Monthly Archives: February 2009

Where People and Place Collide

kidshomeA workmate told me yesterday that, at some point, she will end up living where her sister and brother do. Right now, that’s Austin, Texas. But, it could be anywhere.

Really? I asked. Like, you’d move anywhere to be near them, even it was a place you despised?
Yeah, it’s just the way it has to be; it’s the way I want it to be, she responded nonchalantly. Plus, place is place, to her. Any place is fine.

For me, that way of thinking is downright revolutionary. Place is my thing. It’s what I think about first. Though, as I near 30 years old, could that be changing?

When my mother bustled around dealing with our tropical fevers in the Dominican Republic and how to get clean water, her brothers were back in homeland Chicago living drama lives that she only learned about later. While my grandparents moved around the world, my father was in college, not really sure where his parents were, or when they’d be in touch. That said, my nuclear family is incredibly close. My brothers are like my limbs. One lives in LA; the other in Bali. I miss them, but I’m used to the idea of not always being with them, or not always being with my parents. Hence…. my obsession with the concept of family members in one location, one landscape, one place, where the young come back after they’ve wandered and the old grow to know the cracks in the sidewalk, the particular hue of a thunderstorm, the smell of the air.  Where knowledge and love get passed back and forth in a place that seeps into your bones, no matter what kind of place it is, no matter your inclinations.

I’d like to think that I’d permanently move to the flat fields of Nebraska or the pollution bustle of Tokyo if my brothers were locked into life there, but I don’t know…

Does home = family?  Or a broader community? Or a place that makes your whole being light up?


Filed under Career/Life, Environment, Orienting, Relationships

Courage and Papa Bear

Thanks to everyone for your support with ol’ O’Reilly. I’ve been getting a lot of wonderful feedback about my “courage” to go up against Papa Bear. It’s got me thinking about what courage really is, because to be honest, I’ve done things that scared me far more than sitting across from Bill O’Reilly in my day…even in the last two weeks, actually. I traveled to New Orleans, figured out how to navigate my way to the Lower Ninth Ward, followed a group of high school kids around for a couple of days, and managed to eat a muffuletta and sit by the Mississippi River to boot. I just parked my ass in a Holiday Inn in Walnut Creek, CA, having rented another car–this one at the San Francisco Airport–and navigating my way here. I sang along to “Pour Some Sugar on Me” on the radio while taking all the right exits. Now that’s courage. O’Reilly? He’s just an old dude drama king.

For more reflection on the O’Reilly experience, see my Women’s Media Center piece. An excerpt:

…unlike those who emailed me, I see Bill and Laura and Neil as real, complex human beings. I disagree with them ideologically, but I assume that they actually strive to be moral actors in the world. Of course we have different definitions of morality, but hiding behind the performance of punditry and downplaying the power of their words is, at best, insincere and, at worst, dangerous in both blue and red America.

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Filed under General, Generation Overwhelmed

Brag Round-Up for Monday, February 23

Courtney Martin

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Filed under Brag Round-Up

Boats Against the Current

What does it mean to be American? This is a question perhaps better pondered from beyond America’s borders than from inside them. The mantras of our common story tell us some: the opportunities, the plenty, the melting pot. But this is a flexible definition, and what it means to be American — the way we look at ourselves and the ways we are perceived by others — is not static.

The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States was an event that shook the globe, causing people from around the world to reevaluate this question. On the international political scene, this seems to have benefited us, gaining us some traction in terms of popularity and renewed influence, as well as a general sense of benevolence toward what was seen as the correct choice. And we, as Americans, seem to like this latest version of ourselves reflected in this historical decision.

However, another portentous result transpired November 4, 2008. While one political tide continued its turn that started during the Midterms two years ago, a competing undertow dragged us back out to sea. Three states, most infamously California, voted to add same-sex marriage bans to their books, bringing the total of states with similar legislation to thirty. While America with one hand demonstrated itself to be surprisingly broadminded — getting back to the business of being American, many seemed to think — with the other hand it showed that there are still American citizens who are not welcome to the equal treatment that our national ethos would have us believe. Continue reading


Filed under In The News, Politics, Religion

All Cheer, All the Time: Fired Up Kind of Gets Male Cheerleaders

sfadetailawesomeLast night, Fired Up opened in theaters across the country. By now you probably know the movie’s conceit—two high school football players decide to join their school’s cheerleading squad so that, rather than crushing skulls at football camp, they can spend their summer surrounded by hundreds of women in short, pleated skirts. Sure, it’s not going to win any Academy Awards. But I do have to give the movie props for inverting the most common stereotype of male cheerleaders out there—that they must be gay.

When I first had the idea to follow three college cheerleading squads for a year and write a book about it, I sort of bought into that stereotype. And I was stunned to find out that male cheerleaders were actually the opposite of what I was picturing in my head. Below, who guy cheerleaders really are:

1. They’re jocks. Most guy cheerleaders started out as football, baseball, or basketball players. Some of them had an injury that took them out of their original sport—others didn’t get college sports scholarship they were looking for and decided to change focus. There’s one guy in my book who played both football and rugby before becoming a cheerleader. “Cheer is by far the hardest sport I have ever been a part of,” he said.

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Filed under CHEER, General

Uncompromising Wildness

whoopingcraneSince when do birds need help to migrate? Turns out that humans are playing lead parent for some whooping cranes. Resurrected from near-extinction, these 5-foot tall birds were called “intolerant of civilization” (imagine!) by a 1946 NY Times article. Why? Because they need a square mile around each nest. A group called Operation Migration is trying to get the birds back to the east side of the continent. Volunteers dress up like a bird, fly an ultralight plane and lead the birds to Florida. With one trip under their belt, the birds then know their own way for next season. My favorite line in the article: “Already, it has come to this on planet Earth: men dressed like birds, teaching birds to fly.” The whole concept is debatable: one on hand, brilliant, on another, a horrific foreshadow transformers-style.

Check out the New York Times article about it all. The journalist described the whooping crane as having “uncompromising wildness.”

What is this? Isn’t it alluring? Do we have it also? Have we compromised? I explained to a city friend recently that when I venture into a truly wild place, my spirit changes. I become alert; my sense of smell sharpens; I do cartwheels. And, I turn frisky.

How are you affected by the landscapes you go to?


Filed under Environment, In The News, Orienting

Wisdom in Suffering

I was in a Shakespeare lecture class when word reached uptown that a plane hit the World Trade Center. Not knowing what this meant exactly, the professor, who would have made an excellent Woody Allen impersonator, made a joke about the Cadillac that looks like it crashed through the Hard Rock Cafe. Our next class with him was two days later, at which point he apologized for his poor taste in humor. He admitted that he had no grasp on the tragedy that had taken place. And he came to this lecture with a mission. We were reading Titus Andronicus, and he wanted us to come away from it, forgetting about iambic pentameter. If we were to learn anything, it was that vengeance is poison.

I had a week since the crash of flight 3407 to prepare for today’s lecture on Tragedy. I received e-mails from my students about their loss and listened to friends’ accounts of memorial services and wishes that they had one more chance to tell their loved one what they meant to them. Buffalo turns out to be less of a city and more like the bar in Cheers in all the best ways possible. So how could I teach Tragedy in the Greek sense when the word had been on everyone’s tongues all week?

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Filed under All The World, Career/Life, In The News