Friday, October 20, 2017

Defiant Joy

Look!  Our vacuum cleaner is a progressive!
I saw this news report saying that the negativity we encounter in the news and on social media can rob us of joy.  With the leaf truck making its first visit joyful of the season today, I shut off the media and went out to multiply my joy by picking up our vacuum cleaner.

Our vacuum cleaner had languished at the repair shop for two months.  I had gone in, about a month in, and asked about it, but the person just said they were waiting for a part.  Another month went by.  My husband called, and got a detailed explanation about faulty employees, an apology, and a promise to do better.

Being without the vacuum cleaner did not rob me of joy, but still, we decided that it was time to reclaim what is rightfully ours. Today I went to pick up the vacuum cleaner.  The staff were apologetic.  I said, fine, I just want my vacuum cleaner back. I calmly pointed out that since they didn’t fix the broken part, I shouldn’t have to pay anything. They agreed and added that all the employees we encountered up to now have been fired from their company.  I expressed sympathy for their business suffering from poor employee behavior.  It sincerely grieves me to see a business not do well because of jagoffs*.  But I also pointed out that it was only when my (male) husband got involved that we found out what was truly going on with our vacuum cleaner.

Text to my husband about vacuum cleaner: 
another fun part of married life

I triumphantly put the (still broken) vacuum cleaner in the car and started for home.  I turned on the radio, which lately I have set to the classical music station because it has more joy than NPR these days. As the traffic light turned green I recognized the strains of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, 4th movement.  That’s the one with full orchestra, full chorus, full soloists, full everything.  The one Ludwig wrote when he was stone deaf.

Beethoven’s Symphony of Joy.  O Freude! I turned up the volume and cracked my window open.  Spreading joy!

I thought of how the vacuum cleaner repair place only gave results to my husband, and not me.  I thought of how, throughout the years, when we had an issue with our kids’ school, school officials would respond meaningfully to my husband, but not me.  Some people are stone deaf when it comes to listening to a woman.

I thought of the time when, as a young single woman feeling uncertainty and angst in my life, I went to seek help from my pastor, a married man twice my age.  As I expressed my psychological agony to him, his response was to take me in his arms and kiss me, full on the lips.  I cannot tell you the shame and confusion I felt at that moment, and still feel on remembering it.  This is, to my knowledge, the first time I have mentioned this to anyone.

Me too.

This, my first “me-too” moment that I remember, was not as severe or traumatic an experience of sexual harassment or assault as other women have had.  It took me a while to realize that my experience counts as part of the culture that allows it all to happen.  I am mistrustful of social media campaigns like this “me too” thing, but I felt compelled to declare that it has happened to me, too. I want to acknowledge that I have forgiven that man.  All of us, including me, are prone to make judgments of error.  I was not permanently scarred by this incident.

Pulling onto the main road and growing defiant in the way only a middle-aged suburban woman can, I turned up the Symphony of Joy to ear-splitting volume and rolled down both windows. 

I thought of the all the times when I was the only woman in the business meeting with about twenty men.  One of them cracks an off-color sexist joke.  They all laugh.  Then the jokester turns to me to “apologize.” I thought of the time I was at the Paris office for one of those meetings.  I needed to make photocopies for the meeting but had no clue how their photocopier worked.  A grain trader came up to me and asked me to make his photocopies.  Because apparently men couldn’t do things like make photocopies.

I decided it doesn’t matter if the sexist-joke-plus-apology or the men-don’t-do-office-tasks was full-on sexual harassment that qualifies as part of my me-too list, or just jagoff behavior. (I wonder what it is like in the office of the ******-in-Chief.)  

I thought of the time the male doctor I went to about a sore throat felt compelled to feel me up, somewhere lower than my throat. That happened when I was married, and I told my husband.  He encouraged me to report the doctor.  But somehow I knew that reporting it would cause me far more grief and pain than it would the doctor.  After all, it was my word against his.  My silence added to my shame - because I wasn’t willing to fight it.

Me too.

Then I thought of instances I have seen recently of men minimizing women. You know, it’s 2017, and it’s still okay to suggest that a woman can be paid less than a man for the same work, especially if the woman is married to a man making a professional salary.  You know, it’s okay to call a woman by a demeaning nickname rather than her actual name, and if you have a problem with it, you need to lighten up, honey. Those of you who do these things – yinz are jagoffs.  And don’t say that my objections make it impossible for you to interact with women at all.  Just treat women respectfully as your equal.  It’s that simple.

The chorus and orchestra were by now blasting All Joy out of my car windows into the suburban street.  I fully entered into defiant joy, driving aggressively under the speed limit for maximum effect. 

I must proclaim, in my defiant joy, that nearly all of the men in my life have been genuine, kind, respectful, worthy, upstanding human beings.  I have encountered many pastors who listen respectfully to me and respond appropriately.  The company I currently contract with has none of those shenanigans at meetings.  As Beethoven and Schiller put it:

Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium…
Alle Menschen werden Brüder**,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter from Elysium…
All men shall become brothers**,
wherever your gentle wings hover.

I forgive the sexual harassment and discrimination directed at me.  Let’s wise up, people, and learn how to treat all of us with respect.

* Jagoff (definition): ˈjaɡˌôf/ noun (chiefly in western Pennsylvania) a stupid, irritating, or contemptible person.
At the request of my husband, rampant use of this word in this post has been reduced from just three.

** Dang it, it’s just impossible to escape gender-non-inclusive language.  I guess I have to forgive Beethoven and Schiller for their 18th century verbiage.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Morning Notes: Wednesday is Hump Day

One in an occasional and uninteresting series which shows you notes I left for my younger daughter each morning during her senior year of high school.  In the midst of my seemingly perpetual writer’s block.  Notes in no particular order.  Complete sentences not even happening.

Happy Hump Day!
Don’t forget to take your note.

                 Feb 22
Happy Windsday, Pooh.

Happy Windsday, Piglet

March 1st

On this date in 1781 the Articles of Confederation were ratified.  That’s what we had before we had the Constitution.
(This is an expert drawing of articles, confederated)

On this date in 1872 Yellowstone Park was established.
(This is an expert drawing of a geyser.  I have never seen one in real life.)

March 15 

No morning note today - See Actual Mother

(I must have been driving her to school that day.)

April 26, 2017  A note for Wednesday

This is a note.  It is a note for Wednesday.  Some people call it Hump Day because it is the middle of the week.  But I shall call it “I don’t know what to make for dinner” day.  Perhaps that what every day is called in this household!

P.S. Please find out if the limo is bringing you back from the prom, and to where and roughly when.    And where IS the prom?



Oct 26, 2016 Trees go wandering

A quote for today:
Trees go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, traveling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!   - John Muir

I hope your travels go well today.  – Mom

A note from sometime in the fall of 2016

Hello, all you happy campers!

It’s mighty chilly out there this morning.  Time to pull out yer mittens and hats, I guess.  See you at the ranch at 4 PM!

- Camp Matron

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Sound of Silencers

I invite you to read my friend's post, on the PA12 For Progress blog: 

When I was a student at Carolina, I was walking across the tree-lined quad adjacent to our main drag, Franklin Street. When I was about halfway across, I heard popping sounds from the street. I didn’t realize at first what was going on but then saw people running and screaming to take cover.

Click here if you wish to read more.

And here is a post I wrote for PA12 For Progress....

Birds chirping, insects humming, squirrels chattering.  These are some of the sounds I heard during my morning walk in the park.  And also this:  gunshots.  

Click here if you wish to read more.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Talk

Sunday, August 20, 2017   8:30 AM

The outside world is enveloped in fog.  At the mailbox, I notice cobwebs I didn’t see before.  The neighborhood is silent.  Last night’s storm has felled a large tree limb, which lies dead in the side yard.  My Black Lives Matter sign is there but less visible from the street because of the fog.

On this morning, it seems like the world has become a haunted house, or perhaps an abandoned museum exhibit. Is this just a suburban housewife’s imagination, or is it a metaphor for American democracy? (Because these days, every suburban housewife has American democracy on her mind, all the time, right?) Have we put our democratic ideals in the museum now?  Is any challenge to injustice visible from the street on a tiny cul-de-sac in suburbia?

* * * * * * * *

Several days before that foggy morning I sit my younger daughter down to have a talk with her.  I was hoping to avoid this talk, but the events of Aug 12th in Charlottesville, Virginia make it necessary.  In this talk I must tell my daughter that there are people out there, more people than I thought possible, who wish her harm for being herself, for being something she cannot change.  There are people out there who now are unashamed to say out loud that they wish to throw Jews in the ovens. And our country’s leaders, in the highest offices of the land, equivocate and call these haters “some fine people.”

God help us. 

I know that this talk I am having with her is not unlike the very real, very scary talk that people of color must have with their children, at a much earlier age than 18.

For years my husband has said, occasionally, that it would be entirely possible for Nazi ideology to become prevalent in the United States.  In the past, I would toss away this idea as a groundless fear.  We can call this my WASP privilege, if you like.  Woven into Jewish identity is a strong sense of transience borne out of the historical truth that Jews have always been despised by someone, simply for being Jews.  My husband, a Jew, expects threats to his existence.  Here is a conversation we had back in January, shortly after the presidential inauguration:

Me:  The president is a pathological liar, and very insecure.  He keeps telling lies.

Husband (making a natural Jewish leap in thought from insecure pathological liar to Hitler*):  You know, the first people that Hitler got rid of were the intellectuals.  But it’s okay.  I’m Jewish.  We’ve been through this before.  We’ll wander around.  We’ll carry our Torah with us.

Younger Daughter:  It’s the end of the American empire.  It’s inevitable – every great empire in history collapses.  The Roman empire didn’t last, but we still have Rome.  The British empire doesn’t exist any more.  But Britain is still there.

Husband:  Britain is still there?

Younger Daughter:  Oh. My. God.  Why do you count as an intellectual?

So, a few days before I send my daughter off on the uncharted path which is freshman year of college, I tell her that there are people who are out to get her.   It is white privilege that I have been able to postpone this talk until now.  My yard sign in white suburbia saying Black Lives Matter is more a wish for the future than a truth, in our foggy abandoned museum exhibit.
Staged photo, showing both the big tree
limb and Black Lives Matter sign.
Yes, I dragged the tree limb around the yard
in the dark, to get both of them in the frame.
I did it for you, Dear Reader.
Obeying the prime rule of parenting, which is to remain calm in all situations, my daughter and I discuss the events in Charlottesville in measured tones. I make sure she understands that some of these people live near us.  That there are few of them but they are powerful and violent.  That these people would be of far less consequence if they were not receiving thinly veiled encouragement from the Divider-in-Chief. Then she asks me:

“How will we know when it is time to be afraid?”

How does a parent answer that question?

*Update:  Please note that this post is not meant to imply in any way that our President and Hitler are like each other.  One of them is not shrewd enough.