Humorless

4 08 2016

This brief story arrived on my Facebook page yesterday:

WINNER: Man wearing bedazzled Trump shirt in Walmart yesterday asks if I’m aware that they provide services for unwed teen mothers like myself.

The woman posting it is one of my son’s friends.  She is in her late 20s and married.  There is obviously just a ton of fail in this episode, and we entertained ourselves for the next several hours with “what you should have said”.  I flushed my sinuses with coffee several times at what could have been hilarious comebacks, and a good time was had by all.

And then the comment that started with: “The Trump shirt is immaterial…”

And there you have it, again.

A woman tells her story, and someone is there to tell her she’s doing it wrong.  That she has noticed the wrong thing, that her story isn’t hers to tell so let’s tell her how to do it correctly.  So that only the correct and important things are shown.

It’s a man doing it? #notallmen.

Walmart? Lots of people go to Walmart.  Or even better: “That’s what you get for going to Walmart.”

Teen? “I’d be complimented if someone thought I was a teenager!”

And finally it comes down to questioning or whittling away at every facet of the story, with the ultimate verdict being: You told it wrong.  You saw it wrong.  You reacted wrong.  What’s the big deal? It was cute, come on, where’s your sense of humor?

Which are probably the same things that would be said about my reaction to those comments.

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Losing my religion

24 04 2015

It’s no real secret that religion and I have parted ways.  It’s been long enough that I’ve written about it here, talked to all my family members, and even changed all my profile descriptions on the various social media platforms.  There was a time I apologized for it.  I tried to hang on to my lifelong label of “Christian,” with the clumsy modifier of “…but not one of THOSE Christians.”

My distrust of organized religion has only grown in the years since I left the church.  I follow a few progressive writers, and I appreciate what they say.  Some of them have found a way to return to church; for a time it gave me a pang that I couldn’t find a way to do the same thing, but now it gets not much more than a shrug of acknowledgement.

Other writers are in the same place I am, and speak eloquently of why they left and didn’t look back.  Their postings are almost inevitably followed by comments that tell them why they are wrong and weak and willful and not really Christians.  Okay, then.  I give.  The Real Christians can have the label.  They say I don’t deserve the label they wear.  They’re probably right, and I don’t really want it anyway.

It is discouraging.  It would be so easy to snark about how they are demonstrating precisely the problem that is killing their Real Christian Churches – and there is surely a lot of that type of response in the comments section.  I just can’t.  Jesus would not have ever responded by telling me that my pain just meant I was wrong and weak and willful and not really someone he wanted to know.  If I really do want to hold to Jesus’ revolutionary and transformative example, I can’t come back at the Real Christians with sarcasm guns blazing.

There’s a lost-in-the-wilderness feeling about this.  The mainstream atheist community can get every bit as condescending and pretentious as conservative religion.  Progressive Christianity can get caught up in No True Scotsman arguments, which get nobody anywhere.  Those of us who genuinely long for that mystic experience of communion – both with creation and with each other – are left without the community we hope for.  We instead end up in solo practice.  We see each other when our paths draw near, but the paths rarely seem to join.  It is a blessed relief to meet a kindred spirit out here.  But it comes with the certainty of transience, that you will be moving on from this place of meeting and communion.

This is, perhaps, another manifestation of the new normal.  That the faith community I once relied on as being so solid and unchangeable, simply evaporated from around me; what I thought was solid ground was really just fog.  Now the journey is more like lace – open, airy, strands twisted together and then separating, with a design that makes no sense up close.  I want to believe that my life journey, along with the journeys of so many others, is making something beautiful.





Ambition

29 01 2015

I’ve been thinking a while about the concept of ambition.  Like most children from a privileged upbringing, I was told to dream big, to work hard, to achieve success…to be ambitious.  These were and are good things.  I was fortunately born with the type of intelligence that does well in standardized testing, and (after a stint in a program for gifted children) the kind that also fit in well with the educational style of the 1960s and 70s.  I did well.  I was rewarded for it.  I achieved good grades in high school, got into the college I wanted to attend, and was paid to go to graduate school.

All along was the idea that wherever you are, you need to push to be in a better place.  Where you are is good?  The next place could be better, with more money, more power, more, more, more.  Your relationship seems pretty great?  Are you sure?  It could be better – more sexy, more intimate, more, more, more.  Your child is well-adjusted?  Are you sure he has enough to do? Is her environment rich enough?  Have you done everything you can to encourage the growth of those early neurons?  Don’t you think you could be doing more?

I did well.  I was successful.  Decent job, good marriage, a demanding-but-otherwise-awesome son.  I made myself crazy listening to the voices telling me that none of those things were enough.  I pulled free of some of it – for instance, the Baby Weight Gaining competition that happens when you have a baby close in age to another woman’s.  “Oh, your baby gained a pound in the week after birth?  That’s great… my baby gained TEN.”  Followed by more information than you want to hear about the richness of your competitor’s breast milk, along with a self-congratulatory breast pat.  That one has “Get out while you can” stamped all over it, and I did.  Fast.

Other things I didn’t let go of, so much as have them pulled away.  My decent marriage ended with my husband’s death.  Which of course, after a period of grief, starts the push cycle again.  Are you seeing anyone? Have you been dating?  Are there any “good prospects”?

Then I was laid off from my decent job.

A lot of things came to a screeching halt right there.  The first thing I noticed, when the shock wore off, was a sense of relief.  I took some time to simply breathe, and rest, and consider what had happened.  A little while later I got a contract position… and there it was again: Will this turn into a full-time position?  You really want that, right?  Because that would be better.  You should want more than contracting.

The breathing and resting paid off.  I wasn’t in a full-time position, and realized that I didn’t actually want to be in that position full-time, because hello, corporate crazy.  My time was my own.  I could set that job down and walk away.  Sure, they could let me go at any time – and I could also let them go at any time.  It felt balanced in a way that I hadn’t felt in a long time.  I finished that contract and moved into another one – for less money. (Shouldn’t you be making more?  You used to make a lot more than that.) Less money was more than balanced by working with people that I knew and loved.

I get it, truly.  There’s a time in your life when you are trying to build and achieve.  You’re making a family, or building a career, or studying deeply for a long time, or planning for retirement.  But I’ve come to think that we should always question what it is we are after.  Is it just more?  The bigger house, the fancy job title, the luxury car, all the activities for your children… what are they for?  It’s like we’ve misunderstood the “dream big” part of what our parents tried to teach us.

What do you actually dream of?  Do you dream of that next big goal?  Or do you dream of a time when it’s behind you, when you can stop pushing so hard to get to it?  We can make that time happen.  There should be a point where we can look at our lives and say, these things are good.  To stop adding the word “but” to every single beautiful thing we say about our lives.  Instead: I love my husband.  I have an amazing child.  I like my job.  My house is comfortable.  My life is good.

It is nearly un-American to say ambition isn’t always good.  It’s the American way – strive, be ambitious, succeed.  Never be satisfied, never be content with where you are, never rest.  I am not entirely done with that – I do still have a mortgage to pay for – but my ambition these days is for inner peace.  To not worry about whether I’m achieving enough, but to love what I’ve already achieved.





Leagues

5 01 2015

I have just gone through – again – a round of “you’re out of my league” from someone I was casually dating.  It is a common enough metaphor out here in the cis-het dating world.  A number of otherwise apparently intelligent men still fall back on sports metaphors in trying to relate to women.  This woman is tired of it.

Men of the world, repeat with me: There are no leagues in relationships.

Are there things you don’t want to deal with? You bet.

Deal-breakers that maybe don’t make sense to other people? Absolutely.

Incompatible lifestyles? Of course.

Are there leagues?  NO.  THERE ARE NO LEAGUES.

I don’t have too many illusions (at least I hope I don’t) about myself.  I am not the Perfect Woman For Every Man.  For instance: a man who is looking for arm candy isn’t going to enjoy my company… and similarly, I have no interest in being in that kind of position, so no harm, no foul.  But I’ve spent over fifty years learning and doing things.  I have some accomplishments that are important.  Some skills that I’m proud of.  Nearly everyone does.  I am no different.

“You’re out of my league” sounds like a compliment, but it isn’t.  It is an invitation to diminish yourself so that the speaker can feel like more.  It’s the cue to say oh, that set of skills I have?  I just do the things I enjoy.  Or that advanced degree that I have that seems to be bugging you?  I just got that advanced degree because it seemed like a good idea at the time.  The job title that sounds bigger than yours?  Gosh, job titles can mean nearly anything.

Never mind the hours I’ve spent learning and working on those skills I enjoy.  Or the years spent immersed in study and writing.  Let’s not consider the amount of work it took for me to end up in a career area that still makes me happy.

I am all about the awareness of privilege.  I know that being a straight cisgendered white woman gives me some advantages.  But I also know that I didn’t just fall into my life, that I’ve done work along the way that I can be proud of.  And that I am a decent person worth knowing and spending time with.  And that those accomplishments that are putting me “out of your league” do nothing of the sort, and I am no longer going to make myself seem smaller so that someone else can feel bigger.

And I’m also done with explaining.  The next time I hear any permutation of “you’re out of my league,” I’m not going to waste my time with why that metaphor is patently ridiculous.

Instead, my answer will be only “Yes.  Yes I am.”  And that will be the end of it.





Between

15 10 2014

Between times.

I am between times.

These are between times.

September 19 is my big one every year, the anniversary of the greatest loss I have known.  There is a season of the soul that starts for me then.  My birthday comes less than two weeks after that.  His birthday is three weeks after mine.  The world is not itself for that month, not for me.  That month is my between time.

*****

The day before September 19, my son’s partner suffered the greatest loss she has ever known, when her father died.  It resonated all the way through our family as well.  There is no official state-sanctioned tie between my son and the woman he loves; the tie of love binds us all together into a new family, and we grieve together the loss of a good man.  I didn’t know him long.  Not nearly long enough.

The between time was a day early this year.

*****

On September 19 my father-in-law entered intensive care after throwing up blood.  He is 90 years old, on a bunch of medications that all interfered with recovery, so he ended up getting unit after unit of blood – to replace what was flowing out of him, and to help him keep what was left.  The first check showed a bleeding ulcer.  The second check showed cancer.  There is no curing someone at that age, but you can make the remaining time easier, and he had surgery to remove the cancer the day before my birthday.

He got better.  And then he didn’t.  Fluid started backing up into his lungs and his tissues.  He came down with a severe hospital infection.  And another check, to find out where the fluid was building, showed that the cancer had outrun everything and had spread faster than we could ever have imagined.

He went into hospice two days ago.  The wires and the tubes have been removed.  He is kept clean, warm, and as comfortable as possible.  That means morphine now.  I watch his caregivers as they wash his diminishing body, shave his still-abundant beard, and trim the mustache that annoyed him with its length.  They are tender.

He sleeps much of the day.  He wakes up occasionally for a drink of water, or for a few spoonfuls of the lemon ice his oldest daughter brings to him.  He sleeps again.  And in sleep, he waits.

He is in his last between time.

*****

My beloved’s birthday is in five days. I wonder if my father-in-law will end his between time before I end mine.  I don’t wish for his death.  I will wait with him.  And yet, I wish every day for this good man to finally rest.  He has had such a long time of pain and confusion.  I love him.  I wait for him to move on.

I think of him taking the hands of his wife and his son, leaving this behind, and I breathe…go.

And I wait.