Saturday, October 06, 2018

Burn. It. Down.

I have felt nauseous for two days, a feeling that's pretty unusual for me since I stopped eating gluten over ten years ago. It's pretty rare that I have any stomach issues, to be honest, and when I first started feeling off, i instantly began running through what I'd eaten in the last 24 hours in an effort to figure it out.

Since a week ago, I've been careful about what I look at on social media. I needed to step back from the Kavanaugh hearings because of some difficulties in my life that were closer, more personal. And frankly, I had noticed that even seeing the ubiquitous photos of his angry, red, yelling face in every other Facebook post made my chest constrict uncomfortably.

Angry men are frightening

I don't know if that's something they know and use as a tool, but for most women and girls, male anger is tremendously upsetting. Men in our culture are taught to translate their anger and frustration in to physical outlets - hitting, throwing, slamming, shooting.

And yesterday, Lola and I got on a plane to fly across the country to visit Eve who is in her first year of college. I couldn't afford to be angry or rage-filled or incapacitated by grief. I was filled with joy at the thought of being in her presence again, the presence of both of these young women who love each other and make each other laugh. We travel together well, easing in to activities and rest with comfort, somehow managing each others' desires without fighting.

I woke up nauseous again, desperately pleading with the Universe to help me be 100%, to feel ok, to be able to enjoy my girls this weekend. Before my feet touched the floor, I took a deep breath and tried to pinpoint the feeling of unease and when it became clear that it wasn't inside me, but surrounding me, I finally acknowledged it. I am receiving the energy of others outside me - the overwhelming despair and rage and fury of women everywhere who know they can't stop this confirmation despite all our efforts.

Lola and Eve politely waited until I'd hugged Eve to fall in to each others' arms and stay there for a minute. Little do they know that while I loved hugging Eve myself, witnessing the two of them resting together, holding each other up, was the biggest gift. My heart is full.

Not far in to the day, things turned. The ride to breakfast was a bumpy one and Lola felt carsick. Eve wanted to know what the plan was after breakfast. The weather forecast was horrid - humid and thunderstorms. The wait for breakfast seemed interminable. They exchanged (quiet) sarcastic words and there were tears. As we sat at the table, the girls ignoring each other on their phones, I remembered family trips where our parents were angry with us for being  "spoiled brats."

We are spending money to bring you to this place and have a vacation, an adventure, and you repay us by bickering and complaining? Knock it off right now or you can forget about us taking you on any more trips.

I nearly laughed out loud, knowing that I could never say something like that to my girls. Not only would they think I'd been inhabited by some alien life form, but I know better. The very air is tainted right now, with anger and frustration and despair. And we are all entitled to feel overwhelmed, sad, confused, upset.

We soldiered on. And many hours later, as we sat eating lunch, our phones all pinged with the notification that Kavanaugh had been confirmed by the Senate. And I was reminded that what we are learning is valuable. We are learning, over and over again, that the solutions we can come up with within the paradigm of the current system are limited.

Had I threatened the girls, made them feel small and embarrassed, it might have made them less likely to express their frustrations outwardly, behave slightly better in public, but it wouldn't have addressed the root of the issues. Had I dug in to the "root" of the issues, things would likely have gotten a lot worse in the short term (and they probably would have both turned on me instead of being angry with each other).  Those were tactics my parents used. My tactic shifted - I created a new system. I decided that since I'm the grownup here, I would trust my girls to let me know if they needed my help sorting out their emotions, and in the meantime, I would forge ahead, doing what I thought would make me happy. We headed to a burgeoning neighborhood and wandered through bookstores, thrift shops, stationery stores. I stopped to pet an adorable puppy, mused about birthday gifts for my nieces, begged Lola to try on an outrageously gorgeous, outrageously tiny pantsuit that she looked phenomenal wearing. By lunch time, we were doing ok. Good, even. And when I suggested we head back to the hotel so Eve could have a hot bath (there's no tub in her dorm, so it's been a long time since she had a therapeutic soak), Lola could chill by herself and watch TV, and I would head to the lobby and write, there were huge smiles all around.

Protesting, signing petitions, calling our representatives, those are all things we do to address the problems within the system. And I'm certainly not saying that those efforts are useless. But it's the system itself that allows for these things to happen. The system that was created by white men for white men will always benefit white men. We need to get rid of that system. We need to dismantle (smash? burn?) the set of rules and mores that keep us small and compliant. We need to get a lot more comfortable imagining what a different paradigm would look like - one that is created for all of us - and work vigorously toward that end. Especially those of us who have benefited a great deal from this system, by playing by the rules and excusing the white men who make those rules.

It won't be easy. And it won't be comfortable. But we can't make substantive changes within this system that will end up benefitting all of us. While I am still furiously angry that Kavanaugh was confirmed, there is a tiny sense of relief in that now I know that this fire will forge steel. Should we still work our asses off to get out the vote in November? Absolutely! When we take back the House, should we start impeachment proceedings on Kavanaugh and Drumpf? First. Fucking. Order. Of. Business.

And then, we should not rest. We should not think we've won. Small victories within this broken, broken system are not enough. We have to burn this SOB down.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

What Today Feels Like

It is not like a rock in your shoe - rolling free in the arch where you can't feel it until it somehow lodges beneath your heel and annoys you. It's not like that. That is a memory from when I was seven and a neighbor kid stole my new bike. Pissing me off decades later, but really just an annoyance.


This is a virus that lives in my bones. A virus that comes roaring back to life and makes me feverish, weak, agitated like I'm covered in hives.

This is sexual assault. 

The fact that I couldn't sleep last night from the ache in my lower back. It's not some metaphor or literary device - it's the seat of my shame, of my pain, of my sexual assault. This is where it lives in me, dormant until triggered. Once released, it is overwhelming.

It is why I cannot watch the hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee because that feels like drinking castor oil when you have the flu. Why would I want to make myself puke even more?

It is why, even though I'm not watching, I can't stop crying.
It is why I took the dogs for a very long walk this morning; because movement makes me feel better - gives me the illusion that I am not trapped like I once was, or twice, or three times. Outside, headed for the park, at least I'm not in the car with my boss groping me - unable to get away because we're on the highway and I'm buckled in and I need that job. At least I'm not in the dark back bedroom at the babysitter's house, floating away in my mind while her 17-year old son does what he does to my 8-year old body.

There is a war between my bones and my mind that I cannot reconcile. 


My mind wants me to tell, to release the stories, to join the #MeToo and #WhyIDidntReport movements - to add to the ground swell. It knows the power of story. It says it will make a difference.

My bones push back. They know that telling is not a guarantee of release. That doing so is not like picking that small rock out of my shoe and flinging it away. These stories will always be with me. They are a virus.

There is another part of me, a part whose name I don't know, that is enraged. This part of me, she is furious at the idea that more stories will get us to some tipping point - that there is some magical number of reported rapes and molestations and assaults that will flip a switch, turn the tide, change the cultural narrative. She wonders why we have to continue to rip our scars open and present them to others to be believed. SHE IS ANGRY BECAUSE WE NEED THEM TO BELIEVE US. Because it means that we are captive again - trapped until they "believe" us and release us. Because it reinforces the power differential.

The stories live within us. Always. 

It is why some of us drink too much, because numb is better sometimes.
It is why some of us cut ourselves, because the idea of release is so tempting.
It is why others deny themselves food or eat too much, because anything we can do to be in control of our own physical bodies feels like taking back power.
It is why some of us talk and talk and talk when we tell our stories, to still the questions waiting to tumble from your lips. Believe me, we've asked ourselves those questions over and over again and we still don't have the answers. Because the answer lies outside us - with the perpetrators - while the pain lives inside.

And yet, no recounting of the story will matter if you're not listening. If you are only waiting to turn this in to a philosophical debate or thought experiment, our stories will never matter, because your "What ifs" (she is lying/he was drunk/she was drunk/this is a setup/he thought he had consent/you're not remembering right) are about you and your discomfort with our stories. Turning it in to a "conversation" means you're not willing to listen to our lived experience. And if you're uncomfortable with the details hitting your ears, imagine how we feel with them living in our bones.

Monday, September 10, 2018

When Mothering is in Your Bones

By si.robi - https://www.flickr.com/photos/sirobi/14239128799/in/photostream/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33623062
There are so many things to be struck by in the story of Serena Williams and the US Open Women's Championship. I was pelted by many of them, both as I watched the match and afterward, reading and processing the controversy. I know there's no way to say what I think any better than Rebecca Traister did here, but one thing that's been rattling around in my head and heart since Serena protested the first warning won't leave me until I do write about it.

Serena seemed to be saying that she can't separate her tennis playing self from her mother self - she was as concerned about being accused of cheating for her own reputation as she was in regard to her role as a mother. I feel that so deeply.

I won't generalize to other mothers or even other parents, but for me, becoming a mother didn't just add an appendage to my Self, it added a thread that runs through every cell of it. Once I discovered I was pregnant, I was, in my mind, a mother. From that moment forward, I was never NOT a mother. In the background of every decision I made was the knowledge that I was tied to another being, responsible to that being.

When Serena told the judge that day, "I am a mother. I have a daughter," I knew what she meant. Growing up a girl in a world dominated by men, where we are told in a million different ways who we are allowed to be, what is expected of us, and what our limitations are, we yearn to break free. Often, we don't yearn to break free with a vengeance until we are mothers of girls, and then we positively scream to break free, to create a different dynamic, a new conversation, smash the patriarchy for our daughters. (Ok, I'm generalizing - sorry - this is how I feel, what I know in my bones).

When my daughters were little and they questioned why it was me up on the ladder changing the batteries in the smoke detector instead of Daddy, I felt empowered to offer them a different world view. When they heard me assert myself to a physician or a mechanic or a credit card company that wasn't taking me seriously, I did it knowing that they were watching, listening, learning. I was always a mother - demonstrating that whatever the world-at-large told them, they had the right to take up space, voice their beliefs, ask for what they deserved.

Eve is in her third week of college - across the country from me - and I'm still teaching her to look at the world in a different way, to ask critical questions about how it interacts with her (albeit a lot less). When she texted me last week, nervous to go in to the advising office a second time to switch a class, she was worried that she would be characterized as whiny or wishy-washy. If I had a dime for every time a man accused me of not being able to make up my mind, or being emotional, I could pay for all four years of her private college tuition right now. I understood. And then I marshaled my mother-muscles and texted back:

Girl, you are the customer here. The only reason the people in that advising office are employed at all is to help you with things like this. To guide you as you determine what your major will be, and which classes will best fit that. You do NOT have to feel bad or embarrassed about asking for their help. If you want me to, I'll send you a screenshot of the check I wrote them to ensure that they help you when you need it. You deserve to ask them to support you as you begin your college career (and throughout it). I love you. You got this. You're fine. 

Whether men know it or not, every second of every day of the rest of my life I will be a mother to these two young women. I am never NOT a mother - it is part of everything I do, every decision I make. It has made me stronger, wiser, and more confident. I totally understand Serena's fury at being accused of something she knows she is not in front of the whole world and her baby girl. When mothering is in your bones and you've taken up the mantle of raising the next generation of strong women, you feel every slight more profoundly. (Ok, I'm generalizing again - sorry.)

I don't know if fathers feel this way about their sons or daughters. What I do know is that this awesome privilege and responsibility of motherhood has changed me in a way that will never be undone.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Using What's Available

Image: Low row of bricks alongside a sidewalk

On the sidewalk in North Chicago, just outside a large, upscale grocery store, Lola and I walked past a woman about my age building this brick wall. She was likely homeless, had a disposable plastic shopping bag filled with her own homemade mortar - newspaper bits, water, mud and other things only she knows - and was bent over stacking bricks and patting the mortar. Nobody challenged her, and she spoke to no one.

The next day as I walked to the El station, she was nowhere to be found, but I noted her progress and wondered whether she'd be back or if she ran out of materials or energy or drive to do more. I wondered whether she was trying to wall someone out or someone in, or if she was making herself a place to sit up off of the ground, or if she was simply creating, making something with her hands that made her feel productive.

I like to think it is the latter.

Even after all the therapy and reading and journaling and work I've done to counteract the cultural and familial narratives I've ingested for the last 47 years, it takes effort to remember that not everything I do has to make sense to anyone else. It doesn't have to garner a paycheck or be in service to some bigger societal machine. It can simply be me using the materials I have available to me to create, to follow my heart and instincts and do what I do best and love most.

Lola, Eve and I spent the last week in Chicago, exploring, walking, shopping, and moving Eve in to her freshman dorm room. It was, by turns, uplifting, gut-wrenching, exhausting, and hilarious. These two sisters have their own secret language such that they can read each other's emotions and rush in like a bubbling spring of water to fill in the holes, buoy the other, amplify the laughter. They know when to be quiet, when to lighten the mood with a carefully placed insult, when to link arms and raise an eyebrow to show support. It is an absolute pleasure to witness. So many times in the last week, I sat across a table from them or followed a few steps behind on the sidewalk and felt my heart swell at my good fortune. I get to be part of this.

We complained about the humidity (it was really gross - Pacific Northwesterners aren't built for that much warm moisture), people-watched, got makeovers at Bloomingdale's on a whim. We sat on a beach at Lake Michigan and marveled as a swarm of dragonflies swooped around in a cluster, creating their own mini-hurricane near the shore. We laughed and ate and filled an entire shopping cart at Target with hangers and laundry soap and bedding and school supplies.

I had one on one time with each of them; watching Glee with Eve late in to the night, sprawled on the couch, talking about nothing and everything. Lola and I hit five thrift stores in one day and ate tacos in the sunshine, simultaneously wishing we were home and dreading saying goodbye to her sister.

By the time the two of us settled in to our seats on the plane for the trip home, we linked arms, tipped our heads onto each others' shoulders, and sobbed. One of the three legs of our stool wasn't coming home with us.

Upon our return home from Chicago, I was a little lost. To be honest, I still am. I know there are essays to be written and sold. I need to continue sending out my memoir manuscript if it is ever going to be published. I have an agent interested in seeing a book proposal for a manuscript I wrote years ago, so I could work on that. None of those things pay much, if anything. Neither does mothering. I'm a bit paralyzed - do I look for a job that does pay? What can I do that's valuable and useful? What do I enjoy doing? What can I stand doing that pays?

There's something in me that says to wait. Just give myself time to roll with this new phase - settle in to having one less chick in the nest and use my energy to support both my girls through this transition. I don't often think about modern technology - even as much as I use it - but I am tremendously grateful for the ability to text my girls. It means that I can offer advice and insight no matter where I am, so that when Eve feels a tiny bit homesick or has a question about returning textbooks she purchased for a class she dropped, I'm 'there.' Because what I know is that I am a good mom, and relying on my strengths in that area feels good to all of us. The fact that the girls know they can ask me anything, anytime, and I'll want to answer, jump at the chance to engage with them - that is immeasurably important to me. It is a constant for all of us, a reminder that we are a team and while the characteristics of our connections might change over time, the fact that there's a connection there is a given. I don't support them because I have to. There is no sense of duty there. I am truly overjoyed to be their travel companion, sounding board, keeper of memories. I am using the bricks and mortar I have at my disposal to create something, and it may not look like much, but it is strong.

When I get caught up in the "but you're not making any money" narrative in my head, I have to remember that I'm ok right now, that I do my best work when the work I'm doing is something I love and something I'm good at. And right now, the things I love most of all are mothering and writing. In that order. Today, that's good enough. Better than good enough. It's great. Amazing. Phenomenal.


Thursday, August 02, 2018

When Life Moves as Fast as the News Cycle

I am often astonished at how much less I write here than I used to, and for a while, I attributed it to the speed of life. There have been so many changes - substantive changes - in my life in the last two years that I can barely keep up.

For a while, I was trying to peg some freelance writing work to the news cycle - writing about depression when Kate Spade was discovered to have committed suicide and realizing that by the time I wrote my piece it was Anthony Bourdain that was in the news and by the time I heard back from an editor, the world was talking about North Korea and then the next school shooting and then family separations at the border.

Funny how much that felt like my life.

Separation after 23 years of marriage followed by (or in the midst of) my oldest daughter's senior year in high school with the attendant college preparation/final Homecoming/Prom/graduation. Searching for an alternative to the youngest daughter's school and finding the Running Start program that allows her to enroll in community college in lieu of finishing at her high school followed by divorce and moving to a new home. Watching my mom descend further in to herself and trying to help arrange for her move to a long-term facility and preparing to help my daughter now move across the country for college.

The speed of life.

As I walked the dogs in the cool mist this morning, I realized that part of what has been weighing on me is a feeling of failure - that I am doing so many things and none of them very well. I've sold some writing, but not enough to live on. I bought a new house and there are still pieces of furniture where I don't want them and the outdoor space isn't as inviting as I want it to be. I don't cook as often as I used to and I am afraid I'm not showing up for my girls in the way they want me to.

But when I took a moment to really say those words in my own head - to bring them out of the shadows where they play havoc with my heart - I realized that I've actually done a pretty damn good job in the last two years simply by putting one foot in front of the other. The fact that I've sold any writing, finished my manuscript, bought and sold a house, navigated the end of a decades-long marriage, and managed to stay upright and kind and tell my girls every damn day that I love them is almost a miracle. If I've failed in any way, it was a failure to accurately assess what my future was going to look like, and I think it's a human trait to be pretty bad at that kind of prediction, isn't it? By making an effort to stay grounded in who I am and what's important to me and focusing on the next best step, I've strung together quite a path thus far, so while the news cycle of my life is still hurtling along at a fairly fast clip, I know it won't always be like this. I'm just going to hold on and keep doing what I've been doing for the next little while and believe in my own abilities.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

We All Belong To Each Other

The Earth seen from Apollo 17. Wikimedia Commons
Tuesday night, I joined a room full of people of all different faiths to talk about how we can help the immigrants in our community - both the ones in the local federal detention center and those in our midst who have been living here and working here for months, years, sometimes decades. It was an amazing gathering with people of all ages and religions and backgrounds, and some of the individuals who have direct experience as immigrants were asked to share their stories.

While this meeting came up as an effort to build a Rapid Response Network to meet the needs of families separated at the border, it was also acknowledged that the immigrants who are living here are not safe from ICE, either. While I knew that, the stories I heard shook me.

One Somalian woman spoke about her experience translating for another Somali woman - a mother of four children who immigrated to this country via Kenya after the death of her husband. She came her with her four kids to try and build a new life for all of them and secure some sort of future in a land not plagued by war or drought. She knew that if she stayed home, she and her children would be in jeopardy. They've been here for more than ten years, integrated into the community, part of it. One day, not too long ago, she received a frantic phone call from her teenage son. He had been picked up on the light rail with a group of other teens (also Somalian) and instantly moved to a federal detention center in Tacoma. They were told that they would be sent back to Somalia the next morning on a plane that was already full. ICE had performed a set of raids specifically to round up Somalians in the area and send them back. This young man has been in the US since he was two years old. He doesn't speak Somalian. He has no recollection of that country. His mother had no time to contact an attorney and no recourse. He was flown back to Somalia where he and the other young people (all unaccompanied minors) were dumped at the international airport in Mogadishu without food or money and left to their own devices. She has not seen him since.

Another man spoke of living in an apartment building with many Latino families. While he is not Latino, he has befriended them and gotten to know their children. It is a tight community of neighbors who all help each other (this man is physically disabled) and look out for each other. His voice broke as he told us of the gatherings they have to socialize where talk eventually turns to plans for what will happen when ICE shows up. Many of the parents have had to teach their children where to hide and how to be silent if a stranger comes to the door when the parents are at work or at the store. Many of them are citizens or are waiting on green cards to complete their legal process, but ICE does not discriminate, and with their unchecked powers, they are able to round up and deport or detain people before a legal defense can be mounted.

I heard a Kenyan man who has been here for much of his adult life speak of the refugee camps in his country and the people who come through them looking for a better life. He explained that even though Kenya is a beautiful, mostly peaceful country, the exchange rate for their currency is 100:1. That means that someone coming to the United States can make 100 times the amount of money here working in the same job as they can if they stay in Kenya. Is it any wonder that people are willing to trek through the unknown to get here?

There were more stories that broke me wide open, and the support and energy in that room was tremendous. It is tempting to succumb to the overwhelm and realize that there is so much happening behind the scenes on a daily basis that we can't even know about, but then I remember that even one family protected is vital. I will continue to work with these people to demonstrate my American dream - the dream that we all remember we belong to each other in profound ways and we all deserve to live our best lives, regardless of where on this planet we happen to have been born. I hope you'll find ways to help, too.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

A Dream and a Nightmare

I had a dream last night that I volunteered my car and my services to transport kids who'd been separated from their parents back to reunite with them. I have a car that seats seven and I was eager to help in any way I could with the family reunifications.

When I got to the detention center, I couldn't look at any of the children. I suddenly felt very white and wealthy and American and I wondered how much I scared the kids. I felt complicit. I wanted to apologize, to take them all into my arms and sob and tell them that I never wanted any of this, that I didn't vote for the monster in the White House, that I marched and protested and wrote on their behalf. But in the dream, I didn't touch any of them, because it's not about me. I had to stay in my own lane and remember that doing this work isn't focused on making  me feel better or less guilty. And so I bowed my head and opened up the back of the car and didn't make eye contact. I let the kids in and made sure their seat belts were all buckled tightly and then I went around to my side of the car, climbed in, put my glasses on, and drove them to their families.

I spent most of Friday throwing up - for real, not in a dream. I have been agitated and on edge all week. I spent Sunday - Father's Day - at a rally in the hot sun, tears streaming down my face as I listened to stories relayed to my Congressperson from parents in the federal detention center in Seattle.

I spent Tuesday writing my story of family separation, finally understanding why this is hitting me so hard (not that it shouldn't hit every single person on the fucking planet right between the eyes - this tearing apart of families). I spent Wednesday and Thursday trying to get someone to publish my story, to hear the devastating effects of family separation.

But it's not about me. And I can't make it about me. There is much work to do to get these kids back to their families, to repair the damage we've wrought. Today, I will find others who can help, band together with them, and bow my head as I do the work.

If you want to help, please look over this article and find something that fits your skillset.
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