erin judge writes this

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

December 31, 2015

find your figurative desk

2015 is the year I bought a desk.

After writing and editing an entire novel in hotel rooms, friends' homes, Airs BnB, and my dining room table, I figured catch-as-catch-can was good enough. When we moved into our new home in California last December, I decided I'd be fine continuing to operate without a designated space for my artistic work.

Stand up comedy has certainly taught me to value no-fuss, low-overhead creativity. All you need is a mic! And a little lighting! Maybe a stool! Stools are optional! Even conjuring my friend and mentor Salome Gawkerton, Internet Feminist requires little more than a hair tie and a pair of broken sunglasses.

But, as 2015 rolled on, I found I wasn't making a whole lot of headway on my second book. That brilliant new pilot script remained confined within the squishiest regions of my grey matter. I re-designed my whole website, but I did so hunched over my tiny laptop keyboard while sitting in a dining chair. When November came around and my husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas, the indignity I'd been steadily subjecting myself to boiled to the surface. "I think I need a desk," I began. "It's been pretty hard using the table," I admitted. I felt an upwelling of hyperbole in the pit my stomach, headed directly towards my vocal chords. "This situation is impossible!" I insisted, my voice trembling, at my poor agreeable spouse. He just stared at me, wide-eyed, as I leapt to my feet, rent my garments, and wailed: "I'm a FUCKING NOVELIST! And I don't even have my own GODDAMN DESK!"

Then I swept out and I took to my bed.

The day after Christmas, we visited every used furniture store in West LA, to no avail. We followed that up with a particularly depressing trip to the high-end Helms Complex, where I was silently mocked by $580 worth of Scandinavian particle board. Instead of pulling the trigger on an antique dinette table or a piece of children's furniture that costs more than my entire wardrobe, I turned to dear ol' Uncle Craigslist, and I found the perfect thing, just posted, down the street, for twenty bucks.

Over the past year, I've been adjusting, moving, changing, finding my way. That's what we do every year, of course, but I've spent 2015 navigating a new coast, a new job, a new schedule, a new life. I journaled and meditated and read Jung. My soul tends to tell me what it needs.

And, at the dawn of 2016, what my soul needs is a desk. The first person who has to take my art seriously is me. If I'm reluctant to invest time, resources, energy, and effort in my work, then everybody else will be too. And if I don't make the space, literal and metaphorical, for my creativity, nobody's going to do it for me.

So I encourage you to find your own metaphorical desk this year. It doesn't have to be big or fancy or expensive or Swedish. It just has to matter.

Happy Desk Year!

December 16, 2015

whites against white paranoia

white, prosperous, and real dang angry
During last night's debate, W. Kamau Bell inspired the hashtag #WhitesAgainstTrump, and I was happy to chime right in. I LOVE it when standing up for all that is right and not fascist is not only fun but SUPER EASY, and that's especially true when it involves sitting on my couch in my yoga pants with a glass of wine typing <140 characters! Hooray for me! I #hashtagged! I'm an activist!

In seriousness, it's always eye-opening for white people to see how non-white folks characterize us as a group, since we're this privileged class that gets to exist, often utterly oblivious as to our outward collective identity. But Kamau's call to whites to topple Trump made me think, and it made me realize that my state of disgusted alienation from Trump's supporters is actually a big (perhaps the biggest?) part of the problem.  

I gotta say, deep in my heart... I'm not just disgusted by Trump-supporting white people. I'm worried about them.

My grandmother watched the entire Republican convention in 2012. It was the television highlight of her year. My mother's partner's parents, who lived next door, watched Fox News all the time. Patton Oswalt has complained publicly about Fox News with a fervor that only those with loved ones in its grip can muster. Most white people I know have family members, even close family members, who live in that cognitive hellscape.

But how many of those white, solidly middle-class* people who have been watching Fox News for the past 15 years are sincerely happy? Do they feel safe, secure, comfortable? Did they under George W. Bush, or were they kept nice and terrified back then too? Roger Ailes and his ilk have poisoned countless minds with frightening falsehoods and imprisoned otherwise prosperous individuals in a psychological cage of intensifying hatred and paranoia. Paranoia is a fucking diagnostic criterion for mental illness. It is not a happy, healthy, positive, reality-based state to be in. 

So what we have is a bunch of people, many of them with respectable 401Ks and savings accounts, who can get brand new knees and guzzle Lipitor and live comfortably for decades, and they're miserable. They're angry all the time, they feel disenfranchised, and it's partly because the "information" they've been given 24 hours a day is utterly misaligned with the direction of our country. If the "information" Fox presents as true actually were true -- if climate change weren't real, if Iran were allowed to have nuclear weapons under Kerry's deal, if Syrian asylum-seekers were mostly radicalized ISIS loyalists entering the country unvetted by the hundreds of thousands -- then every decision the Obama administration has made would seem fucking insane. Seriously, try empathizing with that for a second. Millions of Americans' current psychological state -- paranoia and resentment and seething frustration and fear -- is actually, to some extent, the logical conclusion of all those lies.

Since the Iraq invasion I've been somewhat obsessed with questions of the nature of truth, about what people are inclined to believe, about confirmation bias and other ways our brains are "designed" to retain false beliefs. I try my damndest to remember that my own mind is a not crystal-clear chamber of logic and veracity either. 

My white family members (or high school acquaintances, etc.) who follow Trump think I'm naive AF. They think I've been brainwashed by college (you know, the one that those self-same family members were so determined to get me to). That's the assumption most of us #WhitesAgainstTrump are facing.

But those of us who have watched relatives get progressively angrier and more racist have first-hand knowledge of one thing, for damn sure:

Standing up for non-white non-Christian Americans is not something we must do solely for the benefit of those non-white non-Christian Americans. We need to do it for our families, for our disjointed communities, for sanity, for human happiness, for our own hearts and souls. And I'm ready to do more, not just by Tweeting into my personal echo chamber, but on stage, on the page, and in tough conversations with the people I encounter.

I want to say something about how I'll put my body on the line and fight, too, in the streets and in every way possible. But honestly, I don't know where to put it. I remember during the anti-globalization movement stuff back in 1999, a Civil Rights-era activist who spoke to my coalition explained (and I'm paraphrasing): "A movement doesn't consist of demonstrations. You have a march or a protest to demonstrate that there is a movement." 

So how do we build a movement to oppose Fox News, and other profiteers in the Big Paranoia concern? It's certainly a matter of interest to people on all sides of the political spectrum. But I'm against censorship, obviously, and I also don't think that MRE companies are gonna pull their ads any time soon. The prepper phenomenon illustrates that the paranoia industry is substantial. 

So what do we do? I welcome your suggestions. 

*I know there are many MANY thousands of broke, pain-pill-addicted, underemployed, traumatized veteran, and/or otherwise marginalized white people out there who also harbor these paranoid beliefs. And yes, I want to help them. In addition to supporting VA expansion, drug treatment programs, tax breaks for the poor instead of the rich, public education, and Medicaid expansion, I think fighting the Fox News agenda, in whatever law-abiding free-speech-affirming way we can, will help them too.

October 12, 2015

entitled to nothing

I wrote this in response to an LA Times humor column lambasting Millennials. The LA Times declined to publish it, so I'm sharing it here. Jessica and Ashley were two of the most popular names for girls in 1985.

Jessica: OMG did u see that piece about Millennials?

Ashley: which one LOL

Jessica: LOL

Jessica: This one's some LA Times guy

Jessica: Says we’re entitled to nothing

Jessica: Twice

Ashley: LOL yea my retired uncle posted it on my FB wall

Ashley: we sure do suck huh

Jessica: Yup! Total spoiled brats

Jessica: How r u?

Ashley: OK

Ashley: at work

Jessica: On Sat?

Ashley: yeah

Ashley: new retail gig

Ashley: my student loan payments went up again

Jessica: Wanna get coffee after work Mon?

Ashley: can’t

Ashley: gotta pick up Lily from daycare and give them most of my paycheck

Jessica: Dude.

Ashley: yeah it’s crazy

Ashley: fri?

Jessica: Nope

Jessica: We’re moving again

Jessica: 4th time in 5 years

Ashley: dang

Jessica: Yeah, wish we could get a house

Jessica: But there's no way

Ashley: I know

Ashley: cheapest thing in our neighborhood is like $700k

Ashley: how’s ur wife?

Jessica: She's alright

Jessica: Back home right now

Jessica: Her cousin is fighting charges from a #BlackLivesMatter protest

Jessica: Didn’t ur mom used to protest a lot?

Ashley: yeah against Vietnam

Ashley: she says movements today lack clear demands

Jessica: You mean like demilitarization of police departments? And a DOJ review of systemic abuse by police?

Ashley: LOL I know right?

Ashley: how’s ur bro?

Jessica: Not great

Jessica: Still drinking a lot

Jessica: Nightmares etc

Ashley: is the VA helping?

Jessica: Not enough...

Ashley: dude wtf????

Jessica: I know right?

Ashley: sucks

Ashley: sorry Jess gotta go

Ashley: break’s over

Ashley: miss u

Jessica: Miss u 2!

Jessica: Anything I can do 2 help?

Ashley: texting is nice

Ashley: lifts my spirits

Jessica: Ditto babe.

Ashley: will do

Jessica: Luv u!!

Ashley: luv u 2 xo

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 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, "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.

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

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