Author Archives: thinkbannedthoughts

About thinkbannedthoughts

Sexual health educator and advocate. Political and social Ranty Pants. Word nerd and book slut.

Symptoms of Success, Welcome to the Club

Trigger Warning – Gendered violence, sexual assault, rape, threats, harassment.

 

I’ve only ever gotten one death threat because of this blog.

For the most part, even on those few posts that have gone viral and have traveled around the world and picked up a few of you on the way, people have generally been civil here. Or at least non-threatening. I rarely have to take out The Mallet.

And that is a HUGE relief.

This threat happened a long time ago, I barely even remember what it was about – just that I annoyed someone and they felt that threatening me with death was an acceptable response.

I remember the first fellow blogger I told said something like, “Welcome to the club. You must be getting an audience.” Then she told me her stories.

That is the most common response when I talk to other women who are active online. Nearly every one of them has a story of violent threats, many of them have stories of people actually attempting to carry out those threats.

Almost every woman I know who is successful online must accept not just daily, but hourly, minutely, near constant threats of violence including rape threats, death threats and threats against their families depending on her level of success.

“Welcome to the club.”

This creates a reality where almost every woman I know who is present and successful online must pay a very specific price for that – the price of peace of mind. It is a reality that silences many voices, some of them before they even dare to speak.

Many successful women I know have gone so far as to hire someone to read their mentions and the comments on their posts and delete, report and block violent messages. It is a full-time job. One that if the woman herself were to do it would take away all the time she had to produce new work, not to mention the emotional and psychological toll it would take.

When they raise their voices about this they are often told to grow a thicker skin. Or they are told to ignore the trolls. Or they are told they are overreacting – it’s just the internet. No one is really going to hurt them… Or they are told that by talking about it they are “feeding the trolls” and encouraging more abuse.

Even after they are doxxed (Which means someone posts all of their personal information including home and work addresses, real names, phone numbers, email addresses, social security numbers, passwords, etc.) and laid bare, even after someone is caught driving to their house with weapons and a stated intent to kill them – they are told to calm down, relax, it’s just the internet – grow a thicker skin. Even after the threats escalate enough to get the FBI and other law enforcement agencies involved. “Stop whining. You’re blowing it out of proportion. It’s just twitter…”

There is no winning.

There is no escape.

There is no acceptable, allowable response other than to ignore it and move on – or just quit. It’s amazing how often women are told to quit what they love if they can’t take the abuse.

As if violence is the price we must all pay for the freedom to work, to socialize, to succeed…

“Calm down, it happens to everyone.”

But it doesn’t happen to everyone. It happens to very specific types of people – vocal women – especially vocal women of color, gay people, trans* people, in other words, it happens primarily to people who are not male and cisgendered and straight and white.

I haven’t waded into this for many reasons, but today I realized that there is a commonality between this and something I experienced as a teenager and young woman beginning to make my way in the world. Something super fucked up and totally not okay.

It’s the acceptance of the idea that violence is the price women (and gay people and trans* people who don’t want to live in closets) must pay for success, for inclusion, for the right to exist. Worse, there is an idea that perhaps beyond being a price to be paid violence might actually be a symbol of success, a sign that you have made it to the next level.

“Welcome to the club.”

I remember the first time I was sexually assaulted. I was in a foreign country as an exchange student and an older man who was supposed to be taking care of me while my host parent was on vacation groped me and kissed me – while his wife was one room away! He knew I was alone and isolated and had no one to call and he took advantage of that. Eventually his actions combined with other circumstances forced me to return home early. It screwed me up pretty bad, and set the stage for how I would deal with future assaults.

I remember telling my sister about what happened. I remember her hugging me and saying something along the lines of, “Welcome to the club. It sucks, but it happens to all of us.” Then she told me her story.

This was my introduction to being a teenager, this was how I crossed the line from kid to teen, from “innocent” to “worldly” and “experienced.”

I was no longer a little girl. I was part of a new group. This act of violence somehow made me mature in a way that having boyfriends, traveling to foreign countries, having a job and taking other steps toward adulthood had not.

At the same time, this new maturity came with its own code of silence. I was assured by everyone I spoke to in those first few days back that no one wanted to hear about what had happened, no one wanted to know the real reason I was home early, no one wanted to validate my feeling that I had been punished for this man’s crime – it made them uncomfortable, they couldn’t help, they couldn’t change it, so why not just focus on the good stuff that had happened – no matter that for me, focusing on the good things meant focusing on what I had lost, what this man had taken from me – the opportunity to live in a foreign country and build my independence and confidence – the chance to grow my new friendships and finish the new courses I was taking. The chance to pursue a dream.

What I heard time and time again was, “Welcome to the club, it happens, move on. Don’t talk about it, if you talk about it, then it defines you. If you acknowledge it, you are weak.”

And so I moved on – but I moved on thinking that this type of violence was normal, and while not exactly acceptable, it was to be expected and that there was nothing I or anyone else could, or would, do about it because it made people uncomfortable.

“Welcome to the club.”

When I type it out that way, it becomes somehow much less surprising that I was raped on my 18th birthday.

Not because I asked for it, or deserved it, or should have seen it coming, or because I wasn’t strong enough – though I have been told all of those things, and told myself all of those things a bajillion times – but because like so many women I had learned to accept a certain level of violence as the price I must pay for existing.

There were warning signs – those warning signs were the reason I went to break up with my boyfriend that night. I saw the violence in him and had experienced enough of it to know that it was escalating. To know that it was reaching a dangerous plateau, one that I did not want to reach. Unfortunately I hadn’t read the literature yet that discusses time and time and time again that THE MOST DANGEROUS moment in an abusive relationship is when the victim tries to leave.

A couple of years after I was raped, I wrote a poem about it, trying to process what had happened, and why I still hadn’t been able to get all the way over it. In the poem there’s a stanza,

I’ll never forget
the night I became an adult
was the night you made me a woman.

Think about that for a minute.

That was how I processed my rape – that that act of violence, of having my basic humanity denied and taken from me – THAT was what made me a woman!

“Welcome to the club.”

It wasn’t a badge of honor in any way. It was a badge of shame. But at the same time, it was a rite of passage – a common one, and I eventually came to accept it as such. (Looking back now as an adult and as a mother – there are simply no words for how fucked up that is. I cannot imagine my daughters accepting rape as the price of admission to womanhood – but we have a hard fight ahead of us if we’re going to change this culture in time for them.)

I remember telling my college roommate about it one night, after another terrifying phone call from my rapist turned stalker left me shaking.

“Welcome to the club,” she said, “at least it wasn’t as bad as what happened to me.” And then she told me her story.

Nearly every woman I have ever opened up to about any of my experiences has come back with one of her own.

“Welcome to the club.”

And while we all know that this violence isn’t acceptable, isn’t okay, isn’t deserved or asked for… We have also all on various levels come to terms with its existence. We have all in some way come to accept that it is inevitable, that there is nothing we can do about it but pick up the pieces and move on. We have learned to see it as some sort of sick rite of passage that takes us to the next level of womanhood.

And that is truly distressing, because there are new generations of girls and boys being brought up into the culture we are creating – and we must, all of us, work to create a culture where violence is not the price anyone must pay for simply existing, where sexual violence and gendered violence aren’t the ways we “level up.”

And yet…

This same mentality, that violence is the cost of, perhaps even the measure of, success if you are female has taken over the internet. Being harassed and threatened until you feel so unsafe that you leave your home, or quit your job  (or are fired from your job because your harassers are causing a disturbance to the company), or go dark, or… This is the new rite of passage.

It’s not a badge of honor, it is not a status anyone covets – but at the same time… There is this idea that you must be making progress, you must be doing something right, you must be successful – or they wouldn’t try so hard to push you back down.

I see this mentality taking its toll – there are voices going dark, there are women disappearing from public life, there are people being chased out of their homes and jobs and careers and leaving their passions because daily, hourly, minutely threats of violence are simply more than they can carry – and quite frankly, that is more than we should be asking anyone to carry in order to do their job or exist in public spaces.

Violence, or the threat of violence is not an acceptable rite of passage. Not here, not anywhere.

And if you think that online threats are small potatoes, or there are bigger problems we should be dealing with first, or that this is a first world problem – let me be the one to tell you, you are wrong.

Violence does not exist in isolation, it exists on a continuum. If you wonder why so many women take online threats more seriously than many men think we should – it’s because most of us have been on the receiving end of actual violence, we have already lived through that, we know how it feels to have those threats carried out – and we’d like to not have to go through it again.

We’d like to not have to remember and relive and reprocess that violence every day.

These threats that people see as jokes, or banter, or a rebuttal to an opinion (really, a threat of rape is an acceptable rebuttal to, “that shirt is tacky.” Are you sure?) exist in a context of routine, physical violence against women. Street harassment that so many people see as “a compliment” exists inside the context of routine, physical assaults against women.

We cannot separate the words from the potential reality because all too many of us have LIVED the reality of violence. We do not have a sense of humor about this because we are still healing from the last physical assault. We are still recovering from the last threat that became reality in a flash too fast for us to run from.

We have to treat all threats as real threats – because enough of them have been.

You might know you’re just joking – we do not, and we cannot take that chance with our safety. No one should be asking us to.

I am so very appreciative of the many women right now who are taking a stand, from the victims of Gamer Gate to Ashley Judd and saying, enough, this is NOT acceptable, this is not okay, this is not a fair price to pay for being female with an opinion and the “audacity” to express it in public.

I am even more appreciative of the men who have come out to say, “Enough, this is not acceptable.” because the violence is largely coming from men, and it will take the courage of other men standing up and saying “enough” to make them listen.

Men who threaten and carry out violence against women tend not to be the type who listen when women ask them to stop! They tend to be the type of men who defer only to other men, which is why we need more men willing to take this seriously, willing to stand up and say, this is not what masculinity looks like, this is not what manhood looks like, violence is not an acceptable way to get what you want.

We must, all of us with the power to do so, move forward together on this. We must stop welcoming people to the club and start helping each other burn this club to the ground. It’s a terrible club and I don’t want the next generation to have to join us here. I don’t want the next generation to grow up believing violence is normal or to be expected – because once we learn to expect it, we come to accept it.

And violence is not an acceptable price to pay for existing.

If women must take responsibility for what they say and do in public, then shouldn’t people who attack them also be asked to take responsibility for those attacks?

Not everyone who is threatened with violence has the voice and the resources and the power to call it out, fight back and bring it to the attention of people with the power to shut it down. But for those of us who do – we should. We should be standing up for all of the victims of violence who are powerless against their abusers. We should not be tolerating threats online, or in person. We should not be tolerating violence directed toward ourselves or others.

We should not be brushing off violent threats as jokes, or banter or rebuttals. Threats of violence exist to silence opposition, not to brighten anyone’s day. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from dissent, but it shouldn’t mean that we have to accept violence in order to be heard.

I am taking my inspiration from the women and men who are using their voice and their power to say, “No more.” and joining them.

“Welcome to the club.”

And in one of those fortuitous moments of synchronicity, just as I was about to hit publish on this post, this video from Anita Sarkeesian popped up in my feed.

 

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

A Crisis of Confidence

Hey ya’ll it’s been a while.

Some of that was a conscious choice, and some of it came from a bout of deep ennui, and then that became a weird, sticky inertia.

I got stuck, in other words.

It’s been a busy year and looking back I’m totally laughing at myself and asking all of you, everyone who cares about me, to please check in with me over the winter holidays because I clearly need help that time of year.

Two years ago, over the winter holidays, I decided it would be a really good idea to start a new business. So, I did. Right after the holiday madness passed I started Kitchen Bravada, a personal chef service wherein I go to other people’s homes and cook amazing food for them.

It was awesome! I loved it. I still do. But… I haven’t had the time to invest in it that it deserves because I not only did not close down Think Banned Thoughts editing services (Why would I? I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that business and my clients and that job!), but this past year over the winter holidays I decided it would be a really good idea for me to get a j-o-b, you know one of those things where you go work for someone else and they pay you and you maybe have some regular hours, or at least some semi-regular contact with other people and you get out of the house to work and so people take you more seriously or something… Yeah, I got one of those. Right in the middle of the holidays. Because clearly, sanity is not my super power.

I took a part-time job as a Chef Instructor at Sur La Table in Boulder – and it was great, and fun. And then, about 2 months into the job I got a promotion to Culinary Lead, which is just a nice way of saying that along with being a part-time chef instructor, I am also a part-time office wench.

It’s great, I love it. I love the teaching side of it, bringing people into the kitchen and showing them how much fun it is to make good food, and helping them get over any fears they have about different cooking techniques or spices or flavors or whatever. And I totally dig the office stuff too. I like managing the numbers and taking care of staff and making sure we have the supplies and tools we need to succeed.

Meanwhile, I am still trying to run two businesses, raise my family and find quality time to spend with my hubby. (Hi hubby! *waves & blows kisses*)

Something had to give, and that thing became blogging – and reading for pleasure – and taking hikes and bike rides – and…

And then yesterday I had a day off, my first full, real day off in a while it seems. And… It was TERRIBLE!

I had a to-do list 7 miles long and this LOUD nagging voice in the back of my head telling me to just shut up, relax and enjoy my one freaking day.

The responsible me kept arguing that if I just checked a few things off The List, I’d feel better and be able to relax, and the side of me that knew how much I needed a day off kept getting frustrated and yelling things like, “RELAX GODDAMNIT! ENJOY THE FUCKING MOMENT. OR ELSE!!” Which was significantly less helpful than you might think.

Eventually I decided to take the dogs for a hike because that felt like checking something off the list AND relaxing goddamnit all at the same time.

Up to the mountains we went.

Where there was still 4 feet of snow waiting to greet us.

I don’t have snow shoes. Or cross-country skis (I had a bad experience). And cold has never been a thing that relaxes me.

Back down the mountain we went.

The dogs got sad. And car sick. It was anti-epic.

But… I did have nearly two hours of quiet (minus the dog whining) forced “relaxation.”

I came home, checked a couple more things off the list and finally, with half an hour left on the Day Off Clock before kids came home and I had to put on my Mom cape and make dinner and finish The List, I went downstairs, snuggled under a blanket with my fluffiest cat and read my book.

And now, today, in the grim, grey light of a spring storm, I finally realize what’s really been going on.

I mean, aside from me trying to ride four horses with one ass…

I’m having a wee crisis of confidence. I have allowed doubt to creep in and slowly wheedle itself into my brain stem. The voices of, “It doesn’t matter.” and “You can’t change anything anyway, so why try?” and “No one is listening.” and “You’re a fake and a phony and a fraud.” (Yes, I know that’s all redundant, but that’s how these voices work…) I’ve allowed them to stop not just my fingers from moving across the keyboard, but also allowed them to stop the thoughts from fully forming in my brain.

There are so very many things that are going on that not only deserve, but require comment – and not just from me, but from all of us – and I haven’t been doing my part. I put the torch down, and I walked away.

I told myself I was just taking a little time off for some self-care – and that’s valid. We all need to do that from time to time, but the truth that smacked me in the face yesterday is that I wasn’t taking care of myself at all, I was avoiding myself. I was avoiding the world. I was allowing this:

to be the end of the conversation.

Sure, every single time I look up, read the news, or check in on social media right now, this is how I feel – it all seems… horrible. And hopeless. And ugly.

BUT… Remember what happens next? The avengers all work together to finish destroying the city, I mean, the enemy and they save the freaking day.

They don’t just hang up their hats and go grab the last shawarma before the city falls to ruin and the world gets taken over by weird aliens – no, they stand their ground and fight. And then shawarma after.

I’m not saying I’m a super hero. I’m just a random woman with a blog, but sometimes that’s all it takes to create a spark that catches fire and inspires change. But I let my spark go dark.

I listened to the mustn’ts, I listened to the don’ts. I listened to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles and won’ts. I listened to the never haves, the not good enoughs and the nos. But I should have listened to Shel Silverstein, because anything can happen. Anything can be.

As Mark Stevens‘ wise character, Colin says, “Possible covers a lot of ground.”

I’ve got 45 minutes on the clock every morning. It’s my time and I’ve been squandering it, just like I squandered my day off worrying about doing things for other people when what I needed was to get out of my own way and work for myself.

So, today, I’m back on track. I’m clearing some room. And I’m reminding myself that all the darkness in the world cannot put out the light of one small candle.

I am that candle.

You are that candle.

Together… We can light up the world and keep the darkness at bay.

be the light.

Be the light you wish to have in the world.

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Filed under Naive idealism

Trapline – Caught in the Net

Some books need to sink in a little before you can fully appreciate them.

I finished Mark Steven’s new book Trapline about a month ago and I’ve been meaning to review it ever since, but time kept getting away from me. I’m kind of glad it did, because this a book that ages well. It’s a book with enough twists and turns and subtle nuances that letting it breathe in the back of your mind for a while helps you see the deeper brilliance of it.

trapline by mark stevens

Guaranteed to snare you.

Many books in the mystery genre, at least for me, are fun, quick, entertaining reads that I enjoy and then put down and rarely think of again. But Trapline is different. Trapline has staying power. And the author, Mark Stevens, is the reason.

On the surface, Trapline is a perfect genre book, combining mystery with the New West and bringing them both up to date.

Trapline is the third book in Mark’s Allison Coil mystery series. In case you’re new here or somehow skipped over my gushing review of Marks’ 2nd book, Buried by the Roan, let me introduce you to Allison Coil, “this intriguing woman from the wilderness, who might have been bred from some magical concoction of tree bark and horse sweat.” She’s a backwoods hunting guide, offering her services to hunters of all shapes and sizes, even those who, “looked like they expected to hunt and hike or camp grit-free.” She’s very no-nonsense, get the job done type of gal. She embodies that old west sense of right and wrong, good and bad – there is very little room for grey in her life.

Trapline opens with a half-corpse found by Allison Coil’s first no-grit hunting party of the season. It looks like a mountain lion kill, though, “Tact suggested that you didn’t utter the deduction out loud unless you were prone to yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”

The more Allison ponders the scene, the less it feels right to her, though she can’t put her finger on why. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, because a mountain lion with a taste for humans would shut down hunting season faster than a city slicker tourist could yell yee-haw.

Meanwhile, down in town someone attempts to assassinate a U.S. Senate candidate after his big pro-immigration reform speech, partially delivered in perfect Spanish.

Allison is called in to consult and try to figure out where the shot could have come from, and who might have done it.

The two scenes don’t seem to have anything in common, but before long there’s no escaping that something darker is happening in Allison’s beloved Flat Tops.

Part of Mark Steven’s brilliance rests in his ability to hook us within those first few pages. He sticks his readers at the top of the roller coaster with just enough of a view to see that it’s going to be a fast-paced, twisty, turny ride – but we also know he’s not showing us the full scope.

As Allison ponders the first murder scene she asks her hunting companion and lover, Colin, “So you think it’s possible?”

He replies, “Hungry lions happen, stray hikers happen, and possible covers a lot of ground.”

It does indeed. This is the first real hint that there is more at play than meets the eye.

As Mark takes us deeper into the world of Glenwood Springs and the Flat Tops, we begin to see and feel the tensions pulling at this small town. Immigrants are coming in and getting jobs. For the business owners hiring them, they’re a godsend, accepting jobs that no one else was applying for and doing them well. To others in the area, they are criminals – thieves, takers, moochers, pouring through the “tortilla curtain” in a “brown tide” of drugs and crime, stealing jobs from hardworking Americans and living on government handouts.

The tensions run deep and the fault lines are beginning to show. A candidate for U.S. Senate is just one casualty, but is the corpse from the woods another?

While Allison explores the woods looking for clues and trying to get prepared for the onset of hunting season, a reporter continues to investigate the assassination attempt in town. The dual investigations begin to collide as Allison’s friend is threatened for hiring immigrants, and one of her employees disappears only to turn up with a story almost too incredible to believe, if the evidence wasn’t right there in front of them.

Immigration isn’t the only factor at work. The private prison complex is always hungry for new bodies to fill the beds and meet the quotas. Someone has to find bodies to lock up. And some bodies are easier to disappear than others.

By showing us how the issue of immigration is aggravated and complicated by the existence of private prisons, and the lengths people will go to to keep those prisons full, Mark invites us to re-examine everything we thought we knew about the battle over immigration and immigrant rights.

The book takes a darker turn as Allison’s backwoods investigation stumbles on a group of men who aren’t hunting immigrants for the private prison bounty, they’re hunting them for sport.

Within the pages of this fast paced mystery, Mark Stevens manages to show us just how few steps it takes for humanity to be stripped from “others” and how the very act of “othering” is the first slippery step down that very dangerous slope.

When Buried by the Roan came out, reviewers hailed Mark Stevens as the Carl Hiaasen of the west, and while that same environmental love runs through Trapline, I think this is the book that pulls Mark out of Hiaasen’s shadow and allows us to see Mark as so much more than just another enviro-thriller writer.

Mark is a writer whose deep love of humanity comes through on every page, in every character description, in every interaction and choice made on the page. He’s a writer not afraid to show us our ugly sides, if only so we can see for ourselves that we can do better.

If you want to dive deeper into the world of Allison Coil, you can follow her on Facebook or stalk Mark on twitter. In the meantime, get Trapline, it’s guaranteed to snare you!

Also – Keep your eyes open for Mark’s new book, Lake of Fire, hitting shelves this September!!

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Filed under Books

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