Who Are You?

From my mother, I grew up with very specific ideas about who I am genetically. We were Irish, “Descended from Jonathan Kelly, who stowed away aboard the Mayflower to get here and practice his Catholic faith in freedom from the English swine who stole our language and religion.” My mother had opinions on the English.

The stowaway part was a bit o’blarney according to my mother, what my Grandma Helen referred to as a “whopper,” and an outrageous lie in truth. There was an actual Jonathan Kelly, Irish Catholic, who came to America in the early 1700’s through the Virginia Colony, and one can follow the bloodline down to my mother’s generation and now, mine. He was not indentured. Jonathan Kelly came of his own free will for a chance at a better life.

caroles dnaMy daughter took the Ancestry DNA test first, then Paul and I, all with a little surprise in the results.

Paul, my very tall, very fair, second-generation Irish American hubby was predictably Irish. Not a big surprise since his family came so recently. What was a surprise was the trace amount of Indian Subcontinent. How fascinating is that? How on earth did his poor, bog-Irish ancestors meet and mingle with someone from the Indian Subcontinent? We will probably never know but it sure makes for interesting conversation and speculation.

For me it was, what I had been told about my genetic code, along with so much else of my childhood, was not necessarily true. All the Irish heritage I was fed as a child ignored the far larger percentage of my genetic markers from Great Britian and hey, how ’bout them Spaniards and Jews! Like Paul’s Indian Subcontinent, hours of contemplation can flow from those Spaniards and Jews.

In a time when DNA testing didn’t exist, her Irish heritage was what my mother believed in. My paternal genetic heritage she dismissed as, “Scottish I think. Maybe some Welsh.” Sometimes I wonder if when my mother, removed from Ireland by multiple generations, an ocean, and most of another continent, railed against the English, was she really railing at my biological father? Were “the English” code for “the guy who left me”?Her Irish genes and superstitions were what she had to give me, and as with many things, maybe felt like she had more to give than she did.
What’s really got me curious is: who were those Eastern European Jews, Spaniards, Basques, and/or Portuguese lurking in that gene pool? Sailors from Phillip’s ill-fated Armada, washed up on Ireland’s shore? Or do they go further back, were they Celts who went north? I might never know. But I think there are fascinating stories there, waiting to be told.

It solidifies a suspicion I have harbored for some time: Americans are all mutts, mongrels, and we are stronger for it. Instead of standing shouting at each other, looking at one another as “Other” we should be mixing up the gene pool and ferreting out heritable diseases. Consider, the person you’re shouting at could be your cousin. If you’re not a Native American, at some point your people left someplace else, or were brought here against their will from someplace else and here we are now, together.

We’re going to live or die, together.

Last week, a 3rd cousin  contacted me via Ancestry.com; she’s a beautiful mixed-race woman in Michigan. We haven’t figured out the common ancestor yet but there it is, courtesy of Science: two women of the same generation, raised thousands of miles apart, one recognizably African-American and one recognizably Astoundingly White, are  genetically linked. We share blood family. We are blood family. How could I stand across a protest line and shout at my family? How could I wish less-than for my family? How can I not cry out for justice for my family?

I wasn’t who I thought I was genetically, but I am still me and as an American, I choose who that is. That is the grace of freedom, and freewill. I am a mutt and a mongrel, an American Girl.

It’s kind of liberating.

Who are you?

Six Degrees of Immigration

The year I don’t know, but in the early days of the 20th Century a young man from a small village outside Kiev boarded a ship in Frankfort, Germany, crossed the Atlantic and, passing through Ellis Island, an anonymous agent recorded him under the Anglicized name, Bernard Gross. He married a fellow immigrant, a girl from the old country named Rachel. They became American citizens, owned and operated a laundry, and raised four children: Betty, Mildred, Harry, and finally, surprise! the baby upon whom everyone doted, Jack, “Jacky” to the family.

Jack played High school football and after WWII he followed his older brother west, tending bar and managing restaurants, eventually settling down with a pretty cocktail waitress, a single mother with a little girl. He didn’t live an extraordinary life, but worked hard for his living, bought houses, paid taxes, and raised another man’s child through fevers, stitches, accolades, accidents, and late-night ER visits, adopting her as his own and teaching her what is meant by unconditional love. His own father, Bernard, adopted her, too, with the less formal but equally binding ties of grandfatherly love.

That little girl was me. Only one degree of separation, a straight line linking a little girl growing up with a loving father and America opening it’s arms to a Russian Jew fleeing the pogroms of Eastern Europe.

There is no way to estimate what my closest associations with immigrants have meant to my life. Surely, I wouldn’t be me if I hadn’t sat in a doting Papa’s lap during holidays and family gatherings.

My country was built by immigrants, but as a country we have a habit of being pretty ugly to the most recent wave of them. Recent events conjure shameful memories from High School in Southern California, when Vietnamese refugees were settled in our area. Then, I witnessed a subtler, nonetheless savage, form of welcome by my fellow students in the form of whispers and snickers in the hallways and a pointed distancing. When the locker rooms became infested with scabies, the blame was laid firmly at the feet of the Vietnamese students, and the rampant but previously quiet racism of the school’s corridors turned vocally and disgustingly scurrilous towards them. It all sounds so petty and small, but it was relentless. I was never savage, oh no, I was worse:  I saw it all and remained silent. Which is why I can’t this time, I can’t be silent and honor those immigrants who, in six degrees of separation or less, have shaped, loved, guided, educated, delighted, and enriched my life beyond measure.

Children Waving to Statue of LibertyIt bears remembering that most people don’t want to leave their home countries, their relatives, their places of worship, their familiar foods and surroundings. When one’s choice is leave or die, it’s an easy choice to make, and there in New York harbor stands a statue inviting “the poor, the tired, the huddled masses” to our shores. America has long been the beacon of safety, of hope, the promise of God’s grace for whoever named God and even those who don’t.  How do I wrap my head around even the consideration of not living into that promise? If we aspire to being the “shining city upon a hill”, deserving that honorific demands no less than offering shelter and succor to all people seeking refuge, the least, the last, and the lost.

We cannot be both Christian and Isolationist. God’s grace flows first not to particular borders but rather, into the human heart open and ready to receive it. Then we hold it but a little while, passing it on to the next in need while being ourselves replenished in the giving. In this way we are constantly renewed while repaying the debt owed to our immigrant ancestors, who paved the way for us.

In this way we live into the promise of being the “shining city upon the hill”.

(Be the) Candle

img_5389-2My daughter earned her degrees from the great University of Texas, Austin and one is a Bachelors in Women’s and Gender Studies. I love our conversations, even when her clear-headed feminism dispels my own long and closely-held bullshit. Maybe especially when she dispels my culturally ingrained, but ultimately diminishing, bullshit.

I was raised to expect praise, get validation for being pretty, skinny, funny, and amenable. Don’t make waves. Don’t call attention to myself. Don’t be a tattletale. Don’t be a party-pooper. Go along to get along. Don’t take abuse, but understand that if I dressed too provocatively, or was in the wrong place, abuse might find me and it would be my own damn fault.

My daughter and some years of counseling have been as candles illuminating the unintentionally sick thinking my mother instilled. I don’t blame my mother and have long since forgiven her, for how can one blame another for being a creation of his or her culture? How can I blame her for dying young and never having an opportunity to understand the myriad ways we institutionally blame women for the sins of a male-dominated society?

Now a harsh candle shines brightly on one of the most odious men to walk the planet, a man so entitled and privileged he claims his wealth and celebrity enable him to do anything without permission to any woman he deems attractive. I’ve listened, stomach churning, to the bile generated throughout this caustic campaign cycle but along with the far more eloquent Michelle Obama, something the Republican nominee for President said yesterday shook me to the core. It was when Donald Trump said of People Magazine writer Natasha Stoynoff, who in company with several other women has accused him of sexual assault or at the very least, unwanted sexual advances, “Look at her. Look at her words. I don’t think so.” No woman could mistake his inference.

It was all in the tone, and I think most women have known that guy. The guy who flirts with you constantly but never in public, never out in the open, because you’re just not fine enough for him, for who he believes he is: better than you, cooler than you, more popular than you. He wants you, but is almost embarrassed by the wanting, because you’re less-than. This usually happens in Middle or High school. The vast majority of men outgrow it; the ones who don’t become predators.

My first was in Middle school. He was tall and blonde, one of the popular boys. While pretty, I was unmistakably Uncool. But he flirted with me all the time when no one else was around and one day, when we’d stayed after school to work on a theater set, he shoved me up against a wall where no one could see and without my consent, felt me up. And of course I never said anything because who would believe me? Who would believe the handsome Lothario of Stacy Junior High School would want to be with plump and terminally uncool me? And what was she doing alone with him between buildings anyway?

The second happened on a Friday night during High school, at a party I should not have attended. A guy who held me down tickling and groping me until I screamed, until I managed to plant my feet in his chest and hurl him against a wall. And everyone laughed. “Oh look, she’s maaaaad!” Like it was funny. Like it was ok for a male to continue touching a female who has said, in no uncertain terms, STOP. I couldn’t count on my sister females to support me any more than I could tell him to go fuck himself for doing that to me, lest they as well as I be forever consigned to the Mortally Uncool. Because the most important thing was being seen by Male Dominance Culture as Cool, no matter how skeevy it made you feel, no matter how much in that moment you desperately need a brain-bleaching. You see, this is where it starts, this is the foundation of women keeping their mouths shut because to Say Something might ruin their chances of promotion, of being able to support themselves or their families. This is the start of culturally gaslighting women, perpetuating the sickness and imbalance of power in male-female relationships of all kinds.

 

Donald Trump is simply rich male privilege writ large. This stuff has been happening forever, and women haven’t spoken out about it in the decades since they gained the right to vote because we worked too hard to gain a foothold in the workplace and in the voting booths to risk it by calling out men on their bullshit. (And yes, I know it’s not all men, not even most, but it is still a too-large proportion.)

What kind of bullshit? The bullshit that results in light sentences for male athletes when they assault incapacitated women behind dumpsters after frat house parties. The bullshit that silences young women on our college campuses, giving male athletes a free pass to use them for their own gratification. The bullshit that a male celebrity can portray himself as America’s Daddy while drugging and raping women. The bullshit that says “She was asking for it” because she wore a short skirt. The bullshit of school dress codes that send girls home from school for wearing tank tops and somehow makes them responsible for the thoughts of boys. The bullshit that confers upon women the moral responsibility for society while constraining their rights of control over their own reproductive systems, and charges them more for maintaining their health.

So this is my rallying cry: Sister Women, the bullshit stops now. Let us be candles for each other, casting our flames upon the slime wherever and whenever we see it, making it shrivel, dry up, and blow away. Let us compete with each other less and bond with each other more. Let us be the reflector of each other’s candlelight. Let us be each other’s safe place in the train car or sidewalk to and from work, in the workplace, at the clubs. Let us teach our daughters and sons to respect women as equal human beings. Let us sing the praises of the legions of parents, male and female, who have raised respectful men who call out the lie of “locker room talk”. Above all, let us speak up, speak out and let our candlelight shine on the bullshit wherever we find it.

I am here for you. I have your back, and I’m counting on you to have mine and most especially our daughter’s and granddaughter’s backs. The bullshit stops here, replaced by the warm glow of our collective candlelight shining on a more just world where all God’s children may flourish, where no girl or woman need stay silent out of fear of reprisal in all it’s nasty, diminishing, bullshit ways.

Women, we are the candles. If we won’t light the way, who will? Stand up, speak out, and shine, shine, shine!

Truth and Reconciliation

Three days after my 18th birthday, my father attempted suicide. His business had failed, he felt he had failed, and he waited until I was old enough to take charge of my, and my mother’s, life. He did not succeed, thank God, but it was in the aftermath the real madness began. Unable to deal with the shame of a suicide attempt (not his first, we learned), my mother spun a tale of “exhaustion” to tell the neighbors and family. As soon as he was stabilized she was lobbying the hospital to release him. California law stipulates a suicide attempt results in three days mandatory commitment to a mental health facility, but my mother was an insistent person and they buckled before her as everyone always did.

I was furious. What the fuck do we do now, I asked, hide the steak knives? We aren’t qualified to deal with this. He might get help if we let him stay the three days. We need to know why this seemed like the answer for him. All my arguments fell on deaf ears and I seethed, knowing we were merely pasting a band-aid over a gaping, festering wound, allowing it to scab back over and it only become worse. How long until it blew open?

This story is not related here to engender sympathy for myself – I don’t feel bad about it anymore. I learned a lot from it, I still learn from it, and long ago I forgave all parties, even myself. It’s a story of an American girl that bears some resemblance to America itself. In the wake of murdered Black civilians and murdered Police Officers, I find myself thinking our collective wound will never heal until we face the systemic causes. Here are a few which haunt me:

Institutionalized Racism:  Death upon death upon death in our streets. Nearly every day I hear the news of another young, Black man shot by police. Next comes the grieving and the posturing, the devastated family on one side, those who would paint the deceased a thug, a miscreant, a criminal on the other, and the line remains firmly drawn between the races. In the wake of a tragedy both sides want easy answers, fast, and so we yell and shout and stamp our feet, pointing fingers at each other. But there are no easy answers because it’s deeper, it’s systemic, and we’re refusing to look honestly at the institutionalized racism which will be awkward at best, excruciatingly painful at worst, to reveal and heal. But this is what we must do, I feel certain of it.

Legacy of Slavery:  We must stop denying the painful legacy of Slavery in this country. I’m white and I don’t have the education to say exactly what that legacy entails, but I imagine it is fiercely complicated. In my gut I know that treating human beings as property, abusing an entire race and breaking up families over generations – casting human beings adrift – has to wreak havoc and cause all manner of mayhem, with ugly ripples flowing out over time and generations. It didn’t disappear with the passage of the Civil Rights Act. A phrase used by my beloved friend, Freda Marie, an Episcopal priest and wise-woman of color, “Generational Depression” has stuck in my head for a few years now; I think we all need an understanding of what that is. We white folks need to acknowledge such things exist. I can relate this to my mother’s hatred for the English and love of the IRA, though she was 300 years and 10 generations removed from Ireland. Hate gets passed down with the recipe for potato salad, it is one of those ripples transcending time and space until we make a conscious, vigilant choice to stop it.

How We Police the Citizenry:  Let’s review training of our police forces, make sure they have the tools and training to de-escalate situations, handle the mentally ill – ironically, Dallas Police Chief David Brown has been doing exactly that, with excellent results, making the shooting in Dallas even more tragic (at least for me). Let’s take a good look at funding community policing or “beat” cops, who walk neighborhoods and know the residents, each able to see the other as unique human beings and potential allies, rather than immediate foes. Cops in cars with no connection to the neighborhoods they serve fosters an Us Vs. Them mentality on both sides.

Failure of the Educational System: We’ve created a pipeline-to-prison in our Educational system, and no one can tell me this isn’t true because I’ve seen it, up close and personal; I know it exists. When I see dead Black teenagers, I see kids I loved on my campuses and it cuts me to the core. I live in fear of hearing a familiar name on the news. One size does not fit all and so we must address failing schools one by one, neighborhood to neighborhood, providing for those in need and overhauling the education system – and let’s listen to the Teachers when we do. Testing is not the answer. Creating a safe space populated with dedicated Teachers, a place where open discourse is encouraged, and everything is fueled with quality nutrition would be a good start. This will cost money or, as I prefer to look at it, an investment in our collective future. No matter what color they are today’s children will be making decisions that affect all of us when my generation are drooling on ourselves in Assisted Living facilities. I want them to have educations which enable good decision making.

Speaking of Prisons:  It is distinctly unhealthy to have a privately-held, for-profit prison system, it destroys the humanity of those on both sides of the bars. There is no incentive to feed them properly, still less to institute any kind of rehabilitative programs. Considering the United States holds the dubious distinction of having the most incarcerated citizens of any NATO country, we need to a) review sentencing guidelines for non-violent crimes, especially the ridiculously harsh ones engendered during the ill-advised and failed “War on Drugs; and b) consider that failing to give an inmate hope for his or her future through quality rehabilitation efforts is to doom them to recidivism.

This is of course not an all-encompassing list. I could go on into housing, health care, mental health care. Each subject thoroughly explored will turn up more issues. But eventually we’ll hit the end, if only we’re strong enough to start digging.

My dad never faced or was encouraged to face his internal demons, and I find it not at all coincidental he died of a massive heart attack 18 months after his failed suicide attempt. What I see in our society is an infection I fear is coming to a critical and perhaps irreversible state due to our collective failure to examine the causes of it. We slap band-aids on the wound, but never do the thorough and hard work of diagnosing the actual causes. To do so will require bravery, and a sharp lancet. It requires we start telling and listening to Truth, even when it hurts. To reject the Truth is to allow our country, this grand experiment founded on the bravest and noblest ideals, to commit suicide.

In South Africa (and other places, too), Truth and Reconciliation Commissions were established, permitting those on all sides of injustice to tell their stories free of reprisal, in order that all could heal and move forward together. I believe our country must look squarely at our old, festering wounds: the legacy of slavery; religious intolerance;  xenophobia; misogyny; and horrible, blatant racism in our justice system. We must hear the stories so we may drain away the poison and take away it’s power to hurt. Then, we may begin to heal. Only in this way, I believe, can we move forward together and realize the greatness I believe exists in the collective American consciousness. We have, in the wonderful diversity of our population, fertile ground to grow a truly great society, but it will take incredible courage. We will get this courage from each other, Black, Brown, Yellow, White, and every wonderful shade in between.

black and white unitedI am prepared to face uncomfortable truths in the hope it propels me and us forward, to a greater peace and understanding. I hope, ask, and pray you will join me.

 

 

 

 

Choosing the Birdsong

Maybe because in the wake of Orlando, I needed inspiration and so listened to David Foster Wallace’s address to Kenyon College, captured in the small book, This is Water,  but I’ve been thinking a lot about choice.

All of life is a choice. I know this is not revelatory information I am dropping here; if you’re a fellow blogger, or a reader of blogs, I imagine you discovered this long ago. We writers write to put our thoughts (because we think a lot) into some solid form, where we can look at and ponder them lest a squirrel cross our path and we lose the thought for all time. And contemplative types (in my experience) know about choice. That we have the power to choose what we take from a situation, how we react to it, what we do with the bits and pieces of our lives, good and bad.

Which isn’t to say we always choose well, or at all. Our strength and vigilance waxes and wanes. There is a lot of noise and tragedy surrounding us. There are a lot of folks invested in keeping the volume of rhetoric turned way, way up and thus, keeping all our lesser emotions ginned up, too.

For me, the noise sometimes becomes so overwhelming I simply shut down and isolate myself from any input at all, which can be healthy as long as I don’t stay there too long. If we shut down completely and choose not to choose, we make the choice of allowing Life to happen to us, with no exercise of our own freewill. For some, this feeds an unhealthy need for abdicating responsibility, or martyrdom, rather than gaining the strength of taking responsibility and with it the power to change that which is not pleasing, or is harmful to ourselves and others.

Behind my backyard are several large pines and a couple of cypresses, home to a variety of birds and some squirrels. In the early morning hours I take my camera with my zoom lens, and a cup of coffee and sit out there, hoping to take pictures of the birds. I’ve done this often enough that I find I listen for their calls, so I know where in the trees they are and can concentrate my attention on that area, my goal to get a nice, clear, sharp picture of any and all of them in flight, wings spread. It eludes me. I have ever so many nice pictures of them sitting on the power lines, or some of the lower branches, the bird feeders or fences, but none of them in full flight, wings spread and markings clear. But I keep going out there anyway, confident that God’s Guardian Angel of Photographers will help me get shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings in whatever cosmic agreement needed to render a sharp, clear, noiseless photo of a bird in flight.

On the other side of the pines and cypresses is a well-trafficked city street. It’s pretty quiet at 6:00 a.m. but the noise from commuter cars soon increases, not overwhelmingly, but enough you know a road is out there. This morning as I sat with my coffee and camera, Ivan the (recently) Terrible in the chair next to me and Blanca snuffling along in the grass, looking for rocks, it occurred to me that I had been so intent on listening for the birds, identifying Cardinals here, Mockingbirds there, a tiny Warbler, too, that I hadn’t noticed any road noise at all. Which of course brought it smack-dab to the forefront of my attention, but in the preceding hour I had heard nothing but birdsong.

With so much hate and vitriol sounding off in the continual feed of a 24/7 news cycle, it is important to make healthy choices, both for ourselves and the world around us. Informed we must be but while always exercising care in choosing our sources, eschewing the shrill and seeking the calm, ever questioning those invested in kindling our anger, and paying heed to the softer spoken, gentler words appealing to our love, patience, and kindness.

We can choose the birdsong.

 

(Un)Safe

It was 4:45 a.m., and the door from my bedroom to the back yard was open just far enough to let Blanca and Ivan go in and out. As I lay in bed listening to crickets and the odd cicada humming, I was warm, comfortable, and safe, enjoying the peace of not-quite morning.

After these last few days of hearing the horror of Orlando, all the talking heads dissecting and analyzing and looking for reasons why, why? it happened, these days of not being able to form a truly coherent thought about it, a memory came unbidden from a long time ago. A very young, very pretty me piled into a car with my equally young, very handsome male Gay friends and headed up to LA to dance the night away in one of the Gay clubs. There I could dance all night without ever having to shake some weird guy who wouldn’t go away, or worry I’d hurt someone’s feelings if I turned down a drink or a dance, had no fear of being cornered or stalked. I was in a place and among people where I was 100% accepted just for being exactly who I was, nothing more, nothing less. And so I danced, laughed and partied free of all concern, because I was safe. Maybe all those in Pulse on Saturday night were feeling that way, too, the more so because unlike white, straight me, it might have been the only place they really were safe, until a bad man with a sick head and a semi-automatic weapon shot his way through the door.

While 49 innocents died from the bullets fired at Pulse, everyone who was there sustained a potentially mortal wound in their loss of feeling safe, of having one place they could go where it was 100% okay to be who they are. Here in our country where in 29 of these United States, it is still legal to fire someone for being Gay. Here, were it is still legal in 30 states to refuse to rent to someone because they are Gay. Where county clerks twist religious liberty to flout Constitutional law and refuse to issue marriage licenses to Gay couples. Here, where televangelists of every ilk use their freedom of speech to spread hate against fellow citizens. Here, where parents feel righteous about throwing their children away, determining the child’s inborn sexuality is either defective or sinful. So for me, this national tragedy is more than even the lives lost and the horrible, devastating ripple effects of their loss – it’s about millions of my fellow citizens, my brothers and sisters who don’t and can’t feel safe. Anywhere. This was stolen from them, from all of us, really. Because as well as killing 49 innocent human beings, Omar Mateen showed us how illusory is the safety any of us feel.

The furor will die down, here in our nation where such horrors have become commonplace. But I will not be silent about these things:

  • the need for universal background checks for anyone who wants to buy a gun, with no exceptions for gun shows, online purchases, inter-family sales;
  • the need for 30-day waiting periods for anyone who wants to buy a gun;
  • on the no-fly list? you’re also on the no-gun list;
  • ability (with proper documentation) for families/domestic partners to “red flag” an unstable person so they can’t get a gun;
  • outlawing the sale of high-capacity clips;
  • term limits for Congress and Senate, so they can’t stay long enough to get too cozy with the NRA and other lobbyists; and, importantly,
  • recognition/legislation rendering it unconstitutional to deny housing, employment, marriage or adoption rights, based upon gender identity/sexual preference, basically, recognition that a citizen is a citizen is a citizen, and it is not our business who said citizen loves provided everyone is of consenting age.

I don’t want to take away guns but I think we must acknowledge that high-capacity clips (magazines) permit sick individuals like the Orlando shooter to create a lot of carnage quickly. Loopholes in background check laws for online and gun show sales allow no time to weed out the mentally unstable, or those who pose a terrorist threat. We must recognize the cause-and-effect of weapons in the wrong hands = dead people.

Citizens always wondering when and where the next atrocity will occur does not seem to me the thoughts of a free population. When a goodly number of our citizens must spend their lives looking over their shoulders for the next act of violence, have to lie in order to earn their daily bread, or refer to their life partner as “roommate” is simply caging them in invisible prisons. The idolatry of guns in our country is steadily and not so slowly putting bars around all of us, the bars of fear and hatred.

I am optimistic enough to believe we have the love and intelligence in this great country to grant all citizens’ equality, and also to make hard decisions about our collective safety. But I am also too old now to worry about being liked for my beliefs, so while I will of course offer my prayers for the victims of Orlando,  I will also be vocal about supporting my LGBTQ fellow citizens equality, and about our need for reasonable action with regard to guns in this country.

I do not wish to be in continual mourning; I wish us all safe.

Rape Culture

My blood is boiling. Brock Turner, a young man with a promising future, assaults a young woman, is caught in the act, brought to trial, and is let off with a ridiculously lenient sentence because in the judge’s, Aaron Persky’s, assessment to render justice would have a “severe impact” on his future. This is Rape Culture giving a pass to wealth and privilege. This is Rape Culture conferring higher value on men’s lives than women’s.

The rapist’s father laments his son will rightly have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life, no longer enjoys his favorite foods, and isn’t his “happy go lucky” self. He thinks it’s all a bit much for “twenty minutes of action”. Well boo-fucking-hoo. Suddenly, it becomes very clear to me why this young man didn’t grow up with a moral compass that would tell him an unconscious woman isn’t a consenting woman. This is Rape Culture saying, “boys will be boys”.

Make no mistake, Brock Turner’s lost bright future isn’t the result of something that happened to him. What happened was he threw it away with both hands the instant he chose to victimize another human being. He was the agent of change here, he was what happened to this young woman. This is Rape Culture blaming the victim for the consequences that rightly befall the perpetrator.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women will be raped in her lifetime and in eight out of ten cases, by someone she knows/an intimate partner rather than a stranger in drag lurking in a public restroom. But by all means, let’s carry on fuming about who uses which bathroom. This is Rape Culture disguised as morality.

If you haven’t read it, or heard it when Ashley Banfield  (Brava! Ms. Banfield) used twenty precious minutes of her airtime on CNN yesterday to read it aloud, here is the impact statement from the victim. This is what she will live with for the rest of her life. This is the product of Rape Culture.

If you haven’t watched it yet, please go immediately to Netflix or CNN and watch The Hunting Ground, especially if you have a daughter you’re sending to college. This is Rape Culture on campus, and our daughters need to be forewarned and forearmed.

What has my blood at boiling point is that we are still seeing this crap. For all the strides women have made, our society is still more concerned with the “impact” of the consequences upon men for their revolting and illegal actions than  the lifetime nightmare visited upon on their female victims by those actions, most especially if he is white, wealthy, and an athlete. Every time a case like this bubbles up through the muck it gives the lie of Equal Rights. Women are not equal. People of color are not equal (though athletes come close). This is Rape Culture and it sickens me.

When does it stop? When do we end Rape Culture? When will women be valued for their humanity, gifts, and accomplishments rather than objectified? When will we render justice to rapists and stop trying the victims? How long? How long O Lord?

 

Angry

Angry is the WordPress prompt of the day, and I started this by thinking of all the things I’m angry about, then deleted it all because it’s not really angry I feel, it’s more heartsick at the anger all around.

When did optimistic Americans become so angry we’re seriously considering electing a petulant 12-year old with a terrible comb-over and oompa-loompa colored spray tan to the presidency? Love or loathe President Obama, one must admit he’s never embarrassed us on the world stage, carrying himself with easy grace and intellectual curiosity, always the rational adult in the room. I cringe at the notion of Donald Trump representing my country.

When did we become so angry and apparently mistake-free-in-our-parenting that when a tragic accident occurs in a Cincinnati zoo, we instantly demonize the already traumatized parents? Are we so angry at ourselves that we hold a man’s past against him, rather than marveling  over and applauding the apparent turn-around he’s done with his life? Isn’t that one of the promises of America, that one who strives for it always gets a second chance? While I’m on the subject, all those with nothing in their past they’d be embarrassed to have revealed, please stand up now so I can count you. Full disclosure: I am not standing.

It’s like an infectious disease, anger, one sneeze and it’s everywhere and everyone has it. Paul and I were talking and indulging in a bit of the mom-bashing: wasn’t she watching her child? Then yesterday a friend posted something about toddlers and their propensity for vanishing and a little chill and a wave of shame swept through my body with the memory of my own, solitary child disappearing into the racks of clothes when we were shopping, discovered only when her giggling at me freaking the hell out gave her away. Doesn’t every parent have such a tale? But for the grace of God, there go I. Maybe that mother needs our compassion and a commiserating hug, parent to parent, much more than our disdain. Maybe rather than being angry at her, we could instead be grateful for the lucky escapes our own children have had, for all the bad things that didn’t happen.

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Photo of Harambe: National Geographic

Many are angry about the death of Harambe, the gorilla. I am sad he had to die, but I think maybe we can all be glad the little boy is ok, right? A human child with his life ahead of him; maybe he’ll cure cancer, and I want him to have that chance. I’m not going to question the decision made by the zoo, because I am many years away from my zoology degree and thus, I don’t get a vote. They made a hard choice in a difficult situation and fortunately, a little boy is still alive because they did.

Anger is easy. It’s the go-to emotion when one feels wounded, because it requires no sense of responsibility, no self-awareness, no empathy. It’s cheap that way. It’s Donald Trump saying the press is unkind when they expect an answer to legitimate questions, it’s vilifying a mother we do not know personally when a horrible accident happens, it’s blaming others for our misfortunes instead of taking stock of ourselves and the role we played in our own heartbreak. It’s the knee-jerk reaction, rather than the well-reasoned plan.

When we were children, we might have been told to take a deep breath or count to ten before we reacted in anger; somehow we’ve forgotten the value of this. Social media allows us to let fly all the vile vitriol that flies into our heads immediately, rather than letting go of that head-full of steam on the car ride home, the walk to the mailbox, or the furious scrubbing of floors. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of fights that started on my last campus because of social media snark. When did we as a society forget that every thought that enters our heads doesn’t necessarily need to be expressed?

Ultimately, on the topic of Angry/Anger I am asking my fellow Americans: next time you have a snarky thought about the idiocy of another human being, count to ten first before tweeting, and think how you’d feel on the receiving end of it and, when you enter the voting booth come November take a deep breath, count to ten, and calmly consider how much you want an angry child negotiating with Vladimir Putin, dining with Queen Elizabeth, or clutching nuclear launch codes in his tiny hands.

Angry

My First Political Rally

It was a bit of an anti-climax, actually.

It’s not like I didn’t have time, transportation, and belief in the cause, so I couldn’t think of one good reason not to attend the Planned Parenthood rally on the steps of the capitol of South Carolina.

The purpose of the rally was in protest of House Bill 3114, which would make illegal all abortions after 20 weeks with no exception for cases of incest or rape. Thus, a twelve-year old raped by her father would be forced to carry the fruit of that unholy union to term. And I just can’t believe we are still talking about this stuff in 2016 America.

At first I was afraid I’d never make it there, as a horrendous car accident had the freeway shut down. I texted my daughter while parked in the jam. This is an abridged version of the conversation:

“So I’m on my way to my first political rally, joining Planned Parenthood protesting HB 3114, which would ban all abortions after 20 weeks, even in cases of rape or incest. Paul asked me to try to not get arrested.”

“OMG church lady in pink getting hauled away in handcuffs! That would be newsworthy!” I think she was a little too entertained by the idea of her mother’s mugshot.

It’s not like I’m “pro-abortion”. Is anyone? But given the Constitution, given my alleged status as an equal citizen of the United States, given that this is settled law, and especially given the sick way we think about and treat sex in our country, I am very pro-stay-out-of-my-uterus. From useless abstinence-only sex-education in schools, to TRAP laws eliminating access to affordable womens health services (so much more than abortion), to the abandonment of mother and child once the babies are born (you can’t buy diapers with SNAP), there exists a terribly noisy minority seeking to control women through their reproductive organs. And again, in the year 2016, I just can’t believe we’re talking about this.

There were around 100 of us; many had clearly done this before and had made posters and signs. It was heartening to see a few men there supporting the cause.

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SC Rep. Mia McLeod

There were an equal number of male and female legislators speaking out against the Bill, the men in particular calling on women to run for office and increase the number of women making law.

But my favorite was Representative Mia McLeod, who introduced HB 4544 requiring men seeking a prescription for Viagra to submit to a waiting period, provide a notarized affidavit from a recent sexual partner attesting to his inability to get and maintain an erection, and undergo counseling and stress tests “to ensure the health of the patient”.

“It was never about erectile dysfunction,” Ms. McLeod explained, in the same way that HB 3114 and TRAP laws have nothing to do with the health and safety of women.

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SC Senator Marlon Kimpson

It’s about power and control and a gross, willful misinterpretation of constitutional law, explained State Senator Brad Hutto.

Interestingly enough, on the way to the rally I was listening to NPR (of course) and Gloria Steinem was being interviewed, promoting her new eight-part documentary Woman on cable channel Viceland. She stated the most violent societies are those where a premium is placed on controlling women/women’s reproduction and a cursory glance around the globe makes me dead curious about exploring the data behind this statement, because along with the radical Mideast, the United States appears to be, for my money, a terribly violent place and particularly for women, three of whom die daily at the hands of a domestic partner. Ms. Steinem went on to state that the safest societies, both past and present, were those where parity exists between the sexes.

This is why I recoil from measures such as HB 3114, bills that implicity, if not explicitly state, Oh sure, we’re all equal except for 50 % of the population. So we’re going to “protect” you by imposing our religious values upon you, using discredited science and the First Amendment to do so. That is not religious liberty; that is religious tyranny, and if Sharia law repulses you, please understand that willfully using the freedom of religious liberty guaranteed you by the First Amendment to impose your religious values on your fellow citizens amounts to the exact same thing.

So off I went, and standing in the brilliant hot sun of a Southern spring afternoon I chanted along with the rest, having only one moment of terror when four buses emblazoned, “Christian Tours” rolled by, afraid they would disgorge hundreds of angry zealots who would then shout down common sense. But they were headed elsewhere and the only protesters were a lovely young woman who pointedly rolled adorable twins past us, asking, “Aren’t they beautiful!? Their momma chose LIFE!” to which our organizer, Alyssa Miller, sweetly responded, “At least she had a choice!”

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A small contingent of the Fourth Estate

The second naysayer was an old man carrying a life-sized cross over his shoulder and wheeling along a portable PA system. He mounted the steps and tried to erect his cross in front of the speaking legislators but was gently escorted back down the steps by one of the police officers on duty. Re-shouldering the cross, he wheeled about 30 yards away, took to his mic and tried to talk over the legislators, but again the police officer politely dissuaded him. Finally he rolled down to the curb, picked up his mic and exhorted us all to repent lest we burn in hell eternal.

And then it was done. The news crews snatched up their mics and packed away heavy cameras in lightening speed and were gone. I walked back to the parking garage a couple blocks away and went home. Did my presence make a difference? I don’t know. Probably not. But my voice and my vote are all I have, and I have no patience for those who bemoan the state of affairs yet do nothing to change it. So I raised my voice. It’s what I can do for my sisters who might not have the advantages I do, such as access to healthcare and the support of a loving spouse. For them, for my daughter, I raised my voice.

I Sing a Song of Secretaries

It’s great we have a day to recognize “Administrative Professionals” or, as they used to be known, Secretaries, and I always appreciated the efforts made to acknowledge my contributions as one. But just as one “aw shit” eradicates a thousand “atta girls”, I will never forget how much it hurt the couple of times those I supported “forgot” or worse, the year I was told, “You’re an Office Manager; we didn’t want to insult you by calling you a Secretary”. Oh, OK, I’ll stop answering your phones then. But I didn’t say that, because I needed the job. Instead I cried in the bathroom, then dried my tears and went back to work, like all good secretaries do.

secretaryAdministrative Professionals Day is one of the more Hallmarky of the Hallmark Occasions, but for me (who is admittedly rather close to it) it’s an important one, because those stalwarts bearing the title, well, they hold up the work-a-day Universe.

Think of the secretaries you know: the ones who do exactly their job, no more, no less, they answer phones, do their clerical stuff, and nothing else. They don’t last long, do they? But the other ones…. the ones who do a great job and always have an aspirin or Tylenol when you need it; the ones with a band-aid, mending kit, tissue, or snack when your head hurts, your body hurts, you lost a button, or your blood sugar is low – they’re the ones we depend on. They are the ones who remember the customer’s birthday, children’s names, whether the customer is going through a divorce, or just bought a new car and what color it is. They remember where the client used to work and for whom, and whose name you might invoke at just the right time. Do I have to even go into secretaries being the first one to bear the brunt of a customer or parent’s rage when things go badly? No, no I don’t, because if you have a secretary, you already know you get the blunted edge of that particular knife.

We depend on their skill, efficiency, memories, attention to detail, loyalty and reliability. We depend on their ability to juggle metaphorical balls and bricks and flaming torches, something not taught in college, without ever breaking a sweat.

And most of the time they do it all so quietly and calmly, you never notice. They are easy to take for granted, because they’re always so remarkable you become accustomed to their remarkableness. Until that terrible day they get sick, too sick to work or worse, they leave you and go somewhere where they will be appreciated. Then comes the lesson, too late.

If you haven’t bought him or her flowers yet, or lunch, or gotten a nice gift you still have time. Better yet, maybe make a point of getting out of your own head once in awhile (say maybe, monthly?) to notice all the things they do and remind them how much you appreciate them. Maybe even let them go home early. Or better, give them an unplanned day off with pay – I will guarantee they have busy home lives demanding the balance of energy you’re not sucking out of them, and they could use the break as much as your recognition but, if you can do only one, choose recognition, and choose it more than once per year.

To all my former secretarial colleagues, I wish you a happy Administrative Professionals Day, and I hope your bosses bought you lunch and flowers and told you how awesome you are. You’re the ones who taught, supported, listened to me and kept me sane when I was about to break, because we know a thing or two about trench warfare and being brothers/sisters in arms, don’t we? I hope I did the same for you. I send you my love and deepest respect.