Fighting the Darkness

Posted on October 29, 2014

Sometimes things alight on me, magical things—good moods, optimism, luck, butterflies. I revel in their arrival and do my best to enjoy them while they’re here. Other times things come to roost that aren’t the kind of thing that you share on Instagram or gush about over lunch.

Anger, despair, even defeat.

They cling to me without warning, more like oil than solid weight, suffocating me and defying any sort of strength or resistance. I do my best to avoid what I think may be triggers—comparisons to other people’s lives, reading the headlines, but sometimes the emotions are here before I realize it.

The video that made the rounds yesterday about a woman getting catcalled switched my spirit to darkness like a switch. I cringed as I watched the video, anticipating the ways it would be interpreted to be her fault. I deflected the assault on her character and motives in my mind with firsthand experiences of my own. Stories that I always wonder, “Was it just me?” Then the anger swelled, how can I question my emotional response to a situation? If I felt scared or threatened, does that mean it’s true, or does that mean I am overreacting? Why is a person saying, “That doesn’t make me uncomfortable” treated as a defense? If I say that I am not allergic to shellfish, does that negate the reaction of someone who is?

I have learned that the comment section is never a place to find hope, at least the comments sections of large news sites or YouTube. It is where you find the most sweeping, cutting, unrelenting surge of “you are wrong” and “you should die” or “I can’t imagine anyone loving you,” vitriol. I guess I hoped that this time would be different. That the commenters would consider a different view, largely, they did not.

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Just as I hoped that things would be different with Rehteah Parsons, Steubenville, Sayerville, and harbor hope that one day one of these scenarios would end with a lift a tide of “No more.” It never seems to be different. Victims are mocked.

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Women who speak up are attacked. You can probably set your watch by the inevitable rape and death threats that come from speaking up against any of it.

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It actually becomes easy to see why you wouldn’t speak up, it’s too likely that you will be mocked. The ridiculing of women and the incessant reference to women as opinion-less vehicles for sexual pleasure has got me at a fork in the road.

 

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One path has me just not caring, accepting that it is what it is. Boys will be boys, it’s not a big deal. The other is ignoring how my cheeks flamed as I looked back on my passionate, outspoken college years and swore I’d be more moderate. I’m all for listening to both sides and for considering different perspectives, but when it comes to harassment on the street, jokes about rape, and women receiving death and rape threats being ok, but photos of breastfeeding are censored, I’m ready to bring back the loudmouth twenty-something. Because while she made a lot of mistakes, she believed that women were worth more and was willing to speak up and challenge the crowds who preferred her to shut up.

 

YesAllWomen

 

I don’t think so, internet commenters and silent citizens.

I will stop watching shows featuring child molesters. I will stop buying books by authors who dismiss abuse. I will call out organizations who diminish the weight of violent acts. I will support women who are speaking out.

They may say these issues aren’t going away, but neither am I. I will use my voice, my buying power, and whatever platform that I have to combat the idea that it’s not that bad.

It’s Ok to Shrug It Off

Posted on October 24, 2014

There is a recurring conversation (lecture?) that we have around here. Specifically, there is a talk that Sean has with me that goes a little something like, “You care too much. The worrying you do and the constant moving of  your finish line are unhealthy. You never let yourself be done.”

Let that sink in, because there may be a good chance that you do it too. The kids have a finite list of things to do. Sometimes a to-do might get added, but generally there is a, “Great job, thank you! You can have free time now,” resolution for them. I don’t afford that same possibility of finishing for myself. There is almost always a low muttering of, “I should do…” or “I never did…” as I turn a critical eye toward myself in the bathroom mirror at night.

The other day as I tried to ferry the girls to karate, the clock just wouldn’t cooperate. It’s always tight as I race from work around 3 to meet Briar and then get the little girls off the bus 40 minutes later—homework, emptying lunch boxes, reviewing papers that came home, permission slips, reading and flash cards. Usually there are emails I get that demand immediate answers (or that make me feel that way).

This particular day, misplaced shoes took a few minutes to find, finishing sautéing the onions for the soup took 2 minutes, the dog needed to go out to pee, but it was raining so he wouldn’t go and that took another 5 minutes, before I knew it we’d blown past the 4:45 mark, which is the point after which we will surely be late to class.

I loathe being late for it because one of the things I love most about the karate experience for the girls is the element of self-discipline and self-respect, which leads to a very clear sense of pride and accomplishment. Getting there late seems to fly in the face of that control. The thing is, me falling a part over it and driving with resentment at all the other drivers, the onions that I was sautéing, and the rain resistant hound is pointless.

As I felt the heat start to fester in my chest and as the details of what ought to get done before we left swirled, I took a breath. I could explode about it, fall apart and let tears and despair envelope me. We were going to be late. No amount of hurrying would change that. Dinner was halfway there, which meant when we got home, it would only take a few minutes. Homework was done. The girls were happy.

I took a deep breath, climbed into the car, and let out a very emphatic, “Whatever.”

 

Whatever

 

I highly recommend invoking the whatever clause from time-to-time. Do you have a trick to letting go of stress or overly critical thoughts? Lay’em on me!

Hints of What Matters Amid the Chaos

Posted on October 22, 2014

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Time is doing that thing, that thing that reveals how fast it goes even while some days seem to last for weeks. It isn’t the back-to-school blur or a concentration of deadlines at work, though those are both real and present. It’s the toss of hair and expressiveness of Finley’s eyebrows, her declarations of, “It’s just odd!” followed by a quick scan of the room to see if we all caught how mature she is. It’s Briar slipping quietly into a private realm, emotions and Minecraft, daydreams and song lyrics. The way Avery thrashes in the night, limbs too long for her pjs and shocks of hair that when tucked behind her ear, reveal new hollows in her face.

I buck against the inevitability, the idea that parts of our lives were rewritten or that certain paths I said I’d never tread are predestined. Mostly I just want life not to feel so out of control, just long enough to conquer time.  I crave mornings that I know exactly what will be packed in the lunches, how I need to dress for the day, and which activities call for what preparation. That isn’t the way though. The more I try to be calm with certainty, the more the ends of the day unravel and tatter and a yes to one commitment gives way to something that I will have to miss.

“You mean you won’t be there to see me get my new belt?” Avery asks crestfallen.

“No, what I said is that I will be there on Saturday for the testing when you earn your belt, but Monday I may not be back to see you receive your belt.” My voice was firm, but it was a thin veneer, behind it my nose burned and my insides raged. I don’t want to miss either. How did this happen? When did the reins of my own life slip from my hands?

Looking at my calendar, the color of my commitments are purple. The lines attack the tidy little squares, slash here, slash here, bigger slash here, overlapping slashes here. It goes on in a blur. There is no prize for being busy and yet paring it down seems insurmountable.

Last weekend, one of the lone remaining free weekends of the year, saw us driving to Boston. It was the Head of the Charles, so hotel room costs were astronomical. We opted to stay for just one night, but the kids are in this weird phase where they all get car sick and we had to be back Sunday for a thing due to start at noon which meant doing a 4+hour drive twice in less than 24 hours.

I booked a room 30 minutes outside of Boston, loaded the car with Bonine and Dramamine, packed snacks, and tried to unlock and discard my fury at once again being penned into a schedule that I was a part of making. The girls chirped in the backseat.

“Will there be skyscrapers?”

“Can we eat at restaurants?”

“Do you think the hotel will have a pool?”

The rat-a-tat questions lull me into a stupor, “Yes. Uh-huh. Maybe. I’m not sure. No matter what we’ll have an adventure.” Auto-pilot soothing and setting expectations uses the same muscle that sales pitches require of me at work. My drive to please and conquer sustain me no matter what.

I turned a movie on for the girls and they leaned into one another, heads tipped, legs tangled. I pressed my head against the window and let a montage of childhood drive memories fill my mind. The bittersweet tethers of loved ones and cherished times tug at me—my grandparents at the airport, the Columbia Gorge vista on the way to Sunriver, visits to my dad’s house with quiet tears there and back.

I checked on the girls and tried to imagine what they’ll remember. Will it be my hisses about the cost of the hotel? Sean’s excitement about seeing the boats race? Wearing matching Pedroia shirts? Briar looks at me, tilting her head sideways and mouthing, “You know I love you, right?” I stifle a sound, maybe a sob, maybe a laugh. There are parts of me that run through her so deeply, the keen awareness of pain or joy.

“Yes, I do, sweet love.”

The trip ended up being a whirlwind of laughter and magic. I stopped wondering what they’d remember and just let the day take us.

Turns out that the hotel did have a pool, not to mention a fantastic lifeguard that we’ll never forget. As we packed up and headed to the car, the girls crackled with excitement. “Ave, do you remember when we saw the first tippy top part of Boston?” We headed home through New Hampshire and Vermont, the route straighter and more beautiful than the way we’d come.

Again I watched through the window, thinking about time. We stopped at a small cafe in Bethel, Vermont for sandwiches and soup. The girls oohed and ahhed at the falls through the window. I was surprised by the experience, tipped glasses and complaints about food never came. We talked and laughed. No high chairs or bibs, no modifications from the menu, just five people having lunch midway through a road trip. It was wonderful.

When we got to the parking lot the girls wanted to climb a retaining wall, normally there would be sharp words about being safe and hurrying to the car. This time we let them climb. Briar was first.

“Dad, catch me in the air!” He spun and held the camera. I watched and remembered a time when “Catch me” was a literal thing, our arms outstretched, breaths held as we waited to feel the slightness of her form and the enormous weight of her safety fill our arms. I realized that we don’t catch her in the same way anymore and my heart splintered.

Then she said breathlessly, “Did you get it? Did you see me?” And it’s ok, even if it still hurts, because we did catch it and we taught her to catch herself and it’s supposed to go like this.

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The memories, hopes, and dear-god-we-caught-her emotions all swirl inside of me, depending on one another to exist as they etch deep grooves in my marrow. I feel an exhale, slightly ragged, but still an exhale, that carries a simple reminder for me:

“It isn’t how it is that matters. The heart of everything is simply that we are.”

I Call Bull-Sham on John Grisham

Posted on October 17, 2014

I took a Facebook break last week, something about the realization that logging on was a choice that consistently made me feel not good spurred the move. I did the same thing with the news (except for that one damn brown recluse spider story.)

I cannot remember what headline made me click over to see what exactly John Grisham had said about pedophiles, but I did click. I saw his face, familiar to me from so many book jackets in our house as I grew up. He was a pulpy author, but people didn’t tend to scoff too much if you had his book in your overnight bag. I read them.

 

I remembered his name in the context of the actors who played roles in his movies—Sandra Bullock, Samuel L. Jackson, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman. His name has meant something. I was already reeling from the Stephen Collins scandal, a story that I did pursue, all the way to listening to the recordings because we had been watching Revolution and I felt a compulsion to find out if it was true—how I thought I’d know if it were true, I can’t say.

 

Mr. Collins did very bad things, how many I am sure will come to horrifying light.

 

Mr. Grisham said things about very bad things.

 

He oversimplified things making sure that people understood that looking at sexed up teenage girls who may or may not have looked like 30 year old hookers was nothing like child sex trafficking and yet, they are linked.

Mr. Grisham said this in an interview with Above The Law about public opinion about lawyers:

It’s part of our DNA. We have an insatiable appetite for stories about the law and lawyers, and it stems from our strong belief that we have so many rights, real or imagined, and if anyone or anything violates our rights, then we want justice. We believe our judicial system to be fair and efficient, so we have no hesitation about using it.  Lawyers become advocates, fighters, rescuers, saviors, gladiators, etc.

I get that. We do want justice, we crave the knowledge that there is sense to the world. When I read defenses of Grisham and attacks of stories that dare to get passionate, I feel like it’s more of the same injustice.

 

The truth is that each time it is said that a girl looks older than her chronological age, we are chipping away at the integrity of our system for protecting the young and those without a voice.

 

Men like John Grisham trounce the voices of the non-white, non-male, under 60, 50, 40, 30, 20, 10 set. They have no voice, no power, less still when we shift public perception to suggest that some girls are older, some girls are more ready.

Every time a woman’s account of rape is countered with commentary on how she was dressed, how much she drank, or if regret of sex played a role, we discount the severity of the violation. We chip away at that justice Grisham says fascinates us so.

 

Every time we don’t consider the impact of subtle sexism, we dilute justice.

 

Grisham mentioned that it wasn’t a little boy. He suggested that the punishment meted out for sex crimes should have a scale applied to it, based on varying degrees of what, I’m not sure. If we take that to apply to rape, is it the amount of bruising that should influence sentencing? Does the defendant’s sentencing get points applied like a mortgage, less points for age and education?

 

I am tired of hearing that rape culture doesn’t exist. I am tired of hearing that catcalls are a form of free speech. I am tired of society being fatigued by my resentment of being ogled, ignored, and legislated. I don’t buy the line that comments are made off the cuff. I believe that this is a reflection of genuine views that young women are here for the pleasure of men and that it’s harmless.

 

Grisham’s apology, which you can read here, included, “My comments… were in no way intended to show sympathy for those convicted of sex crimes”

 

I have no problem with feeling compassion for those who commit or are convicted of sex crimes. Personally I have not reached a point of sufficient zen to forgive my rapist or the neighbor who molested me, but my hat is off to those who can. What I would like, Mr. Grisham, is some modest amount of consideration for those who don’t make it to 60 without being mistreated at best, or violated repeatedly, day after day until their childhoods and potential for healthy relationships or enjoyment of intimacy are forever scrubbed from their beings.

 

Nothing was said of the young people, the vehicles for pleasure, through a screen or otherwise, of adults.

 

Shame on you, Mr. Grisham. Shame on many of us for not working harder, caring more, or being more willing to stand up and say, “No.”

 

This story and the others that seem to surround it has struck me to the core. If you are feeling the same here are some places to look for ways to help.

 

Support organizations like RAINN.

Follow Gender Avenger and The Representation Project

Familiarize yourself with the reality of violence.

Question the glamorization of abuse.

Decry the sexualization of young people.

 

Or maybe just start listening. Pay attention to how language is used to diminish certain situations or minimize discomfort in the face of things that are just plain awful. It will sober you.

 

 

 

Passionate Distortion-Making Sense of Life

Posted on October 13, 2014

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Excuse this photo being of dairy products rather than toys. It is the best I had to represent how jarring making a seemingly simple decision can be in today’s world.

I remember the first time I took the girls to Target as a reward. They had helped me clear leaves in the backyard and I had told them that I would take them to the store to pick out a treat. It just didn’t occur to me how difficult it would be for them to manage the sensory assault. Each aisle made their eyes a bit wilder, each new shelf of LEGOS, Barbie, and My Little Pony made them blurt, “This, this is it.”

“Easy, easy. Take a minute, just walk with me and let’s try to decide which thing is the most interesting,” I said walking and scanning the shelves.

“Ok,” Ave said as she tossed a box back into a bin and took two steps, “Got it. This is it.”

I looked, “Honey, you already have that at home.” She looked down at her hand crestfallen, “Ok.”

Finley came around the corner clutching a stuffed dog and a princess doll. “I’m ready,” she said proudly.

“Sweets, I told you, one thing. It can be your choice, but it can only be one thing.”

Briar stood quietly at the end of the aisle. “Mom, I really can’t decide.” She began to weep silently.

My own eyes were having trouble focusing. I thought about taking them over to the coloring books and DVDs, but realized that would just confuse them more.

I knelt down, “Listen Finley, you did an amazing job today, but the deal was one treat. Now, if you want, we could look for a toy that comes with two things, that way it would be like getting two.”

She looked at me, looked at the toys in her hands, and shook her head. “Nope, I love the dog. The princess isn’t as special.” I smiled and helped her put the doll back. Then I went back to Ave and Briar. “Well, what do you guys think?” I asked.

Briar looked at me with forlorn eyes, “I’m just not sure and I don’t want to make a wrong decision.”

“You won’t, babe. This was supposed to be fun. I’m sorry it’s so overwhelming.” She leaned into me and wrapped her arms around my leg. Ave said, “I got it, I figured it out. I want to get a game that we can all play. Can we go to the game section?” I nodded.

We walked to the games, somewhere along the way Briar found a little stuffed animal and said that it was what she wanted. I’m pretty sure that she did it to stop the indecision, better to make a choice than continue suffering. As we walked to the car she said to Finley, “Would you like to play with this, that way you can have two?” Finley’s eyes bugged out, “Weelly, Bwi-uh?”

I drove home peeking in the rearview mirror at Ave and Briar, their heads touching as they read  the back of the game box, while Finley narrated the view from the car in the voice of her stuffed dog.

All of this reminds me so much of my current roller coaster of emotions as I try to make sense of the world. I don’t understand how it is that I am living in a time when women can hold public office and a black man can be president, yet it feels like we’ve made no progress at all.

I want to participate. I want to speak up, but every time I venture out I feel like the girls at Target. The voices saying “believe this” and “that’s a lie” make me falter. I don’t want to jeopardize my business, don’t want to have people take my words out on my daughters. Then I see comments that suggest that rape is a suitable punishment for people with different ideas.

It’s hard to stand out in the open, see the blur of opinions and spin and not feel dizzy, overwhelmed, or eager to just grab on to the first one within reach. I can understand any response and I don’t personally have it figured out, but I will keep tiptoeing forward.

Because women are people.

Equal pay is important.

Access to contraceptives is important.

The right to marry is deserved.

A living wage is a fair expectation.

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Saying do better seems reasonable.

Don’t hit.

Don’t shoot.

Don’t rape.

Don’t assault.

Don’t stop listening or trying.

I get that it’s not without grey, any of it, for every position there is a yes, but

I am just exhausted by so many of the yes, buts crashing into each other and leaving nothing but more hate, hurt, and resolute refusal to keep trying.

Like I said, I don’t have it figured out. I am sure I will say the wrong thing, leap to conclusions, and backtrack. I won’t give up though. I have to believe there is a way to bring it all together.

Reach

What about you? Are you confused? Invested? Ready to try?