Friday, July 06, 2018

I Was Wrong about These Creatures, but the Battle Is Engaged

I started blogging in 2005 because I opened the morning newspaper and read that some woman got her dog's vet bills paid by her blog fans. I had a cat, and so I thought, "What the hell? Give it a go."

So I came here to Blogger, and suddenly I had choices to make:

*What would my blog be about?
*Would it be funny or serious?
*How long before I could ask my readers to pay the cat's vet bills?

Turns out the answers to those questions were:

*Paganism and politics
*funny
*never have -- but Gamma Cat is still young

EXHIBIT A: GAMMA


I began "The Gods Are Bored" as a humor blog, and nowhere was my stinging wit more focused than upon "prayer warriors," those so-called Christians who have weaponized the faith and seek to impose their worldview on the rest of us through politics.

Back in 2005 I thought these people were stupid and harmless. I compared them to hippies, even calling them "chippies" because they were such a small minority of Americans, and yet they had an outsize influence on the national narrative.

They are still a minority of Americans. But they are calling the shots. They will soon own the Supreme Court -- not because they feel like corporate overlords should have free reign, but because they want to make abortion illegal. The sad thing is, while they will gleefully celebrate getting their way on abortion, they might not be ready for the blow-back.

Chippies, you will be the victims of your own battle tactics.

In your zeal to overturn Roe v. Wade, you've allowed big money to gush into politics. That would be great if all the rich people were of your mindset, but they aren't. Some have gladly harnessed your single-minded religious zeal to promote their agendas (fossil fuels, union-busting). But now there are other rich donors stepping forward, tossing great hoards of ducats around to thwart your plans.

In your zeal to overturn Roe v. Wade, you allied yourself to a foul-mouthed, childish brute who is detested across the globe and loathed by quite a hefty number of your fellow Americans. Chippies, how are your children behaving, with Donald J. Trump as your family hero? Do you take your kids to his rallies? Do you tell them that it's okay to support someone who is an unabashed sinner if he supports your agenda? What kind of message are your kids getting from that strategy? Do you tell your kids that Donald Trump is a "baby Christian" who hasn't quite learned the Holy Bible yet? How long will they fall for that, in light of Trump's behavior? Remember, they admire who you admire ... they're just not sophisticated about it yet.

In your zeal to overturn Roe v. Wade, you have created a hostile environment for living children all across the globe. Let's see: We've got climate change causing political turmoil, floods, and drought; we've got immigrant kids locked up in cages; we've got planned rollbacks in nutrition programs for poor children, and we're slipping backwards into a degraded environment full of pollution and toxins. But all that's okay, right? The baker doesn't have to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.

In your zeal to overturn Roe v. Wade, you may be alienating your most important constituency: your own descendants. You can home school them, you can surround them with only people who think the way you do, you can choose their friends and set a good example of godliness for them. But the ones who can think will desert you. The ones with curiosity will spurn you. The ones with critical thinking skills will do a zero sum analysis while checking out a banned podcast and decide that you are truly evil human beings. This will be your legacy. Your children will jump ship.

Wow, Anne, that's a bold prediction! However could you make it?

I was exposed to chippies as a kid. My mother sent me to their church because she felt like her own church wasn't stern enough. It took me six months at the tender age of eight to realize that the whole "prayer warrior" thing wasn't what Jesus would do, wasn't in fact based on the Bible at all.

But you go right ahead, chippies. You celebrate your Pyrrhic victory.

Your children will be in other rooms, listening to other voices. Listening to other, more sensible Gods.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Many Uses for Kidnapped Children

TRIGGER WARNING: This post is not funny. It contains ruminations on child abuse.


A few years ago I took a tour of a place called the Coriell Institute. At Corielle, scientists are trying to engineer stem cells to grow new organs. They are also working on reversing the aging process.

This research is funded by billionaire philanthropists. It's a tax write-off.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to figure out why super rich people would want to fund this kind of research. They live the high life, and they love it, and they want to live forever. They're funding Coriell hoping that it will be able to reverse their aging and provide them with new organs.

Trouble is, scientific research takes time, and some of these billionaires are getting up in age. What if they need a heart, and Coriell hasn't perfected their heart cells yet?

Let's rewind a bit.

When I was in college, I had a professor who had fled Cuba in the 1950s. He wrote about Cuban prisoners, and how their organs were "harvested" when people in the ruling regime needed them. There's also the well-documented case of "the disappeared" in Argentina. Young people who vanished without a trace, leaving behind frightened and grieving parents.

There are more than 2300 children floating around our country right now. It's clear that some of them are in for-profit care centers and ultra-Christian foster homes. But are they all accounted for? Will we ever know for sure that these children have returned to the arms of their mothers? Frankly, I wouldn't believe it if I witnessed it with my own eyes.

America, welcome to the Heart of Darkness.

My family says I'm crazy. History says I'm not.

Defenseless children are trafficked.
Defenseless children are enslaved.
Defenseless children are valued for their healthy organs.
Defenseless children can be used as research subjects.
Defenseless children are easily "disappeared."

When Donald Trump was elected, with a Republican majority in both houses and a Supreme Court seat left deliberately vacant, I braced for the worst. But I never imagined this worst.

Somewhere, a billionaire hedge fund manager needs a new heart. Somewhere, a little refugee kid is having his blood typed.

Reader, I am sorry. This was once a humor blog. But that was before everything I joked about the most actually came true in the apparent world.

To the wealthy donors of Coriell Institute: The Reaper will come for you. You can only delay Him. And I hope you do ... long enough that you will be able to look up into the sky and see the asteroid that will lay waste to you.

The wrath of the Gods onto billionaires.
The wrath of the Gods onto "prayer warriors."
They are creating a Hell and calling it holy.


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

An Open Call to Ancient Goddesses -- Experience Required, Full Time +

HELP WANTED -- START IMMEDIATELY

Position(s) open for Ancient Goddesses with specialty in maternal nurture.

Duties: Creating miracles for suffering mothers, fathers, and children in a morally bankrupt nation run by barbarians. Effectively blocking considerable negative power structure, most persistently against an evil ruler and his minions. Imparting peace and safety to the poorest and most disenfranchised citizens of said barbarous nation.

Hours: Full time, with considerable overtime a distinct possibility. Must be willing to work weekends and late nights. Must be willing to devote entire energy to this blighted country without any expectation of spiritual reward.

Compensation: Candles lit for you nightly by one pathetic little worshiper who has faith in next to nothing and who cannot remember a darker time in her entire life, including but not limited to the 1960s.

Benefits: Two-week vacation (if no calamity intervenes), health care with a limited primary care provider in network, and the aforementioned candles.

Experience required: 500-1000 years prior deity service to a praise and worship team consisting of Homo sapiens sapiens. No known connection to any pantheon of historical record (assuring your complete focus on this position). References, in the form of ancient archaeological artifacts, required.

Apply on Summer Solstice to Anne Johnson, as she is weeping for the pain of others and feels helpless and inept.

Equal Opportunity Employer.

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Privileged Hell in Haddonfield

Thirteen years I have written this blog. I'm finally outing my town. It's Haddonfield, New Jersey, and it has been in the local and state (and probably national) news quite a bit lately.

If you're inclined, you can read all about it at philly.com. Just search "Haddonfield" and "racial slur."

If you're a busy person (like me), you can just rely on my summary of events.

Early in May, the Haddonfield lacrosse team had finished a game, and a multi-school track meet was about to begin on one of Haddonfield's facilities. A young woman of color was tying her shoe on the track, and a group of Haddonfield lacrosse players walked past her. Multiple students heard one of the players say, "Get out of my way, n******." He and his teammates were all wearing their helmets. They sauntered on.

The girl who was slurred -- and the other students who heard the remark -- reported it to their coaches. Those coaches reported it to the Haddonfield lacrosse coach. The lacrosse coach queried the students of color: Could they describe the kid who made the slur? Was he tall? Was he short? What number was he wearing? The kids couldn't say. So the lacrosse coach reported it to the school athletic director. Then the Haddonfield school administration tried to figure out who made the slur. One and all, the Haddonfield players said they did not do it. From then to now, more than four weeks, the entire team has said -- individually and collectively -- that they didn't say what the students accused them of saying.

The remainder of Haddonfield's lacrosse season was cancelled. This angered many of the parents, because the team was headed for a championship and presumably scholarship money was on the line.

The school system issued platitudes, something along the nature of, "We're just not that way. It's not what we teach here. Haddonfield is all about inclusivity." You know, the usual empty phrases.

I wasn't on that track when this incident occurred, but I have lived in Haddonfield for 31 years. I raised my daughters here. I know the schools and the citizens. And I believe the young woman and the other witnesses.

Haddonfield, one of South Jersey's most affluent communities, is just four-and-a-half miles due east of Camden. The population of Camden is overwhelmingly minority. The population of Haddonfield is overwhelmingly white. It is literally apartheid on everything but paper.

The only time Haddonfield kids meet Camden kids (or basically any kids of color) is at sporting or school club events. In these cases, there is no dialogue ... only competition. This is not a healthy state of affairs.

I'm going to be presumptuous and climb into the head of the boy who made the racial remark. I'm entitled to do this. I live in Haddonfield. I know him as a type, if not as an individual.

He's one scared puppy.

His parents are wealthy. Very wealthy. He has had enormous privilege. He's traveled the world, he's had the best education, and he's gotten everything his heart has ever desired. He's popular at school and a terrific athlete and student. Making that racial remark was just another way to show his buddies how cool he is.

But he's anything but cool just now.

Why is that? Well, my money goes on the proposition that he's already been accepted to a prestigious university, perhaps with an athletic scholarship. If he's an underclassman, he's got his eye on a top-notch school. Why? Because he's a legacy. His hard-working parents went to such schools and have ever since been busting their backs to maintain the posh lifestyle. These aren't to-the-manor-born wealthy people. These residents of Haddonfield are strivers.

So the kid and his parents have their eyes on the prize, and to admit to hurling a racial epithet would be to close the lid on any possibility of acceptance at a prestigious college. If this kid's buddies feel cheated out of a championship run on the athletic field, I can promise you they all identify with his quandary. It could be them. They won't snitch.

Haddonfield is all about striving to maintain that upper class lifestyle even if you haven't inherited wealth. The pressure is immense to be as financially successful as Mom and Dad. What other lifestyle is imaginable, when you've been in the lap of luxury since you were born?

Now let's take a look at the lacrosse player's parents. They work very, very hard. Or at least one of them does. And like so many hard-working rich people, they resent having to pay taxes to the other. You know what I mean. These parents don't carry tiki torches or wear swastikas, but they are what I would call RACIST TO THE CORE. They probably don't fling the "n" word around at the dinner table, but the same attitude that prevails in the hardest core white supremacists prevails in their household as well. These parents work hard. They resent other people who don't work as hard, who are eating up their tax dollars and the sweat of their brows. In upwardly mobile families, there's deep seated resentment about every dime that goes out the door that isn't funding their own child's future.

In other words, some citizens of Haddonfield are lower than trailer park trash. They've never tried to interact with minority groups, they in fact resent the existence of the "lower classes." They convey this to their children in subtle ways. What's not so subtle is the expectations placed on these privileged white kids. They are expected to maintain a lifestyle through the sweat of their brows, just like Mom and Pop.

My mother used to say, "The rich are just like you and me." Truth is, they aren't. With wealth comes the anxiety to produce more wealth. With wealth comes the anxiety that your kids won't be able to maintain the lifestyle. And if you're a kid, this wealth creates enormous pressure to be fabulously successful yourself.

What gets lost in this scenario is humanity.

Oh sure, Haddonfield is full of wealthy families who tithe to churches and who collect canned foods and who pack nutritious lunches for orphans in Haiti. Every church in Haddonfield has a youth group that performs good deeds within the community and elsewhere. (Don't get me started on youth group trips to Appalachia!)

But here's the bottom line: The town lacks humanity.

How do I know? Well, one way that Haddonfield could change its image would be for it to open its school doors to students from Camden. The classrooms and buildings aren't crowded. Camden public school kids would even come with funding from Camden. It's four miles away.

Another way that Haddonfield could change its image would be for it to construct affordable housing in numbers larger than the minimal state mandate (which is met by renting to white senior citizens). Just now the borough is about to embark on a brand-new development of 90 houses that were supposed to be for senior citizens. Instead the houses, carrying a $500,000 price tag minimum, will just be "suggested" for senior living. Anyone with a half million bucks can buy one of the houses. A developer is about to make big bank, and Haddonfield will remain lily white, when it has an opportunity to court a more diverse citizenry.

Trust me, good readers. I have often asked myself why I settled down here and am still here. I can rightly claim that the house purchase was done way too swiftly, without any prior knowledge of this region and this community and its ills. I have stayed because our house is packed with stuff, including memories. But when Mr. J and I leave -- and a few other residents on our side of the borough -- there won't even be a middle class presence in this town. It will all be upwardly mobile wealthy people who are anxious about their children's futures.

I have no friends in this town. There is nothing keeping me here but the difficulties of relocating while working full time (I begin interior painting the moment school ends this year).

Every day I drive to Camden and work with the teenagers there. They are kind, generous, respectful people who face incredible obstacles as they try to climb into the middle class. And then I come home to a community that hates these kids and has the temerity to pretend it doesn't. I am ashamed of myself for winking and smirking about "Snobville" when I should have been packing my bags. What can I say about myself, if I live in Haddonfield, New Jersey?

Anne takes yet another blow to the brow. Shame on Haddonfield. Shame on me.




Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Evils of Gentrification: A Personal Perspective

Hello and welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," where today we really, really wish we could identify Snobville by its real name. Just afraid to do it, because there are two Anne Johnsons on my street, and I don't want either of us to get harassed by our fellow Snobvillains.

On the surface of things, gentrification of inner cities seems like a great idea. Developers buy old, rundown (or abandoned) row homes and refurbish or demolish them in favor of more expensive, upscale housing. This helps increase the tax base and builds "safer" neighborhoods.

Did you ever think about what happens to the people who were living in those rundown row homes? Where do they go? How much upheaval does their moving cause to their children and their local community? Because everyone has a local community. As one of my students said, "I've lived in Camden my whole life, and it's not scary to me at all."

There are a couple of new urban young  adult novels about the toll gentrification takes on minority city dwellers. (This Side of Home, by Renee Watson, is one of them.) Anecdotally I can tell you that wealthy people who buy property in certain Philadelphia neighborhoods and seek to recreate their lifestyle among those with a different lifestyle sometimes face hostility. In my own household, I out-and-out cringed when the Spare's boyfriend said, "When I'm finished grad school I'll probably live in Camden. It's so much cheaper there." Will he be welcome? Seen as pulling the neighborhood up or splitting it apart? The answer varies. Nothing in this world is simple. I'm sure you've noticed.

Can I tell you a secret? Gentrification is not only happening in big cities. It's happening in suburban communities too. It's happening in Snobville. Right across the street from my house.

EXHIBIT A: "Before" View from My Front Door


This house was built in 1919. Behind it was a two-car garage with a one-bedroom apartment above the garage. Pretty, huh? I thought so too. But the people who lived there wanted to move away, and instead of waiting for a buyer interested in an older home, they sold to a developer. The developer used the fact that there were two residences on the property (the house, the apartment) to subdivide the lot for two full-sized luxury homes.

EXHIBIT B: Ominous Signs of Things To Come


Last fall, one day while I was at school, the house got demolished in less time than it took me to complete my teaching day. When I left in the morning it was there, and when I came home, it wasn't.

What about the trees? You ask. Eight of them are gone now. The tree cutters came on the weekend, so I couldn't avoid them. In fact, they came last Sunday for the largest tree (not pictured, off to the left).

Have you ever been wakened on a Sunday morning by an industrial-sized wood chipper and an army of chain saws? Mr. J called the police. It took the cop 40 minutes to come, during which the tree slaughter continued apace.

It took about six months for the first luxury house to be built. Asking price: $850,000 -- more than twice the value of my home across the street. The house was purchased before it was even finished.

As you might imagine from looking at the above photos, putting two houses on that property is a tight squeeze. Here's the first one, all finished.

EXHIBIT C: Four People, Four Bathrooms



The tree pictured has been cut down.

Notice the size of the house and how small the front yard is. This is the "smaller" of the two houses. The bigger one will be directly across the street from mine. If this one sold for $850 grand, I imagine the larger one will be offered at a million.

About four weeks ago, a young family moved into the house pictured above, Exhibit C. They are very young. Both are lawyers. They have a baby and a three-year-old. So basically the house has a bathroom for each inhabitant.

Probably next week, workers will begin digging the foundation for the next house. To make way for it, the largest tree on the lot had to be murdered.

EXHIBIT D: Candles on a Stump


Look at the size of that stump! This was a beautiful tree. They were cutting it down last Monday when I got home from work. (After the law chased them on Sunday.) I'm the one who put the candles there when the deed was done. The stump has since been ground out.

I don't know what you would call this, but I call it gentrification.

I've seen a lot of turnover on my block during the last 31 years. I've always been the first one to bring a casserole to the newbies and volunteer to help them with information on daycare and where to get the best birthday cake. But I cannot bring myself to welcome this new family. Their values cannot possibly be mine. Clearly they wanted a house where everything was brand spanking new, with four fucking bathrooms and no yard, front or back.

It's supremely disorienting to come home from work to the same house and the same street that you've lived on since 1987, and nothing is the same. The trees are gone. The old house is gone. In its place a butt-ugly monstrosity populated by a family that has a pathological aversion to smelling shit. And this is not Rip Van Winkle. I didn't go away for 25 years and come back to a changed world. I went to work in the morning and came back to a changed world at the end of my shift.

And then, the other day, as I drove home from work, I was greeted with one of these out in the street, in front of the new house.

EXHIBIT E: Really? REALLY?

Oh, reader. It was all I could do to just park my car and hoof it to the rear of my dwelling without blowing my stack. These spoiled yuppies wanted a brand new house, and they bought one with no yard, and now they are warning me that their tot is playing near the street?

I don't want to move. It takes me ten minutes to drive to work. The El Train to Philly is four blocks away. But I'm not comfortable. There are barbarians at the gate. They have created a wasteland and called it progress.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Faeries aka Fairies Are Real

Welcome to "The Gods Are Bored," safe harbor for faeries since 2005! My name is Anne Johnson. I believe in faeries. I do. I do.

Sunday morning I was dozing in the peace and repose of my bedroom when, promptly at 9:00, the overpowering drone of heavy machinery commenced in the street.

A developer has bought the property directly across the street from my house. There was one home on it when he bought it. Now there's one finished one and another, larger one, planned. When the whole fiasco is finished, I will post photos.

But this is about faeries, right?

Turns out the workers across the street were intent upon slaughtering three fully mature maple trees on this sleepy Sunday morning. The noise of the shredder was deafening. The sight of the shapely limbs falling to the ground was heart-wrenching. A cluster of neighbors gathered in the street, including the new neighbors from the brand-new dwelling. Their three-year-old, blonde son was captivated by the tree slaughter.

All of this is an affront to the faeries, of course. Big time.

It's also an affront to a hard-working and proficient school teacher who has to go to work tomorrow and teach Act 3 of Romeo and Juliet. So while I petitioned the faeries to put a stop to the mayhem, Mr. J more reasonably called the Snobville constabulary. It only took 45 minutes for an officer to arrive -- his appearance brought great consternation to the work crew, who scurried for their trucks. A few more limbs were hacked down and then work ceased. It's against the law to run heavy machinery in Snobville on Sunday.

Quiet descended, and the sun came out. It had been raining for four days.

I had been planning to freshen my outdoor shrine if the weather was good, so I went out to do it. My shrine is dedicated to the ancient deities who no longer have praise and worship teams, to my ancestors, and to the faeries. It is loaded with crystals, marbles, stones, sea glass, and other shiny objects that honor the tastes of the fae.

I was so upset about all the big trees being cut down. I have a hard time pulling out seedlings in my own yard. (Now I have little trees everywhere and coppiced trees too.) My heart was heavy as I commenced to spruce up the shrine.

When I first built my shrine, I put three dozen or so quartz crystal points in the very center of it. None of them remained. Or so I thought. As I began to sift through the pebbles and the sea glass and the trinkets, I began finding quartz crystals. And more of them. And more of them. And even more of them. More, I promise you, than I ever put out there. When I assembled all the shiny stuff to wash it, the pile was just brimming with quartz crystals!

Quartz crystals don't mate and multiply. But it's my experience that, if you give the faeries what they like, they reward you.

I needed to spend time at my shrine today. I needed to clean and beautify it. I needed to be reminded that I have a faerie portal in my own yard, that I made it, and that they are using it.

So you say, "What do faeries look like?" And I answer, "What have you got?" There are as many varieties of faerie as there are of biological life in the apparent world. Some faeries are human shaped and sized, some are tiny, some look like animals, some like birds, and some are just beams of light. Be careful if you make eye contact, because they like to distract. And whatever you do, show them respect. Even the "critter" ones. Call them "Ladies and Gentlemen," or "your majesties."

It was tempting to ask the faeries to wreak revenge on the tree-killers and the developer across the street, and even the rich young families who buy the houses. But with faeries, they will tell you they are fulfilling your wishes, whether they plan to or not. So my advice is, don't petition the faeries. Just be respectful, give them trinkets, and keep their portals fresh and lively.

If you want to attract faeries to your yard, set out a little pile of polished stones, beads, marbles, crystals, pins, and anything that looks like a trinket. Keep it all clean, and bow politely as you pass it. Before you know it, the stuff in the pile will start to re-arrange itself. This either means you have faeries or there's been a stampede of buffalo that you somehow missed.

Now it's Sunday night. The tree-killers will be back tomorrow, I'm sure, to complete the sap-bath. (It's only a bloodbath if you have blood. Trees have sap.) I'll be at work, but the faeries will be watching. From their spruced-up portal, all bright and shiny.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Spotwood 2018

Every year since 2006 my daughter The Spare (I just like that better) and I have gone to a festival near York, PA that celebrates the faeries. The festival was held on a charming farm property with a Jane Austen-era farmhouse and a babbling brook.

I'm using the past tense. This year was the final Spotwood Fairie Festival to be held on the farm property.

EXHIBIT A: THEN


EXHIBIT B: NOW




Spotwood drew thousands of free-spirited people like me -- people who liked to drum and dance and join tribes and put together amazing outfits from thrift stores and honor the faeries. It's one of two places I've visited in the last decade where I met people I really wanted to get to know. I thought Spare was outgrowing the festival, but she got swept up in the spirit on the final day and was loved by all the folks who have gotten to know her over the years.

But Spotwood was a victim of its success, growing bigger every year and facing challenges from Mother Nature. Word has it that the festival will relocate elsewhere. This is a solace to the people who have become family because of it. But what about the land?

You see, I do believe in faeries, and I do believe they are present on the property. They don't just pack up and move to a neighboring campground. It's a lot more complicated than that. The special qualities of Spotwood Farm will be very hard to replicate because faeries exist. Spotwood has faerie energy, and that's not found everywhere.

I'm telling myself that Spotwood had become a habit and that maybe, if I got less lazy, I would find more places with people like me. Brushwood, for instance. I've never been there. But right now it's hard to be optimistic. About anything. That's why I haven't been writing much. I used to be silly, but now I'm sour. I feel burdened by the ugly soot of the Trump regime. Snobville, as if this was really possible, has become even snobbier.

Where do I belong? Where's my land base? I knew I wouldn't always have Spotwood, but the ground is just shifting dramatically under my feet. I don't know who I am in this post-farm, post-daughter, change-ridden landscape.

I don't even recognize America. Do you?

Anyway, sorry for all the tears and self-pity, but I really will miss going to Spotwood, not just for all the fun reasons but for the spiritual ones too.

(My regulars will see that I misspelled the name of the farm throughout. This was deliberate, I haven't gone completely around the bend yet.)