Wednesday, January 19, 2011

We've Come a Long Way, Baby!

"Boys will be boys."

Apparently this means that a 13 year old girl has to sit there and take it when a 13 year old boy holds a pocket knife blade up to her neck and says, "I otta slit your throat!"

It didn't start with that.  The knife was a sort of crescendo of the little "harmless" comments that had been hurled at me for months.  Every day I had to start off my afternoon being greeted by the young man with comments like, "I'll be you're so tight, you squeak when you have sex."  The girl who sat in the seat across from me and in front of my offender would either giggle awkwardly or ignore the comments.  I would sit there like a stone in my seat, the heat (and red) rising to my face as I felt a mix of rage and fear.

Not only did my admirer make lewd comments, he would also appraise my body, my outfit, etc.  And he did it with a look in his eye that would make the hair on the back of my neck stand up.  No, he was not like the boy that liked me so he would pick me and my desk up and move me across the room as a joke.  That was funny.

I was afraid of this boy.  I was initially somewhat nice to him when school began; after all, he was the new boy in school.  But, I didn't speak to him after he started saying those horrible comments, and I barely acknowledged him with a glance when I had to address him during class.  I hoped that he would stop making such embarrassing and strange comments if I ignored them.  That had always worked with my bullies in the past.  For some reason, it encouraged him to make even stranger and more explicit comments about sex and my body.

Other than the girl across from me, no one knew about the special attention this boy paid to me.  A teacher commented once, "He seems to have a crush on you," which was a horrible thing to say, I thought.  I finally broke down at home the evening after I felt the cold point of the knife against my skin.

My Dad went into the school and talked to the principal the next day.  The principal called in the boy, and the boy admitted to having a pocket knife.  The principal had the boy hand it over to the him and then dismissed him.  The principal looked my Dad in me in the eyes and told us how boys are simply boys -- I guessed that meant that you can't expect much from a boy other than they will be stupid and dangerous without any repercussions.

My Dad asked me if I was okay with leaving things with the knife in the hands of the principal and the boy told to leave me alone.  I didn't want to draw anymore attention to myself, so I told my Dad that I didn't want him to make it worse than it already was by insisting the boy be punished.

Now that I am the step Mom of a 14 year old girl, I have to wonder if she's encountered anything like this, and what she would do differently than I did.  I'm hoping that it's no longer acceptable to harass girls with words or pocket knives...  or, will boys always be allowed to be boys?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rewriting History?

How much power does one word have?  Depends on the word, I suppose.  "Orange," for example, doesn't cause people to cringe with guilt.  But is there one word that you have regretted saying and wished you could take back?

I spent my early childhood in Boulder, Colorado.  Boulder in the early 80's was a nice place to live.  It was still a hippy-ish town.  It hadn't quite yet been discovered by the well-to-do-head-in-the-sand sect.  As open-minded and liberal as Boulder liked to pretend to be, it was still a pretty closed community, although less so then than now.  To give you a picture of what the people of Boulder looked like, in my entire elementary school, there were probably 10 students who were not white.

One day, when I was 8 or 9 years old, I was riding the school bus home.  It's was a beautiful sunny day, and spring was about to turn into summer.  All the children on the bus were happy and cheerful, including me.  I was gleefully joking around with my a boy around my age that I had just started talking to on that trip home.  He and his family had lived in the neighborhood for a few months, but he and his brother had kept to themselves on the bus.

I don't remember how we actually started talking or how we ended up laughing so hard we were crying.  I just remember feeling joyous and lighthearted.  Then, without warning, the strangest thing happened:  the ugliest and most vile thing I can ever imagine spewed from my mouth...  "N*****!"

I was overcome with shame, but worse was the look on my new friend's face.  I had never before in my life seen so much sadness and disappointment come across another person's face.  And I was the cause of it!  By uttering one horrible word, I had turned a magic moment into an agonizing silence.

I still have no idea where that horrible utterance came from.  My family never used the word, and we had even had discussions about racism and not using that word.  And I certainly didn't think that this boy was in any way a N-.  Later on in life, I learned part of the message I had given this boy:  "You are a black person, and will always be black before you are a person."  What a horrible thing for me to communicate to as an innocent child to another innocent child!

I apologized to the boy for several days after that incident.  And he never made eye contact or spoke with me again.  Not that I blame him.  I couldn't take back that one word... ever.  But I don't believe in changing history, either.  I am that little girl who hurt another person in a way that I will never fully understand.  But I certainly learned quite a few important lessons from that day.  We can't change we have done to each other; even if we erase a hurtful and meaningful word in books and replace it with one with which we are more comfortable.  History and the horrible things that have happened throughout time cannot be changed, no matter how hard we rub with an eraser.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Monkey in My Head is Screaming

How do we deal with rage?  There are have several very well known people that have turned to bombs and guns, with horrific success if their goal is to rip apart other people's lives and destroy their own.  My mind first wanders to the Columbine shootings, probably because I lived in Colorado at the time, and my brother was one of the first responders.  But there are many other instances in which seemingly ordinary people took their inner rage out on other people who they didn't even know.  Now there's the most recent events in Arizona.

But this post is not going to be an evaluation of the most recent tragedy -- there are several people who are taking care of that for me.  No, this is about inner rage and finding a more positive way to expel it.  My brain thought of a new way of dealing about my own rage:  picturing a monkey.

The monkey just popped into my head recently as I was fighting to keep calm and collected during an argument with Will.  Keep in mind that this was a monkey.  Not an ape (a pet peeve of mine, a later blog perhaps).  Chimps, gorillas and humans are apes.  This was a smaller monkey with a prehensile tail and sharp canine teeth.  And boy, was this monkey pissed!

The monkey (no name as of yet) was screaming and hooting and swinging from something.  I wasn't picturing anything from which he could swing.  He was flinging bananas, tomatoes, and feces.  Yes.  He was flinging shit.  And the angrier I felt with the situation, the louder and more frantic he became.  So, I focused on him.  I pictured the various fruits and shit flying through my mind.  Disappearing into the darkness.  The more I thought about him and his rage, the calmer I became (not a reaction that Will was looking for, by the way).

Soon, I found the burning rage wearing out as the monkey wore out from his tantrum.  I began to feel better.  The anger dissipated, and I could once again focus on what needed to be done at that moment in time.  And every time things would start to escalate again, I told myself, "The monkey in my head is screaming," and all would become calm again.

Now, I understand that some people may find this crazy.  Especially the shit part (how nasty to have shit thrown about in one's head).  Perhaps one could try a different animal.  Elephants have great ways of expressing their anger, too.  Rampage and stomp on anything in your way!  Hiss and arch your back like a cat!  I find this option much better than being an ostrich and sticking your head in the sand (do they really do that?), and letting the rage build and build until you feel that you have to go postal.

As a culture, Americans are told that anger is bad, and that it must be swallowed and hidden away.  No wonder we have so many problems with digestion and sleep.  What if we were to take time in elementary school and let kids know that anger is normal and can be dealt without trying to kill it (or others)?

So, here's my suggestion:  next time you feel rage about something, take the time to focus on the anger rather than bury it.  Give it a form and let it vent.  Maybe this would be a safer and saner world if we all could have screaming monkeys inside.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Is there an Rx for that?

Once, there was this fly stuck in the bottom of a glass coke bottle.  I wrote a poem about the fly and it's attempts to escape its clear prison that it had entered out of simple curiosity.  At least that's what I thought I was writing about.

The poem was published in some literary anthology... my copy lost long ago.  I remember there was someone who commented on my poem; it was a "moving commentary on being lost in the depths of despair," (or something similar).  Huh?  Where did they get that?  It's just some imaginary fly trapped in a bottle.  I was angry that this unknown person was making this assumption of the meaning of my poem -- how dare he/she?!?  I put the anthology away, as well as my copy of the poem.  Stupid Literary Experts.

I stumbled across that poem a few years later, and read it with a more experienced eye.  I teared up while reading each line... it turned out the Literary Creep was right.  It wasn't just about a fly scrambling to climb out of its trap, and getting more and more weary at each attempt.  It was me.  I was the fly.  And I had just started to explore my own prison when I wrote the poem... and it would be years before I would crawl my way out.

My prison was just like the bottle:  clear, yet objects were distorted when looking through; it appeared safe in its solitude, maybe no one would notice the tiny fly struggling inside (which is what was most desired); it was ordinary, everyone felt like they were trapped in their own bottle... didn't they...?

The most amazing words anyone ever said to me were, "Not everyone feels like you do, Hope.  And you don't have to."  I focused on those words for years to come.  They were my one beacon of light to swim towards.  Those words kept me going through the nausea, the tremors, the hair loss, the weight gain.  There was only one side effect that almost kept me from continuing with my trial-by-error experiments to dissolve the glass walls:  the loss of my art.

I grew up a little artist.  Watercolors, crayon, pencil... anything I could get my hands on to create freeze-frames of the beauty I saw around me.  And writing, glorious writing!  Essays, short stories, poetry, research papers... I loved writing anything at all!  And it was so easy!  I would just sit at a piece of paper and the words would just pour out onto the paper (later they would pour through my fingers onto the keyboard)!  I would wake up in the middle of the night with a story or a poem that just had to come out!  Once it was on paper, it was perfect.  No editing necessary.  I struggled with many an English professor that would try to get me to change anything about my writings.

I was going to be a Writer.  I wanted to work for a magazine like The New Yorker.  It was the only thing I truly loved to do, and had to do.  The words would keep my up at night if I didn't let them out on the paper next to my bed.

Then, suddenly, the words were gone.  They were replaced by emptiness.  I would sit in front of a blank screen and wait for the familiar movements while my heart communicated with the computer via my fingers.  My fingers were still.  I was still able to write good research papers for classes, but the wonderful little characters that inhabited my world had suddenly walked away.  The glass wall was a little thinner, but the world outside seemed lifeless.  

I begged the Experimenters to change their formula -- give me back my passion!  I was told that sometimes this was an unfortunate side effect.  So sorry.  Deal with it.  And I decided to leave my talent behind in the bottle.  I have finally made it through the despair and anguish; and it was almost worth it...

Eleven years have gone by since then.  And I'm hoping that I can coax the little writing girl inside to come out and play.

Monday, January 3, 2011

On Selfishness

There seems to be a growing sense of self-entitlement in the world (or maybe I'm just becoming more sensitive to it?).  So, in support of this self-absorption, I am going to focus on MY revulsion to this trend.  This selfishness has raised its ugly head at my work recently, and it has floored me to the extent people are willing to take their own interests over the concerns of others.  

Why in the world does anyone think he or she has the right to hold themselves as more important than another?  What kind of childhood did these individuals have?  Did their parents never tell them, "no"?  Did they always get that piece of candy at the store when they threw a fit about it?  Did they never have to share with a brother or sister?  What is WRONG with these people?!?

I admit that I have my very selfish moments, and am very short-sighted on what is important beyond myself.  This can't be avoided unless one is Ghandi, Mother Theresa, or The Dalai Lama.  But I would like to think that these moments are limited in duration, and punctuated by other times of awareness, caring, and respect.  When I think about it, these are qualities that were strongly reinforced by my upbringing.

My brother and I heard "no" a whole heck of a lot.  And in my family, "no" meant NO. Period.  Not, "maybe, if you harass me enough I'll give in."  We didn't throw many fits; they never worked.  We were promptly walked out of stores, restaurants, and any other public place in which we may be disturbing others.  And it was made very clear that the reason we left was because we were not being respectful of the other people in the store/restaurant/etc.

Whenever we got a treat, we had to share it with each other.  And we found a great way to make sure that neither of us got more than the other:  You cut, I choose.  I can just picture one of us measuring so very carefully and slowly to make sure that the other one didn't get any more than the other!

My parents were sure that we were brought up with the understanding that neither one of us was more (or less) important than the other.  We were taught to be aware of our surroundings, and that our needs do not and should not take precedence over anyone else's.  While we may very much want something for ourselves, that isn't always the best thing for everyone.  And it's better to choose what's best for the most people not just me. 

Don't get me wrong, my childhood was not so great or superior.  But I think that the values I learned were important.  And seem to be sorely missing in a lot of people today.  I wish that people would take the time to ask themselves, "Is my decision the best for everyone?"  But, that's kind of selfish of me, isn't it?

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Happy New Year!

We were very ready to put 2010 behind us.  How did we ring in the exciting new year?  We both fell asleep on the couch and woke up just before midnight.  I have a cold, so there was no New Years kiss.  We then hobbled off to bed and fell asleep again.  Romantic, I know.  But this boring beginning to the year could be a good omen.  Perhaps this year will bring more relaxed times.

As we look forward to a more peaceful and relaxing new year, these are a few things that I learned in 2010:

  1. You're never going to know what's going to happen in life, nor can you control it.
  2. Don't let money rule your life.  
  3. You'll find out who your true friends are when times get tough.  Be sure you appreciate those who are still around when the dust clears.
  4. Be thankful and extra loving during the hard times -- it's not just hard on you.
  5. I absolutely made the right choice when I married Will.  Our love and partnership grow stronger with each challenge we face.

We have months of recovery and rehab ahead of us.... well, Will has the rehab and recovery, I get to stand by him and try to keep him from overdoing it -- which is harder than it sounds.  Will left the hospital yesterday afternoon.  This morning, I wake up to the smell of sizzling bacon.  I relax for a minute and enjoy the idea of a warm breakfast awaiting me.  Then I remember that Will isn't supposed to lift more than 5 pounds or stand for longer than 3 minutes at a time.  Damn it.  If he's doing this less than 24 hours after coming home, what is he going to be trying to do in 2 weeks when he has the same restrictions???

It's going to be an interesting, frustrating, and laughter/tear-filled process.  But I know that in the end it will be worth it.  By the end of the year we will be conquering more than just financial and emotional mountains!

Happy 2011 everybody!