Monday, December 28, 2015

Mother Nature Is Kind of a Jerk, but Lemons are Delicious

If you could talk to mother nature, what would you say? 

My first instinct was a genuine, heartfelt apology. But when I got to thinking about it, I thought, you know what? You can be a real dick. Always could, even before we destroyed you. You're very capricious, and any parenting book will tell you that kind of extreme inconsistency is terribly damaging. You created us, not the other way around. In fact, many of the human innovations messing you up were created expressly to defend ourselves against how harsh you are. You lull us into submission with temperate, sunny days, and then, from out of nowhere, catastrophic earthquake! You're all dead! Ha ha!

As is so often the case, our coping mechanisms, which once served us so well, have become deeply engrained, self-destructive habits. Maybe it's time you sat down and thought about your own part in all this. As per usual, when it's all said and done, you'll be fine, and we'll be extinct.

Now you act like you're the victim here. It's the classic cycle of abuse. You're like a violent, manipulative, alcoholic parent or spouse. When your family band together and kill you, you get to look like a saint, because you're dead and they're murderers. I'm not saying we're right, but perhaps this is what Malcolm X might have called the chickens coming home to roost.

Finish this sentence: "When life gives you lemons..."

When life gives you lemons, understand they're a metaphor. You can't make lemonade, you can't start a lemonade stand and you can't harvest the seeds, plant a bunch of lemon trees, and become one of those lemon billionaires the money people can't stop talking about. Nor can you squeeze the citric acid in life's eyes and run, because the lemons aren't real, and life doesn't have eyes. I mean, think about it. Who exactly is this "life," why is it giving you lemons, and why would anyone take it badly if it did? When some unseen force gives you free lemons, what is there to say but, great! Free lemons! You would probably instinctively make lemonade, or do something equally appealing to you with them. A self-righteous saying masquerading itself as positivity isn't really necessary.

This cliche' is not actually referring to lemons. The lemons symbolize bad fortune, which is subjective and comes in infinite different forms. You may be able to up your game, as the saying implies you should. You may not. Maybe you need some time to process, recover, and integrate said lemons into the sour but refreshing person you're going to become. Maybe you're can't just get over it, and who am I to judge? I haven't been in your shoes.

In conclusion, my grandma's favorite poem. It's served me well all my life.

Pray don't find fault with the man who limps
or stumbles along the road, 
unless you have worn the shoes he wears
or struggled beneath his load.
There may be tacks in his shoes that hurt, 
though hidden away from view, 
or the burden he bears, placed on your back
might cause you to stumble too. 
Don't sneer at the man who's down today
unless you have felt the blow
that caused his fall or felt the shame
that only the fallen know.
You may be strong, but still the blows
that were his if dealt to you, 
in the selfsame way, at the selfsame time, 
might cause you to stagger too. 
Don't be too harsh with the man who sins
or pelt him with word or stone, 
unless you are sure, yea, doubly sure, 
that you have no sins of your own
for you know perhaps if the tempter's voice
should whisper as softly to you
as it did to him when he went astray, 
it might cause you to stumble too. 

Rama Muthukrishnan

Am I sure, yae, doubly sure, that I have no sins of my own? Heck no! Have your particular lemons been thrown at me? Absolutely not - I know, because you're you, and I'm me. So I can't very well tell you what you should do with them, can I?

Monday, December 7, 2015

Message in a Bottle

I'm wallowing in discouragement over abandoning yet another novel, and putting blogs where I rant about stuff I think on hold, because why do I think anyone cares what I think, and how 2008 is blogging? So, I'm not going to go running my mouth off until I decide, fuck it, I feel like writing another one, and people can either read it or not, it's up to them. I'm just going to shut up, until I lose interest in shutting up.

In the mean time, I'm doing writing prompts, and publishing them here because it generally provides me with at least a little bit of instant gratification, unlike novel writing, which provides the exact opposite.

While at the beach you decide to write a message in a bottle. What would it say? Who would you like to find it? 

Dear Bottle Finder,

Jealous! Like most people, I've always wanted to find a message in a bottle, but I never have. Probably never will, because while people love throwing garbage in the ocean, they don't want to actually put any effort into it. Effort stands in opposition to the whole point of throwing things in the ocean. So there are hardly any messages in bottles. It's a pretty inefficient means of communication, too. However, if I want more messages in bottles floating around in the ocean, it starts with me. Be the change you want to see.

You probably don't speak English, or know anyone who does. If you're a person at all, which you probably aren't. More than likely, this bottle full of now water-damaged paper will migrate toward one of those massive conglomerates of garbage that litter our oceans. I hear these are now starting to mix with natural materials and form a new kind of rock thingie. So, whether you don't speak English, or you're a pile of inanimate objects, I'm not going to give you any advice. What do I know of your life? Even my most fundamentally held beliefs might not be of any use to you.

Assuming you're a person and you speak English, you're probably me when I'm really old. That should merit a one page human interest story in People magazine. I've enclosed some pictures. That should be interesting, whether you don't speak English, or you're old me.

Other than that, I'd only put a message in a bottle if I were stranded on a desert island. Where I probably wouldn't have a bottle with a lid, but you never know. In that case, I'm not so much trying to communicate a profound message to humanity as I am trying to get off this island. So, help! I don't know where I am, but you're smart - I bet you can figure it out.

Either way, no doubt you're a lovely person with beautiful hair, and, I am sure, many stories to tell. Now you have another one. You once found a bottle with some foreign text in it! Just like I sometimes tell people I was once supposed to be on a plane that crashed and everyone died, or that my dad and brother have both been struck by lightening. I hope you're a kid, because this would be so much more exciting for a kid. Let your imagination run wild. Not being able to read this should help. I've also enclosed a fraudulent treasure map. I'm not being cruel, I just think it might be fun for you.

Maybe next time you find a message in a bottle, there will be some candy in it.



It's funny that pirates were always going around searching for treasure, and they never realized that the real treasure was the fond memories they were creating. 
-Jack Handey

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Midlife Ignorance

So, I'm almost 39, and I've only learned three things.

1. People have good reasons for being who they are.

2. Never promise identical twins this is the last time you'll be mixing them up.

3. If someone offers you a mint, just assume it's a hint and accept it.

My life is half over, and those are the only things I know. I don't even really know #2, because I can't promise I'll never do it again, because I only ever say it because of how much I wish it were true.

I feel like I should know five things. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Not Tempted

It was the culmination of a dream my brother Rob had had a few years earlier, in which he and I had been trying to find each other in DC. One of those dreams where you keep trying to get somewhere, and things keep getting in your way. This gave him the idea that we should visit there together, and I agreed. A year ago, we finally did.

We have a good time together, but there's no denying we'd probably score differently on a Myers-Briggs test, I, INFP, and he, ENFP. He has friends all over the world, due in part to his job (which involves an almost super-human amount of travel), but mostly to his outgoing nature. Rob is a social butterfly in the extreme. 

I'd enjoyed meeting several of his friends, but that night, I decided to sit it out. He went to a birthday party, while I settled in for a quiet night in our hotel room. Sound-proof rooms surrounded by anonymous strangers from all over the world aren't exactly my idea of paradise - they're one of the few places I don't care for being alone. On the other hand, it was only for a few hours, and I do like my own company. 

However, I'd seen that Hershey had a brand of ice cream I'd never seen before, and become overly attached to the idea of it. Why? I can't say. I'm not particularly fond of Hershey's chocolate. Still, how often did I come to DC? Never. The prospect of not being alone in a hotel room for a while also held a certain appeal. So I headed out to obtain some. 

I hadn't gotten 20 feet when a man approached me, asking for a closer look at my tattoo. This isn't unusual, and I do not, as a rule, consider it sexual harassment. The truth is, I can't blame the curious. My tattoo is fantastic. 

The man was in his late 30s, average-looking, on the short side. He introduced himself as a philosophy professor from Paris, half French, half Tunisian (yes, that was part of the introduction), in town to teach some sort of workshop. He was, he explained, fascinated by tattoos, and what motivates people to get them.

"You're a beautiful lady, but when I look at you, the first thing I see if your tattoo. Is that what you want?" 

I explained, not unkindly, that whatever he or anyone else saw when they first laid eyes on me was no concern of mine. 

"Can I buy you a drink?" he asked. 

I looked in the direction I'd been headed. Deserted. Whether or not I got a drink with this guy, I'd have to turn back. Oh, well. He was a philosophy professor, or claimed to be. The conversation might be interesting. If nothing else, I suspected I'd have a story to tell later on. I place a high value on ice cream, but a higher one on stories. 

"We can get a drink at my hotel," I said. Telling him where I was staying didn't seem like the wisest course of action, but I'd done the math, and was confident the benefits outweighed the risks.  He'd probably seen me coming out of there, anyway. 

We got a table in the bar, and each ordered a beer. I made it clear I was married. The waitress seemed to know him well, and was happy to see him. Odd, since he'd claimed to be from Paris. He said he visited DC often, but I ask you - even if you visited a city, say, four times a year, would that be enough for a waitress at a hotel where you're not even staying to recognize you? 

Briefly, we discussed philosophy. He expressed surprise that I'd heard of Michel Foucault. I was the only American he'd ever met who had. Considering I'd learned about him as a college sophomore, in a room full of other 18, 19 and 20-year-olds, I was skeptical, but let it go. With philosophy out of the way, he got down to business. 

"How long have you been married?" he asked.

"We've been together for fourteen years, married for nine," I answered. 

"Fourteen years! Have you been faithful all that time?" 

"Yes, I have," I told him. 

He admitted to finding fidelity quite challenging. He'd cheated on several girlfriends, and more than one wife.

Something I'd said had made him think I was in an open marriage, which wasn't exactly the case. In theory in theory, sure. In theory, not really. In practice, practically not at all. My understanding with my husband would have required me to call home and ask for permission to sleep with a man I'd just met and had no desire whatsoever to sleep with. It hardly seemed appropriate.

"I think the better question is, why aren't you in an open marriage?" I asked.

Liar! Or, at best, highly disingenuous of me. I knew goddamn well why he wasn't a good candidate for an open marriage.

Since I was a psychotherapist, he asked, would I mind telling him if he was crazy? 

I can only imagine he was looking for a yes, you're crazy, the craziest, most unique special snowflake I've ever met! Crazy, crazy, crazy! Failing that, he might have liked a no, you're not crazy, the world is crazy - you're its one oasis of sanity! But dude, I'm a professional. I don't go around confirming or denying that people I met five minutes ago are "crazy." I told him as much, and helpfully suggested he might do well to stop getting married so much all the time. 

As a matter of fact, I was not the only one at our table who was currently married. He had a wife and child back in France. I asked about them, and he assumed a tortured, far-away look. 

"It's too sad, too sad," he said. I have since read that saying everything twice is the mark of a true French man. 

Clearly he was fishing for me to ask him about it, but I didn't bother. Within a minute, he regaled me with the harrowing tale of a beautiful wife and healthy newborn daughter, waiting for him in his apartment in Paris, France. Tragic. Still, it was best to listen to him talk about himself. It made it easy for me to avoid divulging any information about myself, a decision that was seeming wiser by the minute. 

"It took me years to get my wife. I had to beat out a lot of other men. But I finally got her." 

He got out his phone to show me a picture, but first opened it to a conversation with a woman he'd been texting with earlier than night, making sure to linger for a few seconds so I could see. 

"I was going to sleep with her, but...." something was said about her being young, or drunk, or both, but the reason he wasn't with her at the moment wasn't made entirely clear. Young women, though, were not his preference. He preferred someone a bit older, like me. 

The picture showed a racially ambiguous woman, not conventionally beautiful by any stretch of the imagination. She was on par with me - we aren't exactly frightening children, and we have our fans, our demographic, but nobody is going to be offering either of us a modeling contract any time soon. Let's face it - if your modeling career hasn't taken off by your late 30s, it probably never will. Not that I'm complaining. Somehow, she and I get by, carving out lives for ourselves despite never having taken the world of fashion by storm.

"Look at her, she knows what I'm doing. She knows," he said. She held a baby, and, it was true, was giving the camera some considerable side-eye. 

About his daughter, he said, "That's me. That's me." 

This just kept getting weirder.  

"Give me your hand," he said. 


"Just give me your hand," he pleaded. 


"You're one of very few women in my life to reject me. I'm taking it easy on you, because I can see you value your marriage." 


In case he, or you, are missing what I'm saying, I'll lay it out for you. 

I'm not the first woman who has ever rejected you. I'm not even the first woman who has rejected you tonight

I am not the most beautiful woman you've ever seen. Not even close. I'm not fishing for compliments, it's just a fact. It makes no difference, you still want to have sex with me, reason being, I'm the first woman you've seen with a physical feature you could use to start up a conversation since things fell through with the last one, and now I'm here and I don't actively repulse you. That's all. 

I am not the only American you've ever met who has heard of Michel Foucault, unless you only recently heard of him. 

You don't prefer women your own age, or if you do, it's because you think we're desperate losers who will swoon if you pay us the slightest attention. You said that because you think your attraction to younger women bothers me, and you're right. It does. Because I'm concerned for their safety.

I think about how I would have handled this as a teenager or a young adult. Luckily for me, I would probably have been protected by my healthy aversion to old men - I simply wouldn't have gone anywhere with him, not even for the rather cynical reasons I chose to at age 37. But if I'd ended up in the same conversation, maybe on a bus, I would have been more polite, worked much harder to be sensitive to him. I would have tried to tell him what he wanted to hear - that he was crazy, or that he wasn't. When baited, I would have asked the questions he wanted me to ask. I very likely would have given him my hand, so as not to hurt his feelings, because what harm will it do, really? 

"Don't tell your husband about this," he told me.

"I'm...going to tell my husband about this." 

He must have been rather intuitive, because telling my husband about this was the very next item on my to-do list. I was also going to tell my brother, and some of my friends. I might even blog about it, someday. He liked obedience from women, but he was flexible, willing to alter his orders to get it. 

"Okay, you can tell your husband. Tell him...I know! Tell him, 'There was a man who wanted to sleep with me, but I decided to remain faithful to you.' Maybe it will make your marriage stronger." 

No, my friend, this will have no influence on my marriage whatsoever.

When I was younger, I would have lied, told him I wasn't going to tell my husband, even if I fully intended to. I wouldn't have made sure to communicate the subtext I intended when I told him the truth.

"Listen here, you drunken, predatory psychopath. You and I have no relationship, there's nothing even a little bit romantic or sexual between us, we're not friends or co-conspirators, and we aren't going in on any secrets together."

He paid for the beers, and a few minutes later, the waitress returned with his change. 

"You want change for this?" she asked. There was a slight emphasis on the word "this," a very subtle hint that he could just give her all of it for her tip. It was a bit forward, the kind of thing that might leave a person taken aback. But no big deal. 

They'd started out friendly and familiar, but now he was furious, agitated. He ranted and raved about her. Up until now, I'd been playing it pretty cool, if I do say so myself. But I didn't now how to respond to this. Besides, a woman over 25 cannot be seen talking a man down from anger in public. It makes you look married. To each other.

I began to wonder if the waitress was in real danger.

Having finally accepted that this was going nowhere, he decided to let me in on a little secret. 

"Men are sexually dominant. Equality is fine out here, but once you're alone, it's the man who decides what happens." 

I'd been well aware of this. It was part of the reason I'd carefully orchestrated our encounter so that we were never, for one minute, alone. Because you hate me. You hated me before we said a word to each other. I know it's nothing personal. You also hate your wife, the waitress, and, probably your daughter.

Still, I was surprised to hear him say it. It's not every day a man comes right out and tells you he's a rapist. Or, I shouldn't make assumptions. Maybe this happens to you every day, but to me it does not. 

We said our goodbyes, and I went back to my room. The whole thing had been rather unsettling, and I locked the extra lock on top of the door. I wanted to get a bucket of ice, but although I knew Whatever His Name Was couldn't get up to where I was, I was too afraid to get it. 

Instead, I messaged my husband and told him what had happened. 

"You're not mad at me, are you?" I asked. 

"No, I'm just sorry you got scared." 

Maybe I should marry him. 

Over the next couple of days, I grew more disturbed. Not so much for myself - if anything, since he'd been so honest with me, I was just a little bit safer in the world - I just worried he was a serial rapist, hanging around hotels and preying on tourists. He was creepy as fuck. Maybe he's even working his way up to murder. I was afraid for all the women in the world, but specifically the waitress. He'd gotten so disproportionately angry with her. 

I looked for her, to warn her, but didn't see her again. I finally decided that, in addition to my husband, brother, friends and readers, I was going to tell my story to the concierge. I tried to explain my concerns, but it was impossible to convey to her. It works in writing, but in conversation, relating these events doesn't get the point across. Point being, "I'm fairly certain a dangerous individual is hanging around your establishment and targeting your clientele, and I have reason to believe he's zeroed in on a member of your staff."

How do you say that verbally?

"Some guy bought me a beer, and he gave me the creeps and got irritated with the waitress." 

She didn't see the problem. I probably stood a better chance of getting the waitress in trouble for being rude to a guest than anything. I guess what I'm trying to say is, I still worry for her. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Trembling Before God or Whatever

"Once she was born, I was never not afraid."
-Joan Didion, Blue Nights

When I was a child, my grandma used to sing me "Rock-a-Bye Baby." I must have been very young, and I remember being confused by the content. Not afraid or upset, but perplexed. I understood it was supposed to be soothing. The baby falling seemed to come out of nowhere, and the tone of the song didn't change a bit. But the baby fell. It didn't make any sense.

Recently, I read a possible explanation as to why lullabies are often murder ballads. Lullabies serve a duel purpose. To comfort the child, yes, but also the caretaker. Because loving someone so much is terrifying.

Rock-a-Bye Baby, specifically, may be about confronting the possibility of crib death that lurks in the backs of our minds, just as it did for our parents, and their parents, and theirs. I doubt my grandma was consciously harboring such a fear, but the song makes sense.

"I'm afraid you'll die in your sleep, I'm powerless to stop it, and I need to calm myself down."

The only thing more frightening than loving someone so much is the indifference with which the universe meets that love. Anything could happen, at any time, with no warning. There will be no trial, no appeals process, and above all, no mercy.

One day, a few months ago, my daughter Bean looked up from what she was doing.

"I just realized. 99% of the world doesn't know me, so if I died, it wouldn't matter," she said. She didn't sound disturbed by this. If anything, she sounded intrigued. I think she was just starting to realize not everyone thought she was as important as her parents did.

"Pretty much 100% of the world doesn't know you, and if you died, there would be no world," I corrected her. You know what they say. To the world, you may be one person. But to one person, you may be the world.

"Respect the ocean!" I used to admonish her. My son understood this instinctively, but my daughter, like me, was brave, a swimmer, a daredevil. I loved this about her. Angry at not having grown up to be as brave as I knew I'd been born to be, I wanted more than almost anything to preserve it in her, but not as much as I loved and wanted to preserve her. She paid no more attention than I'd paid when my parents had given me similar advice, and nothing could make her believe me.

Respect the ocean, because it won't respect you. You're nothing to it. "But it's me!" you might say, or try to, as you're sucked down by the undertow. "But that's my baby!" my heart will cry, as I try with all my might to get to you. The ocean may indeed spit you out, but it won't be because of anything either of us said.

More recently, in Baltimore, a mother was filmed beating her son for joining in riots protesting police brutality. White America was delighted with this, which made me uncomfortable for reasons summed up here.

But I sympathized with his mother, a woman up against a greater indifference than I could ever imagine, a system that has proven time and again it sees her son as disposable. There was no way she could make us all understand he was the single most important thing in the world, and that if anything ever happened to him, we might as well just turn off the sun. Take me, for example. My priorities are all screwed up. If you asked me, I'd say my children are the most important thing in the world. Does this start to give you a small idea of what she has to contend with? What could she do, when she was so helpless against the futility of it all? The problem is, even if she succeeds in beating him into perfection, the odds of him dying in some sort of police incident will still be far too high.

A few weeks before Bean was born, I dreamt of my grandparents. In reality, my grandma had been gone for twelve years. My grandpa was still alive; not at his best, but mobile and coherent. In the dream, they were old, very old, older than anyone had ever been. I held them up, one with each arm, and promised I'd hold them up forever.

I knew I wouldn't. Worse, I knew my will would give out before my body did. I would give up. I would fail.

When I woke up, I thought of Bean, momentarily relieved that soon I'd have someone to love who wouldn't grow old on me. Quickly, I realized that would offer no protection. I'd knowingly signed up for the most heart-wrenching mission on earth, and there was no way out.

Years later, I cried more or less from beginning to end while I watched Amelia, a modern day opera about a woman who had never recovered from the death of her father when she was a child. Nine months pregnant with her first child, she fell into a coma. She spent three days in the hospital, arguing with her dead father and weighing the only two options a woman as pregnant as herself had left - motherhood, or death?

Meanwhile, in another part of the hospital, a father whose son has suffered some sort of accident nervously paced.

Ultimately, Amelia chose motherhood, and chose it boldly, waking from her coma and demanding natural childbirth or a new doctor. It's good for the soul. Or is it? On the other side of the stage, a newly sonless father sat slumped in his chair, motionless.

As Brenda from Six Feet Under once pointed out, "If you lose a spouse, you're called a widow or a widower. If you're a child and you lose your parents, than you're an orphan. But what's the word to describe a parent who loses a child? I guess that's just too fucking awful to even have a name."

When my son Jay was a baby, my daughter would often worry he'd stopped breathing when he slept in the car. It was obviously a Freudian expression of her conflicted feelings about her new sibling. Nothing to worry about.

My babies' soft spots scared me badly. Most of the time, it grieved me to see them grow up. This may have been the one issue in regards to which I was not at all ambivalent. I wanted those holes in their heads gone. I was learning, though, that aside from allowing my son to develop an extraordinary human brain in only two years' time, his soft spot was good for checking his pulse while I drove.

A friend advised me to stop doing these pulse checks, to just tell Bean her brother was fine. But once the possibility that his heart had stopped beating had been spoken out loud, I needed it contradicted at least as much as she did. There was no way I could have shrugged it off, not when that pulsating soft spot was right there, ready to give me my life back.

Notice the language I used there. My daughter would worry he'd stopped breathing, and I'd check to make sure his heart hadn't stopped. The implication is clear, but that's not what I meant. That's probably not what my daughter said. I tried to write what I meant, but couldn't. I told myself someone who'd lost a baby could read this. Being so blunt might wound them. I told myself dancing around the truth might also wound them. Either one could do it, and I made my choice. Who was I protecting?

I began to fear my daughter was experiencing a premonition, that my son was doomed to live a short life, and it never really subsided. To this day, I'll find what are either clues or, hopefully, nothing. Things like a habit he has of saying "if I grow up," instead of "when I grow up," that gives me absolute fits. It always sends me back to the car, checking his pulse. But perhaps looking for even that much order in the universe is wishful thinking.

Make it through the first trimester, and you've triumphed over early miscarriage, the most common kind. If you can do that, you might be able to carry it through your entire pregnancy, and give birth to a living baby. After the first year, you no longer have to fear miscarriage, stillbirth or SIDS. Soon, you can be rid of that creepy fontanelle.

But your child is still mortal, and always will be. If your lucky, they'll grow sturdier with age. A relief, in some ways, but it means giving them more independence. You have to hope they'll make good decisions even when you aren't watching. You have to accept that sometimes, they won't, and hope luck will be on their side. Their side, and yours.

It's bad enough to know the universe is random and indifferent. There are earthquakes, disease, lightening, meteorites. Seriously, people, the sky could actually throw a rock at you for no reason at all. It would be nice if this could at least foster kinship among humans. Maybe it does, but not all the time, and that? That is just not good enough, not when we're asking for so little. Don't rape, don't murder, don't kidnap, don't drive recklessly, don't do anything violent. Under any circumstances. Is that so hard?

No. It's not hard. I'm not asking that you do anything, but rather that you refrain from activities that require a fair amount of energy. Most of the parents and other humans of the world and I are quite literally asking nothing of you. Go home, grab a beer, and see what's new on Netflix. I would love to be you right now!

But some of you won't comply with this simple request. This is your fault; not our children's, but we've decided there's no point in trying to reason with you. There may be some truth to this, but we are, for the most part, fooling ourselves when we tell ourselves we can equip children to defend themselves against adults. They can't. We just wish they could.

Teenagers? Eh...maybe, kinda, sorta. I suppose there's an outside chance. Even adults probably don't stand much of a chance when crossing paths with a random psychopath who wishes them harm for no reason.

It's good to encourage a bit of caution in children, especially with people they meet online. After all, none of us know who we're talking to. But we can go too far with that, too.

"What if there were crazy people back here?" Yes, what if? Thank heavens it was just mom and dad, sitting in the back of a van, having formed a curious alliance with some frat boy douchebag who does pranks on the internet. Waiting for their daughter and pretending to be a gang of rapists, as one does. Nobody here but us Sanes! And they're angry at her? Before she can even process what's happened, while the adrenaline is still rushing, they start lecturing and demanding her phone.

When I told my husband about it, he said, "Oh, God, I totally forgot to mention I'd scheduled that for next Wednesday!"

On the other hand, kids are far more likely to be abused by family members than strangers, so lesson learned?

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. You're afraid, I get it! We're all parents. It's a scary world, and there are people in it who don't give a shit how much you love your daughter. It's awful, and I'm being genuine when I say I'm so, so sorry.

But you suck! If you're so worried about your daughter and online safety, why would you trust some stranger? "Hey, young fella, I see you do pranks on the internet. Sounds legit. Obviously you have a keen interest in child welfare. Here's a picture of my teenage daughter, her birthdate, blood type, route to school, and online information. Thanks for all your help, you're solid gold! I don't want my child to trust just anyone with herself, but I think I'm a pretty good judge of character."

I don't know about this Coby Persin person, and these parents shouldn't have, either. Granted, pranks aren't my kind of humor. I don't think they're funny, and never have. It's possible he's being genuine in his concern here, although even if he is, he's doing it wrong. He is, after all, just a stupid kid, not the middle-aged parent of a half-grown child. This is the only one of his "social experiments" I watched, but I couldn't help but notice that many of them seem to be focused on "helping" two groups of people - parents, and women.

Parents and women. There is a lot of overlap between these groups, and we have a lot in common. Especially when it comes to how much everyone constantly admonishes us to be cautious, cautious, and even more cautious, yet simultaneously tells us we're crazy when we are. Don't be a helicopter parent, but if you ever relax for one second, whatever happens will be entirely your fault.

Or perhaps, by some mistake, we've wandered into a teenage girl's anxiety dream. "Matt Arnold has inexplicably enlisted the help of this 20-year-old male model to help him lecture his daughter." Soon, her teeth will start falling out while she's taking a math test naked.

I realize I'm doing a lot of questioning of other people's parenting here, too. From my point of view, I'm taking issue with something so ridiculous that I'm only being a voice of sanity, but that's just me. I'm many things, but, believe it or not, smug is not one of them. I of all people know how even opinions you're sure you disagree with can chip away at you. Even as I write, I think of all the things I've done wrong - horribly wrong - over my years as a mother, and feel sick to my stomach.

I'm just another voice of judgement. It only adds to the problem. Did these parents question themselves when they were approached by some degenerate about conspiring against their children? I bet they did. How can we know what to do, when self-important bloggers won't just shut the fuck up? So it would be nice if people like Coby Persin, people who, as far as I know, have no children and can be objective, could extend the courtesy of not proposing things that are, if you take a step back, clearly a terrible idea. Yes, I still absolutely think anyone logical and objective would agree with me.

The video implies the girls in question are rebellious and careless. Disobedient kids who don't listen to their parents. But perhaps it's the blind obedience the hand-wringers seem to want to see us teach our young children that's part of the problem. Obedience (they call it respect, but they mean obedience) requires you you to either trust the person you're obeying, ignore your own instincts, or both. It's not a great lesson.

In 2013, the story of Manti Te'o, a football player catfished by his cancer-stricken online girlfriend who, it turned out, had never existed in the first place, broke. No one accused him of being rebellious. Far from it - if Manti Te'o had ever had a rebellious bone in his body, he'd been broken of it years before. Many marveled at his gullibility - he'd missed so many red flags. Some doubted he could have been taken in the way he claimed he had been, but the more the public learned, the clearer it became - he had believed every word.

Some members of his own Hawaiian-Samoan-Mormon family seemed less surprised. They knew the young man they'd raised was not a questioner.

“Our kids are raised to be obedient,” says Ephraim Te’o, Manti’s uncle. “They’re not raised to be skeptical. When you’re asked to do something, there’s very little to discuss.”
Menti Te'o wasn't vulnerable because he was an out of control brat. On the contrary.

These parents in the video, mostly, for whatever reason, dads (although I found myself angriest with the one mother involved. I could not stand her. I can't say why. What do you have to say for yourself, Erin? Nothing. I don't know. Shut up.), understand they're supposed to be especially protective of their children because they're girls. Because they're in the process of handing over their parental duties to their children, this means they're trying to teach their daughter to be especially protective of themselves because they're girls.

They're angry about it, but at the wrong things, the wrong people. Angry at their daughters, instead of the world of male violence and entitlement their daughters are expected to navigate. And their daughters, despite all the stern warnings they'd been given, look at this world, and still want to engage with it. Just as my daughter, warned to go out into the waves only as far as her knees, stretched the definition of that as far as she possibly could. What they don't seem to understand is that their daughters are right to want to live, and the call to adventure isn't any easier to resist just because the person hearing it happens to be a girl.

It's entirely possible one, two or all of these girls are too dependent on male validation. If they are, I'm tempted to say their parents' tearing them down rather than trying to teach them to trust their own judgement may have something to do with that. Kids have to take some risks, but I understand that each of us parents has to decide for ourselves what those risks are going to be, and how far we're willing to let them go. I'll be smug (although not as smug as any of these parents were - I can't be; I'm too superstitious) and say I don't believe my daughter, not very much younger than these girls, would sneak out to meet a stranger she'd met online. Talk to me in a year or two or three, and I may give you a different answer. But I'm cautiously optimistic. She may be able to trust her own judgement when the time comes. I can't expect her to keep on trusting my judgement for much longer.

When I wondered about moving into an iffy neighborhood, a friend told who knew it better told me, "Lock your doors, but don't be too hysterical."

It was good advice, good enough for me to adopt as a metaphor for life in general. Even when the stakes are high. High enough that you were a fool to get involved in the first place. Like loving someone so much the very thought of anything happening to them is unbearable, in a world that refuses to make exceptions for anything, even that. Even then, once you've locked your doors, getting hysterical is too risky. The three girls in the video paid for it, and may continue paying it for years to come. Will they ever learn to believe their own inner voice? Or will it always be drowned out by their parents' screaming? Can their parents hear their own inner voice?

These girls did something stupid. It could have turned out very badly. Why? Because you didn't yelled enough? Because they're spoiled brats? Because they're stupid? Because you yelled too much? Because you didn't spoil them enough? Because you're stupid? Maybe some or all of those things are true, but the unfortunate truth is, above all, they did it because they're kids. Which can be really fucking scary. However, it's not their job to relieve you of that fear. They didn't choose to come into this world as fragile, impermanent beings - that's on you. You're just going to have to hope nothing too awful happens while they're learning some sense, because trial and error is the only way to do it. Even then, some people never get there.

By the way, Mr. and Mrs. Persin? A little help? Considering your child is older now, maybe you have a little perspective. Would you mind encouraging your son not to rile up these young whipper snappers? I know you may not like to criticize - your son is an adult, after all, and free to do as he likes - but you could try to distract him. Offer some guidance in his search for meaning. Invite him to join his dad and brothers for a day in the coal mines (and for God's sake - I know he aggravates you, but be nice to him. It's what his dead mother would want. This is bigger than any one of you). Or help him open up a Center for Kids Who Don't Read Good and Want to Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too. Something like that.

Expecting them to help shoulder your fear is too much to ask of them, and for what? Tomorrow, even though dad tried moving heaven and earth to cover every base, one of these girls might be killed in a fire. None of his precautions, I might add, will have included social experiments designed to catch his daughter in the act of being careless - allowing, say, 26 people in a room only zoned for 25 - just so her father, accompanied by Kid Gorgeous, can storm in and berate her.

So, you assholes in that video. Even you, Coby Persin, you well-meaning dolt. Or Coby Persin, you disingenuous fame whore, preying on parents' rape-culture fueled fears. Or, you sociopathic child predator who gets a kick out getting parental permission. Or, you repressed, mean-spirited, elderly English Vicar trapped in the body of a recently retired Abercrombie and Fitch model. When the earth shakes or the plague comes or the lion pounces or the airplane crashes or the cancer cells start multiplying, may random chance have mercy on you and yours. But if it doesn't, if it doesn't, it won't be because you and your 12-year-old didn't do enough to stop it.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Internet Hero Defeats Toddler

I know, the rest of the country has moved on, but I was deliberately avoiding the topic of the woman who screamed at a toddler in her restaurant. Once I saw it, it didn't take much time for me to become quite confused (and, yes, obsessed). Everyone seemed to be missing the point so completely, it was like The Emperor's New Clothes. Why were all these people going on and on about a screaming baby? The owner of the diner herself, Darla Neugebauer, had made it clear - she was upset at the child's parents for ordering pancakes. Three of them. It was a lot to ask. By the time the girl started screaming, Darla had been ruminating for between five to thirty-five minutes (estimates vary). No wonder she snapped - she'd targeted these people the minute she laid eyes on them. Expecting her to make their daughter breakfast! What did she look like - their maid? After going on about the pancakes for maybe ten....things that looked sort of like sentences, she finally got around to mentioning the child had screamed.

Pancakes take a while. Pancakes, the fastest thing you can make, take a while. Well, they do at Marcy's, because they're famous for their huge pancakes. Which are a major imposition, because they have a small grill and don't have the space.

The story went viral, and soon, Darla Neugebauer was an internet hero. She had defeated a toddler (awesome!), her father (meh), and, best of all, her mother. For people who fantasize they're constantly being oppressed by children and families, it didn't get any better than this.

The problem is, every time Darla has opened her mouth or her keyboard, she's made it clear she is not a well woman. Is it a brain tumor? A personality disorder? A substance abuse problem? The feel bad rainbow offers dozens of possible explanations, and I'm not going to speculate on which one it might be. All I'm saying is, something aside from healthy development, sunshine and puppies is driving this woman's behavior.

I've heard it opined that her rival, Tara Carson, has somehow used her degree in marketing to "make" Darla look crazy. There are a number of problems with this, one of them being that Darla has done most of her talking for herself, another being that, despite Darla's best efforts, most people seem to have fallen firmly into her corner. They don't like her enough to listen to what she actually has to say, but they like they idea of her.

Lest I be accused of "concern trolling," let me be clear. I'm not the least bit concerned. While I don't actively wish Darla Neugebauer harm, I don't like her and don't care what happens to her. It's her fans who should.

Imagine you have a drinking buddy. We'll call her Starla. Starla is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Mondays, Tuesdays and every other Thursday just wouldn't be the same without her. She's always punching babies whose clueless parents order them pancakes. In short, she's just terrific.

Now, all this is great - for you. But what about Starla? You're having a ball, but Starla's liver is a ticking time bomb. Who's going to intervene? Those entitled assholes who think the world revolves around their special little snowflakes? Not in this culture of narcissism and permissive parenting. They're too busy getting a restraining order to worry about Starla's health. I'm sorry you have to deal with their selfishness, but here we are. If you care about Starla, you're going to have to stop encouraging her.

But enough about Starla. Back to Darla.

"Kids these days are out of control! I can't go anywhere without seeing a kid screaming for 40 minutes straight. People need to teach their kids to behave in public."

Mmmm-hmm. I'm trying very hard to avoid falling into the trap of thinking my experience is universal, but I have never, ever been in a restaurant where a child screamed for 40 minutes. If you say you have, that you see such a thing regularly, do I think you're lying, or at least prone to a certain amount of rather self-indulgent hyperbole? Yes. But I could be wrong.

Occasionally, I've heard a few minutes of screaming at the grocery store. Even at my worst, I know people have to go to the grocery store, and no, in no universe is it reasonable or realistic to think they can or should all get babysitters in order to do it. But I'll admit, the screaming toddlers irritate me. Don't these people get that I'm done with this part of my life? Then it hits me. No, they don't know that. They don't even know I exist, I have nothing to do with why they came to the grocery store, and there's no reason they should care that I'm done with passionate toddlers. Other people have the audacity to be at different stages in life and in parenting than I am, and eventually, I'll die.

At any rate, if you spent any time applauding Darla Neugebauer, I can only assume you believe that not only should kids be included in behavioral expectations, but they should be only for children, because there is not a boundary in the world Neugebauer didn't cross. Either you believe we owe it to each other to maintain a certain baseline of respect, or you don't. If you do, she does not pass inspection. You don't learn manners, you're born with them, and you get to unlearn them. It's the only possible explanation for supporting her.

Tara Carson wrote a column for the Washington Post telling her side of the story, but there was nothing she could have said that wouldn't have been used against her. Say her child fussed a little, and see? Her child is a brat, she said so herself! Say she didn't, and most would have accused her of lying. There's nothing this family can do. Someone said their kid was annoying at a restaurant. Case closed.

I can't say I think Carson did a great job of pleading her case, but in her defense, she must feel like she's entered the Twilight Zone, and not in a good way. I'm going to  make a few assumptions here. They may be way off, but here goes. Tara Carson is generally well-received. She's everything mainstream America usually loves. She's young, white, thin, pretty, middle-class, married to a man in the armed services, and has a degree in marketing. Marketing! Does it get any more young, pretty, white American woman? Yet all it took was one person to claim she ordered pancakes for her daughter, and for the rest of America to interpret that to mean "her child is an out of control monster who is robbing you of your liberty as we speak," and suddenly we all decide Nelson Muntz's mom is more credible than she is.

Please don't think this is an issue close to my heart. It isn't. Or if it is, it isn't in the way you'd think. I've tried to make sure my kids behave in public. I've seen other parents do the same. We're nice to other people, and they're nice to us. If I have one regret, it's that I worried so much about being that mom - the one we all seem to think Tara Carson is - that I prioritized that over my kids' development and well-being. Thinking about it, I'm having a hard time not falling apart. So, never mind. This is an issue close to my heart. Do I hate you for it, every single friend of mine I've seen show Marcy's diner even the slightest support? Yes. Fuck you. I'll never see you again without thinking about it.

I remember hosting a party for a friend. A woman I'd never met before, a single mother with a perfectly lovely son of about three, kept trying to keep him in line, apologize for him, make sure he didn't bother anyone. I knew it wasn't him, and it wasn't her. It was us, or what she feared from us. She was trying to beat us to the punch. If anyone else had looked at him sideways, she'd have just died. Finally, I told her, "No, stop. He has as much right to his place in the world as everyone else here."

Not that I have wisdom to pass around. I don't. I certainly never lived by that.

Tara, no matter what you do, we think you're a terrible mother, and we always will. Always. So you're free. Take care of your beautiful daughter, and don't worry about the rest of us ever again. No big loss. We were assholes anyway.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

I Am Not an Idiote

Writing for my blog is easy. Writing fiction is hard. Really hard. Ridiculously hard.

I started what seems like a promising story yesterday. It was stymied when I, Erin, a sovereign adult, chose to describe a character as having "dark blue eyes." I must have known when I was doing it it was a stupid thing to do. Stupid, thoughtless, downright irresponsible. If I could take it back, I would.

"Wait a minute," I asked myself, "are dark blue eyes even real?" 

No character of mine will have a fake eye color, I'll tell you that. 

Off to Google. This lead to an exploration on the subject of the exact definition of "hazel." I'd like to say my brown eyes lean toward amber, but they're probably closer to plain old hazel. Some twenty years ago, after concluding the word hazel was Insecure Person for brown, I began defiantly referring to my eyes as brown, and never looked back. But now....amber, or hazel? Hazel, or amber? How can a person write fiction with such an important question looming? I don't even know my own eye color! 

What are all the eye colors? Did you know people with blue eyes have, on average, a higher alcohol tolerance? That explains why I can't hold my liquor! There's even a fake syndrome called Alexandria's Genesis that causes purple eyes. 

I won't be calculating how much time I spent on eye color over the last 24 hours. Why can't I be a type-A? One of those, "How does she do it?" ladies? Instead of someone who needs hours and hours just to...squirrel! 

Years ago, the line by someone else I related to the most came from Nico's These Days

Please don't confront me with my failures
I have not forgotten them

Luckily, I was old enough not to go telling people I related to that. Because dignity. 

Now, I think Jeanne Darst captures it better in Fiction Ruined My Family (which, by the way, I recommend highly). 

I'm lazy. I'm forgetful. I go too far. I don't know when to stop. I need to grow up. I'm not a people person. Nor am I organized or highly organized, enthuiastic or responsible. I'm not a self-starter or a problem-solver. I don't have good phone or computer skills. I can't multitask or work well with others. And yet, I maintain, I am not an idiote.

Yes, it's true. Like Darst, despite all evidence to the contrary, I believe in my heart that I am not an idiote. How does she do it? 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Jane Eyre Is No Orphan

Jane Eyre is an orphan. Both her parents are dead; this's the exact definition of an orphan. Although Jane survives innumerable traumas and horrific treatment, she grows up to be authentic, passionate, and, perhaps most impressively, kind. One might take this to mean that one can "overcome" childhood abuse. Taking it a step further, one could look at an impressive adult who had a hard childhood and conclude that a bad childhood cannot "ruin" anyone, that even abused children  have no "excuse" for having problems that continue throughout their lives. Sometimes, popular culture seems to believe that people who have survived a difficult childhood should not only be offered no special sympathy, but should be held to an even higher standard than the rest of us. Forgive all the insufferable quotes (they're kind of like air quotes, but in print form), but I can't let any of those words stand on their own.

Yes, one could conclude the fictional account of Jane Eyre's life is a manifesto advocating a bootstrap mentality. This would be convenient. If a person can pull herself up by the bootstraps if only she's strong and moral enough, we're relieved of our collective responsibility. Unfortunately, we can't be, and we aren't. Aside from  the fact that Jane Eyre, like pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, is fiction, Charlotte Bronte makes one thing clear. Jane is never, for one minute, alone in the world. Jane grows up to be a fine young woman in spite of all she suffers, and because all the abuse, indifference, neglect and unavoidable traumas are offset by kindness and compassion. Not enough kindness and compassion - no child should endure what Jane does. But she's not a street urchin. She doesn't live in a workhouse. She receives compassion and humanity. This child is not the product of indifference.

Jane is born to parents who love her. After they die, she's sent to live with her Uncle Reed and his wife. When the book opens, all we see is that Jane is is a vulnerable child, alone in a hostile world. Uncle Reed is dead. Resentful Mrs. Reed allows and encourages her children to be physically and emotionally abusive to Jane. Even some of the servants, apparently put off by Jane's inability to maintain a sunny disposition while suffering such harsh treatment, are cruel to her.

After being injured, sick, and harshly (and unjustly) punished, Jane awakens to Bessie, a sympathetic maid, and a kind doctor. Bessie cares a great deal about Jane. We know this because, as an adult, Jane encounters her, and Bessie is not only excited to see her, but invested in Jane's success. This happens repeatedly. There are times, early in the book, when it's implied Jane has no one, that the small kindnesses occasionally afforded to her are anomalies. They are not. Bronte goes back and explains we had it wrong. Jane isn't merely the recipient of random acts of impersonal kindness. Although she does occasionally meet nice people in passing, there's always someone to be good to her because they care about her, specifically.

For example, it seems safe to conclude Mrs. Reed, a nasty piece of work, would have mistreated Jane regardless. But the book doesn't let it rest there. Upon Mrs. Reed's death, we learn her anger at Jane was due in part to how much Mr. Reed adored her, even seeming to prioritize her above his own three children. Even as an orphaned infant, there was at least one person to whom Jane was a bundle of joy, not a burden.

After shouldering the blame for a physical altercation with a cousin twice her age and size, Jane is sent to a nightmarish Victorian boarding school. The conditions are appalling. The children are abused and starved. Disease is rampant. On top of all this, soon after Jane arrives, she is singled out for special persecution by Mr. Brocklehurst, who runs the school. He makes good on his promise to Mrs. Reed to "warn" everyone in the school that Jane is a liar and a scoundrel. Jane is humiliated, and convinced this will doom her to the life of a pariah.

Jane's newfound friend Helen comforts her, explaining that Mr. Brocklehurst is loathed by students and teachers alike. She tells Jane that if anything, Mr. Brocklehurst's cruelty will only help her social standing. But Helen, wise beyond her years though she may be, is just a kid. Her attempts to soothe Jane are admirable, but insufficient. Adult help is needed.

Helen takes an unconvinced Jane to visit Miss Temple, the superintendent. Miss Temple listens to Jane's side of the story. Perhaps sensing a casual show of support won't do enough to counter the damage done to Jane's psyche, she is initially sympathetic, but noncommittal. She goes to the effort of writing away for a formal confirmation of Jane's good character, and, when she receives it, offers Jane a formal public pardon.

The school is still terrible. But when the people who oversee Mr. Brocklehurst visit, they are horrified. Brocklehurst is fired, and conditions improve exponentially. Jane never returns "home" to Mrs. Reed's house, but instead spends the rest of her childhood at school. When she leaves at 18, she has become widely respected and valued. She closer to a cherished family member than a popular student. Like Bessie, they're invested in her living a good life. It's clear her absence will have an impact on the community. Jane will be missed.

As an adult, Jane is honest, intelligent, cultured, and the very model of integrity. Why? It's a combination of nature and nurture. Without the nurture part, nature didn't stand a chance. She draws, speaks French and plays the piano well because she's intelligent and talented. But she can do these things at all only because she was taught how. She keeps her job because she's pleasant and works hard, but she got it in the first place because she had help finding and securing it. Most importantly, though she may be an instinctively compassionate person, she extends compassion because she had it extended to her.

Children need adults to love, encourage and support them. After that, people respond to adversity in an infinite variety of ways for an infinite variety of reasons. There is no question that some people seem to emerge from misfortune with more strength, honesty and competence than others. But if a child doesn't have someone - preferably multiple someones - to extend a hand and keep it extended, she will not thrive.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Beatles Therapy

Like any responsible therapist, I undergo roughly a year of therapy every three or four years. I've tested out a lot of psychotherapists, some great, some less so. A few months ago, I decided it was time to start again.

This time, though, I had a hard time settling on one. I found something wrong with all of them. Late. Early. Stripper shoes, and what the hell kind of question is that? I would never ask a client something so stupid. Eye makeup that does nothing for her eye shape. Was I being reasonable, or was this what Sigmund Freud might call resistance? I didn't know. I just knew I couldn't see any of these therapists again.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I found the right person. I knew I'd been right to reject the others.

I didn't expect instant results, but I was a bit taken aback when, at the end of our third session, my new therapist - the good one! - asked me what she should do for me.

"You tell me! You're the therapist!" I thought, but was afraid to say so. Afraid because I wondered if she thought I was such a total mess she had no clue where to go. I'd thought the theme of this particular session had been quite clear, and was surprised she didn't seem to think so.

But maybe she knew exactly what she was doing, because out of nowhere, something that passed for an answer came pouring out of my mouth, almost as if I was speaking in tongues.

"You know who my favorite Beatle is?" I didn't wait for her to answer. "Ringo. He's the only one who knew how to relax and enjoy the ride."

I'm a long time admirer of Ringo Starr. Born Richard Starkey in Liverpool, England on July 7, 1940, Ringo rose from his humble beginnings to become the drummer for a popular rock band.

I'll let him tell you his true story himself.

In the U.S.A. when we played Shea
We were number one and it was fun
When I look back, it sure was cool
For those four boys from Liverpool

Everything I love about Ringo is summed up in these four lines, the second one in particular. We were number one and it was fun. It's that simple. 

Ringo is laid back, happy-go-lucky. As one of the most popular people in the world, it would, in his opinion, be unspeakably silly to worry about whether or not he's the most popular Beatle. He's a wonderful dancer, but even if he weren't, he would still dance. He doesn't care if you think he's wise. It's not important to him to prove he's an artiste. In fact, he has nothing to prove at all. He doesn't care what you think of his nose. He doesn't care what he thinks of his nose. Stomach problems prevent him from enjoying Indian food, which is a shame. But fuck it, he'll just have some bangers and mash.* Whatever.

The Johns and Pauls of the world may feel persecuted, but such a thing would never cross Ringo's mind. He's grateful, but he never uses the world "gratitude." 

Paul once advised Michael Jackson that the buying music rights was the way to get rich. Michael Jackson took Paul's advice to heart, and outbid him on the rights to his own songs. Paul, who has more money than he, his children, and their children will ever know what to do with, was nevertheless deeply resentful. On principle. 

I'm not knocking Paul. I'd feel exactly the same way, because I'm Paul and I know it. It never occurred to me I could be anything else. Paul. GOD. I was consigned to a lifetime of being Paul.

That's not what I wanted. I wanted to be Ringo. Ringo is filthy, stinking rich, and doesn't bother with lawsuits that "aren't about the money." He knows that of course it's about the money, and since it's about the money, why bother? He's set. 

Ringo is so enlightened, he knows enlightenment is a waste of time. Life has tuned out better than he ever dreamed. He doesn't feel entitled, nor does he feel unworthy. He takes it as it comes. Each new day is a pleasant surprise.

Is he 100% satisfied with his life choices? No. There are times when he thinks he should have been a humanitarian instead of a pop star. 

Yes, he's only human.  Occasionally, he feels wistful. Sometimes, he even gets a bit peeved, and he isn't afraid to defend himself. 

Do you think Ringo gave Larry King another thought once the interview was over?  Did he fret about how disrespectful Larry had been, and, conversely, worry he'd overreacted and viewers might think he was a bitch? Nope. Out of sight, out of mind. He hasn't forgotten. When someone brings it up, he chuckles, , then promptly forgets about it again. When he sees Larry King, he doesn't feel awkward. He gives Larry a pleasant hello and then moves along, because he and Larry don't have much in common, and Ringo doesn't see any point in engaging in tedious small talk. 

I might have him all wrong, but I guarantee Ringo is not the least bit worried about it. 

I never dared to dream I could be Ringo instead of Paul, but in a single moment of clarity, I realized that was my therapeutic goal. I want to be Ringo. 

I've never been one for affirmations, but I may tape the word Ringo up in a few odd places, just for inspiration. Later, I'll forget to take them down, because while Ringo doesn't waste time on affirmations, he feels no disdain for them, either. He is totally indifferent.

The rest of my 30s, and possibly beyond, will be spent trying to become a person who could, theoretically, write a memoir entitled "Becoming Ringo," but who feels no need to do any such thing. I'll do whatever I have to do. I'll climb any mountain, cross any ocean. When I'm done, I'll shrug and say, "Yeah, I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. I swam the English Channel. It was fun." 

* Correction. Ringo adheres to a very strict diet. There are no bangers and mash involved. On Sunday, his cheat day, he allows himself a single cup of coffee and a potato. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Not Just Transgender

When my children were small, I was part of an online liberal community of (primarily) mothers. One day, a woman who went by laurustina showed up with a funny, delightful little vignette about looking out the window to find her husband and landlord chatting, oblivious to the fact that her transgender daughter Alice's prosthetic breast was on the lawn. While she and Alice watched, her son, Max, rescued the boobie. The whole family was delightful. Read it. You'll smile.

I didn't realize Alice had since died. I missed it somehow, or maybe she didn't tell us. When she posted another story, it was heart wrenching rather than funny. This time, she was consenting to donate her daughter's organs. I've been waiting to get my hands on her memoir ever since.

I finally finished Jules Vilmer's The Complicated Geography of Alice  yesterday, and I encourage you to read it. Probably. Unless, maybe, you're in a similar situation. If you're in the belly of the whale, if you have a depressed, transgender, drug-addicted child, you have enough to deal with. Not that you shouldn't read it, but I won't be the one to tell you to. This book is terrifying, and you may not need any more terrifying right now.

Terrifying because Jules Vilmer and her husband Jay did everything right. They were perfect parents, at least when it came to dealing with Alice being transgender. They would argue, of course. After all, they were there. It's easier to credit someone with perfection when you only have a vague idea of what actually happened. For me, literally perfect wasn't important, just that they'd risen to the occasion. Things turned out badly anyway, because Alice had other problems. That became oh-so-important to me as I read.

When you read about terrible things happening to people, it's tempting - irresistible, even - to figure out all the ways in which they're different from you. If you can figure out where they went wrong, you can figure out how to avoid their fate. But what if they're Jules, Jay, Max and Alice? What if you like them to much to criticize? What if that made you realize, once again, what a tremendous unkindness dissecting every little choice they made would be?

So instead, I tried desperately to tell myself that Alice didn't die because she was transgender. That one can't die of being transgender, because transgender isn't sick. She died because she was mentally ill. Because she was a drug addict. I can't say her parents handled those things perfectly, because I don't know what perfect would look like. I already know I'll be in over my head if one of my children is as tortured as Alice was.

But a transgender child....that's something I thought I could do. It wouldn't be easy, it would be an adjustment, and I'll even confess I'd probably have some grief about it. I'd get over it, though. If I'm a good mother, my transgender child will be insulated from a hateful world. No need to turn to drugs or self-hatred. A transgender child is no tragedy. No tragedy is all I ask.

No, it's not. I want my kids to be happy people with fulfilling lives. No, I don't, I want them to be kids who stay right here with me forever. No, I don't. I want them to grow up. Because it's that or die.

What Valmir wishes for now is so simple.

Sometimes I tell people my daughter ran off to Tangier. If they ask what she's doing there, I roll my eyes and say, "That's what I'd like to know." But oh, how I love the idea of her traipsing across the globe, having adventures so grand she keeps forgetting to call home. 
No, no, no. Alice could not have been depressed or addicted to drugs because she was transgender. It must have been in addition to being transgender. She was a tortured soul, and even if she'd been perfectly content to stay in a male body, she would have struggled just as much. Because being as mentally ill as she was sucks, and Alice was severely mentally ill. It was in the cards; written on her DNA.

Nobody's fault; certainly not her parents. I'll even let the transphobic's world off the hook, because I can't have the transphobic world be the culprit here. Alice's parents did everything in their power to protect her from it. If they were only moderately successful, because most of the world is beyond their control, other gender non-conforming folks have faced much worse. They lived to tell about it. Alice's depression, on the other hand, was unique to her. She's the only person who has ever had it. It's fatal, 100% of the time. Maybe someday, we'll know how to treat severe mental illness, to manage or even cure it. But for now, I have accepted that even parents who do everything right simply might not have enough to work with.

I don't believe either of my children is transgender. If they were, I would know. Right? Anyway, it doesn't matter, because if I'm wrong, I can handle it. Right?

I should take this opportunity to ask myself just who the hell I think I am. Do I think I'm immune to having a child with severe depression? A child with a drug problem? No, I don't, of course not! Yes, I do. No, I don't. Yes, I do.

My children are probably more likely to struggle with depression or addiction than gender identity. The truth is, some degree of addiction or mental illness isn't unlikely. But I already know I'll be lost dealing with either of them. I'd have no map. I never hoped or expected I would know how to be Perfect Enlightened Mommy on the day my 14-year-old was expelled for the second time because we just couldn't figure out how to keep them sober.

Life could throw me a million unexpected loops. These are only three of them. I already knew I'd be at life's mercy with two of them. But I thought I had some control over the third. I could accept. I could protect. If I did that, it would all be okay.

Of course, if one of my children is transgender, and I do handle it well, it will be because I didn't have to go first. The worst of that path has already been cleared. I'll have models like Jules and her husband to light the way. And yes, I'll follow their example, even knowing they didn't get a happy ending. I will never have to be a hero here. The title of pioneer won't be available to me, thank GOD. I'd rather be the mother of two living children.

There are some particularly loathsome individuals ("loathsome" referring not to people who waver, but people who feel sure) who might say Alice died because her parents indulged her. "Let" her be a girl. Didn't employ enough tough love. Talk to some transgender people whose parents didn't indulge them, and get back to me. Longevity may never have been possible for Alice, but because of the life her parents created for her, her time on earth contained joy and happiness as well as torment. Alice's good times happened because she was seen, accepted and understood. While Alice was here, she got to live.

After I finished working yesterday, I had some time to kill, but not enough to go home. I could grocery shop, but that would leave frozen goods melting in my trunk. So I went to a coffee shop to finish the book I was reading.

I knew how it was going to end, but even so, I read the book hoping there had been some sort of mistake, that things would turn out differently. But there was no mistake. Alice is gone. She'll never grow up. Her parents will never get to remember how hard things were for a while, before their daughter settled into her skin, into the world. They'll never get to shake their heads at that poor, dramatic couple who didn't know everything was going to be alright.

When Alice died, her mother took me there. My eyes welled up with tears, and I wanted to sob. But I was surrounded by college and high school students, so I didn't. I finished the book, and went to pick up my kids.

To have a child is to have your heart walking around outside your body for the rest of your life.  A cliche' we all know, and all know is true....ish. I'll have my heart, split in half, walking around outside my body for the rest of my life, unless I don't.

Many years ago, before I had kids, I knew a mother who said of her children, "She is my strength, and he is my joy."

I've felt the same way. My first born, my love for you is fierce. Intense. Unbreakable.

My second born, my love for you is joyful, buoyant, light as a feather. Unsinkable.

But neither of you is unbreakable or unsinkable. My love for you is here for the rest of my life, but I have no guarantee that the objects of it are. I'd have quibbled over that bit, but the contract was non-negotiable. There was no one with whom to negotiate.

Figuring out all the ways in which the victim is different from you is a response to learning about tragedy, but it's not the response. There are others we can fall back on. One is even more cliche', but at least doesn't rob you of compassion or empathy. At least it won't steal your soul. Another response says, there but for the grace of God go I. It says, hug your kids. 

When I walked through the playground gates to pick up my children, I spotted my son right away. Seconds later, he spotted me. I got one of those running-jump hugs that he'll be too big to pull off soon. No matter what tomorrow may bring, I won't have those for much longer.

I may not have him forever. My luminous, happy, friendly, social, astute, quirky and witty son may or may not live a long life. But at that moment, he was there, arms around my neck. Solid gold.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Do They Honestly Know Not What They Do?

It happens all the time. A woman is raped. For whatever reason, it becomes a high profile case. Maybe she was drunk. Maybe she was outside. Maybe she was 11. All high risk behaviors, to be sure, and someone will always be sure to point it out. That someone will be accused of victim-blaming. Now, I would say that accusation is very fair. They're victim-blaming and they know it, right? Nobody could possibly be that clueless, could they? 

Earlier today, it hit me. Yes. They could be that clueless. It's entirely possible. 

A friend had posted this article on Facebook, about a mayor's response to a gang rape in Australia, and expressed her displeasure with the obvious victim-blaming. There should not, in my mind, have been anything controversial or even debatable in what she was saying. The mayor, Kevin Mack, hadn't minced words. In fact, he'd made himself abundantly clear. 

"I always have encouraged women not to walk alone, to have someone with them at all times, because that in itself is an invitation for someone to take advantage of you." 

An invitation. That's what he said. Those were his words. 

"We just need to be a little bit more careful, a little bit more security conscious and we as a public need to look after each other."

He said we just need to be a little more careful, because he knew better than to say you need to be a little more careful. When it comes to looking out for each other, he's doing his part. He's giving women ridiculously obvious advice that no woman needs to hear, because the message was driven home long ago. 

A friend of my friend's defended the mayor. He explained that he was just giving sensible, practical advice. No blaming, no moralizing, just a little pearl of wisdom. 

The discussion grew heated, and the man defending the mayor deleted his comments. Although I had only passively participated, I felt badly. In part because I'd been a bit harsh in my sarcasm, but mostly because it suddenly hit me. He may not fully understand how intuitively women know to be careful in public, at night, alone, and in the presence of men, particularly unknown men. I doubt he thought the advice was new, but he might not have realized exactly how old it was. 

I was in my late teens when I first heard Ani DiFranco sing, "I'm determined to survive on this shore/you know, I don't avert my eyes anymore." It hit me. When I passed a man on an otherwise empty street, I always averted my eyes. I promised myself I would stop. I have many memories of realizing, right after it happened, that dammit, I looked away again! But I don't remember ever succeeding in holding my ground.  

I've understood for some time that many men, especially the white, heterosexual, cis-gendered, middle-or-upper-class, abled-bodied variety, may not understand how different their lives would be if they lacked even one of those markers of privilege. Seeing this man's obvious bafflement, I got it. Again. And better. He doesn't know how deeply women have gotten the message to be careful. 

So, fellow traveler, I'm going to try to put this in terms you understand. 

Your parents told you to be careful crossing the street. Especially under dangerous conditions. There are, in many cases, crosswalks, lights, and other indications that you shouldn't have to worry, but only a fool would trust that all the drivers on the road care as much about your safety as you and your parents do. So you don't just trust the sign that says "walk." You also look. You listen. You get a firm handle on your surroundings before you step out into the street. 

You were told all this so long ago that you don't remember ever not knowing. Not only do you get it, but you know almost everyone else gets it, too. After a certain age, there is rarely a need to repeat this advice. It would be almost insulting to harp on it. 

If I read about someone being hit by a car, my instinct isn't to try to figure out what they did wrong and warn everyone in their demographic not to do the same. The mayor doesn't respond to a story like that by telling all the citizens to be careful crossing, and certainly not if the car in question was driven by a reckless criminal. If he did, yes, it would look like victim-blaming. Because he'd be implying that if you were always careful enough, nobody would ever be hit by a car. And he would never dream of suggesting that you should just stay home, despite the fact that home is well known to be an excellent place to avoiding being hit by a car. One could even argue that home provides more protection from cars than it does from gendered violence. 

Your parents told you to be careful around cars. They said it emphatically, and repeatedly, and they started before you could understand the words coming out of their mouths. For me to repeat it now would be unheard of. 

Jessica Williams and Jordan Klepper were delightful in this bit. 

But maybe you don't understand that was a real presentation the girls attended at college orientation? That we were officially told everything Jessica Williams said, it wasn't presented as a joke, and the only difference was that the woman presenting it didn't need to fumble around to remember any of it for comic effect? 

Women know to be careful. They were told by their parents. By their teachers. And by everyone else. We get it, Kevin Mack. Better than you ever will. You have nothing to offer. Your advice is worthless. You can't teach anyone anything about avoiding rapists, except perhaps your daughter or niece - someone significantly younger than you, if you have an important role in her life. Not one single woman heard what you said, took it to heart, and benefitted from it. It may be difficult to imagine, but women have a better handle on this "being female" thing that you do. 

But the three rapists in question did get to fly right under your radar. If you'd been addressing someone being killed by a drunk driver, you'd have reminded the people in your city not to drive drunk. Period. You would not have suggested staying home to avoid drunk drivers. 

The man on my friend's timeline didn't do anything to help prevent sexual assault. He didn't make me understand that Kevin Mack had been right. But he did help me understand where Kevin Mack may have been coming from. A place of genuine ignorance. 12 hours ago, I didn't understand that as well as I do now. He may have honestly not known any better. It may not be what I've always thought - that he doesn't understand this as well as women do. It may be that he doesn't understand it at all. Maybe it's not willful. Maybe it's not even partially intentional. I thought you were lying. I see you may not have been. 

God forgive me, I didn't know that. I didn't know how different things might have been if I'd had that particular marker of privilege. I'm sorry if I was mean to you. I thought I knew you were coming from a different place than I was, but I didn't. Not really.