Monday, October 16, 2017

Purses, Pockets, and the Malware Installed in Every Woman

 In August, I stopped carrying a purse.

It started just with complaining with women friends about the lack of pockets in our apparel. I’ve got pantsuits with zero usable pockets. I’m a parish minister, and after the service, I take off my preaching robe, and wander around our fellowship hall, chatting with folks. And because I have no pockets, it means I either have to carry my keys and phone around with me, or hand them to my pocket-bearer, I mean, husband.


Those conversations sent me to articles about the history of the lack-of-pockets in women’s wear, and how – goodness! – if clothing manufacturers  began putting pockets in women’s clothing, then we’d kill the whole purse industry! Purse manufacturers have children, too, you know!

Heartlessly, I decided I’d had enough, at least for a little while, and I was going to experiment with not carrying a purse. And I’d only purchase clothes with pockets in them. (One morning, I headed to work and realized I’d left my blazer at home. I had a community event later, so rather than circle back, I just stopped by the mall by the church. How hard could it be to grab a black blazer with real pockets? 5 stores and 1 ½ hours later, I will tell you, pretty *&%! hard.)

And I began Life Without Purse.

Many of the things you might have predicted happened: I realized I didn’t actually need all of those other things I toted around. Just keys, wallet, pocketknife, cell phone – really don’t need anything more. I felt lighter. I feel like I’m walking a little jauntier. I pat myself more often. (Oh, now I get it guys! The routine check – keys/wallet/phone – yep, all there.)

Here’s what I didn’t expect, couldn’t have known: how much of my brain this has freed up.

If you have carried a purse all your life, you just can’t know how your brain is constantly, constantly! monitoring the whereabouts of your purse. Is it on your shoulder? Sliding down your arm? Did someone just brush against it? Was it open, did someone swipe your wallet? Can I leave it in the car, or will someone see it on the seat and bust the window? At the theater, music club, restaurant – where is my purse? On the dirty floor? Hanging on the chair? Oh, someone just walked by our table. Where’s my purse? Is it tripping someone? Is someone walking off with it?

It is ever-present, this monitoring of one’s purse.

Out and about, it’s a symbol of women’s vulnerability, worn on the outside of our bodies. We learn to hold it tight, in case someone tries to grab it. At the same time, we’re told that if someone tries to grab it, let it go, let it go, save your body. Or maybe we could use it as a weapon? “Toss it away from you, that gives you time to run away.”

It is like malware in our brains, running all the time, without us knowing it.

And if we’re like that about our purses, just imagine the mental power constantly being drained with the malware called “Don’t Get Raped.”

Get to your car, with confident body language - head up, arms swinging. Keep an eye out for someone hiding under the car, or someone sitting in the passenger side of the car next to you, or someone who has snuck into the backseat of your car. Make sure you don't have a flat. Get in the car, but quickly lock the doors. Don’t sit there checking your email, move. ALWAYS keep your car in good working order. Get out of your car after scanning the area. Constantly be doing a 360 scan around yourself. Carry your keys threaded through your fingers like a weapon. Never take stairs. Never get in the elevator with someone who sets off your internal alarm. If you’re the only one in the building, lock the door. Be careful about any personal information you share online. Be careful about the male co-workers you trust. Be careful about the janitor, the customer. Always have your cell phone. Never drink anything in public that your eye has been off even for a second. Tell the bartender you want an angel shot when someone is threatening you. Dress in clothes that are easy to run and kick in. Don't open your front door unless you know who is on the other side.  "Fight your inner woman...Be paranoid and suspicious."

I could go on and on. 

Yes, some of the advice is ridiculous.

Yes, men have to be aware of their safety, too.

But for women, it is a constant thing that most of the time, we're not even conscious of. It is a program running in our subconscious, a plug-in to our autonomic system. 

For me, I've found not carrying a purse -- and tossing my mental "purse monitor" in the trash -- to be joyful and liberating. 

But the sad reality is that the risk of uninstalling the Women's Safety plug-in is too high. 


#MeToo

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Waters Give, Waters Take Away

There are no baby pictures of me. Not that I wasn’t loved; I was. But my Dad took only slides, which are not made for easily passing around. When he and Mama retired and began traveling, the slides and most of their worldly goods were carefully put into climate-controlled storage.
Climate-controlled doesn’t mean flood proof.

Which hurricane was that, I ask Mom. Rosa? We can’t remember.

Water has always been a part of my life. Dad was a fisherman, so every vacation, we were somewhere with water. The Texas coast, Florida, Colorado mountain lakes, creeks in Canadian campgrounds. Weekends on East Texas lakes. In some primal way, it feels like water was my first language. In those long-gone pictures, there were slides of me as an infant, covered with an umbrella on a beach on the Gulf of Mexico.

Growing up on the coast, hurricanes have always been part of my life, too. Little details still swim around my brain. The tape residue that never could be completely removed from crisscrossing our windows during one. The boyfriend who came over to help us saw up all of the trees that fell during Alicia.

Happiness and heartbreak. Water. It was by the banks of the Pecos River that I shed the tears of a particularly bad time of my life and was healed. It was in that same river that God spoke, telling me I was ready for the ministry.

At the end of the difficult, hot, transformative summer of chaplaincy, I packed my kids and spouse in the car and we drove to the icy cold springs that my grandparents swam in. I could feel them swimming with me. I left, refreshed. Replenished.  


The BFF-DRE shares my love of water. Last year, when she came for a visit, she had just one request. She needed to go somewhere that she could wade in a creek. I knew just the spot.
How many water memories do we have, she and I? Like the time my little one was so sick, and she rowed a boat out to the middle of a lake in Wisconsin, because that was the only place she could get a cell signal? Swimming in the big lake in Oklahoma with our babies, then in another big lake in Oklahoma years later. We decided we needed a ritual, a baptism of sorts. All hell broke loose. There are certain things you shouldn’t mention at a UU summer camp.

I have outrun hurricanes that never happened, and stayed put for one that did. I don’t recommend either, but there’s really no other choice. One or the other.

I went for a walk today. Breezy and mild, the oppressive heat lifted for a bit. Blue skies. Sunshine. Dry pavement. I walked around the pond, enjoyed the little waterfall. Saw one of my beloved turtles pop up his head, see me, then swim down deep.

Barely 3 hours away, the BFF-DRE was being evacuated. After all these long days and nights of Harvey, it was at the very end that her house flooded. 1 spouse, two sons, 1 dog, 1 turtle, and she were helped out and to a friend’s house.

I am the sentimentalist, she is the realist. My favorite Christmas movie is It’s A Wonderful Life. Hers is Die Hard. Really, that kind of tells you everything you need to know about us.

I am cursing on her behalf, praying rosaries of invective.

She would roll her eyes. AnnoyingNotTragic, she hashtags.

And it will be a long road of insurance claims, ripped up carpet, the smell of mildew. TAKE TEQUILA AND CHOCOLATE TO KATY, I write on my pad, making my to-dos.

“It is ridiculous to be mad at a storm,” a friend of a friend wrote, commenting on something I’d written. Oh, Friend of a Friend, I completely agree. But feelings tend to be ridiculous on the whole, I find. I am often quite ridiculous in my feelings of joy. Why happy when so much destruction is all around? I don’t know. Just wired that way. I try to separate out my thoughts from my feelings, differentiating them from each other.

I step over a stream, shortcutting my way around the pond. It flows on merrily, as if its brother has not traumatized millions of people downriver.

How long til she wants to wade in a stream again?

“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away,” Job said. And water gives, and water takes away.

Like Norman Maclean, I am haunted by waters.




Thursday, February 2, 2017

Do You Really Want Us to Adjust to the New Normal?

I read a tweet from Jan in the Pan and heckya, did it hit home.

I remember years ago, right after my youngest was diagnosed with cancer. Before we knew anything was wrong, I was stressing about how to redo my kitchen. After diagnosis, I looked back on that with both undesired perspective and a deep wistfulness. God, how I longed for the normalcy of stressing over something so shallow. I ached for normal

The thing about that kind of normal? It's a temporary, privileged state that not everyone gets. A happy normal means that you have enough money in the bank to pay your bills. And you're not worried about your child playing outside. You feel safe waving at police officers. You go to Walmart and don't have a store clerk following you up and down the aisles. No one in your family is in the hospital. You're not concerned that war is imminent or that maybe you just might have an un-elected Fascist running the country.

You leave normal, and for a time, you long for what you used to have. And you expect to get back to it.

But then that day happens when you realize you're never getting back to that old innocent time. And instead, this is the "new normal." And you need to change things so that living in this new normal becomes sustainable. And things that used to be special events -- like calling your congressperson or attending a rally -- become regular occurrences, just a part of your weekly routine.

And when that happens, you start learning tricks so that you can live in the new normal more effectively. You're not radical ... this is just the new normal. Showing up at politicians' town halls, questioning them publicly about how they're not living up to the trust your community put in them. Being, frankly, a pain in their collective ass. Radical? Nope. Just a parent, an executive, a worker, a suburban pastor who would rather be reading "100 Ways to Enhance Your Annual Canvass Drive."

American politicians, I suggest you don't wait. FIX THIS. See, we're making lots of friends with actual radicals. They're teaching us things, and asking for our help, too. We're slowly learning about what we've been asleep to, back when things were Normal.

And once this becomes our new normal, we're not going back to just cross stitch.







Friday, April 29, 2016

Sometimes, the most heartwrenching form of oppression is “common sense.”



Sometimes, the most heartwrenching form of oppression is “common sense.”

So-called “common sense.” Where there’s this unquestioned certainty that of course any right thinking person believes this …

For me, I can take raging vitriol. It reveals a discomfort the rager has. It tips their hand, shows their vulnerabilities. I can even feel sympathy for them.


But that unquestioned acceptance, that assumption that all “normal” people think this one thing, and anyone who thinks differently is a freak – it just hits me down in the gut, you know?

I attended an evangelical seminary, and had some really great moments there. And then there were other moments. One that remains a scar happened one evening in my Ethics class. The professor, whom I really admired, was talking about homosexuality. He was being “tolerant,” I’m sure he thought. “Of course homosexuality is a sin,” he said, “But what about all the other sins? Why don’t we give them as much attention?”

He wasn’t being mean. I’m sure he thought he was being moderate, generous, even. He didn’t even question it. He thought we all agreed.

Facebook, oh Facebook. The medium for the message about what is normal.

You crush me. I see posts from people I used to know, casually ridiculing the notion that every person has worth, deserves to be treated with dignity. Memes or propaganda posing as journalism is shared with a blithe indifference to the idea that this isn’t just a topic in the news, that real live people with crushable feelings and vulnerable bodies are in the crosshairs of the rhetoric.

C’mon, they say. It’s just common sense.

It is neither.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

I am resisting the call to "Unity."

In articles and Facebook posts, I have read a plea for "unity." They reference the Black Lives Matter movement and recent shootings of police officers and say, "Enough is enough. We are one country. All lives matter. We need unity."

I am not wholly cynical. I believe that in amongst the crass political attempts to spin the narrative, there are individuals who seek a vision of peace in which all people get along in tranquility.

But as I have read before, many people will sacrifice integrity for tranquility.

This call to "Unity" seems to me to be a siren call to abandon the difficult work that must be done, to stop exposing the truth, so that the privileged may sleep better at night, and so that the monster that is white supremacy can reign unfettered, fat with destroyed lives and broken dreams, happy with keeping things the way they have always been.

As a mentor reminded me recently, we hate discomfort. We will do almost anything to avoid it.

Because of the internet, smartphones, and people being woke, the wallpaper of the American Dream is being stripped away, long curling piece by piece.

The call to "Unity" is seductive and pernicious. Fake correlations are put up: If you support "Black Lives Matter," then you do not support police officers. Of course this is ridiculous, but this is what we do as a culture. They said that if you were against the Vietnam war, you were against soldiers; if you were for equal rights for women, you hated men. This pattern keeps repeating for the simple reason of: IT WORKS. Who among us right now doesn't feel the need to say "I Support Black Lives Matter, But I Also Love Honorable Police Officers!"

I do love honorable police officers, some personally. I'm a minister, and so I feel a kinship with anyone who is called to live a life of service for others. I do not hold them to perfection - I am deeply aware of my own faults, and know that all of us are fallible humans, destined to make mistakes, and hopefully be held accountable, and try again, older and wiser from the last bump.

Because I love police officers, I want systemic change that will strengthen accountability, will get them the best training, the best mental-health resources, will remove those who do not uphold the honor of the office, and will support those noble whistle-blowers who work to make their profession better.

Law enforcement is just one part of the work to be done. As we strip away the wallpaper, we discover more and more the effects of white supremacy on the lives of black people and the rot in all of our souls. It is painful, and the more we learn, the more painful it may get. It's not about feeling guilt, it's about acknowledging reality. And being courageous enough to go further in, to sit with discomfort without "solving" it, without some deep catharsis, without absolution, without the hollywood ending. And yes, without "Unity."

When people call for "Unity," what they really mean is, "Behave. Be like us." It has made my skin crawl and my heart crack to see the calls for "Unity" right now, because what they're really saying is "Stop posting those links to stories about racism. Stop posting videos of police officers killing unarmed citizens." Some of these calls for "Unity" have even referenced love, that we all just need to love one another.

I know of no better way to love than to acknowledge reality and accept that I am a part of it. By my silence, by my inaction, I have agreed and accepted the reality of white supremacy. I am waking. But that is merely a beginning. It is my job to listen, to follow. To resist calls back to the pleasant dream.

From the Abrahamic religions to modern day sci-fi, there are stories about a charming, seductive, individual who will bring promises of paradise, but is instead serving evil.

This current call to "Unity"? It is a false messiah.


Ezekiel 13:10-12 Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?”


Friday, May 1, 2015

Feral Unitarian Universalists

It is an old joke, in many organizations, and certainly over(used) in Unitarian Universalist churches, that working with a designated group of people is "like herding cats."



So ... what if we didn't? What if we encouraged congregation members to run free and wild, like the creative people they are, bent on loving the hell out of the world?

I've written before about a collective disdain for members with "pet projects." There are those feral cats again. Running in a hundred directions, each one on fire for something different.

How awesome.

I don't want to corral that energy, I want to stoke it.

They say if you feed them, you'll never get rid of them. That sounds pretty good, too. Let's figure out how to feed them, so they keep coming back for the sustenance that will keep them going.

And let's, all of us, find our own wild side. We can still be good upstanding responsible citizens, paying our taxes, bringing a casserole to the potluck. But we prick up our ears at a certain conversation, or a certain issue that makes us say, "Something MUST be done." Well-nourished, we do that thing that must be done, roaming the streets til we find the others who are headed in the same direction. We work together with these others, different from us, but united in purpose.

And then we head home. We know there will be a light left on, a bowl of kibble, some fresh water. Sometimes, we may even bring with us some of those whom we have met out in the night of united purpose. They haven't eaten lately, and are looking a little gaunt.

Let's feed the cats, not herd them.







Thursday, April 30, 2015

Halfway around the world from right next door

We had just lifted up his mother's 95th birthday in church. I didn't know if he had heard the news, so I just sent a vague-ish email: Where in Nepal did his mother live?

Kathmandu, he replied. But before the news broke worldwide, breaking the phone system, he had heard from his brother. The immediate family was okay. His mother was okay. They were sleeping in a car out in an open field to avoid aftershocks. It is devastating. All rubble. They don't know about other family members.

My son is safe at college, just three hours away from me. But another young man, exactly his age, is also at college. We have sponsored his education since he was 12, exchanging letters and photos twice a year. He is studying engineering and is growing into a fine man. In Nepal.

We are following the status updates that Answer-Nepal is putting out, scanning the list for Alish's name, multiple times a day. I have sent an email to the last email address I had for him.

I just checked again.

The silence is loud.