RIP: Black Knight Black Moon

How do I feel about fish for pets? Don’t ask. Dogs are social animals, long domesticated, and picking up a dog or cat from a shelter or other rescue situation (then spay/neuter them), like all 6 of the cats and 2 of the dogs I and/or my family has had since I was a tot, works pretty well. Hate pet stores; loathe the whole breeder thang. Visit the Humane Society or SPCA for many good reasons why. Even when adopted in good ways, cats who are kept in miss the outdoors and those who are let out attack birds and lizards. Dogs are like having a kid in many ways and need a lot of attention. Plus, of course there’s a lot of mistreatment of dogs and cats out there, and I wish we made people pass tests and get licenses to own pets (like they do in England). Exotics? I also have a fairly pat answer, as you can guess. Leave the wildthings to the wild…if you can find any “wild” left on this planet. Birds? Need to fly. No cages in my house.

But wait…a fishtank is a cage, you say. Indeed it is. I cannot relate to the idea of pet-as-pretty-thing-to-look-at. Get a sculpture of a fish. Nor do I groove on the “Let’s see if I can keep them alive by manipulating habitat” science experiment approach. I don’t know what fish feel or don’t feel, but they sure do stare at me out of the tank, and I sure wish they were in a lovely pond or river or lake. But Chad does his best to make a good “home” for them, my son likes to look at them (he stopped his responsibility of feeding them long ago), and neither of us knew they’d get huge and creepy and deformed…and ill…and dead.

I guess that’s not entirely true. Our last tank, maybe ten years ago, featured the mother fish that had babies (in a nice separate little holder to keep the other fish from bothering them) and then ate them and pooped out 13 little baby fish skeletons. Eventually, the whole tank of them went belly-up. And we never knew why. Even the fish store (loathsome places that they are with their salt water tanks full of delicate lovely alien creatures that should NEVER been in a tank) couldn’t figure it out when they tested the water.

But we tried again a few years ago, and Chad worked diligently to keep the water at the right balance and temperature, got live plants, cool rocks to swim around and through, etc. We tried to pick “plain” goldfish that we could give a “decent” life to. They flourished and grew, we got a bigger tank…and then…grossness.

Goldfish of certain varieties bred for their “beauty” and for competitions (mostly by the Chinese and Japanese) develop those big blobby things on their heads/faces called the “wen.” Apparently, breeding for competition does not include breeding for viability. The wen can grow right over the whole head, the eyes, everything. So you get “beautiful” blind fish. And that began to happen to our fish that my son named Black Knight Black Moon (BKBM). He got blobbier and blobbier and his eyes got more and more covered til there was about ¼ visibility for the poor thing. It was hard to look at him. Meanwhile, a second fish, named RedCap, got blobby, too. But his wen didn’t cover his eyes, just got huge and bloblike, with little hangy pieces. He and BKBM and the third fish, Fishy, had absolutely gorgeous long tails, beautiful fins, sparkly scales, ate heartily, and seemed relatively healthy and content, given the limitations of tank life and breeders’ obsessions.

But then BKBM developed a swim bladder disorder. He lost the ability to control his direction in the tank, often floating up or standing on his nose, so to speak, at the bottom of the tank. We tried every suggestion we found online and by calling a fish vet in Knoxville. Nothing worked. And one day, just to have a little control over his body, BKBM wedged himself inside an animal skull we had in the tank that the fish could swim into and through. He got stuck while we were gone for the day, shredded his tail, and was bleeding. The charming plecostomus we also have in the tank (still unnamed) was being gracious enough to suck the blood off of him and helped shred him some more, I suspect. By the time we freed him and took the skull out, he was traumatized (trust me, you can tell) and even worse off.

So a month or two went by, and BKBM finally started to regrow a beautiful healthy tail. He always “stood on his head” at tank bottom, but he ate well and seemed to be coping with his wretched disabilities. When the accident happened, I really wanted to put him out of his misery, but Chad gave me the science lecture about fish brains and nerve systems, and expressed his sincere belief that BKBM wasn’t truly suffering…at least not enough to kill him. Sigh. I appreciated this lecture because there is, apparently, no confirmed humane way to put a fish to death.

Anyhow, BKBM regrew his tale and coped. Until this week, when something again happened and he reshredded his tail. He began to float at the top not bottom, though he was still alive. And his face was tinged with pink, blood. A few days later he finally died. And I was so glad he was out of whatever misery he might have felt, and I was out of my misery, watching him go through all this wretchedness.

So: we hope Fishy, RedCap and the pleco continue to thrive. And may BKBM be reincarnated into a lovely healthy fish, far far out at sea. Maybe a nice big shark that lives far from any trace of humanity. Whatever the case, know this: after these fish pass away, THERE WILL BE NO MORE FISHTANKS IN ANY HOME I CHOOSE TO LIVE IN. EVER.

Note: the fish pictures on this page are not our fish but pics I found online that look very similar to Fishy (top) and the late lamented Black Knight Black Moon.


Back Pain of Doom Leads to Binge on Bad Television

I won't belabor the point, but just want to say that I've spent the last 2 weeks in bed with the most severe back pain I can imagine. Makes labor pains laughable by comparison, and my labor pains were a 17 out of 10. This pain was well into the 20s.

Not sure what caused the "injury." I had no accident to speak of. Just was feeling pretty good one morning and went to hang up the phone and felt a muscle pull. My chiropractor believes I pulled or tore a tendon, then this caused a disk in my low back to get very out of place, in turn pinching a nerve. Whatever the case, I spent 2 days not being able to use my back at all, resulting in Chad dragging me around, including some horrific trips to the bathroom where he had to hold me up over the toilet so I could pee, in great pain, standing up. Too much information, I know, but it lets you know just how out of commission I truly was.

This led to days and days and days of bedrest, icepacks, and visits to the chiropractor as soon as I could haul myself into the car without so much pain I was howling or crying. And the result of that? I watched more bad television than any human being ever should. My commentary on what I saw follows...

The first few days consisted of gorging myself on the Food Network. I picked up some fabulous recipes and tips for modifying recipes I already enjoy. My dad and I discussed the "hotness" factor of the women of the cooking shows, as I lacked the energy for feminist debate. I like the smiling, nasal girl-next-door Rachael Ray, but the huge-faced glossy Giada De Laurentiis of Everyday Italian has a definite panache. But no, my dad says, they're nothing compared to Sandra Lee -- that bottle blond, raccoon-eyed temptress who always adds a healthy dose of hard liquor cocktails to each "semi-homemade" meal of pot roast and pudding cakes! Still, I can stomach watching any of them more easily than Martha Stewart. Martha's just too pretentiously faux down-to-earth, and too dull, even though I think hundreds of greasy white male CEOs should have been in prison before her.

But soon, hours and hours of cooking shows became repetitive and unwatchable. I flipped channels a lot, finding no movies I could stand, no reruns worth rerunning with, and little else to tolerate. (Eventually, I switched to reading Harry Potter, but I'm getting ahead of myself.)

At some inexplicable point, I stopped on VH1's 100 Best Child Actors, or something like that. These countdown shows often leave me cold after watching 3 or 4 entries, but I kept watching this one. I didn't know half the stars, as they were in child roles during the 80s, when I was in college and not watching the likes of Blossom or Punky Brewster or Silver Spoons. But then a commercial came on for the show coming up after the countdown: My Fair Brady, an offshoot of The Surreal Life. Damn if I didn't get hooked after one episode, watching the uptight and self-important Christopher Knight (aka Peter Brady) try to live with the insanely trite and immature Adrianne Curry. I enjoyed the drunken parties, the spanking, and the grotesque efforts to communicate like adults. Well, perhaps "enjoy" is not the right verb. I got sucked in because I wanted to leap through the TV and give them relationship lessons! Mostly, I wanted to smack them both upside the head and tell them to "grow up!" But that, of course, does not really explain the power of "celebreality" shows. I only know I feel less guilty watching "celebrities" act like asses than average schmoes. I don't feel they're being as exploited.

But then there is the next level of celebreality car-crash ambulance-chasing show: Breaking Bonaduce. As Danny Bonaduce (ex-Danny Partridge) actively welcomes you into his televised nervous breakdown via alcohol, drugs, steroids, and ineffective communication skills, you just feel like this is the ultimate in where we've always been meant to arrive via reality tv. You're not watching anything he isn't showing you; he desperately wants you to watch; you learn more about ineffective coping and relationship skills than you could through a whole degree in clinical psychology. Again, for me, there's the "want to reach through the TV and throttle him" factor, and in this show I also want to throttle his wife (they married on their first date, the show boasts) and their smug git of a therapist who sides entirely with the wife and never helps them communicate at all.

Along the way, I also caught the last 3 episodes of Season 5 of The Surreal Life, but Omarosa and Janice's bitch goddess escapades can't compete with Bonaduce's self-destructive aggression. And it was hard to watch the sweet tears of bimbo Caprice while Bronson Pinchot made his desperate midlife-crisis bids for her affections. Amazingly, Jose Canseco emerged as the most sane and mature of the group, and that's pretty frightening. But, again, not as frightening as The Bonaduce, unwrapping his broken hand and popping Vicodin while swigging vodka and cranberry juice.

I feel like I've done some "good work" here for my teaching, as I know my students must be watching at least some of this crap. Still, it's us babyboomers that care about how Peter Brady and Danny Partridge and Balki have ended up...and with no way to get out of bed and nothing to do on my aching back but channel surf, I fell right into the VH1 trap.


Disagreeing with the Domestic Violence Center?

I’ve been thinking about stalkers the past few days. Let’s just say I’m helping someone I know deal with a stalker situation and I'm feeling deeply inadequate for the task.

Yes, I’ve told her to go to the local Domestic Violence Center. Yes, I’ve told her it’s not her fault. Yes, I’ve given her my cell phone number and told her to call me if she needs me. Yes, I’ve told her not to talk to the guy anymore, for any reason. Yes, I’ve told her not to be or live alone for awhile. I also told her not to get a restraining order.

“Say WHAT?!” you say. “A restraining order is the first thing you to do empower the stalking victim!”

Well, I was always taught that. And I’m no therapist or domestic violence expert, just a well informed feminist. Predictably, the very first thing the woman on the phone at the local Domestic Violence Center said when I called her for this person I know was that she needed to get into the Center and get a restraining order. Right there and then, I started debating with this woman on the phone. I was respectful, but I gave my two cents against restraining orders. She listened quietly, did not reply, and I quickly de-escalated. What was my point? Certainly, debating with the Domestic Violence Center receptionist won't help anyone. And the woman I’m trying to help did not need to hear me go on…but then, maybe she did.

A few years back, my husband and I read Gavin de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence. The author is a Los Angeles security consultant whose company protects celebrity clients from stalkers. The book, though, is more general, about how we’ve short-circuited our own “natural” ability to know when we’re really in danger (and should be afraid) and when we’re not, primarily because of media hype and bad information. He discusses issues including rape, mugging, stalking, and murder with amazing astuteness, with the plain and simple goal of keeping people alive.

He says there is more than enough evidence to prove that temporary restraining orders often fail. Some men may desire what they see as revenge more than they fear the law. And a restraining order may give a woman a false sense of security while further enraging the abusive man.

De Becker argues that, if there is a serious threat of violence, the woman must concentrate on making herself unavailable to the man stalking her. Period.

There can be a real conflict here if you’re a feminist. You want to empower the woman; you want to reassure her that this is what the police are here for; you want to tell her this is the abuser’s fault—and of course it is!

But, like de Becker, I have to feel the most important thing is that this woman stays alive. There’s no denying it: the stalker does have power over her life as long as he is either willing to or seems to be willing to stalk her, to threaten her, or to actually commit violence. Though it is wrong, offensive, disturbing, frustrating, aggravating, and horrifying, it is, as de Becker says, the woman herself, along with her friends and relatives, who must ensure her safety. She has to be protected, even if that means giving up some of her freedom and privacy for a while.

How long? That’s the worst of it. For as long as this guy is a threat. Until she isn’t worth stalking anymore as far as he’s concerned. Maybe he’s not really dangerous, just sexist and immature. Maybe he’ll get a whim to move on with his life. Maybe he’ll be arrested for something else and be taken out of her life. Maybe he’ll move to another city, state, country, planet, universe!

Why is this advice, which seems logical to me, in conflict with Domestic Violence Center discourse? I’m not sure, but the person I’m trying to help says she finds de Becker’s position persuasive, I’ve told her to read the book for herself, and I’ve also told her to talk to the Center and make sure she has as much information as possible. And then I reminded her to avoid him, feign calm around him if he shows up where she is, not be alone until this situation is resolved, document everything this guy does (every call, every email, every act against her or her property, etc.), and to treat herself with incredible patience and kindness—as she’d treat any friend of hers who came to her with the same problem.

Meanwhile, I’m going to make some phone calls soon to see if any Domestic Violence Centers have read de Becker and what they think about it. I wish whatever they say would make me feel better than I will--or can--knowing someone I know is being stalked and there's nothing I can do to fix it.

***9pm. Just spoke to her (the woman being stalked). The Center talked her into a restraining order when she went to see them. The police made clear they cannot "protect" her without it (e.g., if he harasses her verbally, for example, it's not a crime without the restraining order). She fears for people she hangs around with, especially other men, and the restraining order "protects" them. I told her there is no right or wrong answer and she must do what seems most wise to her. I hope this will work out.***


Meeting Susie Bright

I feel incredibly privileged to have spent the last two days with “sexpert” Susie Bright, learning from her and seeing validated in her words and wit many perspectives on feminism and sex that I share or have wanted to share but feared would render me politically unsound (a.k.a. hypocritical, self-serving, or “un-p.c.”).

Let me share a few things I learned (or had confirmed). Note: this is my paraphrase, so I may not get it quite right. You want to read Susie Bright in the original, to be sure, and I admit fully that these articulations are written to meet my own needs and according to my means of expression.

(1) We need to ask more directly and more often why violent speech so protected and sex speech so prohibited?

(2) Pornography vs. erotica as an artificial (and classist) distinction that should be replaced by good vs. bad or arousing vs. unarousing.

(3) We can reject the MacKinnon/Dworkin “porn makes rapists” type arguments because there is not only no causal evidence but also because the real issue is the larger culture: why focus on porn when even more overt representations of objectification and violence against women are featured at every multiple
x and playing on every X-box? Also, glorification of human sexuality in porn—for all its limitations (sexism, ageism, racism, classism, ableism, etc.) must be seen as in some ways radical and positive in our puritanical, anti-sex culture.

(4) The g-spot, that spongy tissue inside the front wall of the vagina, actually houses the “stalk” of the clitoris (like the “stalk” of the penis); the back of the tissue/stalk can be reached through anal stimulation.

(5) Every major study of human sexuality since Kinsey has been defunded or otherwise made impossible, so we have no reliable statistics whatsoever about any aspect of sexuality in this culture since the 50s. WHY?

Thanks, Susie, for coming to Middle Tennessee and spreading the gospel of sexual goodness!