Thoughts

Speaking Up: A Kind of Black Dress

Oasis December 2017

What is it about women and sex? Why do our faculties for observation and nuance, so in-tune in public settings, suddenly become akin to a toddler’s?

What is it about men and sex? Why do their capacities to let women take care of them suddenly evaporate, leaving a vacuum in which they surge to prove something about themselves?

When I was in college a young man told me that he would take me to the airport in the morning. Somehow that morphed into having sex in his apartment, and somehow that involved his using my vagina as a prop for his penis, and somehow the shock of the situation muted me, paralyzed me, so that I became that prop. A crying prop, but one who was scared, shocked, and utterly still.

Why I suddenly became terrified of this guy who moments before seemed a bit of a fool, someone I could use to get what I wanted, still upsets me. He could barely get it up, yet I was overcome by such a paralyzing inertia that I said nothing as he put cooking oil on his penis because I was so dry, rather than stop and think about why I was so dry.

My anger at him and my disappointment in myself have never abated because that situation or variations of it seem to keep happening to other women and men.

What are mothers of sons teaching their sons about women and consent?

What are fathers teaching their sons about self-respect and respecting women?

As a mother of daughters, I can tell you that the phrase “no one is to touch you without your permission” was on repeat loop.

How is it that we still f-ck up such a basic interaction?

How is it that women, finally schooled to speak up, don’t?

How is it that men can possibly think that women are vessels for their needs?

What has been the impact of all those lessons on bullying and boundaries and “No Means No” if we are still incapable of understanding a silent withdrawal into self or a hand pushed aside?

What is so difficult about it? I don’t care about a millennia of behavior: we are not in caves and no man needs to overpower a woman to prove anything about his masculinity. 

I am fed up.

Time’s Up. #Metoo.

Equality. Feminism. How is it so hard?

We’re different, but not so much.

If the little voice in your head that’s always assessing the situation or critiquing your thoughts and actions suddenly gets awfully quiet or overbearingly persistent, it is time to go home. Straight to sleep.

Do no harm.

Men, how about pretending that your ego doesn’t count? How about always consider someone else’s ego before your own? A variation on the golden rule.

Generalization: women are more reticent; men are more boastful. How about we consider those basic guidelines in all our interactions?

I’m on a loop of suggestions that go out without an echo, but I’m going to ascribe to the butterfly ripple theory. Or the “my voice matters as much as any one else’s voice” theory. Or simply, I can’t be quiet. I have no black dress to wear, this is my black dress.

 


On Rain, Pebbles, and Sighs

 

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I am a basket filled with severed headlines whose savage stories seep into the sweet staleness of daily life with visions of the horrors of hate.

What is there to hate in a world of autumn golds, a glowing moon, the shy happiness of a child growing into confidence, the anticipated joys of future gatherings, connections, friendships?

Why must the haters project their shriveled sense of self onto us, we who don’t demand the scepter, but simply want to share?

Perhaps I am wrong and it is not heated hate that drives them, but simply the dust of disregard. The burden of being unable to care about anyone but those within the first degree of separation.

Surely it is time for interconnectedness to battle those who thrive on division, those who stand on their own paltry hills versus those of us who have a conscience, a purpose, a path that is not single-file even when alone.

It is true, isn’t it, that nothing can be personal when there is so much sanctioned pain, when the evil of egos controls.

Emotions that raise the bile within my throat form, but I don’t want to share that emotion; thrust from me the fire pit that burns with my own form of hatred and amplify instead the voice that cries with the urgency of the invisible turned visible.

No longer will we be the onion of the metaphor, needing to be peeled to be revealed, so hidden were our voices our pains our perceptions. No longer. No.  

We stand howling the rawness of truth—of so much pain handled on our own, in our minds and bedrooms; of dealing with the drip and deluge of indignities individually; of trying for strength amidst the crushing insinuation of smiles;

We must acknowledge that my interior, is yours ours, and now we must reach out alone together, a chorus to hear heed.

We will not be shunted stifled.

It has become too much, too blunt, too vast, this desire of the traitorous rulers to encage our minds our souls our selves, we will not retreat succumb enable.

Enough.

Look at me and see me. I am not a reflection of your world and your desires.

Somehow (unimaginable inner strength / the basic drive to live free) we—women and men too—have survived and our rise will not be thwarted by their animosity.

During my divorce I discovered that as my mind stopped being a dungeon full of his words and images of me, I lightened and lifted into a self that is proud of being, dreaming, sharing. Once shed of his demands for who and what I should be, I was able to be—and to know that being is admirable.

No longer controlled by a man—or fighting his attempt at control, I learned that this life is not a game to be won, of winners and losers, rather it is

A cohort creating, expressing, nurturing, with the intellect to speak down the generations so that the vilenesses will always be seen for what they are. We have raised our young to recognize that we will always fight. We have always stood against the waves of tyrants; it is here, in the steel within.

Now we are a herd, women demanding to be heard beyond the tables around which we intrinsically congregate.

Succor, it is not a bad word. It contrasts with the pain too many men drag down to us.

They have called us strident, nasty bitches to demean us, but I see it as a badge of honor.

Perhaps there won’t be a reckoning and karma won’t play havoc upon their minds and lives, nevertheless we drive on, urged by millennia of women and men ravaged because they held no earthly riches. There may be religions about honoring the least of us, but that doesn’t mean actions speak louder than words.

It is on me to know that my core—both inside and out, for that is how we must be—will not be debased by the criminals who conquer even after being vanquished, generation after generation. What has changed is not the cycle of good and evil, but our recognition that rain wears away, pebbles divert, sighs howl—and that each of us is part of that process.

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? 

If I am not for others, what am I? 

And if not now, when?” 

-- Rabbi Hillel


A November Eve

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Plunging people past optimism

Into chasms of chaos

Where deep inside all we can spot is the light

From others, who, like us

Refuse to succumb to the lure

Of me me me me me…

Or maybe, our me is different.

 

It is a grand

Us

That grants, bestows, recognizes

The beauty within each shade,

Each manner of bending,

Each.

 

It is not nice to merely pretend you care

About something that is other than

Mine and money

Because if all you care about is mine and money,

Then the rest of us,

Have so much to do.

To breathe

To protect

To support

To push back

Continually.

 

We had hoped, hadn’t we,

That the world that has always been at war,

Had finally surpassed that expression of self.

But since it is still our sad reality,

We cannot shelter in place—

When wails reach us through walls and 

Hearts.

 

Battles between continue to rage,

But, there, beyond the horizon,

Some of us still perceive what is not, yet,

Except in the hearts of those who beat

From the root to the crown

With tendrils interwoven, strengthened,

Supported by conjecture

That there will be a time

When those joined in solidarity

Can cause to cease arrogance and tyranny

To foster a Resistance

That will become the Expression of

What it means to be a person.

We/Us not supine

Because ‘tis better to Persist

Resist

Than

Not be.

 

This is the time, too,

To support those of us

For whom life is not a grand plan

But moments of together.

Their burden is not to change the trajectory,

But engage in the simplest acts

Of love of compassion of union.

 

For isn’t that the point?

To create the space for each of

Us

To love and be loved

Until our final breath.


October 2017

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"Pick a bouquet for you and a friend!"

 

It is getting cool in the evening, here, in Northern Virginia.

I took a walk earlier and bought new flannel sheets since the set I bought last year I gave to my younger daughter. I raided my home to give to her and her boyfriend; a young couple needs so many things and I was glad I could give.

Last year’s flannel sheets are navy blue, this year’s are light grey. I can’t say I regret the switch. Something about pale gray sheets soothes me. They don’t jar like white, and they don’t try so hard like navy.

Another reason I went to the store was to finish my 10,000 steps; almost 6,000 from canvassing for governor. Such a beautiful day. So many people out and about, but the people who were home were lovely and motivated to vote for the Dems, to vote FOR and also against. The people I spoke to were so representative of those of us who oppose the direction that t- and the selfish haters are taking the country. Women (how ridiculous that we have been made a minority). African-American. Arab-American. Gay-American. Indian-American. Latino-American. Let us vote, push against the terrible tide of bullying tyrants. Home at 11,003 steps: accomplishing more than the mission!

My ex-husband tried to control me. Restrict my thoughts and friends. Determine what is good for me and what is not. I have no desire for my government to be worse than he was. Him, I could divorce. We need to separate from the direction that the government and the racist, sexist, polluting politicians are taking the country, before we lose the ability to speak up and out. Divorce now.

I want warmth, not the threat of so much frigidity. Even mired in distress, there is no giving in. We are each the modern incarnation of those before us, our ancestors, who strove against oppression for freedom; we continue to be part of the arc that bends toward justice. There is no back then to go back to: there is only forward. There is always forward.


My Eclipse Experience

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Totality: the sun is hiding behind the moon and clouds.

 

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Totality: I think the white dot is Jupiter.

 

My eclipse trip to South Carolina with a good friend turned out to be what we had hoped for (except for the cloud cover at totality): an adventure. The adventure ended up spending the day at Green Pond Landing staring at the sky with a charming English gentleman we met at a coffee shop in nearby Anderson, SC.

Both of us are single women who don’t spend much time trying to change our social status, since we’re both living the lives we have and with enough experience with disappointing dates to know not to have realistic expectations for change. Nonetheless, having the attention of a handsome, thoughtful gentleman with an accent for the day made a small opening into my comfy closed mindset.

First off, let me state that there was no flirting. We were three people who flowed with the day: each adding to the collective experience. A platonic threesome. Neither my friend nor I subverted our intention of having a lovely eclipse experience together in order to gain the attentions of a man. No one was elbowed to the side, the conversation was not hogged, and there were no coy hair tossings and eyelash batting. We are mature women who value our friendship over any dalliance.

But we were attended to, and it was refreshing. Yes, of course we could carry the blankets and the cooler (how else did they get into the car), but wasn’t it nice that he offered to take them from the car to where we decided would be the ideal spot to experience the eclipse. We shared our sandwiches and snacks with him (he was completely unprepared—he didn’t even have eclipse glasses until we gave him our spare pair), and he took us out to dinner. The day-long conversation was a hopscotch game between bits of personal history, the eclipse experience itself (yes, you can have a somewhat thoughtful conversation wearing eclipse glasses), and, of course, the fall of the American Empire with t- at the helm.

The details of the day, though perfect for conjuring in my mind’s eye when lying in bed before sleep, have more heft when I think about how the experience made me feel as a woman. There was the smooth, relaxed interaction of a confident woman who did not undermine her personality in the presence of an unattached man in an attempt to attract said man. I was not running down Possibility Lane, and still, yes, he seemed to be attracted to me. (We did exchange numbers at the end of the day; alas, he never contacted me even after I contacted him after a couple of days—but still, the exchange at his request.) Nor was I waylaid by my shadow self who always comes to life in a date situation, wondering if I would want to touch this man, if I would want to spend any more time talking to him, and even (in the best of times) if I could imagine being naked with him. Nope. I was focused on the moment. And him, he did what many men I meet seem incapable of doing: he listened, he asked questions, he seemed to care about my comfort, and he did not mansplain. None of us were eclipse experts—and he did not take it upon himself to pretend that he was one just because he’s a man. We Googled any eclipse questions we had. We three lived the day thriving on the exchange of tidbit stories, and the casual and open way that one story leads to another when you’re not censoring your every comment.

While younger daughter joked knowingly that he wasn’t found on OKCupid, and even I joked about how it just might be true about meeting someone when you’re not trying or expecting to, there was more to the day than this specific interaction. It offered a hint at what might be possible: that my future might not only hold re-creations of past relationships in which I was Hercules to their Princesses. I had decided that a balanced and supportive relationship was an impossible achievement, so why even bother attempting to meet anyone. But now, I see that I was wrong. Yup, Eclipse Man made his appearance to illuminate the point that I need not always assume the worse. It also made me realize that, while not courting courting, you never know what can happen.

But, simply, this experience reinforced my understanding that friendships are the core relationships in my life (after my daughters and my mother, of course). Not only would I not have traveled to see the eclipse, but I would not have been in the upbeat “let’s see what happens” frame of mind if I were not with my friend. I also might not have let down my guard, at least not enough to have had a daylong conversation that gives me hope that I will meet my match.

All in all, an excellent trip. (Of course, I didn’t do the driving; the traffic was horrible in both directions.)

I’m definitely planning on a 2024 eclipse adventure!

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Green Pond Landing, SC: A little while before the eclipse

A Week of Not Thinking

Night on the Potomac

I took off a week from my working mind. No classes to teach. No writing to mull over as the background music of my days. I became a version of myself who filled her hours with chores and errands, volunteering and chatting, reading and watching. It went well. Very well. I finally did my will. I bought a rose bush and some other flowering plants for my balcony. I rearranged furniture and organized my space. I finally decided on a paint color for my bedroom (painting to be done with younger daughter next week). I ate healthy. I swam and walked.

Yes, it went well.

It wasn’t that I was bored, because I wasn’t. I had things to do and I did them. There was a stillness to my mind which I could probably get used to it, but I don’t want to. It was strange to be me on the outside, but not on the inside. I was only concerned with what I was doing or going to do; there were no threads of thoughts to follow beyond the moment. It was as if I was living at noon with no shadow to follow me around.

Who am I without that shadow self? How can I simply be the woman who buys a shower mat, and not the woman who absorbs observations and readings, thinking about how to convey and develop her thoughts in writing.

It was an experiment. And it succeeded. It made me realize that to be mentally absorbed with my writing is essential for me to be fully myself. That immersion is my identification. A final piece of writing is not so much what defines me as does the ongoing internal discussion that culminates in that writing. It is, I assume, the same for someone who is absorbed in any activity or topic of study: that process of focused thinking is necessary to feel whole, capable, hopeful. Inspired and inspiring. 


Sleepless with My Cellphone

 

Trees outside my window
Trees outside my window

I might not have a man in bed with me, but, boy, is my bed ever crowded. Nightly, I get into bed, ready to read literature—right after I catch-up on my phone-reading of the newest sputtering from / or mockery of t- and his horrific administration, and the r’s and their persistent betrayal of the basic norms of decency that I might have missed in the previous update, an hour ago. I exhaust myself with 30 minutes, okay, an hour, of being a witness to the unrelenting ignominies. Then, determined to maintain my commitment to reading about something other than the destruction of American Democracy and people’s persistence to not be thwarted by their elected officials, I charge my phone and finally open my book. But within minutes I start nodding off.

Why is outrage “easier” to read than a novel?

Perhaps it’s the immediacy: the shock that dystopian fiction is coming to life, the fear of where it will lead, and the need to be alert to the latest treachery and its real-life implications. To be a witness. To be prepared to resist.

A few hours after I fall asleep, I wake. The requisite trip to the bathroom is not enough to ease me back to sleep. I try looking at the trees outside my window. I try emptying my mind. I try closing my eyes and unclenching my jaw. But thoughts settle in for the night unbidden. I don’t want to relive my day or the outrages that seep in. I want to go back to the oblivion of sleep. Once up, though, it won’t happen. Surely, I am a lousy meditator since I barely give myself five minutes to attempt to ease into my breath and the now. I have hours to go before I re-sleep.

Staying like that, thinking about the thoughts and conversations of my day, inevitably leads to some level of disappointment. It’s like watching repeats of programs that weren’t very interesting the first time around. And if I add to that thinking about our reality, my jaw re-fuses.

Stupidly, I take to my phone. A form of self-flagellation. There’s nothing new, for the writers and analysts are asleep, attempting their severance before starting all over again in the morning. Still, I seek out commentary I may have missed. By now, my mind is both numb and abuzz, and my frustration with myself and the world cannot be soothed simply by putting the phone down. So I turn on the radio which plays BBC after midnight. I go in and out of sleep for hours, getting updated on what’s happening around the world, hearing in-depth analyses of all sorts of problems I didn’t know existed. There is pain all around. Hearing artists and writers speak for a few moments of calm. Finally shutting it off when soccer scores come on. Will a new pillow help?

I wake when the grey sky outside my west facing window signals that morning has finally come. I take a few minutes to be in the moment, often succeeding in resisting the phone. Daybreak, savoring the moment: the calls of the birds, the sky in its grayish blue hue, the brightening leaves on the trees, the sensation of air on my body.

And then it is time to get up and face what I may have missed in the past hour or so.

 


Broth and Bouillon

Huntley Meadows Blooming

 

A friend called me last Friday night to go out dancing with her and a group of people from a Meet-Up. With no time to think about why I shouldn’t go, feeling weighted down by a long day of unenthusiastic summer teaching, a too long conference call, and a look at my low-count Fitbit, I decided to go. It helped that the restaurant was four minutes from my house and there wasn’t enough time to stress about what to wear.

As soon as I arrived, I started dancing. When the band took a break between sets, my friend asked me what plans I had for the weekend. I said that my one plan for a walk and lunch on Saturday had been cancelled, and that I was plan-free to be home writing and reading. “You like that,” she commented. Yes, I do!

I enjoy these free weekends more now that there are weekends when I do get together with friends. When it was an unending stream of plan-less Saturdays and Sundays (even if I stayed home to grade papers), the perils of solitary boredom would bear down on me. It’s hard to have confidence in your ability to think and write when you can barely stand to hear your thoughts another moment.

Is this a good idea for an essay? Does anyone care what I have to say? Should I take a break now or should I continue to stare at the computer screen? Should I read a book to learn something or read one to relax? Should I eat now or wait until later? Should I eat a salad or just say the heck with it and have ice cream? Should I watch another episode of this show or finally open the mail? Should I go for a walk someplace close by or waste time and drive somewhere that has a view? Should I sit in a coffee shop tomorrow morning or stay home so I won’t feel bad that I’m alone? -- You know, the pervasive thoughts that eddy around endlessly.

Too much of a good thing (the very empty nest) has made me value these breaks from myself to be a part of other people’s lives in the day-to-day interweaving of our stories. Through my friends I participate and release the control stick. They provide an out from constantly judging and assessing myself and others (a big drawback to being a teacher). Life not in the abstract. As a bee, needing both the hive and the individual buds.

I can finally relate to extroverts who thrive on interactions, and not just the introvert’s need for solitude. I must have intrinsically perceived this dichotomy for how else could I have taught, and enjoy teaching, for so many years?

But this movement out is not just about understanding different aspects of myself, it’s also about having enough of the right people in my life to enable me to come to this revised reality. Both the friend with whom I went dancing and the friend who cancelled our plans are self-proclaimed introverts. Although they, too, have come to straddle the social and the solitary, pushing out so as not to feel confined. Perhaps this is a stage that (single) (middle-aged) women inevitably reach so that our lives will expand, rather than condense and contract. Broth and bouillon.

I wonder, though, if I have been mistakenly looking at myself through the irrelevant lens of personality label. As we get older, we come to realize, don’t we, that we are shaped more by our experiences than our character traits. (And often those experiences occur in spite of our self-defined traits.) While they surely feed into each other, it begins to feel that those labels need to be dropped. They no longer explain or excuse who we have become; moreover, they limit our ability to fully thrive in the present. I must be open to who I am in a way that is undefined, unconfined, in flux.

Maybe I'll go dancing tonight.


On Taking Solo Walks

Bay and bridge view

 

Sometimes when I’m walking I feel as though I’m standing in place. The joggers whiz by at their pounding pace; cyclists careen past, occasionally with an “On your left,” but generally just the sudden sight of the cyclist in front of me, already receding into the distance. Then there are the people coming toward me, once I notice them, it is as if we switch into slow motion, the distance between us closing like molasses, slowing down until, somehow, there is the nod and pass. Looking down at my feet and the path beneath me (which I do when engrossed in my thoughts or a podcast since Poops passed away in December, so that now I am no longer a part of his sniff-and-pee style of walking), I miss much of the scene around me.

Is there always a trade-off: being introspective or being observant? Do I need both close-to-home and look-at-that! solo walks to maintain my equilibrium? Probably, since we learn over time, don’t we, how to regulate our lives so we can be comfortable in ourselves.

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The first walks that I took by myself were, ostensibly, to find a place to read outside, but as I realize now, they were just to get out. An un-understood drive to wander, to be in the fresh air (NYC-fresh that is), to be unconfined, to be alone—unreachable.

While there were plenty of benches and greenery outside of the apartment building I grew up in, there was no privacy. If there’s anything an introverted, self-conscious, bookworm needs, it’s not to be noticed. And sitting outside reading would not be noticed with great admiration from the neighborhood kids, especially the bullies who always seemed to be around. So onward I went.

Perhaps if I had grown up in a house where I had my own corner in the garden I might not have needed those walks; I might have been content to sit on my stump to read and daydream. I don’t think I regret that loss; how much of a homebody would I be if I were content to just sit on my balcony full of potted flowers and herbs overlooking a church and a graveyard?

There was a bay (Little Neck Bay) about a mile from my house. I generally went there on my walks. Having a view without cars and buildings and people is what, I realize now, propelled me there. While there was the Cross Island Parkway on the other side of the path, I could keep my eyes focused on the water and the sky, and I could pretend that the sound of the cars racing by were waves and wind. It was the vista of space that I needed. My destination could have been to wander my neighborhood and nearby neighborhoods, examining homes and gardens with their distinct personalities, but that suggestion of people wasn’t what I needed. It’s fascinating how we uncover what we need—and how, sometimes, that thing stays with us. I needed a water view with its hint of distant worlds. I still need a water view. It is for me a glimpse at whatever is divine in the universe; my visual connection with the immensity of existence.

Once I learned how to drive, I would drive to Jones Beach. Depending on traffic (a phrase anyone from a city uses to preface driving information), it took about 40 minutes to get there. But it was worth the drive. I wouldn’t go in the summer when the traffic was crazy and the beach towel-to-towel, but off-season to walk, to be. The waves broke and the wind blew ceaselessly off the Atlantic Ocean, drawing me both in and out—wondering, and I was at peace. Not an acquiescent peace, rather a peace that inspires a foundational confidence that the future would hold more than the present.

When I lived in Israel I had my walks along the Mediterranean Sea, which often combined with a swim and a drive. They were not solo, they were a part of my relationship with my ex-husband, and they helped to establish our rhythm and belief that we were in sync. Maybe if we had stayed close to those shores things might have unfolded differently?

Now that I live in Northern Virginia I have my walks along the Potomac River. Although they don’t match the drama of walking along a bay, a sea, an ocean, my life, too, is more sedate, like a river. While my occasional Potomac walks settle my need for a water walk, the closeness of the opposite shore, so like where I stroll, hinders me from being inspired. That shore keeps closed something within me.

The nearest ocean walk is three-hours away, and there is always traffic.

Maybe I need the frustration, the thwarting, to stop my settling into a creeping capitulation. Maybe I don’t know what I need anymore, so accepting have I become of what I am. Maybe I reached a high tide, hoarding what I have, flourishing in my waters, expecting low tide, wondering what it will leave and what it will take.

 


Morning Waves of Envy

June 2017 Bronx Botanical Garden
Rose Garden, Bronx Botanical Gardens

 

I’m trying to figure out if I’m envious of my colleagues and friends who have recently entered into serious relationships, or if I’m just a good friend who’s happy for their happiness. The of-the-moment me, before my me-me-me thoughts intrude, jumps up and down for joy, echoing their abandon and confidence. Who could deny the sensuous pull of new love?

The cynical part of me, though, feels as would a woman in a long-term relationship (I had been in one of those; 21-years) who looks on with a haughty, bemused expression, thinking back to her own romantic beginnings and where they had led her. Wondering, as the weight of her accumulated grievances bring her down, how could anyone be so naïve.

But the part of me that’s a tad uneasy about being alone in the somewhat-distant future, when I start to fall apart inside and out, wishes that envy were at my core, driving me to actively seek out someone whom I could love for making me feel protected and adored. A stroke to the ego and a helping hand can’t be the worst things in the world, especially when I can imagine regret tearing at the edges of my days and a wobble as I steady myself for standing.

My bitter divorce (10 years next month!—unbelievable how time zooms), my brief manipulative relationships, and various bland dates should have cleared me from harboring envious thoughts, but, I realize sadly, they have not. I really do wish my thoughts were untainted, but, unfortunately, they aren’t. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to act on them, though, because my envy-penetrating walls still offer more comfort than unease.

As I see picture after picture of couples enjoying summer baseball games at stadiums around the country, I wonder, as I sit at my dining/writing table, about missing the opportunities that paired life seamlessly present. Again, envy prickles, because isn’t that, still, what I’m supposed to want. It’s hard to look past the social norm that summer vacation is to accumulate shared experiences, especially with a partner.

For a while now my purpose has been unmoored from that base, though still tenuously tethered to that ill-fitting norm, hence the creep of envy. But what if my purpose has morphed to ensure that I always have solitary breathing time and space from which the thoughts that nourish me propagate, and not for the activities and chatter. Perhaps the envy surfaces to force me to continually re-assess my stability and happiness. Perhaps it is not to unnerve me and push me toward abandoning my path, but rather to check in, to see if this is still right for me.

Looking at those paired smiles I need to invite the envy, not fear it, for I want my life to remain vibrantly my own. I need to anticipate that my perceptions may change and not shut them out, beyond my walls. For now, envy quickly fades back to sympathy, signaling that, for now, I am right where I need to be.

 


Balancing Act

Morning on Naples Beach  July 2017

 

It’s been a while since I’ve written, and it’s been a longer while since I’ve written anything other than from a solid core of disgust, anger, and disappointment. I’ve been trying to figure out how to function in this early-stage dystopian world that is pulling us down, but I haven’t succeeded—perhaps because I refuse to concede that this is our future. Still, it’s impossible to look away (even for two days at the beach in Naples, Florida), to pause in the cycle of read, react, watch, rant. But I’m finally getting to the point when I must let other thoughts and ideas develop and be sustained. It is not an abdication of my duty as a citizen. Rather, it will enable me to continue the drumbeat of resistance without being drawn into the silence of despair and inertia.

I’m doing my part, getting involved as much as I can within the limitations of my personality. I tried stretching myself, but there’s just so much elasticity in desire. Still, I am trying to rise to the horrible occasion of so much self-serving dishonesty and greed, and a monochromatic palette of hatreds. I know I don’t have to explain anything to anyone, but I feel I must, especially since my writing mind generally veers into the personal, the contemplation of my life to understand myself and my world, and to, hopefully, help others along their contemplative paths. Since my guiding understanding has always been that if something interests me, concerns me, fascinates me, other people have those same curiosities; therefore, I feel I must state that just because my writing is not an endless howl at the pile-on of treacheries, that is not to say that I have acquiesced to acceptance. I am becoming the actions and voices that will enable me to resist and persist.

Alligator at rest


Ordinary Day in Extraordinary Times

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It’s split personality time: half of me is doing my work and keeping the stove and washing machine busy, while the other half remains obsessed with the news and the latest outrages. It’s darn exhausting, but the groundedness means that I can’t get too overwhelmed, and that I don’t lose my connection to optimism, however tenuous. That optimism comes from the unshakeable belief that nevertheless, she persisted is a positive trait within enough of us to push back against the obscene absence of basic humanity in t- and the repubs who push the papers around that punish people for not being them.

Not being them. I fundamentally reject the attempt to reinforce the superiority of one group of people over the diversity within each of us. The insidious drive to undermine the independence and equality of the other never seems to be quelled, quieted perhaps, but not permanently conquered. What is it within man that finds it so difficult to share and try things at the neighborhood pot luck?

Yes, I admit, it’s scary to realize that there are situations wherein you are not the expert, and you are not in charge. It’s called maturing and, perhaps, developing compassion, a backbone, and experience that, if contemplated, can morph into wisdom. Is it really so hard to comprehend that some people have different customs and habits than you, and that that’s okay? You would think that it’s a natural part of growing up. These guys seem to have heard FDR’s statement that “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” as a call to give in to your fears, rather than to conquer them.

How hard is it to look someone in the eye who doesn’t look like you? That shouldn’t be on the fear scale, that should be on the hospitality scale.

I’m trying to understand fear that has long ago morphed into ugly hatred because what else can be at the core of their incessant campaign to cut away the rights of any other. But maybe I need to stop doing that. Maybe I need to stop giving hate space in my mind, and focus instead on the encouraging enlightenment that the resisters demonstrate. Let me switch my focus from those who prefer to deprive sustenance to those who thrive on providing succor. Let me remember the faces flush with promise at the Women’s March and not the berating scowls from behind podiums of testiness.

This in no way means that I will ignore the unfolding horrors, because I turn on the news and read the news, but I will rejoice in the emails of petitions and meetings to collaborate because we have our guiding sentiment: “Never believe that a few caring people can't change the world. For, indeed, that's all who ever have” (Margaret Mead). Caring cannot be debased into supporting corporations over people and the earth, nor the already supremely entitled to have even more entitlements on the backs of those who are burdened.

This call to action that so many have answered is the valid response of the compassionate; it will not be debased by commenting that people won’t accept the outcome of the election. As we call out at rallies: “This is what Democracy looks like.” It is not disgruntled; it is enlivened by the lives of this and future generations, not the transitory glee in defeating those who have already been pushed down. It is, isn’t it, the all too present battle of the haves and the have nots, the survival of the fittest, the law of the jungle. It is those jabbing the jugular vs. those living heart-to-heart. It is those who know all the answers vs. those who cannot know until they have heard, seen, felt, and learned.

At this time we each need to act, to not be bystanders who either know not what they stand for or are unwilling to defend or protect those beliefs, because silence is easily perceived as acquiescence, and the world that is thundering in threatens to still far too many of us.


Dress Like a Woman

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 Dress like a woman. The head reels from the insults of the little man in the White House. It should be hard to believe that a man still feels he can tell women to wear skirts and dresses, but we’re talking about a man who’s friends with guys who want to forcefully put an ultrasound wand up our formerly private parts and he wants to go there without a wand—and he’s buds with guys who think a rapist has more rights than the woman he raped. We’re talking about a man and his guys who know better than us weak women what to wear and what to do with our own bodies. What’s with the insatiable need to control people? Can they all be so very insecure and consumed with their own importance that they can’t give a woman a smidgen of respect?

UGH.

This rant is on a loop.

Dress like a woman. The images in Twitter of female scientists, astronauts, doctors, soldiers, Supreme Court justices, and simply women walking are inspiring. Ah, the biting humor. Reminds me of the Women’s March on Washington two weeks ago, and those signs, which, clearly, didn’t have an impact on the small-handed/minded man. Or maybe it did. Maybe he needs to lash out to make sure that at least he can control the women in his little sphere, because outside of the White House (which, by the way, is ours) none of us is putting on panty hose or spanx for him. (Maybe he wants to wear them himself?)

Dress like a woman. Growing up I had to wear dresses all the time. Dressing like a girl back in the 60s and 70s. How I hated tights and the suffocating feeling of my body being encased in plastic. Dresses just made me uncomfortable; I’m naturally of the Pantsuit Nation. Is it that a woman appears to be submissive when she wears a dress? Or is it that she’s conforming to a norm? Enough already. Its 2017. Conformity has taken a hit.

Dress like a man. What’s with mean man telling the men who work for him that they need to wear a uniform: solid color suits and ties, and (this must be a rule too) white shirts. (Are brown shirts next?) Is no one allowed to be an individual around him? Does he need to subvert all sense of self to himself?

Dress like a woman. Which is doublespeak (finally America has an official second language) for act like a woman. Why? What’s in it for me? I was married to a man who knew he was smarter than me and was always trying to tell me what to do. (I thought we had discussions; I was delusional.) When I couldn’t take it anymore and finally said NO, he was stunned. But the mutual shock of that moment flipped the order of things. I was in control (okay, I won’t exaggerate four years of agony after that moment), but it stopped the fall of my self-esteem. This is our NO moment. We have taken it for far too long to back down now. There is no place to go back to. It’s not safe there because it led us to here. Only ahead, into the future we create may we each find what we need. We tried to play the game, we played nice, too nice, but we have been stymied at every turn—and that last glass ceiling that’s been cracked and artificially held in place, that’s temporary.

Dress like a woman. I have a friend who wears the tiniest of thongs. I’m partial to cotton briefs. Is she more of a woman than me?

Dress like a woman. When you figure out that women are individuals intent on being their own selves and not a prop for your ego, you can find me in my hot pink sweats.

I know there are other offenses that have been tweeted, spoken, and signed this past week, but this insult to women is such a button to me. The verbal appeasement of Vlad and the throwing under the bus of every American who has tried to protect this country is so astonishing that it’s hard to figure out what to grasp onto other than: this man is his ego, and that’s not a solid thing. For all his bluster, we must be relentless—until he begs us to take him to the place where they have a nice pair of solid-color fuzzy pajamas with very long sleeves waiting for him.

 


Just Let Us Be

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I am sick of seeing the bland, pasty faces of middle-aged white men making seething-red decisions for us women. This has got to stop.

I know we marched, and we’re energized and mobilized, but underneath that power is the sickening, demoralizing sentiment seen in some signs at the Women’s March: “I can’t believe we’re still protesting this sh*t.”

Right now, after seeing the scotus pick, I need to howl and howl and howl, and howl some more until these boys without b*lls turn and look into the eyes of us women.

How I wish we could mean nothing to them so they would just leave us alone. I don’t want to be an object of desire and projection, I don’t need protection by / from them, just let me be.

We don’t need you. Deal with it.

Stop the pandering, the pampering, the patronizing.

Just stay in your boys’ club doing boy things and let us be. Let us get on with our lives and I promise we won’t make jokes about, well, you know.


I Marched for Women in DC

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"Hello 1955? Please hold for the Republicans." 

What a day of celebrating women, especially our feistiness! You’ve got to love the creators of the clever signs and hot pink pussy hats that turned the streets of DC Amazonian. Ladylike subtly had no place on those streets that reverberated with pent up frustrations of women of all ages, and the men who respect us. We might have burst out in smiles and humor and camaraderie against the sexists we’re fed up, but underlying it all was the giving and taking of support and understanding for what we have put up with to reach this point. We are fed up and fired up! Our votes weren’t enough, so now it will be our actions, starting today, as so many of the speakers stressed.

At 8:00 Saturday morning when a good friend and I met up with a woman I worked with this summer to register voters in Northern Virginia and a close friend of hers, we were two pairs of friends. Six hours later, when we hugged goodbye at the same Metro station where our day had begun, we were March Friends who stuck together through the chill, the confusion, the crowds, and the certainty that this was an historic moment we were proud to be part of.

At various times through the day, one of us was cold and needed to sit, tired of standing in one spot and needed to walk, wanted to get closer to the speakers to hear clearly, and just wanted to go home. We were a team that took care of each other, balancing our needs so that we each had the march we needed. It wasn’t just being nice, it was true womanly solidarity, and it came from how we helped each other, and how everyone around us supported each other too. There were hands to help us climb over barricades when we couldn’t enter into the mass of people in Independence Avenue and there were shared cheers that helped momentarily expel the gnawing shame and pain of the new president. Those cheers! Apparently, I have quite the voice to be heard, as my newest friend in the group noted during one early rising wave of cheers that rolled down the avenue. I heard no beginning and no end. It kept rolling.

When it was time to go home, we walked quite a bit (making it another part of the march) to find an open Metro station. But just as we were about to go down the stilled escalator, a Metro rep said that the station had just been closed. A woman called out to ask him what was happening and when would it open again. No response. He was mute, taping away on his phone. Then, when a man called out and asked the same question, there was a response. It could have been the timing, and it could also have been the fact that the officer's ears were attuned to hearing a man’s voice and answering it. The woman who had asked, all of us women, was having none of his dismissiveness—not on our day! Feet away from a march for women and the same ole was happening. We know why we march!

It’s funny in a sad, way-of-the-world sigh that as I sit here thinking about the day, I realize that there wasn’t a moment when I felt unsafe walking around the march area or when I felt that I couldn’t look directly into a person’s eyes without being assessed, ranked, rated, catalogued. My goodness, it was ennobling not to have to look down or away after meeting someone’s eyes. We could meet and be met heart-to-heart.

My first realization of this insight came when we stood jammed on the street waiting to go down to the Metro. I said aloud, to understanding nods, that I didn’t have to worry (about being groped or pushed against—we all knew what I was talking about) with so many women crowded together as I would have been if there were more men around. So that’s what men must feel every single day: unintimidated and unsexualized. A feeling that all women deserve to experience every single day. A powerful reason to march and keep on marching!

The march certainly was in stark contrast to what we’re fighting against, which was pretty darn clear in the signs: a misogynist, p*ssy grabber who would have us go back to the 1950s when white men ruled the roost, from home to House. But we are not going back there! Didn’t you see us march around the world in protest to that!

We March Friends, the four of us and beyond, will not be divided from our mission. Our hopes for our first woman president were stolen from us. We see that we have each other to depend on—and we need to act on that, and reach out to the women who could not envision what a positive thing a sea of pink could be. And you know what they say about women: their place is in the House and Senate, and White House too!

Onward, marching to action.


It Really Happened

 

At noon today, inauguration day, I heard a jet fighter shudder through the air above my apartment in Northern Virginia. It was, I immediately realized, the ominous sound of bitter reality: the inauguration of t- was happening.

I am sad, angry, disappointed, and shocked that that man has become president. But I don’t want to punish/push myself deeper into a depressed daze by thinking of all the negatives that led to this moment, or about the repulsive bigot-in-chief, or about the devastation coming. All the blaming and hostility I will leave to people who can accomplish something with those insights and outrage. This will be a moment to reflect on how I can filter my thoughts and hopes into reverberations that might join with others to turn back this tide propelled by blindered, arrogant egos.

From within my woman’s brain and my “we are a village and we must take care of each other” perception of the world, is my strength, which was, ironically, strengthened through my divorce from a man with one of those narcissistic egos. An essential lesson from that marriage-divorce experience is that persistence in the belief that I would not put up with being directed or belittled (once I realized what was happening), and once I adhered to that I was able be the safe, content, and unimposed woman I am today.

Which is, it seems, where we need to start our perceptions with t & co. These are not leaders who deserve respect for their grasp of an issue, or even their compassion and desire to do right by people and the earth, even if we disagree with them. These are people who bully and order others around, unconcerned with damage and destruction as long as their will is done. The “my way or the highway” types. They are the bullies and they will push us around, as my ex did to me. But I didn’t remain limp: we didn’t even start out limp! As people have rightly done, we need to rise up. Each in his/her way. Raindrops coming together to create a storm, a river: movements.

By relentlessly believing in our causes, pushing back, pushing against, refusing to surrender is the way to win back democracy from encroaching authoritarianism and t & co.’s desired erosion of our rights.

We cannot be bystanders.

I might not be up to running for office or leading an organization or group beyond myself, but I can be one of those voices that rises up to create thunder sonorous enough to drown out a fighter jet.

Yes to calls and emails and petitions. Yes to visits. Yes to questioning and investigating. Yes to mocking! Oh, how those big egos hate to be mocked—to not be perceived as above us all. Yes to continuously saying NO!

YES TO VOTING in every available election. The system, we see, must be changed from within. From within us.


Done with Make-up

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About a month ago, I stopped wearing make-up. It wasn’t as if I threw away an array of bottles and tubes, and then rethought my look and retooled my morning routine. Nope, I threw out one tube of mascara, one blush compact, one eye shadow compact with eight shades of brown and beige, and one green eye shadow compact. It wasn’t even done as a protest against make-up (kind of obvious with the number of items I had; anyway, I had already made that protest in my teens) and how we women are made to think that we cannot be without adjustments and alterations. My act was to prevent even more chemicals seeping into my body. In the month since that act, I have become surprisingly relaxed and comfortable about my appearance—and this from a woman who had already been pretty relaxed. (What a joy to be middle-aged!)

I’ve stopped leaning into the mirror to critique myself. I’m not looking to find what needs to be hidden (except the “occasional” chin hair to be plucked), even with my minimal tools, or to declare the dullness of my looks, casting a pall upon my mood even before my day has started. Nope. I’m not looking for—and, of course, finding—signs of age, stress, lackluster features, a general discontent reflected back at me. Getting rid of make-up has helped me to stop worrying about interpreting my visual self and then to, seamlessly, infuriatingly, depressingly, impute that upon my internal, unseen self. And, if I’m not worrying about how I look, then I’m not worrying about what other people think about how I look, and so I can simply prepare myself for my day.

That ease has transferred to my clothing. As my make-up was utilitarian, so too are the clothes in my closet. Thinking back on this past month, I find that I have focused more on how I want to feel, and, logically, the weather, rather than on how I want to present myself. I’ve cut myself loose from external guidelines and expectations, and it’s been darn good. It’s as if I’m living my internal life externally.

Perhaps this has been my reaction to the election: my discomfort with the world and this pervasive sense of doom and uncertainty have led me to strip away the non-essentials. Perhaps a world that seems focused on the external, the barely thought, the quick assessment and denigration of others, is one in which I can protest simply by centering within and honoring myself, and use that as a deep base from which to face those perceptions. Perhaps this is a way to not allow the ugliness in; to protect myself from words and demeanors that degrade. Perhaps this non-compliance with a norm is a step in undermining its weight—I will not allow external entities to evaluate me.

This is the way forward.

This protective action that, for me, seems to be a proclamation against the misogynists and people who “simply” think men are more/better than women. I continue to stand against their misguided interpretation of strength, independence, interdependence, and what it means to be beautiful.

And I call out to women and men to join me. Each woman should take a step in/out that affirms that she will not be defined or sidelined. And each man should look in/out for echoes of thoughts and actions that belie a paternalistic interpretation.

It’s absurd that we’re still at a point where pernicious, belittling attitudes toward women hold sway. It’s absurd that men still let themselves be bridled by a confidence that is not theirs, but on which they ride.

It’s time to cast aside prohibitive stereotypes and embrace feminism, for it seems that our well-being and that of our world depends on it.

Yes, all that from not wearing make-up. 


Hanukkah, or Defying a Government that Oppresses You

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Potato latkes and jelly donuts might be the oil-soaked foods of Hanukkah celebrations with a hefty side of chicken soup and brisket, and dreidel may be the game of choice (who doesn’t want to win chocolate gelt), but in essence this festival of lights (WOOHOO!, the oil lasted eight days instead of one which enabled the temple desecrated by the Romans to be rededicated nice and pure again) is another Jewish holiday that celebrates the Jews surviving an attempt to suppress us and our religion, and if that didn’t work, well, then, let’s try to kill all the Jews. It’s a We Survived holiday!

At around 168 BCE, the Jews survived this onslaught brought about by the Syrian-Greeks and their Roman overlords.

And then there’s Purim, when we survived the ancient Persians. Let’s send gifts of food, eat hat- or ear-shaped cookies to celebrate the defeat of a very bad bad-guy, Haman (noisemaker noises here), and drink too much in celebration of surviving!

And there’s Passover, when we survived the ancient Egyptians. Let’s recount the miraculous slavery-to-freedom story and then eat plain matzah, matzah balls, and fried matzah for eight days in celebration of getting out!

Then there are the non-celebrated cycles of expulsions and pogroms from here, there, and everywhere. Existence itself is the bittersweet celebration. Thank goodness for heavy post-survival recipes from pre-assault days to dull the memories!

We live. We suffer. We pray. We rebel, we refuse, we relocate. We survive. We thank God. We eat.

It’s a horrible cycle that had seemed as if it was coming to an end. It seemed that, somehow, people had risen above the visceral hatreds—after the ultimate display of hatred—that stoke the dank recesses of the soul. Yeah, no.

But I’m not thinking only about antisemitism now, now in this time of rising anger against any “other” (including, of course, why not, the Jews) but rather of the stokers who live to incite and reap (what? what do they reap?). I’m thinking of how we can heed history as it has been forced upon Jews and how we can help understand how not to be crushed by history.

Emperor. King. Pharaoh. President. Sovereign. Tsar.

They have all taken power from us, the hands that feed them. We, the human trampoline, from which they yield so much fun fun fun in the guise of power and property.

Can we Jews be a lesson to the world about the everlasting survival from—and, unfortunately, of—Fear and Hate in their tightly wound package that explodes to suppress all resistance to the complacent uniformity it demands so as to filter out and renounce respect and compassion—and with it the hope for something more than timorous survival. Because that’s what I see here: the rise to power of those who serve no one but the self, as opposed to those who find power within the communion of people for the good of all. This Them versus Us is the rise of I KNOWers versus We THINKers.

Why can’t the lesson from the cycle be to try to prevent the pain of survival? Why not try with all our concerted efforts to prevent the destruction from which, we pray, survive?

I refuse to cede mind or future to people whose passion is acquisition of control and usurpation of rights. This is not tikkun olam, improving/repairing the world, this is destroying the world—what entity could sanction or reward that? They want to take away education, healthcare, financial security, clean air and water, freedom of speech and religion, a woman’s sovereignty over her body. This is not disagreement, this is attempting to supplant my right to live—to breathe freely (physically and psychically). We must try to prevent the need to rise up from the ashes; we need to thrust against plans and ideas that mangle bodies and souls. We must be the true majority: the People who believe in and live with compassion. We need to call on and out all supposed leaders, demanding that they refuse to compromise or placate or play the politics game on our backs. This is not wait and see, this is learning from history that rulers do not share unless forced to.

I don’t want a special treat (I envision, though, a long-cooking stew with a dollop of bitter cream and a garnish of crumbled Bugles) and game (find the hidden treasure, only to find it composed of things the other players took from you and each other during previous rounds) to celebrate survival. No, I want our voices rising and our votes cast from now until this travesty has been declared an impotent failure and a sign of all that is wrong, and then to keep calling out until we are the government that is of, for, and by we, the people whose concerns are for each of us and not the feigned righteousness of a few.

The Woman’s March on Washington on January 21 is a start. I’m going and will be helping out. I hope to see you there: Women's March on Washington. And if you can’t make it to DC, think about joining a local march. Voices rising!


Let Shrillness Ring

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This is for my student who wrote “rape won”;

for my daughter who thought sexism was dead;

for the girls who deal with boys being boys;

for the sluts we are for having a woman’s body.

 

Let our shrill voices rise and spread until they are heeded directives.

Let our bitchiness thrive until it is the norm that is no longer placated and silenced.

 

Don’t try to soothe us: we are beyond appeasement.

We don’t want your condescending advice dictated in superior tones.

We are not the vessels of your perverted visions;

We are

Not of you

We are of ourselves and the people who respect

Our bodies

Our minds

Our moods

swinging

Our stubbornness.

 

We are the pinpricks of conscience you feel, but don’t acknowledge.

You don’t know this, but

we mock you and your need to control and limit—

for we rise and thrive past your oppression,

but you, you are tied to it—constricted by the emptiness of your own binds.

 

Each of us is

a fountain that cannot be contained;

a decision that banishes naysayers;

an emotion that unites;

propelling us forward—past the misogynists

and into the respectful reality we envision for ourselves

and each other.

 

Ours is a vision that cannot be crushed:

united together

woman women.  

 


Sharers and Shearers

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I have no plan; it seems, though, that this is the time to join with others who are planning to resist and resist and resist. I will sign petitions and send emails. I will gather to stand for our rights not to be trampled under the feet of the arrogant. I will be part of wells of justice that counter walls of hatred. I will not be undermined by wallets stacked with bills of perversion. I will share what comes from my place of strength. These are my intentions.

In the middle of the night I awaken with my jaws clenched. I am trying to understand, but I ache and cry tears of fear and disgust.

These are my pronouncements.

I am proud to be a woman who cares about other women and their ability to support themselves, and take care of themselves and their children.

I am proud to be Jewish, raised on a foundation of working to make the world better and safer for Jews and all oppressed people.

I am proud to have come from New York City, where we respect each other and understand that we have bonds that join us and create interdependence even if they are forged in the steamy subways of summer.

I am proud to be part of the tide that has turned Northern Virginia from red to blue—still—and where the immigrant population has made this a restaurant haven where we appreciate new flavors and ways of interpreting the world.

I am proud to teach in a school were students generally see differences, not as dividing lines between people but as something to respect and be curious about.

Call me a bleeding-heart liberal. Call me an out-of-touch coaster.

SO

I feel for people with no plans or prospects.

I feel for people who want the past to be the present.

I feel for people who agonize over the choices women make for their bodies.

I feel for people who are discomforted by same-sex love and gender fluidity.

I feel for people who rage over their lost foothold on the societal totem pole.

SO

It’s hard to care when in return your ideals get trammeled.

BUT

Right now I have no desire to understand or excuse people who live lives distorted by anger, shame, demands, or bitterness and won’t accept another person’s reality. It should not be you or me, there should be an overlapping space of compassion where support is understood to be better than destruction.

Perhaps I cannot accept a worldview in which people are only concerned about themselves.

I don’t want to comfort myself by saying this seems to be a battle in the eternal war between the sharers and the shearers (together with those who serve the shearers even when they themselves are being sheared).

This is my call and cry to myself, to those who sing in my choir, and to those who have not heeded our songs.

No to hindering and bullying. No to oppression and suppression.

This is my constructive call to action to honor each person’s desire for fulfillment and purpose. This is my plan.