Thursday, August 21, 2008


There is nothing cuter than a bundle of kittens. Is this what compels people to fall down on the job when it comes to spaying cats, contributing to a huge cat overpopulation problem?

Because people seem perfectly capable of feeding stray cats when they come by - in fact, they believe they are doing a good thing. And when the cat then turns up pregnant, people are perfectly capable of caring for kittens and finding homes for them. But for some reason, even where spaying is completely free, people fail to do right by the pets they care for or the strays they feed. I can think of no rational explanation for this, so it must be that the cuteness of kittens causes a total lapse of reason.

And this is why I now have 6 cats in my house. I started with one, not being a crazy cat lady, but now have a stray mama cat and 4 really cute kittens on my upstairs enclosed porch... until the mama cat is spayed, and until the kittens are old enough to find families that can give them their forever homes.

Finding good homes for these kittens is a priority, and proving harder than I thought. Sure, people are interested, but I need to know they will get these offspring neutered or spayed. Maybe I watched too much Bob Barker as a kid, but I really thought this was a no-brainer, until I started talking with some people about this.

I heard a vet try to persuade a dog owner to neuter her bulldog, but she said she couldn't "take away his manhood". I lightly tried to point out that dogs aren't men, and well... anyway. I don't think she got her dog neutered. Even some people I know well and know to be very responsible in other aspects of life don't seem to understand why this is so important. They make excuses like, well, if it's an indoor only cat... etc.

So, here are some compelling tidbits I discovered, for anyone out there having this conversation (and I think more people need to get proactive about having it with friends who have pets):

1) In the US there are 45 kittens born for every human birth. There is no way that all of these cats can possibly find good homes. Every kitten born is a stress on this system, whether it is feral, stray, or purebred, whether it is born homeless or into a good home.

2) Millions of animals are killed in shelters in the US every year because of this overpopulation problem. For every kitten that finds a home, there are kittens crowding shelters that could have taken its place.

3) Cats are extremely prolific, and female cats bear a heavy physical burden with rapid cycles of fertility, pregnancy, nursing (sometimes while already pregnant with the next litter) and so on. With 4-6 kittens per litter and multiple litters per year, it's easy to see how numbers can get out of hand.

4) The stress of heat cycles on unspayed cats causes them to be physically uncomfortable and often frustrated, leading to behavioral problems as they seek to mate.

5) Unspayed cats face many avoidable health risks, including increased risk for contracting FIV in fights, dramatically increased risk of ovarian and uterine cancers, bacterial infections of the uterus, complications related to pregnancy, mammary gland tumors, etc.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I didn't sign up for this

When I joined facebook a few years ago, it was only open to college community members - mostly students, but the occasional faculty member or staff person with a university email account would join. It was a way for me to keep in touch with campus culture, to better understand and relate to my students. I logged in only on those rare occasions when students sent me a friend request. Most didn't friend me - especially the ones with the drunk photos, I suspect.

Now, I still use facebook as a way to keep in touch with students past and present, but the rest of my life is creeping in. Earlier I wrote about how it felt like a life integrator, bringing together queer Presbyterians and engineers for social justice and everything else I care about. Lately it's been feeling more like a nostalgia trip.

I've been friended by a number of high school classmates lately. I've even done some of the friending. But this nostalgic facebook-friending requires much more time and emotional energy than I bargained for, whether these are old friends I'm thrilled to be back in touch with, or people who, truth be told, never were my friends and were pretty darn mean to me throughout middle and high school. Hearing about loved ones lost, dreams shattered, major life accomplishments, and new hopes and dreams is all very intense, not to mention reliving old memories. Fitting who I am getting to know now with who I knew then is not always easy after 20 years. As my research student put it so succinctly a few weeks ago, people are complicated.

Sure, we all know a few straight evangelicals who come out of the closet as time passes... but what if that evangelical reveals he was an out gay atheist before becoming the straight (not ex-gay mind you, straight) evangelical you knew? Yep, people are complicated. Goth slackers become financial analysts, and the Mrs. Degree chasers become activist lawyers. Lies our parents told us are being revealed. Big lies. Dead people aren't really dead. Who our real parents are. That kind of thing.

My friend told me that you have to be in a good place to open those doors - to go to reunions, to return the phone calls from distant exes. That's certainly true, but being in a good place is not all you need - one has to be ready for the emotional swirl about to hit - and can one really ever be ready? I wasn't going to go to my reunion, but thanks to Facebook it's coming to me, ready or not.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

conspicuous consumption

I was raised by parents who very logically and frugally dressed me in hand-me-down clothes. Not just from my older sister, but also from babysitters and neighbors' kids -- all of whom were many years older. These clothes were long out of style. We're talking big 70s collars when Izods were de rigeur, olive green suede addidas when I should have had topsiders or docksiders (I still don't know the difference, but it sure mattered to the kids at school). I was the object of ridicule, publicly humiliated in class and out. Boys threatened to beat me up after school, in a running joke that was probably funny precisely because I didn't know they weren't serious. None of the adults I confided in did anything to stop the bullying. I can't remember a day I didn't cry, either in school or after. Attempting to bring an end to this misery, one day I donned a new pair of penny loafers. I learned the hard way that my penny loafers were Buster Brown, not Bass or Sebago, apparently the only acceptable labels. Did I mention this was the fourth grade? (And yes, I know I went to elementary school with a bunch of spoiled kids with parents steeped in trendiness and social climbing.)

All of this is to say that I am no stranger to conspicuous consumption. Soon I will be attending yet another wedding, those hellish signifiers of class status. While it's hard to rid weddings entirely of conspicuous consumption (I know many who have tried), there are some I would regard as over the top, either all around or in certain respects. Ones that were outsized in terms of the number of events, the number of guests, the prices or types of items on the registry, the seven-course sit-down meal, the pricey designer bridesmaid gown I had to buy and never wear again, the big-name gourmet restaurant venue, hosts of attendants, renting out entire hotels, you get the idea. (And yes, a lot of these were the weddings of the aforementioned spoiled rich kids and their ilk, but a surprisingly large number were not.)

Gary Dauphin of the Village Voice once wrote "Straight white male privilege is like bad breath. No one notices they have it, but if you point it out, you're an asshole." Class privilege is no different in this regard. Saying anything about conspicuous consumption in relation to weddings elicits some problematic responses:

1) What did you expect? Of course one silver fork costs more than my refrigerator.
If they were saying all weddings are displays of wretched excess, I would tend to agree - where do you draw the line between "regular" and "over the top" conspicuous consumption? But these aren't folks with a radical critique, if their own weddings are any measure of their perspective. Rather, I think they are trying to imply that this is how they roll. They project themselves for a moment into this imaginary world they aspire to, in which they would do these things, if they had the money. And apparently my expectations are supposed to align with their values.

2) Just have fun - at least you know there will be an open bar.
Do they really think for a second I won't enjoy myself? It's hard NOT to let the pomp, or the alcohol, or the people-watching, or whatever else lull and distract one into oblivion - it might even help me forget the fourth grade. Is that really what worries them, or are they worried I will seem ungrateful, and that would be rude to the hosts. "Just have fun" means I should shut up and enjoy it (and stop pointing this all out, lest I indict their wedding in the process). Whether I have fun or not is beside the point; I am a witness and a participant - and my complicity in such nauseating acts of conspicuous consumption continues to disturb me.

3) Just be happy for them. Why do you hate America?
Sure, underneath it somewhere there's a couple of people who love each other and have a serious legal commitment to make, and the community is committing to support them, and they do. But to get to that part you have to dig through layers of weird family bullshit, hidden under layers of makeup and cake frosting, hidden under layers of impressive stone edifices and tall steeples, under layers of patriarchy-reinforcing tradition, under layers of hallmark saccharin, under layers of faux-virginal whiteness. Not to mention that big hard glittering rock, bought with two month's salary and the blood and lost limbs of enslaved children.

Oh, no, I wasn't talking about your wedding. That was t o t a l l y different.