Sunday, November 08, 2009

Sexual Assault Prevention Tips-- Guaranteed to work!

Passing these helpful hints along that I learned in training today.

1) Don't put drugs in people's drinks in order to control their behavior.
2) When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!
3) If you pull over to help someone with car problems, remember not to assault them.
4) NEVER open an unlocked door or window uninvited.
5) If you are in an elevator and someone else gets in, DON'T ASSAULT THEM!
6) Remember, people go to laundry to do their laundry. Do not attempt to molest someone who is alone in a laundry room.
7) USE THE BUDDY SYSTEM! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public.
8) Always be honest with people! Don't pretend to be a caring friend in order to gain the trust of someone you want to assault. Consider telling them you plan to assault them. If you don't communicate your intentions, the other person might take that as a sign that you do not plan to rape them.
9) Don't forget: you can't have sex with someone unless they are awake!
10) Carry a whistle! If you are worried that you might assault someone "on accident," you can hand it to the person you are with, so they can blow it if you do.

And ALWAYS REMEMBER, if you didn't ask permission and then respect the answer the first time, you are committing a crime-- no matter how "into it" others appear to be.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

If I Were a Rapist...

If I were a rapist-- a serial sexual predator bent on destroying as many women's independence and control over their own bodies as possible-- and an omnipotent one at that, with the power to create my custom rapist's utopia in which I could move and act freely, I can imagine the sort of society I would create.

In my imaginary society, women would be trained from a young age to disconnect from their own needs and feelings, and to focus instead on meeting the needs of others. They'd learn that what they really want in life doesn't matter so much, and that they always have to be polite and nonconfrontational, and that it's better to let someone else be "right" than to be too assertive. I'd make sure they saw plenty of examples of assertive, independent women who look out for their own needs being labeled "bitches," too, to remind them of what happens when women step outside the meek and accommodating mode and learn to stick up for themselves. Just to make sure they got this message loud and clear, I'd make the popular media be full of caricatures of women-- hard, assertive, mean characters, and modest, pleasing, timid characters. Maybe then they'd never figure out that real women can be both strong and vulnerable, both assertive and compassionate, both humble and accomplished.

I'd make sure women didn't know how to discern and protect their own boundaries. From the time they were small, I'd hope for their parents to make them kiss and hug relatives they don't want to kiss or hug-- "Awww, come on, kiss Aunt Ruth goodbye-- don't you want to be a nice girl?" "I know you think he's weird, but it would really make Uncle Keith feel a lot better if you gave him a hug." I'd want their caregivers to dismiss their feelings, making them believe that children's emotions don't really matter and aren't really real-- "I'll give you something to cry about," and "Quit whining-- it's just a toy." The younger we begin to teach kids to disassociate from their feelings, their pain, their discomfort, the easier it will be to maintain this training all through the rest of their lives.

By the time they were teenagers, their boundaries might be so completely blurred and unstable that they'd be primed to begin to engage in consensual, but unwanted, sex, having sex they don't want to be having for reasons ranging from "he expects it on the third date" to "she'll leave if I don't do this" to "if I do this, he'll know how much I love him." They'd continue to have sex that leaves them feeling empty, whether or not it is truly enjoyable and pleasurable and fun for them. I'd make sure that our society sends them messages letting them know that they're doing the right thing by being "sexually empowered" in having sex frequently, doing my best to obscure the part of the message that "empowerment" involves claiming power, not giving it away. And to make sure they were left feeling further confused and isolated, I'd want society to send messages of shame and judgement, so they'd know that they were doing something dirty and secret, that they were "sluts" for engaging in risky sexual behavior, and "bitches" if they made it about their own sexual gratification, and "prudes" if they wanted sex to be about real love and connection.

I'd make sure that married and partnered women and men knew that putting out on schedule-- some arbitrarily assigned number of times per week-- was part of their "job requirements," whether they felt like having sex or not. Then, they'd be more likely to continue the pattern of dissociating sex from passion and pleasure that was begun in their youth. And just for kicks, I'd pound into their minds the belief that you can't be raped by your spouse-- that he has "rights" to your body because of marriage or past sexual encounters, and that you don't have to consent or agree for him to take you when he wants.

I'd make sure that entire classes of people could be oppressed, and that all of us would be culturally trained to see other types of people as "less than." Further, I'd make sure we were all so scared of being labeled "prejudiced" that we'd be scared to even examine or admit our areas of judgment, staying blissfully unaware of how we contribute to the problem. I'd want a society that sees sexual harassment and battery and rape used as a instrument of subjugation, in military and war and corporate settings. I'd want a society that uses ritual degradation as a rite of passage or entry, like a form of hazing, because once degradation of another human becomes a norm, the door is open for sexual degradation to be part of that ritual.

I'd want every child who comes forward claiming sexual abuse to not be believed, because a child who is not believed will learn to expect that nobody is there to protect him, that nobody will believe her, that there is nothing that can be done to stop violence and violation and betrayal. I'd want grandparents to side with family members who are abusers rather than with the victim, so the kid learns that speaking out results in people turning their back on him. I'd want parents to tell the kids to quit making up stories-- that there's no way grandpa could be an abuser. I'd want parents to be so ashamed that sexual abuse may have touched their family that they'd refuse to report it to law enforcement for investigation, hesitate to get their child needed counseling and treatment, and live their lives in a false world in which nothing ever happened and none of it exists. Kids who are abused and ignored learn that being ignored is what happens when you try to make something of it-- I'd bet they'd make prime targets for me once they are older.

In my rapist's utopia, I'd make sure that women's bodies were used to sell EVERYTHING, and that half-dressed women in sexy poses, airbrushed and photoshopped to perfection, were on the covers of almost all the magazines in the stores. Then women would compare their bodies to the women they're seeing on the magazines and TV commercials and movies, and realize they could never measure up. Thin, beautiful women might work excessively at staying thin and "beautiful"-- doing everything they could to look like the women in the media, hoping to gain some sort of acceptance, while all along learning to use their beauty and superficial sexuality to make gains in life, win attention, and make life easier. Then they'd come to view themselves not as whole women, competent and with great potential, but as shells to be polished and presented, whose worth depends completely on a specific set of ephemeral physical qualities that may or may not last through life. I'd make sure that women who don't fit that narrow definition of socially approved physical "beauty" doubt themselves, and constantly think that nobody could ever find them sexy, so that when they are offered less than ideal sexual experiences that are degrading, devastating, or dismissive, they'll readily accept, having been taught that to be found sexy and attractive is an ideal to aspire to in and of itself, with or without the empowerment that comes from having your sexuality honored by a caring and attentive partner. And I'd definitely want children to see these media images from a young age, so that little girls learn that their value comes from their ability to use their sexuality, and little boys learn that women are objects to be used.

If I were a rapist, the concept of the sex industry would THRILL me as a key component of my utopia because it sets the precedent that women's bodies and sexuality can be bought and sold, and anything that can be bought and sold is fair game to be stolen. I'd want strip clubs galore, where young women barely out of their own childhoods and still experiencing the poor judgment of adolescence would come when they felt that they didn't have options, to take their clothes off for men of all ages. I'd make sure that there were no other entry-level jobs in my society that pay very well, to ensure a steady flow of desperate young women who know they can't make as much money in any other business. In the strip clubs, they'd see that they can make more money based on the degree of graphic nature of their performance, and that the more they DID, the more they'd MAKE. They'd probably end up meeting up with a girl or two who did pictures and videos, and these porn stars would be glamorized! Every "feature" dancer brought into the club would bring in a huge crowd, and be fussed over like a celebrity based upon appearances in a number of magazines and movies. So the girls might branch out into some nude pictures or "soft" video porn.

Eventually, they'd discover that if you go beyond pole tricks and lapdances, you can move into working for escort services and prostitution. The pay would up the ante, with sex itself (instead of just sexuality) being the commodity, opening the door for sex to be stolen. Women in prostitution would learn that sex is sex and that empowerment is empowerment and that pleasure is pleasure, and that they rarely ever go together, lowering her expectations for what sex should be. She's already learned how to suck it up and engage in a sexual act while dissociating somewhat from her own pleasure and sensuality. At some point, she realizes that exchanging sex for money brings a level of attention and identity that she may have been missing before. Perhaps this is the first time she's really been shown a lot of attention, or made to feel sexy, or whatever. Perhaps she has been doing soft porn, and discovers she can make even more money based on what she's willing to do on camera. So, she may branch out into harder porn, eventually engaging in sexual acts that she herself might find offensive or undesirable, simply to make money and "protect" or promote herself in some way.

If I were a rapist, the sex industry would be like an exquisite, gift-wrapped present at Christmas, bringing me precisely the kind of cultural phenomenon I would need to make potential victims have no real connection with their own true power, drive to be empowered, and genuine sexuality; all while making potential bystanders and accomplices learn to see women as bodies, as sex acts, as personal gratification, instead of as sentient, intelligent, independent beings with emotional needs and dreams and desires. The sex industry, particularly the parts of it that encourage violence or brutality as norms, would serve to desensitize my entire utopia to the objectification and victimization of women. I guess if I'm really omnipotent, I'd make sure that thinking people who object to the objectification of women were portrayed as anti-sex, or crazy, or not in touch with reality.

In my imaginary society, people who wanted to "justify" their sexual domination of another person could travel out of country, so they could take advantage of foreign, "different" children, and still consider themselves to be upstanding citizens, because they don't hurt "real" women or children. I'd make sure that every school child in my society was taught about the "end" of slavery, and how awesome our current society is for not allowing slavery, while ensuring that they never learn about the illicit sex slave trade that is alive and well, even in our society. I'd do everything I could to make sure that rape, and child sex abuse, and prostitution, and sex slavery were all things that we could not speak openly and comfortably about in our society, so that more and more people would remain unaware of what was going on in their own families and communities-- right underneath their noses.

And these same qualities of my imaginary society that would make women ideal victims would also serve to make men ideal victims. After all, if women are constantly portrayed as weak, sexual objects ripe for the taking, thus making them easy victims, men are portrayed as strong, unemotional conquerors. What man who has been assaulted and raped wants to admit to being in the same league as weak sexual objects? Men who have been raped are even less likely than women to come forward, to demand justice, and to admit what happened to them.

With all these pieces in place, I'd be damn near guaranteed that I'd have an unlimited supply of victims who would ignore their boundaries long enough for me to make a move, who would have mixed expectations about their own sex lives, increasing their accessibility and vulnerability to me for acquaintance rape. And when I committed a rape, acquaintance or stranger, extremely violent and brutal or simple and straightforward, this utopia would make it extremely unlikely that victims would come forward. Some might not even define what I did to them as "rape," afraid that it implies some degree of ignorance or self-blame on their part. Some might consider it rape, but worry deep down inside that others wouldn't believe them, would blame them, or would say they are lying. After all, these "others" have been seeing the same societal messages, received the same cultural training, and heard the same rape myths. Some might know it was rape, want to come forward, and still feel shamed into submission. Some might come forward and have well-meaning but ill-informed friends, authorities, and professionals question what they did to cause it-- after all, we have all been trained to mistrust the inherent wisdom of women's bodies and to doubt that women are capable of understanding the truth about their lives, much less speaking honestly and directly about their sexual experiences.

If I were a rapist, this is exactly the kind of society that would lead me to feel safe weaving in and out of different circles of people, always being able to hone my craft, never truly worrying about getting into any situations I couldn't talk my way out of. This is exactly the kind of society that I know would be more likely to blame or not believe my victims.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Praise God!! GUILTY!!


It doesn't feel as good as I had hoped it would. Janet's still dead. There are still two beautiful, thoughtful girls who now have to begin to face up to and live with the reality that their father murdered their mother in cold blood. There are still a mother and father, two sisters and a brother, nieces and nephews, who have to live with the loss of their daughter, sister, aunt, and friend. There are still those people who were extremely close to Janet, to whom she confided terrible, sad, tragic details of her life with Tim, who will always be left to wonder what they could have done differently.

I hugged his neck they day after she died. It still feels gross to think about it. Some people just have no real conscience, and do not deserve our pity or compassion. It's been a long 4 years.

Rest in peace, Janet Lorita Harper Tillman

Friday, October 16, 2009


In the spirit of accountability, here it is. The periodic tracker of how I'm getting myself back into ass-kicking shape.

Days since I last cried: 2
Days since I've engaged The Beast (aka my own self-destructive drive): 2
Days since I've wanted to punch somebody: 1
Consecutive days of GRE study in the last 9 days: 9
Time since my first hooping class: 1 week, 1 day (remember my bucket list?)
Total "flight time" since (and including) first hooping class: 15 hours
Total "flight time" yesterday: 2.5
Pounds from my good and healthy weight: 22
Pounds lost since March of 2009: 23
Days I worked last week: 6
Days I'm scheduled to work this week: 6
Days I'd like to be scheduled for each week: 4
Time since I married my best friend: 9 years, 10 months, 5 days
Time since I kissed my best friend: about an hour
Days of Rape Crisis Center companion training until training is done: 6
Current favorite song(s): Everything in its Right Place (Radiohead), Kiss of Life (Sade), Say Hey I Love You (Michael Franti)

I'm not going to commit to posting the Ass-Kicker-Tracker daily or weekly, but expect a check-in every now and then. I'm getting back into fighting shape.

And regarding the hooping classes, it's a hippy-ish, dance/spiritual, fun thing in the town where I live (and spreading with pockets of interest all over). Here's a video of one of the local hoop instructors rocking it out:

Here's the other local instructor:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Currently, I'm in love with...

...being in love with the most incredible person I've ever met.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Currently, I'm in love with...

... Muse. Especially this song.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Such Great Heights

Those of you who know The Hubster are aware that he is typically very understated and not prone to being overly romantic. I've gotten flowers once in 10 years, and that was only because I said, "Hey, I want flowers on Valentine's Day this year. And I want them to be purple, got it?" I got a glorious bouquet of irises, and was thrilled. I married him for his integrity, sweet spirit, kindness, friendship, sense of humor, and perfect compatibility with me, not for his grandiose notions of romance.

I've learned to genuinely appreciate little things, recognizing the profound meaning when he does offer even the smallest expressions of romance. And little things, I get all day long, more than I could ask for. A dozen or more "I love you's" a day. Soft kisses every time we enter or leave each other's presence. Foot or neck rubs EVERY NIGHT (with the rare exception of when he is not feeling well) for the past 9 1/2 years, since I first became pregnant with our daughter. No, my name has never been written across the sky with a heart surrounding it by a hired airplane, but I have never doubted where I stand with him.

And tonight, he has filled me with renewed love for him, once again.

I came home from work to find that he had been listening to Pandora radio today and heard a song that made him think of me. He emailed me the lyrics, which open:

I am thinking it's a sign
That the freckles in our eyes
Are mirror images and
When we kiss they're perfectly aligned

And I have to speculate
That God himself did make us into
Corresponding shapes like puzzles pieces
From the clay

True, it may seem like a stretch
But it's thoughts like this
That catch my troubled head
When you're away, when I am missing you to death....

-From Such Great Heights by Iron & Wine

I love this man.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Giving and Helping

I'm still working on that other post (it's got some big stuff in it), but wanted to share that over the past few days I've been thinking a lot about human nature, giving, taking care of each other, and love. We live in a society that holds up giving/helping/compassion as an ideal, but rarely ever expects it of anyone. We think of those who are generous with their time, talents, and treasures as somehow better or different than the average person, instead of realizing that we all have it in us to give in one way or another (and, if I can say this without being too simplistic, that we SHOULD). What stops us from giving?

In the midst of pondering how it all fits together, something happened two nights ago at the restaurant. An elderly woman in the restaurant began to choke a few tables over from my section. I quickly went and grabbed another server who I know is also an EMT. When I said to him, "a lady is choking at table 12," he immediately dropped everything and literally ran to be there. By the time he got there, a doctor from a neighboring table was with her, assessing the situation and helping. My server/EMT friend, being the kind of guy he is (a natural helper and giver at heart), stayed in the part of the restaurant near the choking lady until he knew everything was okay. As I went back to check on my next table (which was just on the other side of a small barrier from table 12), the woman commented that she was a nurse, and had been about to go over and help when the doctor had walked up and introduced himself. I was struck with the fact that whatever is our skill, blessing, or ability, most of us want to be able to help. When I took CNA training (while considering nursing school myself), I remember the instructor (a registered nurse) saying that she kept a small emergency pack with rubber gloves and basic medical supplies in her car at all times, so that if she ever happened across a medical emergency (car wreck being the most likely), that she would always stop and help.

I don't know why this warranted a post, except for me to say that the beauty of giving, of compassion, and of human generosity, when it's put into action (which isn't usually as often as it should be), is overwhelming in its goodness.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Homebirth and "Journalism"

I have a half-written post sitting in the queue that I've been piddling with for a week now (but haven't finished), but felt the need to post something that landed in my FB inbox today.

First off, a very, very precious twin mama friend of mine safely had her 9 pound 6 ounce baby in her home this morning, so I'm still basking in the afterglow for and with her, because I'm sure she is! Welcome, Ophelia!

And with that currently coloring my emotional climate, here it is:

Sept. 22, 2009

Dear Producers of The Today Show,

The Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS) and the undersigned organizations are disappointed with The Today Show’s misrepresentation of midwives and home birth that aired on Sept. 11, in a segment titled “The Perils of Midwifery,” later changed to “The Perils of Home Birth.” This biased and sensational segment inaccurately implied that hospitals are the safest place to give birth even for low-risk women and mischaracterized women who choose a home birth with a midwife as "hedonistic," going so far as to suggest that these women are putting their birth experiences above the safety of their babies. Neither could be further from the truth.

Unfortunately, The Today Show did not do its homework on the evidence regarding the safety of home birth and midwifery care. The segment featured an obstetrician who presented only the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ (ACOG) position in opposition to home birth, but it did not make any attempt to present the different viewpoints held by the many organizations that are committed to improving the quality of maternity care in the US. We are deeply saddened that the show did not take the opportunity to note that both CIMS and The National Perinatal Association respect the rights of women to choose home births and midwifery care, and that the respected Cochrane Collaboration recommends midwifery care because it results in excellent outcomes.

There is no evidence to support the ACOG position that hospital birth for low-risk women is safer than giving birth with midwives at home. What the research does show is that the routine use of medical interventions in childbirth without medical necessity can cause more harm than good, while also inflating the cost of childbirth. However, the current health system design offers little incentive for physicians and hospitals to improve access to maternity care practices that have been proven to maximize maternal and infant health.

“Birth is safest when midwives and doctors work together respectfully, communicate well, and when a transfer from home to hospital is needed, it is appropriately handled,” says Ruth Wilf, CNM, PhD, a member of the CIMS Leadership Team.

That is why the national health services of countries such as Britain, Ireland, Canada, and the Netherlands support home birth. In those countries, midwives are respected and integrated into the maternity care system. They work collaboratively with physicians in or out of the hospital, and they are not the target of modern day witch hunts. These countries have better outcomes for mothers and babies than the US.

Childbirth is the leading reason for admission to US hospitals, and hospitalization is the most costly health care component. Combined hospital charges for birthing women and newborns ($75,187,000,000 in 2004) far exceed charges for any other condition. In 2004, fully 27% of hospital charges to Medicaid and 16% of charges to private insurance were for birthing women and newborns, the most expensive conditions for both payers. The burden on public budgets, taxpayers and employers is considerable.

As US birth outcomes continue to worsen, it should come as no surprise to The Today Show that childbearing women are seeking alternatives to standard maternity care. After all, American women and babies are paying the highest price of all—their health—for these unnecessary interventions, which include increasing rates of elective inductions of labor and cesarean sections without medical indication.

To the detriment of childbearing families, the segment “The Perils of Midwifery” totally disregarded the evidence. Although the reporters acknowledged that research shows home birth for low-risk women is safe, that message was overshadowed by many negative messages, leaving viewers with a biased perception of midwifery care and home birth. CIMS makes these points not to promote the interests of any particular profession, but rather to raise a strong voice in support of maternity care practices that promote the health and well-being of mothers and babies.

One of the ten Institute of Medicine recommendations for improving health care is to provide consumers with evidence-based information in order to help them make informed decisions. The Institute recommends that decisions be made by consumers, not solely by health care providers. The Institute maintains that transparency and true choice are essential to improving health care. We remain hopeful that the medical community will soon recognize the rights of childbearing women when it comes to their choices in childbirth and will respect and support these choices in the interest of the best possible continuity and coordination of care for all.

We urge The Today Show to provide childbearing women with fair and accurate coverage of this important issue by giving equal time to midwives, public health professionals, researchers of evidence- based maternity care, and especially to parents who have made choices about different models of care and places of birth.

Coalition for Improving Maternity Services
Academy of Certified Birth Educators
Alaska Birth Network
Alaska Family Health and Birth Center
American Association of Birth Centers
American College of Community Midwives
American College of Nurse-Midwives
Bay Area Birth Information
Birth Network of Santa Cruz County
Birth Works International
Birthing From Within, LLC
BirthNetwork National
BirthNetwork of Idaho Falls
BirthNetwork of NW Arkansas
Choices in Childbirth
Citizens for Midwifery
DONA International
Doulas Association of Southern California
Evansville BirthNetwork
Harmony Birth & Family
Idaho Midwifery Council
Idahoans for Midwives
InJoy Birth and Parenting Education
International Childbirth Education Association
International MotherBaby Childbirth Organization
Lamaze International
Madison Birth Center
Midwives Alliance of North America
Motherbaby International Film Festival
Nashville BirthNetwork
National Association of Certified Professional Midwives
North American Registry of Midwives
Oklahoma BirthNetwork
Perinatal Education Associates, Inc.
Reading Birth & Women's Center
Rochester Area Birth Network
Sage Femme
The Big Push for Midwives Campaign
The Tatia Oden French Memorial Foundation
Triangle Birth Network
Truckee Meadows BirthNetwork

About Us
The Coalition for Improving Maternity Services (CIMS) is a coalition of individuals and national organizations with concern for the care and wellbeing of mothers, babies, and families. Our mission is to promote a wellness model of maternity care that will improve birth outcomes and substantially reduce costs. The CIMS Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative is an evidence-based mother-, baby-, and family- friendly model of care which focuses on prevention and wellness as the alternatives to high-cost screening, diagnosis, and treatment programs.

1. The Perils of Home Births,
2. Birth Can Safely Take Place at Home and in Birthing Centers,
3. Offers All Birthing Mothers Unrestricted Access to Birth Companions, Labor Support, Professional Midwifery Care,
4. ACOG Place of Birth Policies Limit Women's Choices Without Justification and Contrary to the Evidence,
5. Ratifiers and Endorsers of The Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative,
6. Choice of Birth Setting,
7. Position Statement on Midwifery,
8. Midwife-led versus other models of care for childbearing women,
9. Evidence-Based Maternity Care: What It Is And What It Can Achieve,
10. Lamaze Healthy Birth Practices,
11. Millennium Development Goals Indicators, United Nations,
12. National Vital Statistics System, Birth Data,
13. Induction By Request,
14. Cesarean Birth By Request,
15. Crossing the Quality Chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century,
16. The Mother-Friendly Childbirth Initiative,

Coalition for Improving Maternity Services
1500 Sunday Drive, Suite 102
Raleigh, NC 27607

Tel: 919-863-9482
Fax: 919-787-4916

Making Mother-Friendly Care A Reality
CIMS is a not-for-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3). Our mission is to promote a wellness model of maternity care that will improve birth outcomes and substantially reduce costs.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Night Off

It's a good night off. No big blog post for now, just a peaceful, relaxing evening with my family. Life is good.

(and so is this Trader Joe's Bavarian Hefeweizen wheat ale, just in case that's influencing my chill mojo)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Jazz Brunch thoughts

I'm sitting on my favorite part of the patio at my favorite natural foods co-op, enjoying nice music, pleasant weather, and the laid-back, friendly feel of Sunday Jazz Brunch. Turns out, I got some kind of employee recognition at yesterday morning's biannual all-employee meeting, and since my managers know I love this place, they got me a gift card for here. :-) So, I'm enjoying some Moroccan cous cous salad and tabouli, and about to head in to pour myself a nice cup of El Salvador Dali blend coffee.

It's a nice morning.

In fact, it's been a nice few days. Sometimes, I think when something has begun to eat me up inside, just saying it out loud-- admitting it to myself and to whomever needs to know it-- ends the drama for me. Within 10 minutes of saying what needed to be said, I was over it. I still want to apologize to my friend, but no longer really feel an ounce of irritation or anger over the situation at all. I've had a wonderful few days, although very sleep deprived.

I closed the restaurant Friday night, and didn't get out of work until after 1:30 am, and wasn't able to get to sleep until almost 2:30 am. Then, I got up at 6:30 Saturday morning to get to the aforementioned employee meeting (which, due to the nature of the business, must necessarily be at weird hours when the place is otherwise empty). One cheesy video, 50 gift card dollars, and 60 minutes later, I was loading into the car to head to a volunteer training. After training, I had some time with my kids, and then found time to squeeze in a 15 minute nap, which almost seemed to make it worse. Then, back to the restaurant to close again, and I got into my bed at almost 2 am this morning.

(It is interesting to point out at this point in my writing that the "jazz" band has shifted to playing middle-eastern-sounding music and there are about 40 people hooping and pseudo-bellydancing on the lawn not far from me as I write.)

But, gift card aside (because I love me some WSM), the training was the major highlight of my day.

Backstory: Back in May, I began a training program to be a volunteer at a local rape crisis center. In mid-June, we were fairly certain that we'd be relocating to a town just over 30 minutes away, out of the zone within which I'd need to be when on call. We even had a place lined up and everything. So, I dropped out of the training. Then, after touring the schools in the other town, I just knew I couldn't give up our local school district. But by then, I had missed two weeks of the training that I couldn't make up. So, I asked them to let me know when the next training would be, and it started back up yesterday.

So, the previous training I attended, being over the summer, had been a very small group (5 or 6 women). Most of us (all but one, if I remember correctly) were in the 25+ age range. It had been a very intimate group-- perhaps a little too much so, full of incredibly heady and intense women.

Yesterday's training was awesome. I would guess there were about 30 people there, and that there were maybe 10 of us in the 25+ range, including one really cool guy. The rest were all undergraduate students at the local university. Can I just say that hearing some of them speak-- being witness to their passion and their intelligence and their compassion-- has lifted my already lifting spirits tremendously? My oldest will be a teenager in a couple of months, and my oldest daughter has a birthday this week that will place her fairly firmly into the realm of preteen-hood. I'll have a child in high school next school year, and the countdown in my mind has already begun until I'll be sending my children, one by one, off into independence, perhaps to include their own time spent at university.

I remember my first attempt at university studies, by the way. I remember it too well. I remember confusion and anxiety and trying to find my place, being surrounded by alcohol and drug abuse, making questionable life choices. I remember events that led me to first become painfully familiar with the kinds of experiences that make rape crisis centers such an imperative. I remember all of the fun, and all of the angst. I remember dropping out after a few years, amidst a whirlwind of intra-and interpersonal confusion. And I know, no matter how strongly I work to equip my children with faith and confidence and power and strength, they are going to face their own battles that bring them into adulthood-- battles that I will not be able to fight for them, battles that I should not fight for them because they are THEIRS to win.

And in the midst of my worries, thoughts of where my children will be heading and who they are becoming every day, yesterday, I had the privilege of walking into a room full of intelligent, empowered, thoughtful and funny college students-- the kinds of young women I would love to see my daughters become, the kinds I'd love to see my sons grow up to respect and honor and count among their friends.

I left the training yesterday not only hopeful as a mother, but energized and empowered as a woman, knowing that although there may always be crimes against certain categories of people deemed "disposable" or less than, there will always be small groups of thoughtful, committed people working to change the world. In this is some small reassurance.

Friday, September 11, 2009


I tend to be a very intense, emotional person. And while I like the intensity and it has gotten me far, and I appreciate and honor my nature as a sensitive, feeling, and compassionate person, I do not want to be ruled by my emotions. This is something that I've thought about over the past few years, and that in the past few weeks-- weeks that have been incredibly emotional for me-- has become a more pressing issue in my life.

Today, I became frustrated with a very dear friend. While I was not specifically angry at that friend and did not blow up at the friend, I let my emotions get the best of me. Focused on my own emotions regarding a situation in which I currently find myself-- a situation I may have created for myself to some degree-- I allowed my feelings of frustration, guilt, hurt, worry, and heartbreak to spill out in a way that was not very controlled, considerate, or fair. I truly and humbly feel regret over this, and hope that my friend, when we talk, will forgive me for giving myself over to the tumultuous and unpredictable emotions circling me during this time. I am sorry.

Over the past few weeks, being drawn to philosophies and practices that offer practical tips on managing emotions, I've been once again drawn to Tibetan Buddhism. A few weeks ago, I bought An Open Heart by the Dalai Lama at one of the many local used bookstores. From the inside cover: "In this book the path begins with simple and clear ruminations on the advantages of a virtuous life and moves on to practices that can temper destructive and impulsive emotions. Such practices can be undertaken at odd moments of the day, at once transforming the aimless or anxious mind into a disciplined and open mind." Sounds good, right? Yeah, and my husband thought so too, immediately taking up this book to begin reading it himself (which, if I'm honest, makes me very happy).

So, today, I went to the library and picked up How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life by the Dalai Lama. While waiting on my shift to start, and for a short while after my work shift this evening, I read the first few chapters. It is wonderful, and very helpful. He discusses the three practices as the discipline of morality, concentrated meditation, and manifest knowledge (or wisdom). Morality, he discusses, is the foundation upon which the other two are built. And I was reassured in reading this because I feel that the first step-- practicing morality-- is one in which I am strong. I am easily compassionate and sensitive and empathic by nature, and hold to high standards of integrity and authenticity in my life. That part of practice will be a honing and broadening for me, rather than an introduction. Adding in a stronger appreciation for and practice of the other two will provide the pieces I've been missing off and on over the past little bit of my life. I am looking forward to working through this book, as well as the other one (once I get it back from my husband). I hope to always remain a compassionate, sensitive, loving person. Just one in which the passion part of the compassion is a little more controlled.

And speaking of my husband, have I mentioned lately how much the last few weeks have made me appreciate him more? He has supported me completely through a process in which I have done something very difficult because he knew I needed to do it. He has loved me enough to allow me the freedom to explore some ideas and thoughts that may not have always been comfortable for either of us. He has acknowledged who I am, how I relate to others, and that life isn't always neat and tidy. And because he has been so supportive and open through every challenge we've ever faced together, instead of responding to uncertainty with jealousy, threats, or defensiveness, he remains my confidante, my best friend, and my sounding board. He has never put me into a position where I have felt the need to hide from him-- not myself, not my thoughts, not my actions. I'm only recently realizing how precious and rare that might be.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Tired of Speaking Sweetly

Had a wonderful afternoon with the family today, a great dinner date with my husband, and a relaxing night off hanging out at home. I am blessed! Tomorrow, I drive in to Raleigh to head to the Girl Scout Shop to pick up some things Sassy Pants needs for her first meeting as a Junior tomorrow afternoon.

Tonight, though, I'm still reflecting on the role inner turmoil plays in our lives, and how sometimes when we've allowed ourselves to be something that, at our core, we are not, the only solution is to shake it all down. I was reminded of this poem I came across a while back...


Love wants to reach out and manhandle us,
Break all our teacup talk of God.

If you had the courage and
Could give the Beloved His choice, some nights,
He would just drag you around the room
By your hair,
Ripping from your grip all those toys in the world
That bring you no joy.

Love sometimes get tired of speaking sweetly
And wants to rip to shreds
All your erroneous notions of truth

That make you fight within yourself, dear one,
And with others,

Causing the world to weep
On too many fine days.

God wants to manhandle us,
Lock us inside of a tiny room with Himself
And practice His dropkick.

The Beloved sometimes wants
To do us a great favor:

Hold us upside down
And shake all the nonsense out.

But when we hear
He is in such a "playful drunken mood"
Most everyone I know
Quickly packs their bags and hightails it
Out of town.

(translated by Daniel Ladinsky)

Back to School Update

Yesterday, while talking to my husband about some of the things going on in our lives right now, he offered in the discussion that the adjective he finds most appropriate to describe me is intense. He also thinks that I am loving, compassionate, funny, silly, thoughtful, perceptive, and adoring. But all of those things that I do, I do them more intensely than most people (so he says, and I'm inclined to agree). It's as if there's all this energy and passion packed inside of me, and when the spigot is opened, just a little, whatever is there flows out freely.

And I spend a lot of time thinking. I also spend a lot of time in meditation, playing with my kids, spending time with my husband, working, and writing. But the thinking-- that's what you get when you come here to read. If I've had a rather social few days, and a few opportunities to talk with friends about what is going on in my mind, the "need" to blog is less pressing. But when I've been a bit socially isolated (as I've been to some extent since we've moved to a new state, with a work schedule that doesn't leave much room for social time), it's all built up inside me begging to get out, and the blog serves the purpose.

But it occurred to me last night that if all you know of my life is what is in this blog, you might erroneously conclude that my life is full of drama, and that couldn't be farther from the truth. I have an incredibly drama-free life, with occasional events or thoughts passing through that need a little processing, but all in all, life is good.

So here it is: a blog post focusing on a friendly back-to-school update, so you know I really do lead a remarkably normal life.


Since we've been in our current location, my sweet husband has been a stay at home dad, although he's poked around a bit for any appropriate opportunities that might suit him. He volunteers weekly at our local interfaith social services organization that provides a homeless shelter, food pantry, community kitchen, free clinic, and information and referral services. He's also researched the MSW program at the local university, and if the right puzzle pieces line up in our lives over the next month, he'll be applying for next fall and will, no doubt, do extremely well. He is a saint, a loving and sweet father, and one of the smartest guys I know. I become more and more aware with each day how much he loves me and wants me to be happy, which only makes me love him more. I likewise would do anything to make him happy. I give thanks to God for 10 years with this man, and pray for 50+ more (we got married on my grandparents' 60th anniversary).


School started back the last week of August for my oldest three, which is exciting! The local school district was one of the biggest factors in our decision to move to the town we did once we had decided on a general region, and although the district often takes some heat from the crunchy crowd for being extremely focused on academics, it is working out beautifully for our children. First, all three are extremely academically-oriented in the first place. Second, this district also does a ton of hands-on activities to make the learning real. Third, this district (and their schools in particular) have a HUGE emphasis on the arts. The art room at our elementary school looks more like a real artist's studio than a classroom. The kids learn recorder, reading music and all, beginning in 4th grade. Our elementary school has a science lab with a dedicated teacher, and kids get a science lab rotation at least once a week to do lab projects coordinated with the classroom lessons. And every school has at least one full time gifted specialist who coordinates with the classroom teacher to develop tiered lesson plans to provide extra learning opportunities for those kids who need it. The middle school offers a TON of elective courses to choose from (including 4 foreign languages and college-type art classes, courses on mythology, etc.). In short, this district is a dream for us, and our kids love school.

Funky Monkey is now almost 13, in the 8th grade, and would be mortified to know I am still calling him "Funky Monkey" on my blog. I would consider calling him something cooler, like perhaps "M Funk" or something along those lines, but then he would only be equally mortified that his now-34 year old mother is trying to get all gangsta on him. After just getting slapped onto the end of the trumpet line when we transferred to this district in March, he was thrilled yesterday to finally find out that last week's challenges placed him into second chair (out of 14 trumpets), and I'm happy that he's happy. He's taking algebra and Spanish this year, both for high school credit, is in the pep band, and is planning to go for the school's ultimate Frisbee team when they have try-outs this year. He is still awaiting this long-promised growth spurt he hears boys get around his age (keeping in mind that he's a year ahead in school, so a bit younger than most of his best friends), and says he may consider the cross country team once he grows some longer legs. He's very involved in one of the coolest boy scout troops in the country (the kind that does 10 week long cross country bike rides or month long trips to Guatemala every summer). If I have to be honest about what it is like to have a near-teenager, it is both wonderful and messy, all at the same time, but definitely more wonderful. Though he deals with some of the hormonal adolescent "You just don't understand!" drama, and doesn't always enjoy being the oldest in a large family when the younger ones are annoying him on purpose, he is a delightful and sweet boy with a ton of integrity. He spoils the baby twins rotten, dotes on them, and tries to be nice to the other two older ones. He is developing the kind of sense of humor that often leaves me rolling on the floor laughing at his wit, and might one day make a great writer for a comedy show. He's a popular enough guy (had two "girlfriends"-- aka we say we're "going out" and then never talk to each other again-- last school year), and a genuinely happy and upbeat and confident kid.

Sassy Pants turns 9 next week, and is already starting to act just a tiny bit like a pre-teen. She tosses her long, straight dirty blond hair to the side when she giggles, and sticks her hip out (typically with a balled up fist on it) when she gives her dad that sideways glance that both melts him like butter and convinces him that the next 15 years are going to be terrifying. Last week, while upset about something, actually said for the first time, "Nobody understands me!" Oh, be with me, God, the preteen years are starting! She, like her older brother, is a year ahead in school, and is in the fourth grade. She is in the gifted cluster class at school, which means that it's a mix of half kids with the gifted label. Her teacher seems super cool, which is a relief for me, because her educational needs are probably (out of the three oldest) the most demanding of my three children, as she reads and writes at a level several grades ahead, and (again, out of the three oldest) is most like me in terms of being incredibly intense. She writes stories all the time, has a natural gift for music (self-taught on the piano, and flying along with the recorder), and loves to draw, color, crochet, paint, and weave. She is a junior girl scout this year, in a really neat troop (I'm their newsletter editor). She is infinitely more beautiful and popular and confident and awesome than I ever could have dreamed of being at her age. This scares me just a little bit, because I'm not 100% sure I'll know the right ways to support her, but I'll always love her, listen to her, and try.

Short Stuff is now almost 8, in the second grade, and not so short any more. In fact, he's already taller than Sassy Pants. (Maybe it's time to let my boys decide on some new blog names for themselves.) While he is not a grade ahead (for which we are thankful), he is insanely smart and in the "nurturing program"-- a program his school does for children who don't yet qualify for gifted (they don't start gifted until 3rd grade here), but have been flagged as needing additional academic challenge. In fact, when his school decided this year to do a combination 2nd/3rd grade class (enough funding for one more teacher, but not enough for 2 new classes), he was one of the 2nd graders chosen to be in that class. So, they still do differentiated learning throughout the day for each grade, but much of their instruction is together, which I'm sure suits him well. He is still VERY active and energetic and struggles just a little with impulse and intensity control, but seeing as I struggle with both of those sometimes at age 34, it doesn't make me love him any less. We just have to get creative coming up with routines and habits that help him to be more successful. He reads constantly, and is very creative. He likes "tough guy" stuff, extreme sports, and running. He's going to be a Bear this year in Cub Scouts, which blows my mind. He is getting SO BIG. And, one of the bonuses of his intensity-- when he laughs, it simply lights up the world. That boy, when joyful, is a burst of life!!


...are not really babies any more. They are now 2 years and 3 months old, talking non-stop, and trying to learn to go potty like big kids. Every morning, they get up and get dressed, put on their backpacks, and insist that they are "goin' to 'chool" like the big kids. "I goin' get on 'chool bus, Mommy!" They like to hug each other, play silly games together, play tag at the playground, and make trouble together (like emptying a 2 liter soda on the kitchen floor so they can throw themselves across it like a slip n' slide, or getting naked and smearing themselves and my entire bathroom with petroleum jelly).

Wonder Boy has straight blond hair, and a very sweet spirit. He gets his feelings hurt a little more easily than his sister, plays a little more rough than she does, and is a little more coordinated with things like stacking blocks and climbing rock walls and ladders at the playground. He is obsessed with sports, which neither me nor Daddy-O can figure out, since neither of us could give a hoot about sports. His favorite words are basketball, football, baseball, soccer ball, and "cool!" And, he's definitely a lefty.

Wonder Girl has light brown ringlets all over her head, and is a fireball. She is more stubborn than her brother, but has a very gentle touch and is incredibly compassionate. She is little more coordinated with fine motor things like drawing, feeding herself, and putting together Mr. Potato Head. She is obsessed with "baby dolls" of any kind (which include stuffed animals and creepy robots), and always asks me to play the "party music" on iTunes so she can dance on my bed. Party music, by the way, includes a blend of old school rap and cheesy dance music by Baha Men and Alvin and the Chipmunks. She also has slightly better verbal skills than him at this point, but we know that they're going to be different kids, with different gifts, and different growth curves. It's all good.


So, my update. I'm still working full time at my joe job, which is okay, but obviously not my dream. A few positives about my joe job: First, I'm around younger people a lot, which has reminded me that I have a lot of energy and enthusiasm for life that I had perhaps forgotten. Second, we're in the middle of a big fundraiser for a nonprofit children's hospital right now, and the fundraiser has given me a reason to love my job. In the past week and a half, I've raised around $800 for the charity, which feels nice. In June, I had dropped out of a volunteer training program for a local women's organization because we thought we might be moving almost an hour away, but since we stayed, I restart training with them this weekend, which is EXCITING! I'm still waiting on those few puzzle pieces to fall into place as well (like Daddy-O). If they do, I'm going to blitz this fall and get my ducks in a row to apply into a PhD program at the local universities, in either anthropology or sociology or religious studies, to study cultural influences on birth and breastfeeding choices OR religion (as well as a bunch of other fun stuff). I know school will kick my butt, but for over 10 years now, all I've ever really wanted to be when I grew up was a college professor. There have been times when I've started other paths (like towards midwifery or social work) because that's what was available to me where I've lived in the past and with our family set up (homeschooling), but with our current set up (kids in school, babies getting older, living 5 minutes from a huge state university and 20 minutes from a major private university), I think I can do this. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's why I'm here. God is setting us all up (me, Daddy-O, kids) to have exactly the opportunities in our lives that we need right now to follow dreams and prepare ourselves for our purposes in life. Life is good. :-)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Change, growth, and rebirth

Earlier today, seeking counsel from some wise women I'm blessed to count among my friends, I shared some of the stories that influenced my last blog post-- stories that had been directly confronted in the last post, along with some other issues with which I've been struggling the last few days. As mentioned before, I do deal with a great deal of self-blame and sadness when I feel I've done anything that is potentially harmful to another person, whether or not the harm was ever intended. It's just the way my heart is wired-- to worry about others, and to hope that I can be a positive influence, and only a positive influence (to the extent that is possible) in the lives of those people I meet, particularly those I love. When I feel I may have made a mistake, usually out of nothing but the best of intentions, it eats me up inside and I am consumed with worry and heartache until I find a way to see the good in it.

So my wise women friends all had incredible insights and loving things to say, knowing me well enough to know that I almost always have good intentions (even if I am at times confused or awkward). One statement in particular was the source of an incredible awakening in my heart-- something I needed to hear, but perhaps had been a little scared of knowing.

"There's a reason the Hindus created the goddess Kali to represent the magnificent forces of destruction and rebirth that God offers."

After reading that statement, I had to stop and take a moment to reflect on my current situation, and on many difficult situations I've faced in the past.

More on that in a minute. But first, for those who aren't familiar with Kali...


Kali is represented with perhaps the fiercest features amongst all the
world's deities.... Kali's fierce form is strewed with awesome symbols.
Her black complexion symbolizes her all-embracing and transcendental nature.
Says the Mahanirvana Tantra: "Just as all colors disappear in black, so all
names and forms disappear in her". Her nudity is primeval, fundamental, and
transparent like Nature — the earth, sea, and sky. Kali is free from the
illusory covering, for she is beyond the all maya or "false consciousness."
Kali's garland of fifty human heads that stands for the fifty letters in the
Sanskrit alphabet, symbolizes infinite knowledge.
Her girdle of severed
human hands signifies work and liberation from the cycle of karma. Her white
teeth show her inner purity, and her red lolling tongue indicates her omnivorous
nature — "her indiscriminate enjoyment of all the world's 'flavors'." Her sword
is the destroyer of false consciousness and the eight bonds that bind
us.... Her three eyes represent past, present, and future, — the three
modes of time — an attribute that lies in the very name Kali ('Kala' in Sanskrit
means time).
The eminent translator of Tantrik
texts, Sir John Woodroffe in Garland of Letters, writes, "Kali is so called
because She devours Kala (Time) and then resumes Her own dark formlessness."
.... The reclined Shiva lying prostrate under the feet of Kali suggests that
without the power of Kali (Shakti), Shiva is inert.

From the bastion of "must be true" (but still good enough for the purposes of a relatively casual blog post) knowledge that is Wikipedia (

In spite of her seemingly terrible form, Kali Ma is often considered the kindest
and most loving of all the Hindu goddesses, as she is regarded by her devotees
as the Mother of the whole Universe. And, because of her terrible form she is
also often seen as a great protector. When the Bengali saint Ramakrishna once asked a devotee why one would prefer to worship Mother over him, this devotee
rhetorically replied, “Maharaj, when they are in trouble your devotees come
running to you. But, where do you run when you are in trouble?”[30]

According to Ramakrishna, darkness is the Ultimate Mother, or Kali:
My Mother is the principle of consciousness. She is Akhanda Satchidananda; indivisible Reality, Awareness, and Bliss. The night sky between the stars is perfectly black. The waters of the ocean depths are the same; The infinite is always mysteriously dark. This inebriating darkness is my beloved Kali.
-Sri Ramakrishna

....From a Tantric perspective, when one meditates on reality at rest, as absolute pure consciousness (without the activities of creation, preservation or dissolution) one refers to this as Shiva or Brahman. When one meditates on reality as dynamic and creative, as the Absolute content of pure consciousness (with all the activities of creation, preservation or dissolution) one refers to it as Kali or Shakti. However, in either case the yogini or yogi is interested in one and the same reality — the only difference being in name and fluctuating aspects of appearance. It is this which is generally accepted as the meaning of Kali standing on the chest of Shiva.[37]

....Gopi Krishna proposed that Kali standing on the dead Shiva or Shava (Sanskrit for dead body) symbolised the helplessness of a person undergoing the changing process ( psychologically and physiologically) in the body conducted by the Kundalini Shakti.[39]

Okay, back to your regularly scheduled blog post.

So, to recap. Kali represents destruction and violence, although in a way that leaves her viewed by many as a protective mother figure-- one who turns her wrath on those who threaten her devotees, or those she loves. She also represents one aspect of the cycle of death and rebirth-- she is the destruction that clears the way for growth, rebirth, and spiritual development. She is the fall/winter that prepares the earth for a more glorious spring/summer. She is the decay and rot that season the soil, preparing it to produce new life and beautiful growth. She is the downward portion of the inward spiral that promises to bring us back up again, each time closer and closer to Center. She is the emotional upheaval and internal violence we all feel just before the most incredible periods of intense growth and renewal, and the complete dismantling of what we believed to be our lives, our purpose, that happens just before our lives can be reassembled in beautiful, synchronistic, serendipitous ways we had never expected. She is fearsome and terrifying and disorienting, but only because we do not (in our human ignorance) understand what it is that she is preparing us for.

Please don't think I'm comparing myself to Kali, by the way. Although some of you who have seen my temper first hand might be inclined to differ, I genuinely am thinking in this moment of Kali as a force acting on and in my life with regard to my past and present experiences. Every time I've experienced what felt like a complete and total dismantling of my reality, it has hurt. It has been painful. And it has, without fail, been followed (usually sooner or sometimes later) by one of the most intense periods of spiritual and emotional growth imaginable. The broken bone that healed poorly sometimes must be broken again in order to heal more fully. The broken heart that has never allowed itself to be open again to genuine love sometimes must experience that brokenness once more to open it back up. The refiner's fire heats us to the point where we think we can no longer take the heat in order for the impurities in us to rise to the surface, where they can be gently lifted away by the refiner who loves us, never leaves us, and sits by us through every burning pain.

And in the end, we come out better and stronger. We have to. I can't imagine a world in which trials do not lead to further knowledge, growth, and strength. I cannot conceive of a God who does not allow difficult times in our lives to contribute to our good, often proportionally to the degree of suffering that creates the good.

This is my reality: Life brings challenges. Challenges help you grow. Growth is good, and helps to shape you more and more into the person you are called to be, equipping you with skill sets and characteristics and strength you will need to do what you are meant to do, once you realize you are meant to do it. This is not a bad thing-- this is just life.

And this post-- this train of thought-- is an incomplete work for me. This is something to which I've devoted much thought in the past, which has been presented to me in a new light in the wee hours of this morning, and to which I will certainly give much more thought as the days advance. But for now, this is a start. Hopefully a good one. A new beginning. For me, for those I love, and for those they love. Good things, even if it may not seem like it now.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Currently, I'm in love with...

...Vyvienne Long.

Honestly, I could listen to her cover of Seven Nation Army all. day. long. However, there's not a good video of her doing that online, so this is my next favorite.

In other news, there is too much I could blog about right now, but I can't really get my thoughts together well enough to write coherently about it all. Maybe soon.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Thank you, God, for another year

Today, I celebrated my birthday. From midnight last night through all of my day today, life has been good! For the past few years, I haven't felt much like celebrating, but this year, for some reason, feels like a good time to really be thankful for my life, for who I am, for where I am, and for those around me. I am so blessed.

Tonight, I knew the cloud cover would prevent me from enjoying my best birthday present ever-- the Perseids meteor shower. Every year, it peaks on my birthday. And every year (for at least the past 8 or 9 years), I set my alarm to wake me in the wee hours of the morning, go outside, lay on the ground looking up, and just soak in the awesomeness of lights streaking through the sky. It is so amazing, and such a special, amazing way to celebrate each year-- better than fireworks! But the past two days have been rainy off and on, and the sky is cloudy, and I knew I wouldn't be able to see the gorgeous streaks across the night sky. But somehow, it didn't feel like my birthday without it.

So, just now, bare-footed and wearing only pajamas, I went out in front of my house, crawled up onto the hood of our minivan, and sprawled out spread-eagle on my back, looking up at the still-beautiful cloudy sky. It was dark and muddy, and I couldn't see anything. But still, I knew. It's my birthday, and that means that just on the other side of this blanket of thick vapor, it is there-- my meteor shower-- and God is good. Even when I can't see it, I know it is there-- my meteor shower, my good, my blessing-- and knowing it exists (even when I can't see it) affects me from head to toe, filling every cell with a resonating thrill of inspiration and awe. The engine was still warm under me, and the night air was slightly cool on my toes and arms, and somewhere, just beyond what I was able to see, the most spectacular gift was there, for me, reminding me that this year, like all others, God is looking out for me, blessing me, protecting me, and never leaving me.

It's always out there, you know-- our Good-- whether we can see it or not. Life just works that way.

Happy birthday to me. :-)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Interpersonal skills are not my friend.

Imagine with me for a minute that a person exists with a tremendous natural gift for music which has been honed through years of practice, education, and experience. This person has a fair amount of talent, and her friends often comment that she is able to find the most unusual, but beautiful, harmonies for even unexpected melodies. Over the years, she has educated herself in all things musical, both with self-education found in her hours of practice and listening to the beautiful music of others, as well as a smattering of formal lessons and education along the way. She finds the beauty in almost every song she hears, no matter how unusual it may be, and her mind is constantly filled with some song or another-- replaying something beautiful or haunting that she's recently heard, or imagining up some melody of her own to keep her company.

She loves to have time to play or sing, but is still enough of a technician to easily read almost all of the sheets of music placed before her. In a symphony setting, playing off the same sheet of music with a group of friends equally committed to technical integrity, and with similar appreciation for musical beauty, she shines as a musician, combining both skill and artistry, enjoying the experience, leaving the concert full of energy, awe, and joy. Playing on her own, she is even more able to be lost in the experience, transformed by it, grown through it. With a small group of close friends, she's even able to improvise, lose sight of the technical details and just make music, play, share in the common experience of joy through music, no sheet music required.

But taken out of her comfort zone, placed into a group of people she is only now getting to know, things are more difficult. Attempting to get lost in the free-flow of playing together, she's never quite sure what she's supposed to be doing, not having the benefit of a few years of jamming with each other to draw upon. She knows she can fall back on using the sheet music and technical know-how as her cheat sheet, but then she's so busy following along that she misses out on much of the passion and beauty of the music, and leaves more mentally exhausted than emotionally refreshed. And it sucks, because she knows she's really damn good at music-- technically and casually-- and should be better than this.

And she knows that she can read people like a sheet of music, and craves social outlets, and loves experiencing that connection, no matter how momentary, or realizing that someone else is playing along with you, joining you in the joy of it all, and that the few of you are lost together, for the moment, in each others' company, and it is wonderful. It's wonderful, that is, when you know who you're playing with, and there's a comfort level there that precludes any need to censor or fear, and you can just put away the technical notes penciled into the margins of the sheet music, and Play. Be. Live. Love.

But for whatever reason, playing with the new crowd, she can't seem to get her footing to feel safe enough to put that stupid sheet music away, quit trying to figure out where things are going, and stop herself from over-analyzing every comment, every glance, every omission, for clues as to where things really stand (since most people, if we'll admit it, aren't often very transparent or straightforward about our intentions or opinions). It's exhausting.

Maybe I will become a hermit. Maybe I'll allow myself to slowly start turning into one of those crazy old cat ladies who lives in the house with the darkened windows, about whom all the neighbor kids tell ghost stories, and whose friendly "hello" to the kids as they pass by is enough to send them scattering in fear because she's just so damned WEIRD. Maybe I'll wear the same creepy gold lamé sweatsuit every day, with matching sequined slippers, and sip appletinis on my front porch all day long, every day, stopping only occasionally to cat-call the lawn guys. Maybe I'll just hang out with my husband, and do the best I can with my kids, and accept that in spite of my intense craving for friendship, that I am just destined to be a recluse.

Or maybe, if I'm lucky, things will get better. I just want some normal damn friends. Friends who are in similar places in their lives. Friends I don't have to keep secret. Friends who tell me what's going on so I don't have to intuit. Friends who treat each other with integrity and kindness.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Personal writing, seam rippers, and my new song

In the process of working on my new writing project, part of which involves some writing about painful experiences from my past, I'm realizing something. Writing, at least writing with passion and authenticity, about past challenges and experiences is a bit like taking a seam ripper to old wounds, some of which healed jagged and lumpy in the first place, and trying to open them up again, carefully enough not to rip, but deeply enough to bleed, to hurt, to feel it all again. Only from that place of raw energy can I seem to conjure the genuine emotions of the situation, again to re-enter my life, recreating the feelings of fear, lack of control, and sorrow.

Also, I can't get enough of this song lately.

Haunted by Poe.

Come here
Pretty please
Can you tell me where I am
You, won't you say something
I need to get my bearings
I'm lost
And the shadows keep on changing

And I'm haunted
By the lives that I have loved
And actions I have hated
I'm haunted
By the lives that wove the web
Inside my haunted head


Don't cry,
There's always a way
Here in November in this house of leaves
We'll pray
Please, I know it's hard to believe
To see a perfect forest
Through so many splintered trees
You and me
And these shadows keep on changing

And I'm haunted
By the lives that I have loved
And actions I have hated
I'm haunted
By the promises I've made
And others I have broken
I'm haunted
By the lives that wove the web
Inside my haunted head

Always... always

I'll always want you
I'll always need you
I'll always love you

And I will always miss you


Come here
No I won't say please
One more look at the ghost
Before I'm gonna make it leave
Come here
I've got the pieces here
Time to gather up the splinters
Build a casket for my tears

I'm haunted
By the lives that I have loved
I'm haunted
By the hallways in this tiny room
The echo there of me and you
The voices that are carrying this tune

Saturday, July 25, 2009

We interrupt this blog to bring you this important message...

Last night's karaoke performance included a little freelance clogging.

That is all.

Friday, July 24, 2009

On ass-kicking, genetics, and being a grown up.

I have taken on a long-awaited writing project, and much of my energy is directed into that at the moment. However, today reminded me of a few facts about myself-- facts I work daily to keep in check.

First reminder of the day: I am descended from some badass genes.

That's my Mema and Papa, out for a day on their motorcycle, back in the day when it was a bit more rare to find badass bikers with their hot chicks rambling the countryside wearing their leather boots and zippered shirts. I don't know exactly when that picture was taken, but probably sometime in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

And while my Mema was prone to feisty antics of her own, Papa was clearly the prize fighter. Tall and lanky, he was the skinny kid who'd rather pop a guy upside the head than continue to argue when he knew he was right.

Exhibit A:

That's him on the right, grinning like the cat about to eat the canary. I know it's silly to bet about things that have already passed, but if I had to wager on the outcome of this fight, all my money's on Papa.

Is there any other proof needed? His face, gleefully anticipating a good ass-whoopin', says it all.

When I was really little, we lived near the town where he lived, and I saw him and Mema all the time. I even lived with them for a little while the summer before and for the first part of my kindergarten year. And even after my mom got married, I spent a lot of time with Mema and Papa. When my mom's little sister found out I had gotten pregnant while in college, her words, though they stung, were not a surprise to me.

"This is going to kill them. Everyone knows you've always been their favorite."

I was their favorite. Papa always wanted to have a grandson, and didn't have the kind of relationship he wanted with my older cousin (his only grandson when I was born), and so he poured all that ass-kickin' boy energy into me. I had his big ol' field to play in, and he got me a go-cart (purchased second hand off of another aging finagler, I'm sure). When I wanted to go fishing every day, he converted their old concrete pool into a freshwater pond, stocked it full of bream, and made me a fishing pole out of bamboo.

And then there were the boxing gloves. Papa kept a couple of pairs of boxing gloves hanging on the wall just inside the big, open hallway. Having been a bit of a prize-fighter back in the day, and watching boxing matches every time one came on TV, he loved few things more than a good match. I was one of the things he loved more, and so he never shied away from an opportunity for us to don the boxing gloves and go at each other, him letting me get in a few KO's every now and then, in the hallway while Mema shot the occasional mom-comment from the kitchen. When we got a little older, my sister (who, like me, also inherited the ass-kicker genes) convinced him to let us bring the gloves back home, and we'd often work out our annoyances by beating the crap out of each other in the hallway at home, with our own mom shaking her head and muttering curses about her dad's influence.

Whatever the cosmic connection between me and my Papa, one thing stands for sure. I love few things more than the adrenaline rush of a good, dramatic battle.

Second reminder of the day: Loving to fight does not lead to an ideal life.

So, I knew this before today, but this is just to say that yes, I am aware that I cannot simply beat the crap out of everyone who pisses me off. I get that part. I am aware of my innate tendencies towards ass-kicking, and it is something I work on daily, and am getting better with all the time.

Third reminder of the day: My words are my greatest, and favorite, weapons.

I'm not exactly sure where she got it from, but I sure did inherit my mother's sharp-tongued genes and gift with words. Mom was an incredible writer, whether she realized it or not, and though she never fully honed her craft, she was undeniably a wordsmith. I thank her for passing along to me the ability to take words and put them together in way that creates an emotion.

Unfortunately, my mother's gift with words paired with my Papa's instinct towards ass-kicking have created within me a sharp-tongued monster, eager to make the verbal kill, taking out anyone in its path. It's a monster I've fairly reliably learned to tame, and to only allow to come out for the occasional play tussle, like baby tigers tumbling around, playing the hunt. But it's in me, part of me, yearning to be put to good use now and then. I usually save it for my activism and advocacy efforts, when sharp-tongued criticism and exposé can be a part of accomplishing the good.

This means that usually, when I'm inflamed over something, the mouth flies off before anything else. Most people who know me well understand who I am, and as long as the verbal lashing isn't directed at them, they give me space to vent when it's needed.

Fourth reminder of the day: Angry hives are like the odd behavior of the forest creatures, predicting the arrival of a terrible storm.

One of the strange things about me and my body is that I tend to break out in hives when I'm extremely upset. Most of the time, this is precipitated by a long period of uncontrollable crying. In the past decade, I remember the hives coming along with my sobs over things like the loss of my Papa, the discovery of a betrayal by a man that I loved, and the discovery that one of my children had faced an inconceivable pain, one from which I had hoped to always shield my children. Farther back, though, before I really began to work at gaining control over my anger, I can remember two times in which the hives were brought on by not tears, but uncontrollable rage.

In one instance, it was my desire to protect my child from a potentially life-threatening situation. As I took my child to leave a dangerous (for my sick baby) setting, a man grabbed me by the arms refusing to let me leave. Like an animal fighting capture, I flew into instinctual action, arms flailing, punches flying, with the startled man retraining his grasp from keeping me from leaving to keeping me from hurting him. When I finally got my son buckled into his car seat, I noticed the flame-hot burning on the skin on my face, neck, and chest. A quick glance in the rearview mirror confirmed a splotchy red rash growing all across my upper body.

In the other, my sister (who, as you may recall, also carries the prize-fighter gene) escalated an argument to the point where she was up in my face, chicken-necking and carrying on like a crazed fool while ranting about how I didn't control her. I asked her calmly, not once, not twice, but three different times, to please leave the room. She (being sixteen years old at the time) thought I was telling her to leave because I wanted to boss her around. In actuality, I was telling her to leave my presence because I was becoming slightly scared of the urges that were growing within me. A few seconds after her last rebuff, she was picking herself up off of the floor, taken down by one strong blow to the side of the head, reeling from the physical and emotional confusion. It was Christmas day. As I took my child and left the house, I recognized that same hot feeling growing across me, and as I passed the mirror in the hallway, I again saw the familiar red splotches, confirming the overwhelming adrenaline flowing like lava through my veins.

Fifth reminder of the day: You can do a hell of a lot of growing in a dozen years.

Today, I had an unusual situation in which someone's misunderstanding of the intent of my words fanned the flames of my anger, sparked by being accused of an intent that I would not-- could not-- own. Perhaps misreading his own intent, I felt as if he were calling into question the one thing that matters more to me than almost all others-- my integrity. I allowed the razor tongue to fly, defending my intent, explaining my meaning, but the more the accuser argued, the less rational I was able to remain. Finally, emotionally exhausted by the continuing argument, I left the room and found a quiet place to regroup. When I passed by a friend a few minutes later, she pointed out to me that I was breaking out in a rash. I ran off to the bathroom and saw the evidence in the mirror-- hives. There had not been enough tears to bring this on out of grief, only anger, only irritation. I splashed some water on my face and chest, trying to cool my skin down enough to help them go away. I fanned myself with a nearby piece of flat plastic. I even disappeared into a giant walk-in cooler for a while, hoping to soothe the heat I could still feel burning across my face and chest. But it was still there, and I was dumbfounded-- "I'm breaking out in freaking hives over this!" -- like I couldn't believe it was really happening over something so stupid. It's never comforting to be betrayed by your own body.

Eventually, it went away and I made my peace with my accuser, and things all went back to normal. But it wasn't until later in the evening that it hit me.

The last two times that I remember breaking out in hives over my own anger and frustration, it escalated into me getting physical.

And while the mental image of me tearing into someone, flying fist-first into someone's chest to the reaction of their complete shock and surprise, is a strangely amusing one to me (for reasons I can't really explain, and for which I should probably feel shame), I'm thankful, for myself and for my family and friends, that a hell of a lot can change in someone over the course of a few years.

I'm still a genetically-predetermined badass. Just one with a little self-control.