Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Note to Women in Anticipation of The Women's March on Washington Jan 21

The other morning I rode to LAX with an Uber driver who talked incessantly and obnoxiously about politics, his weed farming and drug dealing in Santa Cruz, who swerved across lanes of highway twice because he was blowing by our exits, who forgot to start his Uber app to charge us, had his maps set wrong, and spent more time adjusting the air vents and radio volume than steering. It was 4:30 in the morning, and if I’d been alone, I know it would've been right to ask him to pull over so I could get a different driver.  I should have asked him anyway.  Why would I choose to stay in a dark car with a manic strange man whose hands weren’t on the wheel for 55 minutes and drove like he hadn’t passed drivers’ ed?  The decision seems beyond obvious.  But, I stayed in the car because if we’d pulled over, I’d have missed my plane.  (and, if I'm honest, the conversation would have been awkward and felt bitchy and embarrassing for both of us).

Sometimes our concessions, even when they put us at risk, feel like necessities.

For many people, electing Trump felt just like that: policies and supreme court judges trumped a toxic personality and disrespect for many of our citizens; voting for him felt like a necessary concession. 

As a woman, I am struggling to understand the implications.  “We the people” just elected a man who believes women are less worthy leaders, managers, and politicians than men, a man who’s gloated about his inability to control his body around beautiful women, who’s confessed that women are fine eye candy (and hand candy…) and that it’s a damn shame when they aren’t worth looking at. 

What does his winning the White House mean for me as a woman, for my daughters as pre-adolescent girls, for my nieces as teenagers?

The transcript of Trump’s Access Hollywood hot mic sparked all sorts of intelligent discussion and protest about assault (like Michelle Obama's response).  What surfaced -- again -- is that most women are familiar with sexual assault, that it can be verbal as well as physical, that it can be “playful” rather than classically violent, that it’s often kept quiet because women are too embarrassed to blow the whistle or be criticized for overreacting. 

We all know that cultural double standards still thrive: an outspoken decisive man is strong, and an outspoken decisive woman is pushy.  An angry man is angry, and an angry woman is a bitch.  A man who redirects inappropriate conversation has impressive character, and a woman who does the same is over reactive or touchy.  An aging man looks debonair and an aging woman, old.  A man without make up looks normal and a woman without make up looks tired and hasn’t “put her face on” yet.  An unattractive male presidential candidate is an SNL joke and an unattractive female presidential candidate is a deal breaker.

These standards breed shame and silence.  Of course, they, like Trump’s attitude, are not new or unprecedented, but our having freshly elected yet another man who brushes off/normalizes harassment as “locker room talk,” has pushed me to consider my own concessions. Sometimes what feels “necessary” is actually just easier. 

Growing up, many of us were indirectly taught to concede out of "necessity" – we can't pull over, or I’ll miss my plane; out of embarrassment – what will they think of me if I speak up?; out of sacrifice – he could lose his job; out of fear that we’ll be shamed and play the fool -- what if he says that didn't happen? what if I misinterpreted? 

And so we downplay:   It wasn’t a big deal.  Nothing really happened.  He was just joking around. 

But sometimes – a lot of the time -- it’s worth missing the plane. 
There are always other flights out.

We have a long way to go in our country and many habits to break.

Beauty and sex have always been currency and power, and we, women, are still learning how to wield them without letting them reduce us. (I'm on a plane right now and the slit in my flight attendant’s short, tight skirt is so high that I literally can see her butt cheeks as she delivers snacks and drinks.  à Not using it well).

As women today and over the next four years, let’s notice when we’re conceding.  Let’s challenge ourselves about what seems “necessary,” and let’s start missing planes because we’re taking care of our selves.

Monday, December 26, 2016

When Idealized Days Get Real (Christmas)

One fun thing about being back in DC for Christmas is that we got to visit our old church.  On Christmas eve,  Jamie  said  it's especially bad "when things go wrong at Christmas because it shatters the perfection" and I had to laugh.  Ben and I -- I'm slowly realizing -- do not thrive at Christmas.

And when we do it badly -- shall I walk through the years?: sit in the living room in smoldering silence, livid, as we set up hot wheels for our four year old boy; show up at the family dinner table after a full blow marital-rocking conversation hardly able to breathe;  stand in the sunshine together putting up a tent to surprise the kids with fire coming out of our ears because we didn't coordinate our efforts -- the discordance feels harsher than on other days because Christmas is supposed to be ______________.

It's the problem of special days.  Even the best kind of days when we celebrate the most important things: special days are supposed to be special.  And the "supposed to be" leaves them riddled with pressure.

I used to call this the Snow Day Effect because every time the kids had a snow day, I'd ram into my idealized expectations of what the day should look like (outings to the monuments, art projects all together at the table), and the pressure killed it for me every time (though they generally were happy to do nothing but play around in the yard and drink hot chocolate).

At church on Christmas Eve, Jamie talked about the rats in the barn.  I'd never thought of rats before, but of course barns have them.  Mary's baby was born in a barn that smelled like a barn and had rats in it.

And before that, she'd had to travel nine months pregnant (for those of us who've been nine months pregnant, it's pretty uncomfortable) SITTING ON A DONKEY (laughably terrible).  And after however many days of that, when they finally arrived in town, every place was full; she, possibly cramping, sweating, starting contractions, literally had no where to labor.

Talk about a bad Christmas and thwarted expectations.  (I bet there was at least a little marital tension in the mix, too).

And yet, that's where this beautiful moment happened, in the middle of a dirty stable that smelled like cows, between two poor refugees:  God came.

I would never say I'm striving for perfection, but I do get pretty bent out of shape when my expectations are jolted.  Or when I can't live up to the pressure I've heaped on myself.  And certainly if there are rats in (or near) my room, or if my house (or anywhere near it) smells like sewage.  Or there aren't clean sheets, or even soft enough sheets where I'm sleeping.

Mary might have bitched and moaned through her whole nine months, as they traveled, when she crouched in dry brush to go to the bathroom unable to see her feet because her belly was so big, the days or day when they couldn't find anywhere to stop.  She may have cursed angrily during her labor that straw was poking her legs or there wasn't enough water.  But I'm guessing she didn't.

The Christmas story, itself, is about "perfection" with all of its expectations, shattering.
It's about how the perfection's actually been shattered all the time, despite how we decide to orchestrate our snow days.

Next year will I head into Christmas knowing Ben and I will collide and probably wrap presents angrily together?  Probably not.  But maybe for a second I'll remember that everything went "wrong" the first Christmas, and something about landing in the barn made Mary, the baby, the stars, the gathering of all those unexpected people, more beautiful.


Thursday, December 08, 2016

Moana -- a Reminder

------------------warning: this is riddled with full blown spoilers (like the whole movie)------------------


This morning I heard a powerful sermon about the creation story, and one thing it reminded me of is the power of being named into being, or named back into being.  

Drawn by Lin-Manuel Miranda's music, my husband Ben's been set on our seeing Moana.  He tried to take us every day this week; we missed the start times, arrived after it was sold out, thought of it just as the kids melted down.  I casually suggested more than once that he take the kids without me, but no, for whatever reason, he wanted us all to go.  So finally today, we did. 

Though I liked Frozen well enough, I stopped hoping for an empowering Disney heroine after that --  Anna led the charge, sure, and sisterly love won out in the end, but her spunk and free spirit was undercut by her cutesy, beyond naive ways and her classic quickness to fall in love.  She was less than I’d hoped for my daughters.

Moana tips the tables.  The redemption is all over the place: -- SLIGHT SPOILERS -- she’s the “daughter of a chief” and a future chief rather than a princess; she makes much of her voyage alone; she gains courage from herself and her grandmother rather than the men in her life; she doesn’t fall in love with the ego-driven muscled demigod she’s with nor try to impress him ever—rare if not unheard of in a Disney film; and in the end she returns home to both of her parents.  There was much I reveled in.  What struck me most, though, was the revelation of the true self at the end of the film.

The terms "false self” and “true self" have been so utilized in the last decade that I'm rarely struck by their profundity anymore.  Yes, we have a false self, the Ego, that masks our wounds and parades around, loudly, distracting from our insecurities, and somewhere beneath that voice, is our quiet created true self that with healing, emerges more and more, engaging authentically and birthing our strengths.  

In the movie, as Moana follows her purpose, her singular task is to return the heart of the sea to Te Fiti, the goddess who created all life and then became an island, herself.  The most terrifying thing about returning the heart stone, though -- besides fierce adorable coconut pirates -- is the Lava Monster, a raging fire-throwing, she-beast.  

Tonight is the last night of Thanksgiving vacation and though we ate pie every day and got a Christmas tree (on the second attempt), we did have some lava-monster moments (the first attempt) over our five days at home. 
When the lava flares, we usually address it in one of two ways: hightail it outta there or fight lava with lava. Neither goes well.

Moana handles it differently.  In a turn of events -- MAJOR SPOILER ALERT -- Moana realizes that the lava monster is in fact Te Fiti, the goddess, raging without her heart, and without hesitating, Moana walks through the sea straight toward the monster who’s trying to kill her. 

When they face each other head on, instead of flinching, Moana leans into the creature's face, touches her forehead to forehead, and says, this isn’t who you are, this isn’t who you really are. Instantly, the monster’s lava flesh darkens to stone, and her flaming eyes close.  Moana leans in and replaces her heart.  Grasses and flowers burst to life along the monster’s charred black body and in seconds, she’s restored to the beautiful island goddess, vibrant green with mossy skin.  Her health radiates out into the sea, heals the “darkness” plaguing the islands and they all bloom again.  Te Fiti’s back to her true self. 

How often when my heart feels emptied – in large or small ways – do I, like Te Fiti, throw fistfuls of lava at anyone who comes near?  My kids would tell you it’s not rare.  What would happen, in our lava states, if someone came toward us, came forehead to forehead when we were trying to scare them off, looked in our flaming eyes, and reminded us: this is not who you are, not who you really are.  

Our hearts come back that way.

It’s a whole different kind of brave to walk into hate and speak a true word like Moana does.  
Like Te Fiti, we need others to remind us who we are so we can return to our selves as stunningly as she does at the end of the film.  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving Morning

It is 63 degrees in my house (I just turned the heat on), and I am in bed bundled in a sweater and under as many blankets as I could reach without getting up.  Silas -- bless him -- just delivered a cup of tea.

Out the window, the sky is brightening to cottony white, and on the tree that fills half the window, the lemons are finally yellowing.

Today is Thanksgiving.

Naturally, I am thinking about being thankful.  Study after study have shown gratitude is healthful and transformative (Forbes article,    Huffington Post , NPR, Ann Voskamp) -- and I've wondered about this.

It's easy for me to crank out a list:
clean running water
a house with thick walls
clean air
clothes that are warm and I get to choose
a marriage
healthy husband
healthy kids
siblings and parents I'd choose
love
safe school
safe streets
a car to drive
grocery stores
sunsets, how much the sky speaks
stunning physical beauty
road trips
learning
books
story
tears
teachers of all sorts
hearing my kids laugh
scent of brininess in the air

...I can keep this going for a long time.  I like brainstorming thankful lists.  When I can't sleep at night, I go through the alphabet and list as many things as I can for each letter that I'm thankful for:
A
artichokes
architects
Annemarie
alligators
airplanes
air
apricots
allegiance
asteroids
astrophysicists
acrobats
asters

and almost always fall asleep before F.

List as I may, though, I rarely feel impacted by the exercise, even when I try to deliberately be thankful in the midst of a funk, even after embracing Ann Voskamp's 1,000 gifts challenge (keep a running list of what you're thankful for all the way to 1,000 things; it transformed her) --  nothing's "happened."

I remember my mom telling me a story about walking down the bike path one day and being grateful for her feet.  As she walked she kept thinking about her feet -- the wonder of how they held her body, their lack of pain, the distance she could journey on them, what it would be like *not* to have feet or healthy feet, and she finally was in tears, grateful for her feet.

I think she was on to something.

Listing the things I'm thankful for verses steeping in thankfulness and *experiencing* it is different.  Every morning I have to wait for my tea bag to steep and turn my water into tea.  This takes time, which I'm realizing I seldom bring time to my thanks.

I'm also thinking about how the power of an address  -- eye contact, in undivided attention, speaking to someone personally.  It feel different when I'm thankful for my kids and when I take Eden's face in my hands and tell her how I'm thankful for her.  It's different to vaguely be thankful for the streaks of color across the sky and to thank the Creator for it, and stop there for a minute.

Today I probably won't pause much; I have a turkey trot to walk, coffee to drink with friends, fruits and vegetables to spray paint for the center pieces, parades and football to watch, and of course much to eat with people we love.  But, as I move from here to Christmas -- the wildly paced season of want and do and shop and give and make and -- and then into a new year, I'd like to steep more, turn to tea.









Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Morning After: the Election

Dear Nation,

You have chosen this.  As the map bled in solid swaths of red last night, you were speaking.  

It's hard to make my mouth say "we" -- "we the people," "we, Americans" -- this is the voice of "we"?

We have spoken.

Waking this morning in the dark, the echo across this vast country was almost audible: what now?

The United States just got out of the shower and is standing naked before the world.  We've been exposed: our (putting on my big girl pants to speak in "we") driving fear about people who are not white, our resistance to a salty strong woman, our willingness to usher Jr high crudeness into the While House, into the history books, to make a man who mocks and gropes and boasts President in front of our children.  We've chosen to disregard assault.  To disregard racism.  To toss international relations to the wind. 

What now?

As I heard my husband (who is not an early riser) pulling on clothes at 5AM for a stress-run, I asked half into my pillow, already feeling heavy and sickened, if it was really true.  Yes.  The disorientation of a slow rumbling  earthquake, the shock of the ground itself moving. So many structures we've all called safe -- will they hold?

I am white.  I have a steady salary.  I can pay rent and have a secure place to live.  I was born a US citizen.  What did it feel like to wake up this morning as a person of color, as an immigrant, as a lesbian or transgender, as someone experiencing homelessness?    

What now?

Many of us spoke yesterday at the polls and our voices didn't carry.  So what do we do with those voices now?  How do we keep speaking without cursing?  I know today brings choice: the choice to spit anger at everyone because I feel angry.  The choice to blame and blame and blame and blame the primarily white, uneducated men of our country, to blame parties, to blame white women, to blame our entertainment industry for normalizing the vulgar, to blame Hilary for being unlikeable, for lying.  To blame our country for lacking leadership.  The blaming list could be long.  Then there's the choice to despair.  To fear.  To project, predict, and become paralyzed.  There's the choice to leave the country -- the jokes about going to Canada are only half in jest.  There's the choice to write off the whole system -- the party we don't like, the candidate we didn't vote for, the people we disagree with -- and to wash our hands of it all and check out.

But -- as true as any of that is -- it won't help.

I grew up at a Quaker school, and the song we always sang was the Shaker song "Simple Gifts." I haven't thought about that for a long time, but this morning, it's in my head.  I had a friend in college who interpreted the end in a new way: "to turn, turn will be our delight, til by turning, turning we come 'round right."  She used the words as a reminder to turn toward when our impulse is to wall up and turn away.  It's been a good reminder throughout marriage.  And what am I if not also married to this country?  So this morning, I have no answers, but can sit with the query, as Quakers would call it, of how to turn toward.




'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 
 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain'd, 
  To bow and to bend we shan't be asham'd,
To turn, turn will be our delight, 
  Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

I Can Do Whatever I Want

These days, I collapse by 10 every night.  And even with such faithful sleeping, I still hit a midday lull around 2PM and can hardly get through the hour.  I think this has to do with -- well, now that I'm writing, many things, like the adrenaline of the first months of school waring off, and all the germs the kids bring home and smear around the house-- the shift in seasons and daylight.  Mornings are colder and darker, and we're entering the time of year when our rhythms naturally turn inward (yes, even here in sunny California).  In any event, every night, utterly exhausted or not, I go to bed because I have to -- tired Bronwen is not a force to be reckoned with (particularly if you are under 5' tall) -- because rallying the kids out of bed, off to school, through afternoon activities, dinner and back into bed's been burning my emotional energy more than usual; exhaustion's not an option.

I didn't realize how constrictive and rigid this has felt until tonight when I pressed "next" at the end of Gilmore Girls (a pleasure I missed earlier in life) as many times as I wanted.  Ben's out of town and for hours I've been sitting on the couch working on the photo calendar I make every year for my family (because now it's November -?), eating rice krispies and burning through season 3.  Now it's nearly 1:30 in the morning, and I'm getting a bit cross eyed, but it's nice to remember I can do this when I want.  I wasn't sure there for a minute.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Bruises

Last week this happened:

Many things to be thankful for: I was driving alone; I walked away without injuries; no one in the other cars was injured; airbags work; though I was on the freeway, I didn't swerve into another lane of fast traffic; car insurance covers a multitude -- the list is long and has grown through the week.

I was warned that my body could lock up after a few days, that my neck pain would get worse, that I should take it easy even if I feel well, that I might panic on the freeway the next time.  Thankfully, none of that happened; my neck and back pain lessened and my shock wore off with each day.  But what did happen is that almost a week later, new bruises appeared on my feet, ankles and legs.  

Looking at them -- finally seeing the reasons I'd been sore in those places -- I thought about how pain often works that way: we feel bad before we see why, or we know only part of why we hurt.

Silas downloaded a program on my computer called Tabby Cats: every time I open a new tab, a little round cartoon cat sits blinking at me with some ridiculous name underneath like "Scandalous Foof" or "Spicy Snowglobe," or "Froofy Sappling" or "Wise Beggar" (I haven't thought about how weird this is until right now).  Just now, my cat was named "Smoochy Rager."

It's funny to mash random adjectives and nouns together, but it's chaotic to feel them collide: one minute we're Smoochy, the next we're Rager, and we didn't see the trip wire hiding between the two.
This week I found the wire, and it had to do with the bruises.  Not the car accident bruises, but the other ones.

Sara, my sister-in-law, visited last weekend, and especially by the last day, it was like home: we sat on the floor, talked, moved furniture around, talked, thrift shopped, dreamed about her moving here, ate pho, talked.

Being together apparently jostled a cork that had been neatly holding inside me.  The day after she left, I sat planning my Monday and thought, "then Maeve and I will go to my mom's house --" JOLT -- 3000 miles away -- my first loss-impulse.  A few days later, the slushy fear and aimlessness of anchoring new lives here geysered up and out for the first time since moving.

It was like the bruises coming to the skin.

I felt better seeing them.  They sorted what hurt and what didn't, and reminded me why.  The bruises told me my story again.

Specifics help quiet the overwhelm -- and, it turns out, reveal the trip wire between the nouns and the adjectives.  So maybe now I can be just Smoochy or just Rager (unfortunately that's not solved), rather than both at the same time.