Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fear and love

My girl was home sick from school with a fever.  She curled up in my lap and we watched the weather channel, worried for our friends and family in New York, waiting for Hurricane Sandy.  I looked down and she was crying.

"What's the matter?" I asked her.

"I'm worried that the hurricane will twist, like in the Wizard of Oz," she said.

Her cheeks were flushed a perfect pink, her eyelashes impossibly long and wet with tears.  I felt something like fear in my heart.  I always feel afraid when my girls are sick.  I carry it with me, breathe against it, cradle it in my chest.  It needles me, presses on my throat and turns my stomach.


Later, I went out to pick up Indian food, before the storm hit.  It was the anniversary of my first date with my husband.  We fell in love at a friend's wedding seven years ago.  We couldn't go on a date to celebrate, not with the wind and the rain and our little one's temperature rising.  We settled for not having to cook or clean up after ourselves.

Sitting in my car in the growing wind in the dark, it occurred to me how worried I am about losing the things I love.  Every fear I have is a fear of death, in one way or another.  Every moment of panic is an acknowledgement that death could take me away from something I love.

After my oldest daughter was born, I had terrible problems with anxiety.  It was the first time I had a reason to live, and I couldn't take it, the terrible knowledge that I wouldn't live forever.  I feel a little bit of that primal fear when my babies have fevers, when I watch buildings topple into the sea.  I feel a little bit of that mama fear when I think of New York, of my brave friends there, of how they've been hurt before.

Anxiety, at its heart, is nothing but an attempt to push away my fear of dying, to deny it and keep it in the dark.  The trouble is that anxiety grows, in the dark.  Everything bad does.

I forced myself to sit with my fear, to work it through to its end, to try to drag it into the light.  I watched leaves blowing past my car windows and imagined the worst thing, the thing I can't speak.  What would I want to be, if death touched me, took away something I loved?  Was I serving my love by giving fear a place inside of me, by worrying and making myself sick?

If death touched my life, would I live with its terrible mark on my skin, all over my life, forever, from that moment on?  Would it honor my love to become obsessed with what I'd lost?  Or would I be brave enough to live gratefully, even in the face of unspeakable loss?

The truth is that my daughters are beautiful beyond reason; they are the people I've always dreamed of being, they are good and pure and wonderful so that I can barely breathe.  They are why the sky is blue, why the moon shines on still water.  They are everything, and I get to share my life with them.  Anyone who has met them, even for a moment, has been made immeasurably better by their little hands' touch.  And I belong to them.

I am not living with my whole heart, allowing myself to be crippled by a fear of losing them.  That dark thing should never enter me.  There shouldn't be enough room for fear, in the midst of all this love.

My sweet girl has a fever, and she will have many more.  She is also okay.  I hate that she's sick.  I want my loves to be safe and warm, and it's not always in my control, but I shouldn't let that scare me.  I shouldn't let my fear trick me out of a single, even fleeting, moment of thankfulness for my love, of acknowledging it, basking in it, washing my body in its light, holding the heft of it in my palm, warming myself in the purity of its beauty.  I wasn't made for being afraid.  I wasn’t given this gift to hoard it and scramble with blistered fingers to keep it, afraid of losing it.  I was made for loving, and there simply isn't room inside of me for both love and fear.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

I don't weigh myself any more, because I'm a mom of girls.

I don't weigh myself, anymore.

I've been thinking a lot about my daughters and how it seems inevitable that, one day, they will start to hate themselves.  They will be beautiful beyond measure as children because they haven't learned yet, that, if you're a woman, you hate yourself.  Then, without warning, they will suddenly feel not good enough.  They will start to be cruel to themselves, because, if you're a woman, it really isn't even proper or normal if you're not cruel, especially to yourself.
They are children, now.  When I say, "You are so beautiful."  They say, "Yeah!"

When my husband tells me I am beautiful, I say, "You're only saying that because you've made some kind of resolution to say nice things to me more often."

Or, "I've gained ten pounds and feel like a cow."

Sometimes I roll my eyes.

The best I can do is keep my mouth shut and hope for the moment to pass quickly, because it's sickening, in a way, to hear these things... it's weirdly painful to endure the compliment that I'm beautiful.

That's how much I hate myself, because I'm a woman.

I don't know if I can undo what's been done to me.  I'm trying.  Some part of me must believe it's possible.  Please believe me that I'm trying.  I don't know if I can ever unravel the years of negativity and abuse I've endured at my own hands, and at the hands of a society that wants to keep me small and quiet, that wants me to buy a version of me that they're selling.

I do know, though, that there are mountains I can move for my children.  There are millions of things I can do every day to stop that day from coming, where they wake up too fat and too ugly to be loveable, too fat and ugly be kind to themselves or to live with love and joy inside of them.  That day when every moment, from that moment on, will be a struggle against losing themselves under a blanket of lies about what makes a woman worthwhile, beloved and happy.

We all know that, as parents, we are role models for our girls.  We also worry constantly about our kids becoming teenagers.  We are terrified that our girls will starve themselves, compare their bodies to other girls, to images in the media.  We lay awake at night, worrying that they will hate what they see, when they look in the mirror.  We worry so much, and we should.  It's a terrible thing to be female, to be afraid of food, to refer to ourselves as disgusting, to put off eating and declare it a victory, despite the fact that we're shaking and panicked, that we had to fight with white knuckles to make it to dinner time.  It's a terrible thing to be ashamed of what we are, to never feel good enough.  It's a terrible thing to always be aspiring to be something other than what we are, right now.

It's also terrible to know that all of this is wrong and stupid, that it's petty and brainless and that we don't even believe any of it, yet, we can't shake it.  We know it is wrong, but it has become us.

So we lie awake at night, fearing for our girls... and then we wake up in the morning and weigh ourselves in front of them.  We grimace at what we see and have coffee and two bites of a banana for breakfast.  We talk with other moms in front of them about losing weight, fitting into our pre-baby clothes.  We make them big lunches full of healthy food and tell them to eat up!  It will make them healthy, while we're evaluating food based on how many calories it contains.  We say things in front of them like, "I have been so bad, lately.  I need to stop eating chocolate chips."  Sometimes we break into tears because a pair of pants doesn't fit us.  We don't eat cake at birthday parties.  We don't even eat pancakes on Saturday morning.

We perform all of these acts of fear and self-hatred in front of our children every day, and then we sit up at night worrying about whether our daughters will hate themselves, wondering what can be done about it.  How can we keep our girls from succumbing to the pressure to evaluate their worth based on how much they weigh?

It's crazy, isn't it?  We are modeling the very things we hope for them to avoid.  We're teaching them every minute of every day how to hate themselves, be cruel to themselves, and feel a need to change themselves.  We're showing them how to be unhappy and afraid.  How not to succeed, how to live a lie that will hurt them and haunt them with every breath they take until the day they die.

The good news is that we can stop doing these things.  If we can't stop how we're feeling inside, (and I hope that we can.  I hope it's possible, but if it's not...) we can at least stop projecting our hate and fear and pettiness and paralysis onto our girls.

I can help my kids become women who value themselves for the right things, since I am the biggest influence in their development, after all.

I can refuse to weigh myself every morning, (or ever again) for one thing.  Imagine what I was teaching my girls, all that time, by getting on the scale before I had a glass of water in the morning?  When I either rejoiced or frowned based on what I saw.  When I went into a panic because I'd gained weight.  When the day's tone was set based on a difference in how many pounds I weighed.

I can refuse to talk about trying to lose weight with other women.  I can stop announcing, "I am on a diet, starting today."

I can stop pushing myself through workouts that injure and exhaust me, telling myself that it's supposed to hurt, to be thinner or that it's worth it to be in chronic pain.

I can make sure to never tell someone that they look great, simply because they've lost weight.  As a matter of fact, I can refrain from commenting on another person's appearance all together, unless they've done something creative or expressive that allows their inner beauty and style to shine through.

I can stop choosing clothing that "hides" and "flatters" my body.

I can be sure not to make comments about people's bodies when they aren't present or can't hear me.  My kids hear me.

I can refuse to make another negative comment about my body's shape or size.  Ever again.

I can stop mistreating the idea of healthiness, pretending that my mental state has nothing to do with how healthy am; pretending like losing weight at any cost is more important to my health than learning to live with calmness, strength, courage and happiness.

I can stop treating food in terms of calories.  I can stop acting as though there are foods that are morally wrong to eat; that eating certain foods makes me a bad person, or a weak person.  (Imagine what a tragedy it would be if, on my daughters 6th birthday, she felt anxiety and fought with herself over having a piece of her birthday cake, because she knew it was bad, and felt guilty and panicked afterward if she decided to have some.)

I can exercise in ways that make me happier and stronger.  I can aspire to a level of health that allows me to move my body through the world with ease and joy.

I can make sure to compliment myself in front of my girls, every day.  I can tell my girls that I am beautiful.

I can listen to myself and respect my ability to decide right from wrong.  I can pay attention, when I feel like I need rest, or more exercise or more food or less food.  I can listen to the voice inside of me that says that being judgmental of myself and other women doesn't feel good.

I don't have to live in fear that, if I skip working out this weekend because I'm exhausted, it means that I've failed and that I'm bad.  I don't have to be afraid of sugar or fat.  Being afraid of those things only makes my relationship with them strained and out of control.

I can step boldly into the world in the body I have NOW.  I can encourage myself, practice rejecting negative messages I'm sending myself, and getting from the world around me.

I can gently encourage the people around me towards truth and kindness, when they make untrue statements about health and weight, or when they put themselves or other people down.


I can't control all of the negative messages my girls are receiving from the world, but I can make sure not to be a source of them.  I am not helpless, in this world, even though I've been made to feel that way my whole life.  I don't have to turn my children over to the world, having watched me make fearful choices about who I am, and about how I feel about who I am.  I can stop my own hand from igniting that flickering flame of fear and self-doubt in them.  I can't control everything.  Maybe they will succumb to the pressure to hate themselves, maybe they will.  You know what, though?  I can make it a lot less likely by showing them how to live in their bodies with joy and respect and love.  I can model self-love and acceptance.  I can set them up to succeed, instead of setting them up to fail, crossing my fingers that they'll somehow learn to do what I never learned to do.  They can learn to love themselves, because I can show them how.

Imagine how much more likely they'll be to reject cruel and hateful messages about their bodies if they've spent a lifetime loving them, and watching me love mine?  If, during their developmental years, they watched their mother love who she was.  If they weren't even aware that women were supposed to hate themselves until it was presented to them by somebody else.  Might it not even seem weird and kind of silly to be told they aren't good enough by outside sources, after a lifetime of knowing for sure in their hearts and with every fiber of their existence, that they were beautiful beyond measure?

Doesn't it seem crazy that we didn't think of this of this before?  It does, to me.  It seems totally crazy that I haven't been doing this, since the moment my oldest daughter was born. 


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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Diary of a Submissive - BlogHer Book Club Review

Diary of a Submissive by Sophie Morgan.

So, this book pissed me off on a lot of levels.  It was irritating, contrived (in spite of being a "memoir") and overly- British in its writing and full of stupid decisions, through which the main character learned nothing.

I seriously hated every second of it.

Let me preface this by saying a few things.

First of all, I am a stay at home mom of two small kids.  My house is always a wreck.  I'm always in a rush.  I never see my husband, except when we're passing out on the couch in front of the tv at night.  I'm not exactly in a sexy period of my life, so maybe I just had trouble like... getting all worked up over this material because I have trouble getting worked up in general, at the moment.

Secondly, I dated someone who was into the "BDSM scene" or whatever, in my twenties.  He was an insecure, dangerous dork who liked acting out his life's emotional injuries in a sexual way.  It was totally obvious to me.  (And if you want to know the truth, I feel like the whole BDSM thing is just that.  A bunch of damaged people who, instead of figuring out and working through their damage, they make it okay by participating in sexual behavior that nobody is allowed to say shit to, because if you have a problem with it, you're just a prude, or a "vanilla" sex nerd who doesn't know what from orgasm.  It is why, although I haven't read any of them yet, most of the other reviews of this book will start out by saying, "Hey, I don't care what you do in the privacy of your own bedroom.  I'm no prude.  This just isn't for me."

I don't feel like I need to qualify my opinions that way.  I don't really care what your guesses are about my level of prudishness.

So, yes.  I came into this book with preconceived issues... about the BDSM scene and about British sex.  Diary of a Submissive did nothing to help me overcome my prejudice.  It validated everything I've ever believed about these things.

There is nothing sexy about moist knickers during tea time.  I spent most of this book picturing like... a guy with an overbite in an argyle sweater doing an Austin Powers impression, saying things like, "Oh, ho ho.  Aren't we a naughty little school girl?  Does somebody need a spanking, you cheeky thing?"

Maybe I have issues, but probably the characterization of all the people in this book was also terribly hokey and formulaic.

But what about the sex scenes?  Right? 

Well, they didn't exactly inspire any lunch break sexting, if you know what I mean.  Mostly, the "sex" scenes were prefaced with a declaration by the author that she is an independent woman, a feminist, if you will... she has a job and an apartment that she pays for all by herself.  And then they tumbled into, well one does get lonely, and eventually degenerated into abuse and humiliation.  There were tears and there was foot licking.  There was spanking (of course) and name calling and pain.

Since Sophie Morgan was independent, she hated being humiliated and abused... but, like her partner pointed out several times, she must have liked it, because her knickers were moist.

I have a huge objection to wet underwear proving anything.  It was degrading and it hurt and I cried and I wanted him to stop, but if I asked him to stop that would have ruined everything and made it no fun.  And plus, my knickers were as wet as a horse ridden hard through the morning dew, SO I MUST BE LIKING THIS.  It's a little too close to the assertion by many abusers that what they're doing doesn't constitute abuse, as long as the victim has a physical response.  It's bullshit.  It's irritating to me that I'm not allowed to have an objection to this because, I mean, obviously I'm just a virginal goody two shoes who is just too straight laced to get it.

Sophie Morgan talked a lot about how sex, for her, is about being pushed to her limits.  About being pushed beyond her limits.  It occurred to me half way through how weirdly perfect it was to be reading Diary of a Submissive right after Daring Greatly by Brene Brown.  It seemed to me that Sophie Morgan needed a way to be vulnerable.  That she was living in an unhappy, inauthentic way.  She felt locked up tight and empty inside.  Instead of becoming vulnerable by living a "Whole Hearted Life"... one where she might take risks, tell the truth and try to connect with her purpose and with the people around her, she chose to get spanked until she cried.  These abusive sex roles created, for her, a kind of intense vulnerability, and vulnerability was something she was really, terribly afraid of, disconnected from, and also needed very badly  We all need it.

I don't know.  Maybe I'm just too vanilla to get it.

Do you want to learn more about Ms Morgan and her memoir and find out what the other BlogHer Bloggers thought of the book?  Click here for the low down on Diary of a Submissive.


I was compensated for this review.  I think you can tell that the opinions contained herein were my own.
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Black umbrella - Writing Challenge Piece

I took my daughter to the lake.  We spread a blanket in the grass and ate fat, purple grapes.  Juice ran from her chin.  Fat drops of it dotted her sundress.  Her father worked until late.  He tried so hard.  We all felt alone.

I went places with my daughter, the market and the playground, but I felt uncomfortable. I saw a woman once who stood on her hands on a glittering saddle on top of a galloping horse.  I dreamed about her, thought about her body, her silver spurs.  Before birthing my daughter, I was going to be an illusionist on a stage.

We felt comfortable in places where people didn't come.

My girl wore a flower in her hair.  We walked, picking up clam shells.  "Look, mommy," she would say.  "This one is brown!"  They were all brown.  She begged me to bring them with us.  Soon, my hands were full and I started letting them fall in a trail behind us.

Sheltered by a bend in the water's edge, a girl surprised us, running through the sand, the hem of her dress wet.  She stopped, her eyes wide.  "Hello," I said meekly.  She turned and ran.

Pushing through a mandrake, we emerged into a grove of honeysuckle.  The girl stood at her mother's hip.  They watched us, not speaking.  The girl's father sat in a wheel chair.  He was young and pale and handsome, dressed in black.  The woman adjusted an umbrella over his head, tucked a strand of hair behind his ear, glancing at us darkly.  He struggled to turn his head to regard us.  I felt something like longing for him.  He looked away.

"Come here, darling," the mother said, her eyes shimmering.  She guided the girl away, glancing over her shoulder with a darkness that froze my blood.  "Come away from there."

I held my daughter's hand and we passed by them silently.  The small girls locked eyes, for a moment, and then we were gone.


--------------------------------------------

This piece is an entry in the Trifecta Writing Challenge.  This week we had to write 33-333 words using the 3rd definition of the word, black.


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Friday, October 12, 2012

Doing everything differently...

I've wasted away for a great deal of my life.  Not bodily.  I have a big, strong body that can go and go.  I've got legs that root like trunks in the heart of a storm.  My arms are raised, my fingers splayed against the sky.  I have everything I need to carry my children, to wear the marks of them around my wrists and across my shoulders.  I can bring all the groceries in, in one trip.

I've wasted away in a kind of anticipation.  I get overwhelmed. 

When you go to bed your whole life feeling relieved, waking up is hard.  Making it to the end of the day has been a goal, for me, at times.  When I get there, though, nothing is waiting for me.  Only an endless promise like a void, that there will be more.  Sleep now, because it's all you can do.

It never occurred to me that there was anything I could do.  I don't believe in prayer, in good vibes or affirmations.  I don't believe in things.  I believe in love, though, and death.  I believe in happiness, somewhere; in waking up with eyes that don't sting.  I believe in being enough.

I've always had an attitude problem.

Clean hair and jeans, autumn scarves and riding boots.  Five pound weights and oatmeal.  Purses made of colored leather, apple crisp and bleach.  Smaller, prettier, find time for make up.  Five minutes in the morning for skin care.  Manicures.  Chafing dishes.  All I've ever wanted was to bleed all over everything.

Being happy has always seemed like a lie, or at best, an obscene kind of joke.

I'm starting to see that there isn't anything wrong with me.  I'm simply not a fresh, dew-covered, sundresses and fabric softener kind of girl.  I'm a girl with a knife.  I'm a girl who slides her fingers between meat and bone.  I need something in my teeth, to feel.

Things have been happening.  I've been doing everything differently.  I've been taking matters into my teeth, and trying to do what I feel.

A problem for me is that I get caught up in feeling like I have to do things.  If I want to be acceptable, I have to eat a certain way, move my body a certain amount, in a certain way. I have to write a certain number of words per day, blog a certain number of times per week. I have to keep the peace among people I don't know or have any control over.  I have to make everything myself, do everything myself.  I have to I have to do all of these things, but who decided that?

I've been working hard to identify those unfair impulses.  When it occurs to me that I have to do something, I stop and think about whether I have a choice.

I might not want to change diapers and make meals and do laundry.  I might not feel like laboriously sounding through another child's book.  I might not feel like sharing my space and time and energy every moment of every day.  I might not feel capable of patience and love and slow softness.  Those things are my responsibilities, though.  I rise to the surface of those things with a supernatural strength.  I have a deep well of otherworldly power that I draw from when it occurs to me that I'd rather not carry a person on my back and a world of belongings in my arms.  I draw from my well of beauty and love when I'm woken in the night by a cry.  Of course I'd rather sleep, but not really.  I'd rather be everything to my babies.  They deserve everything I have.

There are other things, though, that I feel like I have to do, but they're shadows.  When I feel like going to the gym might actually kill me, but that I don't have a choice because if I don't do upper body today, everything will be thrown off, I won't be healthy, I'll be failing my kids and sending myself to an early grave because skipping a workout is pretty much like being an unlovable loser who will disappoint everyone and then die.  -- Oh wait, that is one of the shadow things.  That is something I've been tricked into doing.  I don't actually have to do it.  I can go for a walk, instead.

When I feel like I have to run out of the door as soon as Kurt gets home so that I can spend a few hours at the end of a long day working because we need the extra money.  We need it because, a few times per month, we like to go to restaurants, and Scouty might want to see a movie and there will be a pumpkin festivals and the girls will need to go down the slide, and... even though I'm exhausted and empty inside, I have to make this money, because what if there's a carnival at the end of the month and the ferris wheel is so sparkly against the backdrop of the city and I'M THE REASON we can't afford to go?  -- This is one of those shadow things, too.  I feel like, without my extra income, we won't be able to have Thai Food for movie night or ice cream after soccer and everyone will be disappointed and it will be because I didn't push myself hard enough.

My babies need me in the middle of the night.  They need my warm body and my love.  They need a safe place to live.  They need me to teach them language and kindness and social skills.  They need me to model being alive and happy.  They need clean diapers and healthy food.  They need me to read with them and cuddle them.  They don't need the giant slide at every carnival.

I've been working at dialing back the pressure I put on myself.  It turns out that varying what I do has been more complex than I ever dreamed it could be.  I thought I would feel delighted by changing up my routine, and I have.  We've been headed to the grocery store and my girls will ask if we can go to the park, instead and I look at them in the rear view mirror and say, "Okay, yes."  We've been making things, decorating for Halloween, taking walks, inviting friends over for lunch.  We've been sure not to live the exact same day for two days in a row.  I've been splurging for pumpkin coffees, going to the movies alone, visiting my sister for a dinner date after the kids are asleep.  Those things have made a difference.  They've made life brighter, pills easier to swallow.

Doing everything differently has also meant that I'm dialing back on how much I'm working.  It's meant that I've reexamined my motivations, deciphered how I actually feel and have been trying to figure out what I actually want.  It has meant that I've bitten my tongue and had to say no.  It's meant that I don't push myself until I'm hurting and miserable.  I move when I want to and in ways that feel good.  I don't restrict things.  I trust myself to feel when something is too much or too little, or when something isn't right.

Doing everything differently has been a deep process, and I've gotten so much out of it, not just novelty.  It's hard to let things go, when you've wrapped yourself up so tightly, but I'm learning to listen to myself and how to not be clenching up, inside.  I've learned to let the cord in my heart spin, to unravel the knot of tension in my guts.  I'm getting this, slowly.









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Sunday, October 7, 2012

Some political thoughts - By focusing on you, I am not doing anything to help the people you are hurting.

I've been feeling a lot of disbelief and anger, lately.  Some people say, "It's just politics.  I'll stay off of facebook until the election is over," or whatever.  But, it isn't just politics.  When you're talking about somebody's right to live a happy life, to live with health and the freedom to love the people they love, you're not talking about politics.  You're talking about life.

So, I've been feeling exasperated, mad at Christians, mad at men, outraged over women who refuse to demand equal treatment.  I've been feeling like I can't believe some people.  I've been saying, "What is WRONG with these people?"  What is wrong with these people?

What it boils down to is that I'm mad that some people aren't willing to look past their agendas and dogma to understand that other people need help, they need compassion and assistance to live in a way where absence of illness and decay is even somewhat possible.  That they need compassion to live in a way where happiness is even an option.

I've been talking a lot about happiness.

What does it mean to be happy, according to me?

It means that you're not afraid to be who and what you are.
You're not sick or worried all the time.
You're not hungry.
You're not existing under a film of depression and hopelessness.
You're don't feel scared of scarcity; you don't cling desperately to whatever you have, refusing to open your heart and share your talents and resources, for fear that if you share, you won't have enough.
You don't feel scared of scarcity in your own heart.  You believe you are good enough, capable enough, beautiful enough, just the way you are.
You don't strive for things out of fear.
You don't have to put someone else down to get what you believe you need.
You have friends.
You love people.
You have fun.
You work hard, because you are able to work hard; you don't experience pain or depression or anxiety or illness or panic over providing for yourself and your family that keeps you from working hard.
You see other people, acknowledge them and love them.
You aren't mad all the time.


Happiness doesn't mean that you have whatever you want, whenever you want it.  It doesn't mean that you'll somehow magically beat sadness, not suffer set backs or succumb to sickness or death.  It doesn't mean that you're perfect, or that you even believe in perfection.

Happiness means that you will die, you are certain of this fact... and that every day of your living, breathing life should be purposeful and full of love and wonder.

So, I've been feeling frustrated with half of the country, with a demand for respect and compassion getting confused with entitlement.  I've been feeling disgusted and ashamed.  I walk around thinking things like, "How can you honestly believe that people who need help to provide for their families WANT to be that way?  That they're singing songs on the way to the assistance office, winking behind their hands because they're taking advantage of people who work for their money?"

Instead of focusing on all the hate and intolerance in the world, and propagating my own against entire institutions of people, I want to focus on this, instead:  What about people who work hard for every breath?  What about people who are alone in the world, and who don't receive a single expression of kindness, ever?  What about people who are abandoned, who are beaten, who are afraid as soon as they open their eyes in the morning?  Why am I focusing on people who have enough, and who don't care who they are hurting to hold on to what they have, when I could be doing so much more good, in the world?

I can't pay anybody's mortgage or put food on their table.  I can't cure anybody's illness.  I can't give up anything I don't have...  but something I can do is recognize that I have a lot, just as I am.  I can't create a tolerant world, but I can practice active kindness, compassion and love, in my life and give what I have to give, which is a startling amount, if I'm being truthful.

Instead of looking at how much the world is lacking and how I can't solve these huge problems, I can start to look inside of myself, and realize how abundantly capable I am of refusing to live for my disgust and disbelief.  I can refuse to live for my anger over the ways people are treated, and simply start treating people better. 

I see that people aren't going to change.  It's just politics, and all of that.  Don't talk about it at the dinner table and everything will be okay.  If people aren't going to change, the least I can do is refuse to be mad about it, refuse to let my outrage diminish my own happiness, so that I can pass love and compassion and joy along to the people around me, to my children and husband, to the people I pass in the street and at the grocery store, to my friends and our teachers and the police at the municipal building playground.

I don't have to love your ignorance and greed.  I don't have to shake your hand and admire you for believing that some people aren't worthy of happiness.  I don't even have to entertain you, spend time with you.  I don't have to be a cheesy asshole and like... bake you cookies even though you're wrong and mean and hurting people, but I can choose to acknowledge the you inside of all that hate and love you in the tiny way I'm capable.  I can recognize that my feelings about you and your beliefs, my sadness and fear and anger, aren't actually about you.  My feelings of outrage and disbelief are actually about the people you are hurting.  By focusing on you and your religion and your money and your coldness, I am not doing anything to honor the people you are hurting.

So, here I am, letting it go.  That doesn't mean that I'll unfriend anybody until after the election, or that I choose to say, pfft, what an idiot and move on with my day as though none of it bothers me.  It doesn't mean that I'll somehow pretend that it doesn't matter to me when I encounter bigotry and unfairness.  What I mean is that I'm not going to try to grip my anger and wield it.  I'm not going to use up my energy being mad at what I know is wrong.  Instead, I'm going to try to live my life better in the name of my anger, to extend more kindnesses, give help when I can, treat people like people, smile and look you in the eyes at the grocery store, because I don't know who is lonely and who could use a moment of kindness like it's air, and all of the air has gone out of the world. 

What that also means is that I need to acknowledge that, if somebody is clinging to their money and dogma and double standards and hurting people in the process, it is because they aren't happy, either.  Nobody would believe or behave that way if they were living each day of their lives with wonder, love and kindness.  Nobody is an asshole, just because.

I can't force anybody to change, but I can change my own behavior.  I can turn all of my energy outward and hope to shine brightly in a world that seems like it is dark most of the time.  If I can't convince somebody else to be kind, I can plant my feet a little more firmly and try to make up for the lack of kindness in the world by practicing my own with as much bravery as I can muster.

So, there's me not talking politics.  And maybe this is even a little bit of an apology to all of the Christians I've hated.  Shocking, I know.  I am, though.  I'm sorry for not seeing the you, inside of you.  And I'll try to do better, because doing better is all I've ever wanted you to do. 

How are your happiness efforts coming along?


-

A single drying rose in a tiny white vase swiveled on its stem



Elliott Sand woke up to the sound of something breaking.  It didn’t startle or alarm him.  He didn’t lie still in the darkness, straining his ears for a sound, too afraid to even breathe.  He sat up and rubbed his face with his palms.  The window was frosted over, but there was a hint of sunlight there.  It must be close to dawn.  His mother was drunk.  She probably fell or knocked something over.

“Mom!” he called from the warmth of his blankets.  She didn’t respond.  “Mom!” he yelled, again.
Everything was quiet.  He sighed.  A lone car drove by outside.  He heard the sound of tires on wet pavement.  It was still fall, for now.

“I’m coming,” he said, as he stood and pulled on a pair of pants.  He leaned over and peered out of the clear space at the top of the window.  His father’s car wasn’t in the driveway.  He’d suspected it wouldn’t be.  He breathed and fogged up the glass.

"Mom?" he said again, turning on the kitchen light and blinding himself.  The kitchen was empty and clean.  He leaned for a minute on the gleaming counter top and stretched and yawned.  He had hoped to find her here, perhaps fallen from her chair, a spray of tiny ice cubes punctuating her landing.  He knew where she’d be, instead.

The carpet was thick and cool as he passed through the empty living room.  A clock on the mantel place ticked studiously.  A single drying rose in a tiny white vase swiveled on its stem to watch him push open the door to the study.

His father's study was really the room where his mother kept all of her secrets; pictures and letters and other things she didn't want to look at anymore, except on certain nights.  These nights were made of vodka; a bottle of it, warming in her fist.  She flinched slightly as he turned on the light.  Her arm flopped, seemingly of its own accord to cover her eyes.  She was sprawling across the rug, her white silk night gown hiked up around her waist.  She was, of course, sobbing. 

Eliot didn’t curse under his breath.  He didn’t say, “Jesus, mom!”  He was sixteen years old, and had long outgrown expressions of frustrations at being woken up this way.  He knelt down carefully next to her, placed his hands under her armpits, and hoisted her into a semi-sitting position.  

“Oh, stop,” she whined, clutching a crumpled paper against her breast.  A sticky strand of hair was pasted to her lips.  Mascara stains made trails down her cheeks.  Elliott’s mother was devastatingly beautiful.

 Michelle Sand was a model for a painter, in her youth.  He was famous in small circles, she said.  He played the piano and threw parties where everyone stayed until dawn.  They were wild in love but Elliott’s mother wanted a baby. 

There was a torn canvas propped up in the corner with the likeness of her naked torso pressed up against the cherry finish of a piano bench.  The closet was stuffed with hundreds of sketches and paintings of her like this, nude, elastic and endlessly beautiful.  His father didn't ask that she throw them away, just that they be placed behind a door that he could lock.  He wouldn’t make her throw them away, as long as he could own them.  Elliott couldn’t count the number of times she’d busted the lock open with an ice pick.

“What got broken?” he asked.

“This is a letter from your father,” she said, holding it out to him.  She kept a number of letters, all dating around the year 1979, when his father had persuaded her to leave the city and follow him here.  There were letters from other people, mostly men, too.  She put her hand down in a pile of broken glass.

“Let me see your hands,” Elliott said.  “You’re bleeding.”

“I don’t care,” she cried.

“Just be still,” he said.  “Hold still or you’ll get blood all over everything.”

She looked down at the front of her night gown, inspecting it for stains.  “I’m not bleeding,” she said.  

He propped her against the wall, and crawled over her legs, picking up pieces of glass.  She reached out with a heavy hand, and stroked his back.  “He was gone when I told him about you,” she said.   

Elliott’s father spent most of his time away on business.  In fact, Elliott wasn’t sure when he’d last seen his father.  It must have been at least a month.

“I called him,” she said.  “I was so young and so lonely in an apartment overlooking the lake.  I called him and when he answered, I said, ‘Guess what is different about me?’” 

Elliott retrieved a small broom and dust pan from the hallway closet.  She called after him, “Do you know what he said?”

Elliott knew.  His father had been groggy with sleep, it was 3am in New York.  He was sleeping when the phone rang, and when his newly pregnant mother asked him to guess what was different, he said to her, “Who is this?  Maryellen?”

“It’s your wife,” his mother said, her voice filling the small study.  She wiped the hair out of her face, leaving a smear of blood on her lips.  “I told him, ‘It’s your wife, not Maryellen, and I’m having your baby.’”

“I know, Mom,” Elliott said.  “Come on.  It’s time for bed.”

She looked up at him, her green eyes rimmed in melting black liner.  She looked like something out of a story, like a princess trapped in a tower.  Her cheeks were flushed.  Beads of sweat like diamonds were broken out on her forehead. Her deep red hair was tied softly into a knot at the base of her neck.  "Baby," she said, holding her arms out to Elliott, the letter from his father still clenched in her tiny fist.  "Come here, little one."

“Just, don’t,” he said, setting the dust pan full of glass down on the top of the piano.  It made a clinking sound.

“My baby,” she said, staring up at him; her long white legs folded haphazardly under her body.  “Come here.  What’s the matter?”

"You're bleeding," he said.  "Nothing's the matter.  Just get up.”

"I'm not bleeding," she said, looking at the slippery, red wetness of her palms with some surprise. 
 
"Here," Elliott said, extending her his hand.  "Stand up, please."

She gasped as she placed her feet onto the floor.  There was a large shard of glass embedded into her heel.

"God, Mom," he said.  "Come here."

She wrapped her arms around is shoulders.  Her skin was cold.  She buried her face in his throat.  She smelled like African violets and antisepsis.  He picked her up, cradling her like a child and carried her to the bathroom where the light was like pure white fire.  He wished he hadn't gotten out of bed.  He was tired.  He shouldn't be doing these things for her.

"Look at me," she said as he helped her into the bathtub, both of her legs dangling out of the side.

"Not now, Mom," he said.  "Give me your foot."

"Look at me," she pleaded.  "I want to look at you."

"Give it to me," he demanded.  She kicked at him.

She yelled, "I want to talk to you.  Just look at me."

He sighed.  He was tired in a way that made him older than he was.  He wanted to turn the water on and push her under; leave her here to drown.

"You're so handsome," she said, starting to sob again.  "Look at this."  She thrust the crumpled letter into his hands.  "It's from your father.  He was away in Costa Rica and he wrote this to me."

Elliott looked at the letter.  It was written in a heavy swirling hand in silver pen on blue paper with a floral decoration around the border.  “This isn’t from Dad,” he said, setting in on the floor and grasping the protruding edge of the piece of glass in his mother’s heel.   “He’s in Costa Rica now.  He’s never been there before.”

“It is,” she said.  “It’s from him.  I was pregnant with you and he wrote me to say he was coming home.”

“It’s just a stupid letter from somebody you used to know, Mom,” Elliott said.

He bandaged her heel and helped her to her feet, guiding her down the hallway and into bed.  She buried her face in the mattress and cried.  He pulled the blankets up around her chin and turned off the light.  He stood for a moment in the doorway, wondering whether he shouldn’t turn her on to her side, so she didn’t suffocate while he was gone.  This wasn’t the first time he’d left her this way.  She would be fine.  

“I’m going to school,” he said.


-