Comfort in the Big Box

My transportation class had an interesting discussion about the future of cars in America. I had claimed that Americans are still in love with their cars, and that Sarah Palin has a reality show on TLC, which is an indicator that America isn’t ready for change. At least half of it isn’t.  (Man, are we polarized. Quite a shame.)

My classmate Joel challenged that, saying “It’s not so much a love affair but more of a forced marriage.” I’d agree. I guess you could say that I want to grant annulments to everyone.  I know that the country is very concerned with liberty and freedom, but I plead with them to really look at traffic jams and wonder if that is what freedom means to us. People don’t often consciously make the choice to drive – it’s just a necessary thing, because everything is so spread out.

On another note, this came up in a poem of mine and I’m sure many have thought about it too. Why do we take comfort in finding Targets and Barnes and Nobles in unfamiliar cities?  Quite obvious.  It’s a familiar thing. Our country is so big. It’s no wonder corporations have taken over and we let them. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just that these big boxes are our common places. You feel a sense of normalcy walking into Target. It’s something everyone shares.  They respond to our demands.

I think we all want a home we know by heart.


How Men and Women Cripple Each Other

I think about gender roles a lot.

I’m very proud of my Lady Gaga post and it was written out of love for my two transgendered friends. Transgenderism is interesting because it proves that the difference between men and women is more than physical. When a person born with male parts knows that she is a female, who can contest that?

Now that I’m at University of Michigan, I think about what it means to be a woman. Now that I’m getting married in 8 months, I think about what it means to be a wife. My favorite wedding blog (A Practical Wedding), which isn’t really about centerpieces and wedding trends but more about the psychological transition from singlehood to marriage, had this excellent post about being a wife and mother. It’s about a book Elizabeth Gilbert wrote about female roles in the family. This part was reeeeally illuminating to me:

“She talks about her mom quitting a career that she loved, because her father couldn’t handle not having her home to take care of the kids and the house.”

I hear this kind of thing a lot. That men are so invested in their careers, they need their wives to take care of everything else in their lives (the home).  Meg goes on to write

“I worry when I hear about most of us* doing the bulk of the chores around the house. Not because we have to, but because we want to (“I just care more about cleanliness than he does, so I need to take responsibility for that.”)”

She also writes about how we praise women who sacrifice themselves for their kids. There’s the general idea that our society completely depends for its survival on mothers’ sacrifices, yet we don’t put any real value on this. The post is about women losing themselves, “having to scrape bare the walls of their own souls” in order to serve their families. This is not what God meant by giving. Giving is supposed to edify the giver and the receiver.

I hear about it a lot; I hear about men who never learn how to cook a meal for themselves, men who claim they don’t know how to clean or do other domestic things. I saw a guy pushing a stroller the way people walk their bikes – to the side of his body, with one hand. They don’t want to associate themselves with feminine “tasks.”

(Please grant me my generalizations, because there’s truth to them)

Is this because of how men are “wired” biologically? Or is it a cultural cripple?

Let’s flip it around. I hear women in my class, all the time and EVERY DAY, apologize before giving their opinions. I see my classes dominated by men, I see men with wedding bands who never talk about their wives but talk about getting married as a check off the list.  I hear insensitive remarks in general, not even just about women, that go unnoticed. Women are crippled in academia, and probably in the work place (I haven’t had a legitimate fulltime job – don’t get me started on my cleaning job with Maid to Order). When women cross over into “man territory” they seem to have to assimilate to mannish mannerisms. When men cross over into “woman land,” they get called “sensitive” and sometimes, by immature people, “gay.”

I want to tangent on my last sentence. I think this is hugely relevant right now.  Anywhere in the media where a guy is acting strange, dancing, or being generally comfortable with himself, he gets a lot of “you’re gay” thrown at him.  Anywhere a guy alludes to anything feminine, a joke has to be made about it. Sometimes I think that men are more crippled than women. They’re emotionally crippled. They’re so afraid of being seen as gay or feminine, which are synonymous with weak, that they force themselves along “safe” constructs of manhood. They have to dress a certain way, like certain things, not say certain words, all out of fear of being like a woman.

Being like a woman, like our mothers who taught us much of what we know and did so much for us, that’s the greatest fear for a man.

What does that say about actually being a woman? It sort of says that it’s a necessary evil. It says we are making sacrifices just by being who we are. It says that we need affirmative action and protection because we have it so hard or because we’re weaker.

What does this do to our work? It removes the elements we think are “feminine” – sensitivity, holism, empathy.

What does this do to friendships? It makes women compete against each other and boy-girl friendships unnatural (“you guys should date already”).

What does this do to children? It teaches them that they should only be a certain way, and if they vary from that, society will punish them. Hence, to the ones who bravely cannot help but be themselves, it means a lifetime of unnecessary troubles.

What does this do to the church? It gives us a false picture of who God is. It masculinizes God, the creator of sexes. And God is all-powerful, so we then associate (subconsciously) power with masculinity.  (My favorite priest pointed out that part of the curse in Genesis is that men will have power over women. The curse of patriarchal society.)

Finally, what does this do to marriage? To make marriage work, we have to either break the mold or buy into it. Both have extreme repercussions.  One makes society constantly question us, the other continues the cycle of men and women crippling each other.

I’m not against societal structure. Clearly I’m not – otherwise, I would not be entering the institution of marriage. I just think we should be growing up, in a way. Maturing. Transcending these norms and accepting each other and ourselves for who we are. Admitting our weaknesses. Enabling each other to do what we really want to do.

Everyone should read that post from A Practical Wedding. Tell me what you think.

The Return of Kimscape and Why I’m Back

Well. Let’s start with why I stopped posting.

I felt I was either repeating myself about urban planning issues or writing about the various things I’m interested, giving my blog zero cohesiveness.  Then, I went to graduate school and as you might imagine, it is crazy busy! It’s also a lot more of a competitive atmosphere than I expected or like. I thought about dropping out every day for the six weeks.

Then I got an e-mail from SMART. Sustainable Mobility & Accessibility Research & Transformation. I had applied to work-study with them at the beginning of the year and they just hired me two weeks go.

The more I learn about this cooperative group, the more excited I get. It is exactly what I have been looking for. It is an unpretentious, holistic approach to transportation solutions globally. It’s all about collaboration and the idea that no one is an expert on everything and we all bring the pieces of the puzzle together.  And they’re affiliated with U of M? How is this possible? Academia has gotten ridiculously competitive and individualistic – ownership of ideas, research, and work is the most important thing to people and I really believe this has stunted our progress in America.  No one wants to work together, especially across disciplines. We’re too compartmentalized and need to realize that we can’t fix anything without trying to see the whole elephant.

So right now I’m just learning up on what SMART has been doing, watching a lot of videos from their past two summits. I can’t wait to meet all the people. I can’t believe what an amazing opportunity fell into my lap. What a godsend.

SO, I want to write again. Especially with this upcoming election. I forgot to register to vote. I feel pretty bad.

I want to say that the peppercorn I can take away from this Tea Party Movement is the idea of looking to our founding fathers for inspiration of how to move forward. That is probably a misinterpretation of the TP movement, since I think they want to move backwards in time, which is impossible, but it is my interpretation none the less. The founding fathers were complete radicals. They dreamed up a new system and just did it. They wrote that constitution. They went out on a limb. They claimed freedom and rights for themselves, even if they didn’t include everyone at the time.

No one these days has that genius or audacity. Protesting and internet campaigns are drops in a bucket. They are weak and meant for mob-mentality. Power should not be given to the people just because there are a lot of people who feel the same way. Power should be given to innovative solutions. Power should be given to the most amazing ideas out there. Boldness should mean standing up for an equitable future and then making it happen. Not simply by voting for a “lesser of two evils” candidate, but by completely overhauling a system that has been failing us for years. We are more than a system! Look at the reasons you may hate political talk, those of you who do. It’s not because it goes over your head, it’s because you know it’s just a game that doesn’t get you anywhere.

The real political movement is how you live your life. What stores you go to, how much you drive, how you treat people, what church you support, and what movies you watch, books you choose to read. Gay romantic comedies are the best indicator of our shifting politics. Lady Gaga is a supreme indicator that things are shifting.

Let backwards be backwards and continue working for a better future for our kids.


The City: The First Suburbs Were Called “Green Cities”

I found The City, a documentary from 1939, at the library. Copland does a fantastic score for it, by the way. I wasn’t sure what the expect but what I got was truckloads of insight into why we have suburbs today.

Cities were hell holes.

The first part of this doc shows the Utopia of farm life. It functions well, the air is clean, and communities are strong. Then it starkly contrasts this dream with factory-laden cities where everything is filthy, there’s not a tree in sight, kids play in slums, smoke stacks, hunger, traffic accidents, poverty. “Smoke makes prosperity, no matter if you choke on it.”

The big shocker for me was the turning point of the documentary. It starts showing suburbs with plenty of trees, space, and sidewalks. It shows highways in a positive light, people biking and walking, and peaceful buses picking up commuters in the middle of nowhere. “Factories are set apart from living quarters, but close to rail and motor roads, with space to set about it. People can even walk to work and have lunch at home sometimes, just like the kids.”

After watching this, you can completely understand why urban sprawl happened. The motives were (if not racist and sexist) completely pure.

What do we know now that they don’t know?

Spread-out plans can cost more and eat up a lot of land, especially when population grows exponentially.

People like Robert Moses had to be born and car-obsessed, subsidizing cars so much that trains and public transit were pushed out of many communities.

Good planning doesn’t necessarily make good communities or happy people. Just watch the 9 million movies that cast a negative light on Utopian suburbia.

Schools would somehow become places for police supervision, even in the suburbs and subdivisions. Kids don’t walk to school anymore, even in suburbs and subdivisions. Somehow after building all of these suburbs and subdivisions we still don’t feel “safe.” Perhaps suburbs don’t create peace at all. Getting away from the inner city and the minorities who live there doesn’t create safety. (Didn’t Columbine poke a hole in that belief?) Maybe it just reinforces segregation and racism.

What they saw that we’ve lost sight of

Cities are (still) broken. No one should have to live with the messes that urban life can create.

Cities shouldn’t grow too large to be managed.

The “green communities” described actually fit the exact description of New Urbanism. “Houses clustered together, close to schools, the public meeting hall, the movies, and the markets.” Produce comes from nearby farms.

What went wrong

Suburbs became places only navigable by car, with garages shooting out to the driveways so that neighbors are less likely to know each other. Highways split part cities and, in Detroit’s case, somewhat killed them. Zoning compartmentalized commercial, residential, and industrial areas to be too separate, creating risky climates for success on the commercial properties’ part.

What we’ve done right

Putting farms and gardens back into the cities.

Moved industry away from living quarters (though we still need to cut down on pollution)

Local food is increasing in popularity by day.

Here’s a clip from the documentary, which is entirely on Youtube in four parts.

Facebook Changes

Facebook has changed again, and I can understand the frustration that comes along with all their updates. Yes, it means it is a very well-run site, but it also takes sense of control away from the person. The profile cannot be personalized visually. It makes us all very uniform except for what we write about on our profile and our wall posts.

Back in 2005, when I joined, there were no “statuses.” It was only for college kids, but messaging and writing on others’ walls was possible. I found Facebook more addicting back then because you had to work harder to get your stalking done.  Now, everything’s on one page and I can be friends with my local radio station or news station, my library, and the tire shop down the road. Wow. Even my internship, a planning organization, has one. It’s obviously great for marketing, and I like getting heads-up from TCBY and Dairy Queen about deals and coupons, but we all have to face the fact that Facebook has been Dorkified. Hooray. I just became a fan of Meijer grocery stores.

I love my family to death, but the fact that every one of them can see not only what I write for my statuses, but what everyone writes on my wall, does not help my paranoia. Are people judging me?  What would they say if I said this stuff to their face?  I feel the cliche postmodern isolation by the fact that everyone knows I’m now engaged and Catholic but I never got to read their faces or see their excitement in person.

It’s innocuous, really, just like garbage is innocuous except when you hoard it and let it take over your life. I’m talking about the status updates. I wish we didn’t have them. I wish Facebook would’ve let Twitter be unique in that way, not grabbing the best parts of every social networking site. I don’t mind that people are looking forward to the weekend, or that they’re “having a relaxing weekend with my boys!” (son and husband), but when that is filling up the Facebook page, and when I voluntarily subject myself to reading blurbs about other peoples’ lives, it makes everything seem meaningless and me feel lonely. I also don’t think Americans needed another way to feel self-important.  Do we really need to write this stuff in order to feel validated?  Does writing about a bad day make it better? Does writing about a good day make it more of a good day?

This has become a list of my pet peeves, so one more: why do people ask other people questions they could find out through Google? I understand asking questions about someone’s life or project or whatever, but asking someone what the movie they “just watched and loved” was about is really redundant. GOOGLE IT!  Better yet, look it up on Rotten Tomatoes!

We all have a relationship with conformity, and Facebook illustrates it so well. (So do weddings, I’m realizing, but save that for another post).  Most people like to conform, some like to go against the grain, but all of us should realize the extent to which we conform on Facebook and what we all subject ourselves to. Most of it is unnecessary. Sign out, once in a while, and live your life.

Jesus’ words out of context

I’m really glad a West Michigan church renamed itself “.thepoint” Wow. What a long-lasting, strong foundational name for a church. Way to change with the trends. Except we all know that the point is a direct allusion to the 1960s cartoon movie featuring the music of Harry Nilsson. Watch Here.

You know the verse everyone points to to assert that Christianity is the only way? “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.”

Why do we think that Jesus means no other religion is the way to God except through him? He was talking to a bunch of Jews who probably had never heard of Buddhism, Hinduism, or any of the religions Christians say are B.S. He was talking to people who were following 600+ laws in hopes of getting to Heaven. How do we know that this is a condemning statement and not an invitation to be set free from the law? What if it really means, “you can’t get to God by what you do. Trust me instead.”

Where do we get off telling people who goes to heaven and who doesn’t? This isn’t even about heaven. It’s about living in a heavenly way. Being happy. It’s a daily struggle, like the chick busting his way out of an egg. But you can do it. You can totally do it!

The Monster Woman Post – Lady Gaga

ne of the first things I heard about Lady Gaga was about the rumor that she is not a woman. This is supposedly from a picture from her tour, a very blurry picture, but I know that it comes from the fact that Lady Gaga does not follow any rules of being a woman. She broke out as a pop star in bizarre outfits and shamelessly objectified herself in her incredible music videos with exquisitely produced music videos. Many did not know what to do with her.

I, too, was intimidated by the Woman until I saw an interview with her. Two people I know have said the same thing. No wonder people wondered if she was a woman or not. She didn’t look or act like one. Maybe she isn’t one. She doesn’t fit into the mold we’ve built for women or men. It’s kind of insane how much that throws us off.

Her new video for the song “Telephone” dispels any of those rumors in an explicit way. Beyonce’s in this video, too, but she seems kind of like a sidekick than a collaborator.

Now what am I really talking about with these rules and stereotypes and expectations the media and culture puts on us? Isn’t it just cliche? Isn’t it just being feminist to talk about it?

I keep seeing this magazine in the doctor’s office I clean, and for some reason no one will throw it away. I will if I see it again. It’s old anyway.

There’s not much to Jennifer Aniston…she hasn’t had a very strong career, but even I feel bad about this front page. Identifying her by a man she was with five years ago?  Even the small blurb about Haiti on the top suggests they have a lot more material to work with in our world than creates the need for defining a burned-out actress by her ex.

This is the world into which Lady Gaga has forced herself. It’s been a quiet few years for the female singers. Rihanna sort of shook things up with her amazing haircut, and Beyonce just shook. Taylor Swift became America’s Sweetheart.

But after I listened to her albums and saw her videos, I began to see myself in a different way. I noticed how I walk with my head down when I’m in public, that I always think about how gross my body is, and that I’ve been letting fear get to me and define me, and moreover that the culture I live in encourages these feelings. After reading those beauty magazines which have one article that tells you to love your body and on the next page five tips for a bikini body.

The whole my getting engaged thing has amplified all of this. There are assumptions and expectations that come along with deciding to spend the rest of your life with one person. Some of them are ridiculous as wearing a certain 3000 dollar stone on your finger. Or wearing an immaculate white, strapless dress and being given away like a possession by your father. Or taking professional pictures and having them put in the paper as if the general public cares.
When I listen to her (incredible concept) albums and watch her (works of art) videos I don’t think any of those things subconsciously anymore. She brings them right to the surface, poisons, and kills them. I see my own beauty in her beauty. I want to climb mountains and change things and be fearless. She is beyond fierce and beyond beautiful and beyond woman.

I keep hearing negative things about gays and transgender and bisexuality but I have two transgender friends and they transcend more than gender. They transcend all of these (cliche) chains that we are held back by in living this life. They don’t ask me why my fiance didn’t empty his bank account on a piece of jewelry. They don’t complain about women’s PMS. They don’t need to talk about cars or sports or hunting to feel secure. They don’t need to put anyone down for their differences. Because they’ve embraced themselves, more than anyone else has. We all need to come out of the closet. We all are hiding our real, curious, wild, beautiful selves.

This is why the term “feminism” isn’t enough to describe Lady Gaga’s movement. Sometimes feminists feel the need to wear suits and be cruel and mean to other women to feel powerful. The real power is seeing yourself for who you are, accepting that, and seeing no reason to not be kind to everyone. Because people, men and women, are cruel to other people out of insecurity.

But we don’t need to be nice. Being nice about things is tolerating ideas we know are false. Why don’t we, instead, accept each other.  Let’s do away with tolerance as an idea. Burn it.

This is not the Madonna movement. We don’t have to dress like Gaga or even approve of or promote her art. We just have to see it as it really is, so that we can see ourselves as we really are.

Is Lady Gaga a Woman?  Yes.

Google Bike Maps

ow when you look up directions somewhere on Google Maps, you can choose public transit, walking, car, or bicycle directions. This is super nice because it opens up many options for where you can go and how you can get there. I’ve realized because of a bike trail going through an industrial area by my house, I can get to 44th street quite easily. Or I can take residential streets to get to church. I’d never thought of it. I always pictured myself on the busy main streets I drive on, getting honked at by the many cars who can’t share a road (either because it’s too narrow or because they’re not used to it.)

I will try to ride my bike places this spring using this new Google Bike layer, and I will report back to you on it. I already contacted Google, probably along with 38 other GR cyclists, about 28th street and how it’s not a good route for any bike to get anywhere. And my feedback is really vital because I’m not one of those bike snobs who wears the shorts and can handle any element…I don’t even have a road bike but a mountain bike. I do have a basket, however. And things like to bounce out of it.  I am also NOT a chic fashion cyclists like the ones they talk about on chic green websites, the hipster girls who ride old vintage falling-apart bikes everywhere in a dress and huge sunglasses because it looks cool.  I’m just kim. Bikin’ along my Kimscape.

Nothing beats this video introducing the new feature. I love the first part with all the bikes riding past Google headquarters and then this random pedal-powered machine with four guys on it trailing behind. I Laughed Out Loudly.

Here’s ANOTHER vehicle Google has invented: The streetview trike. This will likely get pictures of un-drivable pathways so that streetview can truly be comprehensive. There’d have to be thousands of them to get everything. But Google can do it. They’re creepy that way.