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by Julia

So, yesterday was Valentine’s Day. As I see it, there are a few options for how to spend this day, based on your romantic situation:

1. If you’re in a fairly committed relationship, you can embrace it. Yes, it’s a capitalistic holiday which embodies the system at its worst (I’ll get to that in a minute), but it is important to reaffirm your love of one another. Amanda points out that striking the prefect balance on Valentine’s Day is difficult, even for the couples for whom the holiday was created (or so they say):

Gestures that fit the stereotypical romantic gestures–flowers, chocolate, jewelry–feel generic and impersonal.  But highly personalized gestures fail in the task of showing off to others how loved you are.  At its core, Valentine’s Day is some dark shit.

If you choose to participate, be sincere. And please, don’t rub it in the faces of single people.

2. You can hate it. As Brian over at Gawker writes, this is definitely worse than couples who embrace it. Why?

Yes, Valentine’s Day is a despicable propagation of the hetero-normative monogamy fallacy that plagues the world, telling everyone that they have a “soul mate” and one special person to complete them and anyone who isn’t in such a relationship is a worthless piece of shit who doesn’t deserve to be loved and probably dresses bad and needs more time in the gym.

However, the reaction to these sentiments is just as knee-jerk and trite. Hating Valentine’s Day is a sad fucking cliché. On the outside its says, “I hate the corporate structure that built this shitty holiday” and “I’m doing fine on my own, thank you,” but what it says on the inside is, “I am so sick of not having the validation of someone in my life that I need to rebel against this thing or I am going to wither away like a dried toe nail clipping in the garbage.” These people think that they are going to do something to change the couple-centric world that we live in, but all that they’re doing is giving credence to it. It’s like scowling at the concept but sneaking handfuls of chalky conversation hearts while all their fellow black-wearers go to change The Smiths record.

Sorry for the long quotation, but he says it so well. It’s like that age-old advice our parents gave us about bullies at school – acknowledging them only  gives them power. This mantra can be applied to pretty much any oppressive institution in society, and capitalism (and its holidays) churns on thanks to a consistent stream of consumers who buy into its existence. In being anti-Valentines, you’re simply acknowledging its presence. Also, you end up buying more crap.

3. You can ignore it. Treat it like any other day of the year. (More on this in a bit).

4. You can use it as an excuse to be kind to those close to you. For me, this involved a fun evening out with my best friend and a long phone call to the parents (in which my dad promised he’d always be my Valentine. Swoon.) Nothing wrong with baking cookies, drinking wine, and checking out a movie. As one of my friends says, “Cute is fun.” So be cute, have fun, done.

As I mentioned, I spent the day with my roommate. We went out to Silver Spring for dinner and a movie. That movie was Valentine’s Day. Reviews abound, so I’ll be quick in saying that the movie did a good job of affirming my categorization of possible ways to spend the day. There are characters in full-on Valentine’s fervor: proposals, packed prix-fixe restaurants,  massive amounts of money spent of floral arrangements, expensive lingerie, and the like. There are also a few characters filling the anti-Valentine’s role: Jessica Biel’s character throws a particularly depressing anti-Valentines party, complete with a heart pinata ready for pulverization. Jamie Foxx plays into scenario three, choosing to ignore the day. Taylor Swift lost several points in my book for being a horrible actress. Overall, the movie was unmemorable – not that I expected anything more given the reviews. Still, though, I was heartened by the final message of the movie: that the day should serve as a reminder of who and what is important in our lives (#4).

Director Gary Marshall (of Pretty Woman fame) was clearly attempting to make an American version of Love Actually, and in that pursuit he failed miserably. He also didn’t fare well in terms of perpetuating particularly progressive or feminist values (“Valentine’s Day stumps for teen abstinence and marrying your best friend, and warns that career women may end up alone.”) And yet, the movie has some highlights. Two prominent characters are in a homosexual relationship. Anne Hathaway’s character is an empowered, sexualized woman who calls out men on the double standard they are imposing on her for taking control of her sexual expression. And, as mentioned before, one leaves the theater with the distinct feeling that one does not need to be in a monogamous heterosexual relationship to be happy, on this day or any other.

Final reflection, as emphasized by the plethora of chocolate-pounding women on screen and in ads last week: Valentine’s Day is harder on women than men. Even with the message expressed in this movie, the majority of images and messages in popular culture distinctly demonize single women, professing that we must be unhappy and unfulfilled. (Because of this, you should either find a husband, or, for god’s sake, go buy some chocolate and anti-Valentine’s gear!!) Unfortunately, this inundation can take a toll on even the most enlightened feminist, making choice #3 (ignore the day) a bit harder. The best remedy for that sucky feeling? #4. Time with those close to you is the best possible reminder that no gaudy gift – rose, thong, bear, jewelry, or otherwise – can replace friendship, something that many forced monogamous relationships lack. If this is the real purpose of Valentine’s Day (and I remain unconvinced that the majority of society believes that), then each day should be Valentine’s Day. Be excellent to each other. The end.

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Note:  From time to time Julia and Elizabeth will take a break from feminist blogging to use this space to share their other interests and abilities with you. For Elizabeth, this means putting forth her writing, both fiction and nonfiction, to a larger audience. The following is an essay she recently completed. We hope you enjoy these sidesteps and, as always, feel free to comment on our work.

by Elizabeth

Yesterday, my father sent me an email about the dangers of compact fluorescent light bulbs. Apparently if they are broken, they will emit mercury and kill you. In the last month his emails have taught me how to check my power-steering fluid levels, that my major is among the top 5 lowest-earning, where to call to have my cell-phone number removed from telemarketers’ lists, and, in two separate forwards, each with  “FYI” in the subject line, that too much Tylenol will kill you. To say that I have a controlling parent would be cliché. My father carries the weight of the world by choice. This is why his heart is failing.

For the last five Marches my parents have travelled to Snowbird Resort to ski. My dad begins planning for the vacation in December. His first step is wall-sitting. Before plane tickets are booked or reservations at the Cliffe Lodge are confirmed, my father will take out his stopwatch, find a clear bit of wall on our carpeted second-floor landing, and place his feet squarely shoulder-width apart, with his back straight against the wall. Then he will squat. He’ll stay seated on air like this for up to two and a half minutes, his personal best record, squelching his grimaces in order to encourage my mom to join him. “This is the exercise of skiers,” he tells her, the emphasis in part due to the burning in his thighs, “We’ve got to be in shape for the moguls.”

For the next month, he’ll spend almost every weeknight watching the Warren Miller video series, including Born to Ski and Steeper and Deeper, which are continually renewed from the township library. After he’s sufficiently rewound and rewatched the parts with the deepest powder, my father will browse EBay for ski-wear. The result of such shopping is often unfortunate: my mother, who hates skiing, owns a hideous red, white, and blue full-face mask and a pair of traffic cone orange goggles. They were “just too good a deal” to pass up. “It’s not what you wear, it’s how you ski, Jane,” he says, thumping around the house in ski boots and long underwear.

Undoubtedly, these rituals ensured that my parents were prepared for their trip last March. My father had packed, researched, tested, trained, and simulated. Plans had been finalized, bindings tightened, trail maps memorized. He had guaranteed that whatever the week brought, he would be of top of the situation.

On the third day out on the mountain, my father fell. When he did so, he lost a ski and a pole and could not get up. It was blizzarding, and while my mom was reading indoors, my father was getting his money’s worth for the weeklong chairlift tickets: off-trail in waist-deep powder, which was still falling.

“I know how to ski, Liz, OK?” he later told me, “But it was scary. No one was coming by and I was just lying there for a while.” The other skiers stupid or frugal enough to also be out on the slopes in the storm passed by him, his ugly yellow ski boots perhaps too buried to be seen. When he finally did manage to get himself up and off the mountain, he couldn’t breathe.

I didn’t know about the fall, the subsequent trip to the hospital, or my parents’ early flight home until two days afterwards. My father left me a voicemail. “Just wanted to let you know,” he said, “we’ve got it under control.” In the months that followed, my father again researched, tested, trained, and simulated: monthly stress tests, EKGs, blood work, and a catheterization to inspect his heart provided few conclusions. He drove to the hospital in Philadelphia, and, after his procedures, instructed directions and lane shifts from the passenger seat on the way home. From my inbox I kept learning: about the hidden costs of owning a puppy and ways to prevent heart attack and diabetes.

****

In June there was a diagnosis: Congestive Heart Failure and cardiomyopothy. Along with the names came rules. No alcohol, little sodium, nothing to raise his heart rate over 120, blood pressure tests throughout the day, blue horse pill Glycosides, white seed-shaped ACE Inhibitors, blood pressure stabilizers, diuretics, Beta Blockers twice a day with food or milk. No skiing. The medicines made him tilt his head upward while he was sitting down so that the room stayed still. Some made him yell at us for leaving drawers open in our dressers and not screwing the cap tightly on the toothpaste. One made his eyes look like they could be deflated with the prick of a pin.  All made him weak.

Through June and July, my father and I carpooled to work as we had the past two summers. Our conversations followed a pattern:

“We’re going to be late.”

“The clock is fast.”

You’re late. You took a 22 minute shower. Do you know what a water heating bill costs these days?”

Through the intersection at Scotch Road, past the funeral home. Honking and light flashing at cars that hesitate in the rush hour traffic on the Pennington Circle.

“And it’s Tuesday. For the last 20 years, Tuesday is garbage day.”

Switching between classic rock radio stations and NPR, slurps of scalding coffee through the plastic travel mug slit.

“You can’t even take out the fucking garbage? I’ve got to do it? But hey, don’t worry, let me pay for school, let me pay for your car, let me drive you to work, let me do the garbage. Hey, don’t worry.”

Applying Chapstick, adjusting the air conditioning, the angle of the seat until inevitably:

Jesus. I’d be better off dead.”

We were tired and angry and sad and what we didn’t say we knew:

“I am afraid that if I go to sleep I will die.”

Right at the fork, past the University. Traffic is slow and we may be late if we don’t hurry.

“I am scared.”

“I am sad.”

“This is how I know how to provide.”

Pulling into the parking lot two minutes early.

“I’m sorry and I love you.”

“I love you and I’m sorry.”

For the last month of the summer, I drove myself to work and on Tuesdays, took the garbage to the road.
****
I spent the next four months studying in London. My father rearranged my luggage tags in the airport and demanded that I bring a bag of cashews in my carry-on for protein. I showed him that I had my passport and boarding pass and told him that I wouldn’t take more than three Advil. “We’ve got it under control,” he repeated.

With my additional British email account, I received twice the amount of messages from my father. He sent jokes about John McCain, pictures of the yellow playground slide in the middle of the Google offices, advice on where to hide my passport in my flat. He updated me on his life, “Doing well. Tired. Busy,” and signed his notes shorthand, “L, Dad.” When I called to video chat my mom, my father’s large blurry oval face would inevitably appear upside-down in the camera’s frame. He’d say hello, then, like a Big Foot sighting, disappear.

In November, I was emailed the good news that my father’s six medications are making his heart pump blood more effectively. Though the rules do not change, he’s now on a lower dosage of the medicines which make him more crazy and frugal than he is to begin with. My parents bought two giant plastic exercise balls and a video to go with them. “You need to roll in a straight line, Jane,” my father instructs, “You work your core like that.” This is the extent of his allowed exercise. He is adjusting.

Because my father carries the weight of the world, his heart is failing, though genetics, a virus, and plain bad luck may also have contributed. In my inbox I’ve saved an email he sent two weeks ago, titled “How to Relax: Twenty Tips for You to Stop Sweating the Small Stuff.” “FYI,” I responded, “I’ve got in under control.”

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