Bravery and Civility

Dear Constant Reader,

A couple of weeks ago Maggie McMuffin was traveling back to Seattle from New York with a lay-over in Boston. It was at our own Logan Airport that a JetBlue employee told her that she couldn’t board the plane unless she changed her clothes. Apparently the pilot thought that Maggie’s shorts (by J. Von Stratton) were “lewd, obscene, or patently offensive”, which is what JetBlue’s Contract of Carriage forbids (and all it has to say on how passengers dress). This was despite the fact that a JetBlue pilot had just let her fly in the same outfit from New York to Boston without problem.

But I’m not actually here to debate whether what she was wearing was appropriate or not. You can judge for yourself. But I don’t want to hear your opinion. This isn’t about that.

It’s about Maggie’s bravery. Her story went viral. It was reported in several countries, she was interviewed by local news stations, it was hot on social media, it was even trending on Facebook’s news feed.

That means a lot of people saw her story and felt the need to express their opinions. And those opinions were not always kind or polite. It’s so easy to be cruel to someone you only see on the internet. After all, it’s not like they’re a real person with feelings and complexity. They’re just some pixels to judge and mock and feel superior to.

Thousands of people said horrible things about Maggie without knowing her or caring that she’s kind and funny or that she can do impressively big hair or that she likes clowning or that she recently had a major upheaval in her life. They just saw a target.

By taking her story public and pushing it to go viral, she knew this would happen. And she did it anyway. That’s brave. She shouldn’t have to endure insulting commentary on her body, her intelligence, her morals, &c. to tell her story about feeling discriminated against because of how she was dressed. But that’s the reality today. It’s sad.

So, please, Gentle Readers, when you see a story on the internet and you feel compelled to comment, stop for a moment and think before you write. Does the entire world really need to know your opinion? Can you express it clearly and without attacking anyone? Do you need to use insults or foul language to make your point?

Just a little civility, my friends, would make the world a much better place.

And, Maggie, thanks for fighting against arbitrary discrimination. You are a hero in shorts.


Published in: on 2 June 2016 at 3:54 pm  Leave a Comment  
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So Proud

Dear Constant Reader,

Betty Blaize just* had a major milestone in her performing career. I’ve mentioned from time to time that she studies bharatanatyam, an Indian classical dance. I’m not sure I explained just how serious she is about it.

After 15 years of study, Betty had her arangetram. It’s often translated as “professional debut”, but literally means “getting onto the stage” in Tamil. Now, Betty has been performing Indian dance and martial arts for a number of years, so this was more like (in my incomplete understanding) public recognition of her skill and approval from her guru (teacher) that she is now a part of the lineage of this particular style of bharatanatyam. In any case, an arangetram is a solo recital that showcases the dancer’s versatility and skill.

Betty worked so hard on this. She was rehearsing for the performance at least a year, maybe longer, with her two gurus. This was complicated by the fact that they had relocated to Southern California and all this was being done via Skype and the occasional in-person visit. About a month before the arangetram, Betty went out to the West Coast for three weeks for intensive coaching.

And she wasn’t just the star of the show, she was also the producer — arranging for the venue, the lighting, the sound, the catering, photo & video, publicity, programs, and commissioning beautiful recordings of her songs from musicians in India.

On the big day, I was one of a handful of people invited to a puja, a ceremony in which (I think) Betty was blessed and formally joined the linage of the dance school. I was the only woman there not wearing a sari… I got a little emotional when Betty’s ankle bells were blessed. I remembered her telling me about the puja so many years ago when she received her first pair of ankle bells. Once she was wearing the blessed bells, she danced for those attending — her teachers, fellow students, guests, and the gods.

In the evening was the arangetram proper. The BeauTease were all there early to help with set up and be ushers. Betty loaned them saris and had given a sari draping lesson previously, but it’s a tricky garment! Fortunately, Betty’s friend M., in from Colorado for the event, is an expert sari draper and got them squared away in no time. They looked so adorable! Yes, I’m wearing a thoroughly Western LBD, but I was in charge of the refreshments and wanted to be unencumbered in case I had to hustle. I am, however, wearing jewelry that Betty brought me from India.

The performance itself was a two-hour solo recital for a packed house. The program consisted of eight dance pieces of different types — some are more “dancey” with elaborate footwork and rhythms (from the stomping of the dancer’s feet and the ankle bells) and some are more emotive and tell a story. Betty included one of my favorites, the story of Krishna’s mother looking for her missing son and bragging on him. I’ve seen her perform this for many years, becoming more and more adept each time. The showpiece of the recital was a twenty-four minute long pada varna, called Daa nike, which tells the story of a woman chatting up a handsome hero by extolling the virtues of her best friend, a heroine.

Bharatanatyam is an incredibly precise art, with no detail considered too small on which to lavish attention. It’s true of the choreography (which include movements of the eyes and eyebrows) as well as the appearance of the dancer. Betty’s fingers, toes, and the palms of her hand were stained red to highlight her gestures and steps. Her gurus (and guru’s mother) made sure her makeup and hair were just so. And she wore two different, gorgeous costumes she commissioned the last time she was in India.

Blurry performance photos are by someone in the audience illicitly taking snaps. I hope you can get an idea from them, since the professional photos aren’t up yet.

This event was a huge accomplishment — two hours of solid dancing (with only a fifteen minute break to change costumes) in an art form that is every bit as disciplined and codified as ballet, with an expectation of perfection (Betty was getting good wishes for a “flawless debut”) and a spiritual component. Plus all that producing stuff. She carried it off beautifully and with grace.

I’m so proud of her devotion and her skill. It was the perfect showcase of her talent.

M2 *And by “just” I mean early April. I’m way behind on my posting, thanks to my friend bronchitis who monopolized my April.

Published in: on 1 June 2016 at 12:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Fabulous People I Know: Red

Dear Constant Reader,

Occasionally I want to recognize people who I think are fabulous. Today I’d like to present Red to you. She’s known as Redheadedgirl to her fans on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books and her followers on Twitter, but if you attended The Wrathskellar, you’ll recognize her as The Box Office Gal.

I’ve know Red for several years, ever since she moved to Boston from Minnesota and sought me out as a mentor. Not in burlesque, but for my knowledge of historic cooking and Roman archaeology (I bet you didn’t know that about me). As a bonus, she got Scratch too. He affectionately refers to her as the teenage daughter he never wanted.

Red got a Master’s degree in criminal justice and spent a long time saying she wasn’t going to be a lawyer because that required going to law school, which everyone knows is a horrible ordeal. Eventually, she caved in and went to law school. It was a grueling 3 years. This spring she graduated and then took the bar exam. To everyone’s delight (and no one’s surprise), she passed it the first time.

Yesterday morning, Scratch and I were honored to attend the ceremony in which she was sworn in as an attorney. Court was opened in Faneuil Hall, presided over by a Justice, and a motion was presented to him to admit the candidates to the bar. It was all very formal. The Clerk even wore morning dress. The shiny new lawyers swore the oldest attorney’s oath in the country and then signed the Roll of Attorneys with their official fake Montblanc pens.

Then I accompanied Red to get her license. When they called her on to the stage as “Attorney [last name]”, she may have muttered sometime profane in shock. One of the speakers during the ceremony had pointed out that they were going to be lawyers for the rest of their lives, but that new title made it real.

And here she is with her spanking new license to practice law. I’m so proud of her for pursuing this goal so determinedly and I know she’ll use her new powers only for good (or at least not to cause too much chaos).

Published in: on 28 November 2012 at 12:35 pm  Leave a Comment