#metoo

Of course it happened to me too.  More than once.  In an assortment of ways, in various situations.  A little over a year ago; in 2013; as a teenager; as a child.  

White Americans tend to start from an ahistoric assumption that safety is the default.  We live in a collective bubble defended by relatively unassailable boundaries, formidable military might, and national neighbors who more or less want to leave the 800 pound gorilla alone because they are safer nestled up next to it than at odds with it.  Inside our daily lives, broadly speaking, we expect to be safe.  When we interact with the police over speeding tickets or improper use of our turn signals, we don’t expect to be shaken down for a bribe, or a favor.  We don’t expect to reach for our wallet and get shot as a result.  

But safety is not the default for the vast majority of the world.  Really, only white folk in Western nations have successfully created a bubble that more or less covers us and definitely doesn’t cover anyone else.  Everywhere else, no one is safe from drones and carpet bombs and chemical attack and corruption and, of course, sexual violence in the form of harassment and rape.  

None of which is mentioned to diminish the individual trauma.  Just to point out that we need to think a little deeper about all of this and start asking some questions.  What does it mean to feel safe?  What are our rights?  As an American, I believe that I have the right to bodily autonomy: control over where I go, what I do, who I do it with, and what happens after the fact.  I have the right not to be wilfully, physically damaged by another person; and also the right to expect that others will conduct themselves in such a way as to ensure that the things under their control conspire to do no harm to my physical body.  I have an unpredictable, anxious dog.  I am responsible for ensuring that unpredictable, anxious dog is not in a position to inflict pain or damage on another with his teeth.  That is my obligation, others have the right to expect me to conduct my affairs in such a way as to not endanger anyone.  

Does everyone have the same right to safety, or bodily autonomy?  If a worker exchanging her time and effort for money in the workplace as a secretary has the right to say no when her boss wants to stick his tongue down her throat, does a prostitute who is exchanging her time and effort for cash have the right to define what effort she is willing to engage in?  It seems to me that the two situations are fundamentally the same.  

If a white woman has the right to insist that her breasts not be touched by a coworker, does a black woman have the right to inspect that her co-workers won’t touch her hair?  Is one’s head any less included in bodily autonomy than one’s breasts?  

We should be careful with our outrage, lest we find ourselves with the same fundamental flaw that runs through every accused perpetrator of infractions both egregious and irresponsible: the inability or unwillingness to recognize the discrete, complete, equally valid experience embodied in every other human we come across.  The wanting impulse that can only see the want in you, and not the want in the other.  

This is why men feel different about women after they have a daughter.  Why things make sense to them after fathering a girl that didn’t make sense to them before: a daughter is the first female they have ever met from whom they want nothing.  She’s the first female in their life where there is nothing that she can do for them, and everything that they can do for her.  A mother is there for warmth and comfort and sustenance, and that is the extent of it.  She might as well be a microwave fronted by a teddy bear.  A girlfriend is pleasure and support and someone who agrees that they are the most important person in the room.  A wife is pleasure on demand and clean shirts and the mechanism which allows them to focus on what pleases them while ignoring the mundanities like keeping the house clean.  A secretary is a coffee dispenser with a nice ass.  But a daughter?  A daughter is hopes and dreams unrelated to him, but that he has cause to absorb as his own.  He looks out for her, has hopes for her, because she is not a bundle of things that can be done for him, she is a bundle of things she wants all by herself.  

And suddenly, the notion that a man somewhere might treat his daughter in the same way he has treated all the other women in his life starts to mean something.  A fourteen year old in a short skirt isn’t a temptation he’s going to have to wait four years to oogle, she’s his girl in a few years.  She’s a kid who plays with lipstick and then goes home to watch Frozen for the millionth time, because she’s a kid.  

So yes, #metoo.  But you know what else is also #metoo?  Looking at someone and ruthlessly preserving my obliviousness to the fact that they are a whole and complete person with a perspective, and reasons, and a history, and a story, and wants that are completely foreign to me yet still as valid and reasonable as my own.   

What allows Al Frankin to forcibly kiss someone, or to pose for a photo with a sleeping woman’s breasts in his hands, or to put his hand on a stranger’s bottom, is that he isn’t coming to the exchange with the understanding that her desires are equal to his, that she as as much right to control what happens in her mouth as he does, that she is whole and complete and he has no right to inflict consequences on her without her participation or consent.  She is the punchline, the object, the manifestation of his desire to be approved, or to feel strong, or whatever.  She isn’t as human as he is, at least at that moment his mind.  He is the good guy, the hero of the story.  She is a prop.  

Is the flaw as deep with Frankin as with someone like Roy Moore, or Brock Turner, or Bill Clinton, or Donald Trump?  Probably not.  But it is a flaw we all possess, this working assumption that our experience is the only one that matters.  It is the belief behind every backstabber, every bully, every liar, every con job, every corporate raider, every bank executive behind a massive foreclosure operation, every abuser, every racist… the list is endless.

I’ve heard it said that compassion begins when we start to recognize that everyone we meet is attempting to move towards comfort and away from pain.  There is something equally fundamental in Don Miguel Ruiz’s agreement to take nothing personally.  Restated, it isn’t about you.  Nothing is about you.  The world and the people in it are not there to serve your desires.   

No one has a greater right to safety than another, not by race, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, belief system, education, ability, creed, or experience.  Without exception, everyone should be able to walk through the world in complete control over what happens to and with their bodies.  We can talk about toxic masculinity, sure.  But let’s also talk about toxic self-absorption, and the conviction that everyone else’s role in the world is to serve your immediate desire.  Let’s talk about the fatal conviction that, no matter the room you stand in, you are the most important person in that room.  Strip every individual in a society of the conviction that nothing matters quite so much as what they desire in any given moment, and the world would change in an instant.  And for the better.  

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#metoo

#maga – 1955*

*I said it before and I’ll keep saying it: If you believe that America was last great when you didn’t have to share a counter or a bathroom or a water fountain with your fellow American, I hope you will keep reading, but please be forewarned.  I don’t agree with you and that’s not what I’m talking about.

Union membership peaked in 1955.

Unions brought us the 5 day work week, limits on the number of hours you have to work every day, wage increases, worker protections…

What is a corporation but an organization of owners and vested financial interests cooperating to extract profit from the individuals who work for them?  The interest of ownership is always to drive down costs and increase profit.  When workers are unorganized, it is one person against money and therefore power.  When workers are organized, that collective power of the people running the machinery serves as a counterbalance to the power imparted by money.  Because the capitalist magnates want to make money.  They want to make as much money as possible.  If they have to give up some of the profit margin to keep making *some* money, they will, but only if forced.

Unions forced their hands.

It wasn’t Trump who negotiated to keep a Ford plant in Kentucky.  That was the Union using the collective clout of its workers to protect their jobs.

So yes.  Let’s #maga.  Join a Union.  Vote out people who are union-busters.  Unions didn’t force a climate where NAFTA was necessary to protect the profits of those poor company owners and shareholders…  that was the greed of those who believe that too much is never enough.  If there isn’t a Union in your industry, create one.  If you are currently unemployed and giving up, find some other way to organize.  Because the ballot once every four years hasn’t changed diddly squat thus far, and there is no concrete reason to believe this election is going to be any different.

 

#maga – 1955*

The Beatification

It’s too easy.  Remembering the complexities takes effort, and there’s plenty of other things in life to work at.  Why spend the energy on knowing the difference between your idea of someone and the real thing?  After all, the majority of people who will remember my mother – and there are a lot of them – will remember her for her kindness.  She was a teacher, so she had plenty of opportunities to be the right voice at the right time.  It is a pretty spectacular legacy.  There is a lot of kindness in the world, it happens quietly, and I’m glad she was a contributor.  She was a gifted educator, and she was the little nudge in the right direction for a lot of people.  That’s a good thing, and maybe there’s no reason that shouldn’t be what she is forever and ever amen.

Then there is the other side.

My dad has a hard time remembering much that was good about the lady.  Fifteen years after the divorce, he doesn’t remember her kindness.  He remembers a woman for whom there was never enough.  He remembers the woman who didn’t know she was loved unless everyone was on their knees, begging.

The woman wasn’t a saint.

She also had this disgusting habit of flossing her teeth in the living room and leaving the used floss on the arm of the sofa.  And was surprised when I pointed out that this was gross.

The truth, as always, is somewhere in-between sainthood and damnation.  She did the best she could.  Sometimes that was rotten.  Sometimes it was extraordinary.  But she was bound by her limitations.

Aren’t we all?

The Beatification

Good Enough

This is something I’ve talked around in various and assorted posts, but not something I’ve ever addressed directly.

Enough is not a meaningful measure.  What is “enough” anyway?  Who gets to call it?  A house that is big enough for me wouldn’t be nearly big enough for a Kardashian.  Enough is a relative measure, entirely subjective, and it moves constantly.  Because as soon as we reach a point where we would have called it “enough” before we got there, suddenly, it is no longer good enough.  Because we’re there and a lot of us (not all, but many) are convinced we’ll never be enough so if we can do it, then the “it” that needs to be done must be a little further ahead.

A year ago, I would have told you that swimming a mile every other day would be more than enough.  Now I’m doing two miles every other day and I wonder if maybe I shouldn’t be pushing myself to do a little more because maybe two miles isn’t good enough.

That’s just ridiculous.

On the other hand, this striving for a target of enough that we move beyond our grasp isn’t all bad.  Doubt is a good thing.  It keeps us open-minded, it keeps us learning, it keeps us growing.

But for functioning in life, for moving forward, for taking a leap of faith, am I good enough is a pretty rotten question.

The reality is that you’ve gotten this far.  You’ve made some mistakes, you’ve screwed some things up royally.  You’re still here.  You’re still breathing.  You’ve survived some shitty days and you still have a sense of humor.  That’s pretty amazing.  Even better, you still have this marvelous opportunity embedded in today (or tomorrow, since it’s late) to show up.  Get the ego out of the way.  Dispose of the judgement and whatever concerns you might have regarding other people’s judgement.  Your gift is your presence, for whatever the task at hand is.  You don’t have to be good enough.  Good enough is a feeling, it isn’t a fact.

You just have to show and you’ll be way ahead of everyone else who is paralyzed by the idea that good enough is a real thing they have to achieve before they can do something great.

Good Enough

Somebody Else

A hazard of being the product of millennia of progenitors who were good at fitting into the social construct is the degree to which the idea of what I’m *supposed to be* refuses to budge.  This would be one of those things I keep to myself, except that I hear it from my friends as well.  They confront relationship challenges (not just the romantic ones) with this idea that they are *supposed* to have a reaction or approach that isn’t natural.  Who calls, how long before you respond to a text, what is okay to give for a birthday present.  You don’t want to give too much, but you also don’t want to be outdone by the other guy.  No one wants to show up at the birthday party with a homemade card when everyone else is boasting Hallmark.  Or whatever.

But here’s the deal with success or failure in your social endeavors (to include romantic relationships): win or lose, wouldn’t you rather it be for who you are, not for some role you’re playing?

Say you go down in flames.  If you crash and burn spectacularly because you were playing games or trying to be someone you aren’t, don’t you then end up living with the regret?  I’d wonder what might have happened if I’d just been myself, gone with my gut, followed what I was sure of, set my fears aside, stopped listening to the voice that told me there was something I was supposed to be, or the relationship was supposed to be, and just embraced what I was, what the relationship was, and what made me happy.  What if I’d just said what I feel, what I want, and let the cards fall where they might?

Come to think of it, I do live with that…  I can think of three relationships that crashed and burned because of the supposed to’s:  my first love in college – that never got off the ground because the difference between what it was and what it was supposed to be was insurmountable.  Part of the failure of my marriage can be blamed on me not being able to move past the gap between what it was and what I thought it was supposed to be.  I’ll not try to characterize the third relationship here.  Suffice it to say that we all struggle with the gap between reality and “supposed to.”

Moving on.  What if you succeed on the merits of being someone else…  Have you thought through the part where you’re going to have to sustain that charade.  Indefinitely?

I’m certainly not trying to claim that authenticity is easy.  It takes a lot of bravery to say “fuck it, this is who I am, this is how I feel, this is what makes me happy, this is what I want.”  It’s even harder to say all of that with complete ownership over yourself and no expectation that the world is going to bow to your will and deliver what it is that you want.  Consider the alternatives, though.  You can fake it and feel safe because you’re hiding behind the mask you think other people want to see, but succeed or fail, the long-term consequences are pretty difficult.

Between regret or sustaining the lie and the risk associated with just going with the best I can do with my authentic self, I think I’m aspiring to the risk.  If I’m going to go down, I can live with going down on the truth.  It’s easier to live with than losing something over an ephemeral “supposed to.”

The only possible caveat here is if your authentic self is a creep or an asshole.  In that case, become a nice person and then be your authentic self.

Somebody Else

How to be a Nicer Person

Or how to stop being an asshole.

I keep thinking that it can’t be that hard not to be an asshole.  There has been a lot of stuff coming up about bullies and trolls on the various and assorted social media sites.  I’m lucky, in a way, because I have such a small (and generally like-minded) following that no one has ever been nasty to me in an online forum.  But I read about it happening to other people and for every death threat delivered in a comments section, I have the same thought: when did this become okay?  And how hard is it to just not be an asshole?  Clearly, it’s harder than I think it should be.

Step one: Recognizing if you’re an asshole.

If you have ever threatened someone’s life or physical safety or that of his/her family over an idea, a belief, a game, an opinion, a TV show, a tweet, an article, a religion…  Okay, let’s start again.  If you’ve ever threatened someone’s life, physical well-being, or that of their family (to include pets) you are an asshole.  The only possible exception is if you threaten (or cause real bodily harm to) someone who is in the act of harming you or someone else.  For example, the guy in Texas who beat the assailant of his child to death…  he is not an asshole.  If you are in the military fighting a war, you are not an asshole.  These are the only exceptions.

Losing your shit over things you are guilty of is another good sign.  Road rage over someone not using their blinkers when they change lanes, when you also don’t use your blinkers?  You might be an asshole.

If the only socializing you do consists of tearing other people down, you are probably an asshole.  If you are mean to people you don’t know just because you can get away with it, you are probably an asshole.   If you think someone reacting to offensive language by becoming offended is their problem, you are probably an asshole.

I’m sure I could come up with other symptoms, but that covers quite a bit of territory.

Step Two: Deciding you don’t actually want to spend the rest of your life being an asshole because, let’s face it, the world just doesn’t need any more schmucks.

Are you happy?  Do you have meaningful friends?  Do you have lasting relationships with members of the sex you are attracted to?  Do you feel an incipient longing to create something that lasts instead of just tearing everything down indiscriminately?  It may be time to recognize that you’d like to become a constructive human being.

Step Three: Developing compassion.

Oddly enough, this starts with your relationship with you.  Go easy on yourself.  Stop saying such horrible things about yourself when you make a mistake.  Take a deep breath.  Recognize that you are fighting a hard battle, and credit yourself for making it this far.  Then expand that circle of compassion outward a little.  That guy that just cut you off in traffic.  Probably doing the best he can with what he’s got.  The lady who can’t make up her mind in Starbucks: fighting a difficult battle and doing what she can to make it through.  That person you’ve never met on the internet with an opinion you disagree with.  Probably just wants to make the world a better place to the best of his ability.  Go easy on yourself.  Go easy on other people.

Step Four: Take nothing personally.

See, 99.999% of what other people do isn’t about you, it’s about them.  Unfortunately, this means 99.999% of what you do isn’t because so and so said thus and such.  Taking nothing personally goes hand in hand with taking absolute responsibility for yourself and your words.  No one can make you mad.  No one can make you anything.  You choose your reaction.  We’re all trying to make it through with a collection of challenges and difficulties that are uniquely our own.  We’re all generally so absorbed in our own concerns, we have a hard time seeing other people.  That goes for you too.  Notice it in yourself when you’re getting ready to fly off the handle.  Notice it in people who you disagree with.   Their feelings and how they handle them tell you about who they are, not who you are.  Your feelings and how you manage them tells the world who you are and says nothing about the person you are blaming for your reaction.

Step Five: If you would be mad if someone said it to your mother, don’t say it to anyone else.

I’m pretty sure that doesn’t need further explanation.

Step Six: find something you’d like to build, something that makes the world a better, safer place, and focus on that.

If you don’t like people, do something for animals.  Whatever it is, find a constructive place for your energy, something that benefits someone or something other than yourself.

 

 

That’s it.  Practice a little every day and eventually, you too can become a nicer person.  Just start with the no death threats thing, because the fact that someone has to say that out loud is just sad.

 

How to be a Nicer Person

Perfect

It’s becoming a bit of an obsession, this idea that not everything has to be perfect for everything to be perfect.  I’m living by it these days.  Everything isn’t perfect.  There is a list of three things that I really want that I don’t have, and at least one of these things …  well, let’s just say its absence is both uncomfortable and persistent.

But everything doesn’ t have to be perfect for everything to be perfect.  Sunsets.  Cool weather – at least for July.  Friends.  Music.  There’s perfection everywhere, in small doses.

Everything doesn’t have to be perfect for everything to be perfect.  I can live with that.

Perfect