With Nana and Papa

With Nana and Papa
Family Times at Flathead Lake

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

A Dangerous Time in the Country

"Misogyny is when women finally start reporting sexual assaults and the country's response is to say we must protect our boys from the accusations."
- Feminist News, October 8, 2018

My cousin's wife posted this on Facebook yesterday. I've never met here but I think I would love her.  Prior to surfing FB for my allotted 15 minutes, I heard an interview on NPR with two men at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, CO. I didn't hear the beginning of the piece so I don't know for sure the name of the organization, but it may be Men for Change (per quick Google search). Their purpose was to stand with women and protest violence against both genders, promoting a culture that values consent and the worth of each individual.

The interviewer posed this question: "What do you think of the president's statement that this is a dangerous time in the country for young men?"

The group's founder replied, "I find that to be an interesting premise.  There probably are dudes who are afraid, and there's probably a good reason for that. I think they should be afraid.  There are many other guys who have always respected women and their right to consent - or dissent - and they're not afraid.  We just need those good dudes to stand up and speak out against violence and sexual assault. It's not enough to be good on your own, you have to help change the culture."

Poignant words. The men also pointed out that false accusations only occur between 2 and 10% of the time, though it's impossible to tell because sexual assault is not thoroughly reported for many reasons (the listeners fail to believe, fail to act, fail period.)  Any incidence of false accusation is too high, because it can ruin a person's life and hurt the cause of many women who are legitimately reporting incidents, but we should remember that this is extremely rare.

I'm appalled and depressed that Brett Kavanaugh has a seat on the Supreme Court. The only actions now are to vote, speak up for what we believe in, rally our friends and neighbors (and relatives), VOTE,  and make the change that we want to see in the world, just like the men in Fort Collins, Dr. Ford, and women everywhere who come forward to speak their truth.

Friday, September 28, 2018

This Matters

Lunch roils in my stomach as I write, having just heard the Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to move a decision on Brett Kavanaughto the full Senate.  Having listened to testimony on and off all day yesterday, from Dr. Christine Blasey Ford's emotional recollection of (alleged) physical, sexual assault by Brett Kavanaugh when she was fifteen, to Judge Kavanaugh's fiery rebuttal and denial, my emotions rise and fall like a tidal wave and my mind hovers in perpetual disbelief.

I don't know what happened at that house party in the 1980's, though I know Dr. Ford has far more to lose - and nothing to gain - by giving her testimony.  Judge Kavanaugh obviously feels that the best move is an offensive against the Democrats, against the media, against Dr. Ford.  He teared up yesterday over the pain this has caused his family, the damage that it's done to his reputation, the potential harm to his chances for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the United States.

His outrage and bluster, as well as Senator Lindsay Graham's impassioned, angry speech, remind me of something: the rape trial of Brock Allen Turner, a Stanford student-athlete who was convicted of felony sexual assault. During the trial, witnesses for the defense stood up for Turner, admiring of his accomplishments and athletic prowess and bemoaning the fact that because of this one act, his name and his future would be ruined.  Because Turner was a Stanford student and a good swimmer, because Brett Kavanaugh went to Georgetown Prep, Yale undergrad and Yale Law school, do they get a free pass?  I don't think so, but some do.

Weighing a blow to the reputation against a blow to the psyche and body, thinking not of the accused but of the victim of violent sexual assault, whose future is appropriated by the biological response to trauma, I wonder why the rights of the victim seem to matter so little.  In a powerful letter written by the victim of the Stanford rape to her assailant, she said, "And then, at the bottom of the article, after I learned about the graphic details of my own sexual assault, the article listed his swimming times. 'She was found breathing, unresponsive with her underwear six inches away from her bare stomach curled in fetal position. By the way, he’s really good at swimming'. Throw in my mile time if that’s what we’re doing. I’m good at cooking, put that in there, I think the end is where you list your extracurriculars to cancel out all the sickening things that’ve happened."  (https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra)

Testimony by Dr. Ford contains echoes of those harrowing words. "I don't know you but you have been inside me," reads the letter. "When he put his hand over my mouth I couldn't breathe, and I thought Brett Kavanaugh might accidentally kill me," said Dr. Ford.  PTSD, chronic anxiety, phobias, damage to personal relationships, lives forever harmed. Do they not count because the women weren't Division 1 athletes or high court judges?  

I went to Harvard, and I did meet men there who felt entitled - to good grades, the best housing, Finals' club parties, a woman's body. Their entitlement came from wealth, from upbringing, from society's lack of resolve in taking them to task for aggression.  I also met men who would never think of violating the body of another human being. One of my closest male friends from Harvard posted on Facebook earlier this week, noting that his mother told him they (his parents) would support him in anything, get him through any failure, prop him up after any mistake, except if he committed a rape. Then he was on his own.

In  a close reading of recent events it seems that a woman's life is not valued as highly as a man's, with the possible exception of the #MeToo movement in Hollywood, though I suspect that many men were let go because they became financial (not moral) liabilities.  Some Americans believe that men can't help it, that this happens all the time and must be accepted as reality. Certainly it shouldn't interfere with big, important doings of rich, connected, well-educated males. After all, we can't see the scars on the women, and they seem to have gotten on with their lives, right?

I call BS on the assumption that men "can't help it." I call BS on the idea that a claim of sexual assault hurts the man named more than the actual assault hurts the female (or male) victim of violence. My husband has never - will never - lay claim to a woman's body in this way, and if my sons ever do, I will support their conviction and their sentencing. Rob and I both teach them that men can help it, must help it, must recognize they have no right to a woman's body no matter what she is wearing, where she goes, what she drinks. If they violate a woman, a human being with family and prospects and hopes and dreams, they must accept the penalty and pay the price. If Brett Kavanaugh did commit this act he should never be confirmed to the Supreme Court, and God help us if we put him there.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Writing Letters: the Privilege

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Denver has a letter-writing ladder where people can sign up to occasionally write letters to the Editor of different newspapers in response to articles related to immigration. I've been on the ladder for years, and have been asked to write a letter a few times each year. It seems more frequent since 2016, but that could be because the months race by so quickly all events pass in a blur.

The most recent request landed in my inbox on Friday, asking me and a few others if we could write about the current administration's efforts to push back on high court rulings that stipulate immigrant children must be reconnected with their parents within a certain time frame. I pushed the task to the bottom of my to - do list for a few days, because I had excuses: writing blogs for work, acting as a single parent while Rob travels during the week, picking up the children constantly, etc.

But all the to-dos on my list, most of them related to my children, stuck in my craw as I reflected on why I needed to write the letter. Young children, many younger than five years old, have been taken from their parents by our Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This policy was created purposefully to deter families from coming to the United States, even though families on the run in Central America and Mexico have no way of getting the news about our policies, and even though the separations cause permanent psychological damage to the children. Do we think that parents from other countries love their children less? Suffer less? One immigrant father killed himself after ICE took his child away.  The national outcry is fading even as the damage remains.

So I wrote the letter. When a rep from the Denver Post called to say they wanted to print it this week, and ask if I still wanted that I said yes, though my insides churned a bit. In the past, I have received hate mail from published letters related to immigration, and though I was never in actual danger, I dislike conflict and I dislike hate mail.  The uncertain feeling, the sensation of standing on the brink of invited conflict, relates back to my privilege in this country.  I could sail along in blissful ignorance of the wrongs our government inflicts, and they would never touch me personally. That is a problem in the United States today.

Here's a passage that captures my feelings, and makes me continue to submit letters and say yes to publication. It's from Teaching Tolerance, Issue 60, Fall 2018, page 41:

"In that way, white privilege is not just the power to find what you need in a convenience store or to move through the world without your race defining your interactions. It's not just the subconscious comfort of seeing a world that serves you as normal. It's also the power to remain silent in the face of racial inequity. It's the power to weigh the need for protest or confrontation against the discomfort or inconvenience of speaking up. It's getting to choose when and where you want to take a stand. It's knowing that you and your humanity are safe.  And what a privilege that is."
(Cory Collins, "What is White Privilege, Really?").

Monday, September 10, 2018

Watching Tennis

Watching a bright yellow ball go back and forth over a tightly stretched net was hypnotic. As the athletes on TV sprinted, struck, strained to their utmost, I gazed at my screen in a trance, relaxed and soothed by the expert manipulation of their rackets. Such was my life for much of the just-finished US Open tennis tournament, when I returned to watching tennis after an absence of many years. I found the calm analysis of Darren Cahill (in a polished Aussie accent), Chris Evert, even a maturing John McEnroe, like a lullaby, with delightful punctuation of quiet during long rallies. So much better than news, reality shows, or action movies.

At the dentist last Thursday, I overheard the receptionist saying, "Rats! I forgot to tape Serena's match. When can we leave?"

I said, "I'm watching that, too! I don't think she actually starts until 4, you have time."

She chucked sheepishly, "I don't even play tennis," to which I responded, "Neither do I."

Tennis was a passion for me in middle school and high school. In middle school I would play for hours with my friend Jenny - we were evenly matched and enjoyed long rallies. Occasionally I would try to play against Kimi, who actually worked at tennis, and I was astonished by how fast her balls would come back over the net.  In high school I played with friends or with my brother, John, though I stopped playing John when I realized he could beat me consistently.

Part of my enjoyment over the last two weeks came from recognition of the great athletes who are still at the top of the sport fifteen or twenty years: Venus and Serena Williams, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer.  My middle-aged self applauded the finesse and fitness of these thirty-somethings as they kept up with much younger players. Sad to see, but easy to understand, when the heat and the torrid pace of the tournament took out first Roger and then Rafa.

Serena's final match also made me sad. I could understand why the referee would tell Serena's coach not to coach from the stands, because that is a rule, but why dock Serena a penalty and skip the warning, which usually comes first?  And then I could understand how Serena got caught up in the accusation of cheating, which is how she interpreted the penalty, because she has a young daughter who will someday watch the match and wonder what happened. When the match spiraled away, you could only be sad for Serena, and for the winner, Naomi Osaka, whose previously stated dream was to play Serena in the US Open final.  During the awards ceremony, when Osaka blinked back tears and looked uncertainly around the podium, wondering what to do with the trophy and how much to embrace her victory, I could taste the bitterness that we all feel when the reality does not even faintly match up to the dream.

Tennis, just like life, marches on. My TV watching schedule is now wide open, but I won't soon be able to return to routine programming. Perhaps table tennis has a tournament coming soon to an ESPN affiliate near you.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Rocky Mountain Showdown

"Rocky Mountain Showdown" is what Coloradans call the annual CU vs CSU football game.  We went to the game last Friday to watch and to scout out the college rivalry scene. I drove into the Broncos Stadium parking lot a half hour before kickoff, carefully navigating the inebriated mobs of students as they charged willy-nilly across the road. Though I was white-knuckled and clench-jawed, I appreciated our kids' eyes growing wide in the backseat as they observed the college kids' behavior - a bit like being on safari in the African wild.

Once we parked, on the sidelines of a rabid cornhole game, we steered the kids to the stadium. I had Aden's arm and watched her face struggle to hide the confusion and concern as waves of beer breath and pot smoke flowed over us. She thinks she might want to go to CU next year, her one concern its party school reputation. The game did little to alleviate her fears.  I largely kept my mouth shut and refrained from lectures (especially about the bandeau bikini-tops on the girls), though sorely tempted, until the end. 

Leaving early to avoid crowds, we waltzed quickly back to our now-quiet parking spot. As I opened the car door on the front passenger side, however, a curly-headed young man slowly sat up in front of the wheel.

"Whoa," he said, "you scared me!" 

Startled myself, I asked if he was ok (he didn't look super great). He stood, a bit wobbly, revealing a shirtless chest under green and yellow striped overalls, one strap fallen askew. "Yeah, I'm ok, just you scared me," he reiterated. 

I turned to Rob, turning the car on, and said, "whatever you do, don't go forward."

As the young man went in search of his friends, or a parking lot attendant, or a restroom, we watched to make sure he seemed mobile and in control, the kids slack-jawed with amazement. One of the boys said, "He didn't even go to the game!"

At that point I couldn't control the mom lecture reflex, and told the kids they could never leave a friend in that condition, especially not in a parking lot, or in a frat house, or at a bar . . . the list goes on. Hard to believe we will have a college student next year, our heads full of questions about where she will be and what she will do there.  "Hopefully," said William, "She'll at least go to the game first."

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

No More Hierarchies

Aden and I participated in the inaugural Swim Across America - Denver (www.swimacrossamerica.org) event on Sunday at Chatfield Reservoir, about twenty minutes from home. SAA has been around since the 1990's, with a mission to raise money for cancer research and trials, and the Denver effort raised over $200,000 for our local partner, The Children's Hospital. When we arrived on a clear, sunny and already-warm Sunday morning, colorful hot air balloons were rising into the air around us while hundreds of jovial swimmers wandered around half-dressed getting their arms marked, gathering autographs (from the 16 Olympians assembled) or pondering the need to wear a wetsuit.

The announcer kept reminding the assembled crowd of high school, college and Masters swimmers that this was "not a race, but an event" and to keep in mind the purpose of our swim. One high school coach standing near me chuckled at the announcer's admonition, saying "I told him that he could remind them - I wasn't about to get in their way."

But the lack of race-day tension was a pleasant change, and I loved that my focus was to stay right next to Aden in her first official open-water event.  Many first-time open-water swimmers feel anxious when lining up in the crowded chute for a walk-run-dive start, or worry about the temperature or sighting the buoys. Many understandably feel nervous about the lack of vision, not seeing the bottom in the murky dark below.

Aden has swum many casual (and cold!) miles with me in Flathead Lake, near my parent's home, and didn't show any nerves for this swim. When I said, "Let's go! Head off to the right side," she charged into the 72-degree water without hesitation. Throughout the mile swim I breathed to my left and she breathed to her right and we sighted on each other throughout. Occasionally we bumped shoulders or adjusted course to avoid a swimmer, but the mile rectangle went quickly and soon enough we emerged, dripping, from the water to cross the finish line together. One of my favorite swims - ever.

Part of the joy was in not racing, not worrying about times or rankings. The older I get, the more I push back against being ranked, placed and ordered.  Such numeral hierarchies take away from my sense of self, the pride in any uniqueness I might possess.  My swim not centered on Olympian speed but on blue skies, the nearby foothills, and sharing a moment with my girl.

The writer Sonia Krasikov captures this perfectly in her short story, "Ways and Means" for The New Yorker (Aug 27, 2018, p68):

"This primeval view of life as a hierarchy was what she'd fled by going to art school, where she was taught that true creators stood outside society's assorted chains. People who thought for themselves approached life not hierarchically but territorially, like ospreys or rice farmers, tending to their unique terrain."

I can't carve out meaningful space for myself in a rank of hundreds of local swimmers, or thousands of national writers, or billions of people on planet Earth, but I can find deep meaning in my familial relationships, in my neighbors and community, my assorted clans at work and at the pool. Anything I create derives from inspiration sprung in these locales, these peoples. My territory, my happy place, like swimming with my gaze on my daughter's face.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A Gut Feeling

Yesterday William went to his first club swim practice since early June and I hugged him with relief when he came home in high spirits. He answered my breathless "How did it go?" with a "Fine, I did everything, no problem."  Afterward, I pretended to be calm and carried on with dinner per usual, but I felt a whirlwind of relief in my gut.

Guts are the problem in our family. Though neither of my parents have food-related issues or allergies, eczema, irritable bowl, or the like, all of my siblings and myself have such problems, and many of our kids do, as well. Such is the case with William, whose gut broke down under the physical and mental stress of spring swimming for high school, combined with freshman end-of-year exams. My bio-meridian practitioner, Jean, noted that his tree allergies (we didn't know he had any) also contributed to the overload.

So William has suffered through a version of the autoimmune breakdown that I had six or seven years ago, that my sister has also had, where the gut develops leaks, and escaping food particles generate an overall immune response that leaves the person perpetually nauseous, weakened and anxious.  We have taken all nightshade vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, etc) out of W's diet as well as corn and all related corn products, and that's on top of gluten and dairy.  It's hard to cook and prep meals and snacks, but well worth it if he can finish a school day and a swim practice without feeling, or getting, sick.

Guilt weighs heavy on my shoulders when I think about transmitting these genes and problems to my kids. It takes a lot of work and conscious thought to stay healthy and strong - a great deal to ask of a teenage boy. Thoughts of him going off to college, having to turn down beer (gluten!) and corn chips could make me toss and turn at night, if I didn't confine myself to thinking about one day at a time. On the bright side, he is ripped, and enjoys looking at his six-pack abs in the mirror. On the even brighter side, he's happy and having fun with his buddies in the water.