Me Too

As the #metoo posts began to populate my Facebook timeline last weekend, I grew deeply disturbed at how widespread the problems of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, gender discrimination, etc. have been. How has our society continued to perpetuate the objectification of women without question? Yet, despite the fact that every one of my woman friends was posting #metoo, I couldn’t bring myself to post on my status, and it took me some time to figure out why not.

Even many years later, in each case without exception, I can still tell you exactly why I was at fault—for one reason or other—for the times I was a victim of abuse or harassment. If I had done something differently, if I had been more careful… these situations would not have happened. It seems that when the lines of appropriate and inappropriate are blurred from the time a girl is young, that girl accepts blurred lines as the manner in which the world is set up.

When I was 17, I was walking through the town square in a country far away. It was early afternoon—siesta time—and the square was nearly deserted. I should have been back to my host home earlier, and I was trying to get back as quickly as I could. I was walking quickly on a path that ran diagonally through the center of the square. As I passed an older man, he grabbed my thigh as if he had a right to touch me however he wanted. My heart and pace quickened, and I did not look back. I was young, alone, and scared, walking the fence between two cultures, unable to speak the local language. I should not have been out during siesta when the streets were quiet and everyone else was settling in at home. I had been out with a friend and time slipped away from us. It was a risky move, and the unwanted advance—it clearly could have been prevented if I had been returned earlier.

In my early 20s, one of my student charges was popping popcorn and tripped a breaker in the dorm where I served as hall parent. It was after evening study hall, and I had to request help from a campus security guard to fix it. I followed him to the breaker box—in a dark room—where he lit our path with a flashlight. Until he had other ideas and switched off the flashlight. It was my fault for following him into a dark room and trusting him to light the way.

Again in my 20s, I was told that an entire office of male workers would discuss my backside as they watched me in the parking lot from a nearby window. First of all, do men not have anything better to do? Second, what did one man expect when he came to me to tell me that—with a creepy smile on his face? And third, why were there no self-checking men in the group who were willing to step forward and stop the others from objectifying a young woman? Was I not supposed to venture into the parking lot where they could see me?

I have faced unwanted advances, harassment, and discrimination from peers, coworkers, teachers, doctors, bosses, and strangers on the street, and thanks to #metoo, I know I am not alone. It is a process that begins when girls are young and continues through adulthood. We become so accustomed to this behavior from the other half of the population that we begin to accept it without question, often blaming ourselves for not being strong enough, for wearing the wrong clothes, for being in the wrong place, or for trusting when we shouldn’t.

What I find disturbing is not only that we allow this harassment—this clear display of man’s power over woman—to perpetuate, but we make women feel responsible for the abuse. You shouldn’t have dressed that way. How many of us have heard those words? You shouldn’t have walked that way or You shouldn’t have been in that place.

No, I am not to blame in these situations. Men are to blame. Men who feel it is their right to objectify women and treat them as pieces and parts rather than as whole, intelligent, amazing, complicated, and competent human beings. And the silent men are to blame. Men who sit by listening to other men talk about women this way and watching other men treat women this way. Because if you sit idly by and say nothing, you are part of the problem.

It is time that women gather together, draw on our collective power, and release it out into the society as a loud and resounding NO! It is time that men stand up to other men and stop tolerating the “locker room talk” simply because it was once an accepted part of male culture. These people you are discussing…? These are mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts. What if it was your mother or your daughter that was being discussed? These people—these women—they should be your people.

We have tolerated this behavior for far too long. It’s time we create a different world, a better world, for our daughters and their daughters, and all the daughters to come. It’s time expect better and end the cycle of #metoo.

{Image credit: Unsplash.com/Mihai Surdu}

Healing

 

I am happy to say that I have found a solution to my mug problem. I now have new mug from which to drink my coffee and reminisce in the mornings.

As the weather grew warmer and spring was definitely arriving, the Christmas mug—despite the sentiments it held for me—was starting to feel a bit wrong. There was snow and a Christmas wreath on the mug, but outside, the weather was reflecting an altogether different season. So on my last, rather timely trip to visit Mom, I acquired a new old mug.

This mug was Dad’s and is one that I made back when my children were little. That Christmas, I made several similar but unique mugs to give as gifts. I painted faces (which barely resembled) my three children, and I included names of the grandparents. This mug—the Grampa mug—is now mine.

I thought it would be the perfect replacement for my Christmas mug. My sister questioned whether I would actually use a mug that says “Grampa” on it, and admittedly, it might seem a bit odd. Here I am, a woman of a medium age, using a mug made for a Grampa.

Do I care? Not at all. I use it every day! I think it might just help in my healing process.

 

The Things that are Missing…

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At that university where I work, I meet with student writers from all walks and backgrounds. I mainly meet with undergraduate writers, but I also work with students who are professionals in the midst of careers—returning to school for professional development or to get a degree. And then there are the graduate students who range in age from 22 to 92.

Recently, I met with a woman who was an acquaintance of mine in a former iteration of my life—years ago when I was single and worked a different job. She is in a demanding graduate program, she works full time, and she deals with the every day stresses and curve-balls of life that we all deal with.

She was struggling. Her professor had told her that her final essay could end her participation in the program; she was under more pressure than usual, and she was taking it out on herself. Briefly, she let me in on the frustrations she had with the class—the only class in which she had struggled in the program thus far. Now, she felt the need to put exactly the right words on the page, which is never good for the writing process; she was over-editing because she felt under-confident.

I asked her how many classes she had completed in the program. Seven. And then I reminded her that she had seen me two years earlier—when she had first started her program—feeling almost exactly the same way. And I reminded her that she hadn’t seen me since. “What is it about these two classes that stripped you of your confidence?” I asked her.

Her response had nothing to do with school. She mentioned the loss of a loved one several years earlier; the holiday season without that person; the stresses of her work; a birthday celebration that needed to happen in the midst of everything else. And the pressure to finish this one last paper.

Often at this time of the year, we are too able to focus on what’s missing. The longing for what is missing blurs the present and what we have. And sometimes, we don’t even consciously recognize that we are struggling with loss or stress or the need to be everything to everyone.

And so I say this: be gentle with yourself, not just at this time of year, but always. You are not alone. We are all in this together. Chances are, if you are willing to say, “You know what? I am struggling today,” someone will step in to offer support and to lift you up.

Creativity

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I am struggling through a dilemma that has slowed my blogging. Lately, my mind has been laced up tight with ribbons of business and busyness, trapping any trace of Creativity deep inside where I cannot access it. Every now and then, Creativity gets restless and tugs at the laces, poking a shiny bright finger through like a ray of sunshine piercing a sky heavy with storm clouds. It is taunting me, daring me to race after it. When I reach for the light, it disappears back into the far corners of my mind, and when I follow, Creativity is nowhere to be found.

I am in search of Creativity, and it is elusive. It stays one step ahead of me always, darting around corners and out of sight when I am almost close enough to touch it. I am cranky and moody and not myself. Without Creativity, I am lost.

This weekend, I spent some time hunting and engaging in activities carefully designed to entice Creativity to come back. These activities generally involved a mindful pause in the crazy weekday activity that is often my life. On Saturday, I went out for a walk, bringing my pocket sized camera just in case I happened on a moment that might inspire. Color. Nature. Feeling…. Moments happened, but Creativity did not rejoin me on my journey.

On Sunday, I baked some bread. I made two delicious loaves of sourdough, their warmth and goodness filling the kitchen with heavenly smells. But creation does not equate to Creativity. I tried sewing, but I got tangled in the threads of all that wasn’t being accomplished, and I was back to square one. Perhaps an artistic endeavor—drawing, painting, wire work, or journaling.

But time said no. And Creativity does not come to stalkers.

Creativity comes to those who are still and quiet and patient and open. It comes in the moments when our filters are down and we are least expecting it. It comes on walks, in stillness and in prayer. It comes when we are just about to fall asleep and our minds have given up the stresses of the day and are just beginning to slip into dreams. Creativity comes when it wants.

I am looking to rediscover the voice that Creativity abandoned, the voice that has become buried in the mire of every day chaos. I think I am getting closer, but one never knows. Creativity cannot be forced to join me, so I must enjoy the journey, wherever it takes me. Who knows? What I seek may be around the next corner!

Preparation (2) : The Reaction

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So maybe I went a little overboard on the medical supplies. Then again, maybe not.

My children were away for ten days with their father. While they were gone, I had a bit of time to gather some of the items my son still needed for college. It was during this 10-day span that I created the box of medical supplies.

He asked for a “First Aid kit”—bandaids, Neosporin, pain reliever, cold medicine… the basic stuff. But I knew he’d need more than that. During this time, I also happened upon a post on a social media site with a do-it-yourself medical kit for the college bound student, complete with supplies list. Booyah! So while he asked for a first aid kit, what he got, well….

“Whoa! It’s like I have a scary, overprotective mom!” I heard him exclaim from his room when he first discovered the box. Images of Mrs. Benson from the once-popular television show, iCarly, flooded my mind.

I went to his room to explain. “You know,” I started, in my own defense. “This is all stuff you might need, and other people in your dorm probably won’t have this stuff, so they’ll come to you. Who knows?” I smiled my most innocent, non-crazy smile.

“I don’t even know what half this stuff is,” he stated as he poked through the box. “Saline nasal spray? And this,” he picked up the thermometer. “I wouldn’t even have thought of this.”

“But you might need it,” I shrugged. I pulled out a small box that was tucked along the side. “And covers for it in case other people need to borrow it.”

He pulled out the bottle of ibuprofen, much smaller than the one we keep in our medicine cabinet. “I might need more than this,” he told me.

“That’s fine for now,” I responded. “There are fifty in there.” He continued to poke through the contents. “I put your chapstick in there, too,” I told him. “Oh, and I got you some gloves.” I pointed to the small box of eight medical gloves.

He looked up from the box, his mouth hanging open. “Really?” he finally managed.

“Hey, the first time you have to clean up after someone, you’ll understand why I got them.”

Now, let me explain. I have lived in dorms for more years than most people I know, and I’ve been cleaning up biohazard since before it had that name. First of all, as a freshman in college, I very distinctly remember one night when I cleaned up after my roommate. I’m sure she could have done it once she sobered up, but in the meantime, it was my room, too.

After college, I worked as a dorm parent in boarding schools for many years. I cleaned up my share of biohazard, but the most memorable involved a fist and a window. Enough said.

I certainly hope my son is lucky enough to never need the gloves. But chances are, he might, so it’s best to err on the safe side. And if he becomes an RA in the future, I will definitely spring for a bigger box!

Yes, this medical kit will leave me forever be branded as the crazy, overprotective mom. But one day, when my son needs something for congestion or coughing or dry eyes or whatever, and he looks in his medical kit and finds what he needs, he may just say, “Wow, thank goodness my mother thought of that!”

Journey

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Recently, I have been feeling as though my life is spent attending to the needs of everyone around me—children, adults, felines, etc. I have lost touch with myself—the very things that make me who I am—and sometimes, I feel as though I am in danger of bursting into a million tiny pieces and floating off in every direction. I imagine my children’s initial shock at the explosion, like a ‘poof’ of something disappearing in a magic show, and then the scramble to gather the pieces. But it will be too late. I will be gone. As this image fills my head, I catch myself wondering whether ‘spontaneous explosion’ is a thing that can happen to humans.

Last evening, in my need to get out of the house for a few minutes of peace, I went on a journey. Okay… I lie. I took out the trash. But for me in my condo association, “taking out the trash” means a quarter mile walk to the dumpster. It’s usually a nice evening stroll, though if the trash is particularly heavy, it can be tedious. Last night, the trash was light.

My daughter had just come in from a walk and said she had seen a turtle laying its eggs by the side of the pond. As I approached the pond, I wondered if I would see the turtle. Because of the summer heat, the pond is covered in a thin, green film of algae, swirled by the breezes that sometimes play across the water’s surface. The pond is so evenly covered that it is reminiscent of the first skin of ice that appears each year when the cold sets in. The algae though, it makes the pond seem neglected, dirty.

Further down the path, I enter a thick grove of trees—the darkest spot on the journey to my destination. I am a week too late for fireflies, I think, though it isn’t quite dark enough outside to tell for sure. Last week and the week before, the fireflies danced under these trees.

On the walk back toward home, birds are flitting near a toppled and rotting tree stump left behind by a severe storm several years back. The smells of forest remind me that there is a drought, and in my mind, I am transported to the year I lived in northern California. There, the scent was similar—dry and dusty—but was tinged with eucalyptus and Manzanita. As I pass the pond once again, a bullfrog sings his mournful song.

The walk was not long, but the noise of the day has been replaced by the soft sound of my sneakers on the pavement and the night noises of nature. The last streaks of light are fading from the sky as I duck under tree branches hanging low above the walkway. I breathe deeply of the air that is beginning to cool down, and my mind is clear. The clarity may only last a moment, but I am ready to go back to work.

I open the door to my house and step inside, feeling just a little less likely to spontaneously explode.