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The Real Crisis in America (It’s Not What You Think)

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There are many, many things amiss in America today, and I don’t need to get into them. I am on vacation and refuse to write about gun violence, the state-sanctioned kidnapping and caging of brown children, Supreme Court seats being bought and sold, and the president’s vilification of the free press. Not going there.

Because really, we have a much bigger problem in this nation and indeed the world over. I am ashamed to say I was not aware of this hidden crisis, and you may also be ignorant of the threat.

Thank heavens that Elle Magazine’s latest issue has uncovered this menace, creeping across the faces of women everywhere. Some men may also be at risk.

Here, apparently, is the problem: we were all born with the wrong eyebrows and this is ruining our lives!

Not the complete corporate takeover of our economy, nor the militarization of our police forces, nor the prison-profiteering that has resulted in the U.S. having the highest incarceration rate in the world, nor the melting ice caps, the rising flood waters, and monster hurricanes.

Nope. What you need to be losing sleep over is right there in front of your face.

Fortunately, word is getting out. Elle informs us that we are in the midst of “an eyebrow revival.”  Wait, not “an” eyebrow revival, THE eyebrow revival! My mistake. This is because we have “finally realized that structured brows act as frames for your face and give your whole face definition.” So all these years we’ve been walking around with undefined faces! 

Eyebrows defining a face

Please don’t panic. Elle’s crisis managers can help you “find the right eyebrows for your face,” and they offer “a super useful guide to eyebrow tinting.” The magazine reveals which celebrity eyebrows are the most-googled and tells us whom to emulate. (Hint: “Meghan Markle’s eyebrow game is strong.”)

In a breathtakingly bold public service, the magazine tells us how to avoid “the most common eyebrow mistakes” and recommends eleven of the best eyebrow pencils for under $13, plus eighteen of the best eyebrow “products.”

So you see, in addition to finding the right eyebrows for your face, you can also contribute to a strong economy and help corporations as they work to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

And a fascinating endnote: Elle declares that if you have thick eyebrows, “You’re probably a narcissist.”

Narcissistic Eyebrows

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Am I Too Liberal to Live in the “Real World?”

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AM I TOO LIBERAL TO LIVE IN THE “REAL WORLD?”

I just returned from a holiday party at an organization for which I occasionally work. The whole experience made me uncomfortable, and I’m not entirely sure why. I felt I couldn’t be my real self there. I couldn’t connect. As a result, I had a moment of standing outside myself, perhaps seeing Melanie as others do. And it was alarming.

Have I become a caricature? Am I so out of the mainstream? Do I expect everyone to share my values? Are my expectations too high? Am I too liberal to live in “the real world?”

Tell me what you think:

Bless this Food, Jesus

First of all, the boss blessed the food in the name of Jesus and said a long Christian prayer. All the music was Christmas music, and we played a Christmas trivia game. This is a group of 30+ employees, including many African-Americans and Africans. It’s highly likely there were at least a couple of Muslims in the mix. Certainly there were no Jewish people — they would have quit after the last party. Perhaps a few agnostics or atheists.

I joked to the man next to me, “Heaven forbid a Jewish person should ever start working here.” He looked at me as if I was mad. (He probably thinks I’m anti-semitic now.)

If you know me at all, you’ll know I’m a Jesus-person. I’m a lay pastor, in fact. But this is a place of work. I just found it all so inappropriate. Is it me?

Is this 1950?

After our Christmas trivia game came lunch. There was nothing for a non-meat eater to dine upon, other than veggies and dip and cheese and crackers. Platter after platter of wings and crab balls and beef and lobster dip, etc, etc. Even the potato salad had bacon in it. I’m not grousing about that, it’s just kind of unusual to go someplace these days where there isn’t at least something for a vegetarian.

Everyone stuffed all their trash into the recycling containers, of course. I did not bother rifling through the garbage to pull out the recycling as I often do. It was all covered with meat juice.

Locker Room Talk

OK, so here’s the final kicker. There were gifts given out and one guy got some electric thing that looked to someone else like a dildo. Six or seven guys were roaring with laughter, making all kinds of crude jokes such as, “That’s a power tool right there” and pretending to use a jack hammer. During this time, they caught no women’s eyes, and they carried on as if we weren’t even there. (We were far outnumbered.) I *think* the guys thought they were being subtle or clever, as if we didn’t know what they were talking about.

I was astounded. It’s been so long since I’ve been in a group of men like that, I had forgotten the intense discomfort. And a big part of the discomfort lies in not speaking up myself, even just to say, “How old are you?” in a joking manner.

I have a bad cold. I have next-to-no voice this week. If I’d had any voice, I’m pretty sure I would have at least said something like that.

In the age of #MeToo, perhaps somewhere in the back of their testerone-addled brains they would think, “Oh yeah, I guess heard something about sexual harassment on the news,” or maybe, just maybe, “Wow, that might make my female colleagues uncomfortable.”

I hate that I literally could not speak. There’s remarkable symbolism in that, now that I think about it.

“Why Didn’t Those Women Speak Up Before Now??”

My muteness seemed to magnify what was going on internally, all those old familiar feelings. “I don’t want to get fired. Since I’m a temp, they will just stop calling me . . . I don’t want them to think I can’t take a joke . . . I don’t want to be ostracized . . . I want to be able to get along with my co-workers.”

And yes, “I want them to like me.”

Those are the very feelings that kept me from speaking up every time I was sexually harassed and/or assaulted in the workplace: at a theater, a hardware store, the CIA, a non-profit. Pretty much everywhere I’ve ever worked.

I thought things had changed. I thought the conversation was further along. I thought . . . I guess I thought it was safer.

The real question for me now is should I talk to the H.R. director? Should I point out that their office is not friendly to people who don’t share the boss’s religion? Should I tell her about the sexual harassment I’ve often witnessed there and use the jack-hammer guy as an example? Or should I just say, “Life is too short, I only work here sporadically, it’s not my problem?”

I could file a discrimination complaint on behalf of all vegetarians, but that probably wouldn’t be too constructive. I do need the job.

So — just a rambling holiday blog, 2017-style. I’m not going to bother to edit this, so I’m sorry if it’s not up to my usual standards. I’m tired & sick and really just wanted to process these feelings and see what you thought. Well?

Wonder Woman, For Real

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WONDER WOMAN, FOR REAL

I met a remarkable woman yesterday, fittingly just after seeing the new Wonder Woman movie. I was standing in front of her in the checkout line when my great niece and nephew jostled past her, trying to get their last-minute acquisitions of peanut butter and jelly on the conveyer belt with the rest of our groceries.

“You guys, you’re being rude — apologize!” I demanded to no effect. “I’m sorry,” I said, turning to her.

“That’s OK,” she said. “I raised twenty-six foster children.”

“What??” I stopped arranging groceries and gave her my full attention.

“Yup, imagine having nine teenaged girls in the house at the same time. I was a single mom, too.”

I glanced at my nephew’s four teens, who always seem to generate a slight cloud of dust and a not-so-slight barrage of noise wherever they are, especially if food is in any way involved.

“Oh my God,” seemed the only appropriate response.

Me, after an average day with four teenagers

“Yup, I had a nasty divorce and I moved my three girls to a big farm in Maine with all kinds of animals and then started getting bonus children — I don’t call them ‘foster,’ I call them ‘bonus.’”

Twenty-six in all, she said, over five years. “Animals are the best therapy for abused kids,” she declared. “I had each each child choose one animal as their own. They had to do everything to care for it. It was great for them and great for the animals.”

I asked if she still heard from her grown “bonus” children.

“Yup, I’m a grandmother many times over,” she boasted. She was quiet for a few moments and then said, “Course, I couldn’t do it anymore. I don’t have the energy. I’m seventy-eight now.” She brightened. “I’m cooking for an assisted living group now and I love it. Best job I’ve ever had, and I’ve had plenty: I retired six times! Got the cooking job on my way home the same day I retired from my hospital job.”

I think at this point I was probably just gaping at her, wondering if she was about to shed her grey fleece jacket and reveal a Wonder Woman outfit underneath.

“I like to keep busy,” she said unnecessarily, and followed that with, “Someone told me I should write a book, so I did. Poems and rhymes, but every word of it is true.”

Surprisingly, I did not resent this as I often do when someone just tosses out, “Yeah, I wrote a book.” For an aspiring author who has spent years cycling through random ideas for a first memoir but has yet to land on a framework or theme, these can be hard words to hear. But from this woman, it was OK. If anyone deserves to have her name on a book, it’s her.

On Not Being a Mother on Mother’s Day

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A reprise from Mother’s Day, 2016:

On Not Being a Mother on Mother’s Day:

I miss my mom. I hated Mother’s Day for a couple of years after she passed in 2008 — all the advertising and cards and balloons felt like salt in a wound. “Some of us don’t have mothers!” I felt like screaming.

Eight years later, I’m mostly rational again. My grief is gentler now, so I don’t mind being reminded of how blessed I was to have Lorna B. Griffin as my mom. I appreciate the special recognition for the role of mother, and I admire the dedication of my friends and family who are mothers and step-mothers and grandmothers. 

Think Before You Speak

I don’t like it, though, when people wish me “Happy Mother’s Day” without thinking. I want to make up index cards of statistics for these well-intentioned folks, reminding them that nearly one in five women end their childbearing years never having had children. One in five.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I am child-free by choice. Others, not so much — for many, their childless state feels  like a tragedy.

Personally, I’m not too bent out of shape by these misdirected greetings. I know people mean well, and life is too short to make up grievances where none are intended. It’s just a slight annoyance. Still, I know that for some, hearing “Happy Mother’s Day” directed at them is like a knife in the heart. Especially rote, impersonal regards from a stranger.

Try This Instead

I recommend that if you do not know someone’s maternal state, say something like, “Enjoy your day!” If they are a mom, they will hear, “Happy Mother’s Day.” If not, they will just enjoy their day.

Here’s another idea. While everyone is different, I love it when someone intentionally wishes *me* a Happy Mother’s Day, followed by a comment like, “You are a mother to so many people,” or “You are a mother to our church family,” or even (what an honor!) “You are a second mother to me.”

This recognizes and honors me as an individual. There’s no assumption that since I’m female, I must have given birth. There’s no awkward silence or imagined shame that I am somehow deprived because I did not give birth or adopt. There’s no sense of being “less than.” I just feel appreciated.

My Girls

My Kids, Eliza Bean and Mayasika

So: to all my loved ones who are mothers or step-mothers, Happy Mother’s Day! To all the females I love who are not mothers, I honor the woman in you. Thank you for being who you are, for nurturing the people who God brings into your orbit, and for spreading love in the world in ways that are uniquely yours.  Enjoy your day, everyone!

Happy Day, Mom!

Happy Day, Mom!

Ancestral Voices in My Head

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ANCESTRAL VOICES IN MY HEAD

I have these voices in my head. You know the ones I mean. Right?

(Please tell me that you do.)

Mine mostly entail shoulds and oughts and shames. Judgement. I’ve spent years in therapy, meditation, and prayer, and many hours in recovery programs for dysfunctional families, trying to rid myself of these voices.

Girl shouting with fingers in ears

Before that, I just drank and did drugs and overworked, trying to quiet the unacknowledged chattering. As long as I had a romantic partner, I could throw myself into the drama of trying to fix them and “us” instead of noticing the voices in my head. As long as I was an environmental lobbyist, I had a whole planet to save. Who has time for self-awareness?

I was oblivious to the submerged script that directed my life, causing me to make unwise choices and judge others and numb in any way I could.

I coped. I was OK. I didn’t always feel good about myself, but I was OK.

When I began my journey of spiritual and emotional healing, I finally started to hear the voices. I did not hear them in an auditory sense, but their words were clear and loud: “What is wrong with you?” “Why are you are so stupid?” “I can’t believe you did that!”

They were regular and insistent and alarming. Who talks to someone like that?

Well, as it turns out, everyone in my family did.

Digital Mouth

Family Voices

“Whose voice is that?” my therapist would ask. And I’d close my eyes and try to pinpoint it. It was often my mother, my sister, or my brother. They weren’t unloving people, they were just responding to the harsh and commanding voices in their own heads, I guess. It pains me now when I hear families talk to each other like this because I know it’s being internalized, especially by the youngest ones.

These are ancestral voices, passed on through generations. When I trace mine back as far as I’m able, they belong to my grandmother, born Zillah but called Beedie. Her judgmental voice haunted my mother, who passed it on to my older sister and brother.

It’s not Beedie’s fault. Someone talked to her that way. She grew up highly privileged, the daughter of a wealthy diamond mine magnate in South Africa, surrounded by servants and governesses and nannies. Of course she had a strong sense of the way things ought to be and the way people ought to act. They ought to act like wealthy British imperialists, better than everyone else.

And so when I don’t measure up to Beedie’s standards, the critical voices kick in. The underlying “truth” of all the negative voices is “You are not good enough.”

I imagine she felt the same way, or she would not have internalized the judgement and passed it on.

Placing the Blame

Of course when you find someone else’s voice in your head and it’s been hounding you as far back as you can recall, you get angry at them. You need to blame someone for your own brokenness. It’s my family’s fault! It’s that kindergarten teacher’s fault!

The problem with blaming someone else is that it disempowers you. You give away your power of recovery to someone else, and you get stuck. Might as well pour another Scotch, I can’t get these voices out of my head anyway.

The other day my therapist asked me what I would say to Beedie if she were here today. And I said without hesitation: “You are dead and I am still alive.”

She has lived her life with her voices. I still have a chance to heal and become more whole. In fact, that’s a good way to honor those who have come before us.

Birthday Blessing

Today is my grandmother’s birthday. She was born on February 15, 1889 in Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa. In honor of Beedie, I’ve decided to let go of the blame and negativity that I’ve held. I release her judgements and her critiques — I don’t need them. Instead, I choose to think of her with compassion and love. I want to remember her true, best self.

Happy birthday, dear Beedie. Thank you for your sense of humor and absurdity and fun. Thank you for your love of animals and flower gardens. Thank you for your small kindnesses (often involving chocolate) and for passing on your appreciation for “a proper cup of tea.” Thank you for holding to your values and always doing what you thought was right.

You were a strong woman, Beedie; you were courageous. Your best friend was murdered by Zulus when you were a child; you lost your own little boy; you lost your husband’s love to his philandering and then his young life to a ship fire; you lost your fortune and lived in poverty but kept your family together. Gangrene stole your ability to walk and dementia stole your ability to think.

Nevertheless, you persisted.

Thank you for being who you were, Beedie. Thank you for being an example. I treasure the day that you were born. I love you.

♥♥♥

Thanks for the WordPress prompt: sound

Moments from the Women’s March

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Moments from the Women’s March

I’ve been to a lot of protests, marches, and demonstrations in my time, beginning with the Vietnam War. I have never seen anything like the crowd that converged on Washington, D.C. yesterday. And to think it wasn’t even the biggest rally of the day, and was one of 670 around the world!

The D.C. Department of Homeland Security said that the crowd surpassed 500,000 and was one of the largest in the history of our nation’s capitol. I’d call that successful by any measure. (OK, in Donald’s Twitter-world, it might have looked like a small group of losers and cry-babies, but I mean in reality where most of us live.)

I am still processing the images and basking in the afterglow (while moving my heating pad from achy hip to achy hip). I don’t have many words to share. But I do have pictures! So here are a few of my faves, and also a couple of chants that echoed off the government buildings lining Independence and Constitution avenues where we marched.

RALLY ON CONSTITUTION

Marching down Constitution Avenue

“Show me what democracy looks like!”
“THIS is what democracy looks like!”

 

Lots of pink

Pink, everywhere!

And it wasn’t just women, although we made the most noise.

dscn5501

Animals have opinions, too

 

Real men wear pink

Real men wear pink

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dscn5525

Do you think these guys could be terrorists? They have black hair.

 

“We need a leader!”

“Not a creepy tweeter!”

Pretty much sums it up

Pretty much sums it up

“Welcome to your first day!”

“We aren’t going to go away!”

“Welcome to your every day!

“We are never going away!”

After 5 hours of rallying and 90 minutes of marching, we reached the White House!

After 5 hours of rallying and 90 minutes of marching, we reached the White House!

And we left the new occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue a few mementos to ruminate on:

dscn5541

dscn5545

dscn5551

So although yours truly is still cycling through all of these different reactions to our “accidental president,”

dscn5543

yesterday helped remind me of the biggest truth of all in this new world of “fake news” and “alternative facts:”

me w sign at march

 

JANUARY 21, 2017:

 

 

January 21, 2017

 

 

 

 

On Voting

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I have always loved voting. I get all mushy and patriotic about it, and I even enjoy waiting in long lines with my neighbors. (Granted, I know I’m among friends here in this very blue county where I’d probably be considered a moderate, were there a ranking.)

So I was a little disappointed when I got to the early voting location yesterday and found no lines whatsoever. The parking lot was jammed, but there were so many volunteers helping out that we moved along as easily as lies spilling from Donald Trump’s lips.

Vote early if you can! Let's get this baby done.

Vote early if you can! Let’s get this baby done.

I paused to extend good wishes to the husband of a judicial candidate and then stopped to argue with another man who was loudly supporting a ballot initiative I oppose. And then before I knew it, I was signed in and walking with ballot in hand towards one of several dozen voting booths.

Has this been a long journey, or what? I am so glad that the end is in sight. One week from today.

I’ve invested too much emotion into this election for far too long, and it’s been almost exclusively negative emotion. Fear, anger, disgust, righteous indignation, even shock. When I’ve thought about the way history will record this election, I feel embarrassed and mortified. Approximately forty percent of Americans are set to vote for . . . well, you know what they’re voting for. I can’t bear to talk about it anymore. It’s venomous at best.

And so as I walked towards the voting booth, it caught me by complete surprise when my throat suddenly closed up and my vision was blurred by tears of joy and pride.

Oh. My. God. I am about to vote for a woman for President of the United States and she might very well win. Oh. My. God.

History in the making!

History in the making!

Please vote, friends. Do not sit this one out.

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