Feminist

Empty Words

Leave the page blank long enough and it starts looking clean rather than empty.

Leave the page blank long enough and it starts looking clean rather than empty.

Have you ever wished Mrs Fringe would stop whining and shut the fuck up? Today is your day. I am taking a break. At the moment, I’m not sure how long, maybe I’ll change my mind tomorrow, next week, next year (so go ahead and stay subscribed for a while), I don’t know.

Words and writing have always been such an integral part of who I am, I’m honestly not sure who I am without them.  But as I’ve always said, I write to be read, I write to be half of a dialogue–spoken or not.  About a year ago I came to the conclusion that my fiction isn’t going anywhere.  That was a very difficult, painful conclusion.  I made self deprecating jokes and gave myself lectures.  Ok, you suck– big deal, so do most people.  Welcome to the ranks.  Sure I have occasional bouts of the dreaded hope, and send out some queries or write a story, but that faith that it will happen?  Not so much. I don’t have writer’s block, if you’re wondering–I’ve got plenty of ideas and notes and internal discipline; if someone offered me a contract tomorrow I’d be back to work within an hour. I have always written the stories and characters that I love, that I would want to find in the bookstore. But I don’t write for myself, I write hoping to offer others what I love to read, that sense of Yes. This author gets it, and has given voice to my thoughts, breathed life into characters I want to spend hours with. Many (most?) fiction writers disagree, and believe you should write for yourself.  Perhaps they’re right, but it hasn’t worked for me.

I kept blogging because it’s different than writing fiction, offers something else without pesky hopes, dreams, or expectations. I have tried to use humor (often gallows humor, but still) to address real and sometimes frightening issues.  Mostly I kept blogging for the same reason I started, a space to be a whole person, more than any one label or role I fill in the “real” world, to connect and have conversations with others, listening and being listened to. Now I am depleted. At this moment I see no point in blogging about writing if I’m not writing, no point in blogging about being a woman standing up for other women and women’s rights when my country has made it clear it isn’t interested in women’s rights and safety, no point in blogging about democracy when my country has voted for a demagogue, no point in blogging about the struggles facing people of color when the country has aligned itself with the KKK, no point in laying out the struggles of dealing with chronic illnesses in loved ones when the majority, including some who have cried with me, has just made it clear that ultimately, they don’t care and don’t want to hear it.

I know that many who are better, smarter, more evolved and generous souls than I am are sending out messages of hope, reassurances of caring, safety, and continued efforts.  Very lovely, and necessary.  Right now, I can’t do it, and frankly, I think it was the assumption that in the end people will put shared humanity above differences that has led us to where we are right now.

Many of my regular readers and commenters are not American, which has been an amazing, beautiful thing; WordPress is a fabulous platform, allowing me to feel that I have connected with others outside of my immediate, narrow margins. That said, I am American, and the American people have spoken–I am to pick a label and that is the sum of who I am. How boring. Hell, it makes me yawn just to think about it, who wants to log on and read a label?

I’m Sorry

Alexander Archipenko, "Seated Woman," 1912-Bronze

Alexander Archipenko, “Seated Woman,” 1912-Bronze

Really, I’m sorry.  I’m sure you’re tired of reading and hearing about this, everyone who’s anyone or no one has already blogged, posted, written this article or that essay.  I want to let this go, want to roll my eyes at the stupidity of people and snicker about those on the Right getting the candidate they deserve.  I can’t do it.  I can’t let it go, and I don’t believe anyone deserves someone who brags about sexual assault as their President.  Not even those who want him.  Maybe especially not them, because in the year 2016, there shouldn’t be one woman in the world who believes sexual assault against women is a man’s right. Not one woman.

I can be uptight in many ways, but language isn’t one of them.  I straight out tell people not to bother checking out Mrs Fringe if they’re offended by the word fuck.  I tell them because I acknowledge that some people are offended by certain words, and if you are, you aren’t going to be happy here.  I love language, and I love words, all of them.  Words are powerful, written or spoken they can outlast a good deed, a box of candy, they can remain and ring through your brain and guts longer than any slap upside your head.  A couple of years ago there was a hashtag that went around twitter, #yesallwomen in response to #notallmen, I blogged about it here.

And here we are again.  Only I’m seeing “not all men,” “not my men,” “not my sons,” etc, in response to comments and posts supporting Trump, saying that horrific tape of him speaking about women, with charming highlights like, “I moved on her like a bitch,…she was married…you can do anything,” and of course, “Grab them by the pussy.”  I literally feel sick to my stomach with every comment and post I see in support of him and his words.  Here’s the thing, most of those posts and many of those comments are from women.  Women.  Protesting that all men speak that way, no big deal, it’s only words.  No, these aren’t only words.  And no, I haven’t suddenly become a delicate fucking flower, offended by the word pussy, in need of men to stand up for me and remind everyone that when Trump was speaking, he was speaking about someone’s wife, mother, daughter.  I saw a meme floating around to the effect of “If Trump’s words are so offensive to women, who bought a gazillion copies of Fifty Shades of Gray?” Sigh.  If this makes sense to you, look up logical fallacy.

These language used is not colorful, against the rules of the FCC, or naughty.  They are words describing assault, making it clear that he sees nothing wrong with literally aggressively touching and grabbing another human being whether they want to be touched or not.  A likely smaller person, not as strong physically, and likely someone he’s in a position of power over.

I don’t want to hear about responses that begin “But Hillary,” or “Well Bill.”  This has absolutely nothing to do with Hillary Clinton, and she is not responsible for what Bill Clinton chose to do.

When I was 16 I worked as a cocktail waitress.  Think about that for a second.  16, working as a cocktail waitress.  Standards, not that high.  I remember one busy night, I had just begun serving wine to a large table, no room to maneuver with another table right behind me when one of the men reached back and, well, grabbed me by the pussy. In the moment, with his wife sitting right next to him, I was stunned.  He said (exact quote, because WORDS), “Sorry sweetie, I touched your box.”  And he smiled.  A fucking fifty year old man, who turned his back to his wife and didn’t move his hand.   At this point in my life, I had already learned there were situations where I could be out numbered and overpowered but this wasn’t one of them.  I lifted the still full carafe of wine I was holding and poured it on him, “Sorry, sweetie, did I pour that on your dick?”

The manager came flying across the restaurant and hustled me into the kitchen before going back to the table, apologizing profusely and comping their wine and their meal.  I didn’t lose my job, I had been working there long enough and the manager knew me well enough to know I wasn’t kidding, imagining, or exaggerating what had happened.  If you’re thinking what a good guy the manager was, stop.  This is the same man who, when I asked for a specific day off from work a few months later, told me he’d be willing to give it if I “popped his son’s cherry.”  In retrospect, I’m sure the whole underaged thing played into the decision to keep me, too, not a scenario where he would want attention.  It didn’t occur to me that by comping this man’s meal, he was rewarding him for being a pig, I was just grateful not to be fired.  I’ll be honest, at that time, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to make a “bigger deal” of what happened.  Sure I knew I didn’t want his hands on me, and I sure as shit could tell him to get his fucking hands off of me, but I’m not sure I knew I had the right to do so, and I had no idea that this was something that could be considered assault.  If someone had floated the word to me at that time, in 1980something south Brooklyn, I would have either laughed or taken off, certain that I would be the one in trouble.  Why? I don’t know, something about not having dangly bits and being the kind of girl who worked as a cocktail waitress.

I’m not sixteen anymore, and I know better. I know better, my husband and I have both taught our sons better, we’ve taught our daughter better.  That doesn’t make us anything more than decent human beings, who’ve tried to raise decent human beings.  Don’t you dare, anyone, tell me or anyone else, that Trump’s words are no big deal.  I’m not offended.  I’m sickened that anyone, male or female, is telling our children that assault of women is okay.  I’m disgusted that there are women who are just fine with this type of behavior for themselves, their children, their loved ones, for the hussy down the street they’ve hated since the third grade.  I’m saddened that people are perpetuating the myth that women are less than men, because that’s what you’re saying when you condone this message.  I’m angry, because get your hands off my body!  This isn’t about not-all-men speak this way, or think this way.  This is about no woman should accept this as a fact of life, ever, and it is unacceptable for any man.  Not if he’s older or younger, rich or poor, famous and powerful or a shlub toiling away in obscurity.  #Notoneman.

American Elections 2016: The Witch Hunt Edition

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Despite the fact that it’s only June, I’m already exhausted by this presidential cycle and all the nonsense that has accompanied it.  Yet here I am yapping about it.  Why? Because I’m confused, and sometimes writing things down helps sort it out–and maybe, hopefully, we’ll get a rich conversation going in the comments that will allow for clarity.

I’ll admit, my imagination is limited.  I can’t fathom what it is that enables someone to want to be President.  I’ve gone extended periods with very limited sleep while still needing to make decisions, large and small, that impacted five people.  It isn’t fun.  To choose to do this while making huge, impactful-for-generations-to-come for 318 million people?  (Many more, really, because US decisions and policies are felt worldwide.) To believe you are the best person to be in this position?  Nope, unfathomable to me.  But hey, I’m someone who can spend two hours staring at the screen attempting to decide if I’ve chosen the most effective verb.

I keep saying, “How have we gotten here?”  “How is it that in 2016, the GOP candidate is an openly hateful, selfish, liar?”  How is it that the Democratic candidate is likely the most contentious woman in America?”

In regards to the Democratic party, I’m conflicted.  I’m sorry Bernie lost, truly sorry if not surprised.  I don’t care for Hillary Clinton.  I want to be clear, this isn’t because of the history of bogus witch hunts targeting her, not because of what went on/goes on in her marriage, and definitely not because of her $12,000 blazer.  Really people, what gives with that nonsense?  First and foremost, I’ve never heard outrage or seen articles about the cost of any male candidate’s suit.  Call me an old and out of touch feminist, to me that’s yet another symbol of not-so-subtle sexism.  I know, I know, she wore it while talking about inequality.  It is gross, represents much of what’s got people angry and frustrated in this country.  But let’s be honest.  If you were able to swallow her throwing a $3 million dollar wedding for her daughter while this country was in a serious recession, people losing jobs and homes daily, well then, let’s not pretend moral outrage about her jacket.  I’ll be straight, you could tell me you found proof that she was in the backseat of Ted Kennedy’s car at Chappaquiddick and I’d still support her right now.  Why? Because the alternative is Donald Trump.

Talk about witch hunts.  Can you imagine if he was to become our President?  Goodbye, First Amendment. That’s right, he’s been pretty clear.  For all his lies, there are kernels of truth as to what he supports and believes, and what he believes is that he should be not just President, but Dictator, wanting to stomp on the  rights of the press, freedom of religion, free speech, and the right to (peaceably) assemble.  I’m pretty sure I’ll be burned at the stake along with the real journalists, because no slight or grievance is too small for him to let go.  Well, maybe not burned, that leaves a horrible stench in fabric, and could drive his property values down.  Hanged.  Go ahead and say goodbye to the Statue of Liberty, because our liberties have been eroding–fuck, we’ve given them away in the name of “freedom”– and Trump is not interested in accepting any poor, tired, huddled masses.  White, energetic, wealthy and attractive, maybe.  Say goodbye to women’s rights.  Women will go back to their place, at their men’s sides, lips stitched closed and legs spread wide.  Only if they’re young and attractive, of course.

Many are tired of the status quo, and Hillary represents just that.  I get it, I really, truly do, and that’s why I was hoping Bernie would win the nomination.  But he didn’t.  It’s over.  He can continue to speak, I hope he will continue to work in the Senate, but he didn’t win the nomination.  That he got as many votes as he did, that he got as far as he did, gives me hope for the future, but it doesn’t fill me with confidence for the present.  There are too many variables, and we have too long a history of bedding down with fear, hatred, greed, and wishful thinking.

Sure, we like to talk about valuing reason, justice, intelligence, ingenuity and creativity, equality.  But not really.  When it comes down to it, too many of us value comfort and mediocrity above all else.  Again, I’m not pretending I don’t like comfort, and God knows I’m mediocre, but I’m not trying to lead the country.  We are currently enjoying the most reasonable and intelligent President we’ve ever had, Barrack Obama.  In current polls, his approval rating is shockingly high at 51%.  So why all the moaning about how horrible life is under him?  Is it because he’s (shhhh) black? Or because he’s reasonable and intelligent?  Or both?  Ingenuity and creativity, these can’t possibly be valued.  If they were, our education system wouldn’t be continuing to cut arts and flexibility in what and how our children are taught, valuing fill-in-the-bubble tests, grading teachers on how neat and attractive their bulletin boards are, over real teaching, thought and comprehension.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, one of the things that has stayed with me most is the pride with which I heard so many say George W Bush was a C student.  Pride.  For Cs.  From the man who led America for 8 years.  Equality?  Talk about equality to people of color, trapped in the classroom to prison pipeline.

If Trump wins, I’m blaming everyone.  (because for the moment, I’m still relatively free and can): the people who confuse unfiltered verbiage with integrity, the GOP that allowed Tea Partiers to take over their party, and the Democratic Party, who endorsed and backed a woman so hated that in our racist country a black man was chosen over her the last time she ran.  I believed and still believe Obama was the better choice, and I’m proud and thrilled that was recognized by enough for him to become President.  He can’t run again.  I didn’t agree with all of his decisions and concessions, hated a few, in fact, but wow.  Have we ever had a leader with such grace?  I doubt we’ll see an equivalent leader; be they male, female, white or person of color, in our lifetime.  Think for a second about all he’s put up with and worked through–don’t throw his hard work away.  And yes, I’ll admit it, this old and out of touch feminist is pretty fucking happy to see that if it isn’t Bernie, the Democratic nominee is a woman.  Here.  In misogynistic America, a land filled with people still working to stuff women back in the kitchen, value the comfort and future of rapists over rape victims, and whittling away at our right to choose what to do with our bodies.

We do have a long and proud history here in the US.  But we cannot take pride–we can never move forward–without acknowledging the shameful history woven in with our rights, and our history of sliding backwards before moving forward.  The decisions based on fear, an inflated sense of our place in the world, that old surety that might makes right.   It can’t happen here is a lie.  That we naturally evolve in a positive way, progress with reason is a lie.  Witch hunts, real mass witch hunts have occurred repeatedly, Salem and its twenty people killed was child’s play: Japanese Internment Camps during WWII, McCarthyism, Stop and Frisk, Muslims after 9/11.  If we aren’t careful now, we could be looking at the broadest witch hunts this country has ever seen, because Trump hates and is afraid of everyone who doesn’t look like, pee like, move like, and parrot him.

I’m confused as to how anyone outside a handful of his cronies could support Donald Trump.  Not wanting more of the same should not be blurred with it-couldn’t-be-worse.  So yeah, I’m confused as to how anyone could say Hillary Clinton would be equally bad for our country and our rights.

Here lies reason and knowledge.  Let's not bury them again, ok?

Here lies reason and knowledge. Let’s not bury them again, ok?

Hey Hey Mama!

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Of the million annoyances I encounter daily through life in the city, I’m old enough and defeated enough to realize 999, 997 have nothing to do with me personally, don’t effect me in any way, and are none of my business.  Sure, the number changes if you consider what I bitch about in my head, or to Husband, or even here on the blog, but to cause me to speak up and interact with strangers?  Not so much.

New York is always under construction.  Buildings going up, coming down, being renovated or refaced, streets being dug up or patched.  Interesting if you’re young or new to the city, hours of free entertainment if you’re 3, good news if you’re in contracting/construction.    I’ve heard people complain about “how much” construction workers earn.  I don’t complain.  First of all, the salaries vary widely–union/non-union, public or private project, white/”minority” worker–wrong as it is, last I read white guys earned an average of 20% more (I put minority in quotes because whites are not the majority in nyc), etc.  Second, these guys* work incredibly hard, back-breaking work in freezing cold, rain, heat and humidity that has most of us hiding inside, sometimes questionable working conditions, and often breathing in shit that I don’t want to think about.  Third, the majority of these jobs/workers are highly skilled, and their work is important.  Fourth, the risk of serious injury is high.  A few of the assignments on the sites aren’t labor intensive, they’re incredibly boring.  Like being assigned to open/close the gates and plastic bumpers for pedestrians to pass through in between cartloads of crap being hauled from the fenced in site to the dumpster in the gutter.  Boring, but they can’t blow it off or let their minds wander, because that would be a disaster, a law suit, and an unemployment line waiting to happen.  Often while working this mind-numbing task, they’re being berated and cursed by veryimportantpeople on their way to veryimportantmeetings who can’t contain their annoyance at being detained for 7 seconds so they don’t get a steel beam through their skull.

 

See? Look up or look down--construction.

See? Look up or look down–construction.

I pass several construction sites daily, multiple times per day, as I take Art Child back and forth to school.  The nice part of being a woman of a certain age who’s allowed herself to go gray?  I don’t deal with much catcalling anymore.  I’ve heard there are a few who find it complimentary.  There are also women who like to call their husbands/boyfriends Daddy and greet them at the door with a martini and a smile–but of course that all falls under the annoyances-I-keep-to-myself category, because it’s none of my business.  At best catcalling is a background annoyance, often it’s rude and dehumanizing, and at worst it can be frightening.  I see a lot of the same guys every day, they smile and say good morning, I respond in kind, and that’s the extent of it.

But the other day I was walking with Art Child and her friend, and one of the workers (who I didn’t recognize, not one of the ones usually on the gate) made a comment to/about my daughter’s friend.  Well, of course not so much about her as about her body.  My daughter looks younger than her age, her friend does not.  Young teenaged girls.  Of course she’s attractive.  I shook my head, said “no,” and we kept walking.  This man–was he drunk?–kept on, calling after us and followed.  For the record, he was not a young man.  Definitely old enough to know better than to make these types of comments to a girl who could easily have been his daughter.  I understand, putting to the side the misogyny of catcalling, when it comes to girls this age, it’s easy to think they’re older, especially if you aren’t looking at their faces. I turned back and said very clearly, “she’s underaged, back off.”  Would you believe he kept going, commenting and following a bit more?  Of course you believe it, if you’re a female between the ages of oh, say, 10 and 100.  Was he delusional?  I offered him a couple more words and we kept going.  Why did I keep going? Because the girls were creeped out and frightened, and I wasn’t sure if this girl’s mother would be okay hearing about a confrontation afterwards.  If I stopped, I was going to get loud.  It’s a balance and a judgement call. Sometimes it’s good for young people to see adults doing the right thing, standing up for them and themselves.  Other times (when the option is there) it’s better to cool off a bit and deal with situations without young people present.

So I don’t know if this guy was drunk, delusional, or bitter about sweating his balls off in 90° heat.  What I do know is that he was confused if he thought this would pass without incident.  This morning I had a nice chat with the site manager/foreman, who was responsive, respectful, and took me quite seriously.

a)The word “underaged” holds more than a bit of power. Those 9 letters contain many implications; ethical, moral, and legal.

b) Site workers and managers pay very close attention when you stop and speak.  If you’re blocking the pass through, several workers have to stop what they’re doing.  Time is money after all.

Women, we don’t have to tolerate predatory behavior, and we shouldn’t.

Moral of the day:  Most annoyances can and should be ignored, some should be addressed head on.  Oh yeah, and don’t fuck with Mrs Fringe.

*I reference “guys” because while I do/have occasionally seen women working on construction sites, it’s still a field dominated by men–and I’ve yet to hear a female construction worker catcalling.

Playground Politics

We're missing the train

I seem to have missed my train

Hello all.  Yes, yes, it’s been a while.  You know when more time than usual passes in between speaking to a friend, you keep thinking you should call, but the more time passes the harder it becomes to make that call?  Yeah.  First I was in a bit of a funk; there’s nothing to say, no one cares what I have to say, blah, blah, blah. Then, in the past few weeks, there’s been so much going on I couldn’t decide where and how to jump in.  Nothing has happened to me/mine personally, it’s been wonderful having Man Child home, he has a good job, Nerd Child is in the last stretch of high school–drove north and saw his final production the other day–that young man is an excellent director! Art Child is well, Husband is well, Incredibly Stupid Dog continues to forget which end is supposed to be on the pee pad when she lets loose…all good in Fringeland.  But the world around me?  Prince died, which I took more personally than I have any right to. North Carolina has decided genital checks are in order because thinkofthechildren.  The Bernie movement has faltered (to say the least), and Donald Trump has won the GOP nomination.

After two weeks of pretending that last tidbit couldn’t be real, I have to accept it.  I have to get on the train. Not the train car supporting him, of course.  I feel like it’s rush hour and the car open in front of me is suspiciously empty.  If you’ve ever been a subway rider, you know what I mean.  If you haven’t, let me give you a tip.  When a crowded train pulls in, if the car you’re about to get on is miraculously empty with several open seats, there’s a reason–and that reason usually involves a stench so foul even the most weary and unsteady travelers would prefer to be squashed nose to armpit in the next car.

Yesterday I was having a conversation about this nightmare with a friend of mine, and I referenced playground politics.  For me, this sums it up.  Because it doesn’t feel like a train.  I’m an adept rider; pains, nerve damage and all, I can keep my balance, squeeze into the most narrow space between two man-spreaders if it means a seat, and throw myself through the closing doors without getting my purse caught.  This is more like a throwback to childhood, a concrete lunchtime playground where girls have cooties and with a choice between splintered seesaws, dodgeball, and a cement water fountain that dribbles rust.  So here we are, this cycle of American politics where might makes right and he who spreads the most outlandish, the most vicious rumors wins.  Where is the lunch aid?  Where are the teachers?  Where are the grown-ups?

As I’ve said previously, I like Bernie.  I never thought he was a perfect candidate, and I had questions, but I thought he was the best choice.  For a moment, I thought he had a real shot.  That moment is over.  I don’t love Hillary.  I have a lot of questions and reservations about her that I don’t want to have.  (I’m a feminist ferchistssake, a woman for President? Yes, please.)  But I’m not hesitating to support her, especially when I look at the alternative.  The alternative isn’t Bernie Sanders, it’s Donald Trump.  A man whose positions take us from an unsupervised playground to Lord of the Flies.

While I wasn’t blogging, I did more reading than I’d done in a while.  I even decided to read Infinite Jest, it’d been on my to-read list forever, and it seemed like the perfect time.  I got about 600 pages in, and spent a good 500 of those pages feeling certain that I’m an idiot, because I didn’t get it.  Not that I wasn’t able to follow the storyline, I was.  Not that I didn’t notice and appreciate some lovely sharp prose, I did.  But I really, really don’t understand the how/why this novel became the lauded, prized bestseller that it did.  So I gave up, once again determined to accept that I’m just not that smart, and clearly incapable of understanding the publishing industry.  If a friend had written it and given me the manuscript to beta read, I’d have suggested cutting about 500 of the 1200 pages.  But the timing of my attempt to read this was perfect for today’s political climate, because today is when we are living the backstory of Infinite Jest.  If Donald Trump becomes President of the United States, we will slide right into Subsidized Time, and tomorrow will become the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment.  I may not be smart enough to slog through all 1200 pages, but I’m smart enough to know I don’t want to live inside them.

You’re frustrated?  Me too.  You’re broke?  Me too.  You’re tired of the status quo?  Me too.  But my eyes are open.  And what I see is hideous.  A circle has gathered around the combover playground bully.  The circle is growing, gathering legitimacy and support, and it’s feeding on greed, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and wishful thinking.  I know some people speak of idyllic childhoods and pine for their lost youth.  Me?  I was glad to leave the playground behind, and I don’t want to return.  The lunch aid isn’t coming.  We have to turn away from the childish blowhards telling us might makes right, get on the train before it derails completely, and be the grown-ups.  We may or may not be in the gifted program, but we’re smart enough to recognize the stench of fresh shit.

Daily Assault: Booby Prize Edition

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A surprise double yolk for this morning’s pancakes.  Because I’m immature, this made me think of cleavage.  *insert snicker here*  Because I’m an adult, what it did not do was make me want to reach out and grab the yolks with my bare hands to give a little squish.

I remember being little and admiring my grandmother’s cleavage.  It seemed so powerfully adult, that hint of simultaneous swell and wrinkles.  Of course, I also admired the way she could take her teeth out and clean them in a separate glass, her lifetime bus pass, and the way she could cup her hand and use her palm as an ashtray.  She had her own ideas about men and women, which she shared through lectures equally generous and cryptic.  As far as I could tell they boiled down to men were not to be trusted (outside of progeny–in which case, they should be lionized), marriage was a necessary evil–so be sure to marry rich, and fergawdssake don’t have too many babies.  She was what used to be called a tough cookie, and I wanted nothing more than to grow up to be her.

I’m a blabber-fingers left-leaning blogger, which means I indulge in the not so occasional political rant.  I don’t address every injustice I see or read about (impossible), or even every big story, because I’m exhausted and frequently too damned disheartened.   Is there such a thing as blogging battle fatigue?  Do I have the right to feel it when I don’t address all?  Yesterday I came across this story.  A few days late, because I’ve been busy rattling my pots and pans, sticking to the kitchen–barefoot, naturally.  I considered blogging when I first saw it, but what could I possibly say?  So I posted the link on my personal Facebook page, thinking I would just spread a bit of awareness amongst my three friends and that would be that. One friend replied with a statement about Republican men, and another friend replied to the first about the unfairness of the blanket statement.  Fair enough, and it made me think.  Not only because it is unfair to categorize ALL Republican men, but because it implies male Democrats are ALL more enlightened.  Would that it were so.  I woke up still thinking, and decided I couldn’t let this incident pass without comment here on Mrs Fringe.  Because I’m a woman.  And as a woman, I say without hesitation that this is bullshit.

The gist of the story:  State Rep (NH) Amanda Bouldin (woman) wrote a statement opposing a proposal made by State Rep Josh Moore (man).  The proposal is for it to be a misdemeanor for women to expose their nipples in public. Bouldin disagreed in a statement on her Facebook page, saying the bill should *at least* exempt breastfeeding mothers.  The proposed bill actually does exempt breastfeeding mothers, but that isn’t the problem.  The issue is Moore’s response (written on Facebook, later deleted–when will people learn there are no take-backs on the internet?  Your Words ❤ The Internetz R 4eVER), where he wrote that Bouldin (and women in general, I guess) should have no problem with a man’s natural response to stare and grab when a woman exposes her nipples in public while breastfeeding.  This all devolved in true internet fashion into comments from other men as to whose nipples they would/would not want to see.

I’m sure Moore thought he was being clever, perhaps even funny, a play on the “argument” that breastfeeding is natural.  Cause, yanno,  women’s breasts are really for and about men.  Not babies, and certainly not women.  This shouldn’t be an argument, a debate, or even an issue.  What he described is assault.  This isn’t a breastfeeding debate.  This is about women; our rights to control and make decisions over our own bodies, our right to be safe.  If his natural inclination is to assault every woman he sees, or at least every woman where he spies a bit of pink or brown skin, I am afraid for every woman he has ever or will ever come into contact with.  I feel sorry for him, and every man like him, who believes they not only have no control over themselves, but it’s the fault of evil-original-sin WIMMINZ, for having breasts.  And wombs. And vaginas.  And calves, thighs, hair, lips, and ankles.  No wonder we need men to tell us how to care for and hide our bodies.  *sarcasm*  More than fear and pity, I’m fed up.  This man was elected.   He represents far too many: right, left, or libertarian.

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That he would even say this is an assault, a not-so-clever play at intimidation.  When someone wonders what is meant by the phrase “rape culture,” this is it.   This statement tells women we not only aren’t safe from unwanted stares, pinches, and grabs, we have no right to expect safety.  Regardless of age, race, religion, or socioeconomic class, I’m guessing at least 98% of women have experienced multiple moments of feeling unsafe, feeling and/or being assaulted by unwanted remarks, leers, hands, or full body grinds on a not-so-crowded bus or subway car.

As time goes on, I believe there are fewer men who think along these lines.  More men understand human rights, the need for equality in the social contract, fewer believe entitlement is a natural extension of dangly bits.  Not enough, though.

Women have fought for and won many advances.  In many countries we can vote, work outside the home (though not necessarily for equal pay), own property, hold political office, expose our ankles.  But we still can’t do any of these things with a reasonable expectation that we won’t be groped along the way.

I didn't grow up to be my grandma, but I am a tough cookie.

I didn’t grow up to be my grandma, but I am a tough cookie.

Mama, Didn’t Mean to Make ya Cry

Empty nest or empty bed?

Empty nest or empty bed?

I think it’s just an empty bed, because the nest surrounding it is filled with the laundry that gets washed but doesn’t go in the dryer, so there’s a forest of detergent-scented shirts and undies to hack through.  And of course, I still have one child at home.

But let’s go ahead and talk about the empty nest thing.  The other day on Facebook, I saw a short video meant to tug at the heartstrings and tear ducts of women my age and up (all with gray or white hair, yes!!) giving individual answers to what they’d have done differently.  All said some variation of they’d have slowed down, appreciated the small moments, snuggles, hugs, bedtime delays, etc more than they did.  Ok, fair enough, and it was a nice little video, but my immediate thought was, I did all that.  I did all that, and I wish I had done a little (not a lot, but a little) less of that.

When I was a kid I swore that when I grew up, I was going to have children, keep them, let them feel how loved they were, know they came first, devote my everything to them while encouraging independence.  Check. I’m glad I’m a mom, glad I spent the time, feel somewhat confident that I’ve done and continue to do the best I can.  Mistakes made? Check. Decisions I regret? Check. But I not only adore my kiddos, I like them, like spending time with them, love hearing the laughter, and feel like the most miserable, useless human being on the face of the earth when they cry. When they were little, Husband and I practiced attachment parenting; holding them until they fell asleep–in our room–,  I breastfed for a combined total of 8000 years, and agonized over which toy, what rules, which foods, and on and on.

I thought, because I was aware and making a conscious choice to center my world around them, I wouldn’t lose myself.  To some degree, that’s been true.  I wouldn’t resent them. That’s certainly true.  I remembered to maintain my friendships and get “grown-up” time. I didn’t stop listening to the music I loved, didn’t stop reading anything other than the Scholastic Book catalogue, didn’t let my life be ruled by playdates and mommy and me classes. Still, looking back, I wish I had nudged myself and my writing just a little higher on the to-do list.

During those early years, I heard a fair amount of backlash.  “you’re pregnant again?” “you’re still nursing?”  And of course the whispers I wasn’t meant to hear but did, “those kids are never going to be independent.”  “never going to wean.” Yawn.  The same whisperers who swore my kids would never be able to fall asleep without me let alone become functioning adults, murmured again when each boy left for boarding school.  “I can’t believe she’s sending her kids away!” Yawn.  For the 492nd time, I didn’t send them away, I allowed them to go.  Not just semantics. Boarding school isn’t the best choice for every kid for many different reasons, but it was for two of mine.

So this video has stayed on my mind.  This morning I saw a link and discussion about another video.  I didn’t click the link, just read the discussion, about a commercial being aired (in Asia, maybe?) about a mom sitting alone, miserable because her nest is empty and the kid(s) hasn’t called, even though she devoted her every everything to this ingrate.  Call your muthah.  The discussion was all about how terrible it is for women to center their lives around their children, it’s their own fault, unrealistic expectations, excessive guilt trips, and a few posts about this-is-why-I-choose-not-to-have-children.  Fair enough.  There are many reasons to choose not to have children, and I believe all should be accepted.  #1, it’s nobody else’s fucking business and #2, parenting is long and hard no matter what parenting philosophy you subscribe to, with absolutely no guarantees about anything; not whether you’ll enjoy it, feel good about it, have a good relationship when all is said and done, or whether or not those kiddos will be healthy and sound enough to grow up and become independent.

The other day was my birthday, and I have to say, it was an excellent day.  I woke to flowers from Husband, Art Child made me a fantastic card, Man Child messaged me from Italy (unexpected, I figured he’d still be jet lagged and getting his legs under him), Nerd Child not only called me, but happened to be with someone I’m a big, long time fan of, and the man got on the phone and wished me a happy birthday! I stayed in my pajamas until the afternoon, got several texts and phone calls from friends, and my buddy El Fab came over for dinner.  Would I have been angry if the boys hadn’t remembered and contacted me? Given them lectures, guilt trips, and slide shows about why they should have? Nope, but it sure was beautiful that each remembered me.

It seems natural, logical to me that at the other end of this parenting gig (sure, you’re a parent forever, but there is usually a point where the kiddo develops their own life, be it from the basement apartment, across state lines, or on another continent) and there’s a period of, dare I say it? Wondering what’s next.  Maybe even feeling a bit of emptiness.  When someone spends years building a career and then stops working,  it’s the subject of good natured teasing, maybe even compassion, “(s)he doesn’t know what to do with himself.”  I don’t hear a whole lot of “I told her not to make so much damned money…be such a dedicated worker…if he had put more into it, he wouldn’t be miserable now…eventually she had to retire!”  I definitely haven’t seen any videos floating around chastising retirees.

We are all individuals, same as our children are. I know parents with adult children who speak to their children every single day, see them twice a week, and live within spitting distance of each other, can’t conceive of going a month without seeing each other.  They’re living their lives, and happy.  I know parents with adult children who speak once a week, see each other once every month or two, live a couple of hours away from each other, living their lives, and happy. Some live in different countries, speak when they can, and are thrilled if they see each other every year or two. Others live around the corner from each other, or thousands of miles away, and don’t speak at all, too many years of anger and resentment.  And then there are some who have experienced the terrible, unimaginable heartbreak of losing a child to illness, drugs, or violent crime.  Yes, we can (do?) all look back and see moments where we wish we had made different choices.  For ourselves, for our families.  I sure as hell can’t look back at someone else’s life from my living room and my perspective and tell them what they should have done.  Does this make me a bad feminist as well as a bad mama?

After all these years of mama-ing, hindsight leads me to this one question:  When are we going to stop with the judgmental bullshit?  Call me crazy, but I don’t think there’s one right way to parent, one right way to live, one right way to be independent.

Saggy Bits

Walking Sticks and Flip-Flops

Walking Sticks and Flip-Flops

Installment #2 of Mrs Fringe Takes a Vacation.

You might be wondering a couple of things.  For example, was I inspired to do any writing while admiring the beauty and sunrises of the beach?  No. I wasn’t, and I didn’t. On our first full day there, I found a rejection in my email that referenced the agent’s “enjoyment of and obvious strengths of” my work.  I spent about 43 seconds stomping my foot–if it’s so obviously strong….I’ll likely have another seven years to obsess about my words and lack of publication before I’ll be back on that beach. Thankfully, the sand doesn’t make for satisfying stomping ground, and so I let it go to enjoy where I was.

The second, obvious question; what did that shameless hussy who goes by the name of Mrs Fringe wear on the beach?  For my sunrise photography sessions, I wore my 8000 year old workout clothes. Mostly because I’d get up, have coffee, do my yoga, and head straight out. The rest of the time? Bikinis all the way. That’s right, I’m a 40,000 year old woman with three grown and close to grown children wearing the effects of gravity like a sarong.  My concession to a body that nursed three babies for a grand total of 58,000 years is to make sure the top has an underwire.

I’ve talked a lot about my love of my Brooklyn beach, and this is much of it.  On that beach you find women of all ages, shapes, sizes, and fitness wearing their bikinis without a thought to what anyone else might or might not think, before they put their tent-resembling chintz house dresses back on and unfold their walkers to go purchase a pound of ground chuck for dinner.  Somewhere in there is a lesson on feminism, accepting who we are at all stages.

I try to care. I even went shopping before we left and bought a conservative tankini, very pretty. The tags are still on it. Instead, I went shopping again while we were on the island, and bought another bikini. I wasn’t sure about it, thought the design might be a little “young” for me, so I walked out of the dressing room to get an opinion. There was a woman standing there, about my age, who misinterpreted what I was asking and told me I should buy it, she’d absolutely wear a bikini if she could pull it off. She proceeded to call her 85 year old mother out of a dressing room to look at me so she could agree. I’m fairly certain her mom couldn’t actually hear a word of what was said, but she smiled and nodded.  Then the woman called her teenaged daughter out of her dressing room to add to the vote.  Hah! The girl popped her head out, politely tried to cover her horror with a twitchy grin, and slammed herself back into her cubicle. Naturally, I bought it ($12!), and wore it the rest of the time we were on the island. To my dressing room buddy:  You can pull it off.  If you want to do so, wear a bikini. It’s that simple.

The tide goes in and out four times (high tide twice, low tide twice) each day on Hilton Head, with a huge difference between high and low.  This means that during low tides, yes there are lovely, warm little tidal pools that are the equivalent of natural sea baby pools, but it also means there’s plenty of width and time to walk (or wheel, for those using wheelchairs) to the shoreline on sand that’s firmly packed, leaving stable ground beneath you. Why mention this? So you can picture how easily Mother-In-Law and I left our canes along with flip-flops and towels in the narrow stretch of soft sand so we could go swimming.

Today’s photos are mixed, a couple of sunrises with some late morning shots sprinkled in.

Path between the apartment complex and the beach.

Path between the apartment complex and the beach.

Sea oats

Sea oats

flip-flops on, off, who cares?

flip-flops on, off, who cares?

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Trash on the beach is terrible, yet there's beauty in there.

Trash on the beach is terrible, yet there’s beauty in there.

Bristle worm

Bristle worm

I was far from the only one in the water at sunrise, I think I fell in love with this woman.

I was far from the only one in the water at sunrise, I think I fell in love with this woman.

Can you feel it?

Can you feel it?

Those beach morning glories from yesterday? A late morning shot.

Those beach morning glories from yesterday? A late morning shot.

why choose to get up at 5am on vacation? This is why.

why choose to get up at 5am on vacation? This is why.

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Beach patrol, out every morning at sunrise to pick up trash left behind and blown in.

Beach patrol, out every morning at sunrise to pick up trash left behind and blown in.

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Up

Up

up

up

a little more

a little more

almost there

almost there

lost for a second

lost for a second

perfect new day.

perfect new day.

Exhaustion: It’s What’s for Dinner. and Celebration!

On the road, parenting style.

On the road, parenting style.

On Friday morning, Husband, Art Child, and I got in the car to head north for Man Child’s college graduation.  College! Graduated!  I did it!!!  Err, I mean, Man Child did it. And in all seriousness, he did it well.  Congratulations to you!  Naturally, life being what it is here on the Fringe, Nerd Child and all his stuff needed to be picked up from his school on the same day, a mere three and a half hours from where Man Child was graduating.

So we drove.

I've always had a thing for log houses. Wonder how one will look on the beach in HI. ;)

I’ve always had a thing for log houses. Wonder how one will look on the beach in HI. 😉

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You have reached your (first) destination!

You have reached your (first) destination!

Lovely petunias in flower boxes outside our motel room–a mere one state away from where the college actually is.  Apparently the good mommies book their rooms six-nine months in advance, the fringe mamas end up 35 minutes away, across state lines, and pay a completely unreasonable amount of money for one of the most questionable motel rooms I’ve ever stayed in.  Not to fear, we shooed the five bees we found in the room back outside to the flowers, and established that one of the five lamps in the room was indeed working. Then Husband got back on the road to pick up Nerd Child while Art Child and I rested (or in my case, waited for the painkillers to kick in so I could straighten up),  got ready for the evening’s festivities, and sent panicked texts to Man Child regarding who would pick us up to take us to the school. His college puts on a lovely graduation, splitting it into two days so you’re never sitting for an unreasonable amount of time.

Man Child and Miss Music picked us up, I admired his new blazer, he admired my new (to him) cane, and we arrived in time for the dinner and speeches.

Thank you weather gods, for not being too hot or rainy.

Thank you weather gods, for not being too hot or rainy.

IMG_4181This is a small, arts focused but not arts exclusive liberal arts college.  I met several of Man Child’s friends–so full of talent, energy, and optimism.  Dancers, artists, biochemists, one I’m certain has a great future ahead of her in comedy writing, another who’s written a Japanese opera. Together this means I saw some fabulous fashion, spectacular hair colors, had plenty of vegetarian options to choose from, and *drumroll* Gloria Steinem was the featured guest speaker. Can a 40,000 year old woman squeal and fangirl? Yes, yes she can.

First the speaker from the senior class gave her speech. Clever, well timed, full of hope and witty comments about attending a not-quite traditional school that prizes individualism. This young woman is a writer, graduating from a school that has more than a few successful and prize winning writers among its alums. During her time at the school, in addition to her coursework she finished a novel and interned at a literary agency.

This is about when I started becoming very interested in the structure of the tent.  So much harder for the glassy eyes and sniffling nose to become full-on sobs when trying to determine how the cloth is joined to the poles.

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Then Ms. Steinem spoke.  I’ll be honest, she could have stood and read her grocery list and I’d have applauded and proclaimed her brilliance. C’mon, Gloria Steinem, forty feet in front of me! But she didn’t read her grocery list, and her speech was wonderful, inspiring to the young people (men and women) sitting and listening. I was thrilled to listen, but I’ll be honest again. I didn’t feel inspired. I felt smaller, further on the fringe, more frayed and broken. Plain old old. After telling everyone I hoped to meet her, when the speeches ended I walked away from the line formed immediately by those who wanted a chance to meet and take a photo with her.

After a few minutes of fresh air, Man Child encouraged me to go back and get on line. I realized there were just as many moms waiting as graduates, so I summoned my old mosh pit moves and got on line. We joked and waited, and then I was face to face with this woman who represents so much. Not only what she did do, but what she continues to do. I said hello and told her how pleased I was to meet her, and mentioned that I had told a mutual friend how much I was looking forward to this opportunity. She politely asked who the friend was and how I know her. And that’s where I metaphorically found myself on my face. Not my friend’s name, of course. But she’s someone I met through dog walking. I walked her dogs for years, she herself is a known, successful, talented journalist and feminist, and we have become friends.   Standing there, though, surrounded by all that youth and hope and talent; with this successful, brave, powerful woman in front of me, the only image in my mind was dog shit in the rain–and rejection letters oddly addressed, “Dear Fraudulent Feminist,”  I mumbled something about dog walking and fringiness, grimaced for the photo and slunk off.

When we got back to the motel, Nerd Child and Husband had arrived, and were already 2/3 asleep. I pretended for a few minutes that I’m a reasonably mature and graceful woman before Man Child and Miss Music headed back to school and I collapsed into the sleep of self-pity.

It rained all night, and was still quite cool and gray in the morning. Somehow, New England manages to be bright and beautiful even under cloud cover.

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The commencement ceremony itself was beautiful, and aptly positioned (for us) right outside the financial aid office.

Afterwards, of course, were more photos, and a celebratory lunch. Once again the deadbeat mom, it hadn’t occurred to me that in a small town, reservations would be needed way in advance when an entire senior class was there with their families, all going out to eat. We ended up back across the state border, in a restaurant not far from the motel we had stayed the night before.  While having lunch, Man Child brought it up.  Yeah, we know each other well enough that he knew all the speeches and creative youth would hit that melancholy nerve in my heart.  You can’t stay mired in self pity on such a beautiful occasion, and when you have an adult child who knows you well enough, and cares enough to acknowledge mom as a person. Said our goodbyes, then headed to yet another state to drop off Nerd Child at a friend’s–because they were going back to their school the following morning to cheer on senior friends for graduation (not theirs, thankfully, that’s next year).  With any luck the contents of his dorm room will find their way out of the car and into his bedroom before the end of the week.

We couldn’t be more proud of Man Child.  It isn’t easy to be a kiddo raised on the fringe.  For whatever opportunities he’s had, help and sacrifices offered and acknowledged, it sucked to be the one listening to classmates talk about fabulous vacations, watch others go off on school year abroad while he plowed through. He’s worked hard, not just in the classrooms but outside; connecting with others, joined the greater community and created opportunities for himself.  I’m hoping he enjoys this summer in New England, continuing to work in the restaurant he’s worked in for the past three years, now as a new graduate. He’s heading to Italy in the fall, so exciting!  Bottom line, he’s doing what I wish for all three of my children; not living by “I will,” all too quickly followed by “I would’ve/should’ve,” but living by “I am.”  May your future blogs never include the tag “downward mobility,” in any language. All the best and all my heart, Man Child, not just on ceremonial days, but every day.

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