Sacrificing my kids might be easier…

I don’t really remember what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I mean, I remember several things that at one time or another I wanted to do.  Singer.  Paleobiologist.  Oceanographer.  Actress.  Professional Dolphin.

Then as a young adult, I wanted to be a Writer. A Counselor. A Game Developer. A Project Manager. A Nurse. Artist.

I still want to be about 5 of those things.  When I grow up.

I don’t remember what I wanted to be, but a mediocre Sales Administrator wasn’t it.

My mother told me once that she guessed I would be an English Teacher.  I might have been, but I was determined to avoid like the plague anything my mother suggested I should do, and the more practical her advise, the more plague-avoiding I did!

I suppose that there are lots of things I might have been if I’d abandoned all the other things I wanted to do.  So, instead of picking one of them, and letting the others go, I didn’t do any of them.

Not even Professional Dolphin, though, to be fair, I don’t really know how to Dolphin.  Not Professionally, anyway.

It’s probably not my guidance counselor’s fault that she never suggested Muppeteer, Travel Blogger or Myth Buster.

All I do know is that if I’m going to achieve a dream, I’m gonna have to commit to it, and follow through. Press every decision into service of that dream, and let the others go.  Or I can hold on to a flock of dreams and let them all stand unfulfilled.  I wish I still believed in reincarnation, like I did in my last life, and believed that I’d have lives in which to be all the things I want to be.

I always heard that I could do anything I wanted to do.  Nobody ever told me I could do everything that I wanted.  This is very much like trying to pick which of your children should live. That might actually be easier, depending on your kids.

What it comes down to is that inaction is easier.  Blaming your guidance counselor is easier.  Professional Dolphining is probably easier than going out on that limb and putting forth that effort and trying knowing that if you fail, you failed not only yourself, but all the dreams you sacrificed for that one.

 

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A Few Words on American Injustice, Poverty and Ramen Noodles

I was born in South Carolina in July, 1968.  That makes me… uh…

muttering: carry the one, divide by 16, add 0, subtract 43…

well, that makes me older.   I’m older now than I’ve ever been before.   Also, Mathing is hard.

I was born a little more than 100 years after the Civil War ended.  That seemed like ancient history when I was a kid, but now, with the wisdom that comes with age, I realize now that means that when I was born, I had some very old neighbors who remembered the stories their parents told them about surviving the war between the states.  Very, very  old neighbors, but yes, this wasn’t ancient history to them.  The parents of my oldest neighbors bought us a moral victory against acquiescence to the enslavement of human beings with the currency of their blood.  And in my schoolrooms, that’s what we learned.  We were taught that slavery was evil, and that all people deserved better than that.

It was also only 23 years after the end of World War II.  This seems astonishing to me from the perspective of 49yrs old.  WWII ended 72 years ago.  As a kid, this wasn’t all that long ago.  Looking back now, it’s eons.  But I remember as a child being taught that we, as a nation, decided that Nazi’s are bad and that Americans were the good guys who fought the good fight for freedom and decency and an end to oppression.

My grandfather served on a US Navy ship in WWII.  He enlisted so that his children and his grandchildren could live in a world free from Nazi Fascism.  He didn’t do it so that his children’s children could pick up Nazi flags, shout in praise of Hitler and march with TiKi torches intended to intimidate the very people his generation literally signed up to risk their lives to protect.

My generation fought a war, too, not an actual, literal war, but a conflict with a marketing slogan that included the word “War”, in the name of freedom and moral clarity and anti-authoritarianism.  We were caught up in the Cold War, fighting against the communist USSR, and the perils of the overarching state thwarting the freedoms that our grandfather’s protected in their war. And we won our war when Ronald Reagan said “Mr Gorbachev, tear down that wall,” and the world celebrated our moral victory of freedom over tyranny right along with us. In the 70’s and ’80’s, we worried about the possibility of nuclear war.  In the 90’s, we didn’t.

Growing up in the South, even just 120 years or so after the civil war, I never experienced any moral ambiguity about the justness of the Union cause in my classrooms at Hillcrest Senior High School.  We were taught that Nazis were evil, slavery was wrong, fascism was Anti-American, and that what made America great was that we were willing to stand up and fight against that shit. Were there bigots?  Absolutely.  Was there injustice and racism?  Yes, there definitely was.  But it was, at least, at a bare minimum, labeled “Wrong.” We were so very, very far from perfect.  But we were facing, if not always moving, in the right direction. Of course, this was before Fox News came along.  Now, with Charlottesville and Nazi Alt-right fuckers and the Trump Administration taking Putin’s denials over the agreement of our own intelligence community regarding Russian interference in US elections, it seems that there are those among us who think that we weren’t fighting the good fight after all.  And I am afraid for my country, that we have won the war, and lost our way.

One more thing.

150 years after the end of the civil war, 70 years after the fall of fascism, and 30 years after the Cold War, we’re fighting a new war, one waged against our own minority and poverty-stricken citizens, with centers of internment no less concentrated than the Warsaw Ghetto. It’s a war, for all that its undeclared, that makes the most of the classic psychological weapons of terror, hopelessness, depression and segregation.  Opportunity is stymied for all but the most exceptional.  Then the exceptional are held up to demonstrate just how much opportunity’s laying around all over the place for everyone to find and if you didn’t find some, then fuck you and fuck your children, you’re a worthless piece of crap.

If you don’t think poverty in America is pretty much inescapable, you haven’t tried supporting your family without access to reliable transportation and affordable healthcare in the shadow of addiction and the barrage of social media judgment based on your skin color and/or your possession of both a smartphone and an EBT card.  You’ve never faced the choice of paying rent or buying your kids’ food.

If the opportunity to escape poverty is so accessible in the US, why aren’t most poor people doing it?  Nobody WANTS to be poor.  Nobody says I wanna go without health insurance, and have a shoddy, unreliable car (if I get one at all) when I grow up, and nobody,

at least NOBODY over the age of 23,

eats Ramen noodles every day because they taste just so fucking good.   We don’t aspire to reside in jails, or to raise children in violent, drug-riddled subsidized housing, or to occasionally (or not occasionally) rely on homeless shelters.  This isn’t the dream, Cupcake.  We all want a house in the burbs and a car and an X-Box, and to know where our next meal’s coming from and that we can make it financially if our beloved kiddo should happen to break his arm playing baseball.  We all want that.

Nobody wants to grocery shop at the dollar store.

There are many factors that contribute to abject poverty in the US, but ultimately there are only two ways you get there: you’re born into it, or you stumbled and fell into it, and either way its unlikely you’ll have the gumption or the social support, to get yourself out of it once you’re there. Once you’re there, the statistics say you’ll stay there til the day your family starts a Go-Fund-Me for your funeral expenses.  And every single conservative blowhard in the country is going to say you wanted your life to go that way or else you’d have pulled yourself up by your bootstraps.

Bootstraps.  Funny thing to ask someone to pull themselves up with, when you support policies that make it harder to buy a fucking pair of boots to begin with.

Twas the Day Before Christmas

T’was the day before Christmas, and I wasn’t ready,

With so much left to do, my heart feeling heavy,

Cookies unmade in the cupboards awaiting

Mixing and cutting and shaping and baking

And the stockings unhung lying by the fireplace

In hopes that toys and candies would give them their shape

Maybe magically they’ll hang themselves on the mantle above

After all isn’t magic what Christmas is made of?

And the shopping not quite finished, I’m not sure what’s the reason,

Anxiety and depression the feels this whole season?

 

This year’s been a doozie with losses and pains

And tragedies and tribulations the recurring refrain

And yet it is Christmas, and I have much to celebrate

My wife is amaze-balls, our children are great!

And we have a nice house, the best possible friends

We are blessed to have between us a love without end

And the boys are excited to soon be decorating

The “Ninjabread Cookies” we soon will be baking

And while they’re psyched about  getting their presents and toys,

They’re happy because they’re unconditionally loved boys

And I have to remember with all that’s undone,

Enough’s been accomplished its gonna be fun

And though my wish for perfection won’t be coming true,

Our holiday will be special and yours will be, too.

For it’s not about presents or shopping or lights,

Not about fruitcakes, or getting it all right,

No, it’s not about presents or shopping or lights

So if everything’s not perfectly right

Its still gonna be the best Christmas Eve night,

And before I go set to make gingerbread dough

at the very last minute, I want you all to know,

No matter what  you’ve missed

In your Christmas to-do list

If you have love in your life, its going to be ok

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Trump-Supporting-Former-Facebook-Friend,

I guess you have some questions about why  I unfriended you.  I don’t owe you an explanation, but I do want you to think about why I don’t want you in my life anymore.

No, its not the guy you voted for.

I mean, I don’t agree with your choice, but I thought I could understand it.  We don’t need to agree on everything; I learn from people presenting me with new ways of looking at things and being respectfully challenging to me.

When I was young, I believed that people had the capacity for great Love, and that they resorted to hate out of fear, and insecurity, and because they were hurting.

and that made sense.  I believed that Love could save the world.

I get that you voted for an economic ideal that didn’t have anything to do with the racism, the bigotry, the negativity that resounded throughout the Trump campaign.  I get that you wanted an ‘outsider’.  I get that you disliked Hillary’s ‘insider status’, that you thought the email scandal actually held water, or that you were convinced that she was just as bad as Trump for how she supposedly treated Bill’s mistresses.

And that makes sense, though I disagree with you on these things, which is why I didn’t unfriend you during the campaign when you made your position clear .

When I was a young woman, my dad told me that I was too idealistic.  He said, “the reason we’ll never have peace in the world is because there are bad people in the world who want  what you have  and you have to be able to defend yourself against them,”

And that made sense.  But I thought Love could save the world.

You said you didn’t believe the rhetoric.  You said you got behind your candidate because you believe he’s changed and that he was the godly candidate. The allegations were old, and people change, and your preacher said he was like the apostle Paul, called.

I find that hard to believe.  That a man who says that the solution to our woes is to build a wall.  The man who said that he doesn’t trust black people to count his money, and who has been sued twice by the justice department for refusing to rent properties to black families.  The man who refused to disavow white supremacists during the campaign. The man who refers to minority groups as “the blacks”, “the muslims”, and “the gays.” As if we’re all interchangeable, that any one of us is representative of all of us, and as if that’s the only characteristic worth noting about us.  I’m gay, yes, but I’m also a mom, an employee, a blogger, an artist, and a shower/car singer.  In fact, my lesbianism is probably the least interesting thing about me.  But when someone refers to me as one of “the gays”, they’re dismissing all the things about me that are unique.

“But,” you said, “that’s not why I support him.” And, even though I felt that your vote meant that you valued ideology over my well-being, I could respect that you genuinely believed that you were voting for the candidate you believed was either the best, or the least worst, in the running: more importantly,  that you didn’t believe this would affect my well-being.

And that made sense.  You aren’t someone who has ever displayed openly racist, misogynist, homophobic, or anti-muslim/antisemitism around me;  you wouldn’t have been on my facebook page all this time if you had.

We aren’t close, you and I.  You’re a family member I haven’t really seen in a long time.  Or you’re someone from my hometown that I knew growing up.  Or your kids played soccer with mine.  Or you’re friends with someone I know and so we’d met a few times. We aren’t close.  Still, I valued that we could teach each other something about the world, about each other, that we would grow from the exchange of ideas.  I don’t need to agree with everything you say to value you.

I used to believe that people were basically insecure.  That their choices in religion, ideology, and even simple preferences were threatened when other people didn’t make the same choices that they did.  That made sense to me. I felt sorry for them, and thought that Love could fix that.

Then, last tuesday, the election happened, and everything I thought I knew about the world, about justice, and about the basic motivations behind people’s actions and values changed.  Immediately there were incidents of violence all over the country, too numerous to list, aimed at persons of color, at gays and lesbians, at muslims, women, and hispanics.  The backlash against us took me by surprise, and I realized that the world I thought I knew, the world where my neighbors wanted a safe space for my children and for their children, is not as I’ve understood it all my life.

I used to believe that given the choice between loving and hating, between doing something to help or something to harm, most people would choose doing the helpful, loving thing.  The backlash from the skinhead-contingent of the USA shocked me.

Maybe it shouldn’t have shocked me; dad tried to tell me.  But, to be fair, he was wrong, too.

Because it seems that people are not intrinsically good while being plagued by greed and insecurity.  They’re not lashing out from a place of hurt and bitterness. I don’t need to defend myself from people who want what I have.   It turns out that people, given a choice between right and wrong, will as often as not choose wrong.  Just because they can. Because Love doesn’t fix everything. Maybe it doesn’t fix anything.

People aren’t hurting, they’re hurters.  Not all people, I thought.  Not you.   But more people than I could have imagined in my darkest dreams.  The world changed.  MY WORLD changed.  I needed time to figure out if Love makes any sense at all.

I didn’t unfriend you because you voted differently than I did.  I didn’t unfriend you because you haven’t stood up to the skinhead-contingent within your political party.  I didn’t unfriend you because I didn’t like what you said about the candidates, about the election.

I unfriended you because of what you said in the days following the election.  You used words like “crybaby”, and “whiner”.  You told me to ‘get over it’.   I unfriended you because the world shifted under my feet, because I see vulnerable people being hurt and terrorized and when I pointed this truth out, you told me that you were already tired, after only a few days, of protests and fearful facebook posts like mine.  You’re sick of us not responding to this election with the acceptance and grace that y’all never once showed Obama during his presidency.  I unfriended you because by disparaging my right to express my feelings , by not respecting my need for some time to grieve for the view of humanity I once held, you  finally clearly showed me  the truth behind your lies about why you voted the way you did.  You really don’t care about me-or any one not just like you– at all.

And that doesn’t make any sense.  Because now I see that its even worse than I have ever realized.  Because yes, even you. 

 

 

 

So, this happened.

A couple of weeks ago, the place I work sponsored a mobile mammobus to come and give all us over-40 gals the opportunity for our boobs to learn/remember  why pancakes dread spatulas.  So, at the appointed time, I set off from my cubicle and trekked out back to the World’s Weirdest Tour Bus, and put Laverne and Shirley* through their paces.

I spent an hour that morning allowing a perfect stranger to put a metallic bead on my nipples with tape and then take pictures.  For free.  Shouldn’t I charge at least $5 for that sort of thing?  I wasn’t terribly worried that anything would show up.  Nobody in my family has had breast, ovarian or uterine cancers.  I come from a long line of sturdy Episcopalian women, strong in both denial and and in their complete lack of conversations regarding breasts, ovaries or uteruses (uteri?).  These women?  Cancer wouldn’t dare.

There couldn’t be anything really wrong.

I wasn’t too worried.  I had a breast reduction done many years ago, and I knew there would be a good chance that there’d be areas of scar tissue that would require me to head in for another round of ‘lets offend the technicians and medical office staff with my deodorant-free  Eau de Me’.  I knew that a follow up wasn’t anything to really worry over.

Now, its confession time.

I lied last year.  On hell of a whopper, too.  Because I don’t screw up half way.   I lied.  To my mother and my sister.  We were in London.  I was enjoying the city immensely, but the three of us ARE NOT GOOD TRAVEL COMPANIONS.  We really should have learned our lesson about traveling together when we went to Ireland.  The long story is that I annoy the crap out of my mother and she annoys the crap out of me, and she very overtly judges me, my appearance, my family, my choices and my Unfulfilled Destiny as Her Daughter.

My sister is someone that I love dearly and have anxiety and panic attacks over spending time with because I know that she is a much better person than I am, and I am constantly judging whether or not she is judging me when we’re around each other.  I’m feeling tight-chesty feelings now just thinking about it, like when I think about the chair lifts I will have to confront the next time we go skiing. Or spiders. Oh god, excuse me a moment.

 

OK. Sorry.

My sister is a lovely person. She does everything right, and I know she’s even too good to be judgy and so I  judgy myself for her, because she’s too nice and too awesome to actually do that to me.

So, in London, emotions were running high and I was feeling alone and homesick and judged and totally childishly sorry for myself.  I was having a bad moment involving a screaming fight with my mother.  I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to say what was really wrong with me.  I couldn’t say that I really was sorry for my part in the fight, I couldn’t say that it really hurt me when Mom called me “gauche” for being overwhelmed by the beauty and grace of the paintings in the National Gallery the day before, that listening to her telling and retelling the same stories of the cultural faux pas’ of past traveling companions while I was making those same faux pas‘ was humiliating (honestly, does it really matter if the napkin goes in the lap BEFORE the first bite instead of AFTER it? Well, maybe if you drop that first bite on your shirt, but then that would totally justify the price Tide charges for those To-Go laundry stick thingies!) and I couldn’t say that I missed being around people who thought my jokes were, ok, not necessarily funny, but at least got my sense of humor.  I couldn’t say that I missed my girlfriend terribly, that I was overwhelmed with the idea that I’d be planning our wedding when I got back, and that I only had two weeks to do that planning, and I couldn’t explain that I was seeing and experiencing things in London that made me feel both powerfully inspired and paralyzingly unworthy.  I couldn’t explain how just being there, in London, that dream coming true in that moment, was completely overwhelming.  But

I needed to explain myself.  I needed something to explain why I had just spent a half-hour in the hotel stairwell crying my eyes out.  So… when I went back in the room, because I’d run out of the room without my passport or my return ticket and HAD to go back in, because flying home like a cowardly shit wasn’t an option,

well, I had to say something.  So I lied.

I said that I was upset over a recent mammogram and that they’d ‘found something’ and that when I got home I was going to have to go and have a biopsy done.

I know.  I’m going to hell for that.  Probably the hell where they send people who set fires to orphanages, the one where Donald Trump is President of the United States the Demonic Overseer and makes everyone sing 80’s pop hits endlessly (looking at you there, Hall and Oates.)  The Hell where they send people who lie to their families about really horrific things like breast cancer.

And when I got home, I waited a week and reported back to them that my biopsy came back clean and everything was ok.

So, I guess getting called back for a follow up a couple of weeks ago, after my first real mammogram, this shouldn’t have surprised me.  It was a little Karmic Justice dished to me that they’d  ‘found something’.  I was assured that this was ‘normal’ and a lot of women have ‘dense tissues, scars, cysts, just lots of little things that we need to rule out from their mammograms, and its nothing to worry about.’

Except that it turned out to be something.  Except that the second mammoscannogram , and the  20 minutes of ultrasound jelly being rubbed all over Shirley (and once again, I didn’t charge anyone not even $5 for that) and not even with the 3-D scans, all that couldn’t quite explain away all the odd things they had found on the original scan. Not quite all of them.  Shirley may be trying to kill me.  Probably for introducing her to the wonderful world of picasso-esque medical photography.  They said its probably nothing.  They said it’s ok to wait 6 months and see if there’s any changes to it.  They said they see these kinds of things all the time.

Except it’s me.  Its my boob, my Shirley.   I don’t want to wait 6 months and see if its anything to worry about. All the pathological reassurance that I was showered with at the breast care department of the university hospital doesn’t take away the very real fear that I might be that one woman in a hundred thousand, in a million, who hits the cancer lottery.

And I don’t know what to tell my mother and my sister.

And I’m scared.

* Yes, my boobs are named Laverne and Shirley.  I considered Mork and Mindy, but even I have standards.

River Baptism

First, you need to know that this is real. This is happening. Don’t panic. You know what to do if you just stay calm.

The water rushes over you, around you, tugging at you, you don’t know where your feet are, they aren’t your concern. Your head, that’s what you’re worried about.

Getting your footing secure is secondary to getting your head above the water. Breathing, that’s all you need in this moment. But you don’t think of that, because your head is all you know. You don’t even know you have feet.

So you force yourself to move. Up. Up seems right.

It is, but you find your head not breaking the water, instead, you are under your upturned boat.

Somehow, this is the most disconcerting part. You had mentally rehearsed what you could do if the kayak tipped over, and coming up under it into a pocket of air that you would breathe in quickly before righting yourself, that’s what you expected to happen.

Instead, under the boat is no pocket of air, only its full of water, more water than you thought the whole river could hold. So you quickly switch to plan B. You go back under and move yourself, to the right, aided by the rapid current, hoping to move far enough, but not too far, that you might come up out of the water a second time, knowing that you’re out of air, that you only get one more shot at this before you’ll be forced to inhale the riverwater that you know will provide no usable oxygen. One more shot.

You move backwards, knowing there’s a fallen tree somewhere that you might hit your head on. Again, its your head that’s important, not your feet. You aren’t even aware you have feet. You move your head backwards, aware that you have no idea where the boat is in relation to you, no idea which direction the kayak is facing, are you going to come up again in its waterfilled hollow, just a little further than where you were when you first tried to find Up?  Or bang your head against the hard plastic hull?  Is the tree going to be above you, instead, trapping you in its branches, or were those roots in the water that caught your little craft and tipped you wickedly into the water, a perfect trap for the beginner kayaker?

It occurs to you as completely useless to remember that you saw a snake slicing through the water a while back, further down the river, and that snapping turtles like the one you saw on a log by the bank fifteen minutes ago are also sharing this river with you. Its useless to remember that, to think on that. Getting air is more important than anything that might be treatable later. Nobody ever applied anti-venom to a corpse for snakebite, or treated a traumatic foot wound attached to the dead girl foolish enough to find herself attacked by an alligator snapping turtle in the Big Darby Creek.

All these thoughts flicker through your head, crowding out any Life-Flashing that might have been. Maybe that’s because you are bent on surviving, not resigned to fate. No thoughts of 7th birthday parties, or weddings, or childbirth scenes, you see no images of dumb decisions, or embraced life choices. A brief thought intrudes itself; it occurs to you that your partner will eternally hate herself if anything bad happens here, and you know you can’t let her carry the burden of your casualty and so you vow to break the surface and find air.

How much you’ve always taken air for granted. Ignored it, assuming it assured and constant. Always there’s been air before. Except that right now, it isn’t anywhere around you and you have to move yourself, propel backwards, hoping to escape the clutching branches of the tree, hoping the boat isn’t oriented above you, hoping the current hasn’t pushed it along with you to remain fixed between you and that oh-so-prosaic and precious air.

You move upward, not with your feet, which haven’t yet manifested themselves below you. You have no idea what feet are. They haven’t been invented yet. You use your arms to move backwards and allow the life jacket to move you to the surface. You are out of oxygen now, going back under if this doesn’t work isn’t an option. Your life depends entirely on the location of one boat, on the relativity of a single tree. On your judgment that you’ve moved yourself far enough out of the way, but not into the rapids that might drag you, injure you, on the rocks a short way downstream.

You move up. And break the surface and there’s air. Suddenly, you find you have feet, and they’re below you, and you can touch the rocks on the bottom of the river and still hold your head above the current of rushing water. And though you’re not completely safe yet, your friend and your partner are on the other side of the river and the current wants you so badly, that you think your legs will give out before anyone can reach you and help you cross, you know, too, that Arya Stark was right.

Not today.

Without you 

here, beside me, motions and motionless, moving and still 

unmoved, the stars

would shine down as stars are bent on doing, shining thinly and unnoticed by the uncensored

mind raging without voice.

Yesterday I held on to you, whatever happens tomorrow 

will not take that from me.  But. 

There would still be clouds, and storms and rains, 

falling on a dry and unmoved woman, who would stand away with memories for company, 

memories, and a dry hollow of unmoisted tears.

Without you, far off beside myself in a haunted rage, I would stand and walk, 

but be unmoved. I would sing, tuneless and without melody.  There would be stars and sun and a moon

and they would pass me by, unnoticed, as I would move only through reminiscence 

and dawn would come and go, and I would, only be rage and hollow and memory

and rage

and hollow

and memory.