Non Sequitur – A Birthday Request

My birthday is coming this week. I’ll be 39.

Save the date for next year. There will be a celebration.

But for this year, it’s pretty low key. Back in my 20s I set the standard that I only celebrate the Zeros and the Fives with parties, but the rest of the birthdays pass by with small-scale celebrations.

It’s been a really strange week. On Thursday night I got an email from a coworker whose recently former ex boyfriend had been found dead in his apartment. He’d been battling addiction and losing, which had prompted their breakup – but she was torn up about ending their romantic relationship and trying to remain his friend. Over the past year, she’s come to me for counsel more than once because she knows I’ve been in a similar situation.

And now her experience is that much more similar.

Then I found a couple of new podcasts for my commute. One is RISK! – a storytelling podcast. The other is the Savage Lovecast which people have been telling me about for years.

Both of the episodes I listened to this week featured a story about a young widow and the struggle to reconnect with your sexuality – stories that resonated with me deeply. Then I read a post in one of the facebook groups I participate in and another young widow shared her story, which also had similarities to mine.

And then yesterday, I saw the article from a young widow who wrote an open letter to the people criticizing Patton Oswalt for announcing his engagement so “soon” after his beloved wife passed away (like, nearly 2 years ago).

It just seems like that subject keeps trying to pound its way into my head, and all in the course of the six days after I signed escrow papers to begin the process of transferring ownership of my home, where my own widowing took place.

I’m not like, devastated. In fact, I have found all of the stories I’ve heard this week to be uplifting and generally comforting. It does feel nice when we realize we’re not alone, even three and a half years after it happened.

Hearing their stories doesn’t just remind me of what I’ve lost. It shines a great big light on what I have gained, as well as makes apparent what I’d had all along. It reminds me to appreciate everything I have every day that I have it.

Well. That wasn’t the post I was planning to write.

Honestly, I thought this was going to be the post where I asked people to donate $3, $9, or $39 to one or more of a list of charitable organizations I would like to benefit from my 39th birthday.

I guess that post got away from me.

A few weeks ago, I asked my friends to share with me some of the charitable organizations that they feel are doing good work in marginalized communities – specifically for LGBTQ+ and POC. I wanted the recommendations to come from those who have, or continue to benefit from the services these organizations provide. As someone who works in the nonprofit sector, I know better than to trust the website or the PR….

….I trust the people that are being helped.

In addition, yesterday someone had posted a video to an IndieGogo campaign that I thought was worth funding, and doesn’t have much time left.

So below are the links to the organizations that were recommended to me by the very people these groups exist to support. And if you are the type of person that is inclined to give gifts for people’s birthdays, then I would ask that you consider making a contribution to one or more of these organizations for my birthday.

You don’t have to tell me if you did or didn’t – but if you do, I would love to share my appreciation publicly in a future post.

The Relational Center The Relational Center exists to promote the essential importance of relationships. When we value our connections with others and with the environment, we create the necessary conditions for health and sustainability. So our work promotes personal, interpersonal, and social practices that help people build strong, resilient relationships. Our programs provide healing support, a space for community building, and tools for leadership.

Los Angeles LGBT Center Since 1969 the Los Angeles LGBT Center has cared for, championed, and celebrated LGBT individuals and families in Los Angeles and beyond.

Lambda Legal Lambda Legal, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.

Trevor Project The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) young people ages 13-24.

And the IndieGoGo Campaign that only has a few days left:
Woke Girls Woke Girls is a new line of fashion dolls and chapter books that celebrate the power of today’s American girls. Through empowering representation of girls from marginalized identities and stories which finally portray them as the magical heroes that they are- Woke Girls shows girls that even when the world is unfair, they have the power to love themselves, stand up for what is right, and build a better world.

I will be making a personal contribution to each of these causes myself. I hope you will consider joining me.

Parallels (Thoughts while high and watching DS9)

I needed to relax last night, like really relax. So, I filled the tub with lukewarm water (we’re in a heatwave), and my favorite scented bubble bath (Dr. Teal’s Milk and Honey foaming bath), set the laptop on the bench beside the tub, and took a nice, deep inhale of some weed.

Getting high and watching Deep Space 9 is my favorite form of relaxing these days.

Now it’s the next morning and I can only half explain some of the revelations I had during the episodes I watched last night. The murkiness of “right” and “wrong” and “good” and “evil.” The way people’s ideologies and narcissism make them pawns in someone else’s grab for power. How greed can warp one’s interpretation of morality and spirituality in such a way that they can’t even see that their own righteousness is why they’re so flawed.

And, at some point, I understood that conflict does more than drive the plot forward. Conflict…specifically….war, is a catalyst for bravery and unification, but empathy and compassion are the catalysts for peace.

For whatever reason, having that sense that I’ve unlocked the code to the universe relaxes me. It makes me feel like my problems and stresses are all very, very small and temporary. It gives me the empathy and the compassion I regularly lack for certain groups of people. It helps me understand why people turn to religion, and why power corrupts, and why we should pity the narcissists. They’re a cog in a wheel, but think they’re a driver.

But that the real drivers are those (usually not those in great positions of power) who, with an act of pure bravery born from a strong sense of compassion and empathy, can tip the balance of power and keep the cycle moving forward.

Oh, and, apparently – toxic masculinity has not been solved by the 24th century, and Cassidy Yates Sisko still has to stand up for her right to define her own meaning and purpose life and not be expected to absorb the responsibilities and beliefs of her husband, the Emissary.

But hey, at least Ferengi women can now legally wear clothes.

The ol’ switcheroo

“Bear down on it,” he ordered. I was naked and collared, on my hands and knees at the foot of the four-poster bed, around the leg of which he’d used a thigh harness to strap a large, purple phallus at the exact height required for my impalement.

Just kidding. I’m not telling that story yet. I have things I want to say, but the people I want to share these thoughts with are the ones would only get this far into my essay hoping for more of that story.

I’m talking about the people who put up walls and tune out when certain words are uttered. They respond to words like “privilege” and “patriarchy” like I do to words like “prayer” and “God.”

Those are words that make me uncomfortable. They’re the words that expose the bias I have against all organized religion and religious people that’s similar to the bias our current administration has against people who are Muslim or brown in general.

Religious people frighten me because of the atrocious things done in the name of religion throughout humanity’s history. But, I remind myself that #notall religious people are power-hungry, hypocritical, selfish, and hate-filled people. That’s what separates me from this administration and its followers: I wouldn’t kick all religious people out of my country – but I admit that I sometimes fantasize about what this world might be like if nobody had ever invented religion.

So, here I want to share my thoughts on so many of the subjects that would include words like “privilege” and “patriarchy” and “equality” and “marginalized” and “personal agency” and “women,” and I know that the people I want to reach have already bailed.

They don’t want to be made to feel guilty.

But that’s the thing. I’ve found in my own life that digging in at the things that inspire icky feelings like guilt or resentment has been the first step in my moving past those feelings. Similar to how it works in the final stage of mourning, it’s acceptance. Those of us who cling to the #NotAll when we’re feeling lumped in with a group that does bad things need to lean into the discomfort of being seen as #OneOf and make a conscious choice to listen to those who have been affected.

That’s it. Just listen. Don’t argue. Don’t #NotAll. Just hear out the people whose words bring up those yucky feelings and try to empathize. If there’s something you don’t understand, ask the question – respectfully. And if they don’t want to answer it?

Then keep making an effort to listen. Go in search of the answers by others who have already shared their truths with the world. All the answers are out there.

Eventually you might discover that there have been some instances in which you didn’t do all you could to help their cause because it was easier for you not to, and that the only person that’s making you feel guilty is you.

All guilt ever did for me was two things: 1) make me feel resentful, and 2) make me react defensively.

But after I decided to confront that discomfort and take ownership over my part in these things, the guilty feelings started to erode. You don’t have to take the blame for the continued existence of all the isms and the phobias: just recognize the areas where you have inherited an advantage and accepted it without question. Once you do that, you might find yourself able to let go of the guilt and start taking action to help our shared society move past this.

Listen – not everyone’s gonna welcome you as an ally. You just have to do your best to be the best version of a human being you can be. But don’t cut corners – if you are able to tune out the injustices of the world, that’s evidence of your privilege. If you choose to tune it out, then that’s when you are part of the problem.

This from someone who tuned it all out in the wake of her husband’s unexpected death because she couldn’t handle negative information. I recognized my privilege. I know why I did it. I would counsel someone struggling with that degree of trauma to do the same.

But not everybody can. There are people whose lives and livelihoods are constantly under siege and have been for a long, long time. They don’t have the privilege of tuning out injustice, because it is part of their daily lives.

So I won’t tune it out. Not anymore. Not because I feel guilty, but because I feel it’s right.

That’s not the same as disconnecting for a night and focusing on the things that bring me joy for a few hours. That’s self-care. Deciding that I’m just not going to think about, talk about, or pay attention to politics at all, or go pretend I’m still ignorant of the issues facing marginalized groups? That’s tuning it out.

The people who have read this far already grasp this. As soon as this post was not about the time I was ordered on all fours to be fucked from behind by my bedpost while my lover knelt before me and jackhammered his lust into my hungry and willing mouth, the ones I wanted to reach had already tuned out.

But those of you who stuck it out this far, at least get to know how that story ended 🙂

Good Girls Revolt (quietly?)

I spent the day yesterday watching the one season of “Good Girls Revolt,” an Amazon original that had sneaked under my radar when it was released a few years ago. It’s historical fiction based on the real-life 1970 lawsuit filed against Newsweek by 46 of their female staff for gender discrimination.

Only 10 episodes. Worth the watch when you have some time.

Anyway, as happens in most cases when there’s a female-driven ensemble cast, I find myself relating to pieces of each of them. And, as I’m pretty sure I’ve written before, I know this happens because characters in stories tend to be one-dimensional for a purpose, whereas real-life people can be unpredictable and have fluctuating wants/needs and personalities from day to day.

So, as much as I’d like to say I related best to the free-loving, fiercely intelligent, and sexually liberated redhead Patty, or the shy, stammering (until she gains some confidence) but passionate Cindy – I really felt kinship with the privileged, sexually and socially repressed, daddy’s girl Jane, played by Anna Camp.

It’s a character Anna Camp plays well…it’s similar to her role in Pitch Perfect, only set in the late 1960s and with far less puking.

There’s a scene in the last episode (spoilers) where she confronts her wealthy, privileged father and tells him she no longer wants to take money from him to support a lifestyle beyond her means.

He responds by trying to instill fear, “I won’t let you go live in an unsafe place” and then disregarding her ambition, “Okay fine, i’ll see you Thursday when you run out of money,” and then anger and projection, “What the hell do you mean you hired a lawyer to sue your employer – are you on drugs?”

Eventually he plays the hurt daddy card – the last possible card in the deck: “If you don’t need my money then you don’t need me. You don’t need anybody.”

Tearfully, she says she does need him, and somehow without saying it, she expresses that what she needs from him is love, emotional support, and to feel that he believes in her ability to achieve her ambitions.

And that’s where the break happened between this fictional character and my own experience. Because my dad didn’t respond to the tears, nor to the anger that followed. He still treats me like a first-class daughter, and a second-class human being. What’s more remarkable is how he still responds with pleasant surprise any time I show that I’m capable at anything.

What that’s caused is a break between the phi you all see here and the phi that is presented to my family. The part that sucks the most? I’m so proud of my accomplishments in this world, and they’re something I can’t share with them no matter what. They will never get to see what I believe are the best parts of me.

This morning, a friend of mine on facebook posted a status update lamenting that, when asked by a friend what she’s been up to, she felt she had to “self-edit more than half her life.” Because, since the election, she’s become a vocal activist, forming secret groups to help in the resistance, attending rallies and protests, informing herself, and contacting her representatives every single day.

“I am so much more than just a woman who goes to yoga, tennis and mahj, but some people just don’t want to or can’t know that. How long can any of us maintain this kind of charade….,” she asked.

And I wanted to respond, “Years.”

These things that drive us, that make us feel alive and give us purpose – these are the things we want to share with the world, and no-one more than those who mean the most to us. They are also the things that we feel we have to hide from those very same people because they won’t understand, and will belittle, ostracize, and reject us because it goes against their status-quo.

For the Anna Camp character to risk losing her father’s love was heartbreaking for me. There was a time when I believed my dad would respond the way hers did – eventually realizing that his daughter is a person who he helped raised to be capable of more than marriage and baby-producing.

But my dad didn’t make that jump. And I don’t think he will.

And so I hide the best part of me from him, because …

…because I don’t want to stop loving him.

Children of Sacrifice

I was listening to the West Wing Weekly podcast on my way to work this morning, as I do. In episode 2.13, they speak with Don Baer, former White House Communications Director in the real-life Clinton White House.

He quotes a line from a speech he wrote for President Bill Clinton, given at the US National Cemetery in Normandy, France on the anniversary of D-Day in 1994. “We are the children of your sacrifice,” he says, referring to the generation that had fought in World War II.

It was a pretty powerful statement. It showed the acknowledgment of an “easier” life and appreciation for the generation that had a very hard life in order to give their children a chance at a better one.

I’m thinking of who it is in charge right now in this country. It’s those “children of sacrifice.”

I read something a while back – a blog about the Baby Boomer generation. For all that’s said about Millenials, the blog makes a good point that it’s actually the Baby Boomer generation that behaves with so much entitlement. I wondered about the connection – from being the children of sacrifice to sacrificing their own children’s futures for their own comfort.

Do they seem to care that their children and grandchildren are paying into the system that supports them in their retirement, while they gut the coffers so there won’t be anything left to take care of us?

Do they seem to care that the actions of this Republican administration in denying the existence of climate change so they can go back to dumping toxins into our water and dismantling environmental protections that will keep this planet able to continue sustaining human life for generations yet to be born?

Do they seem to care about starting fights with and essentially poisoning our reputation, not just in countries that pose current threats, but …hey, even pissing off our allies for a good tweet-sized sound bite?

I say this as the daughter of a man in his late 60s, who said the nomination of a completely unqualified woman to the position of Secretary of Education wouldn’t affect him because his kids were grown, and his grandchildren would always be able to afford private schools.

Oh, father. Your privilege is showing, and it’s ugly.

Same man who recently shared a memory on Facebook of the day he decided to help out a friend who’d opened a restaurant by volunteering as a server in the dining room. “Menial” work, he called it.

Yeah, ’cause spending the last 20 years of your pre-retirement career in a comfortable office with a private executive bathroom planning your next two week vacation was very skilled labor.

I keep wanting to tell him, “I don’t know how, but you raised me better than that.”

All across this country there are stories like mine. The rifts between families that were torn open during this last election cycle, that are being further unraveled under the regime of this cruel, unprofessional, and divisive administration.

They don’t get it, either. They don’t get why their kids are so opposite. Why don’t we behave? Why are we such “whiny crybabies” and “snowflakes?” Why cant we take a joke?

But we look to our own grandparents’ generation…one that is being put in homes, and silenced as they enter their own end-of-life phase. I seem to have much more in common in terms of fundamental values regarding humankind with them than I do with the “if it doesn’t affect me personally, it doesn’t matter” stance of my parents’ generation.

I go back to thinking about that quote. “We are the children of your sacrifice.”

Updated for 2017, I think our speech to our own parents would be: “We are the spawn of your entitlement.”

But mostly we just talk about the weather, if we talk at all.

Thoughts on “morality”

Last night I went to the movies with a 69 year old activist, feminist woman whom I met through my local Democratic club. She’s been protesting since the 1960s, her son served on active duty in the Army in Iraq,  and she’d suggested we go see Loving at the cheap theater near her house.

I didn’t know anything about this movie. Not the premise, not the actors, nothing. The only thing she said was that it had something to do with civil rights.

The story centers on the lives of Richard and Mildred Loving, a Virginian couple who’s marriage successfully defeated the ban on interracial marriage in the Supreme Court in 1967.

As the final credits were rolling on screen, she asked me if I realized how recent that was. “It was around the time I graduated high school,” she told me. That’s when it sunk in, the recency of this “history.”

I was born in 1978. I’m no math wizard, but that’s ….that’s 11 years from 1967.

Eleven years before I was born, it was illegal for people to marry people they loved because they were different.

And now, not really all that many years later, we’ve barely achieved the legal freedom for people to marry people they love because they’re exactly the same – and the current administration seems pretty comfortable with taking those rights away.

People say we’ve come so far, but …no, we really haven’t, have we?

It’s interesting to me that the country is so focused on one religion right now. Muslims – it seems like either you’re buying into the vilification of a fundamentally peaceful religion or you’re forming a protest line to protect their right to pray.

You hear the people screaming that it doesn’t belong in public, but those same people scream that prayer and the teaching of creationism should be enforced in schools.

Meanwhile, it’s a so-called “Christian” that blows up a Mosque in Canada. I’m pretty sure it’s not Muslims that are painting swastikas and calling in bomb threats on Jewish centers in my own state.

You can easily find factual data that tell a story about violence caused in the name of Christianity vs violence caused in the name of Islam or any other religion and…well, both historically and more recently, the data does not reflect the rhetoric of our current government.

Yet, I don’t believe religious people of any kind are inherently evil. I know many, many good people who are very religious Christians, Muslims, and Jews. There are those who might disagree with me on certain issues, but overall – they are kind, generous, loving people who care about others.

But most of the best people I’ve known are also atheist or agnostic.

I’ve been questioning the concept of “morality” for a while. Why is it that people feel like they need religion to enforce their own morality? I’m not convinced the people who established the “morality” of a religion were even all that moral to begin with.

The thing about stoning women and selling your daughters? Yeah, I don’t buy it.

It’s not to say that they got it all wrong. There’s that whole thing about loving your neighbor, but I didn’t ever see the version of the Bible that had the footnote excluding neighbors that are darker in complexion than you are.

It’s the same way that I see laws sometimes. Before Loving vs. Virginia, there was a law that said a black woman could not be married to a white man – and the basis for this law? According to the movie “God didn’t intend for the races to mix, that’s why he put them all on separate continents.”

The lapse in logic in this argument blows me away.

I mean, I think it’s bullshit, but let’s accept the premise that God intended for all the races to stay in their corners of the world…

Do the white people realize that they’re the ones that started mixing shit up? Nobody invited them to cross the ocean and settle in the New World. Nobody invited them to kidnap Africans and bring them there to do all the heavy lifting, either.

But God is gonna frown on interracial couples, but not the people who put them together in the first place?

Nah, “manifest destiny,” they claim. There’s a destiny decreed by God that Americans will spread their moral virtue on the world. That’s what bothers me. When you have people putting words in God’s mouth for personal gain.

It’s never really about God when it’s about power. Certainly not when the party seeking power is uplifted mostly when another party is downtrodden.

This is why I don’t practice any religion and why I adamantly believe that religion is frequently a toxin to morality rather than its arbiter.

Frequently, I said. Not always.

But there I am, one of the people standing between an administration and their religious-based targets.

This is not about how things affect me. Most of the causes I passionately fight for do not affect me. I am not lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, or asexual. I am not a person of color. I was born here. I am gainfully employed, financially comfortable, am in good overall health and get health insurance through my employer with or without the ACA. I’m definitely not Muslim, nor am I Native American. Nobody wants to bulldoze my home to put in pipeline. For that matter, I own my home and nobody has been trying to lay claim on it despite the paperwork that says it’s mine. When I’m hungry, I eat, and when I’m thirsty, clean water is available straight from the faucet. I can afford birth control and I’ve never been pregnant, and at my age – am unlikely to become so without medical intervention. I am never misgendered and nobody ever questions which public restroom I can use. In fact, there have been times I’ve even used the men’s restroom when the women’s line was so long, and nobody batted an eye.

And yet you’ll see me out there fighting for all of the people who cannot claim any of those privileges. What drives me isn’t only what benefits me. I am driven by own sense of what is right and wrong – my on-board moral compass that thinks critically and independently of a highly-flawed ancient text written by the highly flawed race of humanity – whether you are talking about the Bible that hates on gays or the Constitution that allowed for slavery before it was amended.

Maybe someone wants to make the argument that my sense of morality comes from God the way they attribute people’s talents to a higher power. I’m fine with that. It doesn’t affect me.

And I would fight for your right to think it has something to do with God, even if I don’t.

Because it’s not about me, specifically. It’s about freedom.

And that’s about us all.

Ms. Hardy’s 6th Grade Class

I remember the first time I became aware of her. I was sent to her classroom with a note from another teacher.  I’d stepped in just as she was quieting down her students after some sort of disruption, and she turned her head as I opened the door with her big, almost accusatory eyes piercing through my timid little soul.

I handed her the note and her demeanor changed.  “Oh. Okay.  Thank you.”

The following year, she I was assigned to her sixth grade class.

I’ll admit, I was scared. I remember talking to my friend about her.  Until then, all our teachers had been ….

What’s the word I’m looking for?

Sweet? Passive? I don’t know. They all just seemed like they liked us.

Not her.  She could quiet a room full of schoolchildren with a stern look. She was there to teach, not to babysit us.

And teach us she did.  After a few weeks, I started to realize that Miss Hardy wasn’t really all that scary. She didn’t have to like us. She respected us. She was an excellent teacher. It was in that class that I first learned there was such a thing as Black History Month.

Or maybe, it was in that class that I first paid attention to it.

Because Miss Hardy was black.

I remember thinking it was strange – that all of Black History could be taught in one month. It didn’t make sense to me.  Why wouldn’t we learn about historical Black figures throughout the year? I also pondered why it had to be the *shortest* month that was picked for this focused instruction.

That’s a question a naive child asks herself – the naive child who had learned about the United States Constitution and believed everything she’d heard about an America that believed in Civil Rights, denounced cruel and unusual punishment, and valued truth, liberty, and justice for all.

Oh, sweet, dear young me.

Most of my memories of actually learning can be traced back to the year I spent in Miss Hardy’s 6th grade class. I remember details from the lessons she taught me more clearly than any other in my entire educational history, all the way into college. I still have all 51 prepositions memorized in alphabetical order.  I still use many of our weekly vocabulary words in every day sentences.  I first became fascinated with the story of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii in her class. I looked at pictures of the ruins in Ancient Rome – these relics of ancient history and learned about the importance of innovation with the aqueducts. We drew the ocean currents in blue crayon on a huge world map across the back wall.

She was the teacher that interrupted our scheduled lesson for the day to pass around the front page of the newspaper the year that the Berlin Wall came down. She explained its significance to us.

But there was much more she taught me that I didn’t even realize I had carried with me all this time. She taught me not to judge people based on their appearance or their first impression. She taught me that to be respected was often significantly more important than to be liked. She taught me about the America that I could be proud of despite its questionable history.

I miss that America, sometimes.

Today is the first day of Black History Month for 2017.  It makes plenty of sense to me now.