Good, good, good

This post is for my grandfather, Ervin Ott, who just turned 86 and who reminds me, every time we talk that life is, at its core, Good, good, good…

Happy belated birthday, grandpa. I hope you get your wish.

grandpa and his girls

Grandpa Ott getting ready to raise a little hell with his great granddaughters

 

My grandfather was never a man of many words. He was a man made of long silences and gentle stillness. He spoke when he needed to, but he never went on. It was as if the Great Depression had trained him to ration his words the way his family had once rationed food and cloth, as though if he used too many words, he might one day run out.

And then, one day, he did.

It was a cold, winter night. Snow covered everything for miles around my grandparent’s cabin. My grandfather went out to get more wood for the fire. No one noticed that it was taking longer than usual. He was prone to going walk-about or simply sitting out on the porch to silently gaze at the stars and trees and animals that wandered by.

Eventually my grandmother heard the scratching at the door, scratching that wouldn’t stop.

When she opened it, she saw my grandfather, lying on the ground, near frozen.

When the paramedics came, they told her that he had suffered a major stroke. The only thing that had saved him was the extreme cold, it had slowed the process down and, with luck, he would not lose all of his functionality.

My grandfather, never a man of many words, returned to us with what we thought was only one.

“Good.” Usually said in a long string, “Good, good, good…”

good life with a great grandgirl

How can this be anything but good?

It was how he answered questions, how he expressed his mood, how he asked for more, or less…

“Good, good, good…”

grandpa and his great grandgirl

Not sure who has who, but either way, it’s all good.

When I called and told him how his great granddaughters were doing in school or with their new hobbies, I could hear the smile shining through his “good, good, good…”

When I told him about struggles or challenges, his tone would change and I would know that, “Good, good, good…” really meant, “Enough, enough, enough…” not to me, but to the world, “Enough, leave my granddaughter be…”

And then, after months of “Good, good, good” we learned that he had saved a few more words, a few choice words. Someone hurt his wife and he was there in a flash, “Shit, piss, goddamn it all!” he roared.

Once things were back to normal, and his wife was okay, everything was “Good, good, good…” again.

He still keeps those other words, for the rare moments when everything is wrong, but most days, everything is, “Good, good, good…”

When he heard his daughter was returning to the USA after more than a decade away it was, “Good, good, good…”

When he got another great granddaughter, she was, “Good, good, good…”

When his wife passed, without him there to hold her hand, he still said it was “Good, good, good…” with tears streaming down his face.

grandma great granddaughter

Grandma and her great grandgirlgoyel

Marriages, funerals, births, illnesses, business successes and failures, political shenanigans, it’s all, “Good, good, good…”

My grandfather, never a man of many words, held on to just a few. And now he sits, like a wise laughing Buddha and reminds us that most days, most things, even when they seem challenging and hard and ugly, deep down, are actually “Good, good, good…”

I think about the words I use, the words I choose and I think about my grandfather, never a man of many words, and how in that moment when his world began to go black, the word he grabbed, the word he held onto, the word he chose to be his life raft was, “Good.”

It reminds me to take a moment to see the world through his eyes, to focus not on the suffering he experienced, or the hardships he faced, but on all the good that came from it. Sure there’s still the occasional Shit, Piss, Goddamn moment, but day after day, month after month, the Good, good, goods far outweigh the shit and the piss.

In the end, joy wins.

In the end, St. Francis of Assisi was right, “All the darkness in the world cannot put out the light of one small candle.”

In the end, it isn’t the shit and the piss that matter, but the good, good, good that we make from it.

looking for good in all the right places

Ready to experience all the good!

(This post was inspired by my mom, who reminded me how remarkable it was that “Good” was the one word my grandfather chose to describe his world. And by my friend, the insanely talented artist, Bryce Widom who has begun claiming 15 minutes a day to free-sketch without agenda. This post is the result of my Bryce inspired 15 minutes of free-writing this morning.)

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Filed under Naive idealism, Things that work

Musings on the purpose of life.

I suppose I should start by asking if life even has a purpose before I dive into what that purpose might be.

And the truth is – I don’t really think life does have a purpose. I think it’s totally random and ultimately meaningless in the REALLY BIG PICTURE scale.

But… We don’t live life on that scale, we live life in the here and now – and here and now, everything we do has meaning, and consequences. In the here and now, we are all struggling to define ourselves, to make our mark, to create our legacies, to mean something.

On that level – yes, our lives have purpose.

The hitch is that, we have to create that purpose, because there is no god, no deity, no greater power doing that work for us. We are here, what we do with that is up to us.

the meaning of life

What does your life mean?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and talking around it in various circles. I’ve heard some interesting things.

My dad made a statement recently that there is far more suffering in the world than joy because joy is fleeting while suffering tends to last.

Both my husband and I took issue with that – and yes, we’re privileged white folk living in middle class America, so our level of suffering is pretty low – but even still, I’ve done quite a bit of traveling, I spent my 21st birthday not out at the bars drinking until I puked, but in a refugee camp on the Thai/Burma border and in that place where I thought I should see only despair, what I mostly saw was joy – joy in playing a game of cane ball, joy in friendship, joy in the little day-to-day things, like shoes that fit and food on the plate, that my middle-class American upbringing has made me blind to…

joy in a refugee camp thirst aid

Unbridled joy in a refugee camp

I think from the outside we see much more suffering than is really there in the world.

Suffering makes headlines, suffering fills the news reels, suffering – far more even than sex – sells.

This is not to say that suffering doesn’t exist, or that we don’t need to worry about refugee kids, or starving families, or injustice because look – those kids are smiling, it is simply acknowledging that despite all of the suffering – joy can be found nearly everywhere we look.

I’ve heard from another group of friends that our purpose here is to accumulate goods, property, material wealth… And that strikes me as odd because when I look at the suffering in the world, most of it is caused by this pursuit.

First, there is the obvious – that in order to accumulate material wealth we have to take it from someone else. Sometimes we trade fairly, sometimes we steal it, often we try to make our theft look like fair trade. Those acts of theft leave suffering in their wake.

Also, in order to accumulate material wealth, we have to take the materials from the earth – and it’s not usually a pretty process. There’s a lot of destruction that goes into our need to have a constantly growing economy based on consumption. That environmental destruction and degradation creates additional suffering.

Last, there is the suffering of the pursuers for whom there will never be enough, because someone else will always appear to have more. The constant striving and never fully achieving “enough” creates another layer of suffering.

Then last night, I was talking with my husband who is feeling pressure to decide “what he wants to be when he grows up” and is sick and tired of the idea that our careers should define us, and that we have to base who we are on what we do to make money to accumulate things.

He pointed out that when he dies and his life flashes before his eyes, he doubts he’s going to be taking a tally of the shit he acquired.

Much more likely, he will see the faces of the people he affected for good or ill.

If there is any judgement coming, it will be based, not on how much crap he owns or how much money he made, but on whether he made life better or worse for the people around him.

If there is a legacy to be left, it won’t be in a pile of material goods, but in the stories people tell and the memories they share of him.

And when he dies, and those images flash before him, and those judgements are passed – he wants to be remembered for the smiles he shared, the smiles he helped create, the good moments he helped others enjoy.

When his life is weighed, he wants the joy he created to outweigh the suffering.

And I had my Ah-ha!

Because he’s right.

At the end of the day, at the end of my life, what I want to be remembered for and measured by is not how much stuff I hoarded – I am not a Viking trying to buy my way in to Valhalla with my accumulated mountain of useless baubles – but how many lives I touched and by how well I followed the campsite rule of leaving each day better than I found it.

It’s one of the things I like most about my new job, 90% of it revolves around making people smile, giving them 2 hours of joy as well as the skills they need to take it home and do it again. Am I changing the world? Perhaps not, but I’m shaping moments, and moments, like pennies, add up.

I can’t tell you what your purpose is, but I can say that I believe that if we all focused more on what we were doing to make our corners of the world better for the people we interact with and better for our communities, instead of focusing on how much material crap we had – the world would be a better place, not just for the people around us – but for ourselves too.

If we focused on making sure everyone had enough, instead of worrying about how we were going to get more… The world would be a better place.

MLK the purpose of life

What are you sharing with the world?

The Buddhists have long taught that striving is the source of suffering, and I believe that to be true.

We forget, so often, here in the whirlwind busyness of the West, that most of us have plenty, more than plenty. We get so busy striving and counting and hoarding that we forget to even appreciate what we have, and more, we forget that often the best way to appreciate something is to share it.

I have enough, I have more than enough, so this year I am going to focus on sharing more and hoarding less and the only thing I am going to strive for is more smiles.

I wish you all the feeling of plenty in the coming year.

 

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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Gratitude and Wishes

Welcome to 2015!

Happy-New-Year-from-fireworks

I want to start this new year off with a serious dose of gratitude for all that is good and amazing in my world – and hopefully yours too.

I am grateful that I have THE BEST mechanic in Colorado right down the road from me and that we found them years ago and have never had to battle dishonest, crappy mechanics in this state. If you live or work in the Boulder/Longmont area and need a solid mechanic for your car, these are your people. And please, tell them I sent you, you’ll become family that much faster!

I am grateful for my amazing husband and kids – I would not have survived the holiday vacation without them. They keep me grounded and sane and whole.

I am grateful for my bigger circle of family and friends, including everyone whose eyes are on this right now. I love knowing that I am sharing this vast spinning rock with so many amazing, wonderful people who are working each day to make their corner of the globe a little brighter.

I am grateful that it is thawing outside because – DAMN this year started COLD.

I am grateful for all the amazing writers, artists, musicians and creators out there making things that connect people and ideas and shift perspectives and enhance the view.

I am grateful to all the teachers: mine, my kids’, yours… I am so grateful to the people with the patience to slow down and help lift someone else up a little bit, and also to the people who are too much of a goddamn hurry because they too have things to teach. (Primarily that I don’t want to be that person…)

I actually sat down and tried to make a new year’s resolution this year, or set a goal, or… But I realized that, life is good. And yes, there are some little things I would like to improve on, of course I’d like to get out and ride my bike and hike and climb more, and travel more, and cook more awesome food, and have a bigger garden and… But none of those things are resolution worthy, because when push comes to shove, I don’t really want to change anything about my life. It’s good. I’m good. I’m downright blessed.

Which brings me to my wishes…

These are big, huge, completely out of my control (or are they?) wishes, wishes for the world I want to live in, wishes for the world I want to build, wishes for the world I think WE can build, if we work together…

I was just at the bank and drove past a veteran holding a sign. He looked to be about my grandpa’s age, and the Korean War Vet cap he was wearing solidifies that assessment.

When I was done in the bank, I walked over to him and gave him a few bucks and chatted with him for a while. He just finished a 4 month stint in the hospital, there’s no work for him, and his benefits don’t cover the cost of living at his age (or probably at any age…)

This is not the America I want to live in, this is not an America any of us should be proud of.

We should all be marching, voting and paying taxes to support our veterans. No veteran of any war should ever come home and find themselves standing on a street corner begging for pocket change. I’m a peacenik, war-hating, tree-hugging liberal who thinks the last dozen or so wars/police actions our nation has engaged in are complete capitalist bullshit – but I still believe that EVERY SINGLE veteran who fought in those wars should come home to a free education, have access to free/discounted housing, have full medical care, and be able to access any other services they need to stay off the street. These are people who put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of other people, while I disagree with many of the wars that have been fought, I am part of the “we” that sent them into those wars, and as such I am responsible for making sure they are taken care of when they return.

If they come home disabled, mentally shaken, suffering from PTSD, etc and cannot work, it is our job to support them the way that they supported us and the ideals that pushed them into war in the first place. If you disagree with war, don’t take it out on the veterans – take it out on the politicians who keep voting to send our young people into combat. If anyone belongs on the street begging for mercy, it’s them.

I wish for an America that exercises its powers of foresight a little (okay, a lot) more. One that looks at the data and uses it to make the future better rather than a few pockets heavier. I wish for an America that prioritizes quality of life for all, that takes climate change seriously and investes in solutions, that takes women’s lives seriously and stops politicizing our bodies and our choices, that values black and brown lives and takes the challenges facing them seriously, investing in infrastructure, education and investigating police brutality, that takes gun violence seriously and is willing to discuss it and look for solutions, because there are solutions…

I wish for an America filled with people who understand that education is the best investment a nation can make, followed by health care and that if EVERYONE had access to those two things, everything would improve vastly for everyone from the top on down.

I wish for an America where all citizens who want it can have what I have – a partner recognized by the state and granted all the same MANY benefits that the state has bestowed on married couples, a family, adequate shelter, food, clothing, transportation, communication (phone, internet, mail service), a library, a grocery store, access to health care, free quality education, clean/safe parks…

I wish for an America that truly is a meritocracy, where skin color, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation are no longer used to profile people – but where ability, track records, and skills are rewarded. And where skills are rewarded based on their need and value to the community. I am still flummoxed by a value system that pays sports stars more than teachers, family doctors, nurses, fire fighters, police officers, soldiers (and remember, I’m a peacenik – I wish for a world that didn’t need soldiers, but until we get there, we damn well better pay the people standing between us and the rest of the world’s bullets and bombs.)

I wish for an America that recognizes socially/politically imposed handicaps and worked to remedy them. We’re not a perfect meritocracy yet, and we can’t ever be one until we recognize that some people are privileged over others and have more opportunity than others.

I have an image in my head of a cartoon that I wish I could draw. It’s a race. One contestant has a clean, clear track and is racing unfettered. The other contestant is dragging a steel ball from a chain around their ankle, their hands are bound, they are blindfolded. Their track has hurdles and divots and rocks and razor wire…

When the handicapped contestant reaches the end and is given access to a university/job/house, the first contestant whines, “But they didn’t run as fast as me… No one helped me…”

This is the image I see every time I hear someone whine about affirmative action or the voting rights act or well fare or other programs put in place to try to balance the scales after centuries of historical disparity – whether it’s about race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, class, ability, etc. Trying to right historical wrongs that continue to hold back entire groups of people is not stealing anything from the privileged classes – at least not anything that the privileged classes didn’t steal first…

It doesn’t always matter that someone didn’t finish as fast/good as you – sometimes the fact that they finished at all speaks loud enough.

I also wish for an America that grants second chances, that recognizes that everyone screws up, everyone falls down and that no one should be judged on a single mistake. I wish for an America that rehabilitates criminals instead of just punishing them. I wish for an America that sees the value in all lives and fights to make each one the best it can be with education programs, job training, mental health services, drug rehabilitation services, counseling, and material assistance when needed to help someone find their feet again.

I wish for an America that operates under the assumption that every person out there is doing the very best they can with the knowledge and resources available to them, and that if someone is failing, WE are failing, and that maybe instead of pushing their head back under the water, we should throw them a life-preserver and try to reel them in…

I don’t think these are impossible wishes. I also don’t think I’ll live to see most, if any, of them through. But that doesn’t mean I can’t start taking steps to build this world right now, right here, in my corner of the globe. And hey, maybe if we all did just a little bit every day to nudge one of these wishes closer to reality our children will get to enjoy the fruits of our labors.

Because that is another wish I have for America, I wish for an America that works to make itself a better, stronger, healthier, more vibrant place for future generations, an America that follows the campsite rule of leaving things better than we find them.

Honestly I wish for a world like this, but I was already feeling a little over-bold asking for a whole country to shape up, but I’d love to spread a message of compassion and taking care of each other and being helpers to the global hive mind.

I am so very grateful for all the progress we’ve made – but let’s not stop now. This is not a sprint, this is not even a marathon, this is a relay. We have the baton, let’s do our best not to destroy the track on our run. In fact, let’s do our best to leave the track better than when we found it and hand off the baton to the next generation without dropping it!

Happy 2015 – here’s hoping you all have much to be grateful for and that you’re all willing to take a moment to take the #Unfucker pledge with Katie Goodman.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Where are all the periods?

I have two amazing books that I desperately want to review now that I’m done writing my 12 Days of Candy series over on my kitchen blog, but first, I need to talk about periods.

Not the punctuation – but the sometimes messy, often awkward, all too often hidden thing that most women experience every month and entirely too few of us really talk about.

Disclaimer – this is a TMI post. It’s been building for a while because I was worried about writing it, worried about squicking people out and losing readers – but fuck it. Periods happen to 50% of the population and as such I think we need to talk about them. Most important – I think writers need to be writing about them, so while there will be some personal shit in here, this is mostly a post about middle grade and young adult books and a certain something that seems to be missing from an awful lot of them.

menstrual flower

I’ll just leave this here…

It’s on my mind for a couple of reasons – the first is that my oldest is in middle school and many of her friends have started going through puberty and many of them have begun getting their periods – so… the horror stories and drama is starting to trickle in. Girls with cramps so bad they have to go home, girls whose periods show up unexpectedly and bleed through their clothing, sending them home embarrassed and in tears only to have to return the next day to taunting and teasing… Girls being called sluts when people find out they’ve started getting their periods as if having a period is any indication at all about what you are or are not doing sexually…

The second reason periods have been on my mind is because mine has been acting up lately (told you this was a TMI post.)

My period used to be like clockwork – I knew exactly when it was showing up, exactly how heavy it would be on each day it was here and exactly when it would end – by exactly I mean to the second.

Then I had kids and it shifted around a bit – as did EVERYTHING in my body – but I adjusted and got reacquainted with “Aunt Flo” and we fell back into a regular and predictable rhythm. And then… Lately, she’s just been mucking things up. It’s like I’m back in middle school, never quite sure if today’s the day she’s going to arrive, if she’s going to be heavy or light, if I have one hour per tampon or four…

Last month The Bitch (That’s what I call my period when it fucks something up for me, Aunt Flo is just an annoying interruption, and my period is what I’d like it to be…) showed up three hours early and trashed my favorite pair of sheets. I haven’t lost sheets to Aunt Flo in decades.

Today I took the dog for a walk to the post office. The line lasted longer than my tampon/pad combination so by the time I walked back home… Well, it was messy. And once again I felt like I was in middle school. I was embarrassed – I mean, I should know better by now.

As I walked home, knowing I would need a shower and a change of clothes, I kept thinking about all the young adult and middle grade literature I’ve been reading lately. I thought about all the epic female led dystopia that is all the rage in book stores and on the big screen and all the awesome female protagonists that are cropping up across genres and I realized what’s been bugging me about them all – There are NO periods.

None.

Katniss does not go on the rag. She does not bleed in the ring or have to worry about grabbing the napsack with pads and tampons when the games start. All she needs is a bow and some arrows. She doesn’t have to get Haymitch to ask sponsors for emergency period supplies or midol. She isn’t incapacitated by cramps, no one can track her because she’s dripping menstrual blood through the arena… (If you think that’s unlikely talk to someone with a heavy period sometime.)

No one in the Lunar Chronicles seems to have a period either. Cress, the Rapunzel character has been trapped in a satellite for decades, there’s no mention of her captor needing to, or forgetting to bring menstrual supplies. As Cinder and Scarlet fly around Earth they are never slowed or stopped or inconvenienced by the sudden appearance of their period. They never have to steal tampons off a shelve during a supply run.

In Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, Saba travels across her globe, multiple times. She is captured, detained, forced to cage fight, escapes, travels some more… And never once has to stop to deal with her period. Never has to fashion a cloth pad, or gather moss, or slow down for a day or… (Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the series) I remember when she had sex with the wrong guy in book 2, my first thought was, “Great, now she’s going to get pregnant…” But she didn’t, and it sort of makes sense, because if she wasn’t menstruating, then she couldn’t get pregnant. But why wasn’t she menstruating?

No one menstruates in The Uglies either. You’re an Ugly, then a Pretty, then a Wrinkly. And people there ARE having children, so… Someone is menstruating, but it sure isn’t the teens. The Smokies (rebels living in the woods) don’t have to fashion menstrual pads from moss or scraps of cloth or anything like that. There’s no Red Tent situation going on where they all take a few days off together and just bleed and talk and hang out… Because there are no periods.

Annabeth in the Percy Jackson books doesn’t have a period.

I don’t think Hermione ever got a period. (However, I admit, I never finished the series. Please don’t kill me. Just tell me in the comments if I’m wrong about Hermione’s lack of menstruation.)

In fact, there’s basically only one book that I can think of off the top of my head that talks about menstruation and periods – and that’s Judy Blume’s Are you there God, it’s me Margaret? Which is known by most kids as, “The Period Book” because it’s the only one. (Well, aside from Stephen King’s Carrie, but I hope no one is giving that to their pre-pubescent kids as a puberty primer!)

And here’s the thing – I think this matters. I think that this is a serious issue, because I’m watching my daughters and their friends grow up and I’m seeing how much weirdness and shame and misinformation is flying around out there about periods and… It’s not that hard to combat.

Just fucking writing it into the story, because most girls and most women will get their period at some point in their lives and they will have to deal with things like cramps and bleeding through their clothes and having it show up early and being unprepared, and having it show up late and wondering what that means (It’s not always pregnancy! First, you have to have had sex for that to be a possibility, and then there about a million other reasons periods are late.) Most women and girls will have to deal with weird low energy days where it feels like sitting around menstruating is all they can manage, anything more than that just feels overwhelming… Most women will have to deal with things like changes in breast size and tenderness. And yes, many of us have to deal with moodiness and hormone induced emotional fluctuations.

These are real things that most girls and women have to deal with and it would be GREAT if more books could help us be comfortable with it, talk about, and know how to problem solve when it happens to us.

AND I would LOVE for guys to read books where women have to deal with this stuff, it might help the average uninformed guy be a little more comfortable, a little more compassionate and a little more understanding when it comes to periods. We might not be moody because of PMS, we might be moody because we know we are bleeding through and we need you to stop talking to us so we can go to the bathroom and try to salvage the situation, but we don’t know how to tell you that because society has told us we’re not allowed to say, “Shut up, I’m bleeding and I need to go deal with that.”

I would love to read a book where a girl bleeds through and can’t call home and has to stay in school and cope – how does she manage it? Does she borrow spare clothes from a friend or the office, does she tie her jacket around her waist for the rest of the day, does she hide in a supply closet and pray no one finds her, does the teacher she always hated come to her rescue and earn an ounce of respect in the process? What does the next day look like? How does she deal with the ignorant and thoughtlessly hurtful teasing from her peers? What does that gauntlet feel like, and how do you survive it at a time in your life when everything feels like a matter of life and death?

I don’t need a whole book about it, we have Judy Blume. But I think periods need to feature a little more in books and movies with biologically female protagonists. Whether they’re in space, (Seriously, where did Ripley hide her tampons – and no, you can’t store them all up there at once, it doesn’t work that way.) or a dystopian future, or right here, right now, today… Most women and girls have to manage their periods every single month – shouldn’t that be something that most female characters have to manage at least once a book? Shouldn’t that be something more male characters are made aware of from time to time, after all most men know someone who menstruates…

What about the best guy friend who has to buy tampons for his female friend? Can we have that scene? What about the guy who thinks his girlfriend is super aroused only to discover her period has started, what does that look like, for both of them? What about the male sidekick who knows they are in a hurry, the clock is ticking, the fate of the world is resting on her shoulders – and he has to help her cope with debilitating cramps?

This shit happens in real life. Why isn’t it happening in books?

It’s interesting, the book I just finished reading, Every Day by David Levithan should have covered this, it covered SO MUCH else about the human experience, but not this super basic, absolutely common thing that 50% of the bodies his protagonist inhabited would have experienced… A should have had to deal with a period. At least one. The odds damn near insist on it. And yet… All too predictably… No one menstruated in that book either.

When I included a scene in my YA novel where my protagonist makes a point of stocking up on tampons before ditching her mom’s credit card and going into hiding 99% of my beta readers told me those tampons better mean something. It wasn’t enough to have her simply be aware that she’d be getting her period and want to be prepared. It wasn’t enough to simply remind the reader that this is a thing that most women have to deal with. No, it had to mean something.

And yet… I can think of half a dozen MG and YA books that talk about morning wood, spontaneous (and often inconvenient and ill-timed) erections that cause embarrassment for a male protagonist – not because it means anything, but because that is a thing that happens to many adolescent males. Sometimes it is put in for humor, or character growth, occasionally it adds to the conflict and plot development, here’s one more thing this poor kid has to deal with – but it’s there, it’s talked about. It is present. And therefore, so are the coping mechanisms, the survival guides, the tips and tricks to getting through it.

Girls need that too.

They need a guide to tell them how to talk to their peers about periods, to explain what it does and does not mean (It does mean they are developing physically, it does not mean they are sexually available or sexually active.) The same with breast growth – it is an independent bodily function that has no bearing on who the person growing the breasts is, what they are interested in, how smart they are, how capable they are, or whether or not they’d like anyone to try to get in their pants.

The state of sexual health education in this country is abysmal. So, writer friends – we need to help. We need to include little moments of reality in even our most fantastical works. We need to remember that periods and nocturnal emissions and breasts and morning wood and hormone induced emotions are things that are happening to kids as young as 9 and they continue through high school and college and into adulthood.

We need to include these little inconveniences and embarrassments and challenges into our characters – what do they do with them, how does it change them, how do they learn and grow from these experiences?

My family makes fun of me for always being overprepared. But I can trace that character trait straight back to a day very much like this one. A day that ended in a bit of a mess and an emergency shower and a ruined pair of pants. That was the last day I ever left the house without tampons and a pad.(Even if, 23 years later I couldn’t get to a bathroom to use them in time… Sigh.)

A HUGE amount of my inner strength and resilience and ability to take on most challenges stems from the shit I survived while menstruating in middle school. Kids are fucking ruthless. Uninformed & misinformed kids are a thousand times worse.

A few good books sure would have helped.

So, dear readers who made it to the end of this messy post – please – drop the names of any novels you can think of that deal with periods and menstruation in any way in the comments. I’d love to start making a list.

And dear writers who are still reading, please see if you can include a little more of the nitty gritty reality of growing up in your MG and YA novels. The kids these days could use all the help we can give them.

 

 

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Filed under Books, Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Sometimes it’s the silly things

I’m supposed to be stirring coconut caramels – so I’ll make this short.

I’ve been avoiding social media and blogging a lot lately. Every time I poke my head up to check on the world, I hate what I see.

It’s the holidays and I’m supposed to be smiling and cheerful right now, so I can’t afford to look. It makes me too angry and too sad and I feel like I’m drowning. So, I’ve been taking some time off – thus all the book reviews (and cooking, if you follow that side of me).

And then today, the silliest thing happened.

I went to the store to get all my baking and candy making supplies for the weekend because when I’m in doubt, I go to the kitchen and make happiness. As I was leaving the store I did what I always do, I looked both ways, pushed my cart really hard and jumped on to ride it to my car – the way kids do.

That's why they have four wheels, right?

That’s why they have four wheels, right?

I didn’t think about it, this is simply how one gets from the front of the store, across the parking lot to the car. I honestly have never considered that there was another acceptable way to make this journey. When I shop with my kids, they know to jump on the sides to balance the cart and then we all ride it down to the car together.

Anyway, I get to my car and I’m loading my groceries in and I hear a voice yell, “Hey, girl.”

I’m not a huge fan of being called girl, but I decided to see who was calling me before passing judgement. It was an older woman in her SUV.

“Hey, girl. I just wanted you to know, that man who was walking behind you when you rode your cart – you totally made his day. He was laughing and smiling like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing.”

I smiled at her, “Thanks. It’s always nice to spread smiles!”

And then this woman proceeded to talk to me while I loaded my groceries into the car. I learned about her grandkids and how she doesn’t feel old enough to be grown up yet, even though she’s 68, she’s still young at heart.

And I realized that with my small act of whimsy, I had somehow made two people’s days and reminded them both to have a little fun and stop taking life so damn seriously – and in return, they’d reminded me of the very same lesson, a lesson I didn’t even realize I was living.

It’s really easy to get bogged down – we’re all connected 24-7, the world is a loud, loud place these days. Some days it feels like everything is wrong, inside and outside. Sometimes it feels like all the voices are unified in telling us that we’re failing – we’re not enough of this, but we’re too much of that. We’ll never be just right.

Other days I feel fine with myself, but I look out and the world’s on fire and I don’t know if I’m supposed to try to put it out or find a marshmallow stick and enjoy the show.

Today I was reminded that amidst all the noise and hubbub and the ugliness and anger and flames – it’s still important to take time to enjoy the little things, to commit random acts of silliness, to nurture your whimsy and find joy in the small moments. Even more important – we have to remember to SEE the moments. HEck, I didn’t even realize I was doing anything silly. We get so used to our habits and routines, we forget how remarkable they are and how lucky we are.

We forget to see our blessings.

Yes, the world is burning – again. Yes, somedays it seems like the world is always burning and that we might never put it out. But even in the midst of all that… There is this little pocket of oxygen, and it turns out that when we put the mask on and remember to breathe, suddenly there is a little more oxygen for everyone else too.

Here’s wishing that you’re all able to find your own piece of frivolity here in the silly season.

Race you to the silly!

Race you to the silly!

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Reilly’s Dark Night of the Soul

I just finished reading Gary Reilly’s Dark Night of the Soul. If you missed the interview with his publishers, you can check that out first. If you just want the highlights of the book to get you excited, I did a twitter read-along at #ReillyDarkNight (Feel free to add your thoughts using that hashtag!) and storified it here.

dark night of the soul

A well stickied book!

I read my first Gary Reilly book this spring, The Asphalt Warrior and LURVED it.

When I got a chance to pick up his latest Asphalt Warrior book to review it, I jumped at the chance. The fact that it came with an opportunity to talk to the men Gary put in charge of his literary estate when he passed made it all the more awesome.

The first time I read Gary Reilly, it was his characters that really carried me through. While the plot and structure were all present and accounted for, what made me love Reilly’s work was the depth and love that he poured into Murph.

This book had those same elements as you’ll see if you pop over to my storified read-along. You really can’t help but fall in love with Murph and root for him to get his wish and be able to just spend a whole day doing nothing.

As I read this book I couldn’t help but think of the movie Hudson Hawk with Bruce Willis, where all the guy wants is an espresso and it takes him the whole damn movie to get it. The espresso is his MacGuffin. With the Asphalt Warrior series, a day to do nothing – not even brush his teeth – is Murph’s MacGuffin. That is the holy quest that he is on, and if he could just remember the first rule of cab driving – NEVER get involved with your fares – he might even be able to achieve it.

Alas, Murph just can’t help himself. Whether it’s the old lady who tried to pay in pennies, which Murph is convinced aren’t even legal tender, or the bank robber who uses Murph and his cab as a get-away vehicle before having a heart attack and winding up in the hospital… Murph just can’t catch a break.

“I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get things back to normal. I don’t know why. My normality is neither healthy nor realistic, but whatever it is, I’m good at it.”

The pacing of Dark Night of the Soul felt a lot faster than Reilly’s first book. There was a moment where I actually gasped and felt my pulse start to race. It led to a very late night of reading.

With the increased stakes, the plot of this book was more than enough to carry it along – but in the end what put it over into the “Must read, MUST share” category was, as always, the characters, specifically Murph who I really wish I could meet in real life. (Not that we’d be friends or anything, Murph doesn’ t have friends.)

And again, for the aspiring writers, struggling authors and wishful artists out there – Murph is a wonderful guide. I could do a whole review just talking about the writing tips I’ve gotten from these books. In fact… I know a guy who should maybe offer “Murph’s Guide to Writing” at the next RMFW conference. (Mark Stevens, I am typing at you.)

Dark Night of the Soul starts off with a bang as Murph oversleeps and does something he has never done before, “which was to make a telephone call at dawn.” As he rushes around trying to get to Rocky Cab to pick up his taxi and start his day we are reminded that Murph never rushes, never panics.

“I did do that a lot in the army where they had things like sergeants and bugles, but that was a quarter-century ago, which is a long time not to panic.”

This is a great piece of foreshadowing, as we learn that perhaps it is time for Murph to brush up on his Panicking skills.

“As a matter of social propriety, I try to avoid adrenaline before noon.”

He even goes so far as to name the part of our brain that screams at us to “Get moving!” when we know calm is really best. That’s the Gym Coach talking.

Once his day gets going, it only gets worse. Murph has to interact with his nemesis, Rollo, the man who hands out the keys and trip sheets at Rocky Cab, and then there’s a line at the 7-11, the fare who pays with a $20, using up all of Murph’s change and forcing him into a corner where, “I was once again unable to proceed with my life until I did something with money.” Which feels like the quintessential American struggle, and which ultimately provides the true catalyst for this book.

Murph expounds on this struggle further, “As bad as I am at math, I am capable of mentally dividing numeric concepts into neat categories that make me feel like I’m not broke.” I don’t know about you, but I feel like I can relate to this a little too well.

“Aren’t you always broke when you pick up your first fare of the day?”
“No. Sometimes I just don’t have any money.”
“Isn’t that the same thing as being broke?”
“No.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Broke is a state of being that occurs only after six o’clock at night. It has to do with the probability factor of picking up a final fare. If I don’t have any money after six o’clock at night, I’m broke.”

Murph’s day continues to go south, with a fare paying via check, an old lady trying to pay via pennies and or course, a bank robber using Murph as a get away driver. All of Murph’s problems are tied to money, his need for it, his desire not to need it, and everyone else’s inability to respect the very fine line he walks trying to have only exactly enough to survive and no more.

All of these problems compound and Murph decides it is time to do something drastic. “This was the first time I had ever tried to get personally involved in my own life.” Murph decides that floating along with things is no longer working out for him, and it’s time for him to take charge. Of course, for a guy who can screw up just about anything, that might not be the best idea.

“I wondered if there was a third ‘something’ that lay between reality and fantasy that I could screw up. I mean, I knew that I could screw it up, but did it exist?”

Dark Night of the Soul gets its name from the moral crisis that Murph has in this book. As he gets ever more embroiled in the lives of his fares, and the cops come breathing down his neck looking for his connection to the bank robber, Murph realizes that, “Somewhere inside my body was a corrupt bone… It was there, and it made me feel funny.”

Murph deduces that simply having bad thoughts, whether you follow through on them or not, is enough to make you a bad person. He reasons that the only thing keeping you from following through is fear of getting caught, not outright rejection of being evil. It’s an interesting take on morality, especially coming from a guy who really strives to do good, at least when he’s not striving to do nothing at all.

Murph must also confront the profound realization that inaction too has consequences, that in striving to do nothing, he is making a choice and in the process he is perhaps doing far more harm than good.

“I suddenly realized that by simply… doing absolutely nothing at all, I could destroy the lives of five good men,” leading him to the startling conclusion that, “Maybe actions are the only things that really count in this world.”

This section reminded me of The Boondock Saints one of my all-time favorite movies, and their assertion that what we must fear most is good men who do nothing.

Murph is a good man, to his core. But can he rise above decades of ennui and entropy to take action when it matters most?

I’d give you the odds, but as Murph reminds us, “Of course odds have nothing to do with reality, which is why so many people go home sad from the dog track.”

If you want to know how Gary Reilly’s Dark Night of the Soul turns out, I encourage you to pick up a copy – this is one dog track you won’t go home sad from!

reading with sticky notes

Dark Night of the Soul, a ticket worth buying!

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Unspeakable Things

I finished reading Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny aka Penny Red a few days ago but haven’t had time to sit down and go through ALL the sticky tabs and compose a discussion until now.

unspeakable sticky notes

A well stickied book

If you want the quick version, I read this book “out loud” for one of my twitter read-alongs and then storified the results. You can check that out here if you just want the highlights without the analysis.

Also, you can catch me reading “out loud” on twitter most Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-5 pm mountain time.

Okay, so diving in –

Unspeakable Things is a non-fiction book that covers a pretty broad range of social topics, all centered on feminist philosophy.

“Feminism is a process. Call yourself what you like. The important thing is what you fight for. Begin it now.”

I’m going to highlight just a couple of the topics covered in this book that really resonated with me.

The first is our idea of “Equal pay for equal work” and how very broken that conversation has ALWAYS been.

“Women are more likely than men to perform labor that is socially necessary but low waged or unwaged.” And thus, women are also “more likely to need public services and welfare.”

Laurie Penny talks about this idea that we have of women getting paid less than men because we “need” flexible schedules, or because we reduce our hours to care for kids and take care of the home – and challenges us to flip that around and start talking about all that socially necessary free labor that so often falls on women’s shoulders. If we’re serious about equal pay for equal work, then we need to make sure that women are getting paid in some way for that second, and sometimes third, shift that they work.

This of course leads to questions about, “what work should be paid, and what is simply part of love and duty…” Because it turns out that the reason so much of the work that women do is unpaid or underpaid is because, “we think of it as ‘love’, as a moral expression of feeling rather than a practical task of immense and tangible value.”

This covers things like raising children, cooking meals, cleaning the house, washing the laundry – all those supportive care taking jobs that often fall to women by default and are part of the old, and outdated story that, “Men, in other words, are good at doing, making, building things; women are good at making life easier for men.”

Laurie Penny comes around to this idea again later in the book. She talks about the broken (middle and upper class) pact that the wage system once rested on, “whereby men were obliged to seek paid employment to support women’s unpaid work, and the labor of both would be sealed in a system of sexual bargaining.”

And as for the many women who are trying to raise a family on their own – forget about it.

“The millions of women raising children without a co-parent are spoken of in the same terms as beggars and thieves: they are a drain on the state, the scourge of hardworking taxpayers who must forfeit the proceeds of ‘real’ work to pay for the maintenance of these ‘broken homes.’

Laurie Penny reminds us, “In the United States, there is no male equivalent for the term ‘welfare queen’. Having a child alone and asking for support with raising that child – from her community, her family or the state – is considered uniquely selfish.”

And yet, we know that it is cheaper to educate a child, to feed a child, to clothe and house a child than it is to let them slip through the cracks into our bloated “justice” system. We know that we ALL benefit from having a generation of educated, intelligent, secure kids coming up behind us to keep the economy running, to pay into our social security, to have the skills and the know-how to take care of us in our old age…

But the idea of paying a parent to stay home and do the hard work of raising competent citizens – FUCK NO! Damn welfare queens should have kept their legs shut until they could afford to have a child.

And when we talk of raising the minimum wage so that all workers can afford to support their families without help from the state – FUCK NO! If they wanted to get paid enough to survive they should have gone to college (which we also won’t pay for, and which they can’t get into because they came from the wrong neighborhood and the wrong schools and had to drop out to get a job to help their family, or because they got pregnant because birth control wasn’t available and the nearest abortion clinic was 500 miles away or…)

And when we talk about making it easier for both men and women to work flexible schedules, or to increase spending for quality pre-schools, day cares and to expand the school year so that people don’t have to make a false “choice” between having a career or raising children – again, we hear a resounding FUCK NO!

There is no help coming. The village that used to raise a child has decided that children are now an individual choice and thus an individual burden.

“Of all the female sins, hunger is the least forgivable; hunger for anything, for food, sex, power, education, even love.”

So we won’t help them, but when they fail, it is all their fault for not trying hard enough. And when they complain about wanting equal pay for equal work, we refuse to acknowledge or even see how much free work they’ve been doing all along, because that isn’t real work, that’s just what women are supposed to do.

As Laurie Penny writes, “The best way to stop girls achieving anything is to force them to achieve everything.” or, later on, “Little girls, though, only ever get two choices: We can be the princess or we can be the witch. And everybody knows what happens to women who do their own magic.

witch burning

She’s a witch!

The second topic Laurie Penny takes up is the Lost Boys of modern masculinity, the other side of this broken pact.

Laurie Penny looks at men and what shifting expectations have done to their world view, and the contradictions that they are forced to try to navigate – the many, many broken promises that were made and that they are struggling to piece together.

Men have been told that they are living in “a brave new world of economic and sexual opportunity.” But really, where is the power that today’s young men were promised? Where is the privilege everyone keeps telling them have?

Our men are raised to expect dignified work that leads to financial security, but after years of recession and increased worker exploitation by employers, that dream is harder and harder to achieve.

Working hard is no longer enough.

These dashed dreams are what seem to be fueling so much of the male frustration and rage that we see enacted on the nightly news. “Violence happens when people are frightened that somebody’s about to take away their power.”

Laurie Penny reminds us here that the culprit is, and always was, patriarchy. And she reminds us that “Patriarchy does not mean ‘the rule of men’. It means ‘the rule of fathers’ – literally, the rule of powerful heads of household over everybody else in society. Men further down the social chain were expected to be content with having power over women in order to make up for their lack of control over the rest of their lives.”

She goes on to remind us that under patriarchy, “Most individual men don’t have a lot of power, and now the small amount of social and sexual superiority they held over women is being questioned. That must sting.”

But men are not allowed to talk about their gender and how if affects them. Instead modern masculinity seems to work much like Fight Club, “in that the first rule of Man Club is you do not talk about Man Club.”

Laurie Penny posits that modern masculinity is working exactly as designed by, “keeping men, particularly young men, in a state of anxious desperation, lonely and isolated, unable to express their true feelings or live the lives they really want, taking out their social and sexual frustration on women rather than understanding it as a systematic effect of elitism inequality.”

Which is to say, modern masculinity functions by never allowing men to question it, and telling them to instead blame their discomfort and insecurity on those uppity feminists trying to usurp their place in the pecking order, rather than examining the systematic forces of patriarchal oppression that hold us ALL back.

Modern masculinity squeezes men into a narrow bottleneck that no one is equipped to fit through, leaving the average man unable to express their desire to be taken care of, to be cuddled, to cry, to do creative work that will not make money, to be a full-time parent, to have their vulnerabilities acknowledged, to go into care taking as a profession, to play with makeup or clothing, to have women as friends… To want deep and lasting social change.

But here’s the “last great secret of the supposed ‘golden age of masculinity’ that’s been destroyed by feminism: it never really existed in the first place… there have always been men who would not or could not conform.” There has never been only one way of “being a man.”

Laurie Penny encourages us to be compassionate toward the men who are struggling to find their place in this bold new world where masculinity feels at once more constrictive than ever, while simultaneously being ever more open for those brave enough to challenge the old guard.

Part of the challenge is that, “Men grow up expecting to be the hero of their own story. Women grow up expecting to be the supporting actress in somebody else’s.”

But more and more women are demanding the space to be their own heroes, and many are even *gasp* asking men to step up and be their supporting cast. There are few acceptable role models for this – there is no available script for men to take that kind of role.

“Of course it’s going to hurt. But then, it hurts already.” Change is hard, and scary, and we all need help navigating our way through it.

“Social change happens when the old stories we tell ourselves to survive are no longer sufficient, and we create new ones.”

Story time

Laurie Penny talks a lot about “adjustment disorder” (An actual new diagnosis!) which rests on the idea that unhappiness cannot possibly be the fault of the system, it is our fault for failing to adjust to the straightjacket of society’s gender expectations.

“We were taught, all of us, that if we were dissatisfied, it was our fault, or the fault of those closest to us. We were built wrong somehow. We had failed to adjust. If we showed any sort of distress, we probably needed to be medicated or incarcerated, depending on our social status.”

If we are unhappy, there are drugs and therapy – anything to avoid talking about justice.

But the truth is, we are not broken – the system is. But we can only change it if we are willing to examine it, and our role in it and then do the hard, painful work of challenging it at every turn.

There are additional insightful chapters on sex, sexuality and sexism that I ran out of words for.

I appreciated Laurie Penny’s efforts to discuss the ways the current system hurts people of all genders. (I didn’t dive into that part of the discussion, but she talks a lot about the ways gender-non-conforming people are especially damaged by the current arrangement, but also how they are the vanguard of change because they are the ones pushing the hardest to open the doors of equality open ever wider.) I thought she did a good job of bringing in more perspectives and points of view than her own and widening the lens to help us all see beyond our own limited experience.

Laurie Penny encourages us to be suspicious of any program that seeks to restrict freedom in order to protect us. “It’s for your own good.” are words that should send a shudder of rebellion through us all.

In her final battle cry, Laurie Penny reminds us that in a system this broken, there are no rewards for good behavior. “The world doesn’t need another handbook for how to submit with dignity to a world that wants you to hate yourself.”

unspeakable things

You are not broken.

If you’re tired of being told that you’re the problem, and you’d like someone to pick you up, dust you off and prepare you for revolution, Unspeakable Things is a good place to start.

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