Good Day Sunshine

I’ve had an exceptional summer. Probably the best since becoming an adult. I’ve gotten to see my daughter graduate, have all my kids together for a celebration, and now my daughter is staying with us while she job hunts.

It’s been a great garden year, with plentiful roses and calla lilies, a surprising raspberry crop, the discovery of new tomato variants that added color and sweetness to my salads, two new raised cedar beds and the addition of longed-for blueberry and–be still my heart–huckleberry bushes.

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In among my blissful garden days, Tim and I have taken hikes on the Coast and in the Gorge, discovered birds and trees we’ve never seen before, and cooked hot dogs on the beach under the watchful eye of a local bald eagle on the  Fourth of July.

We’ve picked berries and flowers, worked in the garden and the community orchard, watched a go-cart race down an ancient cinder cone in town, and gone to estate sales in beautiful old homes overlooking the city just so we could see inside.

Our daily routine gives us time for a nightly visit with Rachel Maddow, whose detailed and factual coverage of the daily shitstorm from President Capslock helps us understand what’s going on in a greater context. After the show, we sit on the deck beneath our twinkle lights and enjoy the quiet of the meadow behind our home.

The summer was divided into smaller seasons based on what was ripe and fresh: strawberry and pea season, then raspberries and asparagus, roses and snapdragons and callas, blackberries and watermelon, tomatoes peppers and onions. I’m clipping the ends off green beans right now, a couple of pounds from Sauvie Island, because rabbits ate all my bean plant leaves before they could fruit. Such a loss is usury, but I consider it the cost of planting seeds in the place where rabbits live. They can have the bean leaves this year; next year I’ll offer some other delectable for their thievery.

At least I have an excuse to go to Sauvie Island.img_20180829_152203728

Such reasons haven’t been necessary this summer, when I’ve managed day trips to Opal Creek Wilderness, a three-hour float on the Clackamas, and some toe-dipping in the Columbia on the beach on Sauvie Island just as the hot spell ended. If I can be outside in the sunshine, I am happy. If it’s hot, I’m giddy. If I’m in the water, it’s nirvana. This summer has had it all.

And what a respite it’s been to have the distraction of nature amid the national horrors. I am aware of how lucky I am to have such luxuries, and grateful that my combined part-time work has amounted to enough of a household contribution as to stave off seeking full-time employment. And as one part-time gig meets its finish line, another literally begins tonight, my luck uninterrupted.

And now I begin a new season of my own, one that promises more growth and progress and intellectual expansion. I join a class in late September that will help me build the skills to develop a curriculum I’ve dreamed of creating, I’m signed up for my first writing retreat, and I am studying in earnest to take the LSAT. It may seem like many directions at once, but it all pushes forward, onward, no time to dally. It is all connected in me, to me, the purpose of collecting unto myself the tools for building the things I want to see in the world; bringing balance by ending male dominance over our society, working toward fairness for people with disabilities, and writing about the beauty and pain and humanity I witness along the way.

At the end of this wondrous summer, I go back to school again, in my own way. I’ll end this perfect season making peach jam and snacking on crisp, fresh green beans from a bowl on my counter. I have a life crowded with challenge and passion and energy, and I can’t wait to see what happens this fall.

Mt. Hood

He had his Lessons, He had his Virtues

It’s been an active year of learning for me, a powerful span of intellectual and social growth I haven’t experienced since college. This is due in part to the magic of menopause and my release from the schedule of hormone fluctuation, but also to the increasing number of women in my sphere.

In the past, I’ve maintained closer and easier friendships with men, by and large, probably from having older brothers. So keen was I to play with The Boys that I strove to do what they did at all times, which led me to sports and sports fandom, which led, in adulthood, to easy conversations with most men, who can talk for hours about sports with little or no provocation.

Mentally add the phrase “not all men,” if that makes you feel better.

And, obviously, I have some amazing friendships with women that span decades. They’re just rare, compared to the number of men who are friends.

But it seems that the last few years, I’ve been accumulating friendships with women at a rapid clip, women whose humor and knowledge and energy make me want to do more and be more than I’ve ever imagined. Many are older than I am, some are younger. Many ethnicities are represented, and religions. There’s a variety of professions as well, from manager to artist to teacher to doctor to executive.

But they’re all women. And oh, what I’m learning.

Forbearance comes to mind. Patient self-control. Humor, my god the humor. Laughing at life, at the silliness of so much of what caused me angst not so long ago. Perspective and irony. Ironic perspective, maybe. Persistence and perseverance in my career, in my goals, which is vastly different from the perseverance I used in the role as primary caregiver in our family of five. My feelings and thoughts become clearer, easier to interpret, the more time I spend with other women, and I have become more outspoken.

I know. That one surprised me too. I didn’t know it was possible.

Today, I learned the phrase “he had his lessons, he had his virtues,” from a friend whose gift to me has been her directness. And yet she still showed me how to be kind, even when she was being blunt; the man of whom she spoke was difficult, but he taught her lessons she treasured. So many times, what I learn from these women is the “how;” From one, I learned how to balance my linear mind with my creative spirit; from another, I learned how to push forward with my goals while still serving the needs of an organization; from another, I learned how to discern intentional insult from awkward missteps. So many lessons shared right in front of me, to my marveling eyes, to my clear and persistent revelation “oh THAT’S how you do that!” And I am eager to learn more. book

I continue to enjoy male friends, still like talking sports with the informed individual. My husband has tightened his seatbelt and is hanging on for dear life, but acknowledges that turnabout is fair play, that I held our lives together during our wild ride of childrearing/family bullshit/custody battles. He could use a spare encouraging word, if you’ve got one, because change is not his forte. But he’s hanging in there, God love him.

But I’m so glad I’ve opened myself to these deepening relationships with women, because they’re showing me how to navigate a part of life I didn’t know existed, a time of boldness and purpose, intention and focus. There is no more time for trifling, nor for shame or pettiness. There’s just not enough time already for the things I’m burning to do, so the things that held me in check just don’t matter anymore.

And I have so much energy now, so much more than I’ve had in years. I’m learning how to create my own energy, to spend it wisely, to maintain healthy energy with my self-sustaining engine.

These are vagaries, I know, but I don’t have time or inclination to elaborate; you’ll have to trust me. My purpose here is to acknowledge this well of wisdom I’ve found in my women friends, who have taught me with words and actions, laughter and their
open-hearted tears, what’s important in life, what’s important to me, and how to serve that necessity with fervor, with everything I’ve got left.

All the love and devotion I had for my family was right and appropriate, because they needed that part of me so they could grow. And now, all that energy has a different path; through me.

Worried about Tim? Don’t be. He’s right here, next to me.

It’s 9:30, and I must sleep; I have a big day of new adventures tomorrow.

White Pants

I bought white pants for the first time in my life.

The last time I could safely wear white pants, I was 10 years old, and wasn’t in a position to buy my own clothes.

Now, forty years of periods later, I am finished with the threat of ruining a pair of pants with surprise bleeding, so I treated myself to a (second-hand) pair of white pants.

I haven’t been this excited about outfit possibilities in a while! I can pair them with a long denim shirt for a resort look, or with a red shirt for a resort look, or with a white shirt for a resort look.

I might even put a flannel shirt or sweater on top for a winter resort look.

What’s been missing from my wardrobe has clearly been the resort look.

I did wear white pants with my softball uniform, an outfit I dreaded putting on for fear it coincide with my period. I have never understood the tradition of white pants with kids’ baseball/softball uniforms; what a laundry nightmare. There is no way to keep those clean, periods or no. But the tragedy of bleeding on white polyester uniform pants struck many girls, one who needed to borrow my pants during a game because hers were ruined. That was the day of the JV team picture; I am the one wearing shorts.

There’s no way to explain to a man the giddiness of being free to wear white pants. They’re not exactly flattering on a figure like mine–the eye is drawn to the lightest part of the outfit, and when you’re built like hearty peasant stock, the thighs are not the area to which you relish eyes being drawn. Body positivity is changing that metric, and I’m happy about that.

And perhaps that’s part of it; body positivity is releasing a whole generation of women from the constraints of wardrobe choices based on the male gaze. Long, lean legs and a tiny rear end are part of the formula for luring a man. My three brothers were disgustingly clear about which bodies were acceptable, and they were explicit that mine was not. Through their crass language, I learned to hate my thunder thighs, the body that would never attract a man, a body no one would ever want to touch.

Most fashionable clothes were out of reach for me, and I was certainly not going to make myself more of a target in white pants.

Over the past five years, I’ve come to love my body for its strength, for its endurance and surprising health, and for the shape that has resulted from a life lived heartily and with great curiosity and excitement. This body belongs to me and my life in every decision I’ve made.

Part of me will always be that eleven year old girl in middle school leaving a stain on her seat in English class because she wasn’t yet attuned to her body’s cycle. The shame of that streak on the seat, the red-brown stain creeping toward the back of the pants, sometimes toward the front, barely covered by a sweater tied around my waist, lives in me still. I can still touch it, if I reach back in my memory.

But now, at the end of my glorious days of The Change, that fear is over. I can finally dress like I’m headed to a resort, like it will be summer forever, like I can skip through a grassy field like women in those lying tampon commercials, unstained by fear.

The only thing I have to worry about now is marring my beautiful, clean white pants with my permanent liquid of choice; coffee.

 

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Dear White Trash

“Racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason.” –Abraham Joshua Heschel

Dear White Trash,

You came to an event I attended in my liberal city, an event whose title expressly defined our purpose of exalting diversity, and proceeded to demand that the other people attending the event stop talking about things you disagreed with.

Specifically, you demanded–yes, DEMANDED–that the people around you “stopped being political”, which you and I both know is utter bullshit. What you really mean is that someone combined the word “Tr*mp” with a criticism or expression of disgust, and that made you angry. Or pout. Or feel left out. Or whatever self-pitying feelings that came up when you realized you were the minority in a big crowd of people.

Huh. Well, THAT’S weird.

You can’t stand to hear the truth about the vile, unqualified and childish person you support. You don’t want to hear it because you agree with what he says.

After 18 months of this hellscape, there is no avoiding the facts about the tangerine wankmaggot.  It is impossible to interpret his actions any way except racist, xenophobic, greedy, selfish and cruel. The ceaseless march of damaging decisions is impossible to ignore, and the only way that you would continue to defend his acts is if you agree with them. People are literally dying because of that lunatic. Children are being stolen from their parents, abused and molested, and you still support him?

That’s not politics, sister. That’s life and death. We should keep silent about the horror and terror we feel at the rushing descent of humanity because it makes you uncomfortable? You can go straight to hell.

I mean, you listened to a beautiful speech by an intelligent, thoughtful, talented black woman who spoke of the pain of having to stay quiet to get along in her majority-white workplace, and you wanted her to shut up. You heard someone who was saying “life has been difficult for me as a black woman in white society, and here’s why,” and YOU became offended. And you wanted her to stop talking.

I cannot even fathom a more base, feckless attitude.

Let me get to my point: you are not welcome here. Your ignorance coupled with your hatred has created a monster that shits and pukes on everything in its path, and the rest of the world — the world that has chosen to learn and grow and listen to people who don’t look like us — are sick of cleaning up your mess. Go away and let the rest of us — the ones who know how to play with others, who understand compassion, who take seriously the lessons we learned in our faith–just let us take over running the world.

Because our world is changing, and it is that change that’s pissing you off. The fact that black people are no longer silent about the horrible treatment they’ve received at the hands of white people is a huge change. That’s gotta hurt.  Black and Latinx and trans and disabled people and women — mostly black women —  have won hard-fought battles in court and on the street to be heard, to be understood–and we’re listening. Those of us with the ability and willingness to hear are listening, and we’re not interested in your lies about their inferiority anymore.

So go away. Go back to whatever philistine, archaic way of life you have rooted yourself in and keep to yourself. Hide away. Close your doors and windows, so you don’t see the approach of the cultural sea swell as it swallows your hamlet and resigns it to relics of history. Because it’s coming. It’s inevitable and it’s coming. There are too many of us and too few of you–however vocal–and the change is already in motion. Since you have chosen not to learn and grow and reach outside your narrow understanding of the world, you will be subsumed.

And let’s face it, it was a choice. The evidence is clear and you decided it wasn’t true, because choosing not to believe facts is suddenly possible, thanks to the wizened intellect of the sociopathic narcissist you so admire.

You are not welcome here. You’re not welcome across most of this country. You’re certainly not welcome in most of Europe, or Asia, or Latin America, or … pretty much anywhere.

If you can judge a person by the company they keep, then you need to look around, sister. Look at the people who agree with you. Look at the other Hitler Simpson supporters–Nazis, mostly, and grifters who realize that a rare morality portal has been opened to allow them to stuff their pockets–and you might just realize you backed the wrong dotard.

But probably not, because you are happy in your ignorance.

So have your tantrum about the inevitable changes that are happening in our progressively connected and compassionate world. But just like a toddler, you’re going to have to do it over in the corner, with your nose pressed against the wall, because the rest of us have work to do fixing the mess created by your ignorance.

Just get out of the way; we have shit to do.

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PS — I’ve never had to find so many synonyms for “hateful” and “ignorant.”

“As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it—whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.” –To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

UPDATE: The organization I was working for at the time I published this told me to take it down, despite lack of identifying language or any connection to the organization. Soon after I complied, they ended my employment, using an unrelated rationale for the parting. I suspect this article was a contributing reason for the separation. 

I am proud to stand by what I wrote.

 

I’m sorry this is how I think. And I’m sorry, this is how I think.

A military father. Parents who worked at a big Chicago newspaper. A family of readers. A father who was a writer. Parents educated by Jesuits. An aunt and a brother who are lawyers.

My life as a child was built with words, with the right words, with people being persnickety about words. Language was the structure in which everything else happened. My world was filled with music, but that was the air, the atmosphere; words were the building. Books and newspapers and National Geographic magazines, whole collections of classic book series and my father’s stack of Michener books on his bed table. I was read to and I was asked about what I was reading. My mother reviewed my papers for school with her fine-point precise pen.

And so I defaulted to English as a major, when piano major study proved too performance-intensive for my introvert heart. The stability of English, the structure and possibility of words are a comfort after the exposure of being on the stage. Whole cities are built on words alone, words used to define and describe what the city will look like, who will buy what property, how tall their buildings can be, who can live where. For good or for bad, this structure is predictable. Reliable. The law uses words to conscribe our behavior. It changes over time, but we use words to decide how it changes. That’s why this current period of lexical changes is so exciting; we are making choices about how we want our world to be.

There is no excuse of “it’s just a word” in my vocabulary. I am clear and direct because if you’re not precise, you’ll be surprised. I’ve learned to use vernacular, to employ humor, to relax the structure in a heightened situation, to connect with people in kindness and warmth when the structure is too intimidating.

My work has taken me to strict places, to copy editing and proof reading and spreadsheets whose command language is coding-exact, more predictable to me than math. Spreadsheets are my math, because they require no belief system; how they operate is clear.

My husband is a programmer, a coder, a straight-line-drawer. His workplace loaned me the line “be precise or be surprised.” It’s brilliant in his work, and in mine.

When you’re working with other people, and when you’re answering to the instructions of an organization, if you don’t communicate clearly, you’re going to spend twice as much time sorting out the confusion than you would completing the task. Words matter. They matter particularly when you’re working on a project, a goal, moving toward a destination. No detours, no stopping to discuss feelings about the last billboard you just passed. This is when words matter the most. Do the job, do it efficiently, follow the words you’re given.

But people don’t like this. People don’t like how my soft and cuddly demeanor gives way to the rigidity of structured language. People don’t like finding the concrete backstop to my dimpled smile. It’s a shock. A betrayal of their expectations. How could someone so grandmotherly talk like a drill sergeant?

Because this is how I think. And this is how I talk.

Is there room in this world for me, too? There’s space for the noisy, the bright colorful unicorns, for sparkle wearers, for the dancers in the street. There’s plenty of room for whirling dervishes. But will this inclusive world make space for the pinstripe, the buttoned-up, the cotton-woven, grandmother types whose extreme joy lies in quiet moments in the forest?

I’m sorry, this is how I am.img_20180715_180551526