Monday, February 22, 2010

In Memorium, with Tea

This is my great-uncle Davie.

He is holding a postcard that his brother Izzy sent him in 1943--back when Davie was in training before serving in World War II.

Davie is one of those people you can't describe in just one word. Or maybe you can, but it would be in Yiddish, and what little I do know is transliterated from the dirty jokes he used to tell and retell at family gatherings over the years. This is the man who dispenses $2 liberally, so freely in fact that for much of my childhood I imagined him with his own little press in his basement. No one I knew had them, or spent them, so in my mind they had no monetary value whatsoever; they were Davie-money, like monopoly money, except better.

I saw Davie this weekend while visiting Los Angeles in a whirlwind trip that involved a family memorial service and twelve full hours at Disneyland. Thankfully, not at the same time. But it struck me as appropriate to have a literal roller coaster weekend surrounded by people who had, in one way or another, made my life what it is now. Whether they contributed DNA or sent me birthday greetings from halfway around the country or mailed me an espresso machine when I started college (smart thinking, cousin Shannon) or grew up with me in Davis or were game enough to make the drive to meet my loving and loud extended family (my boyfriend has, indeed, turned in his WASP card, as his brother said)--there was a lot of support emanating from everyone. And yet, we were there because someone had died. Not just someone; it doesn't feel right to leave out her name (even on a blog), because, just like every other iota of her being, her name is just too colorful and vibrant to leave out: Cippy Stambaugh.

There are at least a thousand words I could dedicate (and will dedicate) to the woman who, shortly after my 21st birthday, presented me with a Corona at 11 am at a family gathering, then gave me a painting she herself had created, and later mailed me one of her favorite stuffed animals as a good luck charm. The stories my family retold about her--hot-air ballooning, tromping around New Zealand in her 70s, untying her bikini top at a public pool to make a point--she was, in every possible sense of the word, a character.

So I'd like to raise a virtual toast (in Cippy's case, a toasted piece of bread) not only to the woman herself, but to her brother Davie, to my grandmother Saralee, to all the brilliant and brave souls of their generation who still want so much for their color, emotion, and legacy to be recognized. I recognize you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I just transferred the title of my grandfather's car into my name. I am about to own a car for the first time in my life.

There's a reason I chose today to do this. February 10 is the day I tend to reserve for minor catastrophes and miracles. Sometimes these experiences choose me; sometimes I choose them. There's a cosmic comedic timing in the universe that seems to collide for different people on different days. February tenth is one of those days.

Last year I wrote about 2.10.01 as Julia day, the day my pancreas died and the day the rest of me lived on. This year the anniversary of my diagnosis as a diabetic has no apparent, overarching, thesis; it simply is. Nine years is long enough that the daily tragedies of testing my blood sugar and adjusting my lifestyle simply aren't unusual anymore. Yesterday, as I was leaving for the radio station, the tubing of my insulin pump looped around my doorknob, and I walked a full three paces before I recognized that vague sting in my abdomen.

Being diabetic has its gifts: at times, I find ways to compartmentalize my body in ways that seemingly remove all its emotional power. My fingers double as pincushions, my stomach is pockmarked with remnants of last weeks' pump sites, my pancreas is an eternal internal mystery. And that's all well and good. The detachment that comes with recognizing you have no overall power in the universe is, in the end, a powerful feeling. There's strength in realizing we're not as strong as we think we need to be.

And yet, there is that lingering essence to this one day a year that will always have some unnameable, unknowable drama to it. It's almost as if this day is the tiniest bit longer or shorter than all the others in the year, and those moments in either direction are the secret to some deeply-protected mystery.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak with someone at This was part of a larger story we're pursuing at KQED, but I leaped at the opportunity to ask an expert, point blank, why nine years ago, a doctor told me I'd be cured within five years. Is it really fair to make that kind of hypothesis, to someone who has just learned she has a chronic condition?

The scientist, who I'll leave unnamed now, said simply: "I it hope or hype?"

I'll never forget the doctor that day nine years ago, who looked at me and my parents and insisted that "She'll be cured in five--maybe ten--maybe fifteen years!" And I remember thinking, "What happens in the meantime?"

Here's what happens in the meantime: I graduated from high school, then college, lived abroad twice, got a job, went to graduate school, fell in love, acquired a new vocabulary and taste for glucose gel. And who knows, maybe diabetes will be cured next year, or six years after that, or twenty years after that.

Until then, I'll be driving my very first car.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Prop 8: The New Scopes Monkey Trial?

Dan Walters’ January 31st editorial in the Sacramento Bee (“California gay marriages may hinge on one man”) about the ongoing Proposition 8 trial explains how this is quickly becoming more of a “sociological and philosophical debate than a traditional evidentiary hearing.” Living in San Francisco, it is hard to avoid the daily updates about arguments both for and against the legalization of gay marriage. Walters argues that in the end, presenting this controversial topic in a federal trial means leaving a big decision up to one judge’s (Justice Anthony Kennedy) personal judgment.

I have long been interested in the legal process, and that fine line between moral or sociological opinion and the objective interpretation of the law. Just how do judges protect themselves, as well as the plaintiffs and the general public, from their own private biases? Surely, these concerns are paramount in any trial, but the cultural significance of Proposition 8 seems to raise the stakes. Regardless of how Kennedy rules, the justice will set a precedent in terms of our societal definition of marriage.

Walters worries that Kennedy’s conservative background might preclude him from hearing both sides objectively, and so do I. I’d like to raise children in a world where such personal matters as sexual orientation or who someone chooses to marry are not subjects of public debate. It’d be great if the result of all this media hype and heartbreaking personal testimonies is simply a way to honor a transition from one policy to another, and nothing else. I’d like, in five or ten years’ time, to see the Prop 8 trial as my generation’s cousin to the Scopes Monkey Trial or the Civil Rights Act. It is both amazing and terrifying to realize that American culture might very well be on the cusp of a paradigm shift, and one ruling is what stands between a dated ballot measure and a cultural revolution. Well, one ruling, which depends entirely on one justice, a few lawyers, dozens of testimonials, petitions, and protests on both sides—but ultimately, it all comes down to how well they convince Justice Kennedy.

Why is this interesting? This is interesting because this summer, the first of my close childhood friends is getting “married”—to her girlfriend. Note the quotation marks. This is interesting because gays and lesbians have already won and lost the opportunity to marry in California—twice—and marriage as an institution hasn’t failed. This is interesting because, given enough time, granting civil liberties to gays and lesbians will affect us all: gay, straight, man, woman, old, young, liberal, conservative. Statistically speaking, we’ll all have a sister or a brother or an uncle or an aunt or a friend or a mentor or a neighbor who will be directly affected by this ruling, if we can’t identify them already.

I am excited to live n an age where topics that were considered “taboo” for many years are now being paid the attention they deserve; I just hope that the result is positive change.