. But she didn’t, because she knew we wouldn’t be cool with it. So she called and was relieved we didn’t mind picking her up. She did the right thing. And it’s not that she often does the wrong thing, but we’ve certainly had plenty of conflict – and when you’re the parent of a teenager, any time that teenager chooses the path of good feels like a victory.

But the “Christmas Miracle” is this: my dad, the same dad who responded to my last request for help with a car by first refusing and then lecturing me on how I’ve “chosen a life of poverty” in the best conservative talk show host style, suddenly announced he was coming up for a quick visit last week, arrived in town, and said he needed a ride to Mid-City Motors – because he’d made arrangements to buy a new car because he was giving me his 2001 Honda Civic. He has been increasingly generous this year; perhaps he’s realized we’re not total losers just because we don’t make lots of money, or maybe Nick’s diabetes diagnosis opened a door to his heart. I don’t know. I do know that this was an incredibly generous act that makes my life considerably easier in many ways. The need for a car in our society is a good discussion topic, but in a practical application to my life right now, a dependable, well-maintained car is more than just a way to get from point A to point B: it’s freedom and security for my family. I am ever so grateful to my dad for providing those things for me now.

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