Monthly Archives: November 2016

Hey, so how was your Thanksgiving? My sister and I were saying we’ve never seen so many articles about how to cope with the holidays. Oh, sure, they  always surface around this time, but they are usually more along the lines of “Tips for a Better Holiday Season,” and mostly they just tell you not to drink at your work holiday party and to fill up on healthy foods before you go to any party. I’ve often thought these articles should be called “Tips for the Dullest Holiday Season.” If it’s not about the booze and the food, then what, I ask you, are the holidays about? Well, this year they seem to be about avoiding emotional trauma at Thanksgiving dinner, encouraging people to set boundaries on conversation topics, and giving people permission to walk away if it gets too out of control. The sheer number of these articles and the level of detail is a tad unsettling.

I am grateful that I didn’t need those articles. Being in a family that doggedly avoids conflict can sometimes be unhealthy, but let me tell you, right now we’re looking like rock stars…you know, conflict-avoiding rock stars, not the kind who require the green M&M’s to be removed and who put holes hotel room walls.

The other thing that was unusual is that I got a lot of “Happy Thanksgiving” texts. I usually get 4 or 5, from the usual suspects. This year, my phone kept buzzing most of the day, and I guess only a New Englander would find that disconcerting, but there it is. People get their panties in a twist when some of us say it’s because the election scared the bejesus out of us, but c’mon, you’ve read this blog–I certainly haven’t magically become a better, more lovable person the past year. This one is squarely on the election’s shoulders.

But that about sums up where I am–seeking tips for trauma and reaching out to others. I’m still working on my list of things I am grateful for. My go-to list seems inadequate to the task, and I’m not quite ready to go all out and start naming the parts of our democracy that work or historical figures who made it through really rough times that I will now cling to.

But I also know gratitude doesn’t work like that. So, I will say I am grateful for the Thanksgiving with family and friends, the lively and  funny conversation, wine, good food, a couple of good rounds of rummy and Apples to Apples, and FaceTiming with my sister who wasn’t with us. And I’m thankful for all of you who read this.

That’s all I got today, and for now, it’s enough.

 

Nice, My Ass

Before the election — I think this is going to be my new way to mark time — I declared to a friend, “I’m tired of being nice, screw that. I’m not going to be mean, but I’m not going out of my way to be nice. I’m done.” It was in the context of having spent my life being the “nice” person for the worst possible reason: to get people’s approval. Nothing soothes the old insecurities like the slightly superior stance of, “Everyone likes me better than you because I’m nicer and you’re a nasty piece of work.” Plus, being nice means you can never blame me for anything. Of course, there is a price to be paid; dysfunctional, manipulative people eat nice people for breakfast, and before you know it you’re waiting in the getaway car while said manipulator is shoplifting for fun. The other price is that being nice is tiring, and of course, complete bullshit.

And then my perimenopause came along, and Anger swaggered in and kicked Nice to the curb and dumped a drink on her head. At first I thought it was a common symptom of perimenopause, but when I started to talk to my peri friends, I began to get a certain arched eyebrow look when I described how I wanted to pummel a woman for wearing a coat with an odd graphic design. Doesn’t everyone? They’d nod with sympathy and a splash of alarm and confess only to moodiness. Hmmmmm. Now let’s see, a lifetime of being “nice,” and my peri takes a wrong turn onto a rickety wooden bridge across a canyon and catches on fire. While it might take a literature professor to make sense of that whacky metaphor, it doesn’t take a postdoc in clinical psychology to figure out the anger part. It’s that annoying, yet necessary human tendency to make sure we never miss a developmental stage. If you were a teen having to take on adult responsibilities and you haven’t worked that out, your brain will encourage you to run around during midlife acting like a clubbing and drinking teenager. I admit there’s no hard data on this, but trust me, there’s no escaping. Sooner or later skipped stages come back to bite you in the ass.

At first the anger freaked me out because it was so random and seemed to come out of nowhere. Ha ha ha, that’s a good one, isn’t it? “Nowhere,” aka a lifetime of working too hard to be nice. Slowly I learned to notice it, let it be, and not let it get me booked for assault with a deadly coat. As my self-confidence took root, though, I felt something else: a profound sense of relief as I realized I didn’t need to be nice. I was cool just being me. Even better, I didn’t give a flip if people liked me or not.

And that’s how I came to tell my friend I was done with being nice. It felt good, it felt right. Except for my friends who are grandfathered in, if you want to gain access to my good graces, you’re going to have to earn it.

Then the election happened.

After the shock, fear, and desire to knock over a liquor store peaked and ebbed, I was left with the hard truth. Dammit, I have to be nice again. The angry haters are having a field day, and I want no part of that. Plus, I have a kid, so I have to be a good role model — it’s a real drag sometimes. But I slowly realized I don’t need to be nice, which would be useless anyway. What I need to be is kind.

Definitions: Nice  = pleasant, agreeable, satisfactory . What could be more useless and annoying? Kind = having or showing a friendly, generous, and considerate nature. As the guard at Emerald City of Oz said, “That’s a horse of a different color!”

I’m done being pleasant and agreeable. Being generous and considerate is where it’s at for me now. So as the news of Trump’s transition team threatened to overwhelm me because I started to add up all the protests I was going to have to attend, I realized the true antidote was to be kind, right now. Rather than go home from work in my usual state of taking refuge in the anonymous urban environment and not notice anything or anyone, I could be kind. As it often seems to do for me, the universe gave me three encounters to practice.

The first was at Whole Foods. I put my package of stroopwaffles on the counter, divine thin waffle wafers hugging a filling of thin cinnamon caramel. The cashier was a woman of color, and she playfully put them behind her back, and said, “Ooooh these are so good! I’m keeping them for myself!” Usually, I just smile and nod, nicely, but it was much better this time to laugh and say sincerely, “I know, they are so good!” And I prevented myself from adding, they are even better warm from a street vendor in Amsterdam — she probably already knew that.

I left the store, crossed the street, and was approached by a slightly disheveled man of color carrying a small bag of possessions. He started talking in a soft voice, and I caught a few phrases, “new to the neighborhood” and “having a hard time.” Usually I walk by with a quick, “Sorry,” as I continue on my way. But I stopped, looked at him, and since he hadn’t yet articulated what he wanted, I asked, “Do you need help?”

“I need to eat!” I said “OK,” and handed him the first bill in my wallet, a $5. He thanked me and pulled me in for a hug. I believe I hugged him harder than he hugged me. We pulled away, and then we pressed our heads together.

He said, “God bless you. If you need anything, I can help you.” Ah, but you already have, mister.

I got off the train and as I was walking to my car, a brown-skinned boy, maybe 10 or 11 called to me, “Do you have the time?”

“It’s almost six,” I said, and then I remembered how my son and the younguns prefer the exact digital time, so I corrected myself. “It’s 5:55.”

“Good!” he said, “I have to be home by 6!”

“Can you make it?”

“Yes!” he said as he ran off in the direction of his house. And I stood and watched him and appreciated in that moment that he wasn’t afraid to ask a stranger for the time, nor was he afraid to make his way home in the dark.

So far, so good. only 1,489 days to go.

Time to Get Busy

I went to bed last Tuesday night having a déjà vu from a  similar election night in 1988, George Bush (H.W., senior) vs Michael Dukakis. I was a young and naïve liberal terrified by a Bush win, which would continue the horror I’d felt as a teenager with Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980. I only survived that because my history teacher, who I respected because of his deadpan sense of humor, assured me in all seriousness that politics are a pendulum that swings back-and-forth. I was also somewhat inoculated by that teenage elixir of disdain for all who came before me and the hubris that nothing truly horrible would ever happen to me.

Eight years later in 1988, I was desperate to have the pendulum swing back to the left. Things weren’t looking too good when I went to bed that night. In the morning, I made a deliberate effort to wake up before the alarm, turn it off, and spend a few blissful moments with time and information suspended. And in that moment I tried to draw strength from the silence and the idea that all things were still possible.

And then I turned on the radio and was immediately devastated.

My naïveté then was thinking the world as I knew it was over with Bush as president. Little did I know how much worse it would get with George W. Bush (the son), and then how much better it would get — from my perspective — with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

So last Tuesday night I went to bed laughing at my 20-something self; how cute is it that I thought two Bush presidents were the worst we could get. When you are a liberal pining for the Republicans to look more like Bush senior, you are pretty well fucked, my friend. Wednesday morning I repeated the ritual: woke up before the alarm and tuned into the exquisite place of not knowing. I couldn’t quite get to a place where all things were possible. I’ve been kicked around the block a few too many times to be able to muster that kind of protective naïveté.

I got up, I picked up my phone, and my stomach lurched at the alerts proclaiming Trump had won. After dry heaving, I went through a rapid fire set of emotions — fear, doubt, disgust, and then landed squarely on resolution, fueled by anger. And it was then that I appreciated my 51 years on this planet. I know things for sure that my teen and 20-something self did not. I have way more confidence, tools, and resources than they had. And I also have a special kind of anger, thanks to perimenopause, and it’s not something you want to screw around with. It comes from a deep, hormone-fueled place, the same hormonal place that pushes a 9-pound baby out of a hole the size of a lemon. We’re talking lifeforce here, and I’ve got a mainline to it.

I’m smart enough to be afraid for all us who Trump has maligned, and as the days pass, I’m even more fearful of the pack of Dementers he’s allowing to be assembled as his transition team. It’s like Dick Cheney times 5. But as someone who went to rallies for the abortion rights in the ’80s, I take it as a sign of progress that there will be also rallies for people of color, sexual orientation, and religion to fight for the rights that have been gained since Bush senior. To quote my favorite movie, Fried Green Tomatoes, “I’m older than you and I have more insurance.” I’m lucky enough to live in liberal Massachusetts, and I will do what I need to do to fight this. I don’t have small children or a partner to consider. I’ve been kicked around by life some, and I’m stronger for it. I’m in the perfect place to hold the line

Here are the things I’ve done so far. If you are so inclined, do what you can with what you have. In this fight, everyone’s contributions count, big or small, words, money, actions.

  1. Don’t forget self-care. This is a marathon not a sprint, and we’ve got to outlast them.
  2.  I’m lucky to be able to rearrange my budget to give to Black Lives Matter, Human Rights Campaign, ACLU of Massachusetts, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
  3. I saw a great illustrated guide of 4 simple step to help victims of harassment. The creator, a Paris-based artist, focused on Islamophobia because that is what she has experienced in Paris, but it works for any situation when a person is being harassed. You engage that person with small talk, and don’t acknowledge or engage the attacker. Check out the whole explanation.
  4. I’m planning on going to a women’s march on January 21 in Washington, DC, a day after the inauguration. I’ll go wherever else I can.
  5. Be as kind as you can to yourself and others.
  6. I’ve gained strength and hope from the many people who are engaging, helping, listening, and fighting for all of our rights.

So, Trump my message to you is this: if you or those around you are interested in dismantling human rights of any kind, than I dare you to go ahead and grab my pussy, but I warn you–it’s got teeth.

No Skin Off My Teeth

What do you think or feel when I say the word, “dentist”? Some of you are probably curled up in a ball practicing breathing exercises, some of you are wistfully thinking of all the other things you could have done with the money that has kept your chompers in good order, and a few of you who are genetically blessed are laughing because you don’t believe in dentists.

True confession. I love the dentist. Outside of 4 or 5 cavities I had as a kid, I can go to the dentist with very little fear that I will end up flat on my back with numb mouth full of instruments that set designers use in movies featuring alien probing. But that’s not the main reason why I love the dentist, although it certain helps.

And I can’t say I had a fantastic childhood dentist experience. Growing up our dentist had bad teeth. As a kid we joked about it, but kids just accept what is, and it didn’t occur to me until I was an adult that maybe, just maybe, in my town of 60,000 people, there may have been another dentist working in town, perhaps one without bad teeth. But then I realized ours may also have been the cheapest dentist in town, and when you have 4 kids and no fluoride in the water, cheap probably trumps quality. And to Dr. Bad Teeth’s credit, those fillings he put in 40 years ago are still in there, so maybe having a dentist with good teeth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Probably the creepier thing about him was that he gave us a plastic iris corsage every single time we went to see him. They were all over our house, and they ended up in a lot of our play. I mean what else were we supposed to do with those things? How many opportunities do kids have to wear plastic corsages? It begs so many questions, doesn’t it? Like, why irises? Did he win a 1,000 of them in a raffle? If we got different flowers each time, maybe we could have made some sort of plastic flower bouquet or a wreath–something homemade and ugly and perfect for Mother’s Day.  But I mean who makes an ugly plastic wreath out of just irises. So tacky, right?

In college I had the best dentist experience ever, and it was totally all about the drugs. I needed two of my wisdom teeth pulled, and lucky for me the college health plan sent me to a real, private dental practice run a by a dentist with nice teeth and everything. They gave me this little blue pill that made me sooooooo happy, he could have pulled all my teeth out, and I wouldn’t have cared. He actually did hold up the bloody tooth at one point and asked me if I wanted to keep it. I’m notoriously squeamish, but all I did was giggle, and say no.

You might think that’s when I decided to love the dentist, but you’d be wrong. A few short years later my other two wisdom teeth were ready to come out, only by this time I was working full-time and paying for my own dentist insurance, which was cheaply supplied by the area dental school. I know they need to practice on someone, but I think they should just practice on each other or pay their victims/patients rather than the other way around. Or at least for things like tooth extraction. I got my teeth cleaned there, and I will give the hot dental student credit for getting me to floss. He gazed lovingly at my x-rays, then turned his handsome face to me and said wistfully, “You’d have such great teeth, if only you flossed.” And just like that I became a flosser for life. Maybe it helped that I hadn’t had a date in years, and it was the closest thing I’d had to a compliment from a man in a long time.

But tooth extraction? Not so much. But I was young and naive, and I flounced into the exam room, remembering the Best Tooth Extraction Ever. I don’t know if they didn’t have access to the fabulous blue pill, but the pill they gave me was much more slow-acting. Plus, Dr. No Experience didn’t really wait that long for it to kick in. They should hand out flash cards to the students like, “Wait 20-30 minutes for the pill to kick in; do not go ahead based on patient’s silly answers.” He came in and asked me a question. Now, granted, I gave him a silly answer that may have seemed like I was ready to have my teeth pulled, but I’m a silly person by nature, and believe me, I had miles to go before I was silly enough to giggle at a bloody tooth. But a second later, I was flat on my back with a numb mouth full of those instruments that set designers use in movies featuring alien probing. Oh, and that non-blue pill was also like a bad drug trip; rather than dreaming of rainbows and unicorns, I felt like I was choking and struggling the entire time. So fun.

So when did I really start loving the dentist? When I became a working mother with a small child, that’s when I realized the potential of the dentist office. It did help that thanks to some luck and Dr. Dreamboat Floss Smooth Talker, I walked in knowing there was little chance of some stress-inducing pronouncement of a root canal, gum graft, or some other dental horror.

Once at the dentist I could step away from the demanding, sticky, repetitive world of working and small children. I slid into the cushioned chair with a foot rest, not unlike a lounge chair at the pool. After a few easy questions that were not repeated over and over, I got to relax to soft, cheesy top 40 easy listening music, while my now silent companion lowered the chair into a position that induces sleep. For the next 30-40 blissful minutes, no one wanted anything from me, no one spit up on me or pooped on me or had a fever on the day I really, really, really had to be at work. I just had to keep my mouth open. Sure there was mild poking and scraping, but that was still way better than getting a toddler head-butt or hair pull. All too soon it was over, but I got a brand new toothbrush (no plastic irises!) and the relaxation equivalent of a weekend away at a spa.

Even now that I have a teen and a much less demanding and sticky life, I still get that blissful feeling of being in a cushioned chair coccoon. It’s almost better than the little blue pill. Almost.