Rape, Suppressed Memory, and the Hope of Forgiveness

“I wronged you in the past,” came the LinkedIn message notification on my phone. It was late on a Friday afternoon. I was at work, plowing through as much as I could before the weekend.

I did not recognize the name on the message. Whoever it was, he wanted to apologize.

For what? Who was he?

About an hour later, my brain miraculously coughed up a possible answer to the second of those questions. My friend Molly and I had once rented a house in Charlottesville from someone whose son also lived there. Could that guy be this guy? We used a nickname for him—one that seemed to align with his adult, LinkedIn name. This is an example of a brain doing something remarkable, because that is literally the only thing it has offered up to me from the locked vault since I received that message.

It turns out my brain’s suggestion was correct. That guy was this guy.

And at that moment, I had to face a hard fact. I had virtually no memory of the entire year. The only thing from that year that has been in my active memory files in the 40 years since is that I was living in that house when John Lennon was killed. That sliver is what allowed me to figure out what year it was. I Googled it. 1980. Got it.

That’s it. No actual memory of the house, my room, the street, any events from the year either at work, school, or home. I have subsequently learned that there were two other housemates, who lived in the basement. In a late-night Messenger conversation, Molly texted me numerous specific memories of all the roommates, the house, stuff we talked about and did— that I cannot conjure no matter how I try. An entire year—gone.

Including the rape that took place in my bedroom one night. I eventually listened to my rapist tell the story. It was not the story of a shared memory, where my brain provided images and feelings to fill in the edges. It was a brand-new story he told me, and the main characters were named “You” and “I.”

Let me back up a bit. Why did I ask for a call with my self-professed rapist?

  1. I wanted my questions answered.
  2. I wanted at least one black hole in my mind to be filled in.
  3. I wanted to control the conversation—no more surprising messages on LinkedIn or an apology via letter or email where he got to spin the narrative.

I asked him to talk the following Sunday. He agreed.

Friday afternoon—I was numb… like, kind of fine, actually, for a few hours. I called my sister and told her about the messages. “Are you okay?” was her first question. And I said, “I think so.”

Friday night into Saturday… definitely not okay. I have no clear explanation for the mental and emotional processes of the next several days. Rollercoaster, though painfully trite, gets close to being descriptive. Information overload. Brain overdrive. Heartache.

I had been raped a second time—a little over a year after the first one. And I had erased it, and all the months around it.

I felt as if he had just raped me, because until that Friday afternoon, I did not know he had.

The complete blank in my brain resulted in massive uneasiness and anxiety.

What happened?

I forget things. My brain learned the trick when I was very young. I forget so I can be strong. I forget so I can live as if it didn’t happen. I erase huge swaths of my life so I can feel better about my life.

So much forgotten time. Entire years, it turns out. That fact is a punch in my gut almost as heartbreaking as realizing I’d been raped not just once, but twice.

My housemate rapist looked for me, forty years later. He sought me out, found me on LinkedIn, and assumed I’d remember, just as he did, the events that took place. Also that I’d likely welcome his request to apologize. How could he have known that the event that has been with him for 40 years was only introduced into my consciousness by him?

His first messages were clumsy, unintentionally hurtful because rather clueless, and made me nervous about speaking to him. But I knew I needed to. Wanted to.

I processed the shit out of the whole situation all day Saturday. I spoke to my sister and my daughter, on the phone. My friends Mary (by chance she was in town) and Beth came over to sit with me that afternoon. We made a plan. I wrote my notes, my script, to help me get through the call. I got mad. At him: “How dare he contact me!” At myself. For forgetting. I sobbed intermittently with utter helplessness—once again I had to face my own vulnerability at the whim/hands/intentions of a man. I raged with fierce strength: “This does not define me.” I was exhausted.

The next day, Beth returned, to be by my side while I was on the phone.

I tapped in the number he’d given me. I vibrated all over as floods of adrenaline and cortisol had their way with my central nervous system. My voice shook when he answered the phone and I said hello.

Here’s the thing. I knew he wanted to apologize. That seemed, on the face of it, good. But I was not at all sure if he wanted to take responsibility—which was the only kind of apology that would actually help me. If his apology was for his own sake alone, I would know it. And it would hurt.

But it wasn’t.

Nothing can change what he did. He will have to live with that self-knowledge forever. But his actions on that Sunday afternoon on the phone were everything I could have hoped for, but had not hoped for.

He wanted the call to be healing. I did not think it could be.

But it was.

I led, he followed. I asked, he answered—with brutal honesty and full ownership of the awfulness of his choices and actions. He said the correct words: “I raped you.” He offered no excuses, and lay no blame or responsibility at my feet, as happens all too often.

I am not the only woman he is trying to find. There are two others. And for their sake, at the very end of our phone call, I offered him some suggestions about how he might do it differently next time. He thanked me.

He told me he had read my Me Too blog before he reached out to me—found my blog link on LinkedIn and then typed the words Me Too in the search bar. He thought he might find himself there—but it was someone else. When he messaged me, he already knew he was not the only man to violate me.

His wife was raped in college too, he told me. When she shared that information with him, when they were dating, he told her, “I did that.” He confessed the truth, that there are women out there, like her, because of him. He told me that their ability to work through those brutal facts, and every emotion on both sides, made all the difference to them. It took a long time and I don’t think it was easy. In the end, I had to respect him for that honesty with the woman he loved, and whom he could have lost.

It turns out we were housemates, not close, not friends, but friendly. He said he wasn’t the best housemate. I had to remind him to do his dishes.

After he told me what happened, I asked, “Why did you do it?”

“I was a privileged little shit.” Like so many upper-middle class white boys on college campuses, he imagined himself to be entitled to whatever he wanted. He thought he had magical powers to make women want his penis inside them. However it got there. The fact that he recognizes that now, and owns it, and refuses to be that guy anymore—well, it made an impression on me. As my heart broke for 20-year-old me, I recognized the growth and humility in him that makes him a human on a path, just as I am.

As for forgiveness, I’m not there yet, but I want to be. And I hope I’ll find my way to that place. I usually do.

The night he raped me, he knocked on my door. “I was lonely,” he said. “I asked if I could get in bed with you.”

His words triggered no memory. Still a blank. I sat in my sunny Sunday living room, tears dripping from my chin as I listened

He went on. “You were surprised, but you said, okay. Just to sleep.”

So he got in next to me.

I fell asleep. He didn’t.

 

 

Shelter in Place OR When Children Must Come to Terms with Their Imminent Demise Something is Very Broken

“This is a lockdown. This is a lockdown. This is NOT A DRILL.”

That’s what the students at the public schools heard on Friday in the community where I live, an island off the coast of Massachusetts. They pushed tables against doors, crouched in corners, and tried not to make noise. They hoped and prayed that they would be allowed to live.

Thirty minutes went by before they learned that it was a false alarm. Someone had accidentally triggered the panic button.

Thirty minutes went by in which every adult and child in the school wondered if the shooter would find them. And when.

Texts were sent, like this one: “I don’t know what might happen. I love you, Mom.”

Some students could not bear to wait and jumped out of second floor windows.

I can’t begin to guess why they jumped… Was it fear, plain and simple? Survival instinct? A despairing belief that it might not matter but I’ll try anyway? It seems that “I want to live” looks like shelter in place to one child and it looks like jump out the window to another. What would you do?

By incredible, ironic chance, a panel discussion about Massachusetts gun legislation was scheduled for later in the day and I had planned to attend. I did attend, completely unsure what it would look like in the wake of the morning’s events. Three members of the Massachusetts legislature were there, as well as a representative from Moms Against Gun Violence, and a high school student activist extremely involved in the national gun control movement.

That boy told his story.

“A fourteen-year-old girl one foot away from me was crying so hard that tears flowed in a stream from her chin. All she could say, over and over and over was, ‘Where is he? Where is he?’”

The boy, let’s call him JJ, went on: “By he, she meant the man out there somewhere who wanted her dead.”

He explained, “I did not know how long I’d be alive.” He said that, or words to that effect, repeatedly as he processed before our eyes.

No one, he explained, thought, “Maybe it’s an earthquake.” They’ve been trained to fear something far worse than the shifting of tectonic plates, the collapse of buildings, and a tsunami aftershock.

By the time we saw JJ, he was very, very angry. But there was more. Much more. This brave teenager, who somehow managed to have the stomach and the grit to make it to his speaking commitment that afternoon, was traumatized.

I think we say that word a bit too freely sometimes: “I was traumatized,” or, “That was so traumatic.” Many people in our country experience true trauma—abuse and rape victims, children ripped from their parents and kept in cages, the victims and survivors of mass shootings, to name just a few examples. We need to be careful to use words precisely.

Children who thought they were about to die while in a place where they should always and without question feel safe? That is trauma.

However, JJ never once said, “I am traumatized.” He was too inside the moment to think about defining it. But all of us in that room heard it in his voice. Saw it in his face. He will never be the same. None of them will.

And JJ did NOT have to face a shooter. He will NOT have to go to funerals for the next month. But he believed he would die. That his friends, his teachers, might be gone in the flash of a semi-automatic weapon and lie in their own blood until some indeterminate moment when things were safe again.

Outside, surrounded by the flashing lights of every police car on the island, parents gathered, awaiting news, wondering if their babies would come back to them.

This is the country we live in. This is the United States of America. A nation of children who know how to shelter in place, push tables against doors, be very very very quiet. While wanting their mothers. While crying, while needing human connection, while being paralyzed by the most horrific of thoughts. A “civilized” society in which 5-year-olds know what a “shooter” is and must understand that they and they alone are responsible for their actions in attempting to avoid being murdered. They must also know this: if they reveal their position to the shooter, they may be to blame for the deaths of everyone else in that room. Deal with that, why don’t you.

I know I could not.

Marjory Decker, state legislator who sponsored the red flag law that passed in MA in 2018, spoke of her own young children. One of them has night terrors because of the lockdown drills at her school. I have heard similar stories from others whose children are deeply troubled just by being prepared for an active shooter in their schools. Why wouldn’t they be?

As horrible as it is that the alarm went off in our schools by “mistake”—why do we even have to have a panic button in every school? Why must we prepare our children for imminent death because some dude decides he needs to shoot things, AND he can get a gun more easily than a car or a marriage license?

I am intensely proud to be part of the agency that was called upon and that responded to this event on Friday. Our clinicians rushed to the scene and helped children and parents, teachers and administrators navigate the fearful reality of this accidental “not a drill” that they had to live through for 30 whole minutes. We will be back again on Monday, helping as best we can… But I despair. Why does this have to be a thing? How can the gun lobby matter more than the lives and souls of children?

Please explain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Mother Thing

Did you ever think to yourself, “We all have one thing in common?” And the answer was: “Everyone has a mother.” Well, it’s not true.

Of course, every human emerged from a vagina. Or out of a uterus, one way or another. But throughout human history, children and mothers have been torn apart. An enslaved mother sold to another Southern farmer upon the birth of a child of questionable origins. A child whisked into sex trafficking. Mother and baby connections shattered by war and famine and epidemics.

Children in cages in the Land of the Free

And here in this country now, children kept in cages, far from their mothers. And, if the people in charge of this Land of the Free get their way, never to be reunited.

Quick disclaimer: I love daddies and I know that every story of family separation, loss, grief, and anguish is likely to involve a father. A father’s anguish is no less important, and a father’s love is no less vital, than that of a mother.

But this is my blog. I’m a mommy. And I want to talk about mothers.

My mother wanted me. I was planned. Still, for half a year when I was two, she abandoned me with a stranger. (She clearly did not see it that way.) It was with my grandmother—a woman I’d never met, in a house I’d never visited. Apparently I cried a lot—to the point of vomiting—upstairs standing in a crib. For a long time. A week? Two? Then, so say my uncles, I changed. Got quiet. Learned the rules.

I only mention this because it is my 1/1,000,000th partial-not-really experience with that awful rift. I did learn the rules and was reunited with my mother. It took me a few decades to really sort out the mommy thing (complicated by her narcissism and collapse into psychosis years later), but I turned out okay. Because I was privileged as hell. I was always fed, always warm, always dry and physically secure. I received an education, had experiences that enriched me, knew other adults who loved me—uncles, friends. And there was my Great Aunt Thelma who gave me all the unconditional love a gal needed, and my father. He was long-distance and distracted by a new family, but that was my family too, a blessing to me. And my father loved me the best he could. And I was white.

By the time I was 17 she was lost to me again, that mother. The psychosis previously mentioned had spiraled her into an alternate universe from which only her voice emerged, now and then, to blame me for things. I didn’t blame her, though. She did her level best with the cards she was dealt. Sure, it was hard to go through life’s trials and joys without a mom to turn to or share with. College. Date rape. First love. A broken heart. A medical crisis. Pregnancy. But I had enough of what I needed to be okay. More than.

Me with my babies long ago.

But you can bet your ass my babies got all the attachment parenting, unconditional love, safe boundaries I could give them, and a warm, ever-present, non-judgmental ear to listen to all of it, even in the middle of the night when, ya know, shit happens. Their privilege is profound, because of the love of me, their dad, and the fact that they are white middle class kids with US birth certificates. And passports.

But the most important of these is love…

I see the effects of that love in my now-grown children. They have self-love and they understand their worth. They are not afraid to ask for help. They are adventurous and kind. They know they’re okay. And they know where to go if they aren’t.

I see the remarkable children of safe, privileged, loving families—those of my friends, my sisters, and extended family.

I heard a statistic once from a therapist a bunch of years ago. 30% is all a child needs. If a parent can give love, attention, safe emotional haven, 30% of the time, things are probably gonna be okay.

THIRTY PERCENT. That’s all. That’s not much, really. That means 70% of a kid’s parenting can 100% suck and they’ll be all set. But a lot of kids get zero% because guess what? They got a raw deal.

Starving mother love

When the playing field is so slanted, how are parents expected to be fully present, have the wherewithal to show their love by listening, being there, lying in the sun with a baby on their chest? They’re busy trying to survive. Envision the mothering journey in a land where bombs fall daily? Where there is no food. Where institutionalized racism means everything is so much harder. How do you have anything left?

Probably like you, in 2016 I found out that racism in this country is not a last vestige of an old white paternalism, slowly fading to nothing. No. Racism is alive and well in America. Racism seems to be kind of what America is. Our claim to fame. The not so distant era of suppressed bigotry and implicit bias seems like a golden age.

But I misspeak. If your skin is not white and/or you were not born here, there has never been a golden age.

So I’m talking about the golden age when I and others like me were allowed to kid ourselves that things were “so much better” because it wasn’t in our faces. I am disgusted now, realizing that was me.

Slave children–our legacy

But there is no mistaking it today, in 2019. The war on people of color, women, children, immigrants, families of all varieties, gays and transgender (read: non-whites/non-males/non-cisgendered), not to mention the war on our basic constitutionally guaranteed (but not really) rights, is alive and well. Even more children than ever before are robbed of the one thing that –if there is a god or goddess up there, that deity would want to be like, FOR SURE EVERYONE GETS THIS ONE THING? What is the one thing? Not to be gunned down for being the wrong color? That’s a good one but even more basic than that. To get fucking toothpaste in the prison camp where you live cuz you wanted to escape a war and picked the wrong place to land? Don’t be silly. Food? No, not even that.

Mother love

The one thing —the safety of a mother’s arms.

I despair for our children.

What will this world be when it is populated by the privileged and securely-mothered few and a whole big lot of humans robbed of their childhoods, their security, their hope, their basic rights?

We need to rewrite that story before it happens. Join me in being an activist in whatever way you can. Join me in voting for NO MATTER WHO wins the Democratic nomination. Join me in sending as much money as you can spare to help get people voted into office around the country who will really make change. Join me in always speaking out when you see or hear injustice happening, either in front of you or on social media. Join me in refusing to be a bystander.

Mother love

Get the babies back with the mommies. That’s a good first step.

 

If you want to help but can’t decide how, check out this site and help progressive women get elected all over the country, not just in your state. 

 

Most People Are Good–My Cincinnati Airport Miracle

My plane from Charlotte NC had landed about fifteen minutes ago. I was back in Cincinnati where I’m staying for a few weeks. Pulling my little carry-on, I got to within 20 yards of the parking garage where I left my car 36 hours earlier when my brain exploded with the realization that I did not have my computer. It was not hanging, in its case, from my shoulder where it belonged. I was slammed by the white flood of horrible awareness that wants to be denial. You know that feeling? My mind fell to its knees wailing, “NNNNOOOOOooooooooooo!”

But my (tired) body raced back into the airport. I headed to the first official-looking person I saw. It turns out she is called an “airport ambassador” and she has a magic telephone. But though she used the phone to seek help for me, none was forthcoming. It was while I was standing there with her, waiting for a call-back from the security guard who was going to look in the women’s room—and I explained exactly which one it was and how it was on the right side, just after the first moving walkway coming from gate B22—that I realized the case was not in the women’s room.

“The train!” I exclaimed in a voice squeaky with panic and hollow with disbelief. By now 25 minutes (at least) had passed, and my on-flight, post-job interview sense of well-being and exhaustion was completely washed away by adrenaline spiked by cortisol. “I had it on the train!” How could I explain to the utterly baffled ambassador that for almost a half hour immediately after getting off the train, I had forgotten I was even on the train? The human mind is maddening.

Now I remembered. I was so tired, I’d decided to take that little tram/train—which I normally eschew in favor of walking and the cool moving sidewalks. My daughter called while I was aboard the zippy little train, and I missed the announcement that we’d reached the destination—near ground transportation. The only other person on the train got off and I leaped off too, in the nick of time, before the doors closed and the train would return to the gates.

That’s when the computer case became a distant artifact lost in the Cincinnati airport, without my realizing it. I begged the ambassador armed with The Phone to find out if I could go back to look? Somehow? With a security guard? Please?

Finally, after another call or two with her not-so-magic phone, she said it was time for her to go home. She informed me that the American Airlines personnel upstairs at the ticketing counter could give me a pass to go beyond the checkpoint.

Not so.

I went upstairs and the woman at the counter told me what my good sense already knew. “No, we cannot give you a pass to go back.” (Implied: you poor deluded woman.) She explained very kindly that it was very likely someone would turn it in to security and tomorrow Lost and Found would contact me. “This happens often. People usually do the right thing.”

It was at that moment that I realized: my wallet was in the computer case.

No kidding. I’d forgotten that too. Why? Am I fucking senile or something? No, I swear. But my brain, like yours, is a creature of habit. I never—and I mean never—put my wallet in that bag. But in the interests of traveling light, I had not brought a purse, and so, in addition to my computer, the case held both wallet and hairbrush. The really essential things.

At this point I was vividly pre-living the next 24 hours in my mind. Cancelling all my credit cards. Trying to think of all the websites that my computer remembers my passwords for. My bank, for example. Why hadn’t I used a good password to protect my computer instead of the word “peace” which is probably second only to “love” as a non-birthday password among the hippie/shaman/gluten-free set.

“People are good,” I kept telling myself. “People are kind. People usually do the right thing.”

The airline lady—Traci—looked at me with great compassion but her hands seemed tied. I said, “Do you think that, somewhere in this airport, there is a person who would just go peek on that train?” She looked at me and said, “You know what? I’ll go.”

“C’mon,” she said. I followed her down the escalator. “You stand here and just watch people coming through.” She pointed to where travelers poured out from the American arrivals gates. She used the secret employee passage and said she’d be right back. I stood there paralyzed with the intensity of my hope, and stared at every man, woman, and baby stroller that passed me on the way to their cars, Ubers, and waiting grandmothers.

Then I glanced at the security guard. You know, the guy who sits at a little desk/kiosk thing at the end of the tunnel? His job is probably pretty boring. He was chatting with someone. That’s when I noticed a black strap—suspiciously like a computer bag strap—dangling down from the shelf of the desk/kiosk behind him. “Sir!” I burst out, my voice cracking. “Is that…” He looked at me, eyebrows raised. “Is that,” I pointed, “a computer case?”

He turned, grabbed my case and said, “Someone found it on the tram. I don’t know if there’s a computer in it…”

I did not even mind his lame attempt at a joke. “It’s mine! OH MY GOD IT’S MINE!”

The hot flood was back but it was such a happy flood this time. “I can prove it. My wallet is inside.” He unzipped the case, peeked, zipped it and said, “Yup. This is yours.”

I must have looked like I was about to stroke out because he said, “Breathe! It’s okay. Breathe. Just breathe, lady.”

A no-man’s-land divided us. A line painted on the floor near him kept him in his spot, and a wide strip, on which the toes of my boots shuffled impatiently, said, “DO NOT CROSS THIS LINE.” Six feet divided us. “You come to me,” he said with an authoritative nod.

Grabbing the case to my chest like a recently ransomed infant, I thanked him 63 times. “Just so you know,” I explained, “I’ll be waiting here until Traci from American comes back. She’s looking for this.” I raised the case as exhibit A, as if there would be any confusion. “I need to thank her.”

Not even a minute later, Traci emerged from the employee hallway with a dejected “I didn’t find it” look on her face. I waved like a madwoman, swinging the computer case around like a total fool. “I got it!”

She rushed to me, and we embraced—a genuine, full body, arms tight embrace of joy and solidarity. “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!” she kept saying. We pulled back, grinned into each other’s faces, and embraced again. “I’m so happy for you!”

“Most people do the right thing!” I said, nearly weeping. “People are good. Really, really good!”

As she hustled back to the escalator and the end of her shift, she called back, “Yes! They are!”

 

Note: I am neither deluded nor stupid, but I do believe that most people are good. We cannot forget this, despite the palpable evidence that there are, in fact, people who callously do evil on a daily basis, using their power to increase their privilege and to disenfranchise, belittle, ignore, mock, bully, and harm others. Remember that you are good. And I am good. And the person who turned in my computer is good. And Traci is good. And millions more who can take our planet and our country back from the ones who are not. Don’t give up. #resist

PWITP: Women, Empowerment, and Purpose

What gives you hope? For me, today, May of 2018, it’s the same thing that has boosted my flagging optimism for the last 12+ months. It’s a movement, a mission, a project called Putting Women in Their Place and it’s the brainchild of my very own sister, Megan Park.

And it’s fucking brilliant.

Let’s look at a few brief facts.

Without overstating the blatantly obvious, one of the (many) reasons the current government holding power in DC is seriously compromised is that it doesn’t actually represent Americans. In a democracy, the idea is that the government is supposed to be representational. Meaning every American citizen can register to vote and can actually get to a voting booth without obstruction. Meaning that the people voted into power actually represent their interests. Thus, the concept goes, our elected officials won’t screw over the poor in favor of the one percent. They won’t systematically reverse legislation that, after years and decades of fighting and struggle, guarantees the rights of women, people of color, and the LGBTQ. They won’t deny scientific evidence of climate change in order to ensure profits for the oil companies lining their pockets.

A democracy means that those in power won’t compromise the free press and lie in order to push through legislation that serves only them. It means that they are voted into office legally and ethically, without the intervention of a foreign power and the corrupt inner circle who greased the wheels for that to happen.

And to put it bluntly: 51% of the country’s population is women, and only 19% represent us in congress. 18% of the population is African American but only 9% of Congress is black. 17% of the country is Hispanic or Latino/a but only 7% of Congress is. And 10% of the citizenry is LGBTQ but only half of 1% of the people allegedly representing their interests in Congress is L, G, B, T, or Q. That is not representation.

And what about governors? Just as one example, women are sitting governors in only 6 out of 50 states. If I’m doing my math right, shouldn’t that number be closer to 25.5? And it’s not as if they are running for office in equal numbers and simply not being elected. They are not running. The system, is still and has always been, rigged. Society as we know it is still, and has always been, rigged.

So what’s a gal to do?

I was feeling so helpless. Not just in the days after the 2016 presidential election, but as I read the news reports day after day as our precious, gorgeous democracy began to look more and more like tyranny, or at the very least, a corporate oligarchy. And then there were the legislators defending the NRA as more children are gunned down in schools. And the golf trips of the president on my dime. And the hateful and persistent misogyny and racism. Imagine… the man holding the highest office in the land sticking up for sexual predators and Nazis.

Helpless is a bad feeling. My sister, Megan Park, didn’t like that feeling either. She said to herself, “If the system is rigged… we gotta unrig it.”

Megan explains the “trickle up theory” that fills the pipeline with women from the bottom… up.

 

She and her business partner have a company, Little Sprig, that makes videos. That’s what they do. They know how to tell a hell of a story. Her lightbulb moment was a good one. She knew what she could do to enact real change.

She would make free campaign videos for any progressive woman running for office. How does someone get elected to the highest office of the land? One way is for a candidate to have no experience or credentials and to buy and bribe and cheat his way into office. Another way—the way most often used in this country through history—is to start at the beginning. As town supervisor. Local circuit judge. Sheriff. District Attorney. And do good. Represent the people. And get elected to the state senate, or as mayor. Eventually, to Congress, or as a senator, a governor…

From the courthouse to the state house to the White House—that’s how. And there can’t be just one or two—not good odds. The political pipeline must be full of women. Women of every color, faith, heritage, sexual orientation. If we support women all the way into office, the demographics inside every legislature, state capital, and DC’s halls of power will shift across the board.

And that is exactly what PWITP is ensuring. As more and more women step up to run for office –in unprecedented numbers—PWITP is there to help. They’ve already made videos for 65 candidates in 6 states. They made a video for Andrea Jenkins, the first openly transgender black woman to be elected to office in Minnesota. She is City Councilwoman in Minneapolis.

Some of the passionate voters (and one candidate for NY Senate) who came out for PWITP.

Last week, my home was bustling with passionate, intensely committed people. Mostly women, I admit, but not exclusively. I’d invited them to join me on the day before Mother’s Day to hear what Megan had to say about PWITP. Their current project—called the 1000 Video Project—is exactly what it sounds like. They are setting out to make free campaign videos for at least 20 progressive women candidates in every state. 20 x 50 = 1000. PWITP, as Megan says, amplifies the voices of women who want to serve and have the guts to do it.

People left my place that unseasonably chilly evening well-fed, well-informed, truly inspired, and eager to help. This is a real thing that we can do. We can spread the word. We can contribute money as we are able. And we can volunteer, as appropriate.

Go to their website. Sign up. Follow them on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook and share, share, share till they go viral! Tell everyone you know. The future is female.

Please join me in feeling very, very hopeful.

Me with my feminist, empowered, badass sisters.

 

 

 

 

Stranded in C’ville? Checking My Privilege

I arrived in Charlottesville, VA last Monday. One week ago today, in fact. I got almost all the way here under my own steam. In other words, as usual, I drove. But the last 22 miles into town were under the steam of my old friend Annie. She had to fetch me from the automotive garage where I landed ignominiously when my car shuddered to a stop on Highway 29 and whispered, “I’m done.”

Here’s what happened and what I’ve learned.

  • I probably drove a few too many miles after I could feel how unhappy my car was about accelerating from a full stop. Has putting my finger in my ears and singing “LA LA LA LA” ever, EVER been a good strategy?
  • The reason I came down here is pretty basic: I love this place. Did my happiness at being here change because I didn’t have a car to drive around? Especially since I DID have a car to drive around, because Sarah, another awesome friend of mine, literally gave me unfettered access to her Subaru while she recovered from foot surgery and worked from home.But to be honest, I did feel unsettled all week. I mean, I had fun, saw friends, took a walk in a Virginia snowstorm, enjoyed the Festival of the Book, was warm, fed, blessed, and engaged in more great conversations per day than I can count. But I had a hard time sleeping and felt anxious.So what was it? Uncertainty? What was wrong with my car? How much would this cost? When will I have my own wheels back? And a little bit of “Waaah, no fair?” Ew.How on earth could I feel so sorry for myself when I am in one of my favorite places (maybe my favorite place ever), with some of my favorite people, doing some of my favorite things (from nerding out at panels and lectures about books to drinking Virginia wines to basking in C’ville beauty). I’m a spoiled, privileged person who needed to be slapped upside the head. 
  • In case I was not slapped hard enough, this happened: I got my car back Saturday. It took a while for the part to arrive because of the snow. (Note to self, don’t take weather personally as it is definitely not about you.) YAY! I had my car! I was so very VERY excited!

    Hugging my car when I got it back from garage… the first time

    Exclamation point-worthy happiness! I was so psyched that I even had Annie take a picture of me hugging my car before we headed back to town to join the March for Our Lives on the downtown mall. I got away with a car bill less than $500 and I was going to get to head home almost on time.Then my car died again. The poor thing could not make it even 30 miles without suffering terribly and saying, “No, no, I’m sorry but I can’t.”

    Getting towed… round 2.

    Tow truck (money). Wait till Monday (time). Wait till 2 in the afternoon on Monday. (Are you kidding me? I can’t wait anymore! I’m so spoiled and impatient I can barely believe I exist! Put me out of my toe tapping misery!) Then Cranston the mechanic said, “In my professional opinion, I’m afraid you need a … new transmission.” (More money! More time! More lessons! More slaps upside my head!)

Meanwhile, in a land called reality, as I scolded myself every day to be grateful, and was (mostly) successful, the March for Our Lives happened (check out the pix in that link). Record numbers of people at demonstrations all over the country and world. Young people taking to the streets in numbers even greater than during the Vietnam War (social media is the game changer there). I didn’t make it to DC as I’d thought I might, but I marched in C’ville with Annie and Sarah (who was on crutches no less)

March for Our Lives C’ville

and we joined our voices in song and, much more importantly, lent our ears to the students who spoke so eloquently about not wanting to die at school.

And… Writers and scholars, in town for the Festival of the Book, lifted their voices to elevate the conversation around many topics, from the racial history of the country to how to hold onto hope. Poets read their poems of anger and faith. Thoughtful, measured discourse happened. Beautiful words and beautiful ideas.

Perhaps the most moving event I attended was a conversation with Khizr Khan, famous for his speech at the Democratic National Convention and for being insulted by our president.

Khizr Khan in conversation with Douglas Blackmon

His faith in the Constitution of the United States is impassioned and informed. He truly believes that voters will do their job to make radical change in the coming elections, snatching our nation from the brink and from the clutches of racist egoists with no agenda beyond their own self-interest.

In light of his sacrifice, wisdom, and undaunted optimism, I think I can deal with the inconvenience and expense of car trouble while a few hundred miles from home. I’m neither refugee nor victim. Neither disenfranchised nor unemployed. I’m privileged beyond imagining in a world gone mad. I’m grateful that I am here. Grateful I have a car that will be soon fixed. Grateful that I love people and am loved back. Grateful that I can read and write. That I feel joy. Often. That I have a pot of tea even now, sitting by my elbow, and that it comforts and soothes me.

I want to do better.

My week of “hardship” is nothing more than a non-sensical blip on the radar screen of my privilege and, though I’m not done learning, I am glad it slapped me upside the head.

My dear friends Annie and Sarah

 

 

 

 

Virtuality Check (not your typical blog)

I pinch myself. Is this my life? Or am I asleep on a beach having a vivid hallucination-induced dream. Like the convoluted geographically intricate dreams I wake in the middle of. Dreams in which I don’t know where I am, but there is a staircase or a porch. Something specific going somewhere or leading away. It is often made of unlikely objects, like wine crates, or giant pencils the size of barn beams. It seems plausible if a little unsettling, as the dream progresses. Sometimes there are moments of relief, joy, empowerment that explode unexpectedly. Other times I must take flight to escape a predator of uncertain origin, or a horrid dream-world plot twist.

The dream is invariably more real than any idea I might have about the dream. Or anything one might think of as actual, perhaps glimpsed through a curtain of eyelashes: a sun-soaked beach, the blue, distant horizon, a sandpiper at the edge of my beach towel.

But I don’t feel like I’m on a beach. Or otherwise plugged into a matrix of hallucinatory alternative reality. But still. I look around me and I can see the brush strokes in this “real life” and beyond, in the virtual world humans have created. The realm of tweets and counter-tweets, airbrushed, bumpstocked, drydocked, flimflammed reactions, counter-reactions, hyper-reactions to… that’s the part I don’t know.

Who wrote this version? Is there a theme? Is the theme the gradual dissolution of social consciousness and the relentless creation of narcissistically motivated power?

Times like this, other places I’ve been, or lived, seem more real and near than the place I find myself now. This chair, that table, this window, that bank of snow. Where did they come from? The story of their arrival is known to me, but is it known to me because it took place or because my brain trusts it as real? The brain that invented the whole story, perhaps, in a detailed mental construct, a subconscious screenplay, complete with smells and tastes.

The feeling of having my hair brushed and braided by a father dead now many years, a truth that lives even now at the very edge of my scalp’s sensory receptors, is more real to me (sometimes) than the sweat under my breasts as I grunt my way through class at the gym, the smell of my favorite coffee shop, or the talking heads analyzing why no one actually in power wants to do anything about assault rifles in the hands of killers. For example.

What I realize is that my brain, powerful organ that it is, loses its power over reality. I reach out and touch something. You, if only you were here. Or maybe the cat. Or the keyboard. Virtuality check.

My heart is what is left, in the end, to know the difference. To know that the madness “out there” is not “in here” –and never needs to be. We can stay in truth. Or try hard to. That place where the versions intersect and something immutable is imaginable. Conceivable.

A fellow blogger recently reminded me of the Wheel of Fortune—the ever-spinning, ever-rising, ever-falling wheel upon which we can be racked, or whose center we can seek. The seasons will turn with or without me, you, Twitter, Starbucks, or the grid. The sun and the moon will rise and set, and shed their influence, and their light, upon the world, regardless of where on the wheel we are, at the moment.

For the past 24 hours my power has been (mostly) off due to a snow and wind storm. The still place in the center of the maelstrom of 2018—I glimpsed it for a moment in the night when everything was completely dark. The wheel moved slowly, and I could see the spokes as they seemed to float past me in their circling path. But at the center, nothing moved. Head back, to look up at the darkness, I felt maybe, barely, the shifting of that slowly turning hub, but in that moment, I was able stay still and centered and realize, “I exist.”