Monthly Archives: March 2017

Dammit

Don’t you hate it when life tries to teach you stuff?

Life, knocking at the door: “Hey, it’s me, here for your lesson. It’s time.”

Me:”Oh, hey, hi. No thanks, I’m good here with my glass of wine and Netflix. I think the people upstairs with the endlessly barking dog could use your help, though. Wow, that is seriously annoying. Go get ’em!”

Life:  “No, I’m here for you.”

Me: “Look, I get it. You’ve got a boss you have to answer to. I’m really fine. Oh, remember all that stuff we learned a few years ago? I was curled in a ball and cried a lot? Good times! So that counts, right? I learned stuff, I’m not curled in a ball anymore. It’s all good, right? I mean, seriously, that dog. He barks constantly when they aren’t home. Have a heart and think of him. His owners surely need to learn a few things.”

Life opens the door and walks in, looks at me with raised eyebrows. “Really?”

Me: “Awwww, dammit.”

Yeah, I really hate that shit. So, we had the election, and the inauguration (I can’t even capitalize it in good conscience), and whatever the hell this is now. I’ve felt angry, nauseous, adrift, overwhelmed, and I’ve been eating too much. And that’s the part that really hurts — especially after I worked so hard long to lose weight. And I would like to point out that my son recently got sick enough to stay home. That never happened during the Obama years. Just sayin’. The facts don’t lie. Oh, ow, see? You can’t even joke about that stuff now.

So, what?!? What exactly, Life, do you have to teach me right now? Can’t you see it’s hitting the fan, like the paint on Spin art? I had to work this weekend to meet a deadline, my son is having senioritis, two great coworkers are retiring soon, my siblings are meeting this week to sort out how to best help our parents who are in their late 80s — old age is a riot, isn’t it? — and my dating life is in the toilet. And this morning the piece de resistance was getting a familiar pain in my left eye, and seeing the telltale bloodshot eyeball. Of course, scleritis. Why wouldn’t I get scleritis right now? Don’t worry, folks, it’s not dangerous, just annoying and requires lots of ibuprofen for 10 days.

Life just looked at me with that “are you finished?” mom face for a few minutes without speaking. I hate when she does that.

And then I couldn’t help but recount all the recent encounters of my friends showing up in my life when I need them, and the fact that my siblings can meet and work together, the substantive conversation I had with my son about how he’s really doing. And on top of that, two things that are helping ground me in this new era. And that’s the life lesson, tucked into the gratitude. Until I can find how to ground myself, I’m a liberal fall leaf getting carried down the orange Cheeto River.

One thing was the workshop I just finished on bystander intervention. I will blog more details soon, but in the meantime, if you are upset that people are feeling more free to say hateful crap, it’s a great thing to have a few techniques and a plan in your back pocket. As a reserved person in public (dancing is totally different!), all my life I have thought if I only were more bold, I could be helpful in a situation where someone is being targeted with hateful, sexist, racist, or, heck, even drunken speech. Guess what? It’s all about knowing yourself and using your strengths.

Dammit–know myself!?! As all my half-assed attempts to meditate and center myself flash though my mind, Life starts to chuckle — she’s not the most empathetic person. So before she comes knocking on your door, too, if you are in the Boston area, check out Rona Fischman’s class. If you’re not, try to find one near you.

The second thing that helped was reading a book called, Just the Facts, by Davis T.Z. Mindich. Well, I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s still helping. The subtitle is: How “objectivity” came to define American journalism. Apparently it started in the 1830s, and that was a violent era under Andrew Jackson (“I was born for the storm and calm does not suit me.”) with mobs of middle class white men dueling and caning people and disrupting antislavery meetings as they tried to preserve their, um, privilege. It did make me twitch a bit, but it made me thankful dueling and mob violence is slightly less prevalent now. In this world of fake news and the prevalence of the perceived equality of everyone’s opinion on social media and blogs, it’s a good place to get grounded in.

So I have some history to look back to, and I have learned I can dig around in my reserved bag of tricks to call out inappropriate remarks to help others both in work and in stranger situations. Rona emphasized anything you can do to prevent small incursions on civilized discourse helps it from becoming a bigger problem. And you have to know yourself to do it.

Me, holding the door open: “Thanks so much Life; you were right! I guess it’s good to be uncomfortable sometimes. It helps you grow.”

Life, settling comfortably into one of my chairs with a drink next to her, crosses her legs and squints dispassionately at me through the smoke of her recently lit cigarette.

Me: “Right. What do you want to watch on Netflix?”

 

Hamster in a Blanket

My friend George told me there’d be days like this. When I spoke with him 3 years ago about starting my blog, he knew me well enough to know I can get too focused on always bringing my A-game to my writing, or at least die trying. Having done social media for his fabulous knitting and crochet pattern business 10 Hours or Less, he also knew some days I’d be lucky to get out of bed and get dressed, never mind post some quality writing that will make people laugh and cry and give them a push to get their own ass out of bed. Some days a B or even B minus-game will do.

George is a wise man, and today is one of those days. So I give you Marble, the amazingly cute hamster in a blanket, because that is all I got this week. Oh, and hey, I’ve been doing this blog for 3 years — thanks for being a part of it.

Marble2

Take a Right, Left, Then a Dogleg at the Dunkin’

This week I wanted to lighten things up, and the universe gave me what I wanted.

I was walking to the train after work last week, and as I waited at a light to cross the street, a young man sort of looked in my direction, looked away, and then looked back. He was cute, so I entertained myself by thinking he was going to flirt and turned my head, smiled, and looked full at him. He noticed, and asked, “Can you tell me how to get to the North End?”

The look on my face must have been that New England “can’t get there from here” look. Depending on where you are in Boston when the hapless, lost person asks you, giving directions can be almost cruel. “Follow Cambridge Street until you come to the third Dunkin’ Donuts on the left — the road curves and becomes Tremont Street, but don’t worry about that. Just ignore it and follow the road…” By this point, the person has that blank look on their face, and you both know they’re not going to even make it to the first Dunkin’.

I pondered which of the ways I could tell him that would be least likely to lead him astray. Then he said in a more pronounced New York accent, which I hadn’t caught before, “This place is worse than New York!”

I started laughing. Encouraged, he proceeded; “There’s no math, just old English names!”

This tickled me to no end. My work in hospital communications is the sole reason I even admit numbers exist, and over the past 9 years, I’ve come to appreciate the usefulness of numbers in the world. However, make no mistake. I’m a word girl through and through, and my world is rocked by letters and words. But I have never considered streets being math- or word-oriented. I was delighted to be in a word city.

I laughed even harder and added, “Yes, just old-ass roads with no logic.”

Now he was into it, laughing too, as he said with the perfect New York point of view: “Yeah, it’s like, fuck you, take a right!”

I got my laughter under control enough to point out the way that made the most visual sense–not the way that would have been shorter.

“Walk down this street, and at the light take a right (I skipped the ‘fuck you’). Follow that road, you’ll go under an overpass, and you’ll think I’m sending you to the devil, but just stay on it. Then you’ll see Faneuil Hall — ”

At that his face lit up. “I know that place!”

“Great!” I wished him well, and we both walked in opposite directions, laughing our asses off.

So, this is my new way of directing people in Boston: “Look, there’s no math, just old-ass English names. Fuck you, take a right.”

Image credit: From this delightful blog about Boston cartography. It’s how you have to drive to get from a point A to point B in Boston. You can see why we walk!

Racism: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

I’ve been thinking a lot about racism lately, and that’s my unfair advantage as a white woman: I get to think about it in an abstract way when I have time, interest, and energy. I don’t have to step out the door every day and deal with it myself or worry about a male child or a man in my life being followed, threatened, or shot for simply existing.

I’m a bleeding heart liberal from a genetic pool of people who are pre-disposed to giving others breathing room–the Dutch, so that shit’s genetic and deep. And right now pretty much everyone and every group is under fire, so how’s a lefty girl to choose? There is a macabre buffet of social, political, and environmental issues to choose to fight for. It’s an embarrassment of riches: immigrants, women’s reproduction, the environment, the political collapse of the Democratic Party that lost its focus on helping people without a voice. And then there’s the stuff to fight against, like white supremacists, people who shout using all caps in electronic communications, and Kellyanne Conway–call me conservative, but I don’t believe cyborgs should have full human rights until they can be better calibrated for balance, oh, and have a functioning brain.

So in this Cheeto flea world I’ve been darting around like a dog chasing rabid squirrels and collapsing in a corner panting until I catch my breath. Then another Cheeto flea tweet crosses my Facebook feed and I’m off and running again.

And I don’t even like exercising.

So what can I do? Where should I put my energy, because at 51, I can’t be giving it away for free like I did when I was 25. Except if you’re a hot man, then please step up to the front of the line.

Where was I? Ah, right, stop and focus. Recently a few conversations with my friend Sonia have helped clarify for me that race underpins so much of this–this fear that some white people have of losing ground they only got by 1) existing and 2) pushing down everyone else. This fear made Cheeto flea number 45. This fear continues to openly hate Obama, which is the most fucked up kind of ignorance and blatant racism. I can fight for gays, women, immigrants, and religions, but if Blacks are still considered subhuman, then everything else I do is just a Band-Aid. I should know. I went for marriage counseling around year 10, and that Band-Aid prevented us from getting to the root cause. 10 years after that, we got divorced. I’ve learned I can’t wish this crap away or think it’s one and done. That’s just for romantic comedies, and that is some of the fakest news ever.

Meeting Sonia in college and having some illuminating discussions about everything from rock ‘n’ roll to race inspired me to later read a lot of Black history that I was never taught in school, like the Civil Rights Movement. In 1986, smack in the middle of my conversations with Sonia, Spike Lee came on to the scene with “She’s Gotta Have It.” That was also life-changing–a whole movie about black people just doing regular things like trying to find love from a Black perspective. That shit was radical. Still is.

Eventually Sonia moved away, and I didn’t meet another Black person. Well that’s not true. I bonded with a nice, funny guy at a bad job. We had a lot of fun at work, and I still make this great potato salad recipe he gave me. I proposed that he and his wife hang out with my and my then husband a few times, but he politely declined. I thought at the time of something Sonia had told me about Black people having trouble trusting white people–some of us are pretty sketchy, after all. But now that I’m thinking about it, the same thing happened a few years later with a white couple, so maybe we were just a boring white couple no one wanted to hang around, Black or white.

You see how confusing this race thing can be?

After Sonia left, the gay people decided they did want to hang around with me. That worked because I don’t really think like a straight, white person. I never was big on getting married, although I did try it–it didn’t take. I’m not into working for big companies, climbing ladders, or having a big house. My one kid is great, but if he were not possible, I would have been OK not having a kid. My Moroccan friend once told me, “You’re a weird American.” And she was a weird Moroccan, so she would know. I got to know the struggles of gay people trying to define themselves outside of society’s norms–I was trying to do that too. If you’ve ever heard someone’s coming out story, which usually involves the terror of revealing your true self to those closest to you, knowing you may be rejected out of hand, then, straight, white people like me should be grateful for what we have. I just wanted to work in a nonprofit and be a writer, which meant squatting on the outer edges of American prosperity–most families don’t kick you out for that.

And so I have been to the Gay Pride parade in Boston every year, and was at Cambridge City Hall when they handed out the first gay marriage licenses, and benefited from lots of gay men giving me their cast off furniture. And then we got a Black president, so what could be better? Gay marriage! Black president! This lefty girl was snug as a bug in a rug.

Until, um, now. Cue “Home Alone” screaming kid–note that he’s white.

I’m getting back to where I started all those years ago freshman year talking into the night with Sonia about the difference between black and white hair and ashy skin. She was brave enough to let in this crazy white girl into her life and that changed me forever for the better. It’s time for me to speak up and talk about race, rock ‘n’ roll, and hair–I learned from the gay rights movement that’s what being an ally is. I have the socially acceptable attributes like being white and straight, so I need to use my ninja skills to help others and look at my own biases along the way. Yes, even the Spike Lee-loving liberal has biases. Nobody needs a clueless ally, and white, straight cluelessness can be the worst.

So what are you being called to do? We will most likely intersect and join up at some point in a big-ass massive rally that could maybe fill Rhode Island. We’re going to need all our passion and commitment to make these long-term changes. And while you’re doing your thing, try to also to hear out whatever it is others are saying, even if it makes you uncomfortable. When I hear about the environment, sometimes I want to yell, “I stopped using aerosols, I recycle, I cut up the damn plastic rings around a six-pack of soda! What more do you want from me!?” And when I put my big girl pants on, I can say, yeah, I know there’s more to it than that. Fight, and listen, and if all else fails, laugh at yourself, and keep moving.

Photo: Sonia and I getting our U2 groove on 2 summers ago.