My dad, as many of you know, died in 2009, killed by pancreatic cancer just a few weeks after his diagnosis.
This Thanksgiving was the first time since then that we’ve had a chance to stay in the house that he and my mom had built for their retirement outside Fayetteville, Arkansas. So perhaps that’s why I was struck so thoroughly last week by how very present he remains in that house.
Some of that is just the ordinary emotional ephemera left by memories — even though they’d only been in the house for a half dozen or so years when he died — but some of it is the physical presence of the notes he left, pictured (in part) below.
I suppose his notes go back quite a while. I remember a note — probably futile, probably written knowing it was futile — pleading with us not to leave stuff on top of what we called alternatively the “plant cage” or the “alligator cage” (a structure he built for my mom to grow plants inside) in Oklahoma, probably 35 years ago. I still have trouble resisting flat surfaces that just plead for stacks of stuff.
I think there are more notes in the Arkansas house than either our Minnesota or Oklahoma homes, maybe in part because it was a new house with more than its share of problems, and maybe in part because his ataxia made communication more challenging — and mostly because he wanted to make the house a safe and comfortable place for family and friends.
He wanted guests (and my mom) to know how to use the toilet efficiently, and how to make the guest rooms comfortable, and how to use the electrical panel safely, and where my mom’s wedding gown was, and why guests don’t need to worry about the light in the bathroom (it’ll turn itself off two to three minutes after the last motion). He also (politely) wanted the mail carrier to firmly close the mailbox (that mailbox got repurposed as a garden tool holder). And he wanted guests to know how to use the HVAC system (as my friend Emily points out, the fact that the fifteen-point list of directions is identified as instructions “in brief” speaks volumes).
Our family when I was growing up wasn’t a completely organized and coherent thing all of the time. I don’t say that to be critical (at all), or to suggest anything bad, but just to observe. Our family now, with Dena and Ella and Liam, isn’t a completely organized and coherent thing all of the time. I think that’s actually a good thing; some chaos and surprise is good.
As much as my dad had an organized mind, I mostly think of him in his later years as having a slightly bemused look of delight at the chaos that results when you have a bunch of grandkids running around doing what a bunch of grandkids do. He might not have been as delighted with the chaos that we (okay, mostly I) introduced to his life earlier in life, but I think he (mostly?) found it more interesting than infuriating. I hope my kids remember me mostly being delighted with the changes in directions that we have experienced, even if I’m not always sure how to approach them.
I don’t leave a ton of notes around the house (though I do have Welcome to Nightvale-themed lunchbox notes). And my brain isn’t as organized as my dad’s was — far from it — so maybe I won’t. But I am grateful that — a few weeks from four and a half years from his death — I am still getting guidance and love from my dad.
A few weeks ago we had The Doubleclicks on the show (you can see a video here) in support of their kids’ record Worst Superpower Ever. Prior to their visit, I’d listened to that a few times, along with their non-kids’ stuff, and enjoyed it all plenty. And the in-studio was super fun — the songs were of course witty and a nice change of pace in the kids’ world, as were the band members (sisters Aubrey and Angela), but what was maybe the best was watching them talk with Ella off-air. Grownups who spoke her language.
A week or so later, the band was kind enough to send an advance download of their new (not-for-kids) record, Lasers and Feelings. And it is, well, pretty great, and it made me pay closer attention.
Easy stuff to talk about first: They’ve added way more instrumentation to their guitar-and-cello core setup, and it sounds great. (As usual, I think many sax solos would be improved with trombone, but the sax solos on here largely work, and clarinets are great.) That’s not to say I don’t like the usual setup — it highlights their voices and lyrics nicely, and is certainly a nice change of pace from your standard band lineup — but it’s fun to hear some other instruments in the mix too.
Like I said, that’s the obvious stuff, and that — along with their usual witty lyrics and a growing nerd fanbase — is presumably why they just announced that they hit the Billboard Top Ten for comedy albums.
Here’s the thing though: Lasers and Feelings is not just a comedy album. I think it’s a (very funny) feminist album. (And putting it in the “comedy” category tends to distract from the fact that they’re excellent songwriters, both lyrically and melodically. This is not a novelty act.)
Sure, the album is funny — very funny at times — and there are certainly songs that are primarily for laughs (“The Guy Who Yelled Freebird,” “Rock Star Life,” etc.). And every song has humor at its creamy nougat center.
But I like to think of Lasers and Feelings as the sequel to Science Fair. (Granted, Angela and Aubrey didn’t have Science Fair until I handed it to them, and I’ve no idea if they’ve listened to it. Presumably they didn’t listen to it, travel back in time, and make Lasers and Feelings intending it to be a sequel. But stay with me here.)
Science Fair was (for me, and for I think all of the producers and artists) about giving girls power, to emphasize that there is no part of society where they don’t belong — about being themselves without being mocked, about feeling not just okay but awesome with being smart. That basic idea — everybody gets to be in every room — is what a lot of Lasers and Feelings is about too, albeit at a slight angle.
Consider the core song representing that idea, “Nothing to Prove.” (The video for it, featuring clips from fans all over, is supposed to be up soon.) In it, the band sings about finding their way into the nerd community — on much the same path that Ella is on right now — only to run into the notion of “fake geek girl tests”:
I know it feels good to have a contest you win; it would feel better if I wanted in. So women aren’t geeks, is that your conclusion? That this is some secret club based on exclusion? Twelve-year-old dorks would say that you’re being selfish, and then go and write in their journals in Elvish. * * * I’ve got cred but honestly I shouldn’t need it; this world needs all kinds of folks to complete it. You’ve got gamers and aritsts and comic subscribers, cosplayers, crafters, and fan fiction writers. You can stop – never say ‘fake geek’ again. Our club needs no bouncers; all who want can get in. But go ahead, if you want to own that role fully – I’ve got nothing to prove to a bully.
That is, I submit, the next step from Science Fair, especially the Nields’ song “Butterfly” and Rachel Loshak’s lovely “Oh Girl.” The former acknowledges how much it can suck out loud to be a smart (nerdy?) girl:
I know metamorphosis means you have to go to pieces first; things will not get better, ’til they get a whole lot worse. They are laughing in the girls’ room — they think they’re tearing down the sky. When I come out, finally find me, you’ll see a gold flight as we fly by, as I fly by…
And it’s not just The Doubleclicks’ “Nothing to Prove.” ”Oh, Mr. Darcy” provides a nice reminder not to get distracted by a British accent (“If a boy treats you with tasteful indifference, if he is handsome but bristly and cold, don’t be intrigued just because he’s ignoring you — not every asshole has a heart of gold.”). ”The Mystery’s Gone” points out how much one’s online presence can differ from their reality.
My point? Here, I’ve got one: If you’ve been listening to the show since we started (eight years in a couple of weeks!), you may well have a kid (boy or girl) who could use some of what’s on this album. (You’d probably like it too.)
It would be easy to get distracted by the plentiful laughs on Lasers and Feelings, and then you’d miss what is a really strong record with a resonant message. I cannot wait for Ella to get back from camp to hear it. I am positive it’s going to hit the spot for her. It is not a kids’ record — as you can see above, it has some language you might not love and some themes that aren’t aimed at the younger kids.
But it absolutely reflects much of how I want my kids to grow up: smart, funny, and — most importantly — being who they are.
(Also: writing in Elvish.)
P.S. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my brother and sister-in-law Mike & Jenn for introducing me to the band. They saw (if I remember right) their first public gig!
Rev-105 and 97x were intensely important to my love for and thinking about radio, and both are gone (and have been for years). Both stations managed to be both commercial and interesting, programmed and eclectic. There are some great stations still around, including of course our home for years 93.9 The River, plus The Current in Minneapolis and KEXP in Seattle.
But I — perhaps avoiding some real work — thought I’d create a little bit of imaging for the show based on the long-gone liners and promos from Rev and WOXY. Thanks to some former staffers for providing the 97x files, and to whoever owns Rev105.com for the Rev-105 sounds:
You can listen to my farewell (grownup) show here (the show starts about 30 seconds in):
The playlist is here.
Early in the planning for Science Fair, Molly Ledford was considering writing a song called “Raised By Scientists” for Lunch Money to perform. That didn’t happen (yet?), but I really like the idea of it — it is a very specific way to be raised. To give one hint of what it was like, at least in the Childs household, I’ll direct you to a piece I wrote three years ago about having a chalkboard in our dining room. (Incidentally, I just repaired that chalkboard, so it will again have a place of prominence after our move to Austin.)
But for the song of my childhood to be complete, it’d have to be “Raised By Scientists and Feminists.” To give a hint of that, as I’ve also mentioned, and as the Deedle Deedle Dees memorialized in song, I chose Susan B. Anthony as the subject of a book report, and then dressed up as her to present it — that, along with the fact that I am reliably informed that my first question to potential preschool friends was, “Are you for the ERA?,” should give you a sense of that side of our childhood.
Thus came Science Fair. The CD, as the liner notes indicate, was inspired by the lives of my parents, Ves and Holly Childs. My dad (an electrochemist and feminist) died three years ago today — on the summer solstice, which, that year, was also Father’s Day. I chose today for the Paste Magazine-hosted premiere of the video for Mates of State‘s contribution to the record in part to honor the date. And then I also asked my mom, whose background you can read about below, to write a little about being a feminist in science and engineering. Here’s what she wrote:
I was slow in coming to the realization that I was drastically underpaid and disrespected compared to my male coworkers. It was 1964 and I was in my second year of my first off-campus job, at Phillips Petroleum Company. I was using the company’s new IBM 7094 mainframe computer to model and optimize nonlinear systems like gasoline plants, a somewhat harder group of problems than those most of my coworkers were working on.
I knew that my job title (engineering aide) was different from those of my peers (research scientist, computer analyst), though my job was similar; I thought that was because I had been hired more recently than everyone else. I was grateful to have been hired at all, though I had a solid BS degree with a double major in math and chemistry and had done better on the pre-interview tests than anyone else who had ever taken them. The matrix algebra courses I had taken, expecting them to remain entertaining but useless, had actually given me a head start on understanding the project I was hired for.
Two things happened about the same time to open my eyes. First, the project my boss and I had been working on was ready to be written about and published. Second, the company hired another “engineering aide” in my department.
I learned that my boss was hiring another person to work on our project, primarily by writing a journal article; he and my boss would coauthor the article, and I would not. I got to figure out most of the computer coding and engineering simulations and to draw the illustrations for the paper. The article was so long that there was no room even to express thanks to me.
The new engineering aide was a young man with a high school diploma and a drafting class. His job was more clerical than technical. He was paid slightly more than I was.
Because I was a woman, I was classified as a low-paid, low-prestige employee and I was not eligible to publish technical work that I had done. I was enraged. But there was nothing to be done. Sex discrimination was perfectly legal, and, indeed, expected, by everyone except me.
Starting in college, I had worked on “desegregation,” as civil rights activities were then known. I hadn’t realized that women needed protection for their civil rights too. I knew that women in the sciences were regarded as “cute” or as interlopers; a physics professor referred in a class I was in (50 men, two women) to “girls in college looking for their M.R.S. degrees.” I knew that not many women actually worked in science or engineering. But my parents had encouraged me to pursue chemistry, though my high school had offered no science at all – my mother always told me that I could do anything I wanted, and that the women in my family were strong achievers. It had never occurred to me that I might be underpaid or disrespected at a fairly won job that I was doing exceedingly well.
Partly in reaction to my own experiences, soon after our third (and last) child was born, I started working for the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have forbidden having different laws for men and women (excepting obvious areas like privacy and wet nurses). I spent ten years as a full time volunteer; another woman and I ran the field organization in Oklahoma. We lost the last legislative vote by one vote (that of a legislator who told our lobbyists he was going to vote yes, walked onto the floor, and voted no). I believe that, even though we lost, our ERA work made gender discrimination less socially acceptable.
Women still do not have constitutional protection, and job and educational discrimination continue, albeit in more subtle ways. I would really like to know for sure that my children and grandchildren will be treated fairly in school and on the job, regardless of their gender. I would particularly like to be sure that any of my beautiful little granddaughters who wanted to be a scientist or engineer, like me, would have a full opportunity to do so, and to be published when deserved and to be paid equitably. Perhaps this record will contribute toward that end.
- Holly H. Childs
You can pre-order Science Fair now, if you don’t have a local retailer that will be carrying it on its release on July 3. Proceeds will benefit Girls Inc.’s science education programming.
As I announced a while ago, we’re moving to Austin this summer. Our house, in the center of Florence, is now on the market and I think it’s just lovely. So maybe you should buy it? I think yes.
You can see a description and a bunch of pictures of it here, and there will be an open house this Sunday (April 15) from 1 to 3. We’re represented by Natasha Yakovlev of The Murphy’s Realtors; e-mail her for additional information or call 413-320-9864.
Seriously, we adore the house and the neighborhood. We wish we could move both to Texas. If you’re potentially in the market for a house in the Pioneer Valley, it might work for you.
In more show-related news, I hope to have more specifics about how the show will continue after the move. Soon.
If you’re a fan on Facebook (and you really should be), you may have seen this already, but just to be sure we get all of you RSS-only folks: We’re moving to Austin, Texas in August. I’m joining a law firm there as senior counsel (and leaving teaching). We’ll get to spend a chunk of summers in Minnesota, as the firm is based there. We’re super sad to be leaving the Valley, but excited about being nearer family both in the South and the Midwest, and about being in the amazing city that is Austin.
I plan to have the radio show continue in one form or another, possibly (probably?) syndicated — meaning you’ll have the opportunity to try to get a station that’s local to you to carry it. Or maybe we’ll find a station in Austin that wants our weird little show. But I really don’t know. We only made the final decision a week ago, and the next steps for the radio show were on the back burner until we knew for sure. So, there will be more news.
By the time we move, we’ll have been doing the show for seven years — the first year and a half or so on Valley Free Radio, and since then on the River (also still broadcast on VFR). I would never have expected to be doing this show for anything near that long, but I am utterly thrilled that we have. And I’m equally thrilled that both kids really want to keep doing it. So we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that happens.
Thanks to all of you for listening, making music, rocking, emailing, and so on. You’re the best.
(No kid music content here.)
I lived in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, until I was 12 and we moved to Minnesota. Bartlesville was an oil town, the worldwide headquarters of Phillips Petroleum (for which my dad was a research scientist). It was a relatively well-off town, with strong schools (my dad was on the school board, in fact) and a stronger cultural core than you might expect for an Oklahoma town of 35,000. It even boasts the only Frank Lloyd Wright designed skyscraper, the Price Tower, and hosts the annual OK Mozart festival (which was launched while we were living there). It was a good place to grow up.
Like most families who moved to Bartlesville, my parents asked around about the best pediatrician when they got there from Arkansas, and received the consensus advice that the doctor to see was Dr. Bill Dougherty, Jr., who was a young and skilled pediatrician, respected in the community.
And, it turns out, Dr. Dougherty engaged in the consistent sexual abuse of children, patients and otherwise.
I first heard a bit about it maybe five or ten years ago (or perhaps even earlier); at that time, what I heard was that his abuse was solely of kids in a scout troop. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that it was far more extensive.
A new film, In a Town This Size, tells his story and, heartbreakingly, the story of his victims. I watched the movie (made by one of his victims, Patrick Brown) this morning, and it was chilling.
Neither my siblings nor I were among Dougherty’s victims; my mom never left us in the examination room with him alone.
But it was striking — and rather intense — to see people my own age, people I easily may have been in school with or played on soccer teams with, discussing the abuse. One talked about the visual that haunted him from his visits, that of one of those cat clocks with the eyes that go back and forth, and it made me remember that same clock in what must have been the same examination room (a room that, like all of Dougherty’s, had doorknobs too high for a child to reach). The victim speaks of focusing on that clock during the abuse. To a person, the victims in the film — and there are quite a number who shared their stories — have stories about how intensely Dougherty’s abuse affected their relationships, their professions, their families — their lives.
The film also includes an interview with a person, probably mid-70s, who was close friends with Dougherty and whose kids all went to him as their doctor. In one of the toughest parts of the movie to watch, he describes his growing realization that this friend of his — a person he trusted entirely — had abused and stolen the childhood of at least three of his six children. He later discusses his struggles from within his faith to consider forgiving Dougherty. (The filmmaker speaks frankly about how low on his list of priorities “forgiving Bill Dougherty” is. I can’t argue with him.)
Sometime in the ’80s, Dougherty’s crimes became slightly known and he retired from medicine. The local paper published a story about “a local pediatrician” — not naming him — and his victims. Due to the statute of limitations in Oklahoma, and the lack of recent victims speaking at the time, he was never criminally charged, and evidently still lives in Bartlesville, only leaving at night, in disguise.
The movie was obviously of particular interest to me because of the personal connection. But it’s also a good reminder that pedophiles don’t come with name tags or signage, and that part of our job as parents is to be aware of everyone who’s around our kids. That doesn’t mean assuming everyone is wicked, but it does mean being cognizant, speaking with our kids, and listening to our kids. I am so grateful to my parents for doing that (and that doesn’t mean for a second that I’m blaming victims’ parents, or the victims themselves, for abuse). I hope we’re doing the same.
Local listeners may have noticed the story in the Gazette or elsewhere that longtime VP/General Manager of WRSI, Sean O’Mealy, is leaving the Pioneer Valley to return home to Pennsylvania. (He’ll be running a cluster of stations in Scranton, which evidently exists outside of The Office.) (Note: I actually did know that Scranton exists.) Today was his last day.
Some background: just about four years ago, I sent an e-mail off to a couple of people at the legendary WRSI, asking for some help promoting something or other. At the time, the show was a couple of years old, having been on a low-power community radio station. Within an hour or so, Sean called me to see if I wanted to talk about doing the show on The River. I’d never met him before, but he was enthusiastic and convincing.
A few months later, we started the new era of Spare the Rock being on 93.9 The River. Other than pre-recording and doing the show in segments (to allow for stop sets), Sean (and Monte) asked us to change precisely nothing. Kid-involvement, in-studios, local events — it was all good. He even affirmatively encouraged me to continue airing the show on Valley Free Radio, nominally a competitor. They’ve provided terrific feedback on the show, but only for getting the show better — not trying to make it fit any more commercial mold.
A year later, folks at the station had the idea of doing a family-oriented event. With essentially no model to work from, we (with Jarrett Krosoczka) created the Meltdown — at no small financial risk to the station — which turned into a tremendously successful event, drawing over 3,500 annually. (One of my favorite Meltdown-related stories is that at the second one, someone came up to me to tell me how she’d been coming to the Meltdown “for years.” When a second-year event feels like a cherished annual tradition, you know you did something right.)
In both picking up the show and helping create and support the Meltdown, Sean showed his faith in focusing on programming quality and in the value of community connections. In a time when radio stations are sounding less and less diverse and so very untethered to the communities in which they reside (thanks, consultants!), and when so much of online and satellite radio is about narrowcasting, Sean believes in the notion of connecting media to communities through broad programming. In short, he believes in radio. Local radio. Radio that’s in the community, whether it was promoting shows at the Carle, or contributing tremendous media support for the Many Hands CD release show, or being out at Tuesday Market every week, or raising thousands of dollars for the Cancer Connection or any number of other examples.
Sean has made some decisions I disagreed with, of course. But radio in the Valley is dramatically better thanks to his impact on the station, and he’ll be missed.
We can all agree that selling a t-shirt for girls ages 7 to 16 emblazoned with “Too Pretty to Do Homework, so my brother has to do it for me” is a terrible, terrible idea, right? (With the caption “Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out? She’ll love this tee that’s just as cute and sassy as she is.”) The problems with that shirt (setting aside its awful design) are many — tying appearance to the need to do homework, suggesting getting a boy to do it for you. Just terrible.
If you’ve been following the show on Facebook, you might have guessed that the next release from Spare the Rock Records will be connected to girls’ education (not yet ready to fully announce it, but soon), and this is exactly the sort of message that is damaging. And gets me really, really angry. I intend for this shirt to be a prime example of exactly what we need to do better in messages to our daughters.
JC Penney won’t be getting our back-to-school shopping. Or any other shopping.
You can contact JC Penney here. I did already.
Update: It looks like they’ve taken it down. Good on them as a first step. How about an acknowledgment that it was a terrible, terrible idea? Publicly? Screenshot of what it was is above; click on it for a full-sized view.
Update 2: They’ve apologized, and in a pretty straightforward, non-”we-apologize-if-you-were-offended” way. Good on them.