Monday, October 16, 2017

Reclaiming ourselves

A moment of peace, for everyone who shared their #MeToo moments


Watching the flood of posts on social media yesterday with the tag #MeToo was painful and eye-opening. I have a lot of folks friended on Facebook and nearly all the women and some of the men openly proclaimed that they, too, were victims of sexual assault or harassment. 

Some people talked about the need to be outspoken in order to show the scope of the problem to so many men who disbelieve women, or worse, mock them. For me, it served a different purpose. It showed me how many strong, incredible people have also been sexually victimized. It showed me that I could examine my own experiences in a very different context. It showed me I wasn't alone or weak or to blame.

Not if so many amazing women (and some men) on my timeline had their own #MeToo stories. 

I have no need or desire to recount the details of my assault. It doesn't matter how old I was or the circumstances. I don't need to parade my history for it to be important, relevant, formative. But I will tell you this: I was a child and my abusers were teenage boys from my neighborhood. And the questions we need to be asking as a society are why did they think they had any right to my body or my ensuing silence?

*

I was a child of the 60s and 70s. The cultural zeitgeist was the sexual revolution and perhaps it was a seismic change in how we viewed sexuality, but looking back from our current moment, it seems like it lacked a basic and vital component: We had no language for or concept of bodily autonomy.

I was raised to 'be a good girl', to comply. The accepting and giving of hugs and kisses to relatives and family friends was compulsory. I remember being tickled to the point of nearly throwing up on many occasions. If I complained, I had no sense of humor. 

Does the fact that I see forced tickling as a violation of my bodily autonomy seem minor and petty to you? 

If it does, then I would ask you to examine why. Why should my personal experience and preferences mean less than your right to use my body how you want to? And if it sounds like I'm equating tickling with assault, I am, because it's a similar control issue. They are not the same, but they are analogous.

If a child is raised that her body and her experiences are less important than those of her relatives and stronger peers, it is no surprise that she learns to discount her will and her perceptions. If she can't say no, or if her no isn't respected in small and frequent ways through her growing up, how can it be a surprise when she doesn't believe she has ownership of her own body? 

I was assaulted and I never even considered telling anyone. I had already internalized the message that my body wasn't really my own. That I was somehow to blame, so why bother reporting it? The teens who assaulted me were part of the fabric of my neighborhood. I had to see them through my entire childhood, so the only way I could manage was to pretend nothing happened.

*

I am the parent of 2 sons. From the time they were young, I worked hard to establish healthy boundaries and instill in them a sense of bodily autonomy. We were always a huggy/kissy family, but we never forced them to be physical with anyone (even us) if they didn't want to. No, "you have to give grandma a kiss". Rather it was presented as a choice. And their "no" was respected, even as we modeled appropriate physical affection with one another. 

And yes, I hugged and kissed and tickled my kids. But I made certain that stop meant stop. Full stop. No questions asked. 

*

Teaching and modeling bodily autonomy is not the ultimate solution to sexual assault and harassment; it is only a starting point. Our culture is full of examples and messages of normalized sexual predation and harassment. We still have a society in which we shame and blame the abused and don't hold the abusers accountable. We still have a society in which the depiction of violence is perfectly acceptable, but the depiction of consensual and respectful sexuality is not. We still have a society in which we believe that sexual urges in a man is normal but in a woman is proof she is immoral and deviant and fodder for shaming her.

We still have a society where powerful men are celebrated for overriding the bodily autonomy of others. 

And that has to stop. 





email:

  • Free eBook
  • Free/DRM-free short fiction
  • publication news

Monday, October 02, 2017

Food, Words, Dogs


When I'm at a loss for what to do about the pain of the world, I turn to a few things that keep me centered: food, words, and the comfort of my dogs.

Today is for chopping and freezing more tomatoes and canning applesauce. There is something about preparing food for the future that reminds me there is a future. There will be family meals and laughter and the reminder of a clear summer day or a cool autumn breeze.

I put away the harvest in part because I want to hold to that imagined future day when we will gather with loved ones to feed more than hungry bellies; we will feed souls and nurture our whole beings.

Food is definitely my love language.

And I also turn to words, particularly poetry, during times of crisis and mourning. Sometimes that's reading others' work, sometimes it's writing my own. I can't count the number of times I've read Mary Oliver's "Wild Geese" and received comfort from her assurance:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

This week, I was reminded of something I wrote right after hurricane Katrina tore through so much of the south. We were visiting our in-laws at their home by the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland - the home that they had lost and rebuilt several years earlier in a different hurricane.

After the Levee is Breached

Only the lightest puff of air stirs
pennants along the dock. Telltales hang
from luffing sails. In the stillness, bees
stagger between the open throats of thirsty

orchids. When wind and full moon forced
the bay to rise, it scoured the eastern shore.
This time, the great tidal surge gathers
elsewhere. Camera crews rush to film

other places more prosperous, newly drowned.
Watermen haul their catch by hand, chant
a guilty mantra--Hugo, Andrew, Isabel;
new storms spin elsewhere. Tonight a front

gathers force; it rends high, thin clouds.
Stars pour through the rift like water.
                                                                       LJ Cohen 2005

The lines that keep running through my head today are these: This time, the great tidal  surge gathers/elsewhere. Camera crew rush to film/other places more prosperous, newly drowned.

We seem to only crave the newest tragedy, the freshest disaster. And only until the next surge and the next.

I envy my dogs, especially on days like this. They soak the world up through their senses, find happiness in a warm pool of sunshine and the sound of a familiar voice, the jingle of a car key, the promise of a treat.


We are left to try to make sense of what cannot be understood, to carry heartache piled upon heartache. Is it no wonder I want to feed the world?

May you find and hold to that which brings your comfort and may you be able to share that comfort with others.




email:

  • Free eBook
  • Free/DRM-free short fiction
  • publication news

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Begin Again




I was talking with a friend the other day about feeling lost. I've not written consistently in more than a month and while it's not writer's block, exactly, it does feel like I'm blocked by something.

Deadlines are looming, I have story ideas, yet I'd rather do laundry or dust the floors than sit down and write.

Much of this is a resurgence of free-floating anxiety I've dealt with my whole life. It comes in waves, often tied to nothing tangible I can name. Sometimes it's external stressors that worm their way in past my boundaries and defenses. Certainly there are enough of them in the world right now to fill a endless well.

Like many artists and creative types, my emotional filters are quite porous. Most of the time, what gets in becomes part of my work. It gets processed and transformed. But sometimes, I feel like I'm mired in a stagnant pool of ugliness.

My friend pointed out that she's seen me move through these cycles before and I know she's right. That may be the only saving grace of all of this. I am not panicking about the stalled writing because I know that the words will return.

Part of that process is returning to more regular blogging and returning to journaling and poetry. These rituals are part of priming the pump for my other writing.

And while many writers will talk about the need to write every day, there's also the truth that creativity doesn't emerge from nothing. Humans are not machines that dispense creativity with inputs of food and rest (though those are important).

To live a creative life, I think we need to strike a balance between consistent practice and refilling the creative well. Sometimes we can do both at once. For me, right now, that's not the case.

But I've been here enough times to know this is my normal. 

If you're struggling out there (and goddess knows there's enough to struggle over), remember to breathe. If you write every day, that's great. If you take long breaks where you're not writing, that may be exactly what you need. One doesn't mean you've arrived at the pinnacle of professional writer; the other doesn't mean you're a slacker or hack.

Note to self: read the above paragraph again. This pertains to you, too!

#SFWApro






email:

  • Free eBook
  • Free/DRM-free short fiction
  • publication news

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Losing Home

Along with the rest of the country, I've been heartsick looking at the damage in Texas from Harvey. Right now, people are in shock, but in the days and weeks to come, the reality that they've lost their homes, their belongings, and their communities will start to sink in.

I know at least a little of what that feels like.

In December of 2010, we were woken by the smoke detectors in our home screaming their alert. We fled a burning house at 5:30 am, in our pajamas and bare feet.

Standing in the cold New England morning, watching our house burn, watching the firefighters smash windows and knock the fire down, I was numb. At that moment, all I could think of was how close I came to losing my family and that's what sent me into a spiral of anxiety and depression that lasted over a year.

In that first week or so, I didn't have the time to fall apart. My husband had to go to work. Our sons had to go to school. I was consumed with the details of just surviving: finding a temporary apartment, getting us all a few days worth of clothing, finding winter coats and boots, dealing with the insurance company and getting the house boarded up so the winter weather wouldn't make the damage worse.

Everyone remarked about how calm and in control I was. How amazing a job I was doing keeping it all together.

Which was true as far as people could see.

Whenever I was alone, I would start to cry. It took me about 15 minutes in the car before any errand just to put myself back together.

And we had only lost our home - not our neighborhood or our support network. Our losses were covered by insurance and we knew we'd rebuild and move back. Our children had the structure of school and their friends. People around us were able to help.

We were lucky.

We were incredibly lucky.

And I still struggled to get through every day.

If I heard a siren or smelled smoke, I would have a full blown panic attack. It was almost a full year before that became manageable.

The people displaced by Hurricane Harvey are not only dealing with enormous personal loss, but the loss of their communities, networks, and structure. Schools won't open soon. Or houses of worship. or local government services. Even if they have the financial resources, they can't just go shopping to replace clothes because all the stores are flooded and closed. If they had a car, it's now drowned. Hell, just getting food is going to be difficult for some time to come. Need medicine? Out of luck. Pharmacies are closed and their computer systems likely down.

If you've never experienced a personal loss like this, it's hard to imagine the scope of the devastation and emotional gut-punch of it. I'm not sure how I would have gotten through our fire and its aftermath without the support of our community. 

It took almost 10 months, but we got back in our rebuilt home. For most of the people in the hurricane, even if they have homeowners insurance, it doesn't cover flood damage. Whatever disaster relief funds there are, they won't cover everything and many of the displaced won't be able to afford the loans available. Or will fall prey to scammers once the rebuilding starts.

In the decade since Katrina, there are neighborhoods in Louisiana that have still not recovered.

So if you can donate to the recovery, please do so. And know that what we're seeing now is nowhere near the worst of what's to come. The destruction of the flood waters is a very visible reminder of the disaster, but what is more devastating is the emotional cost of these losses and that cost will continue to be paid by the people in Texas for years to come. 








email:

  • Free eBook
  • Free/DRM-free short fiction
  • publication news