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?

Reason #863 Why I Hate Shopping

I won’t be surprised if, on my way to the loo, one of the animals doesn’t try to interest me in buying some slightly used plastic chew toys.

Everywhere one goes to conduct some sort of business, there is an invitation to buy something, buy more. Some random samplings from my life:

As I walked into the local bank branch, a nice young man opened the door for me, greeted me, then asked if he could interest me in an IRA or Investment Planning? Not today, I just want a crisp bill to put in a birthday card. “Well let us know when you’re ready!” Sure. Sure, I will do that. Absolutely.

Grocery shopping tests both my healthy eating resolve and my patience; when I’m not running demolition derby through the aisles of the local Kroger, dodging both “Click-It” shoppers with their unwieldy carts full of other’s shopping or, worse, the shelf stockers, since no one pays employees to work graveyard and stock shelves overnight, it’s the sample people crying out from the end of every aisle, and even when I’m hungry I can’t take the samples and then not buy the product, right? Isn’t that like using the loo at McDonald’s and not buying at least a soda?

Speaking of McDonald’s, after running errands all morning hunger strikes and I drive through for a quarter pounder, because their adds say it’s fresh beef cooked to order lately. I order it and nothing else, since apparently two orders of fries per week will kill us and I’m already over-limit.  I don’t drink sodas and hate sweet tea so no, I tell the speaker, I do not wish to make it a combo. Yes, I answer the unbelieving voice, I want only the sandwich. “Ok; $4.69 at the first window.” I can almost hear the shake of his head.

Yesterday, I’m at the car dealership to get routine service on Paul’s car. “Wow, that’s some hail damage you have there!” This is said as if to draw my attention to the dozens of golf-ball-like dents covering the top and hood of the car, like I didn’t know they were there. Resisting the temptation to feign surprise, as though I and everyone else in North Central Texas didn’t wake from a dead sleep six weeks ago to ice bouncing off rooves, cars, patio furniture and fences, and am shocked – shocked! to find hail damage on my car, because all I want to do is check the beast in, take my place in the Customer Lounge and disappear behind my fresh New Yorker, I instead go for politeness infused with finality: “Yes, I know. My husband is looking into it,” I tell him, with a longing glance toward the Customer Lounge.

It’s as though I haven’t spoken. “Let me give you the card for the guy who does all our work – he did my car. That’s all he does – body work, and particularly hail damage….” he goes on at some length about the quality of the work done by this apparent god of auto body work. I glance again at the Customer Lounge – so near, and yet so far, but the lure of a spiff and an obvious lack of talent for reading visual cues propels him on until I give him my cell phone number so he can text me the information. At last I make my escape and, finding the seat furthest from the TV and human contact, I sink behind my magazine.

Paul tells me perhaps the finality I’m infusing my voice with, isn’t final enough or nearly as final as I think it is. Having been told (quite literally) my entire life to “Watch your tone young lady!” and, “Well, maybe you didn’t intend it to sound mean but it really kinda did….” and, “Your voice is just such that you are always going to have to watch your tone with customers…” and, “You sound sarcastic even when you don’t intend to” I find it hard to believe that, when I actually do intend to verbally drive another human away, they don’t get it.

But I guess they don’t, or the need to make a sales supersedes even an obvious display of customer disinterest. The most recent, maddening example was when we were looking for bedroom furniture. We walked into a nice furniture store TO LOOK. We were not planning to buy, merely to get ideas about what we liked and didn’t like. The only certainty was the need for a king-sized bed, as the queen is just not enough for man, woman, dog, and cat.

As the soles of our shoes made contact with the tile of the store floor, hidden sensors detected us and deployed a sales woman, who manifested before us cheerfully asking,  “What can I help you with today?!”

“We’re just looking, Thank You.” This is me, believing I am troweling on Finality. I am hungry. Truth be told, I am hangry, and I just want to walk through this place, get a gander, then go to lunch. We’re not buying. For the love of God and all things holy, please just let us walk through unmolested. My silent prayer goes unanswered.

Paul tells me weeks later, “I don’t think you sound quite as final as you think you do…”  and the sales woman, because she’s been trained to never take no for an answer says, “If you’ll tell me what you’re interested in, I can take you to the right place! Maybe save you time!”

Ooohhh, she’s good. She has offered an argument I can only defeat with absolute, pointed rudeness and, while I am unknowingly rude and thoughtless all of the time, I was raised to never, on pain of eternal damnation, be meaningfully rude to another human being, even if he or she truly deserves and desperately needs it. So because we know we like Mission style furniture, I say, “We like Mission and Arts & Crafts styles. Do you have any Arts & Crafts or Mission headboards?”

“Well…” and she begins leading us, winding through the furniture and finally to a couple of bedroom sets that might once have winked at a true Mission style headboard, “…. these are similar in style…” and now she has pissed me off because she’s made the colossal mistake of looking at my thrown-together attire, wild hair, and lack of make-up and assessed me as not knowing what a Mission style headboard actually looks like. She’s probably only wasting her time with us because Paul looks like an 800 credit score.

“None of this is Mission,” I tell her, turning on my heel. But she’s not a new salesperson, oh no, so she tries one last gambit, “We do make one but don’t have one in stock here right now.” She’s walking while she talks, leading us to a giant computer monitor. “Let me just bring it up…” she begins tapping away and I am done. Done, fini, finito, final, donedonedone. Confident I had bucket-loads of finality in my voice I said, “I am not buying something from a computer image,” the biggest lie I’ve ever told, when rarely a week goes by I don’t buy something online, from cosmetics to hot bean paste and everything in between.

The look on her face tells me I’ve made contact and she relents. She stammers out something about not having everything they make displayed at every store but I’m already walking off in high dudgeon, hating myself a little more with every step, but grateful that every step was bringing me closer to lunch…

… Where I was asked, “Would you like to combo that for only $1.39? You get fries and a drink when you up-size to a combo…”

Sure. Make it a combo-double-heart-attack. Bring it on. I surrender.

 

Wonder Women All Around

stork parkingThe first time I saw this in a parking lot, I was irrationally irritated. Seriously? I thought. Humpf! I waddled my fat pregnant ass from the back of beyond all through Christmas. Yeah, petulance is not my best side. I’m not proud.

More rationally I thought: Since when do pregnant women need special parking? It’s not a physical disability. (Said the woman whose sole complication of pregnancy was packing on 50 pounds through the constant consumption of Mexican food.)

Have you seen Wonder Woman yet? If not, stop right now and go see it. Seriously – git. I’ll wait.

Back? Good. Now we can talk.

I was not a Wonder Woman comic fan; when I did read comics, it was Spiderman for me. Bat Man on TV. Hated the 70’s Wonder Woman TV show (sorry, Meggie). But I adored the new film starring Gal Gadot, and were I a younger woman I’d happily follow her Wonder Woman into battle to bring about a just world.

I’ve always enjoyed movies where the girls got to be just as badass as the boys, that’s the appeal, for me, of X-Men, the Avengers, and the Justice League, that the girls are equally fearsome and talented. Truly treated as different, but equal.

Then I learned, maybe with the rest of the world, that Gal Gadot did her own stunts while five months pregnant. As one does.

gal-gadot-wonder-woman business insider
Gal Gadot as Diana Prince/Wonder Woman; photo Business Insider

Just before that I learned, maybe with the rest of the world, too, that Serena Williams won her latest Grand Slam title while two months pregnant. As one does.

Serena Williams SI Cover
Owning it!

Along with the beautiful, Jesus-like humanity of the Wonder Woman film and character, and the glow that came from watching a beautiful, powerful female lead take the box office it’s opening weekend, came a far better reason for my irritation at a parking sign conferring a privilege on my younger sisters I never enjoyed: we aren’t delicate flowers, really, in need of special parking places when we’re pregnant. Women are carrying on with their lives, while pregnant, every. single. day. Lifting. Toting. Multi-tasking. Conference calling and commuting. Wheeling and dealing. Building buildings. Selling stocks. Buying bonds and groceries. Cooking meals, running restaurants. Performing brain surgery or delivering other women’s babies. Lifting aged patients. Performing weddings, baptizing babies, burying the dead. Picking-up, dropping-off, checking-in, driving, carrying, and tending children, husbands, wives, and partners, too. In other words, women are Wonder Womaning all over the place every day and every where you look. Often, while pregnant.

Gone, for me, is any whiff of condescension or patronage, replaced instead with a sense of a gift given in recognition of shear badassery. A gift given not to “weak” pregnant women, but to pregnant women who are soldiering on as women always have done.

And I admit, when I was preggers and roughly the size of Jupiter, there were a few days towards the end I would have put aside my stupid pride and used that parking space, were they popular 28 years ago, so I’ll not begrudge my younger sisters for enjoying it. They’re earning it every. single. day.

Keep on Wonder Womaning, Sisters.

 

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”.

The Purpose-Driven Jogger

Waiting for the signal to exit my suburban neighborhood, I wasn’t really looking forward to going out “among them English” as Paul and I quote to one another. I dislike shopping just anyway but Christmas shopping I loathe with frosting on it. However, yesterday as I stared into space at the light at Eldorado Parkway, someone jogged into my line of sight and changed up everything.

Unbeknownst to me, he’s a bit of a local celebrity. He wasn’t tall, or particularly good-looking; he was a fairly average, fit, pleasant looking African American man, jogging down Eldorado in athletic gear appropriate to the cool temperatures. But he bore a beatific smile and was waving at cars as they sped past, asking via a brightly colored sign he carried, “What is YOUR Purpose?”

He turned that dazzling smile on me as he jogged past and I couldn’t help smiling back and he jogged over, free hand outstretched and I took it, and we blessed each other and smiled and then he continued his philosophical jog down Eldorado. I waved again at him when my light changed and I pulled out onto Eldorado myself and waved once again, lots farther down the road, on my return trip. He was still smiling, still brandishing the sign and cupping his free hand around an ear to hear the answers.

He was just so full of light and yes, purpose. My Election Funk has lingered, but he reminded me we all have purpose and it’s a fair bet mine is not wallowing in bewildered outrage forever.

crystal-snowflakeIt’s the end of one year and we have a shiny new one ready for launch. For me and my fellow Christians it is Advent, a time of expectation and preparation, an excellent time to think of my jogging friend and consider for the new year, What is YOUR Purpose? My first reaction was: to Love, as in approach my fellow man from a place of Love, always. This is a lot harder than it sounds – I’ve been trying to master this for years and yet the Snark persists. I fail a lot, but I keep trying at what St. Francis put best:

Lord, make me an instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

Is that my purpose? I have no idea, but I’ve always thought St. Francis’ prayer a fine place to start, despite my continual failures. It’s a reminder to live intentionally, purposefully, something my tyranny of schedules and lists can give the illusion of doing while falling well wide of the mark.

When I got home I goggled joggers on Eldorado Parkway and found my guy, Mr. Jimmy Lee Robinson; he’s been part of the Frisco/Little Elm scene for a couple years now, with a variety of signs, making people smile and think. God Bless you, Mr. Robinson, and I’ll be looking out for you along Eldorado, wondering what other good advice you have for me in the new year.

Weekend Coffee Share: Election Edition

If we were having coffee, I tell you that looking back over my many years and several election cycles, I cannot remember one where my heart has been so heavy, about which I felt such dread, quadrupled on Friday when FBI Director Comey injected himself, once more against all policy and procedure, into the mess.

On the one hand we see a capable woman with a ton of baggage, sadly a lot of that baggage is more her husband’s than her own. Unfortunately as full of hubris as her husband, she is not a particularly likable candidate. But she is smart and capable, measurably more honest than she is created for being, and I don’t think she will run the country off a cliff. I do believe she can continue the incremental changes we need to make our American society a fairer one, where folks of every color and creed have a shot at success.

On the other hand we have a spray-tanned narcissist who has campaigned as a friend of the common man, despite abundant evidence to his status as the ultimate insider (the privileged upbringing; “small” million dollar starter loan from his wealthy father; the unpaid contractors; the multiple adulteries; his continually availing himself of US bankruptcy law; the thinly-veiled racism;  misogyny; the gross advisers; the bromance with Vladimir Putin of all people, St. Ronnie preserve us). It is easy to poke fun at his supporters, casting them as fools in his likeness, but I think that is both unfair and largely incorrect. True, the guy shouting “JEW-S-A” while making KKK hand gestures is not his best representative; however, Trump has tapped into some very real unrest and anger among decent folks for whom the economic recovery has not worked. Their jobs went overseas and they’re not coming back, and the jobs they took to make ends meet don’t allow them to provide for their families in the manner they were accustomed, and to which we Americans feel entitled. So we cannot dismiss them.

But I really do fear what a Trump presidency would do to Women’s and Minority rights, not only from Trump himself but from the Alt-Right who surround him, notably Mike Pence. Pence’s record in his home state of Indiana and during his 12 years in Congress sought to turn back the clock on women’s rights 50 years at least.

What really drags at my heart is this: there is a surging undercurrent of anger in our country. Some is from women, and it’s about damn time that we collectively stood up and said we’re done, so very done taking 3/4 of our due. But the other portion of that anger lives among our minority brothers and sisters and it is absolutely equal in righteousness and long overdue. If we don’t do something to correct the areas that very much still exist, holding them back from equal citizenship, it is going to turn violent. It’s going to run up against that violent undercurrent at Trump rallies and bring out the worst in all involved. People will die and nothing will improve.

Through all of this ick I keep praying, knowing God hears me. I know I am not alone, I know so many people who are praying for Love to win the day, and I try to remain open to it being in some completely unexpected manner. Holy Spirit is nothing if not unpredictable, and so much wiser than I ken.

I feel helpless and I hate it. So I walk about the world trying to be loving to all those I encounter, making eye contact, being sincere rather than reflexive in the usual exchanges of “How are you?” “Fine, thanks.” I’m paying compliments, letting folks go ahead of me at the store, and tipping well. Does any of that make a whit of difference? I don’t know, but aside from supporting my candidate and voting in a thoughtful, prayerful manner, I just don’t know what to do.

This I can  do: I appeal to women, and all my brothers and sisters of color to be of good cheer and VOTE. Our system works when we work it, when we get off our butts and to the poling place certainly now during the election year but also and especially during the off-years, the congressional and senatorial elections where the real governance is done. Let us band together in vigilance, sending a clear and unmistakable message that representatives who do not represent us will be voted out. Every. Single. Time.

Together, we can make a difference. I will be praying for you, for us and please say a prayer for me, too, because I think without our votes there is a flood coming, or maybe it’s a fire, and I fear there are not enough of us acting out of love to weave a fabric stout enough to stop it.

If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I just can’t wait for it all to be over.

#weekendcoffeeshare

(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.

 

 

 

 

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?

 

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.