Oct 15, 2018

Doing It Our Way

It's an interesting time to be a woman. As I frequently tell my students, it has been barely a century since women were considered legitimate enough as human beings to be allowed to vote. As the old Virginia Slims ads pointed out, we've come a long way, baby. (As an aside, what an exciting time it must have been for manufacturers and advertisers when they realized that women spent money. Just make it skinny and/or pink! It's a goddamned gold mine!) We've come a long way, yes, and we still have a long way to go, but, baby, we are definitely making strides. Long ones. In heels even.

Having never had a penis, I don't know if men feel the same sense of communion with other men that I feel with other women. The sense of pride in another woman's accomplishments, in her triumphs and successes, even though they have nothing at all to do with me. Does the same force that synchronizes our periods draw us together in the desire to protect each other? Is it somehow biological? Or is it more social? Does every marginalized group feel this way towards its fellow members? 

I am going to go off on a tangent momentarily in a brief defense of men. For literally thousands of years, men have not thought of women as equals. They have not had to. They have traded us as commodities, controlled our bodies, gazed at and lusted after us, victimized us, belittled and infantilized us (see "baby" above). And we women have, slowly but steadily, been challenging this treatment and forcing change. 

As a woman, I understand the frustration and indignation that have led to the current volatile social climate. But I can also see how, from a male perspective, the seemingly sudden outrage could be overwhelming. Here's where I get a little controversial: excluding obviously predatory behaviour like drugging and raping women, I think men who have behaved in the past in a manner we are now calling out as abusive should get a pass. 

Every man who called a woman "sweetie" or patted her ass as she walked by or catcalled her from a car window or kissed her without her consent should be forgiven his trespasses. How does someone know his behaviour is wrong when everything else in society not only condones it, but actively encourages it? I honestly believe that you didn't know any better because you never had to think about it, so I am willing to give you a pass.  

But think about it now. All those seemingly innocent actions and attitudes, compounded, along with the more blatantly oppressive, have led to this female revolution. We have put up with it in the past because it was simpler, easier, less likely to cause trouble for us. We have been afraid, because you are bigger and stronger than we are, and you have wielded more power. We have been silent. We are silent no longer. We are strong, and together we are powerful. So I am willing to give you a pass. But just one. Now you know better. 

Okay, now that that's done I can get to the original point of this blog, which is that, when I was growing up in the 1980s, there were some rather remarkable strides being made in the feminist revolution that I have only recently recognized, and that is in the popular culture medium known as television.

I haven't thought of these shows in years, but looking back, I can see how important they were, both to me personally and to the populace in general. Here were single women pursuing careers while raising cool daughters (Kate & Allie, One Day at a Time). Here were women working hard for the money and fighting against the patriarchal boss man (Alice - kiss my grits!). Here was an inversion of expectations with a woman as the brains and a man as the pretty face (Remington Steele).  Here was a detective smarter than the men around her (Murder, She Wrote). Here were women doing it their way (Laverne and Shirley). Here were a bunch of old ladies forcing us to challenge our perceptions of what it means to be an old lady (The Golden Girls). Every one of these characters (and the actresses who portrayed them) was a woman facing, and overcoming, some kind of adversity. They were independent, strong, funny, smart, brave, empathetic, and supportive of each other. Watching them certainly made this particular young girl smarter and stronger than she would have been if she'd only watched The Dukes of Hazzard and The A-Team.     

As we continue to fight for true equality, it's important to remember these shows and to appreciate the work of the women who have come before us. Cultural change does not happen overnight, but it does happen. So riot on, ladies. Let's fucking do this. xo   

Oct 5, 2018

A Warning

One day, my pretty young thing, you will grow old.

This bag of bones, so lithe and lovely now, will become your burden to bear. This flesh, this fat, these folds. The wrinkles in your forehead, the creases in the corners of your eyes. Gravity gently exerting its force on earlobes, buttocks, breasts.

Impossible as it is to imagine, you will experience the body's revolt. Cysts and tumors, blood clots, weak knees and stiff joints. Kidney stones and cancer. The thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.

I know you don't believe it, but trust me when I assure you that you will grow old. (You are ugly already, despite your shapely thighs and high breasts, your firm skin and taut stomach, your perfect selfie smile.)   

So the next time you remark flippantly on someone else's bag of bones, the next time you make someone feel insignificant and small for the burden they bear as a being of bone and blood and flesh, you would be wise to remember that any body can go at any time. A weakened blood vessel in the brain will do it, or a blocked artery. A peanut butter sandwich or an oyster or a bee sting. Something you can't see, can't predict, latently lying in wait. A hammer to the skull, perhaps.



Oct 1, 2018

On Memory

The brain collects the data, files it, cross-references it, creates a baseline for normal. It might be almost impossible to retrieve, but, still, I believe it is there. Nothing is lost.

Anything that deviates from normal is filed closer to the conscious. Hence, Humiliations is easy to access. Likewise the files for Failure, Loss, Disappointment, and Pain. Firsts can also be located near the front of the cabinet, as well as Unusual Moments of Happiness and Joy.

The data from four of our senses slams straight into our memory banks from their positions nearest the brain. This, I think, is why it's harder to remember what something feels like. Touch is too far away. But sight, sound, taste, smell - they're all right there on our heads, bombarding our grey matter in a continuous assault of particles and waves and refracted light.

The scent of a certain kind of plastic and bam! you're in kindergarten wearing a plasticized smock, fingers sticky with paint. A particular song comes on the radio and you're slow dancing under the basketball net with a cute boy in a darkened gymnasium, the air heavy with Drakkar Noir.

I often think in spelling, so running through the alphabet can trigger the information I am looking for. What was that movie? A famous junkie author wrote the book. Burroughs? Close, but no. Jennifer Connelly ass-to-ass. Somewhere in Q-R-S. Requiem for a Dream. Selby. Hubert Selby Jr. And we get there.

Sometimes it takes a while. You set your memory workers a task and then forget about it, but, unbeknownst to your conscious brain, they are digging through the files, they know it's here somewhere, and then, maybe an hour later, eureka! It pops into your head. Our brains are slower than google, but they'll find it eventually. (My brain is slower than others, it often seems.)

In his meditation on a field of daffodils, William Wordsworth wrote, "They flash upon that inward eye." I like that metaphor, but the inward eye is not just visual; it is also auditory, olfactory, gustatory, and tactile, merged somehow with emotions, the flow of our blood through our veins, the complicated way we experience the world.

We might forget, might even want to forget, but nothing is ever lost.


Sep 27, 2018

Today is my birthday.

[Note: Today is not actually my birthday. My birthday is on Saturday, but since I will be off-line this weekend, I am posting my annual birthday blog a few days early.]

My birthday usually has me simultaneously looking back on my life and looking ahead to my death. (Fear and nostalgia, that's what birthdays are all about.) However, instead of musing on mortality as I have done in past birthday blogs, I think I will write a list of 9 random thoughts of this particular 45-year-old. (Warning: I fear most of these thoughts are of the get-off-my-lawn variety, which makes sense, I suppose, given my advanced age. Ah well.)

1. You can prove that you were there with a photograph, but who do you need to prove yourself to? Why all this burden of proof all of a sudden? Proof of purchase and ownership, of caffeine addiction and food consumption, of attendance and accomplishment and popularity. If there is no photographic record, did you even experience it? If no one internet-likes it, does it even matter? (You did, and it does.)

2. Hearing another person's real-life laughter, whether it be giggle, chuckle, snort, or guffaw, is infinitely better than reading a LOL. Or even a ROTFLMAO.

3. I think that a big problem with society today is that people are quick to condemn and reluctant to forgive. Think of all the times you said or did something stupid before you knew better. Can we agree that human beings are fallible but also probably not entirely evil and therefore capable of growth and change? Can we allow that change to occur no matter how heinous the crime? (Assuming the individual shows a willingness to change, of course.) I fear for a society that sees others only in extremes. 

4. Life is risky. Bicycle helmets are bullshit. It's worth the potential concussion to feel the wind in your hair. (This observation is true both literally and figuratively.)

5. We have a singular gender neutral pronoun in the English language that would solve the difficulty of using the plural pronoun to refer to an individual who does not identify with one particular gender. All we have to do is get around the negative connotation of "it" as referring to a thing rather than a person. I think this would be ultimately easier than referring to one person as two. "They" is confusing and seems somehow arrogant, like using the royal "we." 

6. Vicks VapoRub is an effective zit remedy for that kind of volcanic long-term zit you can feel swelling steadily beneath the skin. (I may already have passed this bit of accrued wisdom along, but it bears repeating.)

7. "Riot on" means many things to me. It means do what you can to change the world for the better, even if that change seems small and unimportant, because sometimes the seemingly unimportant is the most important of all. It means be critical of the world and of people who tell you who or how to be. It means be self-aware. It means find fun people to do fun stuff with. It means don't kill yourself even though things seem bleak, because there are people who love and care about you who will help you if only you ask.

8. "Ah well" means only one thing, really, which is that sometimes life is a drag and there's nothing you can do about it, but that's okay. You can handle it. You must. (See "riot on.")

9. Since #9 is inevitably a conclusion, I will end with this: think of how insane it is to be born, to be alive, to exist on Earth in the crazy future world of 2018. No matter how old you are, think of how much you've grown and learned in the years you have been alive. Think of all the places you have been and the people who have meant something to you. Be grateful for every single moment, even the most traumatic and painful, because they mean that beyond all rationality, you are HERE, a living, breathing, thinking, feeling being. And that is fucking incredible (both literally and figuratively). And, oh hey, would you look at this? This blog has somehow turned into a meditation on mortality. (As if there was any possible way that it wouldn't.)

If you are reading this, thank you. I am more grateful than you can possibly imagine for the ability to write down my thoughts and have you read them. The internet sucks, but it is also pretty great. (It's all about the balance.)

Much love,

Sep 7, 2018

9 Reasons Why I Travel

1. Because for every moment (and there were a lot of them) of gastrointestinal distress, there's standing in Anne Frank's bedroom, decorated with pasted-on magazine photos of movie stars and other things designed to brighten the room during her two-year seclusion, with tears running down my cheeks.

2. Because for the poorly draining shower and subsequent flooding of the entire hotel bathroom, there's playing pool at a scuzzy rock bar in Amsterdam with expats Ula (from Poland) and Blackie (from Bulgaria) and listening to them complain about how the city has changed. There's also somehow winning both games (Blackie was terrible at pool).

3. Because for that time you get bad information from someone at an information desk and spend all afternoon on a city bus in Utrecht instead of visiting Castle de Haar, there's seeing the brushstrokes of Van Gogh's sunflowers and irises up close.

4. Because for every shitty hair dryer, there's capturing the perfect photograph of Dutch cows in a verdant green field on your bicycle trip through Waterland.

5. Because for the torrential downpour on the day you wanted to spend in the park, there's Rodin's L'Homme Qui Marche and the crazy post-war architecture in Rotterdam.

6. Because for every night of jet-lag-induced middle-of-the-night insomnia, there's biking past the windmills in the Kinderdijk and actually seeing an old guy wearing those wooden shoes.

7. Because for the boatload of tourists participating in a Nickelback/Maroon 5 singalong in what was supposed to be a cool bar, there's sipping a glass of jenever and experiencing gezellig in a classic canalside brown café in the Jordaan.

8. Because for the thin foam mattress with a top sheet instead of a fitted sheet and the resulting bunching up of the sheet beneath you every night, there's a cancellation at La Caserola on the last night of your vacation and a delicious six-course tasting menu that ends with Dutch cheese melting in your mouth.

9. And because for every two-and-a-half-hour flight delay and 20-hour travel day, there's the glorious comfort of your own bed.

Riot on, travellers. The world is a strange and wondrous place. I hope you get to enjoy some of it. xo

Jun 28, 2018

I'm on page 209 of Ulysses, and easily distracted

A single spider strand shimmering in the sun.

The chip-chip-chip of a bird hidden somewhere in the shade of the woods.

The soft thwack of a golf ball, a distant fore.

Earthworm corpses: pale and bloated in the bottom of the pool, dark and desiccated on the hot stone.

The summer breeze rustling in twin trees, leaves glimmering silvery green.

Tiny white butterflies flitting in the purple salvia and blue larkspur.

Perfume of pink roses.   

The buzz and hum of bumblebees.

Warm sun on my bare shoulders, teasing out the freckles.


Jun 19, 2018

The Cries of Children and the Demon-Man

I rescued two lost ducklings yesterday because that is what we do when we see babies in peril. I don't know what they were thinking, or even if they were thinking at all, while they were cheeping and hopping frantically to get out of those window wells to be reunited with their mother and siblings, but the level of panic of those two wee things gave me a visceral response: I will protect you from harm.

Meanwhile in the country to our south, a power-hungry demon in the guise of a man who spends too much time in a tanning bed wearing protective goggles is stripping children from their parents in an attempt to send a message.

A message to people who likely have not read his latest tweets about border security because they are too busy fleeing poverty and crime and persecution by coming to a land that historically has offered the prospect of something better for themselves and their children.

A message to people who probably do not watch Fox News or CNN or read the New York Times while sitting around the breakfast table eating waffles with fresh strawberries and whipped cream because they are too busy trying to NOT DIE.

(But really a message about his own power.)

This demon-in-the-form-of-a-man and his lackeys are deliberately inflicting pain and creating unimaginable levels of trauma on the innocent children whom we, as adults, should protect.

(I can't help but feel that the lackeys are somehow worse, because, while I believe that the demon is unaware of his own sense of desperation and insecurity, as the truly sick often are, these sycophants must surely realize the depths of his depravity.)

There is something about the crying of children that creates the desire to help, something innate and instinctive. And I'm not talking about the kind of whining cry of the child who does not get what he wants. I'm talking about the kind of cry that says, I am small and I am helpless and I need you to protect me because I am not big enough or strong enough yet to do it on my own. Please, please, help me. 

These people are not criminals. They are guilty of nothing more than the human desire to protect themselves and their children. Your country, demon-man, is not under attack. Or rather, it is, but not from without. Your country is being attacked from within, and you are the attacker, the bringer of chaos and violence and pain. You must be stopped. 

This reign of terror will end, because there is more good than evil in humanity, and if there is justice in the world, you will be stripped of your title, your property, your possessions, your wife, your children, and your tanning bed. You will be given a bare spot on a concrete floor in a prison cell and a number instead of a name. You will feel helpless and small and no one will come to comfort you because no one will hear you cry. Or rather, we will, but we will choose to ignore it.