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Wiley Wandering

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March 25, 2008

The Complexity of Simply Communicating

I recently visited southern California where I had the chance to have a one-on-one conversation with Z, the 20 year old son of two of my dearest friends. What would make that conversation special enough for me to want to share it with the Wiley Wandering crew? Well, sometimes you just know you are heading somewhere special, even before the journey begins.

Approaching 21 years ago, my two dear friends were pregnant with their first born. Due to a series of mishaps, their first child was born with cerebral palsy. Today this very intelligent, witty, charming young man, now a high school graduate and college student, doesn’t have any problems understanding the world he lives in, but that world doesn’t always necessarily understand him. Case in point, on a beautiful 76 degree day in Rancho Cucamonga, California I approached him in his family’s driveway while he was waiting for a van to pick him up for his day’s activities and asked him where he was going. He answered me, but it took me quite some time to understand what he had actually said. I would guess this, and he would dismiss that guess with a head shake, I would guess that, and again he would dismiss my guess with a kind, but emphatic head shake. As Z and I were attempting to align our communication, my eleven year old son joined us for the walk he and I had planned to go on. He witnessed some of our engagement, then Z’s ride picked him up, and my son and I embarked on our bonding moment.

As we walked I asked him how it was for him to communicate with Z. He told me he had no difficulties communicating with Z. Curious about whether he might be overstating the situation I asked him if he understood Z. He ensured me he was comfortable with the fact that their communication was good. I then asked him if his relationship with Z had influenced the way he saw others that were different from him. He said yes! He then talked a great deal about how he had no tolerance for kids who used mean spirited language like retard. I listened to my little man with pride as he told me a few stories about how he challenges other kids about the things they say. Now, I am not naïve. I know my son still does and says things that wouldn’t make me proud, as I am sure I still do. Nevertheless, his awareness and articulation of certain social injustices is probably more advanced than most his age and bodes well for the possibility that he will become better able to transcend some of his potential blind spots and insensitivities. Do you think, while exposure is not closure, we can avoid aversion with an attempted immersion into other’s realities? What makes you think this? What are your stories that serve as examples? How might we improve our world by taking the time to examine the realities/worlds of others?

March 17, 2008

While Money Can Get You In, It Doesn’t Buy You Game… Necessarily!

So, I am in a cab on a Friday night at about midnight. I’m on my way to a downtown Buffalo hotel, where I will do two presentations Saturday, one in the morning for a group of Nursing faculty and the other presentation will be in the afternoon for a group of students. I was a bit tired, because I had worked most of the night before on an analysis of survey results for a company I consult to, as well as graded papers for the Examining Diversity through Film course I co-teach at SUNY Plattsburgh. Friday itself had not been grueling, but just busy. You know those days where your phone just rings, and it seems everywhere you turn you are in a conversation with someone. Not that those conversations aren’t energizing, but have enough of them and your energy will nevertheless begin to drop.

The cab driver was an older man, probably around sixty, very witty, quite charming, and on his way to retirement. He described himself as only a weekend driver now, essentially semi-retired, and Italian, which made me an honorary Italian for the duration of the ride because he continually and very comfortably called me “brother.” I liked that!

We were chit-chatting and he was bringing up different topics for me to weigh in on since he had earlier asked what I did and I told him college professor/administrator, consultant, lecture/presenter. When I told him I taught diversity/philosophy courses and named some of them, I don’t think he heard anything after I said Romance, Sex, Love, and Marriage. That led him to ask me about the recent gubernatorial happenings within New York State.

It is a funny thing to discuss the Spitzer situation alone, in the company of men. After I weighed in and revealed my excitement about the new opportunities that lie ahead for New York State with a doubly underrepresented person accepting the mantle of leadership, thus spoke the sagacious driver: “But Spitzer was stupid. He could have had women, many of them, and never had problems if he had game.” I was caught off guard with his assertion of Spitzer needing game to avoid the situation he was in. I’m curious as to what some of you may think he meant by Spitzer not having “game.” What is the game that Spitzer needed to have to have avoided his situation?

I also wondered how different our conversation might have been if I had been accompanied by a female colleague. Would the cabby’s disdain for Spitzer’s actions have surfaced in more of a politically correct way, or not at all? Would the cabby have been more judgmental in terms of Spitzer’s morality if a woman had been in on the conversation between us? Why would a woman’s presence have changed the dynamic of a reaction to Spitzer’s infidelity? Lastly, how would American society have treated Hillary different if as a married woman she had purchased the services of a male escort? And let's pretend she didn't owe Bill any payback!

March 5, 2008

Here’s Looking at You Romance!!!

How often do we really ask our self if our interpretation of romance is socially constructed around our gender? When you think about romance what is it that comes to mind? For me it is Humphrey Bogart’s Rick Blane forfeiting the opportunity to escape a dangerous political situation with the love of his life Ilsa Lund in the Academy Award winning Best Picture, Casablanca! What made that moment romantic is somewhat morbid, but none the less, provocatively sexy. Bogart’s Rick tells Bergman’s Ilsa that their love is not meant to be because it stands in the way of them both making a significant contribution to the possibility of a better world. A love that is as deep as theirs could only be ended by some major catastrophe. To watch them both experience the pain of a loss of their one true love— with a recognition that it needed to happen—brought a painful appreciation of their poetically tragic situation. It also makes one ponder the question is love sweeter in our memory when it can’t be fulfilled, or is short-lived? Perhaps more interesting than that question is this one, what would a feminist Ilsa’s reaction be to Rick’s overtures?

What is your definition of romance? How important is romance and sex, romance and love, and/or romance and marriage to one another? .In the Philosophies on Romance, Sex, Love, & Marriage class that I teach at SUNY Plattsburgh, we watch various film clips that accentuate the readings with visual images which frame the four themes we cover in the class. In “Out Of Sight” George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez somewhat mirror Bergman and Bogart’s characters’ extremely romantic, albeit unattainable love. In “Feeling Minnesota” Cameron Diaz and Keanu Reeves buck tradition and serious odds by stealing away together. In “Love Jones” Nia Long and Larenz Tate weather miscommunication and their own insecurities, finally succumbing to the habit of love. In “Bound” two women intimately discover one another and then conspire to rob and exploit the mob to better situate their opportunities. In “About Last Night”—originally titled “Sexual Perversity in Chicago”—Demi Moore and Rob Lowe overcome backbiting friends to arrive in a better space. What all these scenarios have in common is the fact that during all of their journeys they experienced a plethora of romantic moments.

What are the romantic moments that you have experienced or witnessed during your life? What are the films that forever frame the romantic moment? What are the songs that transport you to a romantic place. Does LTD’s “Love Ballad” appear on your list of romantic songs? How about Billy Joel’s “I Love You Just the Way You Are,” Brenda Russell’s “Get Here” or Marvin Gaye’s “Come Get to This?”

Perhaps my notion of romance will vary greatly from a woman’s, an Asian male’s, a differently abled person, a lesbian, an impoverished or wealthy couple, or a person originating from a First People’s (Indigenous) perspective. As an able bodied-heterosexual-petit bourgeoisie-Black-African American male I think provocative conversation with like minded people passionate about their philosophical perspectives is exhilarating if not outright titillating. How is a person that you find visually engaging while she/he is comfortably dropping pearls of wisdom consistently, stealthily and seductively not somehow entering and exiting the realm of sexy?

What is the reality that you originate from and how does your concept of romance differ from the person you just passed? Why don’t you help others visit the panoply of possibilities for considerations of romance by taking the time to paint a picture of romance that shows exactly how different the concept can be to a wide array of people?