Me, too.

CIMG2733The hashtag ‘me, too’ isn’t enough and I am not man-bashing. I’m asking the question, “when are boys taught that certain behaviors towards girls are all right and who does the teaching?”

As a girl I was taught to be either flattered, to shrug it off because ‘boys will be boys’ or to wonder what I did wrong. And now I’m asking the question, “when are girls taught that being objectified by a boy is something to aspire to and who does the teaching?”

I was taught by observing my mother and my older sister, their behavior with men and the behavior of the men they chose to have in their lives. But I was also taught by what I watched on television, by the books I read, and by the screaming silence.

How can we teach our children? By no longer being silent.

I’ve decided to share seven experiences that shaped my life.

  1. When I was a pre-teen my first step-father liked to wrestle with me. We wrestled on his and my mother’s bed. He always pulled on my training bra until it opened.
  2. When I was a teenager my second-step father told me I had nice breasts.
  3. Around that same time, a local boy told me he needed help with is homework and asked if I would come to his house. When I arrived he talked me into crawling through the hay bale tunnel he had built with a friend. The friend was waiting in the fort, trapping me in the middle. I managed to talk them out of whatever they planned to do, came home and took a bath.
  4. When I was a senior in high school, a member of the football team stopped me in the hallway to the gym and asked me to unbutton my blouse. I remember thinking how stupid his request was and called his bluff. He was disappointed I was wearing a bra.
  5. When I was a college freshman a plumber who was at my apartment to fix a radiator finished the job and then thought it was appropriate to hug me and grab my bottom.
  6. Several years ago I was in an psychologically abusive relationship. I was called ugly. I was called stupid and told I would amount to nothing. My words and opinions were laughed at. Why didn’t I leave? I was beginning to believe him and I was afraid of his reaction if I began to pack my bags.
  7. A few months ago I was in a local hardware store having a key made. A man working there thought it was all right for him to lean his body against my body and pull me uncomfortably close.

I know that it goes both ways. Women are capable of questionable behavior and sexual predation, too. But I can tell you that in my fifty-nine years I have never wrestled with a boy to feel him up. I’ve never told a man he has a nice package. I have never trapped a boy in a hay bale fort nor have I ever asked a boy to pull down his pants. I have never hugged a plumber so that I could grab his bottom. I’ve never frightened a man until he believed there was no hope. I have never leaned my body against a stranger in order to pull him close.

There are moments in my life when I made poor choices. So let’s teach our children about making choices. Let’s teach our children. Let’s not be silent anymore.


The Strike

pall-mall_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqzyQdcCpPOOS38rrQ0wuMX6qLSLVZhK3e2pU3liKIgNIIsn’t it funny how just when we are beginning to believe that our feelings or thoughts will remain the same forever, they change like the direction of the wind? How does that happen? Is it the food we eat? An unexpected smile from a stranger? A happy memory that floats to the surface or a dream that sweetens and soothes our subconscious? Maybe it’s the perfect yoga practice or a soothing few moments of quiet meditation.

All I know is that there has been a welcome shift. I have too many good things piled on my plate to spend time in the stinky muck of overcooked wallow.

I didn’t find it easy to write my last post’s pity fest. To be honest, I haven’t found writing easy at all. The world is overwhelmed and overwhelming. Stepping away from a writing practice was my way of holding space for others to tell more important stories.

But all stories are important. Even the small stories because they are the stories that bring us together. They are the stories we’ve all experienced.

When I was a girl – I may have still been in elementary school – my mother decided to go on strike. She set up camp on the orange Levitt Brothers sofa in our living room with our black and white television console, the afghan my great aunt had crocheted and the coffee table pulled close. My mother piled the coffee table high with supplies including several good novels, a few packs of Pall Malls, a ceramic ash tray and her ever-present plastic mug of black percolated coffee. She was never without that mug. It was white with a turquoise rim. The inside of the mug was stained dirty brown by endless cups of Maxwell House and so, from time to time, she would scrub it clean with Ajax.

My mother’s strike lasted at least a week and possibly two. During this time she refused to cook or clean.

My sister and I were old enough to walk ourselves to the bus stop in the morning and to heat up a can of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup at night and in all honesty our mother probably roused herself enough to make certain her children remained alive. It’s possible, too, that Margaret and I enjoyed the brief respite from rules and order.

What I remember most about my mother’s strike is coming home from school in the afternoon and seeing her stretched out on the couch watching Mike Douglas.

I also remember the cold silence that rose above the sound of the television and that made me walk through the house as though I was walking on shards of shattered ice.

As a girl I didn’t understand the anger between my parents or why my mother might want to teach us the lesson of what our lives might be like without her. But now, looking back, I think she believed there was no outlet for her unhappiness and no cure for her invisibility except for that orange Levitt Brothers sofa, her stack of books, a lukewarm cup of coffee to go along with her smoldering Pall Mall and Mike Douglas in the afternoon.

This is the point in the story where I am supposed to describe the lesson we all learned from my mother’s strike. The thing is, the strike ended and nobody noticed. I came home from school on a sticky afternoon and my mother was in the kitchen, once again resigned to standing over the stove with a spoon in one hand and cigarette in the other, exhaling a cloud of grey over the evening’s meal.

We didn’t know then what we know now. Maybe that is the lesson.

 

 


Satellites, Stars and the Stories We Tell

IMG_0451The last thing I remember is whale watching in May. And then it was September. That’s how quickly summer passed.

Ben and I were on a mission late last spring. We’d been working long hours and needed some time together. We needed an adventure. Until May I’d never been whale watching (don’t tell anyone but I’ve never been to Yosemite, either). We chose a 4-hour excursion with a company in Santa Cruz over an 8-hour journey out to the Farallon Islands.

Our morning began on a positive note with our first sighting just moments after leaving the dock. It was also our last sighting. I rode the waves for the next two hundred and twenty minutes with an ever-optimistic dramamine induced smile on my face while Ben tried his best to pretend he wasn’t miserable.

Back on dry land we warmed our chilly, wind-beaten bones with steaming clam chowder in a bread bowl and washed our dashed expectations down with beer.

And then, as I mentioned, it was September.

I learned a lesson that May morning about putting too much hope on circumstances well out of my control. That lesson stayed with me for one hundred and six days.

My excitement for August’s total solar eclipse began four years ago from the side of a road in Queensland, Australia about two seconds after totality signaled its end with a diamond flash of white light. Last year, after studying eclipse maps and weather patterns, Ben and I booked our hotel on the Nebraska plains and ordered our dark glasses. They were top of the line glasses. No cardboard frames for us.
But when fate intervened with an offer too good to be true we canceled our plans and chose to stay home. I was fine. Ben and I made the decision together and, besides, we’d share a partial eclipse from our little porch.

It’s true that when everyone I know headed to Oregon I began to feel the pang of regret.

But I was fine.

About ten days before the moon was due to pass in front of the sun Amazon sent me an urgent email. Our fancy glasses were worthless. That couldn’t be right. How could Amazon sell such a dangerously faulty product? Besides, I’d already worn them to look at the sun and didn’t go blind. But one test with my iPhone flashlight app proved them right. The glasses were tossed.

No problem. We’d build pinhole viewers. I was fine.

On the morning of the eclipse, it was cloudy in Palo Alto. The only image we managed to see was a multitude of fuzzy crescents through the holes of a kitchen colander.

I was inconsolable. Ridiculously inconsolable. Thinking about it now still makes me cry.

I learned a lesson that day about putting too much hope on circumstances well out of my control.

And then it was September.

I’ll admit it. Summer sort of sucked. I didn’t write. I didn’t see a whale breech. I didn’t get to share the spiritual high that totality invokes in the middle of a Nebraska wheat field with my beloved. And if my next sentence is all about how much worse the summer was for a whole bunch of other people in the world then I am completely invalidating my experience.

And where’s the lesson in that?

The lesson is here: life is not the story we write for ourselves in our head. Life is something else. Life is out there waiting. Life is out there being weird and unpredictable and funny and full of sorrow. Life is right now. This moment.

Our yoga practice asks us to be mindful. Teaches us to be present. When it’s September 2017 and I’m already making plans for the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse in Syracuse, New York it’s obvious that I’m missing something.

I’m missing the lessons yoga teaches. I’m missing life.


A Day of Rest

fullsizeoutput_3d4What does a day of rest look like? Close your eyes. Imagine it. But be practical. Given everything you have around you right now – the blessings, the responsibilities, the attachments, the gifts – what does your day of rest look like? Is it something you can create right here and now?

My day of rest begins alone with the dawn for an hour’s walk at Shoreline. It’s my meditation, these walks. My day of rest ends with Ben and I together, sharing a glass of wine on our little porch.

What happens in between?

If it is Sunday we go to the Farmer’s Market just a block away. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve been there in the three years I’ve lived on this street. The truth is I have an aversion to meandering. I can’t stroll. And that seems to be what people do at farmers’ markets. People meander, stroll and stop to compare prices of broccoli between two identical looking organic stalls before waving to friends half a block away who are sampling some juicy white fleshed peaches.

But it’s my day of rest and I’m happy to ‘fake it ‘till I make it’. I slow my natural gallop to an easy trot. Pretty soon I’m learning everything there is to know about raw brined olives in a lecture delivered by a stranger from Half Moon Bay while Ben decides between the oils the stall owner has poured into tiny paper communion cups.
An hour later we have two canvas bags filled with fresh fruit and vegetables to last us the week and 12 ounces of expensive extra virgin with which to dress the heirloom tomatoes.

And I have learned how to meander and stroll.

On my day of rest, which is Ben’s day of rest, too, we walk home to put our bounty away and then head out again for a late brunch. We find a place within walking distance where we can sit outside bathed in sunlight and surrounded by the joy of children running circles around their parents’ legs and the bright colors of summer. We linger over the meal and soak in the sounds of life – sounds so different from the ones to which we are accustomed. Layers of happy conversation, the bossy ‘cawk’ of a crow, the yip of a curly-haired doodle dog, the occasional cry of an infant. The sounds of life. A different sort of music.

On our day of rest we return from brunch and settle with a cup of tea. We read for leisure the books we started months ago. Books with pages made of paper that we turn one by one. Or we walk to the movie theater not twenty minutes away and take in an early matinee with all the other people who don’t like to stay out too late on a Sunday. Or we nap. It’s our day of rest. We can do anything we want.

Towards the end of our day of rest, Ben and I open that bottle of Pinot that’s been waiting for a moment like this. We sit on our little porch and talk to one another like two people deeply in love and separated for too long by work and commitments to other things. We talk to one another with real words that float up from our hearts and linger in the air around us. The sky changes from bright blue to dusky pink and pale orange.

What does your day of rest look like?


It’s Possible I’m a Fuddy-Duddy with No Sense of Humor…or Not

I am not the Poster Child for Perfection.  I have laughed at others’ misfortunes.  I have walked past the legless man begging for a bit of change (although, in fairness, today I bought him a chicken salad sandwich).  I have walked a block out of my way to avoid the Greenpeace kids in front of Whole Foods beseeching me to protect the environment.

Perfect? Me?  Not even close.

At times I am thoughtless and sometimes I speak before I’ve considered how my words might sound to another. In other words, I’m human.  I’m no more caring, compassionate or spiritual than my neighbor.  But, like my neighbor, I’m trying.  I’m trying to reflect on how my choices, my words and my actions impact the lives of those they reach.

And that’s why it has occurred to me that we might want to sit back and take a moment to contemplate how we use social media.

A well-intentioned friend who thought I would find it funny first delivered the joke to my inbox about a year ago.  About six months later, a new version of the same bad joke showed up, this time sent by a student.  And then, just a few days ago, a yoga teacher and friend whom I admire decided to post the joke on his Faeebook wall.

And that’s why I wish I’d spoken twelve months earlier.

I guess you’d consider the joke a sight gag.  On one side there are a series of photographs taken of yoga practitioners in various postures looking beautiful and calm and aligned.  These are juxtaposed by stolen images (I say stolen because it’s obvious the subjects did not know they were being photographed) of men who appear to be living rough. They may be drunk or on drugs.  They are all either sleeping or unconscious and their bodies have fallen in a way that mimics the postures being demonstrated by the yogis.  I don’t want to post a link.  If you’re curious Google “drunk yoga”.

My family was touched by alcoholism and drug dependency and maybe that’s why I can’t laugh.  I can’t laugh at something so cruel and heartless.  Something that demonstrates an unbelievable lack of compassion.

Then again, it could be that with all my imperfections I’m also a fuddy-duddy with no sense of humor.

Either way, maybe we should sit back and consider what we pass around on Facebook. How often have we reflexively shared a post, an image or a joke?  Do our posts speak to who we are?  Are they a reflection of how we relate to the world and to one another?  Do they add something to the dialogue or are they cheap shots?


Heart, Soul and Purple Doc Marten Boots

I prefer to not surround myself with too much stuff.  I hesitate to put down roots and hold the belief that I can pack up and take off at a moment’s notice.  A friend tells me I’m looking for something that I haven’t found.  I’m more inclined to think I suffer from chronic commitment issues and spiritual claustrophobia.

And so I clear my closet of clothes not worn for years.  I purge the shelves of books rarely opened and cull the desk of knick-knacks whose sole purpose for existing is to catch dust.

With the space around me cleared, so somehow is my heart.  Yet what I’ve done is create a fleeting illusion of space that requires tender care.  Only mindful vigilance will prevent a new collection of bits and bobs from building a jumbled barrier that distracts and blocks my path.

It has been one hundred and eighty days since my last hefty donation to Goodwill. Pride in accomplishment allowed my guard to drop.    The space around me has filled. As a consequence, so has my spirit.  It’s time.   Time to plunge into the mess.  Time to choose.  Time to let go.  Again.

The questions I’m asking are simple.  What do I need for my life to have heart and meaning?  How many layers do I have to strip away before I find Truth?

I am beginning to realize that my constant craving to pare back the physical layers is not enough.  Taking away the stuff around me – breaking down the barriers – isn’t enough.  Maybe my friend is right.  Maybe I am looking for something.  But I won’t find it in the space where my purple Doc Marten boots used to be.


Home Sweet Home

House sitting is a little bit like grand parenting (not that I have any experience being a grandparent, but I can imagine).  What I mean is that I move into a home, look after the fine furnishings, the houseplants and the mail.  I lovingly care for the cat, dog, or Koi in question and then – after a few days or a few weeks – I hand it all back.

House sitting is also a bit discombobulating.

Returning home over the weekend after my last extended gig, I believe I felt as disoriented and jet-lagged as the homeowners.  I had grown accustomed to their lovely house, the big kitchen, and the shaded deck where I shared meals with my friend.

It became very comfortable.

And now I’m back in the apartment that I am of course very grateful for but I have to admit – it feels pretty small.  It’s taken me a few days to figure out how to live in the space again.  I can’t remember where my “things” are, and I can’t figure out why I have so much stuff crammed into 200-square-feet.

It’s time to clear the decks.

I want to peel back the layers of detritus – the physical and psychic debris that litters my path and slows the journey.