2014 was a year of transformation.

December 31, 2014.

I’m not sure the first moment I started calling myself a feminist. Probably after reading Susan Faludi’s Backlash in 1991.  I was a feminist in my head. A lot of my behavior was still pretty douchebaggy. In 2014, I became a feminist in my heart. The birth of our daughter on August 17th was singularly the most transformative moment in my life. The cause of all women became my cause in that instant. Sex trafficked girls in India and on SE 82nd Avenue. Sexually harassed women in office buildings and Wal-Marts. Battered women seeking shelter. Girls who are told to shut up and be pretty. All of it. The world has to change for Cozette.

Ten years ago I published a chapter entitled `Getting it’: Women and Male Desistance from Hate Groups” in the book Home-grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism. It was about how the former members of racist groups all had a common story about why they left the world of hate; a female. It might have been a teacher, or a foster mother, or a girlfriend, or a daughter. When they found a woman that they loved, they understood that just because she is a female she is a target, similar to their targets of hatred. They developed empathy. They became feminists.

This has been the year of my daughter. Is started in Las Vegas because I wanted to take Andrea to see the Beatle’s Love show at the Mirage on New Year’s Eve. (I was going to propose but I hadn’t found the right ring yet. A few days later we were engaged.) The year was full of anticipation of our coming little girl. We took pictures every Thursday of the progress and posted the whole thing in this YouTube video: Andrea and Randy’s Little Project

Andrea’s mother and sister came up from Mexico to help out and increase the feminine energy in the house (that included Lita the Cat). Cozy’s birth was hard and dramatic (future blog post alert) but was something close to spiritual. My wife was a lioness. I didn’t know any woman could be that strong.

Of course being the parent of a newborn isn’t easy (see every blogpost before and after this), but I have never known such joy. Fortunately, I have a job where I can take a little time off for those precious first moments and then, later, translate the whole thing in the classroom. I also have a job that makes me a target for others, and so I have to really focus on the beautiful life I have and not the haters. I feel insulated from the bad energy in the world.

2014 has been stellar. We landed on a freakin’ comet and marched for racial justice. Who knows what 2015 has in store, besides endless political arguments on Facebook? If all goes as planned, Cozy will celebrate her first birthday on Isla Mujeres in Mexico. We will get first words and first steps. I will go nuts trying to baby-proof this house. Maybe we will even start making our own baby food.

But I just wanted to take a moment to thank all the friends who have offered advice and encouragement in 2014. You don’t know how much that has helped. There is so much goodness in my world. I know the coming year will have its challenges, but this little family unit is tight. Happy New Year!

“No, you’re not perfect but you’re not your mistakes. Oh, the good outweighs the bad even on your worst day.” Thank you, Yeezus.

These books are available at Powell’s by clicking their covers below.

 

 

 

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Dad’s Favorite Discs of 2014

December 30, 2014

There has always been a lot of music in this house, but I want Cozy to be surrounded by the best there is. I feel lucky that my mom loved jazz and I think I became a Brubeck fan in utero. As you can see from Cozy’s College of Music Knowledge, I’m a fan of the ancient art form known as the “album.” It represents a complete vision from an artist.

This is probably the last year for a while that I will be buying a lot of new albums. Music got us through the pregnancy and now sometimes helps baby sleep. My love of rap music took a back seat this year as a screaming baby and Killer Mike raging against the machine really don’t work well together.  But it was truly a great year of music.

It was also a great year for Latin music, highlighted by our road trip to LA to attend the Supersonico Fest, seeing Café Tacuba, Calle 13, and other great stars. I discovered so much great music listening to NPR’s Alt Latino podcast, I could do another Top 20 list of just Spanish language albums.

So these are the 20 albums I spent the most time with in 2014. Maybe not the best, but the ones I really connected with. The Against Me! album is easily #1. Perfectly crafted punk songs that give voice to the transgender experience. Maybe the most important record of the year.

Top 20 Favorite Albums of 2014

  1. Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues
  2. Beck – Morning Phase
  3. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye
  4. St. Vincent – self titled
  5. La Santa Cecelia – Someday New
  6. The GHOASTT – Midnight Sun
  7. Jack White – Lazaretto 
  8. The War on Drugs – Lost in the Dream
  9. Ages and Ages – Divisionary
  10. Miranda Lambert – Platinum
  11. Spoon – They Want My Soul
  12. Ceci Bastida – La Edad de la Violencia
  13. Thom Yorke – Tomorrow’s Modern Boxes
  14. Ryan Adams – self-titled
  15. Lucinda Williams – Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone
  16. FKA twigs –  LP1
  17. Pacifika – Amor Planeta
  18. Lily Allen – Sheezus
  19. Chrissie Hynde – Stockholm
  20. Lana del Ray – Ultraviolence

Honorable Mention

Various Artists – The Art of McCartney, New Pornographers – Bill Bruisers, Steelism – 615 to Fame, Sinead O’Connor – I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss, Beyoncé – self titled, Bob Dylan & the Band – The Basement Tapes Raw, Calle 13 – Entren Los Que Quieran, U2 – Songs of Innocence

I Hate Housework (2nd Wave Feminist Edition)

December 29, 2014

When Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique in 1963, she described a world where women were told they could find salvation in housework. Television programs like The Donna Reed Show and Leave It To Beaver featured perfectly polished housewives in perfectly polished homes. Those women were fictional. Real women were popping mother’s little helpers, praying the laundry would be done before the pot roast and maybe there was enough money in the cookie jar to hire a maid on Fridays.

There is no reward in drudgery if that’s all you’ve got. If you have an actual life, there is something satisfyingly zen about going at the bathroom tile like your life depended on it. Like rock climbers who free climb and can ONLY think about where their fingers go next, you can block out all the noise when your are channeling Mr. Clean. (This is how yoga is supposed to work but my mind is usually focused on the percent chance I will fart before the hour is up.) But for those who are not grout yogis, housework sucks.

I get it. So much of being a house-husband is getting it. You gotta walk a mile in somebody’s slippers, pushing a vacuum cleaner. I so get it. I get my mom and why she had to get the hell out. I get all the women who were sold a bill of goods about the American dream and then felt like they were sold into slavery. A white picket fense ain’t gonna make Swiffing any more rewarding.

I have done housework my whole life, but it always seemed manageable. When I first moved to Portland I had a roommate who must have had June Cleaver for a mom. He never cleaned anything. He took his laundry to his parents’ house where it was magically washed. I once got a little fed up and said, “Hey, who do you think cleans the bathroom? Me. You need to do it sometimes.” I came home the next day and found a young woman cleaning our bathroom; his new “girlfriend.” (Happy day note – this guy has evolved since then. It was the grunge era after all.)

I’m the kind of guy who feels like the world is askew if my bed is not made. I am not anal. I am a slob. But there is a maximum number of dishes in the sink and a laundry on the floor before my inner neurotic begins to hyperventilate. So cleaning is just part of life’s routine. All that changes when a baby shows up.

A baby is the ultimate excuse for everything. I’ve completely missed meetings and just said, “Oh, the baby was being fussy” and people are like, “Don’t worry. I totally understand. Cherish these moments.” It’s like having cancer. You can totally get away with murder. “I stabbed that guy because the baby was crying and I just got stressed out.” “Don’t worry. I remember when my kid was that age and I stabbed a guy.”

So if my house is kind of messy right now and you don’t have kids of your own, back the fuck off. I thought I would have so much time as stay-home-dad. I would get my new novel started and work on remodel projects while the baby slept. Nope. The baby takes up all the time. Her quick naps allow me enough space to check my emails, maybe work on this blog and run down the street to give the outgoing Netflix of The Good Wife to the postman, who I missed because I was feeding the baby. While my wife watches time slow down at work, my day speeds by and I didn’t even get a chance to throw the dirty bibs in the wash.

When the wife gets home, she’s drained and in no mood to do housework. I get that, too. I was that guy. Who wants to tackle the kitchen floor after a long day at the office? So I try to make her coffee in the morning and a cocktail at night. But I’m still in Suzy Homemaker mode. Now that she can watch the baby, I can get a load of laundry through and wash a dish or two. Weekends are our time, but there is still bills to be paid and grocery shopping. So I’m first out of bed and the last in. There are baby bottles still to wash. So if my house doesn’t look like the Brady house, kiss my dishpan hands.

Dorothy Smith wrote in feminist classic The Everyday World As Problematic (1987) that women are relegated to domestic sphere doing the logistic work so man can occupy the public sphere. (“Behind every great man is a great woman – not getting any credit.”) I understand that the laundry and the dishes are now my job (and the kitchen floor and putting the diapers out and…) and that’s OK. My wife works hard. She brings home the bacon and nurses the baby and so much more. I can make her a bagel in the morning. But I can totally see how so many women get lost in this support role. When is it my time?

Empathy is the most important quality in the world. I wish the New York cops who turned their backs on the mayor this weekend had empathy for the members of the minority community who continue to be racially profiled. I wish the members of ISIS had empathy for anybody who is not in ISIS. But most importantly, I wish men had empathy for all the women stuck at home who are supposed be be happy because they have a new dishwasher and a front-loading dryer. Maybe if you would just lend a hand.

EDIT: The dishwasher is now officially dead and I have to wash everything by hand. Represent!

These books are available at Powell’s independent bookstore by clicking the covers  below.

Christmas Poem for My Wife.

How can I think of you without thinking of me?

Everything I think and do is because you set me free.

How can I think of where I am without knowing where you are?

When you are near I fear that you are still too far.

—————————————————-

You were the one who gave me the chance to finally arrive.

I was born with promise but got lost along the way.

Like a messiah who accidentally becomes a drunken sailor.

It was you who said, “Come back to your path.

You have it in you to shine like the greatest star in the sky.

I won’t hold your hand and but I will help you up the hill.”

—————————————————-

With love and grace.

With anger and forgiveness.

With salsa and tequila.

—————————————————-

I was a plastic bag floating in the waves.

Not even a comical jellyfish.

Something that fell out of somebody else’s luggage.

Happy to be a pinball spun around by rubber bumpers.

Until I saw your face, surrounded by a great green light.

You were burned into my cloak as I came out of the woods.

—————————————————-

With older hands and stronger back.

With patience and tears.

With hope and head on track.

—————————————————-

How can I think of you without thinking of me?

Everything I think and do is because you set me free.

How can I think of where I am without knowing where you are?

When you are near I fear that you are too far.

—————————————————-

The heart and mind are finally one not two.

My gift for you this year is simple,  I can only thank you.

– Randy Blazak 12/26/2014

Sex with Elf on the Shelf

December 23, 2014

There are a lot things they don’t tell you about being a new parent. Everybody talks about the sleep thing (so true). What nobody talks about is what happens to your sex life. You’re going full speed in baby-making and then comes the wild and wooly world of pregnancy sex. (I think that’s what Beyoncé meant when she sang, “Bow down, bitches.”) And then screeeeech! Where is THAT movie?

The first two months must be the roughest. You’ve got a baby that wakes up every few hours and screams for mama’s breasts, which, all of sudden, have a new purpose on earth, dammit. And of course the vagina needs some time to recover from a 1-week late kid climbing out of it. That can open up some exciting alternatives if it weren’t for said baby wailing constantly and filling her diaper with sticky poo that requires numerous wipe downs each time. Kinda kills the mood. The bed becomes a sacred place for a few minutes of sleep and only sleep.

Of course, dear sacred mother is dealing with the fact that her body is transformed after 9 months of cooking the kid in oven. Us Magazine will tell you that celebrities get their pre-baby body back in weeks, with the help of a shit-load of airbrushing. Real-world mom has to compare herself to fake supermodel mom and suddenly the lights are off and the culturally produced shame is on. (Personally speaking, I think the post-baby belly is awesome. It’s what the Elizabethans called the “silken layer” and that’s where you will find my hands.)

Once things get settled, the question becomes where to have sex. If the baby is not in eyesight, there is constant fear something might happen. OK, baby is taking a nap in the swing in the living room, let’s shove the binkies and the breast pump off the bed and get busy! Wait, is she still breathing? What if she falls out of the swing? Somebody could grab her! And… we’re done.

In most tribal cultures people just have sex in front of their kids. Everybody lives in the same hut. It’s not like you can send your kid for a sleep-over to the hut down the road. Christopher Columbus remarked on his first trip to the “New” World about how the savages demonstrated none of the decent Catholic guilt around sex and were just out doing it like animals on the TLC channel. That may be a rational option now, but you have to think a knock is coming from Child and Family Services and you’ll have a registered sex offender sign in front of your house. (Has this actually ever happened?)

So the option of having sex with the baby in the room becomes very real and, not surprisingly, is a hot topic for internet discussions. (Apparently, it won’t turn your child into a pervert.) But the logistics of it are a bit different. Where should the baby be? Cozy sleeps in our bed. How do we not wake her? I guess the role play where I’m 49’er panning for gold and screaming “Yeehaw!” is off the table. And what if she wakes up?

Whenever I look at my baby, I’m filled with overwhelming love. But’s not the kind of love you feel when Marvin Gaye is playing. It’s parent love and it warm a smushy and filled with hope and will kill a boner like THAT. Sex requires focus. (Unless you are a guy and trying to prolong things by thinking about taxes. Holla!) The worst is when you are In flagrante and suddenly baby opens her eyes. Elf on the shelf.

elf-meme

I don’t really know how this Elf on a Shelf thing became so big, but there is increasing debate about it. Some sociologists have argued that it prepares kids for an Orwellian surveillance state by reporting their misdeeds back to Santa. The elf is always watching. Well, your baby is always watching, too! And she’s reporting to the mothership of her future subconscious. If papa is slapping mama on the ass and whispering, “Who’s your daddy?” you don’t think baby elf is filing that away for a future therapy session, and making a copy for DHS?

This jujitsu kick the balls of sex-life has to be a temporary thing, right? I mean there is a crib in the other room waiting for this kid to move into and take up residence. We won’t have to worry about Cindy Lou Who waddling in and asking why mommy and daddy are Roman-Greco wrestling? Right? Maybe second babies really do come from storks.

I’m sure there is a culture where they have babysitters that magically appear when parents want to have sex. Japan seems like a likely, bet. But for the rest of us, who have a baby elf staring at us, it’s just going to have to be a little tribal for a while. Don’t tell Santa.

Feminist Guilty Pleasure 1: Cowboys

December 22, 2014

As a “male feminist,” I face routine tests and conflicting impulses that pit my intellectual self against my (learned) emotional self. I did not watch the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. (My wife did.) And I only looked up at the screen to criticize it, I promise. (C’mon, Taylor Swift. If you’re a feminist, start reading The Beauty Myth.) I stopped watching Game of Thrones because it was too “rapey” and I threw out some old Maxim magazines so my daughter would never find them (the Beyoncé issue!). That was easy. More challenging is confronting my love of westerns.

As a pre-internet latchkey kid, my after-school activity 5 days a week was usually the Four O’Clock Movie. This meant that by age 13, I had seen every Elvis movie, Godzilla movie, musical, Jerry Lewis movie, war film and Western that any citizen should see to be culturally literate. I’m always crushed in my Criminology class when I reference West Side Story and find out that none of the students have seen it. (Damn you, Xbox!)

At age 12 I adopted Clint Eastwood as my spirit animal. Between A Fistful of Dollars and Kelly’s Heroes I had him down. I would practice squinting in the mirror. On the Woodridge Elementary playground (No middle schools in Georgia in the 70s), I would lean against the wall, sucking in my cheeks, silently observing, a sucker stick poking out of my mouth like a Marlboro. I was a goofy loquacious kid, so the “strong and silent” thing was essentially impossible. But he was my role model.

Of course there are a legion of problems with this. If you’ve ever watched the first 20 minutes of High Plains Drifter (1973), you know that, without uttering a word, he kills several men and rapes a woman (who seems to enjoy it) before we even know that he’s the “hero.” Long before Clint became a vocal conservative, talking to empty chairs, feminists have had issues with him and he has had issues with them.

Academics have had a go at him as well. One of my favorite film books is Acting Male: Masculinities in the Films of James Stewart, Jack Nicholson, and Clint Eastwood (1994) by Dennis Bingham. I read it when I was creating a fun summer sociology class at Portland State called “Hollywood Elvis: Post-War Masculinity Through Elvis Films.” I wanted a course that explored the evolution of screen masculinities from the 1950s to the 1970s. And I wanted the students to never ever have to say “Viva Las Vegas? Haven’t seen it.” again.

The class also allowed me to explore the literature on the Western genre. What was so appealing about it to me as a kid? If I wasn’t watching a John Wayne movie at 4 o’clock, I was watching reruns of The Rifleman or The Wild Wild West. Was it just the phallic gun usage that taught pleasure in shooting? Was it the taming of wild horses (as Elvis did in Charro!) as a metaphor for taming women? Was it Miss Kitty and her stable of hookers in the saloon? Was it the leather chaps?

There’s all kind of juicy stuff to dive into when untangling the Western. Many films from the 50s to the 70s were seen as allegories for the backlash to the civil rights movement. The western town was a bastion of civilization on the edge of the wilderness that required the taming of the “uncivilized” Indian. So that’s the civilized white suburbs on the edge of uncivilized black ghetto. The native people are portrayed as violent and hyper-sexual. Gee, where have we seen that before?

But the main thing is the creation of the iconic cowboy archetype. The cowboy is the ultimate symbol of male autonomy. He rides into down, without saying much, he does his thing (letting his guns speak for him), and then rides off into the sunset. John Wayne never talked about his feelings. Clint Eastwood never cared what women think (or probably anybody else in town). As a boy trying to stand alone from the tribe, how could that not be appealing? The reality of frontier life was much different than the screen version. Susan Faludi does a great job if explaining this in The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America (2007).

As a child I learned that boys don’t cry and boys solve problems “like men” (with violence) in westerns. I learned to leave town before a woman ties you down. And I learned I could always take out my frustrations on the “injuns.” As a professor I dove into the list of the Top 100 Westerns of All Time list on americancowboy.com and saw the same pattern over and over again. I was saturated with cowboy masculinity. (And it resonated with my boyhood self.)

So the question is, do I share this genre with my daughter at some point? How do I frame it? As an artifact of a bygone era in gender roles? That might be true if Season 5 of Justified wasn’t on my Netflix queue. U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens, lead character on the show, is pretty much the 2010s version of Clint Eastwood (complete with the squinting but without the raping). But in a post-Ferguson world the idea that Givens’ relentless killing as “justified” because he is a marshall is a bit less palatable.

I want Cozy to know that just acting like boys, like cowboys, is not the same as female empowerment. I want her know that when some dude says somebody needs to “cowboy up,” it’s nothing but bad news. Most of all I want her to know that the men who ride off into the sunset are not happy. It’s the men who stay in town and build connections to friends and family that win the day.

These books are available at Powell’s independent bookstore by clicking the covers below.