Saturday, November 21, 2009


The moment I saw the article on the front page of the Grand Rapids Press that Sarah Palin('s team) had chosen to kick off her book signing tour at the Barnes & Noble down the street from us, I knew I would head to the hootenanny to observe the fun. I worked during the day on Wednesday, so Brian and I didn't head to the mall until the extravaganza had started, but people had been camped out OVERNIGHT to get wristbands to wait in line to see her. There were a few rows of parking lot blocked off, a slew of media including TV vans with satellites, and most prominent of all, the tour bus, its sides covered with the picture from her book cover, way larger than life. It's like she's a rock star!

And really, isn't she though? What would Madison, Jefferson and Adams make of such a spectacle as this, masquerading as politics? I've been thinking about the early presidents a lot because I am reading a bio of each president, in order, to see where we went wrong. (I'm on Monroe.) Well, speaking of presidents, the most astonishing thing to me about the legions of Sarah Palin fans is how many of them seem to suffer from the delusion that she should be the next president.

The line of fans filled the inner corridor of the mall, snaking its way past the stores, and then back the other way, a few people wide. Stanchions were everywhere. B&N employees let a certain number of wristbanded people at a time up the escalator and took their bags/coats/belongings, which were reclaimed after having the book signed. Sarah herself sat behind a curtain-like screen, blocked from view by the masses. No one without a wristband was allowed upstairs. After getting the autograph, the fans reclaimed their checked bag/coat and came down the other escalator. Police and mall cops stood around. Fans stood around. And I stood around, loving it all.

I mean, president? Really? A lot of people wore buttons that said "Palin 2012," although not the majority. Part of me wants to ask these people what on earth makes them think she should be the president - after quitting her job in which she held an executive office mid-term. But maybe they would just make me sad, like the bubbly girl around age 18 who came down the signing-exit escalator with her friends, glowing. "She's, like, seriously, so genuinely sweet," the girl was emphasizing. "She's literally so nice. I would totally vote for her if she runs for president." It gets better, though. The girl continued, "I mean, I don't usually do that, I don't vote for women in like high positions, but I would vote for her."

I don't want to blame the heavily Christian aspect of the community of Grand Rapids for raising a girl to say something so insipid, but what else can I blame? What sort of position, do tell, is too "high" for women, ordinarily? Is student council president ok? Church youth group? But nothing too high? And what precisely makes Sarah Palin transcend it, this foolish rule of yours?

There were other fascinating people coming down the stairs. That's where I spent a lot of time hanging out, drinking my latte and sipping magazines, to watch the afterglow. A bunch of people wore "Tea Party of West Michigan" t-shirts or sweatshirts, which had some "common sense" rules for government on the back. Because there were so many people decked out in Palin and other related attire, a woman who walked by in Obama/Biden shirt and hat stood out. "Hey, there's one of our people," I said to Brian. The Obama/Biden fan heard me and turned around, offering up her hand for a high five, which I returned. "Are you just here to watch the spectacle, too?" I asked. She said yes, and told me she was thinking of moving some of the Palin book to the humor section. I laughed, and we went our separate ways.

Of course, this whole exchange took place in front of a bunch of devotees in line. I guess Brian saw the looks on their faces more than I did -- I was just talking with the woman for a second and then moved on. Apparently the Palin fans were shocked, or mad, while watching us. But they were trapped in their line of followers, and I was moving freely along.

I did notice as we walked around observing the hundreds in line that there was far more Michigan (as in University of) gear than Michigan State. I mentioned this to Brian, proud of his Spartan school for not being as widely represented. He then introduced me to the concept of the "Walmart Wovlerines," a subset of society whose name immediately tells me so much, and also makes me eager to learn more about them.

Naturally there were a few "heroes" present. By that I mean people in uniform of course! At the very end, when she stopped signing at 9, the event was winding down, but a lot of people were still hanging around to watch Palin exit. I noticed one reporter with notepad talking to a hero in a blue uniform about how they had let her in -- even though it was the 9 o'clock cut-off and the signing was over, and no one else was to be let up the stairs -- because she was wearing a uniform. Gag!

Sure enough, we got to watch Sarah stride away, out from behind her signing curtain toward her exit behind another screen, taking a moment in between to wave at the masses assembled below. They clapped. I loved watching them. They were so happy to have had a moment with their hero. I enthusiastically support that. I love devotion, being a fan, and heck, I love book signings. But wow, do I want these people to explain to me what it is about this woman that inspires in them thoughts of "reclaiming America." I remain fascinated by this, and I saw no indication of getting an answer any time soon from these huddled masses.

Outside, another throng thronged by the tour bus, waiting for one last glimpse. Brian and I were headed to a movie at our down-the-street theater, conveniently located about eighteen seconds from the Barnes & Noble entrance, resulting in a perfect evening plan for us. We looked at the crowd and I saw that someone had actually brought a flag. Not a little hand-held flapping plastic-like flag, but a big ol' star-spangled banner, held high on a mast, like you would carry marching at the front of a regiment or something. It waved above the heads of the crowd in the glare of the media lights. When Palin left the building to get on her tour bus, a cheer erupted. Brian and I walked into the Celebration Cinema, where I got an unexpected popcorn coupon. That was another highlight of the evening.

I love that I fortuitously was in Grand Rapids for her book tour debut. Sarah herself I find totally innocuous, just as I did during the 2008 campaign, when people were freaking out trying to get me to SEE that she is DANGEROUS why can't you SEE THAT LINDA oh my gawwwwwwwwd! Whatever, Sarah Palin. But who are these people that flock to her? They mystify me so.

The next night, we went to a 9:30 showing of The Men Who Stare at Goats (awesome) and then when we exited that, watched for a few minutes the assembled hordes who were there for the midnight showing of Twilight II. Basically, this week has provided a lot of free entertainment in the form of other people camping out to be entertained. It's so derivative, and I love it. Turns out the werewolf from Twilight is, unlike me, From Around Here, so there is actually a western Michigan connection and a reason to feature him in newspaper articles about how the local Hudsonville boy has found big success as an actor in the terrible films.

It's so great that things like this can bring us together as a nation.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


So, Taylor Swift is kind of like Barack Obama. This is how I figured it out. Last night I asked Brian to briefly flip from the basketball game to the CMA (Country Music Association) Awards so I could see if Taylor Swift won Entertainer of the Year. I wasn't particularly interested in watching the whole show -- hello, there is only one awards show to which I must devote my time and energy -- but I remain fascinated by Taylor Swift, as do many people. I also follow country music happenings, sort of. More than most people I know, anyway, from my post-Arizona life, if not as much as many people in my Arizona life. I like country music for the most part, although it's not my favorite genre, and I listen to it when I am driving around on my visits to Phoenix, but what I cannot stand is the "God-told-me-to-go-to-war-in-Iraq" crap. That's when I change the station back to NPR.

The thing about Taylor Swift is that she has an eerily precise talent, kind of like Dakota Fanning in her earlier flicks. Taylor Swift writes these really well-crafted pop songs that are about love, heartbreak, high school, and other things with which teens and adults must grapple in life. Taylor is young, talented, charming, poised, and has not messed up yet, so that draws people in even if they aren't grooving on her easily relatable country-pop songs.

So, last night, she was up for Entertainer of the Year, nominated along with the big boys, Kenny Chesney, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, and George Strait, who must have been nominated for this one like twenty times by now. Brian, who unlike me doesn't care for the country music scene, asked, basically, "What is the big deal?" So I told him.

My version of the big deal basically comes down to: 1)Taylor Swift is interesting to me, for the aforementioned reasons of talent and poise and also because she is basically conquering the world with said talent and poise right now 2)The CMAs are interesting to me (although I still don't need to watch them), unlike other music "niche" award shows, because Nashville is sort of the successful opposite pole in the music industry world, or at least the music industry world as we knew it, besides just country being a genre 3)The Entertainer of the Year award, specifically, is a pretty big deal in these awards, and tends to be won by a biggie. You'd recognize the names of most of the winners even if you aren't a country fan: Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Barbara Mandrell, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Garth Brooks about a million times, and so on. A nineteen-year-old girl winning it is pretty awesome, is what I'm saying.

And she did win. I think it's deserved. She has definitely entertained me more than, say, Keith Urban has this year. And when "no one" is buying CDs anymore, her album continues to do a hopping business, staying on the charts for 50 weeks or something.

But it did beg the question of whether the award recognizes more than just a year's achievement. Is it a reward for these big country stars' larger-than-life presence and fame? I think Taylor Swift does have that worldwide fame right now, thanks in part to social media and her crossover demographic pleasing. Is the award a kind of vote of confidence in the future, too? Is part of what actually makes Taylor so great the fact that she is bursting with potential and we are eager to see what she will do?

Therefore, she is like Barack Obama. And that, my friends, is how Nashville teaches us to understand the Swedes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Blatant racism lives on

From the "You Must Be Kidding Me" files, I share with you a review of Pieces of April posted on Netflix by user "DH 1531296" of Alexandria, VA:

"Just a warning, If you do not approve of interracial relationships do not rent this film. The review by NF said nothing of her 'new' boyfriend being black, therefore making it a wasted rental for us. Turned it off after 2 minutes."

I am astonished. My mind has been 100% blown here today, folks.

And lest you think this person is a naive, sheltered soul who just emerged from the cult compound into reality, I clicked on DH 1531296's profile. He has rated 1130 movies, giving FIVE stars to, among others, The Silence of the Lambs, A History of Violence, In Bruges, Shaun of the Dead, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and he wrote a four-star review of last year's Swedish vampire critical favorite Let the Right One In. Obviously, I can't dismiss him as someone who never recognizes quality, or watches only insipid films, or anything like that. I mean, he did give five stars to Gone With the Wind. Is that also where he learned all his lessons about race?

And the thing is, there are SO MANY movies that depict killing, Satanic possession, heists and other crimes, slavery, and so forth on this person's viewing list. Obviously - so painfully obviously - when you watch things in movies it doesn't mean that you like/respect/do them. Thus, even if it were acceptable to oppose interracial dating, which I daresay is not just racist and antiquated but also seriously impractical and limiting in a world whre more and more people are of mixed race, why would your personal dating habits prevent you from watching a film anyway? Unless you were so thoroughly stupid that you also had to take your immoral opposition to the next level.

I still can't figure out if I'm more astonished that someone feels that way or that he would so matter-of-factly post it on Netflix, as if he is doing others a favor by offering up the "warning" about Katie Holmes' character dating Derek Luke's.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Another great writer named Linda

There are lots of things to do in and around Grand Rapids. This, of course, fits with my firm belief that there are lots of things to do everywhere, and it's your own fault if the only one you can think of is going to Walmart. (Grotesque!) Sure, sometimes, the fact that there is stuff to do can get lost because the people with whom one can do the things are not so interesting (*cough* Long Island *ahem*) but trust me, there is stuff to do everywhere. Why do you think I had so much fun living in Provo, Utah? I skied twice a week (fifteeen minutes away) throughout the winter and biked/hiked all summer. There is mad artsy/cultural/musical stuff on and around the BYU campus, not the least of which was International Cinema. I found fabulous bookstores and a vegetarian cooking class, and I discovered my love for cheese fries in Provo (mmm, Training Table). If I hadn't come to the undeniable realization that I could no longer give one penny of support to the repressive, politically objectionable BYU, I might have stuck around to graduate. There was even a decent Mexican restaurant!

But I digress. Where was I? Oh, right, Grand Rapids. So I have been trying to discover the stuff around here, in between my writing, working on projects, and seeking freelance gigs. One of the advantages of this small city is that there are quite a few colleges, which automatically translates into Events, many of which are free and open to the public. A little over a week ago, I went to Aquinas College to hear Linda Hogan speak to a packed ballroom. For those who don't know, she is a Chickasaw writer, feminist, poet, Pulitzer finalist, etc. and not to be confused with the wrestler's ex-wife of the same name. I'm sure some of the 18-year-olds who showed up because they were assigned to imagined they would hear a boring lecture about activism and writing, but I think they were pleasantly surprised because in addition to being a serious poet and writing books like People of the Whale, Ms. Hogan is actually quite funny.

She spoke about how we relate to land. To illustrate the difference in point of view, she mentioned the Snowbowl recreation area in Flagstaff (woo-hoo Arizona represent!), which is built on a mountain sacred to the Navajo people. (That's my old stomping grounds! We lived on the edge of the Navajo reservation when I was a wee little tyke.) Apparently the U.S. Forest Service folks, in their own way trying to solve the problem or at least compromise, asked the Navajo about the sacred mountain, "Well, where is the line where it stops being sacred?"

Ms. Hogan also talked about Oklahoma, where she lives. I have long since known that Oklahoma is the state with the highest Native American population, but I didn't exactly know that like most United Statesian things, there is a shady oil story involved. Back in the day, when white men forced Native peoples off their lands, basically shoving everyone into Oklahoma, the whites were ready to be done with the whole thing, build a wall around Oklahoma, and just say, OK, you all live there, and let's carry on. But then - and I should have remembered this from reading Cimarron and watching the Oscar-winning movie -- the white man realized there was oil under the Oklahoma ground. Not so fast, then! Maybe the white man wants this land after all!

While Linda Hogan was talking about how she works for the Chickasaw nation, I started making sense of the bizarrely high percentages of votes for Dubya in Oklahoma. Wasn't it 95% or something in 2004? I remember being astonished at the time, wondering how any population could vote for Dubya in such high numbers, let alone a group of people who respect the Earth and are environmentally sensible. Listening to her, I thought, oh! Are a lot of the Native Americans there more involved with the politics of their own tribal government and their own nations, and maybe not even voting in U.S. presidential elections? So all that's left is jackass oil votes. Which, obviously, would go 95% for a Bush.

Speaking of nasty Bush administration tactics, Linda Hogan read some of her poetry, and one line from a poem called "History" jumped out at me, vis-a-vis torture: "We try to discover who is guilty by becoming guilty..."

All in all it was a good evening. And don't forget that she was funny, like when she first started to read she looked around the podium for the water (which, if you've been to author events, you know there is always a bottle or glass of water for them) and because she didn't spot it at first, asked, "Is there any water?" The event host college staff people pointed it out, and she thanked them and then said, "Is there any cappuccino?" The crowd was pleased. She also made fun - but only a little - of the students later, when a bunch of them took advantage of the break between her talk and the Q&A period to exit - noisily. "Poor students, such a rough life," she quipped.

Good times in Grand Rapids! Even if Linda Hogan had met earlier with a group of Michigan people discussing some written history of the Grand Rapids area and "unfortunately it starts with the French traders," she said. The crowd laughed. "Well, you know how history is."

I used to search for reservations, and native lands
before I realized everywhere I stand
there have been tribal feet running wild as fire
some past life sister, my desire...
I'm not ready for the dead to show its face.
Whose turn is it anyway?

-- indigo girls, 'jonas and ezekial'

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Annoying Group of People #3: Long Islanders

Sure, sure, we knew that. But who knew just how long they've been annoying? Get this. I'm currently reading James Madison: A Biography by Ralph Ketcham. I've been reading it for a month because it's so long and detailed and plus I'm busy, but it really is historically fascinating and I have plunged into the world of ol' JM and all his peeps, such as Washington, Jefferson, and Monroe (they were all Virginia buddies) and eventually Dolley (whose Quaker parents are totally righteous, by the way!) and so forth.

One of Madison's pals from the "College of New Jersey at Princeton" was Philip Freneau, who by the way became quite the poet of their generation, so you know he's awesome, and literary. After college, Madison and his crew totally kept in touch while they all tried to figure out what to do with their lives. (Yes, another president in my bio-reading quest who at first had no clue what he should do with his life. Four for four.)

Madison was hanging out back at the farm plantation in Virginia, and friend Freneau was trying his hand at a teaching career, which he later abandoned. Freneau wrote a letter about how school teaching sucked. He had taught in Long Island for only a couple weeks, but loathed it because his pupils were "a brutish brainless crew...void of reason and of grace."

Ha! That's my boy, Freneau! I was ready to leave the brainless crew of Long Island after two weeks as well. Perhaps we poets just don't belong there.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Rose Bowl

Well, I certainly got to experience something frightening on Halloween night: the USC game. Goodness, my Trojans, what has happened? The sad thing is, I kind of dreaded and expected (sorry!) the loss to Oregon. We just haven't been great this year. We have been OK. Sometimes we have been good. We have not been great, and most of all we have not been consistently great. And you know, if someone like Oregon wants to go and do something perfectly logical such as score every single time they touch the football, well, we apparently won't have much in the way of a response to that.

Of course, I was hanging out with Michigan peeps watching the football, so maybe there was something to console us over on Brian's Michigan State game...uh, no. And Sam's Michigan game we watched earlier in the day? Yeah, not that either. Let's not even mention Purdue. Once again, Iowa comes through where few others can. See, I am kind of on the Iowa bandwagon, but for reasons totally unrelated to the bandwagon. I just happen to want a certain Master's degree from a certain graduate program at Iowa very much, and now that law school's done I can apply for it, so I totally have Iowa on my mind this year even more than usual. Plus we are in Michigan this fall so Brian and I have the distinct pleasure of watching the Big Ten Network's Friday Night Tailgate, and the first time we watched the show it made me so happy as they ran around Iowa City and the campus doing their quirky Friday Night Tailgate things, and I have all this opportunity to think about Iowa and imagine getting a degree from there while it just so happens that they are undefeated and totally awesome. What can I say, I have my finger on the pulse. It's like I needed a ride for other reasons and the bandwagon happened to drive by with an empty seat.

Back to the Pac-10, USC now has two losses in conference while Oregon is 5-0 there (their one loss was to Boise State). Besides the Ducks, hey, maybe U of A will go to the Rose Bowl. Yes, the Wildcats are what we normally like to think of as a basketball school. But they are playing football this year! Although they did lose to Iowa...

USC is just kind of sad to watch. You just sit there wanting them to be better. The Notre Dame game the other week gave me fits. Oh well. It was Halloweeen yesterday, so we threw on some costumes and went out into a frenzy of dancing and weirdos and that took my mind off of football things. We were in Chicago this weekend, which was great fun. I have spent very little time there, and I seriously feel like I need to live there next, to keep on with my habit of living in major U.S. cities. I like the vibe, the lake, the restaurants, and so on. Also, I have never lived in the Central Time Zone. Of course, what else is in the Central Time Zone? Iowa. I think I need to stop watching depressing football games and just go take the GRE. And don't panic.