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.