Sexist Me

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In 1984, at the age of sixteen, I heard about female genital mutilation.  I was horrified and angry, but I had nowhere to share this information or how I felt, no way to make a change. People at home were too busy fighting, and everyone at school was all about everything you can imagine going on in high school. Horrified, angry, and helpless make for flinty bedfellows. I internalized and built me a case for hating men.

In 1991, five years after I graduated from high school, Anita Hill testified that Clarence Thomas, supreme court nominee, sexually harassed her.  I thought she was brave for coming forward, I believed her, and after he was confirmed my hatred for men accelerated.  How could anyone let this pig become a judge?  (Side note: I didn’t even understand at the time that he would be a judge for a lifetime and what that meant, or how his wife’s politicking everyone ignores.)

Four years later, 1995,  I married my best friend. My high school years and many after did nothing to help me learn and grow into becoming the best person I could be. I was a man-hating woman hell-bent ready to punish everyone and everything who brutalized women. I. Won’t. Be. Your. Victim. Anymore!!!   Those years were tumultuous, years without a strong support system. I hated men less because my husband was kind, but the lurking vigilante shadow was never far away, and I did little to banish it.

In 1998 my son was an infant, and I was enmeshed in the daily life of being wife and mother.  I kept up with the news in a fairly background noise kind of way.  I heard that Clinton was being accused and dragged to court and impeached for lying under oath. Well that was stupid, Bill, what the hell were you thinking?  I heard the woman he was with was a willing, if not eager, partner, and I gave him a pass.  What?   Yes.  I gave him a pass.  He seemed like a charming dude, really good on camera whether it was an address or a spot on a talk show.  I mean, how could a dude who seemed so decent (yes, he had a dalliance and he’s all humbled by it) be the predator these other women and politicians made him out to be?  I felt like the women coming forward were the unfortunate victims of those who had a political axe to grind.  I felt like, if Hillary stood by him, why shouldn’t I?  I gave Bill Clinton a Democratic pass because he favored the same things I did, he was charming, and I was not paying attention to the deeper, more relevant, issues.

Twenty-eight years after I graduated high school, 2014, I found myself in the lobby of a hospital waiting to visit my son.  I picked up a copy of Vanity Fair which I don’t normally read, but this issue caught my attention.  I read about Monica Lewinsky’s life after the scandal.  The focus of the article was humiliation and bullying. 2014 was a pivotal time for me in so many ways, and this article was part of it.  Ms. Lewinsky describes her life after the scandal and her hopes for what women need to do going forward.  Monica had been a throwaway for me. She was a willing participant in an affair, so what, let’s move on. After reading the article I learned how wrong I was.

In October of 2016 I became enraged and sickened by the words of a president-elect caught on tape. I looked forward to his sad-faced confession and withdrawal from the race, but that did not happen.  People did not seem to care that he admitted to groping women without their consent, enjoying it without fear of retribution because when you’re famous you can get away with it.  The Narcissist-in-Chief is our president, and I mourn every day.

It is November 2017 and I am questioning everything I know about myself as a woman and everything I believed right up until this day.  Three women accused Bill Clinton of rape or misconduct. No one cared. Sixteen women came forward to describe being abused by Trump before his inauguration. No one cared.  Harvey Weinstein was exposed, a tap was opened and it appears the floodgates are breached. Every day more women and men are coming forward to share stories of their abuse by the famous and the unknown.  As I sit back in amazement at the revelations I cannot help but look at myself for being complicit.  I gave Bill Clinton a Democratic pass, ignoring the women he abused. Should I give that same treatment to Al Franken because his sins were not that big a deal? Why turn my back on Roy Moore but not Charlie Rose?

The harder we put men’s bad behavior under the microscope, the harder I take a look at myself, the closer I listen to my internal tape recorder. I am shocked by what I find. I read a female journalist’s book and in several places I felt annoyed and frustrated that she was complaining about her hair, or her choice to give up her relationship and comfortable life in exchange for face-time on air covering a presidential candidate. I heard my inner voice saying to the cashier where I buy groceries, “Geez, lady, would it kill you to smile?”  I am sexist just like all the rest, but at least now I know it and I am willing to work hard to do better. I no longer want to exercise vigilante justice under the cover of my superpower, invisibility.  I know now that knowledge is power, and so is my voice. I have to stand up and speak out equally for what is right, instead of giving a pass to the folks I kinda like because they’re cute or funny on a talk-show.  Justice looks so different to me now. I hope my voice will add geometrically and make a real, lasting change.  I pray for equal vision, equal treatment, and an open heart and mind always.

November Evening

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Hey Mister Away Man, will you turn your green light out tonight? You never kept it lit before, the one that burns outside your door, Mister Away Man, please turn out your light. All these lights are killing my stars.

Hey Smiling Cat Lady, you keep your blinds down now. I miss seeing your big cat boy,
calico windowsill warmer who stood up and greeted only at seeing your shadow.

Hey blind boy, your big blue eyes not seeing me, I miss your gentle feline crooning coming from next door.  I’m sure mama was not too pleased I PsssPsssPsssPsssted you, causing you curiousity on the windowsill, her little blind boy crooning for the door, but his big, blue eyes were too much for me to ignore.

Hey new neighbor piloting your giant red pick-up, I hear your dinner in the microwave, the door slamming, and it reminds me not to eat in the midnight hours. Who wants to hear bumping doors all hours of the night, or the toilet flushing, or maybe the sound of a Tums bottle opening again.  Hey new neighbor, built like a stick, bent in the wind, long pretty hair blowing as you carry your wee laundry bag downstairs like it weighs all of the world. Are you okay?

Hey lone neighbor will you ever wave to me, or does your digital cammo tell you there’s no law that says we must be friendly.

I hear you, Missus neighbor, coming home from a long day, boots clomping down the walk like Clydesdales heading for the barn. I hope your day was good.

You see me in and out my door 50 times a day, leaning over the balcony looking down on the grass Mister Tony works so hard to raise from the dead. You see me sometimes in jammies, or shorts, most often in jeans and a t-shirt that makes you wonder. Do you know that you make me wonder, and would you worry if you knew I am writing about you?

Oh yeah, mister, you know who you are.  I got my eye on you, and I am definitely writing about you. I think your days are numbered.

Energy, Creative, Spent. On.

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I’ve heard it said that one should be careful what they put their energy into.  Perhaps you’ve seen the meme that cautions who you invite into your soul, or the reminder that Karma did, indeed, see what you did.  “Be careful what you put your energy into tonight, darling,” I think to myself as I write.  It doesn’t all have to be lofty and worthy, but is it worth the energy I believe it might?  Yes. No. Maybe.

The silence of this place is more precious to me than the clean water that patters into the steel sink. Why not use the cliche of more precious than gold? Because you know me better than that. Only my fingertips tapping and my eardrum’s tinnitus breaks the silence. Here comes a helicopter (helo) beating its way over this little spit of land, soon to cross the bay and RTB.  This helo sounds awful, one blade out of tune, I’ve never heard that before, and I wonder, and I wonder if my energy should care.

My plants are repotted. The floors smell of citrus. I dug this fuzzy sweater from the box that hides beneath my bed, baby blue that made me sweat when I took a little walk earlier this evening. Finding shelly treasures require extra scouting these days. All good use of my energy, but why should you care?

My little green oil burner fills this space with the scent of something vague but peaceful. It’s not the loud, spotlight-stealing scent of sage, or the typical pumpkin or vanilla stuff we’re “supposed” to be burning this time of year. I stare at the tea light flame and think of the advice I gave to a friend. She is struggling. So hard. She is a potted plant who hears a wild life calling in the distance. The energy I give her is not a waste of time. It’s just not the right time.  I spent a lot of time thinking about this and conclude that I respect the woman she is, the woman she chooses to be, because to do otherwise would be harmful to us both.

I have used a great deal of energy reading two books of political non-fiction. I pat myself on the back for reading out of my comfort zone, for finishing what I began though in places I wanted to throw them across the room, and for recognizing that I am ready to stop using my energy on this quest now. I sought wisdom, some kind of understanding for the politics of our day trying to make sense of it all. The books were good, but they left me feeling like a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing.  Who knew maybe it was a bad idea to take a bite from the fruit of that tree? My furnace is ready to burn for better things now.

What I’ve produced in my recent writings are for personal use, so much sorting, so many questions and no wrong answers.  A good use of my energy, I believe.  I’m ready to turn back to writing fictions, pleasures, dragons, warriors, to create a world I can understand, a world where I’m not being held hostage by my government.  And I’m set to re-read “Shogun” because it’s been calling at me for quite some time.

PS: The refrigerator is running, breaking the silence, and that is just all right.

Driving With Dad*

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The neighbors are less suspicious now as I drive down the narrow street and turn into the graveyard. They see my black Jeep a lot nowadays, and once I had to tell the cops I’m just here to see my dad.  You know how it is with small town cops. I think they’ve gotten used to me now and I still don’t give a shit.

His grave is between the elementary school and the “middle” school. I can’t help reliving some of those days every time I drive past them to make the turn into the narrow street, or road because it’s small town.  There’s a large, green lawn and a big playground down back. My 18-year-old friends liked to play back there in the middle of the night, big kids having fun with their girlfriends, except that one night when he jumped down off the monkey-bars and his boot knife drove into his ankle. That was kind of messed up.  These are the woods I hid inside when I played hooky and maybe some other things. I relive those times every time I drive down this backstreet and turn onto a smaller street not meant for two cars passing, neighbors wondering who’s this kid in a tricked out Jeep hanging out in the graveyard?

I wouldn’t come back here for any reason except that you are here. I took my beatings in this neighborhood, not far from the cool place where the under-aged were served at the tavern. We don’t all need to be the king and queen of the prom, but it would’ve been nice not to get beaten because I was a minding-my-own-business Head and you were a Jock serving your term as eradicator of supposed filth.  I wouldn’t come back here for any reason, but this was the best place I could find for you, and I know you’d be okay with it.  I wouldn’t come back here for any reason except for you. The neighbors are less suspicious now when I pull in between the low and narrow chain link fence. I pull off the gravel road into the grass, my Jeep leans steeply but at least people can pass by if they need to, but they never do because no one comes here except me, day or night.

I’m not thrilled about the headstone the Army provided at no charge. I wish it could be more. I wish it gave me space to tell the world who you have been and who you are.

I come here when I want, no reason or rhyme. Sometimes I just sit and listen to Concrete Blonde and watch the night go by. Other times I get out of the Jeep and greet your stone.  I stand beside the dimple in the ground and I just start talking. I tell you everything. I tell you things I didn’t know I needed to say, words I can’t believe I’m saying. Sometimes it’s just the most random bullshit. I can hear what you’d probably say.  Or maybe you might surprise me, I don’t know, but this silent ground gives me a place to tell, instead of lifelong silence when I needed you most. Now I tell you all, a silent post.

Should I stay here so I can keep speaking with you, telling you my heart that I will never give another?  If I drive my Jeep into desert discomfort, will you still be with me and hear me?  I need to go, but I don’t know how to leave you, Dad.  How will I find your listening or not listening anywhere else?  I flick my cigarette out the window and drive on. Traffic is heavy like it never was before when we were kids. I light another cig and change the song on the machine. I’m looking for something to lift the ribs that crush my heart and help me breathe free.

*Thank you, Kevin, for letting me have this one.

You Deserve Better Than Your Name

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I opened my eyes and looked down at my body and the covers on my bed. I felt alive and aware and comfortable, if not happy, but at least content, you know, that moment when you’re not here or there, in dreamland, but everything is happening in my bed.  The room was bright. Above me, by my knees, was hovering a few black specks that I named fruit flies. There were only a few hovering high above my knees in a well-lit room. But more came. And then more. And more. I was surprised at how many of the dark specks were hovering over me, and I wondered if it was because I hadn’t taken my garbage out promptly.

Then, one by one, some of the fruit fly specks grew into larger specks, then larger, and they revealed themselves to me as little bats. The bats were hovering over my knees as I was covered in my bed.  I wasn’t afraid, they gave me no reason to fear or worry, but I was perplexed at why they were in my room and what to do next.

I got up out of bed and now I am surrounded by tiny bats. Their bodies are the size of my thumb. They bombard me not with wings outstretched, but bodies, little brown furry bodies clinging to me. Once, when I was a teenager, I came upon bats in an attic, and their winged movements, climbing up the wall horrified me.  In this dream, the bats do not horrify me.  I feel like they are present and needful and I’m not sure what to do. I got up and opened my bedroom window, then lifted the screen window hoping to entice them a way for them to leave, leave, leave, go!  I am covered in little bats, in my hair and my clothes, their tiny fingers clinging. I work hard to gently pick them out of my hair, to pick them off my sleeves, I’m working gently because I do not want to hurt them, but I feel they just cannot stay stuck to me, and the dream is specific as I gently pick each claw from my hair and my shirt one by one and shoo them out into the street.   Each one I pull off me I toss outside beyond my window and they fly away, unharmed.

There is a larger story about these bats that came to roost in my hair. Maybe it began that day we trespassed on that mansion in the back like all teenagers do.  All I know is, I spent a long time grossing out over bats, but now, today, I embrace them and appreciate them in ways I never could before. The next time someone suggests I’m batshit crazy I think I’ll wear that like a badge instead of shame.

Pop Pop, I Dream You and Miss You

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“Nah, nah, nah, what the hell are you doing?” he hollered at me. A little kid. I wasn’t doing something the right way.  Pop Pop ran up beside me and told me for the third time how to work the foot controls and the hand levers to keep the race car he made on the lawn and not run into the flower beds. It was called the MudSlugger.  He hollered any time I did something “dumb” but it wasn’t a painful admonishment. It was just how he talked.  My mother’s father, Pop Pop, meant a lot to me as a kid.  I loved wandering into his garage and smelling the smells of old gasoline, oil, and everything in between, his shelves neat, his jars and drawers neatly labeled, my aunt Ruthie’s artwork hanging here and there.  To this day I wonder where their Plymouth Fury, the sea-green one with the push-button transmission has gone. I wonder where the pigeon he kept in a house outside his garage has gone, the one he healed and helped survive its injury. So many tiger-lily, mimosa, lightning bug, captain crunch, super salty roast, leave the dogs alone memories are with me now and I wonder where they’ve gone.  I miss his white Ford pickup, the one with green highlights, clamshell hood, the one he covered in dark orange carpet and hand made a tool shed in back, where we sat on the way to the grocery store.

Last night Pop Pop came to me.  The dream was me in the back of a something, probably a truck, leaning over a tailgate.  The truck was connected to that trailer, the one made of old grey wood that will flip up when the weight is unequally distributed.  The truck was pulling the little trailer, and my son and Pop Pop was sitting on the trailer.  My son was happy.  Pop Pop was as I remember him. He was kneeling, wearing a dark blue down vest over a plaid shirt, his wire-framed glasses on his wrinkled smiling face, and both he and my son were happy.  I took pictures of them with my camera phone from the back of the pickup.  I leaned over and showed them the picture.   My son saw that my phone had a broken lens, and he somehow, I don’t know how, made the cracks disappear and the phone’s pictures felt magical.  My son and Pop Pop were sitting together on a trailer being hauled by Mike.  Pop Pop was with me, and I know few will understand what that feels like and that’s okay, but he was.  I miss him. I want to remember him, his fastidiousness, his devotion to creativity but his desire to keep it all in its place. I miss those mimosa blossoms, visiting my aunts, carrots that were terribly salty and yet I loved them.

Pop Pop came to me last night, and I cry because I feel so blessed to see him again.  I cry because I hope his creativity and fastidiousness won’t be lost on future generations.  We should all be so lucky to have a Pop Pop who made things, who learned, who worked part time right up until the end. He taught me so much.  Meanwhile, I’m looking for a giant clock they kept in their bedroom that you could hear anywhere in the house, ticking, a pink double-alarm ticking, that comforted me in ways I am still looking for.

Preamble to Orpheus

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Waking up from a beautiful dream is a blessing. First because you’re waking up and second you have something beautiful to remember, to hold.  I believe all our dreams are precious and important, no matter how disturbing, distressing, uncomfortable, strange, or nefarious they might seem.  Gifts wrapped in satin or barbed wire, they are gifts nonetheless. We think about them on the way to the can as we relieve ourselves, in the shower reveling in hot water, wondering. We examine them and call up their minute details on the drive to work, in between emails, distracted, bemused, unsettled, wondering.

No one has the magic answer that decodes our dreams. They are studied and we’ve learned so much about them, and I appreciate all the effort and time that so many have put into understanding our sleeping selves. In the end, our dreams are personal. We have many docents who guide us to keep our hand on the prickly rope on our journey down into the dark as we seek the secret minerals that glow in red and green, blue and what is that at night.  Everyone will experiences their own journey, and I believe it’s important that no should define a dream, that midnight walk when the body is paralyzed. Guide, but do not define.  Suggest, offer a hand, but only the dreamer knows what it means.

I know when I dream I am healthy. My mind is unlocked while my body heals from the day.  When my dreams are absent I do worry.  My sleeping habits are not great, so it’s no wonder my dreams aren’t faithful. That’s okay.  The misses remind me to do better in every way.  Now for two dreams that will mean little to anyone except for me, one little and one a little bit bigger in two different posts.

a small meditation

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Be careful what you ask for in your summoning,

for you summon carelessly yearlong,

careful what you ask for in thinnest dark tonight.

You prepared carefully, lovingly for this night

Altar handmade and sincere, you sit and breathe

moonlight incense focused on flickering light.

Careful what you ask for in thinnest dark tonight,

ask not to see the dead, those who cannot recall their plight

those with brass buttons & purple ribbons dangling from

bones, those who carry the instrument of their death in weary hands

you didn’t mean to summon the dead, the words slipped out

and their unrest will visit you. One by one, everyone

you have forgotten about.

Be careful of your face while summoning, measure your heart’s beating

Is your brow placid as a dawn lake, your heart loose and light

Does a smile walk upon your lips, gateway for thinnest night?

Ask for spirits to come if they wish. Ask them what they need,

give them what they ask or crave

receive what they leave and let them go.

One night they will not appear because your love

set them free.

Shed the veil and set your own tears free.

Rain, Wet, Random, Writing

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Ope! There she is. Told you she’d show up, didn’t I?  Acts like she never heard rain before. What a weirdo. 

I’m not sure what woke me. Could be heartburn, my hip smarting, or another hot flash, but I’m pretty sure it was the rain tapping gently on the leaves outside my bedroom window that I keep open just a crack so I can hear the world. I stuffed myself into yesterday’s jeans and a soft baja shirt that I’ve had forever (you know, from that time we drove home from Orlando) and walked barefoot onto the dark balcony to see the silhouette of the rain in the courtyard lights. The rain comes in waves, mostly gentle but when it comes down hard I love the sound of it on the roof, and I walk outside to witness its immanence, wishing I heard it on a tin roof, the roof we talked about, the one we wanted, the one I remembered when I was a little girl and sometimes wish for.

When we visited Mom Mom and Pop Pop, we slept upstairs in the beds their daughters slept in, brown hospital beds we approached on ancient tiles with patterns we don’t see anymore, barefoot creaky floors, we slipped beneath crisp sheets and ancient quilts, beds separated by a large window fan, the kind of fan that would kill a man if you stuck your hand too close and we learned and never forgot the sound of that fan that sounded like an airplane taking off that could take off your hand but they turned off the fan while we slept upstairs in the bed mom slept in when she was a girl.  And I heard the rain on the aluminum valances outside the windows and fell in love with the rain and the roof and the secret bed and blankets and quilts.

We moved to a new building in the middle of nowhere surrounded by low mountains that afforded views upon meadows and ponds for the wealthy. I left my cubicle seat for the low, wide windows to watch the rain pouring down in the parking lot, heavy, jumping up from the asphalt up into wheel wells, cratering the ground, the sound of the heavy rain on the roof, I could not resist, I dropped everything to go to the window or the door and watch the heavy rain fall and hear its sound on us all while everyone faced their screens and typed things that mattered in that moment. I acted like a woman who’d never seen it rain before.

When the rain comes hard I want to see. I want to hear. I don’t know why, and maybe I don’t need to know why. I just know it comforts me. It makes me feel. It stimulates “being.”

Meanwhile, since the sun has risen in soggy boots, they are emptying the crazy dog-lady’s apartment of the garbage she left behind, one box and bag at a time.  My Aunt is fighting nature’s gravity. My neighbors wonder what’s become of me. And he asked me to write a sci-fi story and I will finish it or be damned.  My plants move and redden silently, my candle burns sage while I write in darkness into overcast light.  I am a fool. I make mistakes. I am imperfect and unlearned, but I am not giving up, not as long as I wear an olive drab shirt that says “Marines” in black that tells me to fight and a leather necklace with ceramic beads sporting Victorian roses which asks me to bring peace.  I will lean into furious rain. I will learn to love and let go of hate. I will write old things, probably, and maybe somebody will like it. My world works better when I am wet.

Afraid: Sortings

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I’m afraid to let dust settle on my window valances, dramatic gold and maroon folds that suggest opera curtains when the night comes down, dusted by a ceiling fan that runs day long, accumulating dust that multiplies and makes heavy grey snow on everything it touches. I’m afraid to let dust touch my world.

I’m afraid to keep books that they might stack and be heavy bending shelves meant for generic flower vases and porcelain knick knacks that mean nothing to grandmother now.

I’m afraid to let sand and grit accumulate beneath my heel where I drive or pine needles and leaves beneath wiper blades.

I’m afraid to let anyone in the laundromat see bloodstains on my sheets, underwear too fancy, or that I will use two dryers instead of one, selfish white chick as usual.

I’m afraid to sleep on the beach because the homeless come down here to find respite, and I do not trust anyone who sleeps on the beach but me.

I’m afraid to wash dishes at 5 in the morning because it might disturb my neighbors.

I’m afraid to tell him how I really feel because it might vindicate him, or make him worry.

I’m afraid to let go of his little hand from mine, my empty hand, watching him cross the street by himself.

I’m afraid to step out of line because I know what happens when I step out of line, and I do not want to face those losses again.

I’m afraid that my voice, my IQ and capacity, my vigor, talent, creativity, instincts, and believability will always be worth less than a man’s.

And yet, I’m not afraid to stand up each morning and walk away from the moanings I left in my bed looking for the world to tell me a story.  I’m not afraid to be ebullient with my neighbors because who the hell needs another vanilla creature?

I’m not afraid to keep going, but sometimes it is real, real hard.