This Week in “Help Me Not Be Such an Ass”: January 19-26


Anne Lamott calls “Help me not be such an ass” the “fourth great prayer” (after “Help,” “Thanks,” and “Wow.”). I think of this as a gentle, loving exhortation, having to do with awareness rather than character; to be Such as Ass is to act out of insufficient understanding (including of myself) in a situation where that understanding would matter a lot to the people I am acting with or near. So the x-axis is consciousness, rather than morality. This might be micro-scope unawareness (if I don’t know that your mother has no arms and I ask you how many push-ups your mother can do, I’m Such an Ass*) or macro-scope (if I don’t know the history of racial discourse in the U.S. and I characterize a Black woman as “angry,” I am Such an Ass). I think it does rise or sink or whatever to the level of morality if we remain willfully unaware in order to protect our physical and mental comfort, fingers in our ears, singing “The Greatest Love of All.” Anyway…as I wander around, I certainly ask for help not being such an ass, and help comes, all the time (and I’ll need more, all the time, as we all will until we reach a self-transcendent stage of human development, and by then we won’t be self-righteously blogging probably).

So: here’s what’s helping me be incrementally less of an ass this week. You have things to add–please put in comments or email me.

A beautiful, badass radio interview with the parents of a 14 year old transgender girl. They’ve never been interviewed before. They are full of love and advocacy.

Color Lines’ series “Life Cycles of Inequity: Part one: high school. Especially for us in education, this matters to hear. We have to listen to students say these things.

Selma: I hope you’ll see it, and if you know any 12-17 year olds, I hope you will take them with you.

The Known World by Edward P. Jones. I read it because bell hooks said to; it sometimes made me shake with emotion.

Acting Up Accountably: Recent deaths have been galvanizing to white people. Selma is galvanizing. It’s getting white people to finally put our bodies in the way…and I found this to be a helpful set of thoughts to help do so less Ass-ily. A taste: “From the artist and organizer Ricardo Levins Morales: One more thing. You may not get the validation you hunger for…The thing is that when you help put out a fire the people whose home was in flames may be too upset to thank and praise you – especially when you look a lot like the folks who set the fire. That’s OK. This is about something so much bigger than that. There are things in life we don’t get to do right. But we do get to do them.”

Eddie Huang tells us about his experience having his memoir “whitewashed” for TV sitcomdom. A taste:
My story had become an entertaining but domesticated vehicle to sell dominant culture with Kidz Bop, pot shots, and the emasculated Asian male. I got upset when they dressed Randall like a Fung Wah bus driver or Hudson like an And-1 yard sale or Constance like the Crocodile Hunter with kitty-cat heels. We couldn’t go out like this! If America is ever going to treat its cold sores, its culture will have to force conversations examining freedom, equality, and ASIANS IN GATOR SHOES.
The only way they could even mention some of the stories in the book was by building a Trojan horse and feeding the pathogenic stereotypes that still define us to a lot of American cyclope.

Tina Fey on Amy Poehler: I’d encountered this before, but hearing her say it out loud in the “Bossypants” audiobook (she reads and it’s awesome) nearly made me drive off I-20: “Amy Poehler was new to SNL and we were all crowded into the seventeenth-floor writers’ room, waiting for the Wednesday read-through to start. There were always a lot of noisy “comedy bits” going on in that room. Amy was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke. I can’t remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and “unladylike.”Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her and in a faux-squeamish voice said: “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.” Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit …With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it …I think of this whenever someone says to me, “Jerry Lewis says women aren’t funny,” or Christopher Hitchens says women aren’t funny,” or “Rick Fenderman says women aren’t funny. … Do you have anything to say to that?”

Yes. We don’t fucking care if you like it.”

In a similar vein: we went to see Maria Bamford do her beautiful absurd stand-up. If you have mental illness in your environs or in yourself, or if you just enjoy enjoyable things, I commend her to you. The Maria Bamford Show, a series of 20ish 5-min videos on YouTube (here’s #1) will make you pee with joyful discomfort. She also has “Special Special Special” on Netflix…I would start with YouTube though.

That’s all for this week! Please tell me about your own helpful things…especially if you don’t fucking care if I like them.


*When I was in 10th grade, a kid in my video production class told me to ask another kid how many push ups his mom could do. When I asked, kid #2 looked at kid #1 and said “Man, you know my mom ain’t got no arms” with the greatest sadness and disappointment. And then they both looked at my stricken face and burst out laughing. I’ve marveled at this… oh, maybe once a month for the last 20 years. This feels like the most apt joke you could ever pull on me.

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