At Sea

 

at sea
Photo Courtesy of Michal Jarmoluk
I’m trying to stay afloat.
Huge waves toss me because I’m nothing. They’re not enough to drown me, but enough to remind me I’m small in the face of it.
I flounder and kick, trying to right myself. To fling myself out straight onto my back, where I can bob atop the turmoil.
Get lost in the stars.
“I feel as if it’s behind me, but I can’t get away from it,” I whisper in therapy. “It’s this looming, grim reaper-type figure that’s always there. Always casting a shadow only I can see.”
So I seek the stars, knowing it isn’t there I’ll find relief. I just need something bright that’s all my own.
Something that will burn beneath my skin upon capture.
A guide to light my way.
The waves still and I remain silent. Prone.
The struggle ends, for the moment.
But the silence is where it’s hardest to breathe. Where my breath becomes shallow and caught in the small space between the top of my lungs and the base of my throat.
Caught there with my voice and all the words I cannot say and everything that longs to break open on shore.

Why We Still Need Feminists

We are not looking in our rear view mirror at rights that have made us equal for generations.

typing-pool
Typing pool, circa 1950’s. (Photo: Wikipedia.com)

I graduated high school in 1995, having never taken one elective class I’d really wanted to take. Every year I asked my mom, and every year she told me she would refuse to sign off on any schedule in which I tried to register for the class.

 

Keyboarding.
This was just before the advent of the internet, when everyone was on a computer, mobile or otherwise, at all times. Keyboarding, at that time, was a legitimate endeavor. Mainly, you were taught how to type without looking at all at your hands, with your fingers in set positions on a QWERTY keyboard. You were taught to type with decreasing typos and increasing speed.
She flat out refused to let me take it.
For me, the class was a chance to hang out with a different set of kids. I was always in Honors classes, which meant I generally moved through my day surrounded by the same group of classmates. Electives were my chance to maybe sit next to a new guy or see my best friend who didn’t take any Honors classes.
My mom wasn’t having it.
Sure, there were other electives. But orchestra, which I took every year, tended to have mostly those same Honors students in it. Art was a good mix of kids, until I ran out of art classes to take and took an AP Studio Art class that allowed me to take photography as an independent study.
There were five kids in that class.
I’d ask her why and she always answered that there were so many electives available to me. Pick another one.
Within a year of my graduation, the internet exploded with dial up and AOL and chat rooms.
I was working part time for my mom and her friend the summer after graduation. They’d started their own benefits consulting firm. My dad had left the previous year and my mom needed to earn more money in order to support us alone, so her and her friend figured that was their best shot at higher salaries. Paying themselves.
She’d give me a document or letter to type up and I’d tease her.
I could be typing this way quicker if you’d have let me take keyboarding.
She’d give me a smartass reply and move on.
That fall I started college at a private, four-year university nearby to which I earned a partial scholarship. Two weeks later, without discussing it with my mother, I went down to the registrar and signed myself out.
She’d had to declare bankruptcy and sell our home after my dad left. We were living in an apartment, her and my brother and I, and she was trying to make her new business work so she could better support us. It felt like, at the time, the best thing I could do was not strap her with more debt. Not be another source of worry for her. I felt it was best if I got out and got myself a full time job and supported myself. So I found one and quit school before we were responsible for any tuition.
That night we sat at our kitchen table discussing what I’d done.
She looked tired.
You always said you wanted to be a lawyer.
I shrugged. Yeah, well I’m not really feeling that anyway. I’d be racking up all this debt when I don’t really know what I even want to do.
My mom wasn’t having it. She begged and cried and I was stubborn and cried. Then she finally told me.
I never let you take that stupid keyboarding class because I wanted you to have all the opportunities I never had. When I went to school, all the girls were told to take keyboarding. Because if you weren’t going to be a teacher or a nurse, you were going to be a secretary somewhere until you found a guy to marry you. Which is exactly what I did. I never let you take that class because I wanted you to be in a position where you could hire your own fucking secretary if you needed something typed.
 
___________________________________________
Men, and often women, comment on my writing about feminism.
You want equal rights? You got ’em. Shut up already.
What are you even marching for?
I have never felt inferior to men. I earn the same as them. I don’t know what you people are talking about.
It doesn’t seem to matter to these people what our national statistics say. Or that the statistics are even worse for some minorities.
I am a feminist because we are not treated as equals.
 
Our pay is not equal. Our representation in government is not equal. The men in government are making decisions that affect my health and body, and that is not equal.
I am a feminist because minority men and women are not treated as equals.
 
Their pay is not equal. Their representation in government is not equal. The men in government are making decisions that affect their health and bodies, and that is not equal.

Putting aside all of that, I am a feminist because our hold on these freedoms you claim we have feels tenuous, at best.

We’re not talking about generations of freedom. One generation ago my mother had to take a keyboarding class in order to graduate high school because that, typing out letters, was considered her best option for employment until she got married.
One generation ago, my mother was married and a mother before she was legally allowed to have a credit card in her name. And that was only because a female congresswoman, unbeknownst to her colleagues, added the language banning discrimination based on sex and marriage. The law was going to be passed without it.
One generation ago, my mother was married and a mother and could legally be fired from her job for getting pregnant.
One generation ago, my mother was married and a mother before she could even report sexual harassment. Actually, make that less than a generation ago. Because sexual harassment wasn’t legally defined until I was three years old. 
Less than a generation ago? In MY lifetime, my mother still could be excluded from being on a jury because she was a woman. Still could legally be discriminated against in regards to housing and credit because she was a woman. Still had her husband considered “head and master” by many states in regards to jointly owned property. Still could be legally passed up for promotion in a law firm for being a woman. Until I was 16 years old, it was still legal in some states to rape your spouse. Until I was 16, a woman had to prove she’d been physically or psychologically harmed in order to claim she’d been sexually harassed. (Click here for a quick reference to all the claims made in this paragraph.)
Just because you personally are not experiencing something, doesn’t mean others, elsewhere, aren’t experiencing it. Women across the country are earning less than their male counterparts. We are severely underrepresented in government. That includes local and state representation, not just federal. We are not looking in our rear view mirror at rights that have made us equal for generations.
So I’m a feminist. You don’t have to agree with me, but it would be nice if you stopped trying to tell me to give it up.
Either way, I’ll still be a feminist. For all of us.

The Improbable, Possible Things I Seek

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By Jonathan McIntosh (Own work) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

As a child I curled up under the Christmas tree to read. Every year I received books as gifts, in addition to some toys. While the shine and glitz of a new toy tended to wear off quickly, the books were forever.

The stories never ended.

I’d hide under the lowest branches of the fake tree my family put up year after year. My grandmother had crocheted a large tree skirt that wrapped around the base and splayed out in a circle on the floor beneath. I’d lay upon it, my book in hand, and read my way to someplace else.

Somewhere quiet and less chaotic than the world I inhabited.

There were moments though when I’d look up, through the branches twinkling with light and adorned with tiny whimsical figures and shiny, gleaming globes, and I’d stare.

Up through those branches I found silence. It waited for me in every tiny nook. I’d hear nothing but the sound of my own breathing and the faint whisper of a magic that only exists in timeless moments. In moments where the real world falls away and one can believe with absolute certainty that something fantastic can happen.

I stared up through the galaxy of stars that blinked through the branches andfelt them upon me. Shifting shades of red and green and blue and gold. Nothing else existed for me then except the lights that danced across my skin and a tree that breathed with possibility.

I curled up, small and silent, with stories dancing through my head and it was a tiny thing, that moment. A young girl in the corner of a silent living room in a small house that stood in a small town on a tiny plot of the earth.

But it was big enough for me. Big enough to transport me. Enormous enough for me to believe that maybe something existed in that tree that I couldn’t see. It felt so magical, like a place where fairies could be found fluttering or tiny mice in clothes bustling about their errands.

There was silence enough beneath the Christmas tree that it became sacred.

Now I wonder if that’s what I’m seeking. Moments, where I believe in something. Something outside of myself and my experience.

A silence. A connection to something that feels big to me.

A something that leaves me believing in the magic of how improbable, yet possible, everything is in this world.

If someone lets go of all else, and believes.

He Looks For Me in the Sails

512px-sailboat__sunset_madeira_-_nov_2010

By Alexander Baxevanis (Flickr: Sailboat & Sunset) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I want to be the sails.

I want to unfurl myself into the wind and be caught up and set free. I want to see all the things, travel to all the places, meet all the people.

I want the only sound to be the rushing, whipping force of moving forward. The only thought through my mind that of where I land. What’s ahead. I want to be focused only on me, the sails, and getting better at steering myself into the storm. I want to feel lightness against brutality and the freedom that comes from holding up against the wind.

But really, I’m the anchor.

I’m heavy with doubt and every chain is built from leaden thoughts of why I shouldn’t and how I can’t.

I sink.

I’m holding myself down, and anyone who might be on the journey with me at any given time. I’m the anchor that keeps us still, stagnant. While there may be rocking now and then when the sea kicks up, the wind can’t take me anywhere but in circles.

He’s the steady crewman.

Hands on his hips. Shaking his head now and then, but generally with a cocked eyebrow and lips always on the verge of smiling. He’s the one who claps his hands together and rubs them for a bit as he eyes the situation and springs into action.

He pulls me up, hand over hand, out of the muck I’ve sunk myself into at the bottom of the sea. Makes sure I’m back on board, even if I’m just curled up at his feet coughing up water.

Then he raises the mast, unleashes the mainstay, and steers into the wind.

Even if he’s warily eyeing the storm.

Even when he’s worried he’ll be tossed overboard.

He holds on, steady and true. Because no matter how low that anchor sinks, and how much I think I’m wrapped up in its chains . . . somehow he still believes I’m the sails.

When he looks for me, he looks up. Eyes squinting against the sun, sure that he’ll see me there in the wind.

I love that he looks for me in the sails, even when I’ve slid off to sink into the sea.

This Is Not Marriage Advice. Sort of.

Wedding_rings
By Jeff Belmonte from Cuiabá, Brazil (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The season for bridal showers came when I was younger. That rush of marriages taking place every few months. Friends and cousins and co workers all at that age where they start tying the knot.

With it come the bridal shower invites. At least, where I’m from they did. Is that a regional thing? You’d all gather around with your gifts and sip mimosas (or beers, depending on the crowd) and inevitably a journal or index card would get passed around the table for you to write down your best advice for the couple.

I was, during that season of my life, frighteningly unqualified to be handing out relationship advice.

I still am.

The difference is, now I know it. Back then I wrote little quips like Never go to bed mad and Always make time for one another.

Which, yeah, is valid. Sure.

Brilliant advice? No. It’s not.

Because that shit they can figure out on their own.

There’s no advice I would offer to couples today if asked. I can only offer my perspective. I can only share what’s worked for me in my current relationship. None of it worked in any previous relationship I had. All of it is particular to me and my husband. But I think perhaps people can extrapolate from it some juicy nuggets they can chew on, digest, and crap out some helpful morsels of their own.

(That sounds so gross. Sorry. Analogies aren’t always my thing.)

So there’s the first thing I’d share: Stop asking for advice. Because what works for one couple may be disastrous for another.

Also, the person you’re with today is not going to be the person you’re with years from now. Not because I’m fatalistic and believe you won’t stay together. But because people change. Yourself included. It’s natural.

It’s also scary.

There may be times you look at the person beside you and ask if you even recognize him or her any longer.

Does it matter?

The better question, for me, has always been Do I want to take the time to get to know this person? If the changes he’s shown haven’t changed the kindness or the humor or the tenderness that I so love and value in him, then it’s me I need to confront. Not him. It’s my aversion to change I need to examine. The same applies to him when I change.

You’re going to argue and it’s going to hurt. A lot of the time it won’t even be over what matters. You’ll be dealing with a sick child or a lost job or money trouble or all three and more, but it’s the laundry on the floor that will cause the big blow out. It’s hard though, in the heat of the battle over whether or not it’s a big deal for your partner to just throw the goddamn laundry in the hamper versus whether it’s a big deal to just pick up what your partner was too fucking distracted to care about and throw it in since you are already on your way to the hamper if you really feel so fucking passionate about it, to remember that your partner is as stressed as you and needs you to maybe hold some space for him.

You’ll want to throw things at the wall.

Remember that the more peanut butter there is in the jar, the bigger the dent it will leave in the sheet rock. Just saying. I mean, that’s what I’ve been told. Let’s move along.

You’re not perfect.

You’ll do things like scream for help while you cling to a wooden beam after falling through the ceiling of your kitchen because you didn’t know you could only walk on the beams in the attic. And he’ll come running and unwrap you from the wires tangled around your legs, help you down with a gentle hand, and dust you off while checking to be sure you are injury-free before calling your mother to laugh over it. Meanwhile, when he trips down your porch steps as you are both walking out to the car, you’ll spend your entire thirty minute drive with him next to you watching as you struggle to laugh in silence with tears streaming down your cheeks and your O-ring struggling from the strain of trying to hold in all those guffaws.

It’s ok though, because he isn’t perfect either.

Sometimes he’ll make you feel you’re not enough and sometimes you’ll make him feel like he has no voice. You’re both going to make each other feel lots of feels. Some of them, if you’re lucky, will feel so damn good. Some of them, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, will hurt.

There’s never a win or lose.

Except for this . . . if you both find ways to make the other feel loved enough that it carries you through the times when you feel otherwise. When you feel less than. If you both still hold onto that . . . you’re winning.

I have no advice.

I only know that it matters when he’s the calm one in the room. It matter when I pack his lunch. It matters when he reaches back to hold my hand as we’re walking. It matters when I encourage him to chase his dreams. It matters when he does the same.

There is no magic guide book that will help you navigate this, or any other relationship. But it helps to find the things that matter to you both.

I sort of can’t wait for the next bridal shower invite.

I’ll be looking for them to pass around the journal or hand out those decorated index cards. I’ve reached the point in life where I know that the flowery sayings are just that. They’re nice and pretty, but ultimately will end up as dry and fleeting as a flower in a vase.

No, I won’t write out any quips or advice. Instead I’ll share a story filled with laughter and heartache, highs and lows, pain and joy. It’ll be all about me and my husband and our life and the particulars, most likely, will never apply to you and your relationship.

But the hope?

That always applies.

Talk About This at My Funeral

I stood on the side of my son’s baseball field yesterday and cried under my sunglasses.

I cried because it was sunny and the breeze felt good and the air was ringing with the sounds of kids laughing and playing.

Their legs work and their lungs work and they may not know yet of all the bad things in the world, but they will some day. There is no way to avoid the knowing of bad. Even if one were to die at a young age, that in itself is bad. There, with your last breath, you’ll feel it. The unfairness that exists. The sharp sting of cutting cruelty.

I cried because it’s summer and the warmth feels so good on my skin and I get to see my kids all day long, every day.

I cried because of the overwhelming happiness I felt in that moment. The unrelenting luck I’ve enjoyed in my life so far.

I cried because I know that all luck runs out.

I cried because I don’t know what I’m doing right or wrong to make it continue. I don’t know what it is that has brought me this luck and what misstep will make it disappear.

I cried because I want to live in that moment forever. I want an endless summer. An endless supply of innocent laughter. I cried because I know it isn’t possible and probably wouldn’t be as valued if it were.

I cried because I know it will end, but I don’t know how.

Not just that moment, but all of it. Which summer will be my last? Which peal of laughter will be the last to ring against my ear? Will my last lungful burn with wanting to breathe in one last scent of grass?

Who will remember how much it meant to me? How I wanted it all to go on for always.

How I stood at the edge of a baseball field and cried for the beauty of it and the luck that brought it to me and me to it.

I portrayed Emily in Our Town in a high school play. The entire end monologue stuck with me over the years. It’s tattooed on my heart. But the one line I remember most is this:

“I can’t look at everything hard enough.”

That’s what I did yesterday on the side of a baseball field. I cried because I can’t look at it all hard enough.

I’m Here to Find the Moments That Matter to Me

I want to wring every potential miracle from every fleeting moment.

I don’t mean the biblical style miracles or the stuff of fairy tales.

I’m talking about the real ones.

Miracles . . . like life where once was none.

An empty vessel that suddenly houses a being that kicks at my heart from within. The warmth of a tiny body and the grip of ten tiny fingers. Eyes that blink up at me from my breast and greet me with a familiarity bred within my soul.

Miracles . . . like love that gives without motive.

Love that says tell me what you want. Listen to what I’m hearing. Share with me what I have. See all that I gaze upon. Drown with me here in this bed. Let the sun fill our lungs with a new day.

Love that says ride this out in my arms.

Miracles . . . like friendship that feels like family.

People who come along and recognize in you something they feel in themselves. Moments where they turn their backs to their own lives to share with you in yours. Then invite you to share with them in theirs. Histories that weave themselves together so completely that the whole world can see you were cut from the same cloth.

My miracles . . .

. . . like the sun on my face . . . or words that seep into the air in my lungs . . . or a photograph that captures a memory I’ll never have to say good-bye to . . . or music that makes me soar . . . or ache . . . or dance . . . until the world falls away and I’m just me.

Not a mother or a wife or a friend or a label. I’m just me, smiling, and breathing, living that one moment. And loving it.

My miracles aren’t yours. But I want you to find yours. And love the fuck out of them.

It isn’t always easy. At my lowest point it became next to impossible to find one in any day.

But I’d hear a giggle from a loved one.

I’d feel his warmth at my back.

My phone would ring and I’d hear a smile. I’d hear it. A smile from a friend because she was happy to hear my voice.

Sometimes I’d have a hard time finding my miracles.

But they’d always find me.

I’m not here for any one purpose. I’m here to live. And maybe my way of living isn’t balls to the wall. I’m not traveling the world and jumping out of planes or rocking stadiums.

Those miracles are for someone else.

My miracles are here for me and I love living them.

I’m not here to achieve any one thing. I’m here to achieve as much as I can. To live every day cognizant of how miraculous it is that I’m here, that I’m healthy, and that I get to smile as much as I do.

I don’t worry about what will happen when I’m gone. What I’ll achieve or not achieve before my time runs out. But, if asked, I’ll tell you what I hope to leave behind.

A reminder.

Not of me or what I achieved. Not of who I was or what I did. Not of where I went or what I left behind.

A simple reminder for you who still lives . . . to keep living for as long, and as true, as you can.

A reminder for all who still live to keep finding your miracles . . . and keep letting them find you.