Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dream, Part Three


"Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they are supposed to help you discover who you are."
Bernice Johnson Reagon

Part Two is here.

None of these pieces of my dream for women and girls can exist in a vacuum and while many of us can and do challenge ourselves regularly, it is so important that we experience inspiration and encouragement from others as well. Whether it is a boss or a mentor, a parent or a teacher, or simply a throw-down from a friend or adversary, often those obstacles placed in our way by others are more likely to get us moving than any we could make for ourselves.

When I think of times I was challenged I have a difficult time containing the list. It appears in my head as one of those trick cans of peanuts you can buy at novelty stores and as soon as I pry off the lid colorful snakes come erupting out in all directions. I attempted to categorize them and quickly realized that it didn't matter.

Giving someone a difficult task to complete or asking a question that prompts them to really think deeply and introspectively is truly a gift. Not only does it give them the opportunity to test their skills, but it sends the message that you believe they are capable of completing the task. My daughter whines and drags her feet and avoids doing the homework that is the most challenging for her, but when she finally resigns herself to doing it and makes her way, however arduously, through the process, she is always rewarded with pride in her own efforts and work ethic when she is finished.

If we live in a world where we marginalize certain groups of people by not asking them to do things that require creativity and focus, hard work and critical thinking, we are doing them a disservice. So often we would rather be in a position of influence and power where we simply give others orders or tell them what we think instead of asking them to do the messy work of finding answers and coming to conclusions. For so many years in this country we believed that women were not capable, physically or mentally, of doing many of the things men could and we didn't allow them to test that theory. They were not challenged because it was automatically assumed that they couldn't rise to the task.

My father wanted sons. He got one, but then I came along. And for the first few years of my childhood, I was compliant with my parents' plan that Peter play soccer and I dance ballet. Gradually it dawned on me that because Dad coached my brother's soccer team, my brother got to spend a heck of a lot more time with him than I did. Every Saturday we would pack a cooler and a blanket and head out to watch Peter run around on the field with his team as Dad stood on the sidelines hollering instructions to them. I wanted to do that, too! I didn't want to be sitting on this damp blanket eating orange slices and watching them chase each other around. Put ME in, coach!

I lobbied. I fought. I pled. I batted my eyelashes. I drove my father nuts. Finally he decided that the only way to shut me up was to put me on the team. That Saturday I got my very own black-and-white striped polyester jersey, put on some of my brother's old cleats, and Dad sat me in the goal. I was the keeper. This was the ace up his sleeve. I was to be the goalie in a game of soccer between two teams made up of boys three years older than I was. He figured I'd run screaming off the field before the first quarter was over.

I think I probably gave up ten goals that game and I know Dad was pissed. He did not like to lose. Neither did I. I was bruised and sore, grass stained from cheeks to ankles, and more tired than I had ever been, but you couldn't have wiped the grin off of my face for anything. I had just proven to myself, if nobody else, that I could rise to the challenge and at the age of eight, that lesson stuck with me for a good long time.

Let's do all of the women and girls we know a huge favor and put them in situations where they are asked to do just a little bit more than they think they can. Let's be sure to let them know that we have confidence in them as they embark on this lifelong journey to discover just who they are and how amazing they can be.

Continue to Part Four

Sunday, October 24, 2010

'Dream,' Part Two


Part One is here.

“Man is a special being, and if left to himself, in an isolated condition, would be one of the weakest creatures; but associated with his kind, he works wonders.” Daniel Webster

The second part of my dream is that women and girls feel connected. There is nothing so challenging, supportive, inspiring, comfortable, or exciting as a community. Ideally, each of us has several overlapping communities in which we can move as members. We have co-workers or schoolmates, family ties, groups of like-minded people who share our interests in hobbies or passions, and each of these people supports and challenges us in different ways.

So often, young girls who see themselves as 'different' are afraid to find community. They are embarrassed or ashamed or simply unsure of themselves and end up isolating themselves to the point where they cannot share their gifts or their difficulties. For many of these girls, this translates into their adult lives and they move through their days without any touchstone of reality except their own, which is often skewed.

In many cases, this makes these women and girls easier to control and manipulate and, whether by conscious effort or not, they are preyed upon by all kinds of people. In the wild, it is the lion pack that picks off the zebra who separates from its group. It is the same with humans.

I would like to see a world where girls are taught that their communities are rich with opportunity for them and encouraged to find their own place in them. I want to see them connect with each other instead of working to alienate those girls who are different from them. It is developmentally normal to want to conform in the teen years, but we need to learn to respect those who don't. I want us as a society to recognize our strength in connection to each other, in learning from each other and sharing ideas without anger or ownership. I want girls and women to feel as though they are a part of something bigger than themselves and use the leverage of these groups to push themselves farther than they thought possible. Often all it takes is one interested person, one mentor, one like-minded party to spark the connection. And the impact that this simple act can have on the self-worth of a young girl or lonely woman is monumental. Validation is a powerful tool and it is through connection and community that we can nurture each other and, in turn, ourselves.

Continue to Part Three

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

I, Too, Have a Dream

At the recent breakfast fundraiser for the Women's Funding Alliance, each attendee had two 3x3 slips of paper sitting at his or her table setting. At the top read: My dream for women and girls is...

The idea was that everyone would complete this statement on one of the cards and slip it into the envelope at the table to be forwarded to the organizations' staff. The other card was for us to take home, complete, and share with the other people in our lives; co-workers, friends, family, etc. An evangelistic outreach, a tangible wish that would cause ripple effects in the community and get people started talking about how to realize these dreams.

My dream for women and girls is
  1. That they feel safe,
  2. That they feel connected,
  3. That they feel challenged,
  4. That they feel as though they contribute,
  5. and that they have choices.
Each of these concepts is so vast that I have decided to begin with the first one and write about my thoughts until I've unearthed every shiny nugget I can. Subsequent posts will explore each of the remaining issues. I hope you stick with me as I explore these issues.

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Safety is so basic. Such a central spoke around which all of our other emotions and actions revolve. By safety I mean emotional and physical safety - being free from harm, both inflicted by ourselves and others. Although, it is my opinion that generally we don't seek to cause harm to ourselves unless we've been taught that by others.

Safety is the umbrella under which we fly. It is the basic assumption that allows us to go forth into the world and explore our limitations. If a child knows that they can roam freely within certain boundaries and someone will be looking out for them, they will seek with abandon. If a woman knows with certainty that she can speak her own truth without being ridiculed or physically attacked for it, she will learn to be her own best advocate. We have all seen dogs who have suffered abuse - they shy away from even gentle touch because they have learned that when someone reaches out to them it likely means pain. Women and girls who have been mocked or whose opinions are discarded, whose emotions are labeled as 'silly' or 'ridiculous' or 'overblown' stop thinking for themselves. Women and girls who are physically punished simply for existing on the face of the planet with a vagina have no recourse. We cannot change who we are, so we sink into the background.

I want a world where little girls grow up assuming that they will be watched out for, cherished, protected. One in six American women (as compared to one in 33 men) will be sexually assaulted at least once in their lives.* Add to this that less than half of all sexual assaults are reported to police, and you're looking at more like one in three women/girls sexually abused. In my neighborhood there are fifteen children. Eleven of them are girls. That means that in my neighborhood alone, at least three of these girls will be raped, molested, or otherwise sexually assaulted in their lives. I am not okay with that.

Nor am I okay with the fact that more than 25% of American women and girls have experienced some form of domestic violence in their lives. There are hotlines, crisis shelters, scores of resources available to victims, books written on the subject, self-defense classes, attorneys whose entire job it is to specialize in this area of the law. I want a world where women are not victimized. By anyone.

I want a world where women and girls feel safe to express themselves and their opinions without worrying about harm coming to them. I want a world where women and girls can go out with their friends at night without worrying about being assaulted. I want a world where we recognize the gifts that women and girls have to provide us with and we protect their voices and their bodies and allow them a safe place to explore their world and share their ideas with all of us.

I don't think that is too much to ask.
*statistics obtained from www.rainn.org - Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Before and After


There are so many milestones in life that we take for granted after they've come and gone. Those acts that we wait for, sometimes prepare for hour after hour, and once they are performed, there is no going back.

Driving.
Passing a momentous exam.
Having sex for the first time.

There are others that are not quite so enormous, but still have an impact. Getting your first cell phone or laptop. Your first library card.

Bubba and I are holding out on Eve. Despite her carefully calculated attempts to convince us otherwise, she is not getting a cell phone anytime soon. She has interviewed all of the other girls in her classroom to determine how many of them have their own phone. She has banded together with a classmate who is similarly deprived and they have made bar graphs and pie charts to display the cruelty with which they must contend. Eve, knowing the limits of my patience, is an expert at the art of parry and thrust. She pushes pushes pushes until I am just about to the wall and then she retreats. Sometimes for days at a time and just when I least expect it, she strikes again from a different direction. I can hear the gears in her brain turning, working on new angles to use.

I don't really remember when I got my first cell phone. For me, the equivalent pre-teen angst was most likely being allowed to wear makeup or shave my legs. I never had my own phone in my bedroom and, as a latchkey kid, the lobbying to be left home alone was not an issue. I was struck this morning by the thought that, although I must have pleaded with my mother to wear eyeshadow and mascara, I don't really recall that first day I went to school all made up. Ironically, I can count the number of times I've worn makeup in the past ten years on the fingers of one hand.

I have a friend who refused to own a cell phone for years. While the rest of us had ours tucked into our purses or pockets, she held out on some principle that was mysterious to the rest of us. She didn't need the 'toy,' wasn't intrigued by the notion of calling people whenever she wanted to, and as soon as Skype became available, she even got rid of her home phone. She does have a cell phone now, I suspect due to the fact that she has two kids in two different schools and lives in a large urban city and works part time outside the home.

Whatever the reason she finally capitulated (and I know Bubba and I will, eventually, too), I wonder if she looks back on that moment and senses something pivotal about it. I'm betting she doesn't. I'm betting that the majority of times she is compelled to pull her cell phone out of her purse to answer or make a call, she simply takes it for granted. No matter how much Eve fights to have one or how strong my friend's conviction was not to have one, the moments, months, and years that follow the actual acquisition of the cell phone almost instantly erase the memory of the 'before-time.'

I wonder how much of that is due to human nature. How many times have we as individuals and as groups of like-minded people, fought hard and long for something that we truly wanted or believed in and, once we accomplished it, taken it for granted? I know that Eve feels that getting a cell phone will have a domino effect in her life that will make it so much better. My friend thought that the slippery slope she would get on simply by purchasing a cell phone wasn't worth it. I am willing to bet that neither of those things is true.

There are some times in our lives where the before and after are markedly different. For those people who lived before indoor plumbing was widely available in the US, the after had to be unimaginably glorious. Not having to pee in a bedpan in the middle of the night or walk outside in the snow to poop in a wooden shack? Priceless. But for so many of the things we fight for or against, the changes are minimal or it takes us such a small amount of time to incorporate them into our lives that it makes me wonder what we're really fighting for.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Tough Conversations

The trio of girls huddled together at the kitchen table giggle nervously.

"It's not bad," Lola insists quietly.

"I don't even think it's true," her friend and classmate pipes up. "I think that she probably just made it up."

Eve's eyebrows raise in a combination of skepticism and discomfort. As the eldest, she doesn't want to betray her interest too much by adding her opinion, but she clearly has one.

"What's up, guys?" I ask, not wanting to overstep my bounds, but curious as to what has them acting like international spies.

Caught, they whirl to face me, on the other side of the kitchen and blurt, "Nothing!" Giggles erupt from behind their sweet, soft hands and their heads come even closer together as if pulled by an invisible drawstring. Just as I'm about to shrug it off, they decide to tell me.

Haltingly and from a distance of at least six feet away, Lola begins talking without meeting my eyes. It seems that there is a book on the shelf in her classroom that has prompted the girls to discuss and wonder and whisper. It is a book of stories authored by teenage girls that is meant to inform and inspire other girls, but at least one of the stories has them disturbed. Not necessarily unhappy, but certainly upset in the sense of the word that calls to mind a stick stirring up sediment in a clear pool of water.

Lola speaks slowly, starting from the beginning of the story and it soon becomes clear to me that the essay depicts one girl's experience of being sexually molested by her babysitter over a period of several years. Lola is too embarrassed to tell me in the same terms used in the book, so she tries to write it down. Before she can finish, I turn to Eve and ask her if what she knows about it. Standing next to me, she talks with a flat tone, looking into my eyes.

I am aghast. The phrase, "it's not bad" continues to run through my brain. How can she think that isn't bad? How did this book get into a classroom for first, second, and third graders? How many of these girls have read this book and how long have they been discussing it without any adult mediation?

We stand in the kitchen and talk about what each of these girls, seven, eight and ten years old, would have done in this situation. Lola and Eve are confident that they would physically fight back, kicking and hitting and the look of disgust on their faces convinces me they would. Lola's friend maintains that the story is probably not true.

They are all three shocked to hear me say that such things happen a lot more often than they know. Lola asks me whether I know anyone who was treated that way and I assure her I do, but that I won't name names because I don't think that is fair. She accepts this explanation, but wants to know more. I don't want to rattle off the statistics, that at least one of every four females in the world experiences sexual abuse of some sort in her life, and those are only the ones who are reporting it. Others like this young girl who were too frightened or confused go unaccounted for. I simply say that it is important for us to find ways to talk about these issues without embarrassment and share our experiences with adults we trust so that the people who are attacking women and girls can be held responsible for it.

I am so happy that these three girls were courageous enough to share this with me. While I am not thrilled about the way it was brought up to them, I know that the book will be removed from their classroom and the teachers will handle it thoughtfully. It turns out that the book was donated by a parent this summer and was not thoroughly vetted before it was put out on the shelf. (Upon doing some research, it seems that there are many such books, aimed at girls, kids, grieving families, pet owners, retirees, etc. and I discovered that they are full of difficult stories. Unfortunately, without reading the entire book, it would be hard to know whether or not it is age-appropriate.) I appreciate the intention of the book, but I can't imagine letting my seven or eight year-old (or even nine or ten-year old for that matter) read such stories without an adult present who could help them interpret and fully understand many of the concepts.

The fact that a mainstream, American publication like this contains multiple essays about sexual abuse (it does, I found the book and read it) makes me wonder how much we as a society have accepted the fact that our girls will be raped and molested. So much so that we can talk about it years after the fact and encourage girls to "tell" on their abusers. I think that doing so is important, but maybe it means that we need to have a much more aggressive campaign to prevent sexual abuse in the first place. Perhaps we need to teach girls and women to be open about the fact that their bodies belong to them and send the message that this kind of act will not be tolerated. We will not be objectified, groped, talked about lewdly or disrespectfully, or put in situations that are dangerous. Our civic leaders need to be completely upfront about the fact that the rules have changed and women will not be victimized any longer, and if they are, we will not waste time hiding or feeling ashamed. We will not, in any circumstance, decide that "she deserved it" or "she wanted it."

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Day Late,

but hopefully not a dollar short...

On a typical day at my house growing up in the 1970s I'm certain we used gallons and gallons of water we didn't need to use. All five of us showering, flushing high flow toilets, watering a pristine lawn (one of my father's obsessions), washing the family cars every Saturday morning, boiling eggs and pouring the cooking water down the drain...I could go on but already I'm getting a stomach ache thinking about it.

Even though I'm older and wiser now, I'm certain there are things I could still be doing to reduce my water consumption even more, but I am eternally grateful that I know what I know. That I don't take this precious resource for granted. I have been lucky to travel to other countries and realize first hand how my experience of having water whenever I want it is an anomaly. A luxury. Decadent.

Kathryn Grace reminded me that it is going to take the efforts of those of us who do have access to this precious resource in order to bring it to everyone. I know that the founders of our country didn't specifically note water as a basic human right (truth, justice, pursuit of happiness...), but I'm certain it's on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and I'm not sure how to pursue happiness without being free of disease. Please visit Kathryn's blog and see how you can help. Even though yesterday was technically Blog Action Day for this issue, I'm pretty sure that they won't mind if you sign the petition a day late. Or start your own efforts, however modest, a day late.


Petitions by Change.org|Start a Petition »



Thursday, October 14, 2010

Finding My Peeps


No, not those foul yellow marshmallow candies shaped like chicks.

Yesterday as I was checking my email one more time before dashing out to get Lola from school I finally got a response from the agent who has had my manuscript since August. I had one of those bumpbump moments where everything except the squeezing of my heart stopped for a bit and I tried to decide whether or not to open it before leaving home. Then my true (impatient) nature returned to me along with my breath and I clicked on it. No go. The comments were kind and seemed genuine, but the agent apologized that, although she enjoyed the book, she didn't have the "conviction" to take the project on. It has taken me about 15 hours to fully appreciate this.

I was disappointed and somewhat at a loss, but decided to sit with it for a bit before making my next move. Well, at least my next tangible move. In the meantime, I've had an absolute hurricane of activity going on in my brain as I examine options surreptitiously while pretending not to. Even to myself.

Fortunately, I had an early morning breakfast to look forward to. The Women's Funding Alliance held their annual fundraising event and there were so many reasons I was supposed to be there that I went.
  • Kathy LeMay was the featured speaker and at the time that the breakfast was publicized, I had just completed a book review for Feminist Review that contained an essay written by her on philanthropy. (The book is called "Moonrise: The Power of Women Leading from the Heart" - it is fantastic and inspiring and uplifting. My review is here.)
  • So many of the local organizations that I support are funded by grants from the Women's Funding Alliance, and I am all for streamlining my efforts, so the fact that there is an umbrella organization that is passionate about supporting the same things that I do in lots of different ways is immeasurably cool.
  • My sister-in-law, who is plugged in to all things "Strong Women" invited me.
  • It offered a morning off from dragging reluctant (ha!) children from their beds, force feeding them protein, stuffing lunchboxes full of snacks and assortments of healthy foods as well as those they will actually eat, and ushering them off to school. Bubba didn't so much 'offer' to do it as show up when ordered to do it.
So, I went. And I was awed. Inspired. Reminded why I wrote the book I wrote and what I want it to stand for. I watched a group of 30 or so teenage girls get up on stage and tap dance at 7:30 to Aretha just to pump up the crowd. I listened and was moved to tears by women who are committed to creating a world where girls and women can express themselves, trust their own instincts, follow their dreams, believe in themselves, and live safely and without bias.

I am reconsidering. If my goal is truly to get this message out, then maybe I need to just do it. Perhaps pitching the stories in my book as a series of articles in the local women's magazine would work. Maybe I beat down the doors of some local, progressive publishing houses and tell them why I love this book so much. I don't know. But I do know that I've been reminded who my "peeps" are and I'm grateful to that agent for knowing that what she needed in order to represent me and my book was conviction. I don't want anyone working on my behalf that isn't excited about this book and the way it gives voice to so many women.

*You can read a little about my project here. I will post about it more in the days to come.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Holding Pattern

Or maybe it's just frustration. I'm not certain. What I do know is that researching and writing my book has so far been a damn sight easier than trying to get it published. I had suspicions that the marketing bit wasn't going to be fun, but I am in need of some mojo to get it going again.

I've had some small successes meeting agents who were interested in the basic notion of my book - two of whom even asked for the entire manuscript. One came back a few weeks later with an email basically stating that "they can't represent me at this time, regretfully." I'm not exactly sure what that means, so I responded asking for more feedback, either on the manuscript itself or how to make myself more marketable as the author. That was six weeks ago and I've had no response.

The other agent has yet to send me anything at all, despite a follow-up email from me just checking in after six weeks of no response.

I had one book publisher to whom I sent my unsolicited manuscript tell me that they would love to talk to me about my book, but as they are a small press, they don't have the bandwidth and are fully booked with projects through the end of 2011. The editor was kind enough to point me in the direction of another press that might be interested so three weeks ago I sent off another package, this time via the postal service.

I've spent time researching agents and publishing houses, really working on posting to the blog regularly, and picking the brains of people I know in the publishing industry (which are, admittedly, few and far between). Every person who asks for a description of the book gets an earful from me and I have had such great responses ("Wow! I'd buy that book! What a great idea!) that it is frustrating to feel like I'm speaking a different language than the folks who have the power to put it out there.

I've talked to some people about self-publishing versus traditional publishing, but I'm not sure I have the marketing skills to really do it justice. As one person put it, "Your book is what we call a 'long-tail' book - it will be relevant for generations to come and will probably sell books for decades. Most publishers want to make their money in the first 90 days which is why they want celebrities or controversial politicians as their clients."

I know that this takes perseverance and dedication and I'm willing to do the work because I have such passion for my book, but I feel like I'm stuck right now. It is hard to know where to turn and really frustrating to listen to authors being interviewed on NPR when that's where I want to be!

Monday, October 11, 2010

All Will Be Well


Bubba sometimes accuses me of being too forthcoming. Especially when it comes to our children. I'm certain he's got a point, but I was one of those people who were born wearing their heart (and mind and opinion) on their sleeve and I see no reason to change now.

Fortunately, neither Eve nor Lola is squeamish, because often my oversharing comes in the form of family discussions around biology or anatomy. All in the name of curiosity and science exploration, except for the few times it has to do with them understanding their own bodies more fully, I generally give them as much information as I think they can process and entertain questions until Bubba is nauseous (or leaves the room) and the girls are satisfied.

Yes, I am one of those horrible mothers who teaches her children the correct anatomical words for even the most embarrassing parts of the human form and I encourage them to use them correctly when appropriate. For those of you who find it more decorous to use words like hoo-ha or pee-pee, I completely understand, but it's only a matter of time before Eve points out that your little boy's "thing" is called a penis. Just sayin'.

I also believe that it is destructive for my family to keep things from them unless the knowledge will do them harm. So when my mother's husband went into the hospital last week with an advanced infection in his big toe that was rapidly spreading due to poor circulation in his legs, I was honest with them that Grandpa was in a little bit of trouble. The girls quickly set about making cards to mail to him and we had a nightly update on his condition at the dinner table. One angiogram, an attempted cleaning out of his blocked leg vessel, and a bypass graft later, it seemed that things were looking up a bit, although Grandpa was going to be in the hospital for a few more days.

Last night, I let them know that Grandpa just might have to lose his toe before coming home. The infection was too strong and the circulation had been compromised for too long to save it.
"Can I keep it in a jar in my bedroom?" Eve's eyes lit up.
"No way! I want it!" Lola was not to be outdone here.

Notwithstanding their concern for their grandfather, the girls were fascinated. Bubba, having missed the first part of the conversation, joined us at the table and asked, "What's up, guys?"

Lola wasted no time in filling him in, "They're gonna whack Grandpa's toe off cuz it's dead and Erin and I both want to keep it. Maybe we can put it in the playroom where we can both have it, okay?"

"Nah, I think it has to go to the Toe Fairy. Sorry to disappoint you," Bubba chimed in quickly. I'm certain the notion of having a preserved big toe in the house was enough to make him move out.

I wonder how much you get for a toe from the Toe Fairy. It is the big one, after all.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

I'm It!

Been tagged by another blogger whose blog I discovered a few months ago. I love her insights in parenting as well as just plain living and I never fail to feel gratitude when I read her posts. You can find her here.

According to the rules of the game, I'm supposed to write down seven things about myself and pass this along, so if you haven't read some of these other blogs I like, I hope you discover the things about them that I love.

But first things first:

  1. Since my father died, I seem to have added his particular passion for the Oregon Ducks football team to mine and am completely, irrevocably rabid about watching their games every Saturday afternoon during football season.
  2. I harbor secret fantasies of being on American Idol. Not because I want to be on television, but because I can actually sing and I never had the cojones to do anything about it when I was young enough to show off.
  3. The only thing keeping me from going to culinary school and becoming a chef is the hours of the job. I don't want to work weekends or evenings.
  4. I have spent so much of my life multitasking that I often wonder whether I have rendered myself ADHD because when I have the luxury of concentrating on just one thing at a time, I often lose my way in the task.
  5. I would love to travel around the world and immerse myself in other cultures, hiking and hanging out at bars with the locals.
  6. My favorite place on the planet is the Oregon Coast.
  7. If it weren't for the litter boxes and shredded furniture, I would have half a dozen cats.
Okay, now that I've sufficiently frightened you with my oddities, the bloggers I'd like to introduce you to are:

Visit and enjoy!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Do You Smell That?


Have I mentioned that Lola is unusually perceptive? Among her most unique senses is the extraordinary sense of smell she has, which is often a trial to her. She can smell things most human beings can't and she has a wonderful way of describing them to me - the mere mortal who doesn't possess this ability.

This morning she informed me that every person has their own smell. This isn't exactly a new idea, right? I can remember going in to my grandmother's bedroom and being overwhelmed by her Estee Lauder perfume and the smell of mothballs. But what Lola is talking about is their very essence, their aura, if you will. Even if you switch from Estee Lauder to Calvin Klein's Obsession, Lola will still suss out your scent and notice that it is the same.

"But," she admonishes, "sometimes the smell changes a little bit. Like if you're really upset. When Abigail is upset (Lola's best friend) she smells a little bit sour on top of her normal sunflowers and clean laundry smell."

Apparently the dog smells like fur and lemon kisses "which is a very good smell, almost the best," my mother-in-law smells like light perfume and my mother has the essence of apple pie. It may sound ridiculous, but when Lola explains it, I can get the sense of it exactly. The way she experiences each of them, this is exactly what they feel like. I'm convinced she knows.

"Did Papa have his own smell, too?" I ask, hesitating. She only knew him for six years and he was pretty sick for the last year of that.

"Yup. He smelled like warm chocolate and blankets. And when he was sick it was still there, but with a little sad thrown in."

She is absolutely right. That is what my dad smelled like as her grandfather. She is so dead-on with her assessments that I didn't dare ask what she thinks her sister smells like. Or me, for that matter. I'm not sure I want to know...

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Extended Metaphor



I have a little more work to do. For all my excavating and enlightening and understanding, there is still one little rip left to heal in regards to my experience of being molested as a child. Forgiveness. I need to forgive myself and I need to forgive him and until I do, I won't be free. I love the idea, the notion of pure compassion for my abuser and most of me truly wants that, but all of me has to want it and I have to give it freely and purely.

I just might be ready. But first, I have to go to the grocery store. Tonight I am going to a book club gathering at the invitation of a woman that I haven't seen in probably three or more years. Her idea for the meal was to make a "mashed potato bar" and have each of us bring toppings to add. I've decided to mash some yams and bring crispy prosciutto as my offering.

I walk into Whole Foods, thinking that yams ought to be easy to find this time of year, the morning sun rising despite the fog and pushing it away to clear, blue skies and a crisp scent of woodsmoke and cider in the air. I am confronted by rows and rows of potatoes - Yukon Gold, russet, nearly irresistible fingerlings, baby red potatoes nestled together in their red mesh bags - but I can't seem to find yams. Finally, at the very end of the row my eyes fall on a few softball-sized, knobby red garnet yams, four of them that fell to the bottom of the display ramp with a yard of black shelf liner showing above them, and two tiny, white-skinned sweet potatoes up at the top. I grab them all and shove them into the plastic produce bag and one of the red garnets pokes its pencil-sized end through the plastic as I drop it in my basket.

At home, I hurry through lunch, pushing small sushi rolls in my mouth as I mentally prepare for the remainder of my day, all the time wondering when I will sit and meditate on the work I have yet to do in my heart. The potatoes have to get cooked soon if they will be ready for tonight. I smile as I picture the creamy orange puree in a transparent glass bowl, all of these new women swirling the colorful mash into their bland, white potatoes to give them some pizzazz.

It is a glorious autumn day and I am craving sunshine so I grab my stockpot, cutting board, paring knife and peeler and head out to the deck. Starting with the largest red garnet yam, I rake the peeler (my least favorite one in the house, but the only clean one for now) across the contours of the skin, listening for the satisfying cchcchcchcch sound that comes with the thin slice of skin peeling away. Inside, it is white. No bright orange flesh. Not what I expected. I continue to work away, peels releasing and falling to the cutting board in a mound, and I go back in a few places to get in the crevices and valleys where the peeler doesn't move smoothly.
By the time I get to the second red garnet I realize that what I'm doing is my work. These paper-thin peels are all the hold my abuser still has on me. They look so solid and impenetrable from the outside. They are banged up and pocked with knots and dings, but they cover the whole of this potato and they are so simple to peel away. Four big, dark, solid ones - they are the men in my life whom I have allowed to hurt me and take my power away. I peel and peel and soon all I have is four smooth, pure objects. As I peeled, I wished for love and peace and hope and was so surprised not to find what I expected inside these potatoes.

I move to the two small, white sweet potatoes and know that they are my sister and me. Our skin is much thinner, but inside we are the same, substantial, dense grouping of cells that made those larger red-skinned ones potatoes. When all six of them are in the pot of boiling water, they will all cook at the same rate. I will drain them, mash them, mix them with butter and fresh cream and be thankful for the notion that I can make something good and nourishing of this. We are not so different, my abuser and me. We are imperfect humans. I don't have to know why he is who he is or why he did what he did to my sister and me. That is not for me to know. I can acknowledge that I have allowed him to have power over me for far too long and thank the Universe for letting me learn to be strong and compassionate in the face of that.
I wonder what other culinary marvels await me on this journey.

Monday, October 04, 2010

It All Started With This...



If you can stand it, the most amazing part of this talk comes in the last two minutes (in my opinion). I get it if you can't make it all the way through the eight minutes, but it's pretty amazing. Essentially, he is talking about the way our brain uses its mirror neurons in concert with our sense of touch and how this leads to feelings of empathy. It is way more complex than that, so I would encourage you to find a time to sit and watch the video.

Since, however, good things come in threes, it only stands to reason that this morning I would open up my Facebook page and find this daily message from the Dalai Lama, "Ultimately, humanity is one, and this small planet is our only home. If we are to protect this home of ours, each of us needs to feel a vivid sense of universal altruism. It is only this feeling that can remove the self-centered motives that cause people to deceive and misuse one another. If you have a sincere and open heart, you naturally feel self-worth and confidence, and there is no need to be fearful of others."

When I got in the car to drive Eve to her carpool, it just so happened that the Indigo Girls were playing on my iPod. The song? "Let it Be Me." The central theme of the song is captured here: "...I'm among friends trying to see beyond the fences of our own backyard. I've seen kingdoms blow like ashes in the winds of change, but the power of truth is the fuel for the flame, so the darker the ages get there's a stronger beacon yet. Let it be me...if the world is night, shine my life like a light."

And the writing prompt for today? "Open House." I think I'll change it to "Open Heart, Open Mind" and call this a done deal.


Saturday, October 02, 2010

Meet Me Halfway


I signed up to receive daily writing prompts from Lisa Romeo, one per day for the month of October as a way to keep myself honest and make sure that, even as I work on selling my manuscript, I am continuing to write every day.

Generally, the things I write about are very much present in my daily life and they come to the forefront of my consciousness when I walk the dog or shower in the morning or meditate. But sometimes, I find myself in need of some new inspiration and since I've also signed up to take a writing class from Lisa, I decided that maybe this would be fun.

When I checked my email this morning before dashing off to yoga, I saw that today's prompt was "past the halfway point." Instantly, my mind went to thoughts of traveling a difficult road and the relief that comes when you know you're more than halfway there, but I was having trouble crystallizing a moment from my life that felt compelling enough to write about. I closed down my inbox and gathered my yoga things, figuring something would either come to me or it wouldn't.

Much to my chagrin, but not altogether unexpected, in the few quiet moments before class started when the instructor asks that we focus our attention away from the mind and into our bodies, letting ourselves come squarely into the yoga practice, my mind honed in on the writing prompt like a laser targeting device.

I've been struggling with anxiety over the past couple of days and I asked myself whether I could safely say that I felt as though I was more than half of the way back from that to my "normal" self. Nope. But this anxiety is different. Not because of its nature - it still has that impending doom flavor to it and it threatens to swipe the rug out from under me - but because of what exists in its void.

Thanks in large part to the Positive Intentions class I took in September with Kristine Leon, the bulk of my recent days have been spent in a state of quiet calm and happiness. I have found myself smiling spontaneously for no good reason at all multiple times per day. Really, authentically smiling - the kind that leads to crow's feet around your eyes and accentuates your cheekbones until friends begin to wonder if you have had some sort of plastic surgery. I am able to shrug off most of the small annoyances that pelt into my skin on a daily basis and spend a few minutes bookending my days by experiencing one quiet, intentional moment and grounding myself.

As I closed my eyes and waited for class to begin, the picture in my mind was of myself sitting in the middle. Half in and half out. Straddling a balance beam with one leg immersed in Anxiety Soup and the other bathed in the golden glow of peace. From time to time over the past several days, I have certainly found myself "past the halfway point," leaning much farther into one realm or the other and I found it interesting to note that my goal seemed to be on the side of peace. There was a huge part of me that really wanted to hop off that beam, turn my back on the feelings I don't like and sprint for the finish line. I suppose that isn't surprising, but I think I need to spend a little longer sitting here and examining this dichotomy.

Generally, when I think of a mid-point, the words that come to my mind are 'medium,' and 'middle.' Neither here nor there. The dead point in the swing of a pendulum where it hits the bottom of the curve and is centered. Not exciting, not extreme, just existing. This is a new kind of "halfway" for me. Existing between and simultaneously in two extremes. I'm fairly certain that this isn't exactly what Lisa had in mind when she came up with this prompt, but then, neither did I when I first saw it. I guess I owe her a big THANK YOU!
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