Consent and the Myth of the Cold Woman

Isn’t it funny that women are called cold, but no one questions why a man could be turned on enough to fuck a woman who has become a still mass of cells, each of them quietly (or noisily) saying, “No. I don’t want this!”

I hereby flip this. Any man who calls a woman cold is in fact outing himself as cold-hearted. Said woman is exactly the opposite of cold. She is so full of life, so sentient, that she cannot stand an assault to her personhood and must go into self defense mode, playing dead as evolution has taught her to do when a wild animal is near and she cannot run or fight.

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Sisters’ Book Burning (Fiction)

book burning

Getty Images

Upon waking, the first thing I felt was cheated. I’d planned it out, gotten my throat to swallow that disgusting crap, yet here I still was.

The crank window got me. Opening it was a laborious thing, like some occupational therapy exercise of 30 little circles. Who would have opened it on a freezing January night? The cold whiteness and freshness of the room held the answer. Angel.

I never thought of killing myself again.

It’s not that my life hasn’t been turned upside down and inside out. But since that day nearly three decades ago, I’ve been feeling my way towards home.

There is this green, lusciousness like a bubbling swamp or kudzu growing up from my womb and taking over my heart and my arms and my throat until I can’t contain it. This Greenness (yes, it deserves to be capitalized) has grown in love and heartbreak and it demands to be let out.

And to let you in.

It tells me it its tendrils have held you too, that it is mending your heart even now, if only you will let your sweet organ continue to beat a while longer.

There used to be a wall between us, me and the Greenness. It was a wall of infatuation with my man, a wall of agreeableness and low self-esteem put up by so many cat calls and lipstick commercials. All I felt when The Greenness fought like a wild animal against its lobotomy was a little constriction on my heart before I drifted off to sleep at night. Hardly noticeable.

Letting my fears and insecurities run the show didn’t turn out so well, so the Greenness is demanding the stage. The first thing it wants to tell you is that it knows about the men who tried to spray Roundup on you. From your father—who, knowing your sprout would curve in ways he found seductive, and probably thinking it incredibly literary and deep, in the tradition of Lolita and Freud, was inappropriate in his behavior and in his leering boys-will-be-boys energy, to your husband who has gone from being your oppressor to being the “whipped” man because he hasn’t figured out how to be a partner and can only think to end his oppression by making himself lesser than you. “Why don’t you just decide everything,” he insists, without a trace of sarcasm.

Of course, these two men are just the bookends, holding up copious volumes of gropers, detractors, and mansplainers. These pamphlets, novellas, and tomes have set the stage and parameters of my life too.

But let’s do this. Let’s tag the whole lot for a yard sale, a trip to the donation center, a book burning. Our lives will not be about them. They will be about us and the rainforest that emerges in our wake as we reclaim our factory-farmed, urban-creeped landscape.

Your own glorious story is waiting for you to write it.

But for that to happen, sister, you must hang on one more day.

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Flowers Need the Touch of Your Butterfly Feet (Fiction)

desert_butterflyI’m trusting you with my crazy story in hopes that it will help you free yourself. And don’t ask, “Free myself from what?” As soon as I mentioned freedom, your inner voice gave you that answer loud and clear. I don’t judge you for being flustered. I was there myself, just this morning.

I rose before dawn and waded through the flotsam and jetsam of my tiny office to the purple exercise ball that serves as my desk chair. Pushing aside the junk, I lit a candle against the dark cold of an April rain.

Pen in hand, I froze. Had my imagination had been dormant too long? Maybe this ballpoint Bic was a defibrillator. I touched it to the page to see if it held a charge.

“Yes!” said a voice. It scared the shit out of me, but I settled myself and put pen to paper again.

“Who are you?” I wrote.

“I’m Anne,” she said. I could just tell it was Anne with an E. “I am your office, or you might say the deva of your office, the energy form you’ve built here.”

I was going to ask for clarification, but I didn’t have time. Anne went on and I wrote furiously, trying to keep up.

“I have been your haven and, through you, a haven for all humans who vibrate at your frequency.

“You closed my door against the pain of the world and filled me with things that made you and your cohorts feel safe. Interesting choices you made.

“The little old desk from the alley only fits your legs if you keep your knees primly together while the exercise ball opens your hips as you work, like you’re in training to be a famed, and flexible, consort.” She laughed at this, a tittering so bubbly I could take no offense.

“There’s hardly room for you in here,” she went on. “The carpet is buried beneath a printer, camera equipment for your nonexistent vlog, papers, a suitcase, laundry, and that orange Eames chair knock off you thought was so cool.”

My eyes stung. Maybe I was like this office, full of incongruent junk and wasted potential.

“No, no,” she cooed. “Don’t you see? I am no wasteland. I’m a cocoon. Not just for you either, but for all who are about to break free.”

“So you’re some kind of mother goddess?” I asked.

Her blushing made a sound, like red wine hitting a silver goblet.

“You may stay in this cocoon as long as you like. But know that with a bit of work and courage, you could be floating on gossamer wings.

“I honor your fear. You’re facing 40 days in the desert, sweetheart. But there are flowers that need the touch of your butterfly feet and yearn for you to unroll that luxuriously long tongue in a dance of pleasure that will feed you and reawaken this barren land with blossom upon blossom, gob smacking scorpions and eagles alike.

“So, I ask you gently, isn’t it time?”

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Repair is an Act of Devotion (Fiction)

MId Century Goodwill Dresser Makeover-1126

Until I found myself raising three young children with an anemic savings account, no amount of “make it do or do without” admonitions could keep me from responding to every one of life’s needs with an appropriate purchase from Amazon.

The gluing and nailing and refinishing of old things was for grandmothers in threadbare dresses living off government-issued bricks of cheese. Bless their old hearts and the way that, even in their parsimony, they always had a fiver to slip into a grandchild’s birthday card.

I believed in abundance. The truth was that we were all deserving, if only we realized it and accepted the gifts that the Universe showered on us nonstop, gifts we could easily and graciously receive if we just put down our armaments, our thimbles, our darning needles.

I still think this is the case.

Where I became disoriented was in seeing abundance as a pursuit that required grand shows of faith. I bet it all, time after time, to prove my faith. I bought the 4-figure program, put everything in the car and moved across the country, backpacked through Asia, made protected love to dangerous people and vice versa.

My marriage was an accident waiting to happen.

In its wake, I find myself broken, but also as hopeful as the twenty dollars I sometimes seed into my savings account. My mate gone, I keep company with three young humans who incubated in my very own body and are still in orbit around me, depending on me for light and warmth and good sense.

We live our lives on a mismatched collection of falling-apart furniture, the wreckage of my 12-year marriage. The nervous banging of the wobbly dining chair makes me want to pull out my credit card, to throw money at this problem and watch the universe respond with the quality, attractive furniture my children and I deserve.

But with money in short supply, it’s an easy choice to wait and make do. It puts me in mind of my grandmother. She might have fixed the old stuff, even if she could afford new.

The slow and purposeful process of repair is an act of devotion. Its ceremony is not just required in hard times, but a way to get through them.

It is an act of discernment, too. Some things cannot be mended.

I look at our mid-Century modern dresser—a sturdy grande dame who’s seen better days—and tell the kids to get their shoes on.

At the corner store, we steer away from the sexy “As Seen on TV” aisle. This trip is about restoration. The old women I loved and pitied are now heroes to me as my own cronedom is gloriously foreshadowed in the wild, silver hairs that spring from my scalp in greater numbers each day.

I let my son choose between the two most promising brands of super amazing glue. It is temperature and impact resistant. It is the anointing oil that will consecrate our restoration.

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Cutting Out My Abuser is not Personal

crackIt’s rather troublesome that my dad is the one who introduced me to Leonard Cohen. But that’s okay. There are poisons come with their own antidotes and I’ve learned that my dad was one such killer/elixir combination. And it’s not even him. It’s not personal. Life itself is what kills you while making the food for the new person that will emerge from the ashes.

Like the second week of November bringing Trump’s election and Cohen’s death. Though the first was shocking, the second expected, in retrospect, they were both inevitable. There was solace, if not an antidote exactly, in Kate McKinnon singing Halleluiah as Clinton on national television that Saturday.

And solace has come for me in the peace that arrives with good boundaries. I reject the villains that seem to be rising in the world and in our country, but I see that they’ve always been there and that previous leaders were just milder flavors of the same dish. And perhaps that’s worse, like biryani with no chili; faded to a point where you can’t tell what it really is.

My anger at a country that would elect a regime that could grab me or my daughter by the pussy, inculcate my sons into a toxic cesspool of patriarchal masculinity, put us and other Muslims in concentration camps, endorse the new slavery of the school-to-prison pipeline for my black brothers and sisters was a crucible for me.

The crucible was made stronger knowing that 53% of people ostensibly like me, my fellow white women, had voted for this new world order.

What was wrong with them? Did I suffer from the same ailment? I mean, maybe I had the sense to vote for the person who wasn’t going to build a wall on our Southern border and implement a bunch of Nazi-like bullshit, but the root causes of their decision to either endorse or ignore those things, were those roots in my subterranean world also?

Were we white women allowing our desire for approval by white men, who would never see us as equals anyway, to influence our allegiance? This is where the personal becomes universal. We may be trying to please daddy or hubby, but in doing so we become agents of the patriarchy.

There was a lot of clashing of identities and stereotypes as I looked around and tried to understand. I still don’t know who my black stepmother voted for. She expressed confusion before the election about what to do because Trump and Clinton were equally poor choices in her eyes. I maybe could have understood that if Clinton’s faults were creating the “super predator” and contributing to the mass incarceration of black men. But it was more to do with “the gays” and “the baby killers,” I think, both of which conflict with her Seventh Day Adventist outlook.

My stepmother once told me I should stop speaking out for gay rights if it was upsetting my in-laws, that it had nothing to do with me and it wasn’t a hill I should die on.

Two weeks after the election, with all this fermenting inside of me, I could no longer serve the people who’d taken advantage of my love and trust. As I cleaned my house to host my father for Thanksgiving, it all felt wrong. I was filled with unadulterated rage, such that I said a prayer over the salad I made, asking that it not be filled with hatred and that it be good for all who ate it. I was reminded of all the Thanksgivings and Christmases of my childhood building one atop the other, an unbroken chain that mirrored the links between my parents’ pain and my own. It felt like I had to cut that tie or decide it was okay to knot it around my children’s hearts.

Just a few days later, there was a spate of stories about the trauma endured during filming by the female actress in Last Tango in Paris, an X-rated movie my father had screened in our home and where I was the only child in the audience. I stopped sleep and all important deadlines to make the first twist in the first link.

My open letter to my father was one of the hardest of a million steps I had to take to unshackle myself and my children from the narratives of our families and our skins and our countries.

So, though the letter was personal, it also wasn’t.

It wasn’t personal because I had nothing against my father. It’s likely he did the best he could with what he knew and the strength he had. It’s not personal because I just did what was necessary to save me and my children. It’s not personal because it’s universal. This is what we all must do if we’re to move forward.  Cutting out what we won’t accept, even if it contains aspects we love, is what we have to do to find out what’s under our soil, uprooting illness and fertilizing the healthy roots that have been graceful enough penetrate the earth and sometimes hang on by a pebble, waiting for this moment.

chem-chem-and-chaka-trees-connected-at-the-roots

Chemchem and Chaka trees connected at the roots.

(Photo: Leonora (Ellie) Enking/cropped from original/CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Red Pill Papa: My Molester Corroborates My Story and Feels Entitled to an Apology

If this post sounds a bit manic, well, it’s just because I am ELATED.

There will be very little artistry in this. Just happiness and clarity and a little sofa jumping and some insight into what happens after one publicly shares a story of abuse.

Okay, so I have heard from my stepmother and others in my family that my father feels I have wronged him by going public and that I owe him an apology. He is saying he only molested me twice and that both of those incidents happened when he was heavily under the influence of alcohol. Also, he points out that he has helped me so much and given me money. (It’s not like I’m Donald Trump. Think less 20 million dollars and more of a four-figure, erm, figure. But even if I was a trust fund baby, no amount of money justifies the breaking of parental boundaries in the way he did.)

My father’s account, quite simply, makes my heart sing.

It makes me immensely happy. Why? Let me count the ways.

  1. This is not a he-said/she-said issue. While he doesn’t seem to feel that molesting me was overly problematic, he does admit that these “unconscious,” “drunken” molestations took place. (If they were unconscious, how does he know there were only two times? But let’s not get sidetracked by the nitty gritty here.)
  2. I can officially stop questioning my perception that something unhealthy happened to me because his own account speaks so clearly of moral and ethical disease.
  3. His stance means that the patriarchy is really a thing. Because he clearly thinks it was “just one of those things” and that I should be grateful for all the good he brought into my life, my inkling that he has had a sense of ownership over me has been proven correct. His thoughts match what the hairs on the back of my neck told me about him and about my standing in society. I mean, this is legitimately considered locker room talk and just what men do and I got you this nice piece of jewelry so just shut up and show a little gratitude already. That many of my family members “see his side too” and have even said that my memory could have been fuzzy (though I clearly state in my open letter that I have NO memory of this, just the gross feelings and his own words to point me in the right direction) points to this being a more systemic problem. I know, duh, right? But you drive yourself up a wall thinking maybe you’re just seeing this whole thing from the wrong angle. This is like an antidote to the gas lighting and it is awesome. I’d much rather know there is a cancer than be suffering and having a nagging feeling that I could never put my finger on.
  4. It was 100% the right thing for me to do this in public and in writing! I didn’t want to talk to him because I didn’t want to defend myself and hear him minimize what happened to me (which, if he or anyone else cared to read the letter I wrote, was not limited to the two known incidents of molestation but the entire lack of boundaries and omnipresence of grooming and crazy-making behavior). I have totally outsourced all that listening to his whining and justifications. Other people did it for me and I had the benefit of distance so I could instantly spot it for the load of horse crap that it is. It should go without saying that this approach was right for me. Everyone must do what they feel is right for their own situation.

I’ve been reorganizing around the house during this week between Christmas and New Years and have come across artifacts of my relationship with my father. The small but powerful stereo system he built me (now I am puzzling over which wires connect where), the bikes he gifted to me and my husband, his tall ladder that I didn’t get around to returning before I laid our history bare. We have half-used paint cans he donated to our kids’ room-painting projects, weird builder sets he created for our children himself out of nylon nuts and bolts.

Of course I miss my dad, or my idea of what a dad could be or the fantasy we all pretended was real, that he was just a kind-hearted, creative-if-flawed old grandpa poet, bumbling about with his coffee and sweet rolls. I actually am grateful for all I’ve received from him, though it is not his place to tell me I should be and he doesn’t even understand the treasures he’s gifted me.

My missing of him and the ache in the place his image occupied are justified and don’t negate his accountability.

I mourned for Anakin Skywalker when he went to the Dark Side. That doesn’t mean that Darth Vader didn’t do great harm. It doesn’t excuse him or make me think I should give a pardon that hasn’t been asked for or that I am obligated look back even for a second.

I am reminded now of a “storysito” folded into Alice Walker’s Now is the Time to Open Your Heart. One of the women on a healing journey in South America recounts her grandfather as her rapist and how she and her mom missed him after her mom whisked her away to safety. He was a professional clown and always had a smile and a home cooked meal waiting when her mom came home from work. (A moment here to thank Creation for books. This one page in Walker’s book might have given me a mote more permission to see my family in a realistic, nuanced light. An abuser can be, and probably often is, likeable.)

What my dad has done by propagating this story of me as ungrateful and unfair and unkind is this: he has given me a red pill. I can see the matrix.

His existence as a benevolent force in my life was a lie (because he has actually corroborated my story and, even if my words were untrue, they would point to mental illness that might be responded to with kind inquiry instead of silence and weird symbols—the booster seats returned from his car, the apparent purging of my photos from his phone via wordless email, a return of the key to our front door).

The tokens of agency for women in our society ring hollow now.

And if the hairs on the back of my neck were right about this, they’re probably right about a good many other things.

I wish I hadn’t spent four decades on this planet before truly figuring this out.

A random online life expectancy calculator says I’ll live to 92, so God willing, I’ve got 50 years of being truly alive to look forward to.

Yippee for the red pill!

Lingering questions:

How do I explain to my children why their Pap Pap is no longer coming over? (And not sure about his wife… she is claiming to be neutral and seems to be supporting him through his pain. When she told me he blamed the alcohol, she didn’t seem to understand how this made the story and my situation as a child worse, not better, etc.)

How do I make sure he doesn’t hurt other children? I’m remembering so much now, like the period of time maybe 15 years ago when he volunteered to tutor grade schoolers in reading and it didn’t even occur to me that this could be a danger. As far as I know, he has no regular private access to children. But still.

(To my family who is ambivalent about my experience, please just err on the side of safety for your children. Being cautious doesn’t require taking sides.)

Even as I ponder the path forward, I am filled with a sense of relief and accomplishment and freedom. In fact, I do kind of feel like he gave me 20 million dollars-or like I made it out of lemons or something.

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I’m Not a Peaceful Parent… Yet

blog_3_st_francis_001I walked into the living room to find my daughter bent over, every ounce of attention involved in a secretive enterprise.

If I had paused and taken a quiet, centering breath I would have realized the sacred nature of her task, her smooth and unbothered brow, her mouth slightly agape in wonderment.

But I didn’t pause and the breath I inhaled was taken in to yell at her. By the time I exhaled, I had tempered my volume as I said, “Why would you pull the feathers off of the cat’s toy bird? Arty has a very small world and this toy is important to her. I’m astounded that you would do this.”

She looked at me and down at the feathers on the floor and she ran to her room. The wind from her feet caused the feathers to rise a bit and resettle. They were white like snow and clouds, two of her favorite things.

It was at this point that I took a centering breath. Why had I approached her like that?

Why the hair trigger? Why the guilt?

In fact, Arty has many toys and I don’t know that this one is particularly important to her.

I knocked on my daughter’s door entering with her permission. “I’m sorry I hurt you,” I said. “You have a good heart. I should have just reminded you that we don’t damage others’ things. You care about Arty. If I had reminded you, I know you would have stopped. I should have done that.”

“Yes, you should have,” she said.

That night as I tucked her in she continued our conversation. “Grownups have this way of talking when they want to yell. They lower their voice so they can say they’re not yelling, but inside they really are.”

“So, you feel a kind of violent energy when grownups do that?”

“Yes,” she said.

She had totally nailed me, of course. “Is that how you felt today?”

“Yes.”

I felt it too, felt what my energy had done to her. “I’m sorry. I’m working on it. I don’t want to hurt you.”

As we cuddled closer she said, “Maybe you should take those classes that help you manage your anger.” Her voice was not harsh or judgmental. She was giving genuine advice.

“Maybe I should,” I replied, humbled. I think that I need to meditate more and be especially vigilant when I’m tired. We’ve all been running pretty hard lately. There’s been a violent twinge in the air with the conflicts between she and her older brother getting mean and physical on both sides. I think about how I am the leader—this is my circus and these are my monkeys and the best thing I can do for my beautiful children is model a peaceful energy.

I asked my daughter if she’d heard of St. Francis. “Animals loved him,” I said. “Wild animals would just follow him around and sit on his shoulder. Do you know why?”

“Because he didn’t yell?”

“Yes,” I say, as if I am certain of the story, which I’m not. “He didn’t even think about yelling or want to yell. No part of him even had a thought of hurting anything and the animals could sense that so they wanted to be around him.”

As her bedtime story, she wanted to hear about her birth which was the most peaceful one of the three kids. I recount again how I stayed up late talking to her aunt, my newlywed sister-in-law, between contractions, called the midwife at 5 am, went for a walk, and into the world she came by about 8 am. We were attended by a midwife, her assistant, and a nurse in our home. I wanted all of my births at home, but hers was the only one that worked out that way and it was very gentle compared to the hospital world of IVs, monitors, and surgical steel. She likes knowing that her favorite purple exercise ball is the one I was leaning on when she practically fell out.

Later I look up St. Francis. I’m amazed to find he was a soldier during The Crusades who became an advocate of nonviolence, returning to the battlefield as an agent of peace. In 1219 he walked unarmed for a year through the war zone from Italy to Northern Africa where he met the leading Muslim of the time, Sultan Melek-el-Kamel who said, “If all Christians are like this, I would not hesitate to become one.”

St. Francis certainly did much for humans, and the endorsement of the animals is meaningful. How many times have I given someone more trust because my shy cat liked them?

Perhaps children, being less corrupted by societal training, being more fully human have their energy receptors intact.

Perhaps they can sense even more than adults the angry, sardonic, resentful thoughts and feelings that emanate from us like Chernobyl waste.

I can’t get it out of my mind that my daughter clearly feels these things. It’s so intimidating, so much responsibility to think about the fact that my bad day or lack of enlightenment or tools is doing harm to her and to my boys.

I have peace and energy on the brain.

It’s appropriate that one of the most famous stories about St. Francis is about his meeting with a Muslim leader. I think of our own tradition of Islam, and how the meaning of the word is “peace through submission.”

The yogic concept of ahimsa comes to mind as well. It’s nonviolence and compassion for all living beings.  I took a yoga teacher training once that emphasized looking upon students with kindness and non-judgment because even your thoughts about your students can affect them.

Then there’s the study by Robert Rosenthal where teachers were told that some of the children in their classrooms were about to make big leaps in IQ. The students were randomly selected, but the ones in the “high expectations” list did make big IQ leaps. Scientific commentary on the study points to additional time and care given to those students, but I also think their thoughts and energy had an impact.

My son wasn’t ready to read in kindergarten. This wasn’t a big deal to me and the reason he was in a Montessori class was so he could learn at his own pace, as Maria Montessori modeled. But suddenly there were parent-teacher meetings about how he was “falling behind.” I had to get him tested for learning disabilities—tests which proved what my mother instincts said, that he was perfectly normal, intelligent, and sensitive.

Though none of us spoke to my son about how his reading compared to others’, he got the idea that he is not a good reader. The following summer, he started reading almost on his own and has learned to read pretty well through home schooling. But he still tells people he can’t read. That unspoken thought seed germinated and I’m not sure how to help him uproot it.

In the days since I found my daughter on the floor with the feathers, I’ve been embarrassed to realize how often my thoughts and sometimes my words and actions jump to blame, shame, threats, comparison.

This doesn’t match the concept I have of myself and I’ve had to eat some not-so-subtly-seasoned humble pie.

But eat it I will.

In a time when the world is demonstrating so much violence, maybe one small thing I can do is create a non-violent ecosystem in my own family and with the people we interact with.

If all those hokey ripple-effect and pay-it-forward ideas are true, this could change the world, do the “impossible” as St. Francis encouraged.

But even if not, it will change the world for my children and that is something.

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