Monday, January 31, 2011

White people are the center of the universe

I've been reading up on race issues, like I said I was going to. I've been working really hard to comprehend the concepts that I, as a white person in a white society in a world where white people enjoy the most power, haven't had to think about for most of my life. And I've run up against a little problem.

People who talk about racial issues cast it as The Most Important Social Issue One Can Experience. All other aspects of personhood are secondary. This attitude is pretty much ubiquitous, as far as I can tell. You never seem to read an account that goes, "At this point in my life I went to college, and had a bunch of college experiences, and here's some racism I encountered." It's always, "Racism was here in my life, and there, and at some point I also went to college."

And the white people who perpetrate the racism are simply accepted out of hand. As if it's a given that the white person is normal and the nonwhite person is exceptional by default.

I'm talking about minor incidents of racism, not WTF incidents like what happened to Kelley Williams Bolar. Things like casually insensitive comments and everyday stereotyping.

Things like a mom telling her friend, "Jimmy has some good friends at school, and a few of them are black." (Yay! Hey, some kids are black! It's some kind of phenomenon.)

Things like a family friend remarking, "Your son hardly even looks Chinese! His eyes are so round." (Yeah, and guess what - his hair is brown, and he speaks English almost exclusively, and he's 100% Han Chinese.)

Things like, "I'm going to work on my (transracially adopted) daughter's self-esteem, because I don't want her to feel too much like she's different."

Because the child is a nonwhite member of a predominantly white family, in a predominantly white society, and since white people are normal, nonwhite people are different.

Their teachers and classmates will reinforce this message, because they believe it too. Because the kids' parents believe it, and the teachers' colleagues and neighbors believe it. If you want to go where white people do not totally rule everything, you can go to little enclaves of ethnicity that exist here and there. Chinatown for Asians, African-American neighborhoods for blacks, Latin ghettos for Latinos. If your child is an ethnicity other than those big ones... um... good luck. Maybe there's a club you can join. But you'd better do something, or else your child will feel like a lone ethnic minority in a sea of normal white people.

I don't disagree that joining a club or going to Chinatown is a good thing to do. I'm totally in favor of making the extra effort, and I'm getting ready to do the same myself. (It can be hard... my son is still small and although he travels well, he still has limits appropriate to his age. And while I'm good at making small talk with strangers, I can't exactly make intimate long-term friendships with random local Chinese people at will. But I will do something... I dunno, something.)

But the attitude with which most white people avail their kids of the kids' racial culture of birth, seems a bit Anglocentric, if you know what I mean. They don't want the kids to feel too small, too left out. The cultural pride seems a bit forced at times. As if the greatest desire in any child's heart is - of course! - to be white.

Because being white is normal, as every white person knows, and therefore as any person who lives among white people knows, and it's everyone's desire to be normal.

It's just... weird. And icky. Well, I find it icky. Here I was, a sheltered white girl going out into the big wide multicolored world, just to find... that everyone wants to be like me. Or at least that's a common assumption. They just want to go to college and have a career and live in peace, like a white person does, and raise their children in a welcoming environment, except that the people they aspire to be like don't want to tarnish the 'normalness' of whiteness by including nonwhites in it. So the nonwhites can be successful, can be middle class, can send their kids to affluent schools as long as the kids behave (because they might not behave, you know, and that would be a problem) but they can't actually BE normal.

Because then the whole system would fall apart. What kind of normal would nonwhites aspire to, if not the white normal?

We use "But they're culturally assimilated" to defend the presence of ethnic groups, like the Puerto Ricans for instance. "They don't even have accents anymore. They live in the suburbs and act just like us."

What kind of a defense is that?! I've even said it myself once or twice. But now that I think about it, I think it's an awful thing to say!

I have even said to certain people, "Don't worry, my son will be growing up completely American." How horrible of me! Tell me, what's wrong with growing up Chinese? Not that he will - we'd have to move to China for that. But what's conceptually wrong with it? What's so abnormal about being Chinese?

There are 1.3 billion Chinese, compared to 300 million Americans. 67% of the world population is Asian, compared to less than 24% white. Who's normal now? And as far as human races go, we share 98.5% of our DNA with chimpanzees, 90%-ish with squid, and a whopping 70% with oak trees. Oak trees!

And we share the elements that our cells are made of with the entire universe. That stuff floating around in space and burning up in stars... that's what we're made of.

It's a whole great big world out there. Any normal person should have the opportunity to learn about it and study it and make something out of it. Not just white normal people. All normal people. I do think that studying and preserving cultures is important. I think social/ethnic/individual identity is important, and interdependent. I think giving our kids a boost is crucial, especially when parents and kids don't share the same race. But I think we're doing our kids, and our neighbors, and ourselves, a grave disservice if we buy into the idea that white culture is some sort of epitome, and other cultures are novelties or onuses that it takes effort to learn to be proud of. Even when everyone you know thinks like that. Not everyone in the world thinks like that, after all. Some people could care less about white culture, and prefer to cast their own culture as normal.

Sometimes it doesn't seem like anyone values their own culture more than our culture, though, with Western pop culture leaking into the remotest corners of he world and English becoming the standard business language pretty much everywhere. And for those people who do believe their own culture is superior, we privately believe they are provincial and ignorant. And probably poor.

When you think of Chinese culture, you think of poor people, don't you?

Even though you know there's a rapidly growing middle class in China. All the newfound prosperity and technology in Asia doesn't define Asia. As long as there are poor people, lots and lots of poor people, the poor people will continue to define the culture.

And that's what my son will learn from the world. I don't know how I'm going to teach him differently... but I'm guessing it will start with me conditioning myself to think differently.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The most boring snow day ever

No, really. It was. I'd tell you all about it, but there's nothing to tell. It was exceedingly boring.

As an example of how boring it was, I'll give you three highlights.

AwesomeCloud and Daddy played three games of Candyland. Actually, this was pretty cool in a "he's growing up" kind of way. He grasped the concept of taking turns, and of counting squares, but he wasn't very good at finding the right colors. He did find the correct picture of a candy, though, after he drew a picture card. Then everybody cheered, regardless of who won, because on a day like this you'll cheer about anything for any reason.

Yesterday I was breaking kindling and I injured my left hand. There was a round splinter in the palm of my hand - curious, indeed, but not easily removable with pliers. Today I wore a bandaid all day, and one winter glove to keep the bandaid in place, and also to keep grabby Cloud-hands from digging into my wound. And I didn't wash any dishes. (Except the ones I did wash.)

I drew an Africanized honeybee. Well, I pencilled it yesterday. I just inked it today.

Yesterday, while pencilling, I also read a graphic novel called "The Alcoholic" by Jonathan Ames. It was such an intense story, I kept getting disoriented and thinking, "What am I doing in this guy's head? I don't think like that!" The character's relentless self-destructiveness was like a hammer to my brain. It was an extremely clear picture of one of the trademark struggles of addicts - the guilt of knowing that they are the source of their own tragic problems, while people around them have tragic problems that aren't their fault. They may feel they don't have the right to suffer; that they never earned the right to suffer.

The book stabbed me right in the heart.

Nothing like that happened today. Today I did some word puzzles and wore a glove all day.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A day of weird mishaps

First thing this morning, AwesomeCloud and I brought the Prius to Toyota to have the grill replaced, because the body shop didn't do it. That part was all right. They have a beautiful waiting room, with a playroom and snacks and nice bathrooms. We played for an hour, got a bit of sticker shock, recovered from our sticker shock, and happily drove home.

Then the mom we were going to have a playdate with called to say she was sick. I had volunteered to be on the Chinese New Year committee with my adoption agent, but I wasn't going to go to the meeting because I didn't want to cancel the playdate. However, with the playdate cancelled, I called up my agent and told her I'd be there.

"Great," she said. "It's been moved to noon, though, not eleven like the email said."

"That's fine," I replied. "We'll be there at noon."

I cleaned the house a little, made some soup for an early lunch, and then AwesomeCloud and I left to go to the meeting at the agent's office.

It was 5 degrees out, by the way. Not that this changes my story. It just adds an extra dimension of chill. Brrr.

We arrived at the agent's office, and it was empty. Vacated. Not even a stray pen cap or push pin left lying on the floor. Even the soundtrack of chirping crickets was missing, probably because it was noon on a January day with 5 degree temperatures.

Back into the car we went, with me planning to call her when we arrived home because I don't have a cell phone. I got on the highway, and something on the car made a mysterious crunch. Followed by a mysterious grating sound. I pulled over on the shoulder to look, and found a plastic part that had been under the bumper had cracked and was now hanging down and pressing against the left front tire. I taped it up with medical tape, managing not to get run over by oncoming highway traffic in the process (a hearty thank you to the guy in the semi and the guy in the SUV who pulled into the far lane before you reached me! You guys are awesome! And boooo to the fifty-odd people who didn't.)

Then, because we were only two exits away from Toyota, we went back there and told them that something was seriously wrong with something under our bumper, and it may or may not be related to the work they'd done this morning.

We played in the playroom again and ate more snacks. Then Toyota informed us that the broken piece was a piece that the body shop should have replaced, rather than quick-fixed, when our car was in the accident. And that if we took the car back there, maybe the $400+ cost of fixing it now could be covered by the insurance.

So now I have to get on the phone and call the body shop and the insurance. Because Toyota's quicker-quick-fix wasn't designed to last.


At least AwesomeCloud was in a good mood all day. He was picky about eating his lunch, but then he'd had all those snacks, so who can blame him? This past weekend he was both finicky AND foul-tempered. I think he had a cold or something, with no outward symptoms but that left him feeling miserable just the same.

By the way, I still haven't found out what was up with the adoption agency. Obviously, they moved. But beyond the obvious, I know nothing, and I don't feel like calling her up and asking her about it right now. I'll do it later.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

New comic: Kaeli and Rebecca

Hey. Our new comic book is featured on the TempleCon website.

I just finished the back cover. Yay! Now it's off to the printer, and lots of nailbiting and hoping it arrives okay before the con.

TempleCon is in Warwick, RI on Feb 4-6 and we have a dealer table there. Yes, two dealer tables in two weeks. After that, we're going to Manchester, NH and Columbus, OH for more dealer tables.

It's a crash course in the comic book industry for Cloud. :)

Monday, January 17, 2011

AwesomeCloud the congoing kid

This weekend, we had a dealer table at Arisia. It was in Boston, an hour and a half from where we live, so we commuted all four days. That's a lot of driving time for a toddler. Fortunately, AwesomeCloud does very well in the car.

Friday we got our dealer badges and set the table up. We said hello to our friend Everett who was sitting at the dealer table next to us. Everett and sells a comic book series called "Sky Pirates" with his wife Sue. If you like indie comics, I recommend checking it out. We all left at around 10:00 PM and got home after 11. Kiddo went to bed, and so did I. For some reason, his Kid Music CD was in the CD player instead of our usual Loreena McKennitt, so Cloud played "Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes" and other jump around and gesture games in his crib until midnight, when the CD skipped and i used that as an excuse to shut it off before the end.

On Saturday we all trekked back to Boston for a looooong day of dealing. Cloud discovered the joy of escalators. There were two of them just outside the dealers' room, and two more above those. He and i spent at least an hour that morning going up, up, down, down, up, up, down, up, down, down, up, up, down, up, down, up, and down the escalators.

Other than that, he was too antsy and restless to stay behind the table for long, and I was really wishing I'd brought some toys. I always forget to bring toys. Other people fill their minivans with toys. I'm lucky if I find a stray Thomas the Train in my coat pocket so I can offer it to Cloud to play with.

Also, he got it into his head that he was ravenous for nothing but Nutrigrain bars. It became kind of a problem. I'd only brought five.

We got to meet lots of weird people, too. people in fabulous costumes, and people engaging in bizarre conversation. Like the woman who stood directly in front of my sale sign and told me all about her love for cats, spiders, and owls. (Everybody wants to talk about cats and spiders, because our logo is a cat and a spider and those animals feature prominently in our comic books. Owls, however, was a new one.) Then she described in excruciating detail how she got to have a phobia of tea, how she overcame it, and the intricate and elaborate tea-drinking habits practiced today by her husband and her.

People who don't go to geeky cons probably wouldn't appreciate that description, or they might think I'm exaggerating. The whole exchange took about 15 minutes. It felt like an hour. Each passerby who glanced over her shoulder at our books could have been a potential paying customer. Hey, I love wacky conversation as much as anyone, but I gotta make back the table fee, at the very least.

Then there was the woman accompanied by a little girl with long, scruffy hair and a slightly younger boy with long, scruffy hair. The woman was a talker, too. The girl interrupted her a few times to say she was interested in "Minions For Hire" #3. The woman herself showed interest in 'Perils of Picorna." The boy mostly just stood there and shuffled his feet. So here I am, thinking I could coax a sale out of her, and I said, "Perils of Picorna is a great comic book for women and girls who like female characters who don't fit the usual narrow female stereotypes."

The woman replied, "My son is a boy."

At that point i figured I had two choices: either i could point out that her daughter was a girl and she was a woman, or I could say that boys might enjoy it too. I went with the latter. The formers seemed too obnoxious.

So then she countered with numerous reasons why a boy wouldn't dare be caught with a comic book about a girl. Apparently the kid couldn't bear to be different.

"I'm raising my son in the industry," I said, "So I hope he doesn't ever feel like that. It really is an enjoyable book."

"That's probably different," the woman said. "I tried to teach him to be open-minded, but public school washed all of that away. Now he does everything he can not to stand out."

"Oh," I said, pretending to be sympathetic. "My son's Chinese, so he already stands out. Maybe he'll feel like he has nothing to lose."

"My son's mixed-race," the woman replied.


Then I found out that the girl wasn't her daughter. My theory is that the mom is so used to having to explain to people that her long-haired little boy is not a girl that she jumped right into that role again without thinking that maybe I assumed that both kids were hers. I knew the boy was a boy. It took me a minute, but I'm astute like that. Zing.

On Sunday I woke up with a stress headache of doom, so I drove my husband to Arisia and then Cloud and I spent a quiet day at home until it was time to pick him back up again. On a whim, we decided to drive all the way in, park the car on the street outside, and take the Silver line into Chinatown for a social dinner at a nice restaurant. We had a lot of fun. Cloud recognized our friend Judy, which pleased her immensely, and he even said her name several times. He ate like a champ and charmed the waitstaff. I think it was good for him to be in a place where pretty much everyone there was Chinese except his parents. He is in the majority, if you count the entire world population, and I want him to get to experience being in the majority sometimes. Most days go by without him laying eyes on a single Asian face except his own.

On Monday, the con shut down at 2:00 PM, so we braved it again with all three of us at the dealer table. There was a last minute rush of sales, which was nice. And there was a photo shoot with a Stormtrooper. I'll insert that picture as soon as I find it. The guy in the Stormtrooper outfit was getting ready to apply for membership to the 501st Legion. I encouraged him, and promised to send a copy of the photo so he could use it in his application portfolio.

I'm always glad to help out a person striving for a good cause. :)

The whole Arisia experience has resulted in another language improvement for AwesomeCloud. He seems to experience a language surge after every big social event, I think. Now he's uttering two-word phrases more often, and some of his previously well-known words have gotten clearer. Today he said 'pillow' with near crystal clarity.

Also endlessly amusing: his attempts to whistle. I can whistle, just barely, but I can't do it at all when I'm laughing. So my attempts to teach him to do it right fell totally flat.

Oh yes: aaaand... I got him to say, "Buy my book!" (Sadly, he didn't win us any sales this way. What, isn't he $4.00 worth of cute? Just buy a book when the adorable but barely verbal two-year-old tells you to and everyone will be happy.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"Cry it out" Toddler edition

Usually the term "cry it out" is used to refer to infants being put in a crib by themselves for the first time. Some mommies practice the "cry it out" philosophy; some are opposed to it. (It's a philosophy. Hee hee. Parenting communities have turned the method by which one gets a baby acclimated to a crib into a philosophy. We're so nuts.)

I don't know anything about that.

What I do know is that AwesomeCloud cried for seven minutes straight when I told him he had to eat the old yogurt before I would open the new yogurt. I timed him.

I've sometimes been known to scold him when he's having an unnecessary crying jag. But it occurred to me that I don't know what scolding is supposed to accomplish. Actually, he does sometimes quiet down when I shush him. But it takes a whole lot of shushing, so maybe it's not the shushing per se but the amount of time I spend shushing him that matters.

Anyway, I thought that maybe standing there and waiting patiently would be a good thing to do. Maybe it was Zehlahlum Family's influence. If you want to read a blog that's more upfront about the trials of adoption, hers is tons better than mine. And also, some of her latest adventures have inspired me to try out the passive, nonreactive approach. It's so easy to say, "I believe in not reacting - I'm the parent, after all. I should be establishing the tone in this family." Shockingly, it doesn't work like that for very long. The moments during which you own your behavior become shorter and shorter, and the moments when you get inextricably caught up in the drama grow longer and longer, turning into weeks and months.

Zehlahlum says she's going to own her own behavior again, and I guess I'm kinda digging the idea too.

Because when you're chronically exhausted all day and barely have energy to accomplish 1/4 of the things you have planned each day, standing there passively and emotionlessly is a lot easier than scolding and shushing. Kids are gonna have bad behavior. Some kids have more bad behavior than others, but they all have some. So? Just intervene if the kid looks like he wants to strike the cat or smash a glass, or stab at the wall with a Sharpie, or whatever. Barring that, just wait. Cloud and I don't both have to work ourselves up.

Besides, maybe he doesn't actually like to be shushed. Maybe it only annoys him more on top of whatever else has offended him. I know it would annoy me.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Laugh, and the whole world laughs with y--Blue Prius!

AwesomeCloud has the world's most contagious laugh. When he laughs, everyone in the room laughs, every time. And he laughs a lot.

Today we were hanging out in the library with the train table and a parenting book, and Cloud kept finding various things hilarious. The floppy Madeline doll whose legs kick every which way when you hold her by the back of the neck and make her dance - hilarious. Two trains crashing together - hilarious. All the animals falling out of the animal truck when you pull it by the string - hilarious.

Every time Cloud squealed in laughter, we'd hear the children's librarian laughing too. Whether she was at her desk, minding her own business, or shelving books on the opposite side of the room, he'd laugh and then she'd laugh.

Then a mom started to do it too.

And me, of course. I have never laughed so much in the course of a day at any point of my life as i do now. Every day it's like this. I almost can't believe it's me laughing so much. But what else can I do? Everyone is helpless under the spell of the Kid With the Contagious Laugh.

The adult-section librarian walked in, sidestepped two shrieking, giggling kids (my son and the other mom's son, who were playing some variation of hide-and-seek for kids too young to understand real hide-and-seek), and headed right for me.

"Hi," I said. Cloud stopped and stared.

She bent down, and in a very librarian-like whisper, she whispered over the racket, "Do you have a gray car with license plate such-and-such?"

"Nope," I whispered back. "We have a blue Prius."

"All right," she whispered, and set off, presumably to keep searching for the errant car owner. Cloud watched her go, and then he ran up to me and announced, "Boo Peeus!"

And he repeated "Boo Peeus" every five or ten minutes for the rest of the time we were there. And everyone laughed. We couldn't help it. "Boo Peeus" was obviously the funniest thing he, or any of us, had heard all day.

Plus, he gets bonus points for stringing two words together.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Everybody's getting fat except Mama Cat

The whole family is adjusting to our new cat care regimen. Riley and I have it hardest, as I'm the feeder of the cats and dispenser of the medication, and Riley has suddenly had her delicious dry food removed from her diet.

Hey, she likes pureed chicken. She always begs for it when I scoop some out for Ban Lu. Now she gets it every day, every meal, exclusively.

What's that? She didn't want the pureed chicken exclusively? She wanted her chicken and cat food too? Aw. That's just too bad.

She's also on prednisone, probiotics, and now THREE hyperthyroid pills a day. Poor cat.

And poor me, having to give all that to her.

She's lost so much weight recently, though. She went from 11 lbs to 7 lbs, after coming home from the shelter at 9 lbs and then gaining those two more pounds quickly. Riley is now the lightest cat we've owned since Trixie came limping home half-dead and dangerously emaciated. In Trixie's case, she was so sick and hungry that she voluntarily ate cat food infused with multivitamins. She must have developed a taste for those nasty, bitter multivitamins, because once we fattened her back up to a healthy 7-8 lbs again, she would still eat them.

Riley eats anything, but then she always has. The vet hopes that controlling her out-of-control thyroid hormone levels will clear up her other problems. The vet also assured me that the kidney problem is not degenerative and may clear up too. Thank goodness. Because when Riley feels lousy, she picks fights with Ban Lu, and Ban Lu is only getting chunkier over time.

Kind of like the people in this household. Even AwesomeCloud is gearing up for another growth spurt. (I can't BELIEVE how much food that kid can put down! Who eats three helpings of mac&cheese with spinach for lunch? And then begs for cookies not ten seconds after I've cleared his plate?)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The melodrama of special-needs cats

We rescue special-needs cats. It's a thing we do. Cats, in general, can be full of surprises... and I don't just mean the hairballs they leave on the floor beside the bed while you sleep.

Melody has cerebellar hypoplasia, which is similar to cerebral palsy in humans. Otherwise, she's very healthy.

Ban Lu was our attempt at hospicing a terminally ill cat, diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease and intestinal tumors. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that he is actually cancer-free, and will stay cancer-free for awhile longer if we control his IBS, which we do by boiling and pureeing two whole chickens a week.

(Pureed whole chickens are actually cheaper per pound than cheap store-brand cat food, but cost a lot more in time, energy, and stress on the food processor.)

Riley is our hyperthyroid, hyperactive cat. She eats a lot, poops and pees a lot, and hardly ever sleeps. (By cat standards, that is.) She's been having digestive troubles lately, which has led to behavior problems. She poops in my houseplants, and she has started a war with Ban Lu. Ban Lu, unfortunately, is a vengeful cat, and when she crosses him, he retaliates tenfold.

So today I brought Riley to the vet. I was afraid of two things: 1) that they'd tell me her hyperthyroid pills were no longer working and we'd have to get her the super-expensive radioactive iodine treatment. The problem with radioactive iodine, aside from being expensive itself, is that it produces a temporarily radioactive cat. We'd have to have the vet quarantine her for up to a month until the iodine leaves her system. And pet boarding ain't cheap. 2) That she has diabetes and we'd have to give her insulin shots for the rest of her life.

She's only 5 years old.

The diabetes fear came about from the enormous frequency with which she uses her litter box, and the amount of water she drinks, and also the fact that she's lost a LOT of weight this year.

I love my vet. She's so straightforward. She quickly assured me that Riley neither had diabetes nor needed radioactive iodine.

Nope. It's much more likely that Riley has a kidney disorder and IBS.


Riley is now on Ban Lu's strict diet of pureed whole chickens and prednisone. She is also probably at risk of developing intestinal tumors. Hyperthyroidism, IBS, and kidney problems are a triple whammy that commonly occur together and indicate an autoimmune disorder.

Did I mention she's only 5?

The bright spot in all this is that, in spite of the grief Riley has caused me with her plant-pooping and her catfighting, she's still as gentle and affectionate as ever around her people. She's still Cloud's special kitty. We don't regret getting her, although we may get some gray hairs because of her.

My husband was reading about a woman who wanted a therapy cat to reduce her panic attacks, and he and I just looked at each other, thought of Riley, and burst out laughing.


Oh! Barely related story - but a cute one. Ban Lu is a big cat, you know. He's only 13 pounds, but he's very, very tall. He can rub his cheek against my hand when I'm just standing there. Enormous cat - people ask if he's part ocelot or something, and I have to say, "Nope, he's just a domestic shorthair."

So, Cloud and I were walking by the pet store (we shall momentarily overlook my moral objections to pet stores that still sell dogs) and we saw a husky puppy in the window.

"Cat," Cloud said, pointing to it.

"No," I corrected him, "it's a dog."

"Cat," he insisted.

"It's a dog with cat ears," I said.

"Cat," he insisted.





As I watched the little gigantic husky puppy jump around in its glass cage, I realized that it couldn't have been any bigger than Ban Lu. Shrink the dog's head, lengthen the legs, and the two animals would look very similar. It is not outside Cloud's world experience for a cat to be that big.

Next week, the puppy will probably have outgrown Ban Lu and convinced Cloud that it is a dog after all. But for now, Ban Lu will continue to tower over the shih tsu puppies and give the husky puppies a run for their money.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

My own personal Pale Blue Dot

This video is a good introduction to my 2011 new year's resolution.

Last year I joined the 50-Book Challenge, and although I lost track of the number of books I read, I'm sure I surpassed the 50 books. It ended up being somewhere between 55 and 60 books. One of the recurring themes in my last year's selections was culture clash... human cruelty to fellow humans... bigotry, oppression, and sometimes genocide. It really struck me.

It struck me how little I know about the history of my species as a whole, and about what we're doing to each other currently that's not necessarily getting into the newspapers.

So this year, 2011, is dedicated to the pale blue dot. This year I'm going to read 50 books again, and at least 25 of them are going to be about social justice, social injustice, and human history. I don't want to walk around with this vague sense of outrage. I want an educated, well-informed, specific sense of outrage. I want to know what the atrocities were/are instead of steaming inside about some abstract notion of atrocities.

I want to figure out what made Mao tick. No. Really. I think ultimately this all leads to my interest in Mao Zedong. Ever since my vague non-conversation with our Chinese guide, in which both of us discussed difficult topics without actually mentioning them, Mao has become an elusive meta-character who... well... I mean, he was human! And I'm human. And yet the scale of his reign of terror was just far beyond my natural ken. I have to work to solve the puzzle of Mao.

And yes, I know that 1.5 billion people are also trying to solve the puzzle in their own minds at this time. Because they're living in the aftermath. And they can't really discuss it. Not with each other, anyway. That only encourages me. If they find it worthwhile to try to wrap their minds around the puzzle, I do too.

And, also, he wasn't the only one. In China, the madness became systemic, but that's happened in other places at other times as well.

So 2011 is for you, Pale Blue Dot. You and your most tragic secrets.

Happy new year, everybody.