Mixed Messages

Mixed messages

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A girl can be anything in this day and age
Her mind and her body are no one’s but hers
She’s free to explore and to learn all she can
Science and reason will improve the world

Emotional creatures like women can’t lead
She must smile and give hugs and kiss on command
If she’s not a mother then she’s not a woman
Progress is evil and must be restrained

Men like strong women

Obey without question

Be pretty, be sexy

Women are sluts

Using her talents and knowledge is vital
She can think what she wants in the land of the free
Everyone’s equal and deserves basic rights
She can live how she wants, walk in public with pride

Boys don’t like smart girls, she should play dumb
She must keep her thoughts private to be safe in the crowd
Some deserve scorn because they are different
If she does not conform she’s a hag or a whore

Be true to yourself

Be a good little girl

Live an authentic life

Live a perfect life

Her feelings are hers, she does not have to hide them

She is ordered to smile by strange men in the streets

She is told she is special and loved and respected

She is told she’s a sinner, unworthy of grace

Her intelligence shines and brings her success

She is never to boast, she must humble herself

Why aren’t you happy?

Why are you angry?

Why won’t you smile?

Smile, bitch, smile.

The World is not Black and White

Absolutist thinking only makes things worse.

(I originally posted this as a response to someone on Facebook, but I decided due to its length it would work better here.)

My problem with simply making abortions illegal is that without finding ways to eliminate the perceived need for them — through programs such as nation-wide comprehensive sex education and access to birth control (https://mic.com/articles/98886/the-states-with-the-highest-teenage-birth-rates-have-one-thing-in-common#.dZnzMbb69), free or low-cost access to comprehensive medical care for pregnant women and new mothers, extensive paid maternity AND paternity leave (https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/08/these-10-countries-have-the-best-parental-leave-policies-in-the-world), and massively increased social and financial support for all new mothers, especially those from low-income families or those whose children have severe disabilities (http://www.takepart.com/article/2016/04/18/another-nation-giving-parents-free-box-baby-supplies) — making abortion illegal will not make it go away. It will merely drive it underground, and women will suffer and die needlessly as a result:

The world is not black and white. All living creatures have sex; they are driven by biological forces to do so. And while many species do so only because of the drive to pass on their genes, many others (not only humans) also do so for pleasure. When societies ignore that fact by simply saying “sex is bad and don’t do it; if you do, the baby is your punishment,” without preparing for what will happen when (not if) that directive is ignored — whether intentionally or through coercion (incest or rape) — they criminalize women and girls simply for the fact that they contain a reproductive system that functions like reproductive systems are supposed to.

Until our society fills in all of the gaps to prevent unwanted pregnancies, rape, incest, poverty due to the cost of raising a child, or bankruptcies due to paying the long-term medical expenses of a disabled child who will never have any sort of quality of life, abortions will continue to happen. And as long as people hide behind morality to avoid REALITY, billions of dollars will be spent on protecting potential humans while ignoring the millions of actual, here-on-earth humans who are suffering every day.

I have to rant, or the rage will eat me alive.

I’m disgusted, enraged, and terrified by the whole thing.

It disgusts me that a small, misinformed portion of the country has decided the future for the rest of us. I understand that anger at the establishment led a lot of voters to choose whom they thought would change things. I agree that many in this country have sunk into the lower middle class (and beyond) because of decisions made by the government. I acknowledge that fear and ignorance can lead to desperate choices.

But, come on.

That government everyone thinks has made those bad decisions? It’s not the President alone. So many people in the country don’t understand how the national government is organized. They don’t get that the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches are separate. They think the President alone is responsible for every good and bad thing that happens. So when the country “goes bad,” blame the President and re-elect all the Senators and Representatives who blocked any opportunity to improve things, even at the expense of their own constituents, just to give the finger to the other side of the aisle?

So many “establishment Republicans” were re-elected to the House and Senate. These are the same Republicans who have railed about how bad the country is and how they want to make it “great” again. They’ve been in charge for years. They’ve been vigorously obstructing any possible positive change that the House and Senate tried to put into place. Even bi-partisan bills co-authored by Democrats and Republicans were blocked by these people because they have demonized the opposition. And these same folks were re-elected to their offices.

Think about it. The same people who ranted about how badly the country was being run are the people who have been running it. And they were re-elected.

So, sure, 25% of the country has decided that an anti-establishment demagogue billionaire will change things up. But they also decided that all the old establishment Republicans that have been running the Legislative branch for years should just keep on blocking any positive changes because Heaven forbid they try to compromise. The establishment is still in charge, folks. And, worse, they’re being joined by actual real-life white supremacists. They aren’t even pretending anymore.

And millions, millions, of votes were discarded because of overly-strict voter ID laws that do nothing to stop voter fraud, because there is hardly any voter fraud to stop — voter fraud is a lie perpetuated by the right-wing establishment to disenfranchise ethnic minorities and those who would vote against them (https://www.brennancenter.org/issues/voter-fraud). North Carolina’s most recent attempt at voter ID laws was struck down for being blatantly and intentionally racist (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/court-north-carolina-voter-id-law-targeted-black-voters/). You want voter fraud? This is voter fraud. This is disenfranchisement. It is unconstitutional, illegal, and immoral. And in no way will any of it make this country “great again.”

This country will only be great when its most vulnerable, least powerful citizen can enjoy his or her basic human rights — life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness — without being denied those rights simply because he or she doesn’t fit what 25% of the country has decided is “American.” This country will only be great when every citizen who is of the legal age to vote can walk into that polling place and cast his or her vote without being stopped because laws have been passed that say he or she isn’t “American” enough to vote.

This country will only be great when Republican voters realize that “Small government” and the current right-wing establishment — an establishment that has put forth laws to prevent people from voting, marrying, or getting birth control; laws to allow billion-dollar corporations to fire whoever they want, for no reason, and to prevent their own employees from standing up for their rights; laws that blatantly mock the separation of church and state by promoting one, narrow, extremist view of Christianity over every other religion and religious sect in this country; laws that allot billions to the military but gut medicare, medicaid, educational funds, and infrastructure; laws that promoted the interests of large corporations over the interests of the people affected by those corporations; laws that allow people to own guns that can kill millions of actual, existing humans in a moment, but ban abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or an unborn child who will not survive outside the womb and whose birth will kill the mother — could not be farther apart.

“Government so small it fits in my uterus,” indeed.

I can’t pretend that none of this matters. My vote was sort of counted. I’m “American” enough, though the White Supremacists would prefer I was barefoot and pregnant, in the kitchen while my husband works, bending my will to his and not standing up for myself. But otherwise, I’m “American” enough for my vote to be counted as a legal vote. And yet it wasn’t enough. The electoral college has invalidated my vote and the votes of millions of other people in my state. I used my voice, and it was silenced.

Don’t anyone tell me that this election was the result of “the country” speaking. Only one quarter of the country made this choice. Disenfranchisement prevented millions from being able to choose. Apathy and misinformation kept others from even trying. And now we’re stuck with a self-important billionaire who has been accused (with good evidence) of so many different types of crimes it’s not even funny; who was denounced by all of our living past presidents and was endorsed by the presidents of Russia and North Korea; who is planning to give offices to white supremacists and KKK supporters; who wants to wall us off like East Berlin so that we don’t have to deal with any of those icky foreigners who don’t look like good old fashioned white Americans; who wants to criminalize the act of living for so many people just because they’re different. His associates want to revisit WWII internment camps for Muslims; want to criminalize protesting and journalism that goes against them (goodbye, first amendment); want to force women who have undergone abortions and/or had miscarriages to pay for funerals for the fetuses; want to take away affordable healthcare from those who desperately need it (medicare, medicaid, ACA); and want to flat out make this nation a nation for white people only (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/15/us/politics/donald-trump-presidency.html?_r=0).

(By the way, here’s the Merriam Webster definition of ‘fascism’: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fascism.)

I see all of these things, I hear about all of these things, and I think about all of the people I know and respect and care about whose lives will be damaged and even destroyed by these policies. And I think America is far from great, and is only going to sink farther still.

I’m sick about all of this. And I’m far from the only one.

Woke up too early again…

Woke up too early again. My emotional mind taking over, telling me nothing will ever be good again. Sadly, these days, my logical mind seems to agree.

Grief over loss of love has weighed me down for months. I struggled under a heavy load of pain and despair, trying to step forward even as greedy, groping hands pulled me down into the earth. Sometimes I sink into the pit. But I cling to the edge, to the walls, holding on and refusing to drop further.

Slowly, slowly, I have been shrugging off the weight, climbing out of the hole. But now I feel heavier. Gravity has increased, pulling me back down into darkness.

I know I cannot control anything but my own actions and reactions. I say this to myself often. I cannot change what has happened. I can only respond to it as best I can. But anxiety is a seductive, narcissistic companion, curling around me, snaking its arms through mine, pulling my head toward it and whispering into my ear: telling me I am in control of it all, and thus I am responsible. Other people’s decisions were and are because of me, because of my failings. I am at fault.

Fear for the future–for my own and for my world–twists my insides to knots. The lump in my throat, the burning in my gut, the pain behind my eyes tell me I am not safe. And the seductive companion tells me I can change things, I can make it right. If only I knew the perfect word, the perfect deed. The act that will return things to right and bring my happiness back to me. The one weird trick that will save the world.

As my emotional mind becomes overwhelmed with the weight of responsibility, and my logical mind tries to reason its way out of pain, my primitive lizard mind simply panics. It screams at my brain, my gut, my blood, my heart: Prepare to run! Prepare to hide! Prepare to fight!

Or, perhaps, prepare to curl up and accept the end.

Sometimes I cannot decide which would be best.

 

For those who choose to base their entire worldview on a handful of verses in the Bible, here are some suggestions:

On Protecting the Environment

  • Genesis 2:15: The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
  • Proverbs 12:10: The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.
  • Psalm 24:1: The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.

On the Importance of Education

  • Proverbs 10:14: The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin.
  • Proverbs 17:27: The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.
  • Proverbs 18:15: The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.
  • Hosea 4:6: My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge.
  • Ecclesiastes 7:12: Wisdom is a shelter as money is a shelter, but the advantage of knowledge is this: Wisdom preserves those who have it.

On Helping Those in Need

  • Matthew 25:40: The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
  • Proverbs 19:17: Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.
  • Acts 2:44-45: All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.
  • Philippians 2:3: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.
  • Luke 6:31: Do to others as you would have them do to you.

On Equality and Human Rights

  • Psalm 67:4: May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples with equity and guide the nations of the earth.
  • Leviticus 19:33: When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.
  • Luke 6:31: Do to others as you would have them do to you.
  • Mark 12:31: The second [greatest commandment] is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
  • James 2:8-9: If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers.

(translations taken from the New International Version)

The Path

Once upon a time there was a huge, dark forest. Tall, twisted trees reached for the sun, their outstretched limbs sending the ground below into a cold, everlasting gloom. Primordial vines snaked around these trees and grasped at the air, searching for warmth, and light, and purchase. No breeze stirred the leaves, and the air was still and silent.

In this forest there was a path. Sometimes it went straight forward, and sometimes it would wind around the huge gray tree trunks, slinking under knotted roots and hiding in the litter of old leaves and twigs and dirt. Sometimes the path would disappear into a congestion of vines that twisted and grasped and struggled for light. But the path was always there.

And on this path there was a girl.

The girl walked forward, all alone, one step in front of the other. The girl was afraid of the forest. It was murky and gray and silent and cold, and the path was often hard to see. Sometimes in the shadows she thought she could see glowing eyes of unknown creatures. Sometimes in the quiet she could hear soft cries, and they sounded hungry and cruel. She did not feel safe. She wanted to hide away in the hollow of a tree. She wanted to turn back and find a way out. But she couldn’t. She had to walk the path. And she had to do it alone. No one else could walk it.

She continued on, one step in front of the other until she came to a vast chasm. She stood near the edge and peered down into the abyss, but could not see the bottom. She looked to the left and to the right, but she could only see the huge gray trees reaching up into the equally gray sky and fading into the distant gray mist. Nearby, the trees leaned over the chasm as thick grasping vines trailed off the edge and down into the abyss.

A glance behind her revealed only the darkness through which she had walked. She looked across and could see the other side, but it was so very far away. Was there no way forward? She looked down at the path and realized that it did continue across the chasm. But where before it was wide and relatively safe to walk, now it was no more than a narrow plank, stretching into the distance across the chasm.

The girl did not understand. Was it safe? It was so thin, and so narrow. Would it support her? Could she balance? She was no acrobat. There was barely room for her to stand with her feet together. Why was this her path? It didn’t make sense. She grew more afraid. Was the path a trick? Was it designed so that she would fail, so that she would fall? Tears distorted her vision, and she found she could not move. She had to walk the path, but if she did she would surely fail. The only path she could walk, the path that only she could walk, seemed destined to kill her.

As she stood at the edge, staring at the plank, she heard the cries of the menacing unknown creatures that lurked in the shadows. The cries grew closer. She could not stay here. She could not go back. There was no way around. She looked up into the cloud-darkened sky, which grew blacker with the coming night. There was nothing else to do, but go forward.

One step. She paused as the plank seemed to give slightly under her weight. She took a second step. Stood on the plank. It held. She told herself not to look straight down. She couldn’t look ahead without fearing she would fall. She turned her face slightly down toward the plank, so that she could see just a few steps ahead. Then she took a third step.

Her steps were small. She wanted to run across, to get this over with as soon as possible. But her fear kept her nearly frozen. She could only move her feet, slowly, ever so slowly. One step in front of the other.

After a while the girl stopped and looked up. Her heart seemed to slip from its housing. Had she made no progress at all? Carefully, she twisted her upper body so that she could glance behind her. The edge of the chasm was mere yards away. She had moved forward, but there was so far to go. And in the shadowy mist that surrounded her, the other side looked even more distant than before she stepped on the plank.

Returning her gaze to the plank, she took another step. Then another. One step in front of the other. She willed herself not to look ahead, not to see how distant the other side was, not to see how hopeless it was. Her foot slipped a little to the side and she wobbled. The plank vibrated slightly. She froze, her breath caught.

Don’t fall. Don’t look down. Don’t look ahead. Don’t look behind. Just keep walking.

The girl took a breath, and another. She began walking again.

She fought the urge to look up, but it was too late. Her eyes widened, then filled with tears. A few feet ahead, the mist had thickened into a blue-gray fog, into which the plank disappeared. She was surrounded by the fog, her breath joining it in shuddering clouds as she gasped. How far had she come? How far did she have to go? She trembled, and the plank trembled in response. She clinched her fists and tried to stop her body from shaking, but the shaking only increased until she knew that she would fall. In a panic she dropped into a crouch and gripped the sides of the plank with her hands. Splinters dug into her palms, but she did not move. She could not move. To move was to fall.

But to stay was to fail.

After a few moments her trembling had subsided. Have to move forward, she thought. She leaned forward until she was on her knees, her hands still clutching the plank. Slowly, experimentally, she slid one hand forward, then the opposite knee. Then the other hand, and the other knee.

Have to move forward. One hand, one knee.

Can’t fall. The other hand, the other knee.

Her hands, torn by the splinters, began to bleed, and she had to grip tighter to keep them from slipping. Sweat and tears dropped from her nose and beaded on the plank. One hand, one knee. The other hand, the other knee.

The fog was nearly black, and so cold. The girl shivered and the plank shivered in response. Then she heard it.

A creak of wood. The plank finally giving way? Or something else?

Is the plank breaking? Is something behind me? Is something waiting for me? I’m going to fall. I’m going to fail. I’m going to die. Her mind bounced from one fear to the next, whirling around in despair, until she found herself crumpled against the plank, her eyes squeezed shut, her face pressed into the wood. She struggled to breathe, her chest fighting the exchange of air. I cannot go forward. I cannot walk this path. I cannot make it. I’m going to fall. I’m going to fail. I’m going to die.

She thought perhaps she should let go. Her bloody hands were barely holding on. She opened her eyes and found herself staring into the blackness below. It was waiting for her. It was right there. It would be easy to fall. It is impossible to go forward. I’m going to fall. I’m going to fail. I’m going to die.

 As the girl lay there, suspended above oblivion by no more than a few inches of wood, she heard herself whisper into the darkness. “Please. Help me.”

Silence, and cold, and darkness surrounded her. Hope seemed lost in the fog.

Silence, and cold, and darkness.

And a hand clasped her shoulder.

She jerked upward, the plank swaying slightly, and another hand gripped her other shoulder.

She looked up. To her left, barely visible in the gloom, was a woman. To her right, a boy. Each held on to her as she carefully pulled herself upward. They did not let go until she was standing, until the plank had stopped vibrating from her movements. Then the woman reached down and held the girl’s left hand. The boy clutched her right hand tightly.

“Are you angels?” She whispered.

“No,” said the woman with a smile.

The girl was confused. “How are you standing in mid-air?” she asked.

The boy said, “We’re not in mid-air.”

The girl looked down. Though the fog was thick, she could just barely see that the woman and the boy were each standing on what looked like wood. She peered into the murk and saw that each was on a plank that seemed to stretch into the distance alongside hers.

“Where did you come from?” she asked.

“I’m walking the path,” the boy replied.

“So am I,” the woman said.

The girl said, “But I thought I was the only one who could walk this path.”

The woman smiled at her again. “Yes. You are the only one who can walk your path. But I am walking my path. And he is walking his.” She turned away and nodded toward the fog. “And they are each walking theirs.”

And now the girl could see, ever so faintly, other people in the distance. She looked from side to side and saw them on her left and her right. The woman held the hand of a man to her left. The boy held the hand of another boy to his right. And each held the hand of another. One beside the other, continuing into the fog.

“But I didn’t see you on the path; I didn’t see your planks here. I thought I was alone.”

The boy shrugged. “So did I. Probably so did everyone. But I guess sometimes we need help. And so we can find each other, and help each other.”

The man beyond the woman spoke up. “We may walk our paths alone, but where we need it most, they meet.”

The girl said, “But aren’t you afraid? What if we fall?”

The man said, “I was afraid. The chasm is so deep. I knew I would fall. But now, I see that this plank is part of a wider path.”

The girl looked at the planks and saw that they were only separated by an inch or two. If everyone walked together, no one could fail. Even if someone were to fall, the others’ planks would be there to stop them, and the others’ hands would be there to save them.

The woman said, “Are you ready to go forward?”

The girl nodded. “I think so.”

“Good,” replied the woman. She took a step. The man beside her took a step. The boy took a step. And the girl took a step.

And another.

One step in front of the other.

Together they moved forward, across the chasm, into the mist.

Soon twisted shapes emerged from the fog, and the girl saw that they were trees. The edge of the chasm appeared. Sighing in relief, she stepped from her plank onto solid earth. The path stretched before her into the trees.

The woman and the boy and all the others stepped from their planks and paused at the edge. As the girl watched, the people in the distance began to fade away. She looked up at the woman in alarm.

“I think this is where we part,” said the woman, and she too began to fade. The girl shook her head.

“Please don’t go,” she said, clinging to the woman’s hand, “I don’t want to be alone.”

The boy, now barely visible in the gloom, his hand cold in hers, said “We have to walk our paths alone.”

The woman nodded. “But if we need each other again, we’ll find each other. Our paths are separate from yours, but we each go forward.”

“Keep walking, and we’ll be walking with you,” the boy’s voice faded away as he vanished.

The woman smiled and whispered, “Keep walking. I’m walking too.” And she, too, disappeared.

The girl stood there in the dark forest, shivering from the cold. Tears dampened her cheeks. She looked back at the chasm and saw that the fog had thinned, revealing the vast gulf across which she had walked. The planks were no longer there.

I made this far, she thought. I can keep going.

She studied the path before her. It led forward, winding slightly around the trees, under roots and leaf litter and dirt, through clusters of twisting vines and into the distance. It was her path. No one could walk it but her. Walk it she must. And walk it she would.

She took a step. And another.

One step in front of the other.

Okay

My eyes are burning, but I am “okay.”
My heart is shredding. I say “I’m okay.”
Inside I’m wailing, but outside “okay.”
I’m retching, I’m bleeding, I’m always “okay.”

“Okay” is my armor, “okay” is my shield.
“Okay” is the wall between me and the world.
“Okay” is the answer when all others fail.
“Okay” I may say, but “okay” I don’t feel.

My spirit falters, but I’ll be “okay.”
I feel like I’m dying, but I’ll be “okay.”
I’m crawling through embers, but I’ll be “okay.”
I’m searching for refuge, but I’ll be “okay.”

One day I will laugh and I’ll feel I’m okay.
I’ll rise from the ashes and know I’m okay.
I’m broken, I’m shaken, but still I’m okay.
And someday I’ll stand and be more than “okay.”