erin judge writes this

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I'm Erin Judge. I'm a comedian and a writer. I live in Los Angeles.

August 22, 2015

ashley madison as hell

I am in an open marriage. I am entirely, obnoxiously public about this fact. And various reactions to the Ashley Madison hack reveal a number of widespread misconceptions about the reality of marriage in America today that we urgently need to rectify.

Widespread Belief #1: Married Equals Monogamous

Here's a soundbite from every physical I've gotten since getting hitched:
Doctor: Okay, and you're married, so we don't need to do a PAP smear or an STD screening.
?!?!?!??!?!!!!!

What the fucking fuck America. Even if you do assume that my marital status means that I profess monogamy, why would any medical professional with access to the research presume that my marital status means I practice monogamy? Or that my partner practices monogamy, regardless of what s/he might tell me? Non-monogamy is growing as a lifestyle choice, and "infidelity" -- a word I loathe -- is both presently and historically widespread. Every married person in America needs to be screened routinely to maintain his or her physical health and fertility. This should be standard practice.

Widespread Belief #2: Non-Monogamous Relationships Make You A Pariah

Here's an excerpt from a commenter on Glenn Greenwald's reverse-scold piece on internet scolds and Ashley Madison:
My SO knows about my AM membership.... But because of this hack and the attitudes of people who are so locked into your very narrow line of thinking and lacking of so little empathy I will most likely end up loosing [sic] possibly friendships at work and in my personal life and most likely will have to find another job.
First of all, who the fuck is firing you over this? Do you work for the Archdiocese of Squaresville? Even if you do, and they do fire you, fuck 'em. Sue 'em. They're probably looking for an excuse to fire you anyway because they're still trying to cover the costs of the legal judgments they're paying out to all the little kids they abused. And if you're just talking about being so uncomfortable at work you decide to find another job so you can start over under a pseudonym at a place where you can pretend to be monogamous again, then your problem is you. If your friends don't support your perfectly reasonable choice to pursue sex outside of your marriage with a person who has become physically incapable of sex, with your spouse's permission, then your friends are narrow-minded fucking assholes.

Let me be clear: the closet is, very often (but obviously not always), a privilege. It's often a place where you pleasantly pretend to conform to the status quo while other people live out the consequences of the public scorn for the activities that you yourself consciously and repeatedly engage in. If you do drugs, you should talk about it publicly, and you should at the very least vote for the decriminalization of drugs, because there are Americans in prison right now for doing what you -- that is, what we -- routinely do.

Many of the think-pieces out there seek to differentiate the public hypocrites from the private hypocrites. By this line of thinking, Josh Duggar deserves what he gets because he shits on gay people, but some person who is in a consensual open marriage does not deserve to have her life "ruined" by this leak. But what are you standing by and tolerating as a condition of your special secret life? Have other coworkers of yours been fired for non-monogamy? Has your friend group shunned other people for engaging in consensual non-monogamy? If so, you're kind of a coward. You're letting others take hard falls for making the same choices you've made. That's a hypocrisy that I'm not going to cry too hard for you about.

Widespread Belief #3: Love Equals Monogamy Equals Love

The vast majority of the people on Ashley Madison, presumably, do not have consensual open relationships. They are cheating. But instead of feeling a collective schadenfreude at their exposure, maybe we should instead question our demonstrably false equation of sexual monogamy and marital love.

Sexuality is a drive. For most of us, it's a pretty gripping force. It motivates us to act against our better judgment at least a few times in our lives. And considering that our species is not monogamous, and that our sexual connections to our lifetime partners inevitably wax and wane and get out of sync, perhaps we should stop expecting 5+ decades of pair coupling as the general baseline.

If you love being monogamous, great. Go with that. Have fun. But the default setting is not ideal for many, many millions of Americans. If you're truly happy being with one person sexually forever, then you don't need to feel threatened by allowing space for others to do what feels best for them.

Here's a crazy idea: try telling the people you love the truth. Try being open and honest. Most people are actually pretty receptive to new ideas and alternative ways of constructing a life. Ask for permission rather than forgiveness. That takes courage. And courage is exactly what we need if we're going to dismantle the dehumanizing aspects of a social convention -- in this case, lifelong monogamous marriage -- that fails to work for far too many people.

June 9, 2015

dear (fellow) white people

 more on redlining
Dear (fellow) white people,

It seems like many of us are starting catch on to this whole systematic and systemic racism thing we've got going on in this country. That's great! I mean, it's horrible and atrocious, but it's great to know about it and see it, because we have to recognize injustice before we can do anything about it.

Recently, I've had a some very surprising exchanges with white people (like me) who listen to hip hop music (like I do everyone does). One such conversation was about race and money. It seems my fellow white hip hop fans (and, presumably, I too) often miss key messages that are right there, in the lyrics of the songs that we sing along with and love.

I've also read lots of articles lately asking white people to do some consciousness-raising amongst ourselves. So I'm gonna try. I decided to write about popular hip hop songs and how the lyrics can offer some insights into the racial situation in America.*

If this one is interesting to people, I might do another.

Now, are y'all kids tucked in? Here we go:

"Damn, shit done changed now,
Runnin credit checks with no shame now"
-Nelly, Ride wit Me, 2001

Ride wit Me is a party anthem. And given the, uh, thrust of most Nelly songs, it seems remarkable that the word "shame" would appear at all, especially considering this phenomenon right here, upon which I shall not comment.

So the idea of "runnin credit checks with no shame now" deserves some exploration.

The economic oppression and subjugation of African descendants on this continent began and peaked with slavery, obviously. Most people are cognizant of that particular centuries-long crime against humanity and are aware that it was followed by many more decades of utter marginalization, through Jim Crow times and well into the 20th Century.

So let's start with the G.I. Bill.

Over a million African-Americans served this country in World War II. Those individuals were ostensibly entitled to the unprecedented housing and education benefits afforded to all returning veterans. However, especially in the pre-Civil Rights Act, pre-Fair Housing Act era, the impact of those benefits on the economic mobility of veterans was far from equal. While the segregation of educational institutions led to overcrowding at existing HBCUs, perhaps the bigger long-term economic impact came in the form of housing discrimination. I'm talking about Redlining.

According to blackpast.org, "Redlining refers to a discriminatory pattern of disinvestment and obstructive lending practices that act as an impediment to home ownership among African Americans and other people of color." Nancy Updike, in her This American Life story on Redlining, explains it like this:
But most people may not know-- I didn't know-- that it wasn't banks that popularized redlining. It was the federal government under President Franklin Roosevelt, a Democrat, that drew red lines on maps around certain neighborhoods and refused to back home loans there. There were other designations on the maps, by the way, for areas with Jews and others, anyone who was perceived as risky. Banks followed the government's lead in terms of lending, and so did big government programs that came out later, like the GI bill.
As Ta-Nehesi Coates points out in his compelling piece The Case for Reparations, "From the 1930s through the 1960s, black people across the country were largely cut out of the legitimate home-mortgage market."

Even after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was enacted, these racially prejudicial home lending practices persisted.

I'm from Brooklyn. My mother's father served in post-war Japan, and my grandparents benefitted from the G.I. Bill. They struggled throughout their young lives, and I grew up on the inspiring stories of how they scrimped to make ends meet. But because they were able to purchase a home in the desirable (non-Redlined) neighborhood of Bay Ridge, my family's wealth grew substantially as home values increased.

The fact is, my exact same family in the exact same city with the exact same military service record, the exact same hereditary resources (that is to say, none) and the exact same work ethic, had we been Black, would simply not have been afforded the same opportunities, the same access to wealth and middle-class growth.

And the subsequent period of de-industrialization was a whole other shitshow. In the 1970s, 80s and early 90s, the decently-paid union jobs that many African-Americans held in sectors like the automobile industry in cities like Detroit were downsized, dismantled, moved overseas. (For a pop culture source beyond rap music, revisit the roof scene from Set It Off. And if, for some crazy reason, you have not seen Set It Off, then stop reading my dumb shit right now and go watch that film.)

Fast-forward to the 21st century: The home lending crisis dealt another huge blow to the prospect of Black economic stability. People of color were specifically targeted for sub-prime mortgages, and, while the big banks were bailed out for their hubris, regular debtors often lost their homes and their investments. Without any generational wealth to fall back on (see the G.I. Bill bit above), even minor set-backs, not to mention the loss of a home, can become major financial catastrophes that take years to dig out of. And, when the economy crashed and governments enacted all those austerity measures, those state and federal employee furloughs? They disproportionately impacted African-Americans.

Now, none of this is to say that white people have not been the victims of predatory lending practices and expensive credit. But the proportion of the Black population that has been targeted by these just-barely-on-the-legal-side-of-fraudulant practices is far greater, especially in recent decades. I live in Los Angeles, and the ads for payday loans and other rapacious lenders on KDAY, the old school hip hop station, where I am most likely to hear Ride wit Me, simply never stop.

My grandfather -- the one who bought the house in Brooklyn on union wages from the phone company, earned his bachelor's degree at age 50, and helped out financially during the years when my mother was a single parent -- taught me to fear debt. He urged me to pay cash, told me not to get credit cards in college, explained how to establish credit without getting involved with the Visa corporation. I learned zero of that in school. The fact is, most of what we learn about money in America, we learn at home.

Many of my other friends who lived in single-parent homes learned instead that money is a constant desperate need, that every ring of the phone could be a debt collector, that sometimes the lights get cut off. Thanks to plenty of hard work, combined with union labor power and the ability to take full advantage of the G.I. Bill, my grandparents were able to help my mother shelter me from the most fearsome of those financial worries.

When you can't seem to escape debt, no matter how hard you work or how responsible you try to be, the strain can be debilitating. Before long, you start juggling. You pay the minimum on this card, the partial balance on the electric, just enough to get the gas turned back on. The idea that you could ever be on top of what you owe, given what you earn and the spiraling impact of late payment fees and overdraft charges, becomes a receding dream. Too many families, and far too many African-American households, operate under this no-win financial framework. That's reflected in hip hop. Often it takes the form of a celebration at having a little extra, the glee that comes from being free from the burden of decades and generations of financial stress. Phone bill about 2 Gs flat, no need to worry, my accountant handles that.

I'm not quite sure what to say in conclusion, except...

If you don't know, now you know.




* Please note: If your reaction to this whole shebang is "no duh," then you are not its intended audience. This post and any others that might follow it are aimed at people who don't know much about these topics but might be intrigued by how these stories are woven into the music they love. I don't mean to condescend or white-splain. (Is that a thing? Of course that's a thing.) I just want to explore some of what's come up in conversations with my white friends. As the young people used to abbreviate on the internet, your mileage may vary.

March 11, 2015

deconstruction of heck

I have loved Kurt Cobain with every fiber of my being since I was eleven years old. I grew up too fast in adolescence, at least partly because of grunge and how everything that grunge lead me to -- punk, riot grrrl, indie films -- hit me: very, very hard. I wore black every April 8th from 1995 until I went to college. I read biographies and bought bootlegs and hung out in fan chat rooms and generally worshipped at the altar of anything and everything Nirvana.

But I have to admit -- I need to admit -- that I don't feel any deep stirring so far from this documentary trailer. I don't quite understand what's supposed to be so epic and intimate and moving about it. Have people never before considered that Kurt was a baby at some point? Have they not imagined it? His baby self is a thought I had back when I was thirteen, when my imagined idea of his childhood was a very real reason I cried for him (and his wife, and his baby, and his short life, and his suffering), way way back when he died.

I know I have the curse/blessing of deep empathy. I imagine and experience the feelings of people around me so automatically and deeply that I have to expend serious effort to turn it off. I try hard not to project this onto famous people, because I understand that I do not really know them. I'm exposed to the mitigated version the media lets through, which might have little to do with whoever that person really is.

But tell me, who among us who loved Kurt Cobain didn't feel an intimate connection to his story? Didn't we all identify with him to the core? Who among us hasn't already imagined -- damn near experienced -- the weight of the profound, stultifying, mortifying injustices of the world bearing down on us, only to have that pain spill out chaotically into our own small lives, the proximity to the truth somehow making it harder to survive? Harder to stomach either mundanity or depth, harder to comprehend the absurdity of mass-media culture, especially in those rare moments when pop intersects with Art? Like, I mean, like, actual factual real deal Art? Art, which transforms us? Art, which uplifts us? Art, which humanizes us even as it compels us to express it, possesses us? Art, which humans flock to, which we recognize en masse when it's real, which millions of us grasp at and seek out just in time to see it co-opted and commercialized and sold on a T-shirt emblazoned with a pithy lyric and a proprietary photograph?

I'm not looking forward to sitting through the film. I'm not looking forward to watching the folks who knew young Kurt back when speaking "candidly" and performing profundity when they were simply proximate to his depth, getting all prophetic in retrospect and pretending to have known his inevitable trajectory all along. I'm not looking forward to crying at his baby pictures, nor at the pictures of his baby. I'm not looking forward to watching his whip-smart wry shyness juxtaposed against Courtney's masochistic exhibitionism. I'm not looking forward to heroin.

Alas, of course, I will watch it. I will certainly watch it. I will definitely watch it. Just as I dutifully paid my tithe at Bill's Records and Tapes every time some shitty "new" concert recording came out, way back before the file extension .mp3 entered the general consciousness, I will turn on HBO on May 4th and watch the Kurt Cobain documentary. And I will feel things.

But it probably won't be anything I haven't felt before. And what's worse, it probably won't be nearly as raw as the feelings I had about these very humans and events back in 1994, when I poured all my confusion and animosity about myself and humanity and the bizarrely oxymoronic alienation you feel when you really truly know in your heart that we're all the same into my grief for a familiar stranger.

Perhaps that's the real reason why I've been so irritated by the vaunted internet verbiage surrounding the Montage of Heck trailer, by the lack of emotion the same trailer caused in me. It's because it lays bare a true and undeniable fact about my thirty-four-year-old self as opposed to the creature I recall being in adolescence.

I simply feel less now.

In my positive moments, I can chalk it up to equanimity, even happiness. I'm less mournful because I have perspective, and I choose to live in the light. I feel the joy and glorious goodness of existence, the simple pleasures of a life lived consciously and presently among like-minded friends in this vast and adorably flawed universe.

But in my darker moments, I know I'm just jaded. I'm anesthetized by adulthood, by proximity to vices: alcohol, sex, social media, whatever. I'm a million miles away from the deep grief for our species that I felt when I first vibrated with angsty art, the simultaneous ache for each tragic figure and for all of
us collectively, for the ways we harm ourselves and each other, for the tragic piecing beauty of pain encapsulated in a bizarre metaphor wailed in a hoarse melody:

I travel through a tube and end up in your infection.


I sing along whenever I hear it, in a particular off-key tone, in a particular resonant voice. I conjure what I can of the strange unafraid genius who blurted those words into microphones on stages and in sound booths. I am humbled, I am small. I am twelve. I comprehend it now the exact same amount I got it back then. No more.  

February 9, 2015

smart trash

I'm at my mother's house this week helping her out after joint replacement surgery. This is because I am a good, good daughter. My reward so far has been repeated incidents of sit-com-style humiliation.

Yesterday my mother's Prius locked me out WHILE IT WAS ON because I failed to open the trunk correctly too many times in a row. Oh, and my mother always keeps her headlights on, so the lights were blazing too. FUN! I tried using the spare SmartKey (SO smart, that key) and pressing buttons in an up-down-up-down-yadda-yadda-select-start manner in an effort to cajole it into believing that I was, in fact, an authorized driver. No dice. The battery withered and died just as my friend finally figured out how to pop the manual key out of the SmartKey. The Prius's owner, who may or may not be on several different flavors of pain medication, claimed no prior knowledge of said manual key.

FUNNY STORY: the battery of a Prius cannot be accessed directly if it is dead, because a charge is required to open the trunk, and THAT is where the battery is! ELL OHH ELL! Me and the guy from AAA had to crawl in through the backseat! WHAT A RIOT! See, you can open the hood when the battery has no charge, but the joke's on you, dumb human, because the battery doesn't live under the hood!  Fooled YOU!

This morning, Mom asked me to make her some oatmeal, not on the stove, but rather in her rice cooker, and I went to college, so I proceeded to pour all the ingredients directly into the base of the machine, instead of into the special bowl insert part where they're supposed to go, which was in the dishwasher. I found this out because when I pressed the 'COOKING' button, which means 'START' or 'ON' in this case, the rice cooker only played a fraction of its normal "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" introduction before displaying the error message "HO4." I engaged in five seconds of pre-caffeine troubleshooting before I realized my mistake. Wah-WAH! HILARIOUS, right?!

As I struggled to clean steel-cut oats and soy milk out of the nooks and crannies of Japanese electronics, Mom's automatic trash can lid sure did keep me guessing! It popped right open every time I brushed past it or ducked underneath it, but when I walked up to it with a fistful of scraped-up organic oat mush, it remained static and shut, the coy thing! What a tease you are, automatic trash can!

After I fixed the rice cooker and made breakfast and called AAA and climbed through the backseat to the trunk and jumped the car and drove around for an hour and cleaned up the kitchen, I realized the floor was a mess. I asked Mom for a broom.

"Oooh, I have an ELECTRIC broom!" she offered with delight, and I was like"ANALOG BROOM NOW."

In closing, I'd like to thank this amazing piece of technology for making my life so much easier:

December 31, 2014

clickbait I intend to write in 2015

You're Probably Using Your Microwave Wrong You Asshole

Life Hack: Steal Someone's Identity

33 Ways To Click On This Highlighted Text Right Now

It Happened To Me: I Figured Out A Thing From My Life That Others Found Vaguely Interesting

69 Sexy Secrets For Starting Sexting Sects

Love Yourself EXACTLY As You Are, And STILL Lose That Weight!

The Cum-munist Manifesto: 27 Real Sex-Havers Who Are Taking Control Of The Means Of Seduction

#[Cause]: Why Twitter, Not People, Is The REAL Force Behind The Latest Struggle For Human Rights

I Can-'T: 14 Preserved Foods That Simply Cannot Right Now

42 Signs Your Everlasting Love Is Really Just You Dry Humping A Pair Of Boxing Gloves

Could You Be Bored At Work? Take This Quiz To Find Out

96 Ways To Combat Workplace Boredom

The Worst Mistake I Ever Made (FULL DISCLOSURE: That's Actually Following My Dreams, But This Is About Something Else, Involving Snorting Heroin A Couple Of Times)

How To Tell If You Should Take Up Smoking


Don't Eat This. It's A Computer Screen.

Lonely? Press To Release Dopamine


November 18, 2014

sorry about your harsh bummer

a letter to comics who are going through a rough time

Dear Hilarious Person,

I heard about what happened. It sucks so much that [your late night appearance got cancelled/you got fired from your first TV writing gig/you didn't win that contest even though you had the best set of the night]. I know you must be feeling [embarrassed about all the promotion you did for your appearance/racked with self-doubt/angry at the injustice of it all]. Trust me: I know how you feel.

My first impulse is to [buy you a beer/give you a merit badge/get ill-advised tattoos together]. Set-backs like this are all part of the journey, just like [your first time on stage/your first bombing/the first time you piss off a blogger]. I know it's probably cold comfort right now, but I'm proud of you for making it far enough to get to this particular crushing blow. I'm confident you'll get beyond it, both personally and professionally, really soon.

I know you probably need to [cry/hole up/punch the wall] for a few hours. I just want you to know that, whenever you're ready to [talk/vent/hit a mic], I'm available to [listen/agree/tag along].

Now please enjoy this rainbow:


In solidarity,
~Erin

October 26, 2014

young and dumb

“Dinner’s ready,” I declare, flipping off the electric burner on the stove-sink-fridge combo unit. I load my bowl with veggies and beans  -- “orphan mash,” as we dubbed it back in the aughts -- and squirt too much Sriracha on top. Then I plop myself down in front of the normal tenant’s bed to watch my husband prepare his plate.

We’ve been living like this for a quarter of a year. Three months ago, we packed up our lives to camp, kayak and couch-surf across the country and ultimately land in a series of cramped, awkward sublets on the left coast.

“Good for you!” people tell us. “This is the time to do it! While you’re young!”

We are not young. He turns thirty-nine on a date of numerological significance later this year. I’m pushing thirty-four. My grandmother had five kids well before she was my age. We might start trying next year. We keep saying that.

Once upon a time we had our own dental plans and 401Ks. We met eleven years ago, working semi-serious full-time jobs at the same exceedingly serious academic institution outside Boston. (“No, not Tufts…”) Today our queen-sized bed and our tax records and our Cuisinart standing mixer are hibernating in a storage pod somewhere near Elmira, New York.

He sits down next to me and scoops some orphan mash into his mouth. “Baby.” He shakes his head. “This is so good. Thank you.” That’s how we are. We praise each other’s cooking. We say “thank you.” My eyes start to water every time I hear lyrics about love that lasts a lifetime. I never even knew those songs existed in high school.

We’re in Los Angeles for my career. I tell jokes and I write stuff. Three years ago he moved from New York City to Ithaca for his dream job, and I half-moved and shit got complicated. I was on the road or in the City a lot of the time, and somehow I was still not on stage enough and not with him enough. His dream job morphed into something far less dreamy. It wasn’t working.

“Let’s move to LA,” he proposed on our Christmas road trip.

“Serious?” I asked from my perch in the passenger seat.

“Why not? I think we’ve got one last young and dumb thing left in us.”

We call our new sublet “the yurt.” It is small and filled with musical instruments that belong to the teen genius who normally lives here but is currently on tour with his band. We chop our vegetables on a corner of the sink. We eat on the floor. We are young and dumb.

“I’m just so happy here,” I say, impaling a chick pea with my REI camping fork. “I love the city and the culture and the comedy scene. It feels like I’ve finally found my place in the world, you know?”

“Well, it’s a desert ecology,” he explains. “So there’s probably a lot of lithium in the groundwater.”

I am very lucky.