Saturday, November 29, 2008

Curiosity cultivated the cat.

When I was in tenth grade, I had an English teacher named Mrs. Zuzga. I will save the numerous wonderful things that came out of that class for another time (e.g.: Siddhartha, Brave New World, The Bridge Over the River Kwai) and get right to my point. One day during the school year, she made us promise that if we ever came across a word we did not know, we would look it up. I thought that was a pretty good promise - and so 17 years later, I not only remember that unofficial oath, I continue to uphold it. (Don't believe me? Check out the margins of any of my books!)

Somewhere along the way (probably with the advent of the Internet) this vow of mine developed into something more. In short, why stop at words? There are far too many things that make me say, "I wonder why," or, "I wonder how." And it is far too easy to discover the responses to let these questions simply go unanswered. So today's blog is not only to encourage you to go out and look for the answers to your burning curiosities, it is also to share with you the two things I found myself wondering about this Thanksgiving holiday:

Q: Why aren't turkey eggs available at the grocery store? Why is it mainly chicken eggs??

A: "Barnyard economics. Turkeys don't lay that many eggs, and the ones they do lay are used to produce more turkeys. The average egg-laying chicken lays 300 or so eggs per year, while the average turkey produces only 100 to 120. Chickens come into production at 19 to 20 weeks of age, but turkeys don't get going until 32 weeks. Turkeys are also much larger, averaging 16 to 17 pounds compared to 3.5 pounds for chickens. So you'd need a lot more room for a bird that would take a lot  longer to produce a lot fewer eggs. Another problem is that turkeys go 'broody' easily - they want to sit on their eggs and incubate them. In contrast, egg-producing white leghorn chickens have had the broodiness bred out of them. They lay and lay and have no desire to incubate their offspring or otherwise be maternal."


The other thing I wondered about, as Jamie stood crying in the kitchen while making homemade winter squash soup...

Q: Why do onions make us cry?

A: "As onions are sliced, cells are broken, allowing enzymes to break down amino acid sulphoxides and generate sulphenic acids. These acids are unstable and spontaneously rearrange into a volatile gas. The gas diffuses through the air and eventually reaches the eye where it reacts with the water to form a diluted solution of sulphuric acid [holy shit!]. This acid irritates the nerve endings in the eye making them sting. Tear glands produce tears to dilute and flush out the irritant."

Sometimes my initial searches lead to other searches... 

Q: How can I reduce the painful stinging when cutting onions in the future?

A: "Reduce tearing when cutting onions by first chilling the onions for 30 minutes. Cut off the top and peel the outer layers leaving the root end intact. (The root end has the largest concentration of sulphuric compounds.)


Obviously the Wikipedias of the world must be read with critical eyes but, that being said, they are wonderful tools for those nagging questions that just need superficial explanations. (Which brings me to another caveat: beware of talking about your new found knowledge with too much bravado...)

I'm pretty sure this path of curiosity I am on is why I love doing research, why I love my job ... and why I long to do it professionally in other fields. But it is Saturday, and I'm on vacation, so I will leave work at work and look into things I am thinking about today. Namely the disposition of french bulldogs and what exactly the 15 executive departments of a President's cabinet do.

(And by the way, I had been composing this blog in my head for days now, but was compelled to get my thoughts out today because... Mrs. Zuzga sent me an email this morning! How crazy is that?!?!)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The 'D' in GLAAD

Plenty of jokes are made about the acronym for which I work... Many people, upon first asking me what I do and where I work, believe I sell reusable plasticware. Many others know that it's a gay organization, but don't really think about what it stands for or what we do... beyond helping the gays.

Well, in case anyone reading this isn't clear, I'm going to clarify a couple things right now. I don't mean to take this blog in any kind of political direction, but as I sit at my desk and process the phone call I just had to overhear, I need an outlet where I can vent. (And fear not loyal readers, this blog will go back to "fun stuff" in no time - Thanksgiving is fast approaching, after all.)

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation

We exist, and have since 1985, to promote and ensure fair, accurate, and inclusive representation of people and events in the media as a means of eliminating homophobia and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. I am the Grants and Research Manager here, and I just celebrated my two year anniversary at GLAAD with a nice promotion. Like any other organization, we have our ups and downs and group dynamic dysfunctions - but no matter what, I love the mission of this place, and I know firsthand how important and necessary our work is.

It's sometimes hard to sum up what we do because we're an advocacy organization. Meaning, we're not feeding or clothing anyone, nor are we teaching kids to read... Instead, we are in the business of shaping media images -- whether it's national news (CNN, The New York Times), regional news (your local CBS affiliate, your local newspaper), entertainment media (Grey's Anatomy, People magazine), media outlets in communities of color (Sing Tao Daily, La Opinion, Washington Informer), for people of faith (Associated Baptist Press), or for young adults (CosmoGIRL!, ABC Family) -- because we know that whether its consciously or subconsciously, what people see on TV or read in the paper shapes how they view and treat gay people. We at GLAAD see that as an opportunity (and a responsibility) to make sure those images foster awareness, understanding, and respect.

Sometimes people come to us - reporters, producers, editors - they come to us to look for story ideas about gay and transgender people; or maybe they want to interview a newly married California couple with kids (and yes, we have a database of people that fit a variety of criteria that we have provided Media Literacy Training to for just these occasions); or maybe they are unclear about terminology and want to make sure they don't use an offensive term (did you know that the terms 'gay' and 'lesbian' are preferred over 'homosexual?' Why? Because of the clinical history of the word. It has been adopted by anti-gay extremists to suggest that gay men and women are somehow psychologically disordered - a notion discredited by the APA in the 1970s.)

But sometimes (dun, dun, duuuunnn) - we have to reach out to reporters, producers, and editors. Every day at my office (and at our sister office in NY) people are monitoring every type of media you can imagine. People here get paid to read stuff and watch stuff. (And we have a volunteer army of media monitors across the country.) When we see or hear offensive things - for example, terms like sexual preference, homosexual lifestyle, admitted homosexual, gay agenda, special rights, fag, dyke, tranny, he-she, deviant, perverted, or equating same-sex relationships with pedophilia, child abuse, adultery or incest - WE STEP IN!

GLAAD believes absolutely in the freedom of speech - but we draw the line at hate speech. If someone writes or airs a defamatory piece of journalism, it is time to pick up the phone and educate the powers that be what they did to offend. (I don't know the statistics off hand, but a great many of these phone calls go very smoothly - often times the person on the other end is apologetic, did not know the correct terminology, and makes the requested changes immediately.)

An hour or so ago, the friend and co-worker that I sit beside had to make a defamation call to The Daily of the University of Washington. This was my first time witnessing a defamation call. (I have only been sitting by this man since the beginning of the month - my promotion came with a bigger cube on this side of the office.) I did not expect to be so affected. I mean, sure, I have good days and bad days at GLAAD - sometimes I can just come in and do my work without dealing with too much homophobia - but other days are downright shitty. This was pretty shitty.

The title of the piece is called, "Gay Marriage? Let's stop and think about this."
This is the accompanying picture:

The piece is an opinion piece, and it is so poorly argued it should not make me mad... I get that... but the conversation I had to hear... it lasted approximately 25 minutes or so. I was sealing 200 envelopes at my desk, a mindless, redundant task that practically forced me to eavesdrop...

And so I endured listening to my co-worker repeatedly having to explain why it is defamatory to equate two consenting adults who love each other and want to marry to bestiality and child rape... I had to listen to him explain that being gay is actually NOT an "emotional condition"... I sat here and heard him defend gay people from the description that they are "a problem that needs to be dealt with."

So here I am an hour after I should have left work... blogging. The only things that bring me solace are the comments left for the "writer," and the tenacity of my awesome co-workers who deal with these issues so professionally day in and day out. (Though I must say, as time goes by, and in no small part thanks to GLAAD, the defamation calls grow fewer and fewer.)

It did not sound like a happy ending from this side of the cube wall - I don't think the editor over at The Daily agreed to remove the offensive piece.

It's just so disturbing to me - I may have the privilege of being a well-adjusted and secure gay adult who knows fallacious arguments when I see them... but there are plenty of others (straight and gay) who see these words and take them to have value because they are in print.

The 'D' in GLAAD stands for defamation, and tonight, I understand a little better what it feels like.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Did somebody say 10K?

One day this summer, Jamie received a mysterious text message from an unidentified 626 number: "You and your girl should do the muddy buddy."

Puzzled, Jamie looked at me and asked, "What's a muddy buddy?" 

Our minds began trying to make sense of this... Well, we had just purchased a Buddy scooter... so it must have been some type of scooter rally! But who on earth was this faceless 626 knower of scooter events? The friendly lesbian salesperson from NoHo Scooters?! That's weird... and kinda creepy...

Eager to know more, I turned to the world wide web. 
Muddy Buddy - (noun) A race consisting of teams of two running and mountain biking through 10 kilometers of trails, challenging obstacles, and a mud pit. 

You had us at mud pit. (Clearly we chose to ignore the parts about 'race,' 'running,' 'mountain biking,' '10 kilometers,' 'trails,' and 'challenging obstacles.')

And before I go any further, I should clear up that the sender of the text turned out to be a friend of Jamie's who had simply changed her phone number - sorry there was no big shocking reveal there.

After reading about the event and watching video clips from previous events on MySpace (this thing's been around for years and shows up in Chicago, Dallas, Boulder, Atlanta, and Orlando, among others), we decided we actually wanted to give this thing a shot - what a great motivator to get in shape! 

But because as partners, you're alternating throughout legs of a race, we realized we would not get to do this together. Solution? Find another couple to do this with!! Our friends Bridgett and Kelly got equally excited and, just like that, we all signed up! I became Kelly's partner, and Jamie became Bridgett's. My team was the Gold Stars, and Jamie's, the Mudflap Girls - but we ended up merging into one giant non-competing team, and made jerseys that reflected both names!

I'd like to tell you about the rigid training schedule to which we all religiously adhered... the sore muscles... my aching calves... but I wouldn't want to bore you (or lie to you for that matter). Full disclosure: I made and printed out a beautiful 12 week training schedule - and it sat on the dining room table pretty much untouched. So why don't I just speed things up and get to race day!!

I believe we were out of the house by 5:30am in order to be in San Dimas by 6:15. Um. It was still dark when we arrived.

The four of us met up, got checked in, received our bibs and helmet stickers, and headed to the start line. This was photo-op time:

Okay... there was no turning back now!

* * * * * 

Leg one: Jamie and I were on bicycles, Bridgett and Kelly were on foot. The thought running through my head? "HAHA, we're on bikes and you have to run HAHA!" Only... 
This race, we quickly discovered, had A LOT OF UPHILL in it!! I pretty much felt like I was unable to peddle any more within the first mile. They threw a reservoir in our path early on, which gave me a much needed break -- to carry my bike through shin-high water. The first obstacle was a rock wall - it was tough with wet, muddy, slippery feet, but we both made it over pretty quickly. We left the bikes behind for Bridgett and Kelly to find for Leg two.

Leg two: Surprisingly, we were relieved to be on foot. (It was much easier than hiking uphill with bikes!) Plus, there were a lot of lost items along the trail, and it was much easier to pillage this way (I scored a sweet beanie. Is that wrong?) Obstacle two was some kind of "under and over" contraption, and our feet couldn't touch the ground:

Leg three: Jamie and I were back on the bikes. (UGH.) This picture makes me laugh out loud.

Somehow, we made it to the third obstacle - balance beams - and were off again on foot!

Leg four: This was my favorite part of the race. Jamie and I, after assisting our partners and the bikes up a virtual mountainside, got to run on asphalt. Downhill. IN THE RAIN! It was incredible... it had been a bit sprinkly on and off all morning, but this was a nice, soft, steady rain - and we just giggled as we ran into it! I didn't even mind that our teammates got to cruise down a great big hill! As we approached the fourth obstacle, we were pretty excited - which was a nice motivating factor to keep up the pace. When we finally got to it, it loomed high above our head... we had to climb a gridded rope ladder to get to the top - and then slide down into a small pool of water. It was so exhilarating - much steeper than it may look in this photo. And sure enough, there were our bikes waiting for us.

Leg five: Back on the bikes and five miles already completed, this was gonna be a tough one. And... cue Jamie's charlie horse!! Ow, ow, let's stop for a drink of water. And... cue Jamie's coughing attack. But, she persevered and we desperately tried to inch our way to the fifth and final obstacle (the mud pit, in case you lost track). There was a lot of uphill, but we got up and over it. And as we "rode" our bicycles down the precipitously rocky hill - constantly pulsating the brakes - Jamie recounted to me the time she went off the trail and over her handlebars onto her face. (Good story. You should ask her about it sometime.) 

And there at the bottom of the hill were Bridgett and Kelly, waiting for us to arrive, ready to face the mud...


So... are you wondering what one does after completing a Muddy Buddy...?

You try to get clean...

6.2 miles, and we lived to tell about it!
Hope you'll join us next year!
(Jamie? We are doing this next year, aren't we...?)