Saints, Ghosts, and Scooby Doo, by Steve Safran

Britt’s sister (known around these parts as “Zealot Sister”) and I recently made it official– we are Facebook friends. Along with her brother, Patrick, we now form a powerful triumvirate– ready to resurrect Britt’s Middle Child Syndrome at a moment’s notice*. It is an honor to be part of the Stockton coterie. Paige and I have often traded respectful debate on matters religious. She is a faithful Catholic. I am a Jewish something or other. But, true to one of the basic tenets of this blog, we are respectful of each other’s beliefs.

A recent exchange:

PAIGE: What is the debatable topic of the day, Mr. Safran?

(I was out for dinner, but replied with the following:)

STEVE: I’d love to know why people believe in ghosts.

PAIGE: Enjoy your evening. Next time— ghosts versus saints. Are they the same?

Oooh. Love that. She turned it into a question, and Jews love questioning and debating questions rather than insisting upon answers. So let me try:

And let me begin by stipulating something I do not believe: There are saints. I will stipulate there are saints, and they are watching us, listening to our prayers and sometimes answering them in the affirmative. Again, I absolutely do not believe this, and yet, out of respect for Paige’s beliefs– so stipulated.

Ghosts, I believe, fall into a different category. Actually, four categories:

  1. A famous person, haunting a famous place (i.e., Abe Lincoln in the White House).
  1. A dead relative, sticking around to guide you from the beyond. (Booooo! Don’t marry Kevinnnnn!  He’s a jerrrrrrrrk!”)
  1. The run of the mill, sheet-covered ghost, whose only goal in the afterlife is to scare you. You know, a jerk.
  1. The ghost trying to scare people out of the old amusement park so a corrupt realtor can buy the land cheap, only to be unmasked by a group of meddling teens and their anthropomorphic dog.

Of these four, I only buy the last. At least it’s a plausible scenario. People do stupid things for greed. Faking a “haunting” is conceivable and, in fact, the basis for reality TV shows.

I am in the majority– but not by much. A HuffPost/YouGov poll  from 2013 shows that 45 percent of Americans believe in ghosts or that the spirits of dead people can come back in some places and situations (Think: Seances, Ouija boards, to get back at you when you lied upon their souls to get to second base with a girl, etc.).

Further, Pew Research found that 18 percent of Americans assert they have seen or been in the presence of a ghost.

Based upon that data, my reaction was: “Sure, the highly religious people are the ones who must be most likely to believe in ghosts. Ghosts are, after all, the embodiment (as it were) of life after death.”

Not so.

The Pew study says people who go to worship services weekly are less than half as likely (11%) to see ghosts as those who attend services less frequently (23%).

So what’s the big deal? People can believe in ghosts or not, right? Well, let’s look at other things people believe, keeping in mind that 47% believe in ghosts:

A Gallup question in 2009 asked “Do you think racism against blacks is or isn’t widespread?” 49% of whites said it was not widespread.

61% of Americans still believe others beside Lee Harvey Oswald were involved in the assassination of President Kennedy.

38% of Americans do not believe Barack Obama was born in the United States.

These are our phantoms. Racism is demonstrably widespread. There is absolutely no credible evidence that anyone other than Oswald was involved in the Kennedy assassination. (If there were, imagine what the people who knew about it would have earned in book rights, knowing about the first American coup.) And Barack Obama was born in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Therein lies the danger of believing in ghosts. The ghosts of conspiracy, the phantom lies, and the ghouls in Aunt Mable’s closet are all the same thing: desires to authenticate unreal things. They are the desires to make us think we know something other people do not. They are the desires to make us think there is a power keeping information from us. They become our folk stories and they endure, as superstitions do, no matter the evidence.

So while saints, we have stipulated, are real… ghosts are not. And yet these ghosts are dangerous and damaging and downright scary. And like all un-real things, these ghosts materialize in the darkness when we isolate ourselves from opinions that do not conform to our own. Or even when we fail to stipulate, for the sake of respect and argument and the search for truth, that saints are real.

But Scooby? That dude’s legit. Like me, he’s scared of the havoc the boogie man in the rubber mask can wreak. And he’s palpably relieved when the light of day reveals the charlatan and his fear-mongering ways. And man, can he eat.

Zoinks!

Boooo….BOOOO! Booo, Obama! No…nooooo… there is noooo global warming…

 

*Editors note: No, I’m really happy you guys are all friends now. I’ll just be over here in my little corner… not listening to you craft blonde jokes or anything. Whatever.

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Already Aware

Is there some box we can check when filing our taxes or punching our ballots or mailing in the census? Could we somehow alert the Universe that WE ARE ALREADY AWARE? I dare you to find a single (lucky) person remaining on the planet whose life has been entirely untouched by breast cancer. But apparently there are thousands of people who think something this wretched needs to exist for our benefit.

Look at me! I'm like, sorta bald, you know, just for today. AWARENESS!

Look at me! I’m like, sorta bald, you know, just for today. AWARENESS!

I cannot tell you how badly I want to rip this off of her head. What’s next? Faux colostomy bags for Rectal Cancer?

Your fundraising starter pack includes t-shirt with a detachable Velcro “bag” with realistic, watery poo! Customize your stoma to honor a loved one: “I’m diverting my colon today for Uncle Harry!”

I hope everyone would agree this would be in poor, poor taste by diminishing a very real, and extremely sensitive, upsetting, and necessary aspect of treating a deadly disease. But we’re badgered daily to be “bold” or “brave” enough to show solidarity with the battle-weary cancer-ed by buying crap one might find at Spencer’s. I cannot express strongly enough how un-helpful fake bald head gear is to the people who have neither the luxury of hair, nor the patience for the actually very kind people who think this sort of awareness-raising is helping.

A recent backlash from some of my favorite cancer bloggy ladies shut down an entire marketing scheme and hashtag campaign by AirXpanders after this peddler of pseudo-breasts encouraged us to tweet to #whatsunderhere and wear horrifying slogans like “Looks Great Naked” because,

Boobs are so much more than just “the girls” or “melons.” They’re fabulous.

They sent this message in an email blast to breast cancer survivors. Funny fun fun! I mean, with our reconstructed “melons” we’re totally empowered and “sexy” enough to don a slogan to encourage strangers to ask us about our fake boobs. And then tweet about how amazing and wonderful and desirable and badass we feel flaunting our reorganized parts. Funny fun fun! I’m sure they didn’t mean to be, you know, insensitive or anything to the women who are not candidates for reconstruction, or (gasp!) feel healthy and whole and beautiful without replacements.

The brilliant, kind, and wise Hester Hill Schnipper (whose After Breast Cancer should be a gift to anyone finishing chemotherapy) emailed Bernie and me about these new, horrifying campaigns that seem to begin earlier and earlier each year. She was also concerned about the AirXpanders exploitation of the American Association of Plastic Surgery (ASPS)-sponsored Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day. The unfortunately named BRA day (insert all sorts of puns on “support” for the very gals who—literally– don’t need it) is October 15th this year. The goal of BRA Day is to ensure all women are informed about their breast reconstruction options, and their aim to “close the loop” on breast cancer treatment is to make certain access and education around post-mastectomy breast reconstruction is available to every women who wishes to pursue it. Sadly, companies like AirXpanders want to piggyback onto the day to peddle their products.

Ultimately, the #whatsunderhere and the deplorable Save the Ta Tas, and even the National BRA Day swag begs the question,

Does anyone ever consult an actual breast cancer patient?

Giggle. A pink bra

Giggle. A pink bra “over” my shirt. Guffaw, a guy wearing a bra! Hey, let’s get some of these for the DOGS! Hilarious!

No one I know who unwillingly lost her hair wants to see someone else faking it. I could write another set of paragraphs urging you not to shave your head, either. But for now… just… don’t. Anyone who has been necessarily bald would never, ever begrudge you your hair. Let me be clear, it’s the NICEST THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD TO SHAVE YOUR HEAD FOR SOMEONE. But, nope… buy your cancer-ed love one a cashmere blanket, instead.

Similarly, the pink bra silhouette only calls attention to the very parts I’m trying to forget. Certainly we have more talented graphic designers to fashion a tasteful slogan for Breast Reconstruction Awareness? (I’m looking at you, Nail.) Or we could just wear Angelina Jolie flair. She has quietly, elegantly done more to further this cause than anyone.

To close, here’s my favorite tweet of all time, posted by some hilarious, awesome stranger last year on November 1st. I think all of us are looking forward to it.

Couldn't love this more.

Couldn’t love this more.

Waiting for someone to design me an Already Aware t-shirt. No pink.

Why My Boys Don’t Need to See Me Naked

Did you see this floating around the interspaces?

Rita Templeton and her adorable brood.

Rita Templeton and her adorable brood.

Did you marvel at the loveliness of this honest, conscientious, nice lady who wants her four little boys to be accustomed to a “real” body before they are inundated with perky cantaloupe boobs and thigh gaps? Did you applaud her and share her article and feel a tinge of guilt that you aren’t quite broadminded enough to use your own baby-ravaged body as an edifying tool?

Not me. I recoiled faster than my deflating pocket hose.

The message to her bathroom-barging boys is a good one, but the language saddened me. Look at her in the photo, surrounded by adorably healthy children she clearly adores and enjoys. This woman–this goddess who birthed four times and still has the energy to pen ten paragraphs about raising them to appreciate women kindly–she can only describe her own body with a jumble of smushes and jiggles and marks and sags and flab. By her own admission, she is lying through her teeth to fake a positive body image. And then, even though she is “dismayed” by her post-baby body, she’s putting it on display for some sort of greater good? Blech. I couldn’t read this without fantasizing about a warm, thick terry robe and doors that lock.

Me, I don’t give a shit about ensuring her boys will become sensitive men who shun silicone or tolerate ass dimples. Whatever, little dudes, you’re going to see movies and find dad’s Playboys and meet TriDelts and develop your own ideas of Beauty no matter how many times you’ve seen mommy poo or reposition a leaky breast. What I want is for your mom to know she’s stunning, to feel it in her bones, to own it in her sometimes-too-squeezy jeans. And I want her to know it NOW. No more stretch mark explanations and false bravado. Kids smell phoniness more keenly than sharks in chummy water. A far more challenging task than feigning pride in our muffin tops is to assert an honest confidence… which, for me, would be impossible to attain while allowing an incessant, pinching reminder of my jiggly bits by chubby little fingers.

Gorgeous Mommy has earned her privacy. Beautiful, lively, full-of-love and giver-of-life Mommy also deserves her right to modesty. If that is what she chooses, of course. I marvel at any number of Naked Families who don’t mind open doors and full frontal-ness. But these homey nudists seem comfier than Rita, who eschews personal boundaries to personally champion the ptotic breast and poochy belly so that her sons won’t be duped by Photoshop someday.

My dear friend Nicole has four children, too. They’re girls. When they tumble out of her minivan and skip into my house, they transform it into a bouncier place peppered with songs and stories and hair and accessories and tears and cheers and dancing. All of them are psychically–and often physically– tethered to their goddess mommy whose actual body is still their safe place, their re-charging station, their home. I hope her girls overheard her when she dropped this gem:

“Ugh. Aren’t we just too old to not know we’re awesome?”

At the time she was probably exasperated with the petty grumblings of a perfectly perfect mom who wasn’t feeling up to snuff. Nicole’s children (and her lucky, lucky friends) are privy to this sort of confidence that hails from deeper places and has a much stronger effect than an exposed belly roll flapping over a c-section scar.

For me, there was something sort of demeaning–something that made The Goddess Mommy somehow lesser—in her exposure. Certainly, Rita handles it well, and it’s easy for the reader to imagine the cacophony of cuteness that surrounds her every day. I already like her so much, I want to peel the small boys off of her, send them outside, pour this gal a Prosecco, and remind her she’s awesome. And because she’s awesome, her boys will be, too. And they’ll turn out that way without seeing all of her bits and pieces.

My boys know I’m off limits behind a closed door… and I protected my privacy long before my body was transformed into a different shape plumped with silicone and marred with scars. I still look great naked, and the only one who is granted the privilege of audience is Bernie. The kind of beauty I want my little boys to appreciate right now is that of a girl with great posture in a pretty dress, a young woman who would rather swim than maintain her perfect ponytail, a mom who respects her body enough to protect its exposure (if that is what she honestly would prefer), a lady who knows she’s awesome.

Me and my little guys (photo cred: http://drewkids.com)

Me and my little guys (photo cred: http://drewkids.com)

 

 

 

 

 

Prom Dress Luncheon

I haven’t made many devastating sartorial missteps, if you overlook my prom dress and, well… the ‘80s. But when April invited me to a fundraiser luncheon yesterday, I chose a summery garden ensemble only to find myself at a couture-and-stiletto event. So while all of the other lunch-y ladies were perfectly molded into their au courant fashions, I was wearing a tablecloth. It was a pretty tablecloth… maybe even a sort of adorably blue doily of a dress. But in a room dotted with Chanel bags and pointy, pointy pumps, my outfit called for a picnic basket and hair daisy accessories.

Certainly I’ve misjudged an outfit choice or two in my time. But aside from wearing jeans to the fancy school Book Fair (everyone else in fabulous skinny leather things or wretched-but-appropriate pantsuits), I’m usually the over-dressed gal. Pearls in Gross Anatomy lab. Lily Pulitzer at the soccer field. Jimmy Choos at Church. Fur at the Star Market. I have a deeply ingrained twirly girly sensibility. But when I found myself surrounded by sleek Robert Plant ladies baring yoga toned abs under crop tops, suddenly a dress with a crinoline (just like my prom dress!) seemed more ridiculous than whimsical.

Damn you, Anthropologie, with your moody photos depicting ambiguously French stunners wearing un-place-able period costumes as formalwear! I will not be duped again!

To be honest, I didn’t really dwell on my window-treatments-as-outfit gaffe. I had a delicious cold salmon lunch with lovely people who appear to make gobs of money for the obvious joy of giving much of it away. I’m drawn to do-gooders as much as I am to gorgeous clothing, and this event had both in spades (cards, not Kate… this was couture, friends). And when I got home, it was time to meet my true and trusted fashion critics at the curb. There was no time to change, so I was still wearing the ersatz prom dress when my little boys dismounted the big yellow bus.

“Where were you? You look like Cinderella!”

I can’t wait to wear that dress again.

I'm the one in the doily.

I’m the one in the doily.

 DP Challenge

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bullshit Requirement, by Steve Safran

Personally, I love Stevie when he’s in a mood. And maybe we should all take a beat before we get all huffy or encourage our friends to re-post dreck on the Internet.

Hi. We need to chat for a moment, because we have a problem you and I. We need to believe in a lot of stuff that isn’t real. We are being asked to pay attention to and prioritize stuff that we don’t actually have to worry about. We are required, and possibly really need, to believe in bullshit.

And what a season of bullshit it has been! Just look at what we’ve had to pretend is important lately. We’ve weighed in on our right to recline our airplane seats. We have to express an opinion on whether a gay football player will bring down sports altogether. We have to opine on how you give to charity: ice bucket drenching may earn you accolades or derision depending on your audience. The fact that you actually are donating isn’t really our focus any more.

Me, I’m a bit exhausted from all of the pretending to care.

These days, we’re asked to show our support or share our outrage about something every goddamn minute. I’m not being hyperbolic, either. Thanks to Upworthy, Buzzfeed and other clickbait sites, we need to repost or “like” cloying, misleading stories on Facebook, lest our friends think we’re total jerks. Remember the boy who cried wolf? Even the wolf is calling bullshit:

“What did I ever do to you? So, I ate a boy. At least I’m not re-posting a long status in an ugly font because ‘…I know 99% of you won’t.’ I may be a wolf, but I’m not a dick about it.”

When I was 22 and not four weeks out of college, I landed a job at Disney Home Video Public Relations. In June of 1990, there was a serious plague of bullshit among Serious Parents. It was as follows: on the cover of the video for “The Little Mermaid” there appeared to be a castle spire that was a little more phallic than the rest.

Yup. Freud would have seen it, too.

Yep. Freud would have seen it, too.

But where you and I would have chuckled and made some immature joke about tower envy, The Serious People wrote to Disney. Because… well… penises. And outrage. And whatever.

The people at Disney took the matter seriously. They decided immediately to do two things: 1. Change the artwork and 2. Give all the complaints to me. So it was, in the summer of 1990 that I found myself receiving all of the mail addressed to the heads of Disney. They were forwarded to my new desk so I could answer each one personally. I still have the interoffice envelopes (yes, kids… interoffice envelopes, we’ll wait while you google it) that read as follows: MICHAEL EISNER / JEFFREY KATZENBERG / STEVE SAFRAN.

As a new college graduate, my delight was immeasurable. Or so I thought. Because as funny as all of this was, my next task answering the mail of the higher ups reached paranormal levels of absurd.

People, it seemed, thought they were seeing a ghost. That is, they thought they saw a ghost in a scene in “Three Men and a Baby.” An urban myth quickly materialized about the ghost of a boy who died in the apartment where the scene was shot and WHO GIVES A SHIT I CAN’T EVEN FINISH THIS SENTENCE…

A G-G-G-Guy!

A G-G-G-Guy!

The “ghost” was actually a cardboard cutout standee for Ted Danson’s character. It was positioned low in the frame and the scene goes by faster than you could yell, “Norm!” So yes, if you blink, and you’re a gullible idiot, then you might be persuaded you saw… Hell, anything, I suppose.

Do most of us believe in ghosts? I don’t. But I think we can all agree that they are unlikely to reveal their otherworldly presence briefly through a Steve Gutenberg vehicle.

Outrageously, my job was to write back to the ghost believers. They replied to me, in turn, accusing me of a sordid Disney cover-up. And their belief in this bullshit sent them to their desks to craft paragraphs and find stamps—a whole process that took much, much longer than a re-blog or share. In 1990, you had to commit.

I never thought that, in retrospect, I’d respect those people for their commitment to the complaint, or for their pen-and-ink belief in anything. But outrage is so easy now. We can submit our bullshit from our phones. We can apply some sort of app to float our complaints and harrumphs. Of course, there are apps to answer those, too. So, really, we can be indignant with each other now and never have to exchange an un-virtual word. Convenient.

I realize I can’t stop this problem we have. I love gossip and I’m not above it. On the contrary– I was on the morning news for seven years, reporting it gleefully with my usual tagline: “Don’t pretend you don’t care.” But I never believed it was all A Big Deal. Today, I worry that all of our pretend caring and overblown outrage has made the line between opinion and journalism blurry. The news shouldn’t be about bullshit.

And with all that’s going on in the world… it should make you bullshit instead.