Misogyny of the Heart

It hit me like a ton of bricks. My daughter is becoming a girl. She’s always eschewed anything stereotypically feminine for that which is “cool” and rugged and associated with being a boy. She declared at four that she was a vegetarian and at seven that she was officially a tomboy. The transition to a developing body, to the social gymnastics of preteens and all the cultural expectations that come from being female have crept up on us.canstockphoto24377829I was surprised at the fear and anger and sadness that washed over me when thinking about the changes and lessons she will experience. While preteen advice is burgeoning with woman-positive messages, I sat glumly thinking about my miserable transitions into adolescence and adulthood. There are my truths and there are the things I want her to believe. The gap between the two feels like a canyon.

She’s acutely aware of the differences, starting her protests early on as a toddler. She refused dresses, canstockphoto14836302asking resentfully why the boys got to go swimming without their shirts and she couldn’t. Girls can’t play football is the taunt from fifth grade boys that recently sent her into a sputtering rage. We talk about it and I puncture her outrage.

“Do you want to play football?”

“No.”

I’ve begun the concession talks. Pick your battles. Fight for what you care about. Start small. In my head I’m wondering if I’m asking her to be small. But I know there is a long road ahead. Many have walked it generations before us, fighting and winning some big battles. For me now, the battles are smaller and with a global awareness, small potatoes.

I have immense gratitude for the monumental changes in the last century and for now being able to have choices. But the feminism I’m living little resembles political theory or the echo chamber of social media or the cover of a glossy women’s magazines. The cacophony of voices telling me what I am and am not supposed to believe about women falls on deaf ears.

canstockphoto15586920I don’t have time for it. I have work to do. I’m raising a child, while trying to find my own way in the world. Roles have shifted so rapidly that I focus on learning and teaching how to be a decent human on this planet. Sometimes she will ask me a question and I flail, because she’s right. There is a lot of injustice out there. Each person must pick and choose whether or not to look past an inequality and continue on their journey or whether ground must be held, banners painted, protests enacted.

Raising a child is an unexpected education. It forces me to examine my beliefs, deeply held prejudices and patterns of behavior. It’s hard work to suss out what your personal truths are and how they impact the growing person who is watching you with keen eyes. How can I help her grow into a happy woman if I hold back, grimly watching and waiting for the other shoe to drop? Waiting for the “because you’re a girl” comment or scenario that makes her less than.

canstockphoto13127372I grew up in a home where I saw that being a woman was not a positive experience. Being a mother was endless drudgery and constant anxiety. Being a wife was the fear of getting hit or not getting enough money to buy groceries or being trapped with no way out. Poverty and domestic violence never stops with the adults.

In the male-dominated workplaces where I’ve worked, from the army to universities to factories, the conversation in relation to gender is always the same. Tiresome. A wink, a touch, a sly aside. I learned to sharpen my tongue and keep my distance and cultivated a twisted sense of humor. Just do your job, asshole and let me do mine. Then I did my job better than anyone else could, just to prove a point.

The gender divisiveness starts well before reaching adulthood, though. You get told early on that you are different from the other and in what ways you are different, squashing the individual inclinations in favor of easy categorization. The minute you tell a human who they are, something valuable is lost. There’s no measuring how much potential has been drained and how much misery this binary narrative has generated.

canstockphoto10311077Maybe that’s what I resent most of all – all this energy that I, having been born and identified as a female, spent trying to fit into that box. It took years of awkward clothes and shoes, disordered eating and self-loathing before it hit me, this isn’t working. It took me years to realize that I didn’t fit, that nobody fits in these little boxes.

Fear drives my anger and I can’t teach my child from this place of anger. I’m scared of what this world will tell my thoughtful, imaginative child about who she is. I have to take hold of my fears, lay them down, reach beyond this narrow space in which I find myself.

She is not me as I am not my mother. Our experiences are reflections of familial evolution and of advancing social awareness. My daughter has a different role model, home environment, and a different experience entirely of womanhood. She has many attributes that insulate her against casual expectations of her gender and has critical thinking skills that can neutralize attempts to devalue her.

Confronting my internal misogynist pessimism is a challenge. I’m a little stuck sometimes trying to see that being a woman is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. Some days, I’ll see something or read something and I burn with anger and righteous indignation. Some days, I am so damned lucky to see the world through my daughter’s eyes. Her truth is powerful. She knows who she is and everything else is just noise.

canstockphoto21908653

37 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Parenting

A Mind of One’s Own, Minimal Square Footage Required

canstockphoto9028280

I’ve been riding along the last couple of weeks as if someone else were at the wheel. I stare out the window as the landscape speeds by, lost in thought, lost in ideas, but not really lost at all. It’s the kind of drifting that loosens the nerves, unclenches the fists, allows the mind to be frivolous or deep, shifting from moment to moment.

Books are in stacks about the study. I’ve meandered from one to the next, from Virginia Woolf’s loosely compiled speeches in A Room of One’s Own to Tim O’Brien’s exhausting Tomcat in Love (it’s hard work wanting to like a book and being quite unable to). Frigid temperatures kept me pacing relentlessly, doing housework, muttering to myself and occasionally putting on 45 layers to venture outdoors, until I fog-freeze my glasses and stumble back inside.

This is what it always is – the malaise of being at the halfway point of a six month Minnesota winter. Seed catalogs have started arriving. My blog reader piles up as relentlessly as the gardening chore list. I cannot keep up. It would require that I shove my fuzzy, drifting thoughts back into a box and bring a level of focus and commitment to the moment.

My mind drifts to friends, on and offline. I think of Ruth, fighting to manage and beat back her cancer and of Sandy, pondering the idea of home. I think of Kiri fending off anxiety each time she looks for a home to buy and of Bill, unraveling after years of employment. And there’s Amy and Jen, dealing with the challenge of jobs that shift and change from day-to-day. I think of my grandmother, whose faithful canine companion went to sleep on Monday and never woke up. I think of my husband, who just moved offices for the zillionth time, new cube, new building, same relentless job. And of my daughter who is home with the flu. Again.

They’re all in my constant peripheral vision. But at this moment, life stands still. I pretend I’m isolated and that John Donne was wrong. I’m an island – staying quiet, introspective, self-reliant. I’m composting, letting thoughts and ideas sink in until something meaningful emerges and I have the energy and optimism to share again. With about 15 minutes of decent sunshine, humidifiers sputtering and tons of mental manure to shovel through, it takes longer for something worthwhile to grow.

canstockphoto22778900Overhearing my husband, on the phone with a cousin talking about family history, prompts me to Google my relatives. I read news clippings about the murder of my maternal grandfather, a man I met once in 1974. He gave me molasses cookies from Alaska and a 1950s children’s book about an agreement between the Alaskan Eskimos and the Laplanders called Reindeer Trail. It takes me a few more family name searches to remember I’ve done it all before, this grasping for roots, for connection. They’re all stories to me, not memories.

It’s an aimless sort of thrashing about, trying to shake off stagnation, to raise a hint of a ghost of a whisper of motivation. Phhhtt. Writing becomes an aimless exercise in creating things that I edit until I hate them. I begin to mock writing advice in my head, ending each conversation with an erudite just shut it!

I forccanstockphoto12183645ed the study window open, slivers of ice falling from around the frame. The sun gives the illusion of warmth, but the air is sharp. I can hear cardinals singing, sighting a flit of brilliant red before the glass fogs over. I stand a moment longer, breathing icy air, before closing the window and sealing myself in again.

A little music for the rambling mind:

32 Comments

Filed under Personal

The Nostalgia of Depression

canstockphoto8316983There are mornings when I wake up and I feel low. Something rotten I did years ago pops in my head and I cringe. Or I get a birds-eye view of my life and it looks less like happy mediocrity and more like grist for the mill of humanity. Small, unimportant, irrelevant, pointless. I remember news stories that illustrate how awful the world is and imagine all the cruelties happening at this very minute.

This is what depression looks like for me. It’s not debilitating. I recognize it for what it is, just a familiar shadow that darkens my doorstep on occasion. It’s the not-so-secret secret I’ve lived with my whole life.

As I’ve aged, my depression is less something I fight, get over, work through or fix. I lay down with it. I settle in. I ride it out. I end sentences in prepositions, smile slightly at my moroseness, eat comfort food and talk to friends.

Even in my depression, I recognize my good fortune. I know in the present that it will end. I know at my core that the next morning or the next or the next, I’ll wake up, the veil lifted from my eyes, the fog from my brain – everything will be okay.

I come from a family where everyone is officially and unofficially diagnosed with something. We talk about it openly, with an odd note of pride that we have a solid grasp of who we are.  We nurture twisted humor, a buffer against the realities of mental illnesses.

We speak of “funks” and moods, of OCD and bipolar as if talking about vacation plans. Some of us have tried medications, rehab, old-school sanitariums. We know the twelve steps, tough love, interventions and rock bottom. Many of us drank, did drugs, ate too much, gambled, slept around, lost jobs, lost children. Some of us died.

Dysfunctions, addictions, dcanstockphoto5275349isorders – this is the language we know each other by. We were ahead of the cultural shift, talking about things that other people were masking behind tight smiles. Sometimes I feel that my depression is all that binds me to my family history.

My father committed suicide. I didn’t know him well. He left when I was 5. I found him years later, but it was too late for a relationship. I was embittered by abandonment to an abusive stepfather. My nervous smile when meeting him masked a simmering rage.

A few months after seeing me for the first time since my childhood, he killed himself. It left an indelible scar. The 5-year-old in me saw causation, correlation. I was unlovable when he left and unlovable when I found him again. I learned years later that this hadn’t been his first attempt. It wasn’t about me… it wasn’t about me…

For the first decade and a half of my adult life, I drank a lot. I smoked. I took risks. I did not care for myself. I survived because I am a gritty soul, finding humor in the darkest corners and with a self-perception that was eventually my saving grace. I found friends along the way – crutches, muses, bandages, lost souls like me. I learned that whatever lurked in my mind, it was survivable.

History. Depression opens it wide. Every loss, every bad relationship, every thing I’ve ever done that was unkind, dishonest or thoughtless, rises to the surface. I’ve never found a way to settle those ghosts once and for all. Some of them, I just think wryly “hello, there old friends”. Others make me foul-tempered. Enough already.

It used to be that when I felt like this, I’d fix myself a hot cup of coffee and have a smoke. It soothed me, this ritual of caffeine and nicotine. The long, slow draw made me breathe, sighing smoke and sinking into thought.

canstockphoto23114415I gave up smoking years ago. I gave up regular booze about the same time. Then I couldn’t sleep and had to cut back on caffeine. I focus on getting exercise. I write the rawness away. I indulge myself with comfort food and entertainment until I can no longer sit still. Until the fog is burned off by the sunlight.

My depression isn’t what it used to be. Binge watching Burn Notice with a plate of mashed potatoes, is a far stretch from the good ole’ days of waking up hungover and wondering where I’m at or where I’ve been. These days, I know where I’ve been and I know the shadow that sits comfortably beside me. It won’t always be there, but it will likely always come back. I’ve traded in destructive coping for active self-care.

I’ve lived long enough so that this trickster of the mind, this misstep of synapses and neurotransmitters, has mellowed with age. I’m one of the lucky ones.

 

National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline:
1 (800) 950-6264

National Suicide Prevention Hotline
1-800-273-8255

45 Comments

Filed under Personal, Uncategorized

The Intimacy of Book-Giving: Just Give Me Underwear

canstockphoto16137550It’s a phrase I’ve said repeatedly in my lifetime: “Give gifts that people want, not what you want them to have.” I received two books as gifts recently and had two entirely different reactions.

I unwrapped the first book and sat there stunned for just a moment. A thousand thoughts ran through my mind, including “You hate me, you really, really hate me.” I was struck how out of proportion my mental reaction was, but that is the nature of my relationship with books. They are such a part of who I am, as a reader, as a writer, as a human, that I can’t imagine anyone would think one book was as good as any other.

The book I received was an inspirational tome by the mother of a child who had died from a rare disease. I stared at the gift-giver as if she’d just given me something with “Oprah’s Book Club” stamped on the cover. There’s nothing in my personality that suggests I like Thomas Kinkade, Hallmark or Chicken Soup for the Soul. I don’t have tear-stained copies of the The Notebook or The Fault in Our Stars in my reading stacks. While I can feel deeply for a bereft mother, I do not read for sentimentality’s sake.

The gift-giver doesn’t really know me and certainly did not know that she just gave me the equivalent of a package of Granny Panties. Although they’re mighty comfy on occasion and make good cat barf rags at the end of their usefulness, I do not want to receive them from a relative stranger in a room full of people. This is the same person who gave me a Prince Charles’ tome on the future of mankind several years ago. A thong with pretty pictures.

I was writing to a friend this morning about book recommendations and it struck me how very personal it is and how reluctant I am sometimes to offer up ideas. There is a level of intimacy, because you know very well you are going to recommend something they may not like. And if they ever tell you that, it will hurt just a little. And part of you will wonder about the veracity of your friendship.

There were several friends of mine who raved about 50 Shades of Grey. I don’t know that I’ve ever looked at them the same way again. Yet sometimes when I read negative reviews of a book that I liked, I get enraged, as if someone had just insulted my mother. And you can often see in the comments that people have taken personal umbrage to the review, to the point of online wedgie-giving.

canstockphoto6437376This is part of the reason why I don’t write book reviews. The book that was poorly edited, full of sentimental manipulation, with characters I’d like drawn and quartered – that book touched someone’s heart, comforted them while they were going through emotional turmoil, allowed them to escape for a moment from the anxieties of their life. There were, for a few moments, no bills to be paid, no pictures to cut out faces from, no squalling child in need of something. Who knows what a book I loathed, meant to someone else?

From a literary standpoint, I don’t pretend to have high standards. I like a good story with complex characters and I don’t care if it’s Toni Morrison or Nicholas Sparks (uh, maybe not) as long as they write a world I can sink into with rhythm and language that keeps me there. But what draws me in might be something that reminds me of a comforting moment as a child or visually links me to a place where I felt happy. The character might remind me of a boy I was once madly in love with or someone who never got their comeuppance.

canstockphoto8858462What we read, what we love to read, what we want to read, is as complex and reflective of our humanity as what we like in music or fragrance. It’s incredibly personal and intimate. I have found that it is also a reflection of our relationships. The first book I received during the holidays was from someone for whom mutual dislike is discernible. The book felt like an act of contempt, although it was likely a thoughtless throwaway attempt at being generous.

The second book I received was from a friend over coffee. We’ve talked about books often, have known each other for several years and she’s in my ring of favorite people. She gave me a book that she had read and really enjoyed. It made her laugh. She knows my sense of humor and thought I would enjoy it as well. It was an entirely different experience, as intimate as a hug without having my space invaded or being imprinted with a scent.

Scanstockphoto20612705ometimes I think I’m a very hardhearted person, that I should be grateful that I’ve been given anything. I’ll smile and say thank you, even while wondering if Half Priced Books will give me any money for the book I’ve just had foisted on me. Giving a book to someone just because you know he or she reads books is akin to giving a knife from Target to a professional chef. Unless you’re already familiar with their kitchen, you are likely giving them something that they’ll re-gift in the coming year.

Socks. Just get them socks.

Right now I’m lost in pure entertainment, having tracked down used copies of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series. I’m reading Stories to be Read with the Door Locked. When we’d visit my grandparents, I’d sneak off to the den and read everything on their bookshelves. They had all the Alfred Hitchcock dime store paperbacks. That’s also where I read the horrifying Helter Skelter (that’s a post for another day called Inappropriate Things I Read as a 10-Year-Old).

I’ve shown you mine, now you show me yours…

57 Comments

Filed under Reading

Scrooge in 2015: The Everyday Path to Redemption

I sat incanstockphoto0044344 the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis last week, self-consciously wiping the tears off my face. It doesn’t matter if it’s the 1951 version with Alistair Sim or the 1992 Muppet version or a live version on stage, A Christmas Carol always has me sniffling by the time the third spirit arrives. I know what is coming. The break of day and redemption.

This idea of redemption, not in an afterlife or by last minute acts of desperation, but in the present, is such a beautiful, gut-wrenching concept to me. And I don’t think a supernatural fright is necessary to experience it.

Most of us have not committed egregious, prosecutable crimes. For those who have, I leave it to their victims to offer redemption. Most of us are petty criminals – innocuous in our envy, silently savoring our pride or our appearance, holding petty grudges or being snarky. I do something nearly daily that in hindsight I am embarrassed or ashamed about, whether it be an act or a thought. The nature of being human means that some of our layers aren’t things we’d want others to witness.

Perhaps, too, the redemption I learned about in church is something too ephemeral and distant to mean much. So often it seems that people use religious concepts of redemption as a way of excusing behavior they’ve made no attempt to modify or for which they feel no remorse. Real redemption lies in making amends and then making different choices. It requires that introspection which differentiates us as humans – our willingness to recognize our flaws and our ability to learn to do things differently, to be different.

As a writer, this has always been something that niggles at my little gray cells. I like happy endings in stories. I like it when characters make different choices that lead them on an upward trajectory. I like to believe the most seemingly irredeemable humans find their way into the light. This is why I’ve not enjoyed the latest trend of fictional protagonists as antiheroes – those who are repugnant in their choices and never find a redemptive path. I don’t see the point of elucidating these characters if they are going to continue making the same kinds of choices with inevitably worsening consequences.

Culturally, the antihero seems to dominate public attention. Heroes and heroines are eventually tarnished. Moral rectitude is replaced by expediency and attention-seeking stunts. The myths of goodness in the public sphere are like bad alibis – easy to poke holes in, unable to withstand scrutiny. True heroes and heroines are going about their work, sometimes unregarded and unnoticed, but staying the course. And every day, they are still learning and seeking redemption by choosing in those singular moments to be better than what they might otherwise be.

canstockphoto13945863This is the true beauty of redemption – each moment is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to scrutinize the uglier bits of our personalities and decide to be better. It’s a chance to look at whatever prejudicial beliefs that have permeated our cells and decide to be smarter. It’s a chance to be a better friend or parent or student or employee. It’s an opportunity to say sorry and mean it. Each day, we are presented with small choices and interactions in which we can redeem ourselves. We can be just a little bit better than what our nature dictates. I think that is a miracle unto itself – no spirits required.

 “Many laughed to see this alteration in him, but he let them laugh and little heeded them, for he knew that no good thing in this world ever happened, at which some did not have their fill of laughter. His own heart laughed and that was quite enough for him. And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843

May your 2015 be filled with redemptive moments and joy – keep it well!

 

Currently trying to redeem my brain cells with these books:

On Human Nature by Edward O. Wilson

The Moral Imagination by Gertrude Himmelfarb

Roger Williams and The Creation of the American Soul: Church, State and the Birth of Liberty by John M. Barry

28 Comments

Filed under Parenting

The Green Study “What’s on the B Side of that 45?” Contest: Honorable Mention

An Honorable Mention from The Green Study “What’s on the B Side of that 45?” Contest goes to d. Myers for his poem about a mid-life crisis. He’s a writer, currently working on his first book.

He was sent one The Green Study Coffee Mug, a postcard from Minneapolis and $25 donation was made to his local Red Cross chapter.

mid-life crisis

By d. Myers

slow down and watch it all collide
watch it trail like a fish
is there ever any sign
smelling dog food in a dish

I’ll play with monkeys in a barrel
and legos at the mall
gonna get another snow cone
while I buy my kid a doll

old cars, old shoes, old people
they help to keep it all intact
I’m getting better all the time
I’m getting so I like the cracks

not the smooth stuff or the easy
is ever worth the tripcanstockphoto11178704
when I fall I fall so hard
but I’ll never feel the slip

little white fences all around me
I don’t feel too safe at all
fluffy curtains on the windows
and stuff hanging on my walls

great big trees and open highways
start to sooth my aching head
come and put me in a jacket man
and take me off to bed

Congratulations d. and good luck on your writing journey!

Leave a comment

Filed under Blogging

The Green Study “What’s on the B Side of that 45?” Contest: Honorable Mention

An Honorable Mention from The Green Study “What’s on the B Side of that 45?” Contest goes to Ruth at Travelling True North for the morning conversation we often have with ourselves.

She was sent one The Green Study Coffee Mug, a postcard from Minneapolis and $25 donation was made on her behalf to the Red Cross International Emergency Response Fund.

“Life in the Midlife Teens”

By Ruth at Travelling True North

Mind: What’s that noise? 5am and someone woke me up. Ergh… Zzzzz.

Body: Zzzzz….

Mind: Argh. Again? It must be the cat. No, stop that, it’s your child.

Body: I’m not getting up.

Mind: Well, neither am I because I am only 18 and I deserve sleep.canstockphoto15812243

Body: Still not getting up.

Mind: No. No. No,no,no,no,nooooooooo. Still with the noise! What’s that husband doing? Sleeping. Argh…

Body: I still hurt from staying up past 9.30pm last night. But YOU ARE A PARENT. Get. Out. Of. Bed.

Ok, done. Ugg boots on (it’s still a bit cold), fleece….

3 mins.

Body: Damn. Still up. Now with cuddly child. Lovely cuddly child, all warm and soft and desperately clinging on while saying ‘cuddddddddllllllllllleeeeeesssssss’. Nice. Eyes still barely open though. Just missed walking into the wall. Argh.

Mind: What do you mean we have to function? It’s 5am. 5. A.M.

Well, I leave it up to you.

Body: Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no no. I’m the one who knows how old we are. I’m the one who feels the aches, the stress of aging joints, the fatigue of needing a few hours more sleep each day, and the head thump of that extra glass of wine last night.

YOU’RE the one who seemed to think this is all ok. That kids past 40 was a great idea and that we all had the stamina for several YEARS of sleepless nights, extended bedtimes, no personal time and endless rounds of the ‘why’ game. We’re all in this together, baby. Stump up.

Mind: Hmmm. I am still 18 you know. 18 was not that long ago, if you recall. We were vibrant, healthy, had a nice growing bank balance and could lift weights greater than our body fat index…

Body: 18 was YEARS ago. YEARS.

Mind: But then not so much has changed, has it?

Has it?

canstockphoto20425615Body: No, no. Though, um. There’s that ‘changed’ waistline, the hair colour, red-eye-reduction eye drop fascination and fondness for soft cheeses. Oh, and the need to head to bed at 9pm…

Mind: Well, in my defence soft cheeses are brilliant. And the kids have ruined all hope of normal sleep.

Body: And we’re all just passed 40…

Just sayin’…

Mind: 40 is the new 20.

Body: Really?

Mind: Really.

Body: Realllllly??

Mind: Pause.

…the new black??

Body: Clutching at straws, my friend. Clutching at straws. Do you recall when our 17 year old niece came to visit? You spent all that prep time thinking about how you would connect about social interests, school, friends and personal values. And it became verrrry clear that your scintillating conversation about home cooking, tree hugging and the joys of craft were falling just short of the dramatic eye-roll/ rapid-exit combo move. Even your ‘I really liked a party’ tale from the 90s was met with a well meaning, bemused, smile and a quick hug goodnight. Loving, but. Not quite what you were expecting?

Mind: Humph.

Body: Or the time you said yes to skiing and we broke a leg? 12 weeks in a cast, no driving, little travel and a particularly challenging time trying to work. Could have gone better, Lady Osteo?

Mind: Well, it did break on the end of a great run… And it was a very stylish manoeuvre…

Body: I say it again, juuuust not 18.

Mind: Right. Well then, I guess you’re saying it’s all back to hot flushes, the hair colourist, a stab at the 5:2 Diet, and carving out personal time in an overworked schedule?

Body: And reading Miffy at 5am.canstockphoto1486647

Pause.

Mind: And reading Miffy at 5am.

Body: So, it’s not so bad… Is it?

Mind: (Staring at a bundle of warm, soft, cuddly child, resting in peace) No. It’s not so bad.

Mind: Not so bad at all.

Congratulations Ruth!

Check out her blog for a little direction:

Not on Facebook. Here’s Why.

A Week of Underachieving: 4 Ways to Ease the Mind

Location, Location. Finding Your Spiritual Home.

3 Comments

Filed under Blogging, Humor