No, I will NOT calm down.

NO, I will NOT calm down. I will NOT stay silent.  On Friday, I listened to tape of a presidential candidate speak with glee about his belief that, as a wealthy male celebrity, he had the right to commit the crime of sexual assault against women at will. I was horrified, to the core of my being.

This was NOT locker room talk. This was NOT just crude language. This was a self-described sexual predator reveling in his privilege.  This was video of a man firm in his belief that he had the right to molest another human being.  NO, I will NOT calm down.

@kellyoxford, a writer I was previously unfamiliar with, asked women on Friday to tweet their first sexual assault to her. She shared hers first, an old man on a bus, grabbing her crotch. She was 12.  A hashtag, #notokay, was used. As of today, MILLIONS of women have shared the tales of one or more of their own sexual assaults, molestations, indecent exposures, and harassments. MILLIONS of women. I was one of them.  NO, I will NOT calm down.

The incidents on my own list number in double digits, going back to the age of 5 or 6. I was not physically harmed during any of them. In that I am fortunate, and I know it. But as I reviewed this list over the course of the weekend, my horror and disgust only increased.  I realized how much of my life has been or is now circumscribed by my desire to avoid assault, harassment, and intrusion.  I had to once again face the pain and sadness associated with individual incidents, while trying to cope with my revulsion at the accumulation. NO, I will NOT calm down.

Half of our population is under continual threat from a sizable percentage of the other half. This is NOT a new phenomenon.  It is NOT due to a coarsening of our culture, unpleasant though that is. It is NOT due to women claiming the right to control their own bodies, own (and revel in) their own sexuality, and live as they please, wear what they please, and, dare I say, FUCK, whom they please. It is due to this sizable percentage of men continuing to refuse to treat women as PEOPLE, with the right to make their own choices, and these men being enabled and encouraged by both those around them and the culture at large.  NO, I will NOT calm down.

Captured on that video was what is now called ‘rape culture’, and most women just call ‘culture’.  A horrible man, surrounded  by sycophantic cowards (Billy Bush was not the only other man on that bus), bragging about his assumption of sexual supremacy over any woman he chose.  An unbridled monster, in a power tie, supported in his monstrousness by a group of giggling toadies.  And these subhumans would presume to deny a woman’s humanity by reducing her to her various body parts. NO, I will NOT calm down.

It has been suggested to me that these men cannot be educated and therefore cannot be redeemed. You know what? I don’t care about redeeming assholes and criminals. I want them controlled, by both government and society AS A WHOLE.  Women cannot do this alone. And we should NOT have to. You know it’s wrong. This is not about being protected. It’s about being respected as people and left the hell alone. How about this for predation and harassment – “If you see something, say something.” Because half the population is being terrorized, and has been for too long.  NO, I will NOT calm down. And goddammit, neither should you.

Please allow me to introduce myself

I would like to label myself.  I will try to arrange these labels in as close to their order of priority in my psyche as possible.  And with each label, I will try and briefly explain what the label means to me.

I am a human.  I strive to be a good human, and choose to believe that the vast majority of my fellow humans are also good. Almost 6 decades of life has done nothing to change that belief.

I am a female human, a label which complicates things instantly.  At the hands of a babysitter’s foster son, I learned that the world was not a safe place, and that is a terrible thing to learn at 5.   I began to navigate a world in which sexism, harassment, molestation, and misogyny were all commonplace behaviors.  No, not all men exhibit these behaviors. But ALL women have dealt with these behaviors, and I believe they are a truly crappy way to treat one’s fellow humans.  I have come to believe that no one besides me should have control over my body and be able to tell me what to do with it, whether they be individual person or government.

I am a married human.  I have had the great good fortune to find a partner to love and walk thru this life with.  We share laughter and meals and sunsets and thunderstorms and yardwork and sci-fi and sex and reach for each other first when life goes wrong.  There is trust and honesty and warmth and respect.  Roger is my home.  I believe all humans should be able to have homes with the partner of their choice.

I am a human family member. I am a daughter, sister, niece, aunt, cousin, stepmother, and stepdaughter to people I love without question.  I strive to be there for them, and believe they do the same. I am incredibly grateful for this. When we gather, there is affection and laughter.  But all families have (or have had) their issues, and mine is no exception.  We are all complicated, flawed, and make mistakes, but I just assume that we are all doing our best, and  I believe that’s a pretty good thing.

I am a friend to other female humans.  These are women I turn to when I am broken, or when I need a break from the world, and whom I also love without question.  They have sustained me, held me, challenged me, and generally helped make me a better person.  I want to be as good a girlfriend to them as they are to me.  We don’t always share the same beliefs, or agree on various issues, but I believe I am safe with them, and they are safe with me.  This is profoundly comforting.

I am a friend to other male humans.  Working in a largely male environment for many years gave me a perspective I might not otherwise have had.  It allowed me to see them, and for them to see me, as simply people, trying to do our best in a difficult world.  There is trust and respect.  I am grateful for their friendship.

I am a human child of divorce.  But I was fortunate, as were my parents, I suspect, in that we had the support of family on both sides, in the form of my mother’s and father’s parents and several aunts.  When my teenage parents’ marriage did not last, they both had the support of their own parents.  Housing on various occasions and monetary support were provided.  And they were involved in my sisters’ and my lives. We saw them regularly, and visiting them gave me a window into what a better life might be.  But I also know my mom needed food stamps to stretch her child support while living with her parents, and we lived in public housing for some years, and I saw my mom stretch hamburger too many ways to mention.  So, I believe families need support.  I don’t believe poor people want to be poor.  I’m quite sure my mom didn’t want to be.

I am a human of mixed racial heritage.   My mom didn’t know until she was 27 or 28, and I’m pretty sure she told us shortly after, so I would have been about 11 or 12.  My great-grandmother was a black woman, whose family was from Georgia, and before that, unknown. She married a white man, an Irish immigrant, in New York City, where they raised my grandfather and his brother and sister.  My grandfather had previously been married to a black woman and had a son and daughter during that marriage.  After that marriage ended, he eventually met and married my grandmother, the youngest daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants.  After at least one miscarriage, they had my mother, who was their only child.  When my mother was about 3 years old, the family moved to Bethel, CT.  This was the early 1940’s.  My grandfather’s light complexion allowed him to pass as a white man.  My mother tells me she had questions as she grew older,  but nothing was confirmed until my grandfather decided to share his secret.  Because for all those years, he had been going into New York City regularly to visit his son and daughter.  My grandmother knew, and I believe my grandfather’s children knew of us, but we didn’t meet until the early 1970’s.  My point with this label, is that while, because of my own fair complexion, I have not experienced racism directly, I know that racism in this country is why my grandfather made the choice that he made.  I believe that he believed he was protecting his wife and daughter in a perilous world, where the very color on one’s skin puts one in danger.  I’d like to think he gave up his secret when he felt the danger had passed.  I fear he may have been wrong.

I am a human citizen of the U.S.A. I believe I am incredibly fortunate to have been born in this country.  I believe both that this country is great now, and that it needs to be better.  We need to accept and respect each other’s differences while striving to find the common ground that surely exists by virtue of the simple fact that we are all first and foremost human.  I also believe we have a responsibility to help our fellow citizens.  We are all in this together, by simple virtue of proximity.  I don’t believe that any of us can, or even should, go it alone.   But if we want to make our lives better, we have to have a government composed of humans who are beholden only to their human constituents.

I am a retired police officer.  I became a police officer because of all of the labels above, and I stayed a police officer for 27 years.  I believe in the courage, honor and integrity of the vast majority of police officers.  This is no abstract belief.  It is one grounded in extensive personal experience.  But I also know that there are flaws, both in individual officers, and the governmental systems which use police departments for purposes other than to protect and serve.   Police departments need to screen and test their personnel before giving them a badge and a gun, and continue to do this, along with intensive training, throughout their careers.  Police work can be enormously damaging to the psyche.  As I said at my retirement dinner, “We hear too much, we see too much, and sometimes, we smell very bad things.”  But we as citizens also need to prevent our various local and state governments from using police departments (by requiring them to enforce unjust and/or onerous laws) to fund governmental budgets.  That is a function which has nothing to do with protecting and serving, and everything to do with oppressing disadvantaged citizens.

And finally, I am a liberal. Or progressive, if you prefer. I don’t care. It is because of all of the labels above that I can only believe in progress. Evolving, changing, and hopefully, moving forward to a better time and having made a better place.  I believe in our government as a force for good, whether on the local, state, or federal level.  This belief goes hand in hand with my belief that we citizens need to hold our government’s metaphorical foot to the fire periodically.  Our government should be by and for the people.  Our representatives should answer only to the people, and all of them, not just a few.  With public funding and a shorter election season, I believe this is possible.  The influence of special interests, largely corporate, must be reduced.  Perhaps, when this is done, the government could better go on about the business of governing better.  It would be a lovely beginning.

I do not believe in demonizing humans who don’t agree with me. I am not afraid of black or brown or Muslim or LGTB humans.  I do not believe the apocalypse is near. I do not believe everyone needs to own a gun.  I am not afraid of male humans, or police humans.  I do not believe that helping people to achieve a better life, whether by immigration reforms, food stamps, health care, education assistance, etc, is a waste of resources.   I believe in investing in people and giving them a leg up when they need it. I believe it’s the best way to make this a better country.

I believe we will find our way.  Maybe we should do something we all had to do in kindergarten.  Just take your neighbor’s hand.

Mysteries of My House

I have long held the belief that owning a home is like having a third person in your relationship. You have to take care of each other, but you also have to take care of your house. I am not entirely sure that my house is not a living being, with wants and needs.  And after conducting what amounted to a small archeological dig in my kitchen recently, I have to at least consider the possibility that my house is partying far more than I.

The other morning I tried to open my silverware drawer and the bottom fell out. Although he did offer,  I assured the nice Roger that I was possessed of repair skills adequate enough to fix the issue. However, I also realized that if I didn’t deal with the excess of contents in both this drawer and the utensil drawer below it, I would have to do it again real soon.  So, out came both drawers and I spread their contents out over the kitchen counters, striving for some sort of organizational sense.  I hadn’t done this in some time, and found myself amazed and puzzled by some of the accumulation.  Where did all of this stuff come from? Did I buy all these things? Or, did the house order things online when we weren’t around? I may have to check the browser history on our computers, because I am puzzled by some of the following inventory:

5 tea strainers- 2 hinged spoons, 2 tea balls, & this elegant strainer.20160430_112952

11 nut crackers- including this beautiful stream-lined wood & brass number(oddly, we rarely buy unshelled nuts)20160420_131616

3 cheese knives and 2 cheese slicers-because you never know when you’re going to need to cut the cheese.(no, I am not sorry about that terrible joke)

45 tiny plastic hors d’oeuvres forks-including 1 lone ‘Mr. Peanut’ fork(these may have come from my mother-in-law, but I have no more clue why she saved them than I have as to why I saved them)20160420_131338

1 set of 5 wooden-handled hors d’oeuvres forks (they have never been used)

1 set of 5 wooden-handled fondue forks (I have never made fondue at home. Never.)

5 pairs of tongs

21 turkey-trussing skewers in 2 sizes. I have never used these on a turkey. And yet, they appear to be used.

Several obscure kitchen tools-1 melon-baller, 1 zester, 1 antique ‘Presto’ egg slicer(again, from my mother-in-law. I have never hard-boiled an egg in my life. The smell is appalling.)20160420_131404

And finally, 10, count ’em, 10 corkscrews-these are spare corkscrews, in case one of the three I regularly use breaks. (I recall buying a few, but 10? I think not.)

So, after conducting what I feel was a very thorough investigation, I believe it possible that our house is having parties when Roger and I are not home, with lots of wine and food requiring tiny forks.  If, in the future, anyone receives an invite to one of these parties, bring me along as your plus-one. I love a good party, and apparently, my house knows how to throw one.

 

 

But is it Art?

Like half the women in the US, I have taken up coloring.  Coloring, the simple act of filling in spaces in various designs with the colors of one’s choice, using markers or colored pencils, is now being marketed as the way to relieve stress, increase ‘mindfulness’, and otherwise help make one’s life wonderful. Or at least brightly colored.  And I discovered I LOVED it.  I chose a book of designs, “Mandalas and More”, by artist Valentina Harper,2016-04-14 10.47.00

bought a package of 30 fine-point markers, and began to fill in the little spaces with color.  Each design took hours, but I was entranced.

While I was exploring the wonderful world of color in my coloring book, I was also looking around at the art hanging in our home, and realized that several areas could do with an infusion of color.

 

Initially, I thought I would simply go shopping, looking for some brightly colored paintings to brighten up the areas I thought were a bit drab. And then I was struck by an idea. What if I created an artwork with my colorings?

The first thing I thought I should do was put the colorings on a stiffer backing. I thought that just taping the pages to the wall would be a bit tacky.  So, after some trial and error, I decided to back them with layers of black sketch paper. Elmer’s Glue had too high a moisture content and caused the color to leach out, so I went with wood glue. Using a foam applicator to get an even coating, I brushed the glue on, pressed the papers together (colorings + 2 layers of sketch paper), and put them to dry under heavy books to minimize warping.  Then, I got out my exacto knives, and began cutting away what was uncolored.  Removing all the negative spaces, leaving only the colorings, gave them a more three-dimensional quality that I really liked.  The final step was to give the colorings a protective coating.  I used a water-based resin, BioShield Aqua Resin Stain Finish. An unexpected side effect of using this was a slight blurring of the colors, giving the pieces a water color effect that I thought was quite lovely. As long as I worked quickly, and didn’t overwork the application, there was minimal muddying.

Now, I have to accumulate enough for a grouping of pieces to create my own indoor garden, complete with fantastical birds and beasts.

I haven’t quite figured out how I’m going to mount each individual piece.  I may just use glue dots to attach them directly to the wall.  But I am truly pleased with my first foray into making my own art.  It is not art for the ages, it is simply art for me, but it is wonderful to discover this joy, in both process and outcome. So I say to you, go on, color something. Brighten up your life.2016-04-14 11.08.47

 

The Difficulty of Doing Nothing

I am a retired person, and  since retirement have remained mostly unemployed.  My forays back into the work world were brief, and taught me much.  Mostly, these tiny jobs taught me that I don’t want to be in the work world anymore.  But I retain a strong work ethic, and while the logical mind realizes I contribute to our happy household economically with my pension, I still feel the need to compensate for the reduction in income with what feels like incessant home improvement projects.  My thinking is, that since our home is our primary investment, maintaining and updating it is the best way for me to pull my economic weight, so to speak.

Growing up in a household which for most of my childhood was headed solely by my mother, it never occurred to me that not working was even an option.  My mother worked, her mother worked, my grandmother’s sisters both worked.  Falling in love and marrying was something I wanted to do, but I never thought that I would stop working once that happened.  And I didn’t.  For 16 years, the nice Roger and I worked mostly different shifts, in different divisions, with different days off.  He even installed a door to the bedroom end of our house, so that someone in the outer rooms could watch tv, talk, or otherwise live a normal life without disturbing someone who had worked a 12-8 shift, and so was sleeping at noon.  The sleeping someone was usually me, and given my notably surly disposition when I get insufficient sleep, this home improvement probably saved lives. And it is still doing its’ work, by blocking Roger’s news surfing when I’m in my study.

Prior to actual retirement, I had no problem taking the occasional ‘mental health day’, and happily spend it curled up with a book for hours, or schedule a double feature of movies.  But nowadays, when Roger goes off to work, I feel obligated to work, too.  And so I clean, I repair or update (both house and furniture), I garden, and otherwise do a raft of tasks necessary (in my mind) to life maintenance.  And very occasionally, I take an hour or two here and there, and finish Sunday’s NY Times, or watch a movie that I know Roger would hate.

Monday, I finally broke the pattern.  The house was clean (relatively).  I had no social or family commitments.  There was sufficient food in the house for my needs, and Roger agreed to import Asian take-out for supper. I was free.  And so, over breakfast, I watched “Bridesmaids”.  I wasn’t sure when it came out if it would be my cup of tea. I’m generally not one for gross-out humor but the bridal shop sequence was horrifyingly funny.  I also thought the movie was sweet, warm, and wonderfully human in its’ portrayal of some truly awful behavior.  Then, I happily read the NY Times (most of it). With lunch, I watched “Grandma”, starring Lily Tomlin.  I’ve been a fan of Ms. Tomlin’s since she first appeared on “Laugh-In” in the late 60’s.  She plays an untraditional grandmother, a poet and writer still grieving from the death of her lesbian partner.  She lashes out at everyone around her at the least provocation. Her granddaughter comes to her for money for an abortion, and a road picture ensues as grandma and granddaughter drive around, in grandma’s 1950’s vintage car, trying to raise the cash from various sources.  And, since this is a movie, various deep-seated emotional issues involving both women are dealt with in different ways.  But a particular pleasure of this film was watching Ms. Tomlin beat up her granddaughter’s baby daddy with a hockey stick.  After the second movie, I finished the Times, ordered dinner online to be picked up by the nice Roger.  With dinner, since I saw I had a feminist theme going,  we watched “The Hunger Games-Mockingjay Part 2”.   I thought it was a bit slow, but since we’d watched all the rest, I rather figured we were obligated to watch the last one.  And Jennifer Lawrence was amazing.

Three movies, one Sunday paper, no work at all.  I successfully did nothing all day.  It was probably the first weekday day off I’ve taken in six months.  It’s possible I’m not actually retired.

The Nice Roger

I have been married to a very nice man for a very long time.  His name is Roger.  While Roger is very supportive of almost all my endeavors, including blogging, he would rather I did not write about him to excess.  Or, for that matter, at all, but that’s not going to happen.   He has graciously allowed me to tell one story, about a conversation he once had with his father, Ray, about his grandfather, David.  I’ve always felt that this tiny tale says a lot about Roger as well.  Apples seldom falling far from trees and all that.

Roger remembers getting a phone call from his father, Ray, whom he called Pop, containing the following exchange.  Roger’s grandfather would have been in his 70’s at the time.

Pop: “Somebody tried to mug your grandfather at the subway station.”

Roger: “Is Grandpa all right?”

Pop: “Yeah, he threw the mugger down the stairs.”

 

Grandpa David Brooks1
David Brooks, noted tough guy

And that is all there is to say about that.

 

Talk Amongst My Stuff

I think my things talk to each other.  This belief probably comes from the fact that I live with furniture, art, and other items that once belonged to family.  My grandparents (both sides), Roger’s grandparents, and two of my great aunts made notable contributions to our collection of home furnishings.  So, when I arrange (and re-arrange), and combine the older furnishings with things Roger and I have acquired over the years, I imagine that conversations are occurring. Sometimes, I feel like I should be making an introduction, as when I placed these two chairs together.20160309_120350

The red club chair belonged to my mother’s mother, Sylvia, whom I called Nana. It was in the living room of her house in Bethel.  The dark green wing chair belonged to Roger’s mother, Lillian. I think they would have enjoyed having a nice chat.  The upholstery choices are mine, though. The club chair was formerly covered in cracked (and not in an attractive way) red leather. I kept the color, but the fabric is silk. The green textured silk on the wing chair replaced  an itchy gold brocade. Both the side table, and the wing chair’s wooden arms and legs were my refinishing work.

In my study, I reunited Sylvia with her sister, Anne, by placing this Victorian platform rocker, which was in her bedroom, next to Anne’s Danish modern sofa bed. This piece I had re-upholstered in another green silk, this one very smooth and sleek.  Apparently, everyone of my grandparents’ generation favored itchy upholstery.20160309_113022.jpg

The rocker (in the foreground above) is a piece I both restored the finish to, and re-upholstered, replacing the ancient cloth upholstery with dark brown leather & copper accent tacks.

20160309_122706

Behind the rocker is a mahogany desk that belonged to my father, and before that, his mother. This is a piece I repaired and refinished, using a red stain to enhance the mahogany.

I also decided that the room need a punch of color, and this vivid, gloriously loud, tropical green was what I chose for one wall.  I found myself smiling as I applied it,  just happy to be next to it.  I like how the greens of the couch and the wall talk to each other as well.  I made the long, purple silk pillows from an old pair of evening pants. The fabric was too gorgeous to throw out. And I hadn’t worn ‘Hammer’ pants in some years.

Over the desk, I placed a favorite picture of my grandmother, Evelyn, as a child, with her sister, Alice, who was a also a large part of my life growing up. I like to think they’re admiring the ironwork on the New Orleans balcony next to them, an original photo by Johnny Donnell.20160309_113829

And finally, over my computer desk, I’ve hung a framed Guatemalan textile, depicting a religious animal sacrifice, opposite a carved wooden totem by a Kansas artist.  My girlfriend Terri gave me the cloth, and the carving is a souvenir of our most recent cross-country drive.  I’m not sure I wish to speculate as to the content of this conversation, but I bet it would be interesting. And possibly terrifying.20160309_102345

I look around my rooms, and I can almost hear voices.  And they are having fascinating conversations.