Can’t We All Just Sit Quietly?

Yesterday I was waiting for the streetcar when a young woman came up to me. She started talking and I pulled off my headphones, hoping the conversation would be short. She asked me how to ride the DC Connector and I told her I didn’t know what that was but the streetcar stop was just in front of us, pointing to the median where a group of people were waiting. She had her card out, so I told her it was free to ride.

That’s when things took a turn. She told me how she was glad it was free because everything was too expensive. I politely agreed cause, yes, the rent is too damn high. But then she started chatting and asking me questions. I thought I’d be nice, since she seemed harmless enough. She asked me what I did. She asked me where I was from. I didn’t tell her much, but she told me all about herself. She mentioned that she had some hard transitions. She said she didn’t know whether it was the right time for her to have a kid. She ran through a list of life’s difficult choices, looking at me as she mentioned each one. She was casting lines, but I’d stopped biting.

After awhile, she said she’d like to give me her card. I watched as she searched in her giant blue-and-white striped Jessica Simpson wheeled bag, finally finding something. She handed it to me. It was a card for her church.

Then it all started to come together. I’d thought she was just a young women who hadn’t developed appropriate social skills. Turns out, she was a young woman who had learned a specific set social skills, ones that would help her manipulate strangers. And something about me made her think I was the perfect target. Is it because I look malleable? Does my general demeanor exude skepticism and profanity?

She told me how when she was struggling her Bible study really helped her. She told me everyone is welcome. She said it changed her life. I said that’s nice that that worked for her. She said I should join her. Then I made a crucial mistake. Instead of just saying no or that I am an unbelieving heathen or please leave me alone lady with no personal boundaries, I said I was Jewish. I think I was searching for a button to press just to see what would happen. She lit right up. She said that was fantastic because we are the chosen people and the savior was Jewish and we were given the holy text. I stared at her silently, thinking that if she really thought I was chosen, why in the world would I need her. She said, well at least we could go for a drink. She was clearly grasping. I continued to stare.

Finally, she told me we’d come to her stop and got off the streetcar. I took a deep breath, scooted over into the seat she’d just left, and put my headphones back in my ears.

And this is why I don’t talk to strangers. One minute, you think you’re giving someone directions on the street, the next you’re being accosted by an evangelist disguised as a confused 26-year-old tourist. I’ll never tell someone how to get to Hard Rock Cafe again.

I’m Out, People

I’ve thrown aside the trappings of capitalism. I’m no longer carrying credit cards. I let go of the gift cards that have been weighing me down. I relinquished the cash I’ve been carrying. I am now living without these fixtures of commercialism and financial competition. I can see the world anew, without the weight of the economy bearing down on me.

And, while I’m at it, I’m snubbing my nose at the requirement that I be tracked and identified by the government. Until some unknown future date, I will be walking around free from the little laminated cards that tie us to our states, telling anyone who catches a peek the date we were born and whether or not we wear glasses. The biggest sacrifice is that it will be more difficult to order a glass of wine, but that’s just a struggle I’ll have to face for the privilege of freedom.

I am now liberated from the tiny cards and bits of paper we’re forced to carry to prove we belong. I will walk without the burden of making decisions about which capitalist institutions I should frequent and which I should avoid. I will demonstrate my distaste for the man’s incessant control by discarding the documents he says we must attach to ourselves when we leave our homes. I am moving around lighter and more in tune with what’s happening around me.

Two days ago, someone stole my wallet.

Something Worth Its Space

I saw Hamilton over the weekend and it was so beautiful. It was a reminder that life is small and big all at once, that our giant moments and tiny building blocks are set up right next to one another—that if we grip our toes into the cracks in our foundation, we might just reach the ledge where we’re meant to be. It made me consider whether I’m really using my moments, whether I’m creating something worth the space it takes. It made me think I need to hustle harder. Hustle how, I’m not sure, but here I am.

I watched the men and women on that stage, telling the tale of a person who was expected to fail but instead helped build a nation, telling it in their own language, holding it up to a new light, and it struck a tiny hammer against the hardened lava that had built up around the creative self living in my bones.

So, I’m on a mission to find more miniature crowbars to take to these developing rifts. I’m going to feed the gaps with art and music and treetops and then wait as they grow and grow. After awhile, something worth the space it takes might come out.

Stripes and Polka Dots

I recently got two news pairs of shoes, my first soccer cleats and a stylish set of rain boots. Both came from the children’s section. That is the gift of tiny feet—snazzy shoes for bargain prices. The curse: bad balance. It’s worth it. You can fall in style.

The real challenge when shopping in the kid’s section is differentiating between cool, funky designs and awkward, lame ones. Kids can’t always tell the difference, so designers are usually just throwing lawn darts into the air and hoping they don’t fall on an unlucky fashion victim. Children are mostly just attracted to bright colors and shiny objects. Like crows. But as adults, we’re supposed to know better, to be chic and trendy. At least, that’s what the fashion magazines in the grocery store check-out lane seem to be telling me.

But since those magazine don’t taste as good as popsicles or pizza, they don’t make it into my cart, and the lessons just won’t stick. Instead, I usually think the most stylish person in the store with me is the toddler wearing a tutu and a baseball cap. They’re happy and we’re happy looking at them. We’d probably not pick that outfit out ourselves, but maybe we should. We could be excluding all kinds of cool combinations from our lives. Polka dots and stripes could be your jam.

And that’s what I hope to gain from my children’s department shopping excursions.

Rock what you like and forget about the judgment. Looking for a hairy pink mini backpack? You’ll find that in the kid’s section. Wish you had tights covered in shiny unicorns? Children’s aisle. Need a shirt with seventeen pockets? You know where to find it. Feel like dressing like a giant cheeseburger? Go for it. In your free time. Or get a job as a hype man at a fast food restaurant. Basically, go after what you want and wear what you like. That’s why I’ll be wearing my furry Chewbacca costume to work tomorrow. HR, here I come.

Somehow, I’m Still Here

As you guys know, I took an unfortunate elbow to the face two weeks ago. One concussion, one and a half black eyes, and four nose x-rays later, I am now walking around looking like a person with a regular face. Well, as regular as it was three weeks ago.

I’m not really supposed to be on a computer, but since it’s my job to be on a computer, I have been breaking that rule. It doesn’t go well. It starts to feel like I have one of those wind-up chimpanzee toys that play the cymbals inside my head. Not pleasant for me or the chimp. I guess this is what you get for placing yourself in danger, or, in my case, going outside. Still, I survived. Again. Somehow. The world seems pretty set on killing me, and yet, here I am.

Two months ago I went to the doctor for the first time in awhile. I was getting a check up because my body wasn’t cooperating and also because I am getting old. Those things might be related, but I’m not convinced. I think I may have angered a witch in a past life. Or a current life. I can’t rule it out.

As part of the appointment, I had to tell the doctor about my medical history, including the list of strange and varied ways the world has tried to take me out over the last eight years. I thought it was just the kind of stuff the universe throws at you, but my doctor’s kind but perplexed facial expressions as I explained my predicaments seemed to indicate otherwise.

I explained how I have low blood pressure, but it’s totally fine. Just one time I fainted and fell into the Metro tracks. I told her I had Shingles and sometimes the nerves in my arm still throw tiny knitting parties under my skin. I revealed that two summers ago I’d been bitten by a tick—twice—and gotten Lyme Disease—twice. I described how recently I’d gone to a stomach doctor and he put a tube down my throat and told me my stomach was eating itself, but that I’d taken some pills and my stomach has started to eat other things.

And that’s just what made it to the top of my ever-growing list. Dave seems to think he should put me in a giant bubble every time I leave the house, or, really, every time I get out of bed. I like to think I am just really great at surviving. What doesn’t kill you makes you… confused and tired?

I Need a Refill on My Cerebrospinal Fluid

On Monday night, I played in a soccer game and it was going pretty well—pretty well meaning that I hadn’t made any mistakes so disastrous that my team kicked me off the field. That was until I caught an elbow to the face. Then it was not going pretty well.

I have a combination of traits that really seems to draw elbows directly to my head. First, I’m short. Second, I have terrible depth perception. Third, my response time to threats clearly needs improving. I know it sounds like I’m blaming the victim here, but there’s plenty of blame to go around. I’d say 80 percent falls on the aggressive type-A DC dude who thinks he might get scouted at the local rec field and the rest falls on my general inability to do anything sporty without almost dying.

Literally.

This is not the first time I’ve gotten a concussion from an opponent’s body part slamming into my head. It’s usually an elbow, since my head is perfect elbow height to most regular-sized people, but once it was a knee. A KNEE. I’m short, but I’m not that short. I think I have a trauma magnet in my head.

Over my many near-death sports-related afflictions, I’ve figured out how to make the best of a bad situation. Here are a few benefits of getting hit in the head so hard that your brain smashes ever so slightly against the inside of your skull:

  1. You can take more naps. Don’t believe that rumor about how you’ll never wake up. I’m awake right now.
  2. You can tell people you can’t do things because you have a mild brain injury and they’ll be worried enough that they’ll accept your response.
  3. If you forget something, you can blame it on your brain. I mean, it’s always your brain’s fault, but this time is even more its fault.
  4. You now have a good reason to not like someone forever.
  5. You can erase a few memories, like that time you ate an entire box of macaroni and cheese at a friend’s house when you were 10 and her mom kept serving you more but also stared at you like you were some kind of alien specimen and you didn’t realize that even though you were hungry and they seemed nice about it you actually should have stopped eating two bowls ago. Just like, as an example of something that probably happened to someone once.

Overall, I would give the experience 2 out of 10 would not do again, but also, if I’m being realistic, it will 10 out of 10 happen again.

Careful What You Hold High

The world is devastated about the children who have been separated from their families after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. And they should be. It’s devastating. Some people say it’s a political conversation. Some people say it’s a personal travesty. We know it’s both, because the personal is political and the political is personal.

We can probably have reasonable debates about immigration policy. You know, as long as part of that reasonable debate includes the foundation that humans with excess should share it with humans who lack basic necessities. And that we’re all better when we lift one another up. I’m personally a huge fan of radios and jeans and birth control and airplanes. I’m crazy like that.

I also happen to think most people don’t leave their homes unless their lives are so difficult or dangerous or scary that the prospect of moving somewhere where their skills are devalued and they don’t speak the language and people discriminate against them in both thoughtless and threatening ways is somehow less difficult or dangerous or scary. And, because I think that, I believe that if a government is concerned about the number of immigrants attempting to seek safety in their country, they should spend their efforts making these immigrants’ countries of origin less difficult and dangerous and scary. But that’s just me.

So we can have debates about immigration. But we can’t have debates about how we should treat people seeking immigration status. We can’t have debates about whether or not people coming to this country are entitled to the legal guarantees and human rights standards we’ve hung up on our walls in the form of “America is Awesome” posters: due process, parental rights, the fourth and fifth and sixth amendments. If we want to keep our U.S.A. posters up next to those ones with the kittens who are just “hangin’ in there,” we can’t pick and choose who is entitled to these rights and who isn’t, regardless of their citizenship. We either think these things are important or we don’t.

This subject is close to my heart (clearly), and I could tell dozens of stories about the wonderful, smart, and kind children who I had the privilege of helping—but I’m pretty sure there are specific attorney rules about that kind of thing. I will say this: many of these children are scared and overwhelmed. They’re coping with a different culture and language. They’re dealing with the trauma of what they left or how they got here. They’re trying to pass their American history classes and finding solace in art or math—subjects where language is less important. They’re learning English by watching sitcoms on tv. They’re eating McDonald’s after school with the friends they made in ESL class. They’re trying out for soccer teams and dance squads. Most significantly, they’re babies and children and teenagers. They’re confused about life, because all kids are, and they deserve love and support and care.

They also deserve the same legal process any child who is removed from their parents is entitled to—going to court, having the state explain why the removal occurred, hearing the court make a determination about whether the removal reached the required standard, and, if so, being placed in a safe and appropriate environment. Yes, children can be removed from the care of their parents in the U.S. No, they cannot be removed indefinitely, without legal recourse, or placed in inappropriate and unsafe places. These laws exist and I guarantee you the people supporting these recent separations would cling to them if they were faced with the removal of their own children.

People say you can tell a lot about someone by how they treat waiters or flight attendants or valets. That’s true, but I think you can also tell a lot about someone by how they react to a stranger’s crying baby or, you know, someone else’s child sleeping on the floor of a warehouse surrounded by chain-link fence and armed guards.

Fight? Flee? Friend.

Face something dangerous or terrifying, and you’ll make one of two choices: fight or flight. Pick one, because science says that’s all you’ve got. Throw a punch or flee the scene. Jab or dodge. Kick or run. Tacos or burritos. Donuts or muffins. Ok, I got distracted. I think I’m hungry.

These can’t be my only choices. I’m scrappy, but I’ve never gotten in a real fight. I want to survive, but I’m a very slow runner. Like so slow that Dave literally walks next to me while I jog. I’ve faced a few near-death situations, but my actions didn’t seem to have much impact on the outcome. To me, this binary feels insufficient.

Because IT IS. This study—like so many others—was tainted by the patriarchy. Thanks for nothing, old-timey white dude who decided female subjects led to unreliable measurements due to hormonal fluctuations. Because obviously men’s hormones never change. Not. This ridiculous belief resulted in a participant pool for the original fight-or-flight study that was 83 percent male. Apparently no one thought it would be relevant to broaden that group to a population that more accurately represented actual reality.

Jokes on that guy though, because it turns out his exclusion led to an inherently flawed conclusion. Women don’t just flee or fight when faced with disaster. Most of them come together and take care of one another—a phenomenon scientists now call tend and befriend.

The study assumes this behavior developed as a necessity to keep children alive. They can’t fight or flee, so mothers, who are historically responsible for the lives of their children, were forced to adapt their responses to that goal. That means these women had to stick together, because everyone knows you can’t fight a bear alone. And if you share your food with your neighbor this week, she’ll probably share with you next week.

This is a system scientists say has mostly been ignored in stress studies, so they tried to solve that. As part of their study, they stressed out a bunch of rats, male and female. The female rats did get aggressive, but mostly just when an intruder tried to come at her while she was pregnant or had a little baby rat with her. Otherwise, she was like, meh, whatevs. You know what the female rats didn’t do? Run. Because that’s not how you handle your business.

The scientists are still waiting to see if they can replicate this is in humans, but I think we know the answer. I see it every day. The women I know are always pulling one another up. Watch a woman comfort an insecure friend. Watch women look out for one another at night. Watch a group of women in a bar bathroom. Watch a woman cover for another woman in a meeting. Watch women tell one another they’re beautiful and smart and strong and “they don’t know what they’re missing” and “if they don’t respect you, it’s not worth it” and “let’s go for a walk?” “are you ok here?” and “daaaamn, girl.”

Watch women.

We’re Building Bulldozers

Ed Sheeran’s Grammy win for “Shape of You” over Kesha’s “Praying” is the story of women everywhere.

I can imagine the (old male) judges sitting in a room listening to all the songs up for Best Pop Solo Performance.*

“Ok, here we have Kelly Clarkson’s song, ‘Love So Soft.’ Good jam. She seems like a sexy lady who’s interested in singing about being sexy. There’s a lot of innuendo in here, but it doesn’t threaten my masculinity. This is the kind of lady-music we’re looking for in a pop song. We can get behind this. (Literally. Am I right, fellow creepy old dudes?) Let’s keep this one in the running.”

“Next up is Lady Gaga with ‘A Million Reasons.’ She seems sad. I don’t really like when women sound sad. They should be smiling. But she is singing about wanting to stand by her man despite his terrible behavior, which is good. I like a forgiving woman who seems a little heartbroken and desperate. I’m torn on this one. Let’s move on.”

“Put on Pink’s song, ‘What About Us.’ Her name sounds feminine, so I have a good feeling about this one. Huh, what is she saying? We’re rockets pointed up at the stars? Billions of beautiful hearts? Sold down the river? This is getting complicated. She’s pulling up all kinds of themes I don’t feel safe talking about at a dinner party. I think she’s not really focusing on what we’re looking for here—a pretty face that makes us feel good. That’s enough. We don’t need to hear the rest.”

“Ok, back to something family friendly. Kesha’s song is called Praying, so this has got to be great. We love praying. Everyone loves praying. Wait, is she talking? Songs are for singing. What is this, some artsy nonsense? Alright, here comes the music. Oh, is Kesha the one who sued her music producer because he kept sexually assaulting her? That sounds controversial. And now it’s getting emotional. She’s really putting it all out there. Not very ladylike if you ask me. I can’t identify with this at all. Ok, that’s enough. There’s way too much going on here. I said that’s enough! This is making me uncomfortable! I don’t care if it’s beautiful! Turn it off! Make it stop!”

“This room is getting a little too intense. Let’s play the last one. Oh, thank god, it’s a guy. Here’s Ed Sheeran’s ‘Shape of You.’ This one has a nice beat. It sounds like it’s good for dancing. Oh, and it’s about how he likes the form of a particular woman’s body. This seems like a comfortable space for us. I’m feeling better already. I have liked the shape of a woman’s body before. Guys, I think we’ve landed on our winner.”

Multiply this a thousand times in a thousand different ways and you’ve got a world where women have to fight against brick walls to gain traditional success and accolades. But fight we are. Women keep creating art and telling stories and sharing themselves. We will do it whether you give us awards or burn our books. We’ll keep singing and writing and speaking. We’re building bulldozers, so you better hope you aren’t holding up that wall from the other side.

 

*I know they don’t really sit in a room together, but nothing says they can’t, so just roll with it.

Maybe Don’t Follow Your Gut This Time

If you read my post on Monday, you know I have a new roommate named ScarJo. She’s a black widow and she has (we think) already killed her mate/best friend in our basement. It’s a tenuous situation. We’ve kept our distance for now and are still determining whether or not we need to take any kind of landlord-tenant measures.

My first instinct when I saw ScarJo was to recoil. She has long, spindly legs and has spun a seemingly haphazard web in a shadowed corner to entrap her prey. She looks exactly like something I’ve been taught to fear. My apprehension is compounded by my own overwhelming and unreasonable anxiety about creepy insects crawling into my ears. Seeing her shot a tiny jolt through my brain and I had to take a breath to compose myself.

I really do like spiders. I know they’re important to our ecosystem and I appreciate that they eat bugs I really don’t enjoy being near. If I find one inside where I’d rather it not be, I catch it and take it outside. I am not generally afraid of them, but ScarJo is particularly spidery. She looks just like the sleek terrifying arachnid superhero you’d expect.

Awhile ago I read a tweet that said something along the lines of: People kill spiders because they’re afraid of them. I hope that if I happen to wander into a place where I’m unwanted and someone there is afraid me because of how I look, that person won’t decide to kill me.

I can’t remember who wrote it or exactly how they phrased the thought. I tried to track it down again, but I couldn’t. (If you can, please let me know! I would love to include it here.)

This unknown person’s brilliant but sad thought has stuck in my brain. I am a big proponent of trusting my gut. I’ve decide a lot of things that way—everything I don’t choose by running through an endless mental pro/con list and wavering back and forth until I collapse in exhaustion. It’s never anything in between.

While I always advocate a good gut-check in any decision-making process, I think it’s important to step back and check ourselves. Where is that gut feeling coming from? Is it legit? Is it lying to you? Is it being fueled by years of divisive political schemes and derivative media?

Every day people make choices out of fear. They’re electing politicians who fuel it because they hope they’ll provide an answer to it. They buy guns because they’re overwhelmed by it. They bully people so they can push it away from themselves and on to someone else. They hide from their truth because of it. It makes them stay inside the comfort of their own bubbles. It pushes people into rash and illogical actions.

Fear loves to be the boss—but it’s a terrible one. It’s ignorant, manipulative, and greedy. It definitely doesn’t want the best for us. Don’t let fear be in charge. Let the spiders live.