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Stand Up and Beside: Seeing Women as People

November 16, 2017 Leave a comment

 

 

With all of the appalling sexual assault being finally dragged into the light—the abuse of power, the harassment, the general douche-ery of it all—hearing people speak up has been impressive. First and foremost, the victims who had been courageous enough to speak out have blown me away. In particular, a couple of nights ago, this included Hilarie Burton, Bethany Joy Lenz, and Sophia Bush. Chyler Leigh, Emily Bett Richards, Caity Lotz, and Melissa Benoist have stood in solidarity with those speaking out, as have Grant Gustin, Chris Wood, and Stephen Amell. The women are inspiring. The men are thoughtful and articulate.

 

Those three men , although I don’t know them personally, are good people. They’re good allies. There’s nothing disingenuous or performative. Their outrage is grounded is disgust and a seething kind of fury. There’s no cushioned words or soft statements. There’s sharp denouncements and well-worded promises. It fills my heart with hope. It does me good to be reminded that there are men out there who hold authority and choose to stand by and behind women. No excuses and no misdirection. No denials or wishy-washy promises.

 

Although sexual assault and abuse is not relegated to Hollywood, it’s easy to focus there are a clear example of wrongdoings. It has, lately, been an avalanche of gross revelations—but as any woman (or abused man) can tell you, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Like cockroaches, if you see one, there are many. And, like cockroaches, the problem only gets worse if left untreated and unaddressed.

 

This is no witch hunt. Because witches (women) were the persecuted during the Salem Witch Trials. Women were not in a position of power, then, and they were the victims. The onslaught of accusations, right now, are coming from women. That’s not to say that men are not also mistreated and are victims of sexual assault. But I can only speak to being a woman in this world, where I have a practiced polite smile for uncomfortable situations. It never reaches my eyes. It’s an attempt, always, to diffuse a situation until I can extricate myself. Until I can get somewhere I am safe.

 

Here’s the thing, though. A few days ago, I read a statement of outrage from a man who was appalled that another man sexually assaulted an 11 year old girl. We can all agree that’s vile, unacceptable, and criminal. But the genesis of this person’s horror was that he has a daughter. I understand that because of that, his outrage hit close to home. But a woman should be need to be related to you for her to matter.

 

I am a daughter. But that does not define me. If I only matter because I’m someone’s something, it’s dehumanizing. It makes me tantamount to someone’s belonging, not my own person. I matter, because I’m me—not because of how I’m related to somebody. I understand that an issue can become personal, because of personal feelings and relationships. You have a child, and you’re worried for that child. Because the world is, all too often, a raging dumpster fire surrounded by rabid wolves.

 

Don’t get me wrong: outrage over things like this is GOOD. It is necessary. Realizing that something could, or has, affected a woman you love/care about is huge. But that is a starting place. It’s a step in the direction, not the whole journey. There’s more work to be done. In order to fully tackle the root problem, we need to do something revolutionary: see women as people, not associations.

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the asking

October 26, 2017 1 comment

Tell me what lives like a storm
of secrets, tucked inside your skin
like a scar of tragedies, a lighthouse
of wanton shame, hesitation
that sings
like falling stars—
messy and imprecise,
absence in all its splendor.

Show me where the world bends
within your soul, the moments
where your heart folds in on itself,
a labyrinth of want, wild
in its own grief.

Keep the sweetness at bay—
this, a green apple,
that, a mouth of salt,
here, skin like sin,
a slink of fire, a match
of hip, the touch of hands
a rebellion.

Offer me what breaks
like a fever, relief
flooded and flushed out,
the last temptation of everything
you never said aloud,
the slow burn of stars
howling into the night.

Categories: poem, poems, Poetry, Uncategorized

the odd, unvarnished predatory gaze

October 18, 2017 3 comments

There’s meme going around, asking women to post #MeToo if they’re ever been sexually harassed or assaulted. While it should never be the expectation that women should speak up (because the culture surrounding victims is not a safe one, for too many reasons to list here), this is an attempt to show how pervasive the problem.

 

But the truth is simple: there isn’t a woman who haven’t been touched by this. It doesn’t matter how old you are, what you are wearing, or even if you’re married. This does not come as a surprise to any woman, because this is the life we live. Day in and day out.

 

A few weeks ago, I stopped at the liquor store, dressed in lazy girl chic: yoga pants, sneakers, barely any makeup, and a comfy tank top. I had a light jacket on too. I was certainly not dressed to impress. In fact, I deliberately dressed to be inconspicuous. On the way back to my car, a random guy Hannibal Lector stared at me as he slowly drove by.

 

It is a particular menace that doesn’t lend itself easily to words. It is unsettling a best, a prick of alarm that roils in your stomach. Not an overt threat, but something still obvious, a sly bit of leering that strips you of your humanity. And there’s nothing you can do except stand there and wait for it to pass, what for threat to drive on by.

 

There’s always a moment, a choice, where you can call that person out. Say, what the hell? Challenge them. You can possibly back that person off, but you can also possibly make it worse. See, men fear women will laugh at them. Women fear men will kill them. And it’s true. So, you have a split second to read the situation, assess the other person, decide what to do. Or not do.

 

And given that, most women just ignore it. Because it’s safer, easier. Because we’re constantly told not to cause a fuss, to be quiet. Don’t poke the bear. We’re constantly interrogated about what we did to contribute to someone else’s actions, as if men aren’t to blame for their own choices. As if “moved on her like a bitch” isn’t suddenly a bit of vernacular.

 

It’s not locker room talk. It’s not boys being boys. It’s inexcusable.

 

And it does matter how old you are. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. It doesn’t matter if you’re someone’s sister, daughter, or spouse. (Because women are people, not possessions. And I don’t matter because of your relationship to me. I matter, because I’m a person.)

 

  • At a garage sale when I was in my early twenties, a man asked if my friend and I were for sale.
  • Arriving at a meeting with a colleague, another exclaimed, “Gee, I didn’t know I was supposed to bring a date.”
  • At a job, someone said that women should be seen and not heard.
  • Strangers private message me on FB, often inappropriately.
  • Last week at a gas station, a man stared at me so hard that I think he forgot to blink or breathe.
  • I’ve been inappropriately touched or kissed more times than I can count.
  • A boy in college, pissed I wouldn’t date him, told me off by inventing a fake girlfriend. As if his lack of available was supposed to erase his dudebro idiocy.
  • “Who’s the pretty girl? Wow, she’s really pretty” was an OK thing a dude bellowed about—not to—me once.
  • Because there’s always That Guy you avoid like the plague at work, an event, or a party.
  • Because a professor once implied that, because of how I was dressed (a skirt and boots), that I was a stripper. (I know strippers. They’re great people. Keep your bullshit.)
  • Because “you know you want it” and “what’s your favorite sexual position?” felt like good conversation starters to more than one man.
  • Because I had to stop getting coffee in the morning, at a convenience store, because there were always creepers, who were always starring. It was easier not to deal with it. Yes, I chose to not get coffee. Me. The coffee fiend.
  • Because I always know the way out of a room, if I need to leave quickly.

 

The list is endless. That’s a smattering. The truth is that I know more women who have been raped or sexually assaulted than not. If you think that a woman has somehow blazed through this impossible-to-avoid gauntlet unscathed, you’re wrong. If she hasn’t told you, she doesn’t trust you. Or she feels shame, because we’re often handed responsibility for other people’s actions. As girls, we are told not to wear tank tops to school, that yoga pants are a distraction.

 

Boys aren’t told to behave themselves. Girls are told to alter their appearance, because boys. And it’s wrong. Even now, if I wear yoga pants and some random man creeps on me, it has nothing to do with what I’m wearing. It has everything to do with his sense of entitlement, the odd, unvarnished predatory gaze has nothing to do with me. It’s his failing.

 

And here’s the thing: women can speak up. And they are, as they are able, if they can dig themselves out of that whole of embarrassment and shame-grief. Because you never know how a man might retaliate. You never know what the consequence will be—just that it will be something. So, when speaking up, a woman takes an unquantifiable risk, usually either because she’s fed up or trying to protect future possible victims.

 

When women speak, listen. But more than that, gentlemen, use your voices. Not to say #MeToo or give some vague show of Facebook solidarity. As a friend recently observed to me, that’s the online version of “thoughts and prayers.” What you can do is confront your creeper friend who stares inappropriately. Call out the dude at work for saying unacceptable things. Don’t let something slide by “as a joke,” because even if we are laughing, we really aren’t.

 

In fact, there’s a whole list of things you can do, right here. Still with me? Good. Now, go do something constructive.

Categories: Uncategorized

Speak

October 10, 2017 1 comment

Recently, Brie Larson stated that “To live life as a woman is to live life on the defense.” Unfortunately, she’s not wrong. And even more unfortunately, sometimes, that extreme, layered caution isn’t enough. With the recent issues regarding Harvey Weinstein coming to light, I have some thoughts.

 

Whisper networks exist as a workaround, not a solution. If you’re a woman, you know this routine and can dance it in your sleep: “Hey, so, be careful around Bob. He’s been here forever. He’s friends with Joe. But just…don’t go anywhere alone with him, ok?” Women talk—when they do—to warn others away. Sure, you can go to HR or someone in a position of authority. You can cause a scene when someone slips his hand, uninvited, down your pants…but.

 

It’s the ‘but’ that’s troubling, because a million things matter at once: Will you be believed? Will he retaliate? Will it damage your reputation?

 

Too often, a confession about a pervert/creeper/rapist is met with something maybe worse than a deafening silence: denial. Indignation. Defense.

 

Oh, but he’s such a nice guy. I can’t believe that.

He seems so well liked.

But he’s never done anything to me.

That can’t be right. Maybe you’re misremembering.

That’s just how he is. He’s really friendly.

No, he’s just awkward. He doesn’t have good social skills.

 

Spoiler alert: creeps and assholes aren’t overtly creeps and assholes all of the time, without discretion. That’s often a factor in how long they get away with it. Asshole camouflage, if you will. So, it warrants saying: just because a man wasn’t inappropriate with you, that doesn’t mean someone else’s experience is therefore false.

 

Truthfully, most people don’t stand up and name their accusers, because of fear. That fear is easily reinforced, daily, in a multitude of ways I’m not going to get into here. But that fear is usually founded in the idea that this person, abusing his authority, will abuse it further–and obviously, to your detriment. There’s always the fear that people will, instead of believing you, point a finger at you, laying the blame not at your feet, but in your bones.

 

What were you wearing?

Were you drunk?

Are you sure you didn’t encourage him?

Maybe you flirted with him a little too much, and he got the wrong idea.

 

I could go on, ad nauseam, but I won’t. I’ll just say this: any woman who comes forward does so at great cost (emotionally, at the very least) and great risk. Anyone who meets her confession with silence or denial is part of the problem. Period. And if there’s been a cadre of douchecanoes running around behind the scenes, making sure things stay quiet? Culpable. A co-conspirator. An accessory to harm.

 

Women are tired. They’re tired of folks like James Woods, being hideously gross toward a young Amber Tamblyn. They’re tired of having to dress a certain way to hopefully avoid being harassed, even though we know that clothing has no bearing on whether or not the crime happens. But, sometimes, we tell ourselves it will lessen our chances. It will dissuade creepers from the never-ending saga of creep.

 

Back to the Weinstein story: I am deeply revolted that a gaggle of men who have benefited from their relationship with Weinstein are silent. I am also disgusted to learn that an earlier news story was quashed, apparently with the help of forever problematic, but now downright awful Matt Damon—and Russell Crowe.

 

There are good men out there. I’ve been lucky to know a bunch of them, to count them as family and friends. To be able to say, hey, Jensen Ackles is a good person. To be able to say, if I have a problem, I know so-and-so will back me up, believe me. I’m lucky that when I speak, someone always listens and makes noise. That I have a heap of girlfriends who will always listen, advise, and stand beside me. That’s not nothing. It’s everything.

 

But things have to change. Men have to step up and challenge things. Because for every Kevin Smith and George Clooney, there’s an infinity of silence and Damons. For every Emma Thompson, there’s a Donna Karan (which, bye Felicia, you peaked in the late 90s). And that’s not okay. It’s not okay for a victim’s first thought is either will someone believe me or was it my fault? We’ve been conditioned to brace for the excuses and the bullshit. We’ve been conditioned to ingest the blame like poison.

 

Just look at what Rose McGowan’s had to goddamn deal with the past week or so. She’s having to defend herself and her own experiences, because even the specter of a man’s previous power has more weight than her own words.

 

And frankly, honestly, no. That’s enough. It’s enough. It’s too much and too long. And I don’t know how to stop it, but I know that speaking about it is necessary.

 

Are we friends? Do we know each other in passing or more than that? My door is always open. Some dude creep on you? Concerned about someone who just seems this side shy of inappropriate? Bring it here. Worried that I won’t believe you, because this dude and I are friends? Don’t be.

 

I will believe you.

Categories: Uncategorized

an ocean made for drowning

August 17, 2017 Leave a comment

This is a peculiar darkness,
a humming thing
made of low magic, a creaking
heart that betrays itself,
limping through a song of shadow,
until everything is different,
and there is no going back.

Sometimes, silence
is an ocean
made for drowning,
a tide of conflicting
forgiveness,
the rush of hands
receding,
the taste of salt
on sin.

The truth is often fashioned
out of secrets, tucked
like a quilt
so that no one looks at it
too hard, a pretty wreck
of what was
and what-might-have-been,
reframed by what is,
longing threaded through
with too steady a hand.

No one can unmake time,
and that is love, ticking
fast with each passing second,
unnamed
and faceless, beneath
the doubt of past mistakes,
unmoored
and set lost, not free.

Everything is a consequence
of something else,
sometimes it’s an echo
of old, familiar ghosts, a mourning
that speaks beneath the din,
purposeful in the quiet,
begging not to be seen,
open hands
that tell too many stories—
the bang of a door
no one ever walked through.

Hitting Rewind on the Heart

August 7, 2017 6 comments

 

Today, it’s been five years since my mom died. The strange thing is that it feels like yesterday and, somehow, a lifetime ago. I suppose that there’s some truth to that last part. There’s no way I could be the same person I was, before. And while there is no rewind button on the human heart, it sometimes hurls itself, unbidden, backward. This is one of those times.

 

It’s funny, but no one warns you that it will be like this. No one tells you that your memory will be sharp and full of things you’d rather forget. No one lets you in on this damned little secret: you will wonder what if I had…, even though it’s cruel and pointless. The smallest detail will float to the surface, all quiet and claws. The smell of a hallway. The face of a stranger. What someone was wearing. The grief and fear and panic that swirled in a moment that hangs, before everything suddenly stops.

 

I think about what happened that day. And then I think about the days that followed. The people I spoke to. The people who reached out. The early morning phone call. The genuine care and love. It’s those things that got me through. It’s those things that made me stronger. And no matter what, I’ll always be grateful.

 

Because when everything is horrible and the world feels like quicksand, what matters is who shows up—however that is. What matters is those who can sit with you at your worst and not run. It’s easy to be around someone when things are great. But that’s not the measure of a person, relationship, or heart.

 

While I miss her every day, sometimes in expected ways, I’m grateful for that lesson. I pay more attention now to how people behave, how they step up, how fiercely they love when it is difficult or inconvenient. And yes, I pay attention to who stays and who vanishes. Who slips out of sight when there’s a lull or a hurricane.

 

I’m a different person, now, but I am still my mother’s daughter. If you come to my house, I will feed you. This is not a question. You will eat. There will be coffee. I will absolutely burst into song at some point. If it has four legs and a tail, I will hug it. I recite poems and nursery rhymes from memory. I do not suffer fools or meanness. I will get between you and your worst trouble. I show up when everything is a wreck of stupid. I love beyond all reason. And while I will hold a vehement grudge against someone who has wronged someone I love, if I love you—I will forgive you.

 

This day is always hard, but the way it’s hard is always different. There’s not set expectation or rule for getting through it. But it’s definitely something to get through. People call things like this an anniversary, but that’s too happy a word. This day was the last day of Before. That’s it. That’s all there is too it.

 

Sometimes, I can’t help but think about what my mom would say about certain things, if she were here. How would she react? What crazy face would she make? She was never one to be able to disguise how she really felt, ever. When I do something she taught me, I imagine she’d do it better, either effortless or with her trademark calamity. I mean, it was never Halloween if she didn’t burn herself at least twice. And forget a neat and tidy kitchen on a holiday. Inevitably, there would be food on the dog’s head and a mess on the stove.

 

But that’s the beating heart of life: the mess. Not the pristine way in which we straighten the house for company or purge a closet of its clutter. The madness, the chaos, the detours, the chances, the changes, the raw and unexpected moments. This I know as surely as I’m breathing. Too often, I think, we try to live inside the lines. Try to behave a certain way. Try to keep things orderly, neat. But I think, perhaps, that’s only good and healthy for pretenses, not a soul.

 

So, starting now, take more chances. Don’t tidy up your heart. Don’t take the easy way. Don’t be smaller just to fit yourself into someone else’s puzzle. Miss someone? Call. Have a dream? Take a single step after it. Love someone? Say it. See someone do something cool? Tell them. Make art. Kiss passionately. Sing along to a song at the grocery store. Dance in a parking lot. Let go of things you shouldn’t be carrying around anymore.

 

If you do one thing with this life, live. The pieces will fall into place. And the next moment is always uncertain, so don’t waste it.

 

XOXO

A Trickster God

July 21, 2017 6 comments

Time passes, and things get better. Time heals all wounds. That’s what people say. For most things, this is true. I no longer care about the dumb thing I did in fifth grade. I am only mildly embarrassed by those memories of early adulthood stupidity that cling like vindictive spiderwebs. But time doesn’t heal everything; it can’t fill in a hole where a person once stood. It can unravel all the memories like tangled thread. It can’t restore or absolve. Time, as much as I’m loath to admit it, isn’t magic.

Loss is a strange thing, a malleable ache, a trickster god no one wants to worship, but everyone does, eventually. It’s been years now since my mom died. And there’s a new normal, a solid restructuring of life. There’s been a lot of wobbly starts and having to figure out unexpected things. But the foundation has settled, so to speak. And life goes on. Change happens. Things get rebuilt.

I don’t miss her any less, just differently. And it starts to feel almost, strangely, safe. As if all the difficult parts have been confronted and put to bed. Not that it’s easy, mind you, but that it stopped catching me off guard. It’s a manageable pain, like a knee that aches when it rains. There’s no more bursting into tears when a song comes on the radio. There’s no more sucker punches. Practice makes perfect, after all. And there’s been time enough to practice.

But the other day, I decided I wanted to dye my hair. I’m in my 30s, but I’ve never done this. It’s such a foreign concept to me, something I always meant to get around to learning about, but never did. And I realized I had no idea how to go about it. Do I attempt it myself (by which I mean, enlist my best friend to help me) or have it done? And then there’s the matter of color. What if I screw up? Pick something terrible? End up looking awful?

I had a few choice meltdowns over hair dye, and I felt like an idiot. Because who stresses out this much about changing their hair color? It’s just hair. It grows back. Color can always be removed. It’s not a tattoo. It isn’t permanent. So why did I feel like I was spinning out?

I couldn’t talk to my mom about it. I couldn’t get her advice, have her walk me through it. I couldn’t argue about the fact that I want purple hair, watching her roll her eyes and shake her head. I couldn’t ask if she’d go with me to have it done, only to see her roll her eyes and tell me she’d do it.

So, I panicked at the details, because that was easier. Because some things fade, but don’t stay buried. And maybe they shouldn’t. Maybe it’s a reminder of how well we loved, when we feel things like this. Maybe pain is just an echo of what was there before. I don’t know. But this caught me by surprise, and it’s held on with strange tenacity. And I’m objectively fine. This is another tally added to the list of things my mom will miss. That list is long, and there no way around it.

Loss is a creature with too many heads. Sometimes, it sleeps. Sometimes, the simplest thing wakes it up. One thing I know is that you can’t prepare for everything in life. In fact, there isn’t much you can brace for, although we convince ourselves otherwise so often. Life is an array of spinning wheels and kaleidoscope colors, whirling mischief and songs just as unexpected as silences. Maybe the trick isn’t trying to always brace for the pain or sidestep it. Maybe the trick is pulling the beauty out of the dark, difficult parts.

But certainly, the lesson is to remember to live. No excuses and few, if any, regrets.

Categories: Uncategorized