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Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

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women’s strength

My Aunts in Shining Armor

As I’ve been combing my recipes searching for something extra special to fix this weekend — just because — I’ve run across certain dishes that remind me of three extraordinary women in my life… women whose love and sacrifice have made me who I am today.

These women creatively acquired me through the bonds of blood and grit and good, old-fashioned love. These women took me in and made me their own. They taught me to know my potential and to believe in it. They taught me that women are strong. That women are powerful. That women are capable. They taught me that women have a voice and that we should use it. These women are my aunts — my three graces, my three fates, my three wise women. And the recipes that remind me of them are as deeply rich and provocative and inspirational as my aunts themselves…

First, there’s my Aunt Jan and her “Mrs. Norris’ Strawberry Pie.” It’s the perfect blend of glistening, syrup-soaked berries steeped in puddles of juice under clouds of whipped cream.

I have no idea who Mrs. Norris is, but I’m here to tell you that this pie is my Aunt Jan in a pastry shell.  It perfectly parallels her zany, vibrant nature. She’s sweet and tart and sparkling with pizzazz. She’s never met a stranger and she’s never been ignored.

She taught me to make this pie during what I call “The Summer of Grandma” – a two-month stint during which my cousins and Jan and I built pie after pie in a humid, east Tennessee kitchen trying anything and everything to get my grandmother to eat. She was slipping away from us, but she still had a hankering for sweetness.

And so we built pies. Pecan pie. And Chocolate pie. And Lemon Meringue — so high and coiffed that women in Texas could likely haul pictures to their hairdressers as inspiration. And finally, Mrs. Norris’ Strawberry Pie – the Mother Superior of pies – just like Jan, our family matriarch after my grandmother passed away.

The baton was passed, and Jan became our pulse and our promise. She’s a talker and she’s a doer. If you want it coordinated and you want it done, call Jan. And she’s a lover. When she hugs you, you find yourself wrapped in clouds of pillow-y bosoms, which she inherited from my grandma (and which, I might add, skipped me in the gene pool). And you find yourself believing in rainbows and unicorns and holy grails.

Because Jan makes the impossible possible. She is quick-witted and confident, and she’s always been my biggest cheerleader. She pushed me and pulled me and pep-talked me into going back to school. Through her, I learned to trust in myself and the God-given gifts that she assured me I had and that I needed to hone.

Without Jan, I never would have trusted my mind or my voice. She taught me that what I think and feel matters. She pushed me to tell it like I see it and to hold strong to my principles. She made the impossible possible in me.

jan

Now, Jan’s twin sister Ann isn’t much of a baker. Instead, she sticks to main dishes, and she’s most famous for her tenderloins stuffed with apples and pecans and fragrant herbs – a savory, nourishing dish indicative of her steady, nurturing soul.

Ann and I have some sort of kindred connection. I felt it from the first time we ever sat down and REALLY talked – on my grandmother’s front steps after I was deposited there by a distant father in a diesel Isuzu and a feverish faith. Ann and I played with kittens and plotted the trajectory of my life on those semicircle steps beneath the crab-apple stone siding and cedar shingles of my grandmother’s house.

Ann embodies most closely who I truly am: intuitive and observant, reserved and resilient, capable and calm. Her eyes are still water on stone, are snow clouds at dusk – and when they meet mine, they see things. Things hidden in shame or for protection.

But with Ann, every trembling, buried burden or bruise is safe. It is better than safe – it is healed. Because she has a ministering nature that soothes and mends. It was her job. Literally. She is a retired ER doc, and I promise you, she did more than heal bodies in her years of service. She calmed hearts and settled souls – mine included. I wouldn’t be where I am today, without her.

annandpat2

And finally, there’s Pat, Ann’s wife, and my aunt by marriage. Pat is our family’s Tupelo honey. Her voice is southern nectar and so is her love. She never has a negative word to say to or about anyone. She sweetens the lives of all of us by spreading her joy and her sweet, sanguine good sense. Any recipe with honey, honey bun to  hotty toddy, reminds me of my beloved Pat. Lover of animals and humanitarian causes alike, she is generosity and goodness with a smile carved from moonstone and a heart made of gold.

My fondest memory of Pat is when several of us piled into a car to take a little trek over the mountains and through the woods– in a snow storm– to visit the Biltmore House. The roads grew slushy and slippery, and Pat’s mother, who was ailing at the time, grew car sick.

When we pulled to the side (more like slid to the side) of the interstate, her sweet, ailing mama proceeded to lose her dinner, right along with her upper teeth.  Pat sweetly swiveled her back into the backseat and then paddled through drifts of snowy vomit in search of the delinquent dentures.

That is Pat: unflappable, ever capable, and always willing to go the extra mile for family. She is as warm and soothing as  Tupelo honey. Her love glows deep and rich, and she moths us all to hearth and home with her warmth. She has always encouraged me to dream big and to reach high, but to never lose touch with my roots – because family feeds the soul.

And thanks to my family — and particularly my three incomparable and beautiful aunts — my heart is full to bursting and my cup runneth over.

Timothy in a Tailspin: Here’s to Women’s Voices

I am surrounded by strong women. Strong, powerful, intelligent women.

Women who teach me to believe in myself. Women who teach me to trust my soul, my strength, my intuition, my intelligence. They teach me that my voice matters. And so does my mind.

They teach me, daily, the value of women. Our worth.

And I feel so bad for the women in this world who do not have women who tell them their true worth. Instead, they have women surrounding them who tell them yes, they’re strong, but their place is in the shadows. Beneath their husbands. Playing supporting roles. That that is their true strength and value.

Ugh.

Women sabotaging women. Sabotaging their own sex. It makes me crazy.

Just this morning, I was pummeled with social media posts telling me just that. Telling me that my voice doesn’t matter as much as my husband’s voice. Or really, any man’s voice.

I read one today — a letter that’s gone “viral” (it’s a virus, alright) — about how these days are surely the end of days because women are trying to be men. Because they want voices. And careers. And equal partnerships. And respect. And — dammit –authority. They want authority.

Hold up. Wait a minute.

First off, I’m not trying to be a man. I like my female parts just fine, thank you. More than just fine. I love being a woman. I have never, ever wanted to be a man. I don’t want their parts. I just want their rights.

And I want to have a voice that isn’t labeled “harsh” or “shrill” when I demand respect and equality.

Another post told me that every man wants to hear “I Trust You” when it comes to making decisions for their family. That he is the proper head of the household.

Aw, hell no.

I came from that sort of past. And yeah, that’s not happening again. Sorry, Mike. I love you, and I DO trust you. But that doesn’t mean I’m relinquishing my voice. Never. Ever. Never Ever Again.

I’m so tired of the patriarchy — especially the patriarchy that is being spoon-fed to women by women — little kernels of sage advice dropped onto newsfeeds through conservative memes and blogs. Sugarcoated with scripture.

I come from a place where scripture was used to dominate women. A place where the Books of Timothy were celebrated — books where the apostle Paul demands that women dress modestly. Where they’re told to be quiet and submissive. Where they’re denied authority over men. Where they’re blamed for introducing sin into the world. And where they’re told they can only be saved through childbearing.

My gorge rises.

So much so that when I was pregnant with the twins, I dreamed of naming a daughter Timothy. The irony and sacrilege thrilled me. I was finally ready to challenge the bearded patriarchy of my past. And the female fundamentalists of my present.

And then I learned that I was having two boys. And there was no way I was saddling one of them with the name. That would not have been ironical. It would have been pathological.

So instead, I decided to tackle Timothy and it’s patriarchy with my voice, my opinions, my blog. One comment after another. One written word after another.

And with my actions. And with my clothing. One ostentatious action and garment at a time.

And with one vote for female authority at a time.

And as far as women being saved through childbearing, that might very well be true. Because I have raised brave, strong, outspoken women. And they are unafraid to tackle the Timothy-touting multitudes of both sexes in this world.

And I’m raising brave, strong, outspoken men this very moment. And they will likewise be unafraid to tackle the Timothy-touting multitudes.

And there are hundreds of thousands more of us women — raising brave, strong, outspoken children ready to send Timothy into a tailspin.

Because we’re over being told our voices are harsh and that they don’t matter as much as the next guy’s. We’re over it.

Take that, Timothy.

Buzzed Sexual Assault IS Sexual Assault

Bill Cosby and Brett Kavanaugh have dominated the news this week — one convicted of rape; the other accused of attempted rape. And everywhere we turn, people are talking about it. And the discussion has been extremely divisive… about Kavanaugh, in particular.

Social media threads have exploded in heated arguments, friends and family lining up firmly behind Kavanaugh or firmly behind his accuser, Christine Blasé Ford. Our country, our families, our friendships are split — and incredibly, it’s almost entirely along party lines.

And it boggles my brain.

I don’t get it. I just don’t — particularly when women are the ones pointing fingers accusingly at the victim. Because odds are they, or someone close to them, has been sexually assaulted. But they have been conditioned by society to overlook it as simply “boys being boys.”

Trivializing and discounting stories of sexual assault by victims has been happening since man first wielded his weapon against a woman without her permission. Boys being boys. Biology at work.

Shakespeare even wrote about it, Ophelia proclaiming: “Young men will do it, if they come to it. By cock, they are to blame.” As if it is their biology and not the men themselves at fault. Well,  the “boys will be boys” mentality needs to end. Boys are not just being boys. Boys are being violent sexual offenders.

The truth is in the numbers. And the numbers state that 1 in 3 women are assaulted — violently or sexually or both — in their lifetime. That equates to approximately 20 women per minute.

I personally know many of these women — far too many. Family members molested by relatives. Friends assaulted by strangers. Students raped by neighbors… and family… and friends… and authority figures… and strangers. As a teacher, I learn about more students who have been sexually assaulted every single year –sometimes, every single month. My heart crumbles with the weight of knowledge. The numbers are staggering.

And the fact that I know about these assaults means that more women are telling their stories. And that is good. But we need more women to prosecute. And based upon this week’s events, that seems highly unlikely.

Sexual assault victims have already been violated in the most personal and painful of ways. And then, if they prosecute, they will be violated in the most public and painful of ways, too. Many women feel they can’t possibly withstand the relived emotional and physical trauma along with the fresh emotional and character trauma.

So they tell therapists and husbands and friends and family instead of telling the police.  The reasons are manifold: Fear, Ignorance, Shame, Guilt. Pain…

But the biggest reason of all is Society — all other reasons stem from Society.  Society persecutes — and as good as prosecutes — women if they report their sexual assault.

The US legal system is archaic and unfair in so many situations, but particularly so when it comes to sexual assault. Women are put on trial, right along with their rapists. Their character is targeted. Their value and worth is denigrated. Their lives and choices and actions and clothing are torn asunder… All. Over. Again.

To demonstrate just how far behind our legal system is, it wasn’t until 1993 that all 50 states made it illegal for a husband to rape his wife. Up until then, it was “to have and to hold till death do us part… our legs,” however HE wants, whenever HE wants. And there was not a damned thing a wife could say or do about it.

And outside of wedlock hasn’t been much better.

I was taken against my will when I was a teenager. And I said nothing. To no one. Not a friend, not a family member, not a single soul. Not until years later. I never even confronted the guy who did it — even though I saw him every day. Heck, I even kept dating him. And I just thought that’s how it was. We were a couple. We had already had sex. I believed if I’d given myself to him before, then he was entitled.

I was ignorant. I was a product of my upbringing. Men always had the right of way. I was supposed to defer to him, whether I wanted it or not. I had no voice. Or that’s what I believed.

So I kept my mouth shut. Except for when he demanded I open it. For him. And I never confronted him. And even if I had, he wouldn’t have remembered. And he would have denied it. Like Kavanaugh. And he probably would have passed a polygraph…

Because he was drunk. Sloppy drunk. Both times. So I told myself that he would never have done it, never would have ignored my NO if he weren’t. And I believed it.

I have a friend who didn’t report her assault either. She was groped and mauled in the back seat of a limo by two drunk guys who wouldn’t take NO for an answer. All while her friend was cuddled up in a corner of the car with a third guy.

My friend had the driver stop the car, and she got out, losing valuable possessions in the process, but not losing a piece of herself. But that so-called friend of hers got mad. Got mad at my friend for costing her a hook up. Told her she’d overreacted.

My friend had bruises and scratches on both breasts and was sobbing on the side of the road. But her friend was pissed — at my friend. NOT at the guys.

And I know a friend’s daughter who was raped. And she did report the assault. But then didn’t press criminal charges. Because she was afraid. She was afraid of being put on trial — right along with them. Yes, THEM. Multiple rapists. Drunk. At a party.

And I know a former student who was molested by an older man she knew and trusted — trusted right up to the point he stuck his tongue down her throat and palmed her breasts. After a party. And he was drunk. And she likewise reported the assault. But even then, not much happened to him. Not much at all.

And the common denominator here?

Sexual assault… but I bet you thought I was going to say DRUNK. That all the offenders were drunk. Which they were. But that excuses nothing — no matter how society tries to sugar-coat it as an excuse.

He didn’t mean it.  He’d had too much to drink.  That’s not like him. He never would’ve done that if he were sober.

Well, guess what? Drinking is NO excuse.

What’s that public service announcement? “Buzzed Driving IS Drunk Driving…”

Well, Buzzed Sexual Assault IS Sexual Assault.

It’s looking like karma may finally catch up to Brett Kavanaugh for his drunken debauchery of thirty-plus years ago. At least I sincerely hope so.

And I hope karma gets all the other sexual offenders who have not yet paid for their crimes because the women they violated were too afraid or too brainwashed by society and its” Boys Will Be Boys” excuse to make sure they paid.

And I hope and pray that the #metoo movement — the so-called buzzword of 2018, a buzzword born on the backs of so many buzzed men humping away in their entitled, animalistic states as if their biology dictates and depends on it — I pray that the movement upends the status quo.

I hope and pray that women will find the courage to tell. Find the courage to prosecute. Find the courage to change Society.

Today, I write about myself and other women I know. Women who are my friends and family and students. But I am reminded of a compelling and powerful meme I saw this week: “She’s someone‘s sister/mother/daughter/wife.

She’s not someone’s something. Society needs to understand that.

SHE IS SOMEONE.

 

 

 

 

Who Cares What Men Prefer? You Do Not Need a Man to Translate Scripture or Life For You

I’m not a man hater. I’m not. But I also know (I’ve learned the hard way) that I have the freedom to decide for myself what I like and what I think and what I do.

I’ve written before about the Toni Morrison quote that compels me to write: “The function of freedom is to free someone else.”

Well, yesterday, while thumbing through social media, I came across a blog that slung me so far backwards that the bars of my prison-house were very nearly reinstated. It damn near set me back decades.

And that blog proved to me that I’m not done yet. That I need to keep fighting. To truly free myself from the side-effects of my childhood and to help free others still struggling behind the iron shackles of dogmatic religion. Not faith. Religion.

The blog was a recent post from The Transformed Wife. The title is menacing enough to me — the word “transformed” implying that the author was forced to undergo a dramatic, life-altering change to fit into the unforgiving mold of Wife.

But then there’s the title of her Monday blog: “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins Without Tattoos.” As if women should  be driven and controlled by men’s desires. Our minds, our lives, our bodies. Controlled. By men.

Ugh. The title was frightening, but I kept reading.

The entire intent of the blog is to caution women about everything from advanced education to independent living and thought. She strongly suggests in the second paragraph that women be wary of attending university lest they learn to be “independent, loud, and immodest instead of having meek and quiet spirits.”

Are you kidding me?!?

My skin flinched; my lips curled; my eyes rolled. I was sucker-punched backward to my broken and bridled teen years, where I had this exact bullshit horsewhipped into my soul.

I still suffer from the aftermath. I am meek and quiet – at least in person. This computer screen gives me confidence and a voice. But in person, I tend to shy away when conversations heat up. Or when I do speak up, if somebody pushes back hard enough, I back down. I shut down. I was conditioned to avoid confrontation, to keep my head down, and to NEVER contradict a man.

And it pisses me the hell off. (I was also taught never to cuss. That it’s not ladylike. But I’m making pretty good progress there…)

I was also conditioned to believe my sole purpose in life was to submit myself to men and to fear my own thoughts and actions – a notion the author goes on to address: “The husband will need to take years teaching his wife the correct way to act, think, and live since college taught them every possible way that is wrong.”

Vomit. Convulsive. Bile-riddled. Projectile. Vomit.

My father’s church did not approve of women attending college either, despite Dad hailing from a family full of advanced degrees. (He and his brother have PhDs; his sisters have a Master’s and an MD.)

But no college degrees were in my future — only apprenticeship under some elder’s wife where I would learn “biblical womanhood” and how “to serve others” and “live in submission” to my husband.

That was my destiny.

Luckily, I was rebellious. I was really good at being a thorn in the side and a fly in the ointment. And after a long, exhausting struggle I was finally deemed an unfit vessel for husband and church, and thrown out of the fold and into to my grandmother’s arms.

She was headstrong and rebellious, too. And she taught me to believe in myself. Or she tried. And so did my aunts and uncles.

I spent a single semester at UT in a dorm room under their generosity. But the brainwashing from all the biblical bludgeon-ings was too deepset. I clung to the notion that being in love and in a marriage and with child was my one true calling.

I still believe motherhood is one of my truest and strongest callings. I absolutely believe in love and marriage and children.

But I do not believe in submission and ignorance and mind-control. And I never will again.

The author also states the importance and value of having young women remain “under their father’s roof until they get married.”

One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I never lived on my own as a young woman. I believe independent living is one of the most crucial life-skills a woman can glean. The ability to think for herself. Provide for herself. Trust in herself. To believe she is strong. And capable. And worthy.

I learned all of these things. But it took me a long time. I didn’t really absorb them until after I was divorced, when I struggled to survive on rice cakes and peanut butter and struggled to find my confidence and my voice. But survive I did. And more than that, I found my voice and I found my confidence (as confrontationally-challenged as it may be…).

But I am proud to say that both my girls gained independence and self-worth at a far younger age than I. They are strong, capable, autonomous women. One of my daughters, a surgeon with more advanced education than practically any person I know (and will continue her formal education for another four years), responded to the blog’s ridiculous restrictions with the following:

Well, I’m probably the most in debt of any woman out there. And I’m a 31 year old non-virgin. With a tattoo. It seems, based on this grammatically horrifying piece, I’m undesirable. But my brain is worth more than the 300,00 dollars I’ve invested in it, and I will never waste my heart on a man who teaches me how to think or feel.

Well said, my girl. Bravo.

And my other daughter, in honor of International Emoji Day, promptly posted a green vomiting icon. My sentiments exactly, my girl.

So my freedom has resulted in the freedom of my girls. And I take great pride in that. But I’m not finished yet. There are still women out there who believe they can’t exist without the guidance of a man — someone who can translate life for them.

Because the part of the blog that rattled my soul and wrenched my girl parts the most was the sorrow the author felt for women who “have not read the Bible with their father or husband to explain it to them.”

To EXPLAIN it to them?

What. The. Fuck.

What the ever-loving, mind-blowing Fuck?!? (Told you that bridle was gone. I’m the only one who controls my mouth now, thank you very much.)

Let me tell you about the husbands and fathers who “explained” scripture to me. They twisted it. They tortured it. They twisted and tortured scripture and they twisted and tortured me.

And it is taking me a lifetime to free myself from the dogma and the dictators.  Don’t let me be you.

Don’t eat the bullshit. Don’t learn the helplessness. Don’t believe the lies.

You are worthy enough. You are smart enough. You are strong enough. You are important enough.

To think for yourself. To govern yourself. To believe in yourself. To educate yourself.

To love yourself.

So do it. Be it. Live it.

And then help someone else do it and be it and live it too. That’s the function. The function of freedom.

 

 

Mother-Daughter Dynamic Duo: Shine a Life on Cindy and Meghan

I have an artist friend. She is quiet and still as mountains in moonlight. She is layered in the wisdom of the natural world. Her soul ripples when you speak with her. She receives you. She hears you. Actively.

Her hair is scalloped shale, flecked with silver, and her cheekbones are high, whittled planes. She has deep-set eyes and a deep-seated soul.

And she fills this world with rich, buttery warmth.

I can’t even remember the first time I met her. I’ve known her for over half my life. But I do remember her impact on me. How I felt instantly calm and at home. How I didn’t need to fill any silences or put on any airs. Because she is peace. She is acceptance. She is serenity and space. I feel settled in her presence. And loved.

And I admire her for these ways and for so many more.

I admire her for the way she lives her life, loves her child, and lives her art. I don’t know if I know anyone else like her. I don’t see her often, but when I do, I am reminded of what I aspire to be.

She is my soul mentor. She is who I want to be when my soul grows up. And her name is Cindy.

Cindy makes jewelry – handcrafted pieces of spiritual energy. And when I wear her stuff, I can feel the pulse of the cosmos in concert with mine. And it is sheer magic.

And it makes me want to know what she knows. I want to know her secrets. How she lives her passion and creates her world. Because I want to do it, too. I want my art to reflect my spirit and to pulse in concert with the universe. I want to fill this world with buttery warmth.

That’s what I want for my art.

And the way she loves her child — with a fierce and gentle love that listens lightly or moves mountains. She is soft and hard and silence and storm. She is Mother Nature, and she can be unruffled or unleashed.

And this magic mama has wielded an incredibly accomplished daughter.

And I want that, too. That kind of motherhood. That kind of energy. That kind of quiet.

Let me tell you about her daughter — her quirky, cat-like, wisp of a daughter: She has the high cheekbones and deep soul of her mother, but she is absolutely her own woman. And her name is Meghan.

I had the distinct pleasure of being Meghan’s girl scout leader in elementary and middle school, and her Brit and AP Lit teacher in high school., but it is I who was led and I who was taught by this slip-wisp of wonder and whimsy.

She is an artist, too, but she writes. Oh, my, how she writes! Her words are whispers, powerful whispers, that float out and settle next to you on your couch, encouraging you to find the magic in the world — whether it is the vaulting landscape of a national park or the purring kitten at your elbow. She prompts you to feel and to hear and to see miracles in all their myriad forms.

Her essays and blogs are the metaphysical equivalent of condensed orange juice. They are small slices that encompass ALL the flavors, ALL the energy, ALL the power of living life to the fullest.

This mother/daughter duo are gypsies, unfettered and unphased by society’s demand for conformity. They dance down the path less chosen. In the moonlight. In the moment.

They’ve tapped into the inner sanctums of transcendental living, prophets of essence and art. One hikes through the world with a sleeping bag and journal. The other hunkers down with soft metals and gemstones. Both spin ordinary into extraordinary.

And both inspire me.

I don’t see either of them often, but when I do – at a summer concert down at the railroad tracks, at a little shop down under the bridge — I feel restored.

They are both my spiritual mentors. They are who I aspire to be.

(Visit Cindy’s Lunatique Whimsical Jewelry page on Facebook and find you some handcrafted pieces of spiritual energy to wear  ‘round your own neck and wrist!) 33B90F41-1181-4F76-8A3E-8EA5A907D689

Sharing Wonder Women: Am I Worthy Enough?

Lately when I write it feels like butterflies in my belly or helium in my heart. It lifts me. Something new is on the horizon. I can feel it in my blood. Almost like a fever. And I know I’m heading in the right direction. Dreams are being hewn and forged. My fingers flash like meteors on my keyboard, pounding out the metal-workings of my mind.

But just because writing gives me a jiggly, hot, helium-gut these days (hmmm, that really doesn’t sound like a good thing, come to think of it…), it doesn’t mean that the words come easy for me. Sometimes they do.

Some days, the words sparkle in the air like glitter, like dusty motes caught up in the sunshine, beams of beauty filling up my soul and the words falling down like magic onto my keyboard. The process is easy like Sunday morning. And the paragraphs simply spill out of me.

But then other days they don’t. On those days, my mind gets mired-up in the weight of the work. The sunshine flares and the sentences get heavy and coated with ash. The words don’t sparkle in the air, they clump in heaps, clotting up my lungs and computer screen and brains. And the magic skips town and the murk settles in. And the world is harsh as Monday morning. And the words glum up and refuse to form sentences, much less meaning.

This week I’ve had a bit of both — they’ve poured out and they’ve clumped up. And I’m thinking it’s because I’m pursuing a dream; I’m on a quest to reveal truths and to unearth gold. And it involves my writing, but it’s not simply my blog (well, it is, technically, I guess – but it’s more than that.) Because I’m not just telling my story. I’m telling other women’s stories, too — their journeys, their struggles, their successes, their truths. And it is a tremendous responsibility.

Because their story is all our story. Each one demonstrates another facet of the female evolution out of the primordial, patriarchal pond into the promise of the present, tapping into our collective unconscious and untangling the myths and lies to reveal truths instead. We too, are warriors and superheroes. We too, are strength and passion and power.

But revealing long-hidden truths is never easy. The way is hardly well-mapped. Really, it isn’t mapped at all – and it’s super hard to know where to dig if you can’t see where the truth lies.

And the truth does lie… or rather, the truth is lied about. We’ve been told for centuries that we are weak, that we are helpless, that we need to be told how to act and speak. That without someone looking out for us, we women could never survive.

Well, these women’s stories prove otherwise. They are all survivors. No, take that back, they are victors! And so are we all. We just have to believe. It is truth.

But the task of telling these women’s histories leaves me feeling overwhelmed and overtasked. Kind of like I’m living the life of the kid in The Alchemist, one moment blessings tumbling into my lap, and the next, nothing but scarcity as far as the eye can see.

But those butterfly wings and bubbly-heart beacon have never steered me wrong yet. So I have to take it as evidence that I’m on the right track and just keep digging – or typing.

As my fingers type, I watch what unfolds. And then I dig around. And sift. And throw out. And throw out. And throw out. And start all over again.

Because I need their stories to be as real and as true as their memory and my translation can be. And I have to remember that perfection is impossible — even though in this crazy, airbrushed, Instagram-ed world, we have been fooled into believing it exists. It doesn’t.

But reality is far better anyway.  It has dimension and depth, shadow and shine. The world would be a flat and featureless place without all of those things. And so would we. Flat, fictional, and fake.

But these women they have it all: depth, dimension, shadow and shine. Some of them have struggled through incredible darkness. Some have climbed incredible heights. Some are family. Some are friends. Some I have reached out to. Some have reached out to me.

All are beautiful. All are real. They have flaws. They are not goddesses. But they are no mere mortals either.

They are Women.

I will try my utmost to do their stories justice…

Shine A Life: A Series on Women Who Encourage and Lead

Women.

Just typing the word gives me strength and courage and confidence, and a sense of community. Sadly, I’m sure that to the vast majority of this distracted globe the word does not conjure the same – or even similar– connotations. Instead, huge numbers of men — and even women – think only of weakness and ignorance.

And why? Because of a tale as old as time…about a garden, green and lush, and a tree, juicy with promise…

And ever since the forbidden fruit of that tantalizing tree first burst with splendor inside that eager soft palate (yes, the double-entendre is totally intended — because the Garden of Eden is synonymous with sex and shame), Eve and her sisters have been blamed — never mind that Adam was an equal offender in the whole scenario…

Which means that when spirit animals got passed around – we women got saddled with the Scapegoat. And the varieties and the breeds are numerous and all equally hellish:

  • We’ve been sin-eaters from that very first bite, consuming the guilt and bearing the afflictions for all.
  • We are witches, burned regularly — with malice and forethought — if it appears we’re regaining any small semblance of strength or of power.
  • We are sacrificial lambs, slaughtered on bloody altars by roughly hewn knives that penetrate our innocence and slather it with shame.
  • And we are the scapegoats sent into the wilderness with mankind’s sins projected onto our villainized, ostracized flesh.

Women have been relegated to the shavings and the shadows of the world since time immemorial. Which is a travesty.

Because we are strong. We are intelligent. We are powerful. We are creative and disciplined and industrious and capable. Oh, BOY are we capable. And we deserve some long overdue recognition and respect.

This year – the year 2018 — has been labeled the “Year of the Woman.” The moniker was spawned by the #metoo movement in the wake of all the sexual misconduct and abuse that has been revealed in recent months – and has been an ongoing patriarchal proclivity since the wheel first whetted the knife…

But, as Oprah says, “A new day is on the horizon.” So I say: Rise and Shine. Shine as bright – or brighter than — all those sons who’ve come before.

There are so many brilliant, capable, strong women in this universe of ours — and it is indeed ours, not just theirs.

And our stories need to be told. And some of us are famous – like Oprah, and Ashley, and Rose, and Meryl, and Nancy, and Elizabeth, and Hillary — and those stories are being heard. But some of us are not so famous. Some of us are ordinary brilliant, capable, strong women. And in this Year of the Woman, our stories should be heard, too.

I’ve been following an account on Instagram designed to highlight brilliant, capable, strong women operating (literally… it features female surgeons) in a male dominated world. But I recently learned that the whole venture was nothing but a catfishing scheme. The author telling these physicians’ stories was a man posing as a woman — for unknown and indubitably disturbing reasons.

This imposter reached out through emails and social media to a multitude of doctors, claiming to be a young female surgical resident forced to leave her program due to debilitating illness (the disease varied, depending on the target surgeon’s specialty). These doctors – due to the false history –were quite empathetic and opened their hearts and lives to the Him they thought was a Her. Hopefully nothing more than emotional betrayal took place. That still remains to be seen. The Instagram has since been closed.

The whole situation has me pissed off but has also got me thinking. The platform may have been a lie, but there were so many lights, rising big and shining bright out of the darkness of that lie.

And then I got to thinking about the many women in my personal life: sisters, besties, moms, daughters, students. Some of them are surgeons. Some of them are teachers. Some are business women, some stay-at-home moms, some retirees, some immigrants, some artists. Some are from the past. Most are from the present.

And none of them are famous. But all of them are inspiring.

And they help me feel strong and brave and connected daily. And they all help me believe that I can do this hard thing called life. And since I know that not every woman feels the same sense of strength and courage and community, I have decided to begin a new series featuring the extraordinary lives of ordinary women. Strong, brave, powerful, ordinary women. Who can encourage all of us to Rise and Shine…. and cast off the darkness and shadows and goatskins and blames of our past.

I will call it Shine a Life.

Pogonophobia: When you’re Allergic to Warm and Fuzzy

I have pogonophobia — the persistent, irrational fear of facial hair.  It is far from unwarranted, however, as you shall soon see…

The propensity of beards these days makes my skin cringe and my teeth crawl. Solid visual, and no lie.  It’s a systemic thing, beginning in the marrow of my memory board and sending out shock waves of revulsion to every fiber-optic channel of my being. My belly flips, my spine convulses, my shoulders pinch inward, and my lip curls upward. It’s a reflex — less gag and more fight-or-flight – and I don’t know that I’ll ever overcome it.

But through the years I’ve learned to control my freak-outs over facial hair with deep-breathing and soul-searching. — soul-searching of the men who wear them, not my own.

These days, many men see them as the ultimate form of manliness. For me, though, beards are the ultimate symbol of oppression — of misogyny at its highest order.

You see, I was raised surrounded by men with masterfully maintained beards, charcoal gray suits, and ties locked in place with gold bars. They wore their beards as mantels of old testament stewardship over me and all the other women in our fold. They were unshaven shepherds, and I was supposed to be a sheep – or at least a docile damsel, wallowing in gender apathy and waiting on a bearded knight in antiquated authority and dogma to lord over me.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

But lots of bearded bullying occurred. I remember one occasion in particular. There was a massive, dark study, a heavy oak desk, and many, many elders with dark, perfectly-trimmed facial hair. I don’t remember how many men. I know at least four. I also don’t recall the conversation. I deliberately locked myself up tight inside my chest wall — MY chest wall — no Adam’s rib to be found. These men had no right to spelunk around in my soul.

I do remember a phrase that echoed round and round that dimly lit, cavernous office… “We want change, not conformity.”

They would get neither.

I was supposed to be weak. And willing.

I was neither.

Back me into a corner and I become quite stubborn. That has never changed.

“Nevertheless she persisted” became my favorite rally cry from this past year. Why? Because that has been my philosophy for a long, long time.

Those men in their power suits and power beards tried in vain to squash my will. God may have given man freewill, but apparently that freewill did not extend to women. Not according to that bearded patriarchy.

Nevertheless, I persisted… and eventually broke free of their mutton-chopped mandates. And I will continue to persist. To rage against the wrongs still perpetuated toward my sex to this day.

No, I am not a fan of beards.

I am, however, a fan of many men who wear them. Like I explained before, I search the soul before dissing a beard-wearer. I may judge books by their cover, but I do crack them open and see if I’m wrong before writing them off completely. And I have found some very solid souls under bristly chins. I know several coaches who are mighty fine people. I know former students – some of my all-time favorites– who now wear whiskers. I’m not so irrational that I hate the fuzz AND the fellow. That fuzz tho…

Yes, beards are currently everywhere I turn: hipsters grow them as art forms, athletes as playoff totems, and celebrities as eye-catching photo ops. Even months are getting in on the action, with November dedicating its entirety to healthy beard cultivation.

So to all you beard-wearing boys of the world, I apologize for my visceral revulsion. I know that often times, you wear them simply because they are fun and antidisestablishmentarian. I know it’s often for the exact opposite of the oppression and hate for which I associate them. I know my fear is stupid. I know it is. But I just can’t quite get past it. It was a fear instilled long, long ago.

I just can’t become a fan.

 

 

It’s Rape, Not Romance: Legends of the Fall

I love the dark as pitch morning skies of autumn. Some can’t wait for daylight savings. Me, not so much. I love the cool, velvet air settling over my skin as I walk the boys out to their Daddy’s truck and load them up for day care. On the way back to the house, I glance up at the sky and find the dotted outline of the highly visible and celebrated constellation of the mythical hunter Orion striding confidently in the darkness.

I used to love me some Orion, beginning with a next-door neighbor crush long, long ago. This neighbor was the most golden of mortals with sun-kissed hair and stardust eyes. He drove a gold Trans Am and wore royal purple under the Friday night lights. Football or female, he caught nearly any prey he pursued. He was the stuff of legends, and his middle name was Orion.

From there, my fascination with Orion’s mythology grew, despite the numerous slanderous stories against him. His lore is peppered with sexual assault and harassment – from the violation of a vulnerable young princess to the rape of a chaste goddess and hunting partner. Still, I chose to focus on the legends that cast him in a kinder light, a star-crossed-lover light. He and Artemis were in love and her twin brother, Apollo, was jealous. The sex was consensual and her brother tricked her into killing Orion with a little target practice from a tremendous distance.

I chose the stories of romance over the stories of rape.

Enter Harvey Weinstein. The stuff of legends. A highly visible and mythical hunter striding confidently in the darkness amidst the stars of Hollywood.  Apparently, the rumors have been swirling around him for year. Rumors of sexual misconduct and worse. But he was big. He was powerful. He could make wannabes into stars.

Over the past few weeks, horrific accounts from young ingenues and established actors alike have been tumbling out of painful places and into the light: white bathrobes and expensive hotels; egregious propositions and loathsome acts; massages and masturbation and molestation and rape. All under the guise of normalcy.

It’s a tale as old as time, this raw abuse of power wielded over extreme vulnerability. And sadly, the victims are abused first by the aggressor and then by society. The two conspire to silence or ignore or brush aside the allegations, so the mighty hunter might continue to shine and seek new prey.

Society chooses romance over rape. Everybody loves it when a star is born. Nobody wants to know what happened behind the breakthrough. Nobody wants to know the dark bits behind the glitter and gold.

Think of all the powerful hunters in the past who’ve had allegations of sexual violations come to light, yet somehow remained the victor, starting with the leader of the most powerful nation in the world: Donald Trump. Society HEARD him brag about assaulting women, yet he was STILL elected president. All that glitters is definitely not gold there. It’s orange. And rotten to the core. But celebrated, nonetheless.

And there are so many others who have been accused — some still celebrated, others not so much — but all remain out of prison: Bill Cosby. Woody Allen. Ben Roethlisberger. Roman Polanski. R. Kelly.

Harvey Weinstein is merely the latest of many high and mighty hunters. He should not get away with his crimes. None of them should. But if society doesn’t change its ways, history is doomed to repeat itself.

Yes, his name is mud. Yes, he’s been removed from the Academy. Woody Allen is still a member. So is Roman Polanski and Bill Cosby, for that matter… so maybe we’re finally taking a step in the right direction. But something tells me he’s just a sacrificial lamb. He’s being thrown out in disgrace so others might remain to hunt their prey in the glittering darkness of Hollywood desire.

Weinstein’s behavior was extreme, to be sure, but the #metoo social media firestorm has uncovered just how endemic sexual harassment and assault truly is. We all know those 1 in 4 numbers. But those numbers don’t include harassment. Add that to the mix, and the numbers run closer to 100 percent. That’s ridiculous. That’s bullshit. That’s patriarchy at its most vile.

Me? #MeToo. I’ve been harassed. I’ve been manhandled. I’ve said no. That no was ignored. I never considered it rape because we were romantically involved. I was taught to believe it’s only rape if it’s a stranger. It’s only rape if it hurts you physically. It’s only rape if it’s violent and vicious and you’re terrified for your life.

And yes, that is most definitely rape. But so is sex without consent. Period. That’s what I’ve read and heard. That’s what I know in my heart of hearts is true.

But even though I know that, sometimes I feel like maybe I’m just twisting things up. He was just drunk. And strong. And persistent. And sloppy. And on top of me. And I couldn’t get him off me.

But remember, I was taught its only rape if it’s violent and vicious and you’re terrified for your life. And while I was terrified, I never thought I might die. And I thought, this is normal. This sort of thing happens. I chose romance over rape.

In some lore, Orion was killed by a scorpion’s sting. And up there, in the night sky, he is constantly pursued by Scorpius. He can never rest, as Scorpius is forever on his trail and ready to strike again.

Those women (close to fifty and counting) violated by Weinstein, I see them all as scorpions. And they’ve caught that motherfucking predator. And every deadly sting is one more nail in his coffin.

No, not every story is romantic and not every superstar should be celebrated. Some should crash to the earth with a momentous and terrible force.

Fall, Harvey, fall.  And as for you, Orion, go join him in Hades.

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