Monday, October 13, 2014

Autumn in the House of Reflection

Photo by Nick Kenrick
Published under Creative Commons license
I am staying in my friend, Jim's, house for a few days, while he's out of the country on business. I'm minding the house and his 13-year-old daughter, Maddie. so she doesn't have to stay at other people's houses while he's gone. I do it because I care about Jim, who frets about the time his professional obligations keep him away from his girl.  I also do it for Maddie, who is just starting to traverse teenager-hood, and (like all of us at that age) just wants to have her space and her things and her life, as uninterrupted and stable as possible.  Having been a 13-year-old girl, I feel her need for this as sharply as I felt it back when I was that age.

However, I confess that I do this also for myself, for a number of reasons. On a purely superficial level, the house is a beautiful house, large and airy, full of light. It has the requisite real estate selling points - hard wood floors, granite countertops, floor-to-ceiling bookshelves (complete with a rolling librarian's ladder, for easy access to the highest shelves).  It is clean and open, but also has little spaces that permit seclusion.

At times when I can't work anywhere else, because of distraction or temperature, I hide out in Jim's house, so I can write. I find the environment there perfect for writing. It's not my house, so for me, it's like going to work in a really nice office.  I don't feel the need to be doing a chore or seeking alternative activity, so I can write with more focus.  I get what I call "binge-writing" done at Jim's house.

The time I've spent here recently has made me come to appreciate it more than I used to. I have never been a fan of rambling, two-story houses, mostly because the idea of caring for them seems daunting to me. All the nooks and crannies, all the places to misplace things (I'm famous for this, as many of you are well aware). I have maintained for a long time that homes - particularly ones where families live, and where there have been both happy and tumultuous time - have personalities. I won't go so far as to call it a "soul", since I reserve "souls" for living things. But there are persistent and abiding energies in a place where people live their lives every day. For better or worse, we leave an energy trail behind us that invisibly marks where we've been and how we felt when we were there. Who knows how long it lasts, this vaporous trail?

I know when I first came here, the house seemed a little foreboding, almost intimidating. I felt uneasy here, a little edgy. When I first came here, it hadn't been that long since the main planner and dreamer of this house, Jim's late wife, had died. She had been gone less than three years when I first walked through the door, and I expect that the grief and sadness of her loss was still sitting in the corners and hugging the baseboards of the house.  The house's planning, construction, decor, and furnishing were undertaken with the enthusiasm and exhilaration. The journey to its conclusion took an abrupt left turn at some point, and the completion of this house, as a building project, came at a time when energy and focus were drawn away to other, more pressing events.  This is a family home, built with family life in mind. Not just any family, though - this very family that lives here now. But it's a smaller family than initially intended - smaller by one, in fact. And the loss of that one is still felt here.

Which is not to say the house isn't loved and appreciated by its occupants. The teenager probably doesn't appreciated it the way one would like, but only because to her, this is home, and has been for as long she can remember. I think this is only right. There are certain times in a life when you should be allowed to take things for granted, to expect that they will be there, to depend on them. Like, say, three square meals on the table. Or the comfort and solace of your childhood home, whatever its size or grandeur. Or the idea that both of your parents will be there to watch you grow up.

Sadly, you can't have everything. One of Maddie's parents must do her watching from elsewhere. As the years go by, and Maddie's memories of her mother have faded, the photos on the walls of this house, and the memories that others have of her mother, must suffice.

Over the years, the sadness has dimmed. The darkness has receded like a low tide. Lives move on. A toddler becomes a little girl, turns into a young woman. Time moves forward. The house's skylights and windows seem to let in more light, more warmth. The house has, as I said, shrunk, becoming less intimidating, less weighty. Time may not heal all wounds, but it does act as a kind of physical therapy, building the muscles and coordination necessary to live with the wound and its aftermath.

Photo by Seyed Mostafa Zamani.
Published under
Creative Commons license.
I woke up in the little guest bedroom of this house this morning, a little before the alarm was to go off.  I had set the coffeemaker to auto, and the smell of fresh brewed coffee right outside my bedroom door probably did the trick. (Note to self: get help for severe coffee addiction.) It was foggy and chilly outside this morning. The California weather seems to be getting the idea that it might actually be time for autumn to start kicking in. I lay in bed and thought of this house, the grey light outside, getting brighter by the minute, and the sleeping girl upstairs, ignoring her alarms for that extra five minutes sleep.  She was four and a half when I met her. Her father, now one of my best friends, was still feeling the loss of his love keenly. Now, they are both going forward. He delves cautiously into the frightening world of dating. She plans her adult life and career and dreams of her future in the spotlight. The passage of time has changed them both.

I have changed, too. I am, deep into middle age and nearing another birthday, finally retooling a life away from pure subsistence and toward creativity. It is a struggle, financially and practically. But I am, for the first time in my life, truly happy and hopeful. I should be terrified at the prospect of poverty and financial hardship at this age, but truly, I've never been less afraid then at any time in my life. Fear, it seems to me, is a useless emotion, particularly when one is pursuing a life in the arts. This is what I decide as I'm lying in a guest bed, in a house that is not mine, smelling freshly brewed coffee.

Autumn seems to have arrived at last. It's my favorite season - the season for shedding the old and readying for the new. Halloween and harvest, the Day of the Dead and my birthday, then on to winter and giving thanks and offering gifts and another turn of the calendar. Some like the spring, for the new growth. I like the autumn and winter for shedding of old things that get in the way of that growth.  Loss of leaves on a tree is an ending, yes, but also a beginning, too.  If you want your spring, you're going to have to walk through your autumn and your winter to get there.

This house knows that. This house has lived it. This house has figured out that if you just sort of stick around, doing what you were meant to do, fulfilling your natural function, day in and day out, without waivering or falling back, things get better.  Things get lighter and easier to manage. Sadness comes. Tragedy happens. So does triumph. Events take a turn for the better, and then the worse, and then the better again.  But sorrow that hovers near the baseboards cannot stick. It will fade eventually, from enough sunrises, and season changes, and holidays, and milestones.

It's autumn. And I'm writing. In this house, where people live and get through the day. Nothing bad can come of that.

(NOTE: All Photographs in this piece were acquired through Flickr, under the Creative Commons license.)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

When It's Time To Let Go (Or, That Rose DeWitt Bukater Was One Smart Cookie)

Several years ago, I made the decision to end a friendship. It had been a close friendship that meant a lot to me at one time.  In fact, when I ended it, it still meant a lot to me.  Letting go of that friendship was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made.  And it wasn't a throwing away. It was truly a letting go, the same way that, in the movie Titanic, Rose lets go of Jack when she realizes that he is beyond saving.

The friendship was beyond saving.

Whatever it was that had brought us together as friends, the thing that continued to bind us had become unhealthy and unwieldy.  There were unkind words spoken and boundaries broken, on both sides, that had slowly eroded the foundation of the friendship.  The final blow was, I'll confess, my doing.  I had suffered a loss - a death in the close family - and this loss had caused my ordinarily temperamental and difficult family to be even more so.  After months of caring for a very ill old man, all of us were frayed and damaged and just plain exhausted.  We had no patience for each other.

There were a handful of friends who picked me up during that time and carried me through that very difficult time by being loving and supportive, by handing me some really useful advice, based on their own recent losses, and by just plain telling me they loved me and, no matter when I called, they would pick up the phone.

And they did.

But she - this friend I released - wasn't one of them.  Instead, she said some harsh things to me that hurt badly, and then when asked to apologize, simply couldn't bring herself to do it. Our final, sad email exchanges sit in a folder in my Outlook - me asking for an unqualified "I'm sorry", and her saying, "Well, I am sorry you misunderstood," or "Well, I'm sorry, but here are all the things you've done to me."  I didn't want to hear that right then. My old man was dead, my heart was broken, my spirit was depleted, and what I wanted to hear was, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. What can I do to help you now?" If I had heard that, all would have been forgiven and the slate would have been cleaned.

When I compared her treatment of me over the past couple of years with that of my other friends, I realized I had a choice to make. A hard choice. I could go on in a friendship that took more energy than I had at that time, that occasionally resulted in emotional and psychological bumps and bruises, and that somehow didn't seem to serve either of us anymore, since she seemed unhappy and dissatisfied as well. Or I could just find a way to walk away.  When I put the choices about this friendship into my mental centrifuge, trying to separate the useless product from what really mattered, I kept coming up with the same results.

Love shouldn't hurt.

This love did. So I did what I needed to do, and said "good-bye".  It was hard. As she got smaller and smaller in my life, more and more distant, I wanted to reach out and scream, "No, come back!" I knew I would miss her.  I would miss the inside jokes. I would miss the movie dates and brunches and birthdays.  I would miss hearing her voice and her laugh.  She was a good friend, whom I'd loved dearly, whom I still love in some small way.

Yet when I said goodbye, when I let the frozen hands of that friendship slip slowly into the metaphorical Atlantic and then turned my attention to saving my own life, as Rose did, I realized that there was a lot more out there for me. My life became a little less chaotic, a little less painful. I missed our good times, but those had become fewer and fewer.  I had thought at one time I'd never be able to survive without her in my life.  In fact, I believe she said nearly these exact words to me.  I did survive, though. I thrived, in fact.

This experience was an invaluable lesson to me. Sometimes, friendships are like Volvos. Sometimes, they're like Yugos.  Our was somewhere in between - maybe a Ford Fiesta.  But what I learned was that when it's time to get out of that vehicle and into something that better suits my life, I don't have to hesitate.

I don't do that anymore. When the car breaks down, and can't be reliably repaired, I have the right to go. I was reminded this past week that I don't need to be friends or friendly with people who smile at me, but speak badly behind my back.  I can pull those frozen fingers away from my hands and free myself. The choice is mine. Making it is bound to make life a little harder while everyone adjusts. But I've come to this conclusion, also....

Fake-smiling at people you don't particularly like, whom you know don't particularly like you is a freaking waste of good daylight.  I don't have to do that. Where there's life, there's hope, and I have too much life to live to burn daylight hanging out with people who barely tolerate me.

Not when a whole bunch of other ones truly love me.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Nice Hot Steamy Cup of Condescension, False Analogies, and Things That Grow in the Dark

On September 8, I wrote a letter to Janay Rice, responding to her Instagram post extolling the horrors she and her husband (former) Baltimore Raven running back Ray Rice have suffered over the exposure of his violent assault of her at a casino in Atlantic City earlier this year.

My response was simply to the list of grievances Janay Rice had regarding media scrutiny and her husband's sudden and now possibly permanent suspension from the NFL , and how it had hurt both of them, and how she wished people would just leave them alone because it was an embarrassing moment, and the constant playing and replaying of that scene in the elevator where he punches her in the face and she goes down like... well, like a woman whose football player husband just punched her in the face... only serves to force her to relive the moment.

I've gotten a lot of response to my letter.  Most of it has been positive and in agreement with my points.  There were a few nitpicks - such as my decision at the last minute to add "And All Women Who Stay" to the title of the piece.  In retrospect, I probably should have written, "All Women Who Choose to Stay", since I meant to address the letter to women who voluntarily choose to stay, while too many women who stay in abusive relationships are not staying out of choice, but rather because they have no choice.

A couple of the critiques, mostly on the post on the blog and on Liberals Unite (which picked up and printed the letter later in the day) mentioned that we should "just leave her alone" or we should "just pray for her and give her privacy".  While I understand people's sentiments here, there's a specific reason I think such advice is utterly wrong-headed and potentially fatal.  But let's come back to that in a moment.

Two people (whom I imagine were writing in tandem, since they're responses were worded nearly identically) mentioned that I was condescending.  In my letter, I used expressions like "darling girl" and "dear one", and they felt this was my attempt to belittle Ms. Rice.  In fact, I use these expressions often, especially on the occasion when I am trying to have a difficult conversation in the gentlest way possible.

There is no condescension meant, nor did most people who read the letter take it that way. Oddly, both responders referred mostly to things I'd written in the first two paragraphs, which leads me to believe that neither of them (if they were separate people at all) read through the entire letter, and also leads me to believe that they were trolling the internet, Googling "Ray Rice", hunting for blog posts to respond to on behalf of the Rices or the Ravens or whosoever they're hoping silence will benefit.  Ordinarily, I ignore trolls (which is why I deleted their posts - trolls get no free airspace on The Chron).

However, while reading through a lot of conversation that ensued in the comments sections of my original post - the comments having veered a bit off the topic, as comments will do from time to time -- I noticed that "condescension" was a recurrent theme.  Having just been accused of the same thing, it caught my eye, and I studied each post which someone had accused of being condescending or "blaming the victim", to see if those posters and I were missing something. It's always easier to spot in someone else's writing than your own, after all.

What I found was that comments that were labeled "condescending" did not condescend at all. They were, to be sure, straightforward in their rebuke of Ray Rice's actions, of the NFL's responses and in their confusion at Ms. Rice's ongoing alliance with a man who punched her in the face not two months before their wedding. This didn't strike me as condescension.  It still doesn't. It strike me as truth.

In more than one instance, including by one of the trolls on the Chron, the analogy of rape was brought up.  To wit: "If she were raped, would you blame her because of what she was wearing?"  My reply to which is, no. Absolutely not. Of course not.

However, the rape analogy is a false one.

A rape survivor only has to comply with her attacker's wishes as long as it takes her to get out of the violent act alive.  Anything she has to do to this end is above reproach.  Coming out of a rape alive is the act of a hero, and you will never hear me criticize a woman for what she had to do to accomplish it.

Likewise, I have never, nor will I ever, blame Janay Rice for what went on in the elevator. I have been very vocal about the fact that Atlantic City police added insult to her injury by watching the elevator tape and concluding that she was a criminal, too, then promptly arresting her.  (This will be covered in another blog post very soon, by the way).

Now, ask me what I'd do if our hypothetical rape victim married her attacker two months after the attack, moved him into her house, and gave him free access to herself and her child, in spite of the fact that incontrovertible evidence of the rape not only existed, but has been made public for all to see.

I promise you, I'd have a thing or two (or fifteen, or seventy-nine) to say about it, and many of those things might well sound condescending.  Because if I said them to our hypothetical rape survivor, I would be attempting to have a very difficult conversation as gently as I could with a woman who obviously wasn't thinking that straight. Aligning yourself with someone who has hurt you - whether he's forced you to engage in non-consensual sex, or smashed you in the face with his fist - is not natural.  Truly not. Ever.  Trust me on this. Aligning yourself with your abuser so completely that you find yourself apologizing for being abused is even more nutty. Cult members do this.  If you're going to use an analogy about the victims of domestic violence aligning themselves with their abusers, then you can't use the rape analogy, because victims of rape do not ordinarily stick up for their rapists.  That is not healthy.

Descending into an abusive domestic relationship is much more like joining a cult. You become conditioned by the cult leader to believe that, though he hurts you, though he abuses you, he only has your best interests at heart, and if there is any failing in the relationship, then it's yours, sweetheart. If you were better, if you could just quiet his demons, you could keep it from happening. It is brainwashing, clever and brutal, designed to render the abused so mixed up that she doesn't know what is truth and what is a lie anymore.

This brings us to the part where we're supposed to "leave her alone" and "pray for her and give her privacy".  I'm sorry, citizens, but this is simply not an option. Domestic assault is a mould, thriving in the dark corners and behind closed doors and windows.  The only way to destroy it is to throw open the sash, let the sun in, and keep going at it until it dies out.  I realize that all the things that Ray Rice suffers affect Janay Palmer Rice as well. But that's only because, two months after he smacked her a good one in that elevator, she married the guy. For better or for worse. For richer, for poorer.

No, sir.  I will run the risk of sounding "condescending" to Janay Rice now, while she's alive, than risk keeping politely quiet, and watching another woman die the way Cherica Adams (killed by hit men hired by her boyfriend, Carolina wide receiver Rae Carruth) or Kasandra Perkins (killed in front of several coaches for the Kansas City Chiefs by her boyfriend, linebacker Jovan Belcher,  who then shot himself as police arrived).  I simply cannot bear it.  I cannot keep silent when the stakes are so high.

A woman who is fighting for her life during a rape must acquiesce to her attacker's demands long enough to survive her attack.  How long would you have a battered woman acquiesce to her attacker's demands when her attacker is her husband?

Til death them do part?

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Letter to Janay Palmer Rice, and All The Women Who Stay

Janay Palmer and Ray Rice - Post-punch NFL press conference on
May 22, 2014. Media labeled this dog-and-pony a "PR disaster".

“I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend. But to have to accept the fact that it’s reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that the media and unwanted options from the public has cause my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret everyday is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his [expletive] off for all his life just to gain ratings is a horrific. THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you've succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow and show the world what real love is! Ravensnation, we love you!” ~Janay Palmer Rice, in response to her husband's indefinite suspension from the NFL after video was made public which showed him knocking her unconscious with a punch to the face in a New Jersey casino earlier this year.
 Dear Janay -

May I call you Janay? Because I feel when I've watched a woman get punched into unconsciousness by a man who has promised to love her forever, there's a kind of intimacy there - a kind of sisterhood with all women everywhere.  So, please, allow me this informality.

I have read your statement through a couple of times, and I'd like to respond to you in this letter. First, there are the accusations about how the media has ruined your life.  This I cannot deny.  The fact that you are one of the few victims of this kind of abuse (I know you don't see it as abuse, but bear with me a bit here) where actual concrete, irrefutable evidence of the act of violence actually exists.  A highly paid public figure argues with his soon-to-be wife in an elevator, knocks her out with a punch to the face, drags her limp body from the elevator, dumps her in a hallway, and stands over her, in what appears - from all videos of the scene -- to be a complete lack of empathy or remorse. The video in the hallway came to light a few months ago.  The video inside the elevator became public last night.  It's news, Janay.  And news gets reported.  If no one explained that to you before you hooked up with the multimillionaire professional football player, they should have.  One of the other football wives should have pulled you aside and told you, "Anything you want to keep private will no longer be private, because you are in your husband's spotlight now."

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the notion that it's totally fine for your man to punch you dead in the face, but the media has caused you pain for reporting it.  You understand that your husband is a public figure, and you as well, by extension.  You understand that the incident did not take place in your living room or your bedroom. It took place in a casino full of people, in front of security cameras (one would have to be an idiot not to know that security camera in casinos are a like lit doobies at the Playboy Jazz Festival - they're freakin' everywhere.  You and your husband had an altercation in the casino, and carried into the elevator.  And then he hit you, knocked you out, and dragged you out of the elevator.  In front of cameras.

In other words: Do not make public that which you would keep private.  You cannot blame the media for reporting something that took place in public. If you choose not to relive it, then turn off the television.

But I think we know, you and I (and the entire rest of the world), that even if you turn off the set, that's not going to end the nightmare.  This wasn't the first time he hit you, and I'm going to bet big money it wasn't the last, either.  You reek of a woman who has been conditioned to take the hit, my dearest girl.  "He only hits me because he loves me." "I talk too much, I make him mad. Otherwise, he'd be fine." "He says he's sorry afterward. He even cries."

Here's why we as the public simply can't understand that this is your life.  Because, it isn't, and for a few reasons.

What happened in that elevator wasn't a personal argument. It was a violation of criminal code.  Not just in New Jersey, but everywhere in the country.  Thankfully, laws now exist on the books in all fifty states that prohibit one spouse from ending a marital argument with a punch to the face, no matter how irritating the other spouse is being.  It's a crime. When the charges are read, it's not "Raynell Rice vs. Janay Palmer". It's "The People of the State of New Jersey vs. Raynell Rice". That's the criminal side of it. A deal was cut, a plea was entered. Slip, slap, swept under the rug.  Wedding on.

Then there's the social aspect of it.  Remember what happened right after you regained consciousness?  You were arrested too. Even after both uniformed Officers Cuong Sam and Bryon Hargis reviewed the very tape from inside the elevator that has caused your husband's suspension, they arrested you as a perpetrator, too. In their eyes, you were a criminal, too. And that's why it's a big deal for the rest of us.  Because regardless of what you thought, or they thought, you didn't commit a crime (unless arguing with one's spouse in public is a crime in New Jersey, and I'm betting it's not). You have access to ready cash if you ever come to your senses and decide to flee.  But there are thousands upon thousands of battered women out there who have no such "out".  As a society, we owe it to them to, at the very least, not to classify what happened in that elevator as okay.  It's not okay.  Not for you and your husband, not for anyone.  So we as a society have a right to express our outrage and insist that your husband, as a violent man, be called out and made accountable.  You're certainly not doing that. You married him after he hit you. Clearly, you are of no help to other women in this situation. If you are are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. And you are not part of the solution.

Here's the third reason why we can't all just shut up and let you handle it. There's a child involved here.  Even if every time he shoves you, or hits you, or calls you "whore", or "bitch", or "cunt", he does it at home, there will still be an audience taking it all in. She may be too young to understand the words. But children grow up fast, and they normalize what they see in their homes far too easily for the rest of the world to stand back and say, "Oh, okay... you just handle it your way, sugar." Because your way is to take the punch and keep your mouth shut.  And someday, that will be the message your baby girl absorbs. I'll tell you what a very wise man once told me: "Every day that goes by, you are teaching your daughter what it means to be a woman. What has she learned from you today?"

"Take the punch. Keep your mouth shut."

 It isn't your life. You live in the world, dearest one. You cannot bask in the limelight of "Ravensnation" one minute, and then ask to be a private citizen, slapping make-up on the bruises and being allowed to apologize for not being a good enough punching bag without expecting any repercussions.

This is news, in a world where 24-hour news cycles make news disposable. In a month, two months, none of us will be talking about you anymore. We'll have moved on to the next bit of news that shocks or titillates us. You'll be alone with your angry husband in a house without cameras to protect you.  You'll get the privacy you are so anxious for, but I'm pretty sure it's not going to bring you the comfort you think it will.

My wish for you is that you get the help you so desperately need. My wish for you is that you are able someday to see that love shouldn't hurt, shouldn't leave a purple bruise. My wish for you is that you are able to understand that whether you like it or not you are part of the world, and the world gets a say in what it deems acceptable behavior amongst its citizens.

 Peace, darling one. Peace and wisdom and love.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Playing God

Today, we are Catharine, Science Geek. Because I am fascinated by all things medical and scientific, even if they are far beyond what I can comprehend.  The news of the hour is Alana, a pretty New Jersey teenager who has three biological parents.  Yep.  You heard that right. Three. Biological. Parents.

In 1990, Alana's mother was having trouble conceiving a baby. After several attempts at fertilization, doctors theorized that Alana's mother might have a flaw in her mitochondria (the DNA that comes through the maternal line).  They performed a brand new procedure called cytoplasmic transfer, whereby they took one of Alana's mother's eggs, excised the portion of the egg containing the mitochondria, and replaced it with mitochondria from a donor egg.  The resultant hybrid egg was fertilized with sperm from Alana's father, the ovum was implanted in Alana's mother and, presto-chango, nine months later, a pretty, fresh-faced baby, containing genetic material from Alana's mother and father, and the donor female, was born. Fourteen years later, here we are, and here she is:

Shut up, how cute is she? And the only thing unusual about her is that she might confound a DNA test because she has one extra donor to her strand repertoire.

The reason this is of interest now is that the UK is considering fully legalizing the procedure in order to avoid certain diseases of the mitochondria which, though rare, are very debilitating.  The US, however, has already effectively banned the procedure by shuffling it under the auspices of the Food and Drug Administration - which is somewhat perplexing, as it is neither a food nor a drug. The same FDA which has no trouble feeding us mutant corn, is apparently worried that gene replacement therapy will create vast armies of mutant hybrid children who are bent on world domination and can't be killed because of their superhuman physiques and their incomprensible paranormal abilities!

No human cytoplasmic transfers have been attempted in the US since the FDA took it over.

Seventeen such procedures were attempted at around the time Alana was conceived by the same facility in New Jersey, with uneven results.  There was one miscarriage, one child born with a missing X chromosome, and two children were born with unspecified "developmental disorders".  Since most of these mothers had already had more than one miscarriage, the possibility that they might have had more genetic damage other than mitochondria exists, and so none of the complication could be directly traced to the cytoplasmic transfer.  In the UK, three extensive investigations into the procedure were done, and the procedure was determined to be "not unsafe".  By British standards, that's almost a ringing endorsement. The procedure has not officially been banned in the UK.

The FDA has said outright that they are concerned that such procedures are tantamount to doctors "playing God" with people's lives.  I'm always amazed when I read about certain medical treatments which have been banned - not because they are not effective, or have been determined to be dangerous - but because we don't want our doctors "playing God".

What in the name of Hippocrates and all that's holy do people think medicine is, anyway? Newsflash, my darling little Neanderthals - the practice of all medicine is, in fact, "playing God". When the mundane world would have you get sick and die from a bacterial infection, your doctor prescribes antibiotics, thereby... "playing God".

When your appendix threatens to burst and cause a potentially fatal case of peritonitis throughout your lower abdomen, the surgeon plays God by cutting you open and removing the offending organ (thereby thwarting pesky Nature and her plans to see you dead and buried once and for all).  I myself was the "victim" of such a God-playing ego maniacal mad scientist, when my unborn child decided that she didn't care what the cool kids were doing, she was coming out butt first.  Her refusal to turn onto her head as her due date approached, coupled with a spike in blood pressure on my part toward the end of the pregnancy, might have been a fatal combination, if my doctor hadn't played God and scheduled a Cesarean section.

Midwives, dentists, chiropractors... all of them are playing God in one way or another by stepping in when Nature is trying to insist on taking it's course, and intervening to save lives and end suffering. Otherwise, doctors and nurses would be standing over your sick bed and praying over you when you got sick, waiting for God to step up to the plate and get the job done. There's a name for that, by the way... Christian Science.

You can't have it both ways.

Either we permit medicine to make some headway on horrendous diseases that can only be cured with stem cell research and gene therapy, like Tay Sachs and cystic fibrosis, and help solve fertility issues and genetic problems by using methods like cytoplasmic transfer, or we stop taking antibiotics and prohibit our children from doing so when they get sick.

(Oh, and... good luck when little Timmy turns up with his first back-to-school ear infection, by the way. Sorry we couldn't play God to save him. Did I mention kids used to die on a regular basis because of ear infections before doctors "played God" by inventing penicillin? No? Oh, well.... We never liked little Timmy much anyway. Always whining about his pus-filled ears. So annoying.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Face To Face with the Man on the Street (Or Rather, On the Jogging Path)

Dear Guy on the Street Who Just Shouted at Me to Smile:

Actually, in all fairness, you didn't actually shout at me to smile.  To be specific, you said... and I quote, "Hey, baby, why aren't you smiling on a day like today?  What's that face for?"

Since I wasn't aware I was actually making any specific face at the time, I was taken aback by the comment. I had to stop and imagine to which face you could be referring. See, for a moment, I was thinking about myself, and not you, and while I realize that this is rather unforgivable, I confess it happens most of the time. But I imagine, since I was on a running trail, dragging my sorry, too-large ass off the couch for the first time in a long while, it looked something like this.:

That's my "God this is truly annoying, my blood sugar is low, and I could really use a taco" face.

It could also have been my "I'm trying to forget I'm on this running trail by thinking about what I will be writing after I've finished this running tomfoolery and gone home to write" face, which looks something like this:

Or it could be what I call my "Urban Warrior" face.  I don't think I have a picture of that face, but it can be best described as a kind of "I'm either homicidal or crazy or both, so stay the fuck out of my way" face.  This is the face I created when I turned around fifteen and started getting real boobs.  I created it for men like you.  Men with no boundaries.  Men who believe that my sole function in life is to give them something pretty to look at.  See, back then, I used to look more like this:

And because i looked like that, men began letting me know that they were paying attention.  To my face. To my tits.  To my ass. To my body as a whole, and how it pleased and displeased.  My mother, who was an extraordinarily beautiful woman, discovered the same thing around the time she turned fifteen as well.  Usually, her face looked like this:

I was raised in a woman's house by a woman alone.  She once told me, "If you adopt the right attitude, you can walk down any street in any city and be pretty safe.  You cannot be weak.  You cannot show fear.  You cannot look lost or confused.  No matter what, you belong there.  No matter how lost you actually are, you're right where you meant to be. And anyone who tangles with you is in for the fight of his life. People won't fuck with you."  (Note: Nobody fucked with my mother.) So I began to watch her.  When we were on our home turf, she was amiable enough, friendly enough.  But when we were someplace new or strange or out of her comfort zone, the face became hard and kind of ferocious.  I studied that face.  I learned that that face kept men -- men like you, actually -- away from her.  They called out, but they kept their distance. And that's what a woman alone most wants. To be able to walk down a street she doesn't know, or jog on a running path by herself, without having to be worried about being approached by a stranger who wants something from her.  Maybe just a smile.  Maybe more.  Maybe he's just looking for a way to break the ice because he's lonely.  But I have to wonder why he would choose a shout-out as a mode of introduction.

You see, sir, the face I was probably wearing - my "Urban Warrior" face-- was invented for men like you.  Men without boundaries or propriety, who truly believe that women -- all women, of all ages -- were put here to smile at you and make you feel worthy.  Because I was raised by a single woman in a single woman's house, I was raised with no such idea about the world.  I have never been trained to believe that as a woman out in the world, my job is to make men feel better about themselves by plastering a fake smile on my face, even while I'm engaged in a very personal, very internal effort (i.e., jogging to get back into shape).

You may be a perfectly nice man, who simply learned unacceptable modes of behavior from the men around you. You may be a husband and a father and a grandfather to girls - girls you may treat as if they were princesses.You may have never even swatted a fly.  But by shouting out to me in a public place, by trying to augment my behavior to accommodate your aesthetic, you have over-stepped your bounds.

The fact remains that Ted Bundy got almost all of his victims by playing into the societal training that woman receives to be "nice". To be "helpful".  To let down her guard, or be shamed into doing so, because she's not being "nice" and "helpful" enough. You're no Ted Bundy, you'll argue. But I have no way of knowing that. Until I know differently, all men who are unknown to me (and some who are, for that matter) are Ted Bundy, and will be treated accordingly.

"That face" is for you.  "That face" has helped me walk down streets in the roughest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, in Chicago, in Kansas City on the darkest of nights in the wintertime, unscathed.  "That face" saw me through a moment where I got lost in New York City at 19, took the wrong subway and wound up in Hell's Kitchen.  This was pre-Giuliani, pre-"I *heart* New York" Hell's Kitchen -- tight neighborhoods where no strangers were welcome, let alone some blonde Valley Girl tourist.  But "that face" allowed me to -- after the sweet bodega owner took pity on me ("that face" and all) and told me how to get back to Manhattan -- make it to the other subway platform and get back to my hotel.

"That face" is my only weapon in a world that teaches women that we're bitches if we turn a man's advances away, and whores if we don't.  It is the weapon I use in a world that has taught me since childhood that my job is to make it out of this world without getting raped, instead of teaching its men simply not to rape.

So, kindly sir on the running path, thank you for your concern about my face.  No need to worry. I'm pretty sure that my face is just fine.  See I have a few other faces.  Let me treat you to a few that you will never see in your lifetime.

This is my face when with my two best friends in the world:

And this is my face at a birthday party for me, with my friend Valerie, who has known me for... well, let's just say we were embryos when met and leave it at that, shall we?:

And here's my face I save for my darling grandson, who is very funny and wacky:

You didn't see any of these faces because you're not entitled to them.  You don't deserve them.  They don't belong to you, because you haven't earned them. My face belongs to me, just as yours (complete with that loud mouth of yours) belongs to you.  And I'll make the call as to who sees what, if it's all the same to you.

I hope this explains my "face position" once and for all, and alleviates the overwhelming anxiety you seem to feel regarding my facial expressions.

Kind regards.

Yours sincerely,

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

No One Here Is Amused By My Antics

I was on the phone with a friend a month or so ago, shortly after I'd given notice at work, discussing things that I needed to talk to my bosses about before I left.  He suggested I take the opportunity to "go rogue".  And we laughed, because... like... what are they going to do? Fire me?

"Amanda's dangerous when you let her off the leash," I joked.

After we hung up, though, something about the conversation stuck with me.

Off the leash.


Let loose.

Me, unregulated...

Amanda Without Borders.

I had a t-shirt made back in February that came to me one weekday morning as I was battling nausea and stress, preparing to rise and ready myself for work.  The result of the shirt can be seen at the top of this post.

"No one here is amused by my antics."

It was when I made that shirt that I began to think that I might have to leave.  And more and more, I began to see that, in spite of the dangers and fears, leaving was absolutely positively the right thing to do. Not just leaving this particular job, at this particular company.  But any job like it, at any company.  Because, regardless of how sweet one's corporate boss is (and I've had some truly great ones), no matter how understanding or tolerant, the truth is -- no one here is amused by my antics.  They're busy trying to get their work done.

My antics are who I am, though.  Antics are, in effect, my business. My weird way of looking at the world doesn't fit with most people's.  I'm out of step in a corporate environment, because, honestly, no one gets me.  When the world is looking at you with that RCA Victor dog look - head tipped to one side, trying to figure out what manner of beast you are - it's a little defeating and demoralizing.

"Normal" people.... people who live in a world that isn't punctuated by make-believe, by character development, by plot twists, separated into three acts and starting with literary exposition.... generally assume that I am "being funny" or "being dramatic".  As if it's a lifestyle choice.  What I'm "being" is actually just... me.  The real me.

I've come to realize that being creative is like being gay.  It's not something you choose.  It's just something you are, something that's innate and essential to the core of your identity.

Lady Gaga said it best: You're born that way.

When my daughter was quite young - maybe 10 or so - she asked me what I'd do if she ever came to me and said she was a lesbian.   I had already thought about this, since there's at least a 10% chance with every child that they will be gay, and you'd better figure out how you're going to handle it if they are.  I answered honestly -- that I would tell her I loved her, that I supported anything she chose to do, that I would help her anyway I could. Except one.

I told her I would never support a decision to live as a closeted homosexual.  I came from an era where all homosexuality was hidden in dark places, as if it was something shameful and ugly.  I've seen what it does to people. Coming out is hard on everybody.  But living a lie about something so profoundly a part of one's nature as whom one loves is a travesty and soul-killer.  I told her that I would never support her in self-shaming behavior.

I look back on that conversation and think, I was living as closeted creative.  I was a self-shamer. Every art I ever had - acting, singing, writing -- I have put on the back burner in favor of a steady paycheck.  I have almost certainly missed the acting/singing train (many people have told me so, in no uncertain terms).  That was a choice I made that I didn't realize I was making at the time.  I behaved as if I wasn't entitled to my art.  It wasn't a big money-earner, and my only important job was to earn money.

Now, I have another choice.  To live as a creative - with all the risks and discomforts that entails -- or live in the closet, as if somehow, my art is something shameful and dark and in need of hiding.

If I don't have the guts to take this risk now, to come out of the creative closet, wending my way past the colored pipe cleaners and Popsicle sticks, over the bottles of Elmer's glue and tubes of glitter, and into the bright, unflattering light of day, then I deserve to die alone and miserable.  And I don't deserve that.  No one does.

Amanda without Borders.  Amanda, Unchained.  Off the leash. Out of the shadows.

Now... let's go find us a plot twist and have some real fun, shall we?