10 Reasons to Respect West Virginia

On this day in 1863, West Virginia became its own state. Since then, it has endured jokes about incest, dirtiness, redneck shenanigans, moonshine, NASCAR, stupidity, and much more. As my friends know, I grew up in West Virginia, and while I don’t love everything about the state, I can honestly say that it gets a far worse reputation than it deserves. Buckle in, do some reading, and have a little goddamn respect. You can make fun of Kentucky instead. (Just kidding.)

1. It’s the only state to carve itself out of the territory of another state…without that state’s permission. John McCain only wishes he could be this much of a maverick.

2. It’s also the only state to be created by Presidential Decree. Lincoln had our backs. Oh, and this was the Civil War, so we became part of the Union, and the rest of Virginia went on to lose. Because they were losers. Unlike us. Good timing.

3. We’ve spawned celebrities and major figures too. Do you like “The Andy Griffith Show?” We had Don Knotts, who played Barney Fife. Prefer drama? John Corbett, Brad Dourif. Comedy? Steve Harvey. Music? Brad Paisley. Books? Pearl S. Buck. Gymnastics? Mary Lou Retton. Tim Burton? He’s not from West Virginia, but Jack Skellington himself, Chris Sarandon, is. Breaking the sound barrier? CHUCK YEAGER.

Hell, even if your only interest in life is One Direction, we brought forth Morgan Spurlock, director of the upcoming One Direction documentary and previous writer/creator/director of…you know, much better things.

4. You can legally purchase 153-proof Everclear. The 190-proof stuff is illegal, much like owning semiautomatic weapons, because people are stupid and prone to killing themselves and one another with that much power. Basically, we’ve got your back in the booze department, and if you’re that dumb, you can find moonshine.

5. Do you like Golden Delicious apples? We made them, motherfucker. This helped bring about my favorite apple, Cripps Pink, so I approve.

6. West Virginia is Jay Gatsby approved. Raise a glass, old sport, and check out Leonardo DiCaprio wearing a West Virginia hat (with bonus, jealous Mick Jagger). Here he is again. Here he is doing so with a vuvuzela. He isn’t the only celebrity, but this should persuade a great many people.

7. It’s the only state completely nestled in Appalachia. That means we have awesome music from folk origins and aren’t afraid of a little fiddle, banjo, dulcimer, mandolin, and autoharp to go with our guitar. You might think Appalachia is lame. Tell that to Kevin Cosner after his career finally got a shiny new Emmy for “Hatfields & McCoys.” We’re a musical, storytelling culture set in some natural beauty you wish you had.

8. The Greenbrier Resort held more than a thousand foreign prisoners during World War II. This hotel was turned into an army hospital and place to keep diplomats and their families until they could be traded back to hostile countries. Later, the resort put prisoners to work around the grounds.

9. Speaking of the Greenbrier, there was a secret bunker built beneath it to shelter Congress in the case of nuclear attack. Is that James Bond enough for you? This was called Project Greek Island, and I’d recommend reading up on it. It was exposed by none other than my brilliant journalism professor Ted Gup, and you can read the article here.

10. You already get drunk and sing “Country Roads.” Admit it, you know all the words. It’s catchier than Rihanna. So kick off your shoes, pour yourself a bourbon (or all the bourbon), and let John Denver take you away.

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People: what a bunch of bastards.

Forgive the title; I’ve been watching a lot of “The IT Crowd.”

During my recent spell of unwellness (documented here in no short measure), I’ve had a lot of time to just read. As a reformed journalist, I am a news junkie, but at the first hint of feeling poorly, I am reduced to consuming simple sentences with lots of pictures. Pop culture becomes my fix. Accordingly, I have a few rants, and they all center on the same focal point: being a woman.

First of all, I love Nigella Lawson. I her to hug me and use her free hands to back a cake behind my back as we become girly pals. When photos recently emerged of her husband clasping her throat and twisting her nose in public, I felt shocked. These are disturbing actions to happen in public, to be documented rather than stopped, and to be distributed. Worse yet was the response by some readers/viewers. I saw many articles where people said we mustn’t jump to conclusions and he was probably just feeling her glands, as though reaching across a dinner table and squeezing each gland with either four fingers or a thumb were perfectly normal. I’m all for our legal system’s “innocent until proven guilty” approach, but I loathe that we’re living in a time when people call for the death of a whistleblower (name one, any of them, and it’s true) while saying we should try to place ourselves in the shoes of a man who makes his wife cry in public.

Sadly, this isn’t surprising. For as much as we scream, fight, reproduce, work, and write, we’re still living in a World of Men. Jezebel contributor Lindy West pushed back against men in comedy making unfunny, malicious rape jokes, and what did she receive in return? Read for yourself the vitriol thrown her way. If she infringes upon a male comedian’s right to talk about a hypothetical rape, she’s stomping all over their rights and must be silenced by being murdered, by being raped, or by being reminded that she is too fat/ugly/stuck up to be raped since nobody would ever want her (because obviously rape is about sex and not at alllll about power). Rape is obviously one of the darkest things that can happen to a person, and people use humor to cope with darkness, but we’ve reached a point where the joke’s on the victim, not the horrible person who just couldn’t keep their penis (or hand, or object, or WHATEVER) out of another person’s body. It’s not funny, and if people keep conditioning themselves to think it is, then we’ll have even worse sexual assault statistics. I already have multiple friends who were sexually assaulted. You probably do too. Is that okay to just accept? (The answer, by the way, is absolutely not.)

You can’t even escape this in entertainment.  Women are sex objects everywhere, meant to be looked at critically (and approved of or cut down) and consumed. The fact that we have a whole “Law and Order” spinoff dedicated to sexual assault is telling, and you can’t even get new shows without rape cropping up. Special shout out to “American Horror Story” here, which had rape in both of its seasons so far! But it doesn’t just have to be about rape or something so blatant. I enjoyed Star Trek Into Darkness, but when Alice Eve stripped her perfectly toned body down to her matched underwear FOR NO REASON, I felt angrier than any other point in the movie. (If you want to argue that James Kirk also loses some clothing, I’ll remind you that he was with multiple women at once, making him not the object but the objectifying party since I’m sure he wasn’t courting them all for polygamous marriage.) Film studios shouldn’t apologize about such scenes after the fact; they shouldn’t include them in the first place. I’m really not bothered by sex scenes or tits, but we have reached a saturation point, and only Michael Fassbender seems to be fighting back with some full frontal of his own. Shame was viewed as either brave or deplorable, but women are expected to lose clothing without a peep.

Linda Holmes’ blog over at NPR shows that the problem gets worse. We lady folk want an alternative to being objectified, but we don’t even have much of a choice other than not going to the movies at all. The last movie I saw was The Purge, and I would argue that the women in that film hold their own against the men (though they take time to build up the nerve). I’ll confess I kind of hated Bridesmaids because it did have a spectacular female cast, but the lead still needed to turn back to good old baking and a man in order to be happy! (Apologies to Chris O’Dowd. I’d want you at the end of a movie too.) We consider it progress when one woman kicks ass in an ensemble flick, or we tell ourselves that we ladies don’t have to be defined by romantic comedies since we too can enjoy the movies men do. I promise you, I loathe rom com and adore me some horror, but when wildly popular shows like “The Walking Dead” make their female characters incredibly annoying before killing them off (as opposed to in the comics, where they are people rather than whining moving targets), I get really fed up.

So you can’t really deal with TV or the movies. Surely there’s music? My Twitter feed has been obsessed with Kanye West’s leaked album. The media’s abuzz with it. I decided to read some articles about it since Kanye’s not my cup of tea. As an aside, if you go into a coffee shop or restaurant and ask them where your damn croissants are, I fucking hate you. End of. Back to the point, behold these lyrics: “I wanna fuck you hard on the sink/ After that, give you something to drink/ Step back, can’t get spunk on the mink.” Look, I get it. I get that he’s supposed to be this egotistical rich guy with a god complex who thinks that he can own anything, from fashion to women. I get that a lot of rappers are like that. But does that make it okay? No. It’s gross. It’s not amusing swagger. This guy just had a little girl and is engaged. Regardless of how I feel about Kim Kardashian, I wouldn’t want her to be treated with that power complex. Those lyrics don’t hint at rape, but it’s like they’re looking across the dancefloor and smiling coyly at it. If you aren’t a sexist, why don’t you just stop writing sexist things? It’s not entertaining. It’s not cool. It’s not swagger. And if you’re just “trolling,” then you’re pretty desperate for attention and have an empty life that mink won’t fix, even if it has a little sperm on it. By the way, jackass, it’s your own ejaculate, so you deal with it.

I’d go on and on about other people who have sexist lyrics, not the least of which Rick Ross with his song “U.O.E.N.O.” that actually DEPICTS rape, but fuck, I’m exhausted.

So what can we do about all of this sexism? Well, we can talk about it. We put up with this shit every day, from the way people talk to us to how we’re made to feel about ourselves, so we should let it be known. The majority of men out there are pretty cool dudes who don’t like making anyone feel like shit, and they wouldn’t want to be aligned with any of these actions. We have to build a network and push back. It’s not about “Leaning In” since that book was basically bullshit for anyone making under six figures a year. We have to challenge the frivolous and call out those who would excuse crimes against women as mere misunderstandings, amusements, or whatever. The act of rape isn’t funny, and many jokes about it aren’t. Domestic violence is not the victim’s fault and shouldn’t be given the benefit of the doubt. We’re more than half of the fucking population, and so to the shitty guys out there, vocal minority that you are, grow a pair of balls and learn how to respect us. If you’re so threatened by women speaking out, that might just make you a pussy, and what’s worse than being associated with a female sex organ?

Why I’m Broke, or Modern Medicine: A Kick in the Pants.

Allow me just a bit of time to bitch.

Ever since my wallet and I parted with more than $300 just to have a wisdom tooth yanked out of my face in under 15 minutes, I’ve felt somewhat victimized by The Man. You know how it goes. I’m a “Young Professional” who took on student loan debt to study at a pretty great private university away from home rather than staying within my own state to study for free. Now somewhere around a fourth of my income goes to paying back student loans each month, so my expendable income is not what it should be. (If you’re thinking that I should’ve stayed in-state and used it as a springboard, shut up. We’re not going to get into my IQ, my qualifications, my desire to move, and the fact that I wouldn’t have this decent paying New York City job with a West Virginian education. Deal with it.) I made my choices, I prioritize when necessary, and I live within my means.

The lovely dentist that I went to two weeks ago does not accept most dental discount programs, and her practice does not allow for payment plans, so I rescheduled my dental appointment until after payday. It would make things tight regardless, but I figured it would be best to stop putting off addressing those cavities. You’re only born with one mouth, unless you’re a conjoined twin, but my twin is independent, so there you have it. I made a grown up decision. I’d go to the dentist of my own volition. I’d be proactive.

My body had other plans.

I woke up Tuesday morning with a vague stomachache. I assumed that it was just nerves from going alone to see one of my favorite artists ever, David Ford (check him out, I demand it), who I had interviewed over the phone some weeks before. I had a bit of that giddy schoolgirl feeling going on because he’d shared my review of his latest album (which is brilliant), and I wanted to introduce myself as said writer. Work ended, I moseyed on down to the show, and I managed to nab a seat at a table with his parents, as fate would have it. Mr. Ford put on a spectacular solo show with the promise of a completely different setlist and a backing band the following night. I decided to put off socializing after the show because my two Half and Halfs (Half and Halves? Whatever. Sweet tea vodka and lemonades) hadn’t settled very well on my stomach. I had time, right? I had another gig in me!

Wednesday was shit. I woke up feeling even worse but forced myself to go through the motions in the morning, preparing a cup of cinnamon tea to settle my stomach. Calling out from work would just make me feel worse and guilty to boot, and I might talk myself out of going to Manhattan to see the gig. This would not do. I took about two sips of tea and three drinks of water before the body rebelled. I don’t care what you want, I thought bitterly. I’ll buy breakfast on the way once you calm yourself. Of course, my train got all sorts of delayed because that happens every single time I want to get to Manhattan early. The only place with a short line was the cafe across the street. The yogurt parfaits looked so simple, so tempting with the base settling the acid in my stomach. I didn’t think about how sour stomachs and dairy don’t mix. I forked over five dollars because I am a crazy person, then brought my bounty to my desk, thus sealing my fate for the day.

Friends, this parfait was disgusting. The overly sweet yogurt was topped with granola that had appeared to just have blueberries, strawberries, and a kiwi that quickly made its way into the bin, I saw the monstrosity the green disc had covered. There were raisins and maraschino cherries in my granola. I like raisins in my granola when there aren’t other fresh berries involved. A dried grape feels like an insult. And maraschino cherries? Only acceptable when they are doused in alcohol. My stomach turned as I tried to consume my breakfast. About an hour later, I politely excused myself to throw it up in the bathroom, then stayed at work another hour to be sure I was sick. Why? Because I’m crazy. Crazy responsible. Crazy irresponsible. Then I booked it home for hours of watching MasterChef, eating only Triscuits, playing fetch with my kitten, and having a fever. I tried to snap a photo of the thermometer hitting 100.8, but apparently when you have a fever, the device blinks and beeps like a smoke detector, so use your imagination.

So I missed the gig. One of my gigs of the year. I’m still gutted.

I then set my alarm for Thursday normally. I got up at 6:45 to shower and noticed a pain in my chest, a little to the right. My first thought was I’m having a heart attack, followed by I refuse. So I went to shower anyway to see if the pain would last. It did, but it didn’t lead to any further complications. Still, I called out sick from work and decided to go to a walk-in clinic in Williamsburg. I saw online that their hours were from 8 am on. At this time it was around 7:30, so I booked it out to be there when doors opened.

Friends, Thursday is the only day they open at 9.

If you’ve never been stranded in Billyburg, let me tell you that many of the hipster cliches are true. I wandered aimlessly to find a place to get some breakfast (Huzzah, returned appetite!), but since it wasn’t brunch, few places were open. I settled on a bagel shop where I could get tofu spread (natch), and when I heard “Chasing Cars” play, I had a momentary crisis since I was wearing a Snow Patrol shirt and wondered if that was weird. Then I nearly cried. Being sick makes me emotion. So does chest pain, apparently. Filled with bready and tofuy goodness, I went to the drugstore to get some Wisps to brush my teeth prior to the doctor. I tried to remember which pop star was in an ad for Wisps a long time ago. Mandy Moore I think? Near the cash register was a giant tower of Pabst Blue Ribbon to remind me that I was in hipster heaven. I nearly took a photo, but I didn’t want to encourage them.

So I went to the doctor. For $25! Insurance! So much better than not having insurance, looking at you dental community. After waiting an hour, I was in. The doctor was very amused to hear that I had once had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, because clearly the peak moment of my life was being paralyzed from the waist down for a week at the age of four. She checked my symptoms and then gave me a very profound medical opinion worth my $25: “I have no clue what’s wrong with you.” Thanks! Due to my chest pain, she sent me to get an x-ray to rule out pneumonia, but she prescribed Tamiflu just in case. “I think what you have is probably viral,” she said. “The prescription might be able to lessen the symptoms. You may get over it a day earlier, but you need rest.” With that, she sent me on a half hour walk to the x-ray clinic. In the pouring rain. Physical fitness!

By the time I got there, my chest was in agony, and an old Polish dude had hit on me, because that’s how you know when you’ve crossed from Williamsburg to Greenpoint. I got in pretty early, stripped down for my x-rays, and didn’t even mind when the technician told me that he had to reposition my “tresses.” I had to raise my arms over my head and hold very still, and even in my agony I thought, Thanks for making this pose easy, yoga! Boom, boom, two x-rays and I was done. I saw the technician adjust the contrast on my scan, and seeing inside your boob is surreal. I guess the rest of your body too, but man, my boob was too big to fit in the image. Awesome. (For the record, my x-ray was fine.)

Utterly trampled, I caught the train back to the same drugstore as before to pick up my prescription. The pharmacist just had to check my address. I told him, and he said that was incorrect. Apparently I lived in Cleveland. You know you’ve shunned medicine for a long time when your last known address to the medical community is your college dorm. We got that nonsense sorted out, and I handed over my insurance. I was feeling good since this was not the dentist.

Your total: $106. You saved $36!

What the fuck? This is for ten pills. That’s $10.60 a pill, or the rough equivalent of eating out for lunch and dinner every work day for a week in New York City. I swiped my debit card. It didn’t go into the system, so the taunting bastard made me swipe again. I signed (well, PIN numbered) away basically a day’s wages, then came out of the store with a tiny bag of tinier pills. The tower of PBR mocked me. In the land of cheap beer, high medical expenses won again. I couldn’t afford cheap beer, let alone drink it since it’d interact with my newfangled medication.

On the way back to the train, a woman balancing a binder on her head called out to me. (Fucking hipsters, I thought.) She was wearing a Greenpeace shirt. “You look like an Earth lover!” she cried.

I held up my prescriptions in supplication. “I just spent a lot on medicine and have no money!” I retorted, making my retreat.

“Well, I like your shirt. Snow Patrol’s a great band!” she said to my back. And that was the first and last time I’ve felt good since contracting this flu/viral infection/plague.

Prose poem: Summer Promise.

Summertime and we’re blinking back the sting of the sweat invading our eyes, too silly for hats and too proud to admit the pain. We’re golden skin and bright intentions and glorious irresponsibility. Hours trapped inside the car have made us eager to stretch our limbs, but instead we’re hunched down in the fields, too embarrassed to think that it’s a minor miracle the day’s gone without rain. These crops are open to anyone who will pay, but we act as though the earth has offered up this bounty for us and us alone, our fingertips tripping over the berries that have swollen with promise. There are always a few that have already become full to bursting, or our fingers slip as laughter vibrates through our bodies.

(The best laugh is a clumsy one, one that renders you incapable of keeping your eyes open our your body steady. The kind that would be embarrassing if it weren’t contagious.)

Our fingers are stained with colors that cannot be replicated by man, rich red and purple so dark you’d nearly consider it the ink of night. We laugh at our imaginary scars and the way they’ve crept onto our clothes, as though we’ve been through any sort of hardship. Lunch was forgotten two hours previous, so we sit in the car with our baskets and reach our arms out the windows to catch more sun as we decide to darken our lips next. The first bite is a surprise as the berries erupt between our teeth, still warm from the sun and less sweet than expected. We look at one another and laugh, our mouths mockingly blue red purple to keep the sound going. People surely drive past and wonder about the couple pulled to the side of the road. Maybe they don’t, because here time has stopped and we are free.