Sunday, March 29, 2015

I'm about to piss everyone off--my take on bigotry esp in regards to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

What's going on in Indiana makes me enormously sad. Most of the time, as a lesbian, I feel safe, accepted and loved by the people in my life. 

It's when something like RFRA comes around that I'm made aware that I'm living in a bubble.

It's uncomfortable. Uncomfortable for me because I now see in the clear light of day what people will do when allowed to let their prejudices run free. 

The ugly rider of RFRA is that you can exclude anyone from your business and call it "religious freedom".

So blatant. Shocking to see how thin the veneer of civility was--all some people needed was a little permission to act on their intolerances.

We have laws in place against this kind of behavior because it keeps the peace. But it doesn't change people. I would love it if we didn't need laws to promote civility and tolerance. Apparently the thirst to express intolerance is so great that a whole state needed a law to make it so (and how many other states will be emboldened to take similar measures--that remains to be seen).

All I want is for there to be an acknowledgement that RFRA really isn't about God or even religion. RFRA is a license to act out on one of the ugliest human impulses--the impulse to separate out and dominate people unlike ourselves because of differences in beliefs, practices and innate qualities. 

Why? Because there are people who are terrified of losing their little place of privilege in a vast, unruly universe.

We all think we are good people until our behavior shows otherwise.

A couple years ago I was eating dinner with the family of a good friend in their home--this friend is someone who I believe loves and cares about me. During the dinner banter his daughter quipped how something was "so gay". I shot her a look and she got very quiet. I don't know if anyone else heard what she said but the banter just kept on. I took note. It shocked me. It also made me very sad.

We think we are so cool and inclusive to have a friend unlike ourselves until our biases show. 

I don't say these things because I am enlightened. I say these things because I know I am biased.

When I was in my early 30s, I moved to San Diego. I had lived most of my life in Northern California and was moving down the state to follow my partner. It was a big deal for me at the time--I was leaving my family and everything familiar. Still, I was willing to try something new so south I went.

The exhausting twelve-hour drive south in the suspension-free diesel truck killed my body--by the time we arrived I was a physical wreck running on fumes.

As we pulled up to our new home as the sun was setting. In my fatigue and emotional fragility I noticed one thing that I had never thought of until that moment.

We had moved into a predominantly non-white neighborhood.

The neighbors, the stores, and all the signs showed me loud and clear that I wasn't living in middle class San Jose any longer.

For the first time in my life I was going to live in a place where most people didn't look like me. The realization was unsettling because up until that moment I thought I was color blind.

I was the nice, liberal, white, lesbian who read all the right books and thought I "got it" when we discussed white privilege. Apparently not.

Although I came to it unconsciously, my idea of diversity meant adding non-whites to a pool that was already very white and would continue to be mostly white.

Up until that time I never could have imagined that I could share anything in common with people that I saw as hateful and bigoted, but I was blind to a bias that only needed a moment of vulnerability to show itself. 

Here is the thing. Everyone has biases--biases that remain largely unchallenged but affect how decisions get made and others get treated.

I don't think I've transcended my bias--I'm just aware it has an influence that I need to actively question.

We think we are good people--not hateful and certainly not bigots but then again, we start to get uncomfortable when some of our perceptions of normal get shook up.

Just because you have a lesbian friend at work, that doesn't mean every other thought you have about gays will be negated. And for those people who never spend any time with gays or anyone who falls outside their cultural norm, there are even fewer challenges to those biases.

Recently I read this remark made by Ruth Bader Ginsburg at the 10th Circuit Bench and Bar Conference:

“So now the perception is, yes, women are here to stay. And when I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]? And I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that”

The headlines read that RGB was calling for an all female SCOTUS. I heard something different. It is still such a radical and upsetting idea that women can serve as Supreme Court justices that the idea that the entire court would be comprised of women tells us that don't view the talent pool in such an unbiased fashion. Who would represent men? some will ask yet we unquestioningly expect that a predominantly male court would be less biased towards their own interests.

If the talent pool was actually based on talent and ability, things would look a lot different. We could expect that the right people for the job might all be women, or all black or a combination not comprised in any of the pat diversity objectives that show "progress".

When we try to influence diversity we go for "improved" results. We aren't very hopeful that we can effect much change so we'll just improve the same broken old machine guaranteeing we stay sort of comfortably the same.

Same until it's not the same.


When I see things like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, what I see is an acknowledgement that there is a statistically significant amount of people who don't even want modest improvements. They would prefer to change the physical world so it more closely aligns to their biases-- a desperate last attempt to retain an outdated model.

But things are changing. The more you fight change, the more painful change is.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tell one true thing

When I sat down to write my blog post today I had a list of topics. And I started writing on each one and had to stop myself. I just couldn't settle down on a topic where I wanted to tell the full truth. They all kind of sucked.

See, the problem is when you have a line of work like mine, there is kind of a temptation to sound like you have your issues all tied up and emotional biz completely under control. That just isn't true in life--not mine or anyone else's. 

I'm just feeling a bit impatient about my own emotional story.

Truth is, I'm sick of all the grief in my life. 

We had to put Turtle to sleep two weeks after he started having terrible seizures. Except for a brief period where he seemed like he was more or less his old self, the medication zonked him out and his seizures came roaring back. I found myself crying in private and public a lot after that--something that I'm a little self conscious about because it wasn't that long ago that I was doing that over my brother Steve

And now, just this weekend, it was the 29th anniversary of my father's death--a day Steve usually marked by heading down to the cemetery with a can of Brasso and a rag to clean Dad's headstone. 

Before anyone starts taking issue with a possible comparison of my brother's suicide and my cat's demise, there is no comparison there. Only another loss--you can't control the way your heart responds as it knows no measure or scale around what you should feel. 

Only the other day I saw a work glove in the road and had to go hide in the garage and cry because I didn't want to talk about how the glove looked a lot like the pair Steve offered to give me but I turned down. 

Am I getting help for this? I'm working on finding someone who can guide me through my my grief labyrinth. Can't white knuckle it forever. It's time to step back...far back and look at what the last decade brought to my door--the joyous and the terrible.

This is one of the reasons why writing is so important to me. Through the accumulation of words I have a sky view of my life. I can see the grim thought loops and also when things are just too damn chirpy. The micro scope view of the moment to moment can fool a person into thinking things are "fine". 

Here is the truth. I'm not "fine".  

There is a whole lot I just don't give a shit about anymore. I don't have energy to waste. Some things have got to go-- at the top of that list is trading the truth for a ration of "fine". 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Breaking up with the past/the agony of unconscious time travelling

This was my weekend to get some fresh air and enjoy our early spring. The scent of white lilacs and jasmine have been tempting me every morning and evening when their perfume is most potent--I didn't want to miss out so Saturday morning I pulled on my gardening clogs and gloves and set to pulling the thousands of weeds dotting our back yard.

I recently started limiting listening to books on tape or other media while I'm outside so I can be more alive to my experience and to be more aware of what is going on inside me mentally and emotionally. You would think that listening to a book would be absorbing but many times it's just convenient background noise while my own thoughts go wild and unchecked.

Often this wild, unchecked state goes deep in my personal bucket of hurts and resentments from the past. I don't know exactly why doing something as pleasant as spending time in the yard would bring anything up other than something nice but with disturbing regularity I have found myself emotionally traveling back to some earlier part of my life and reliving a confrontation or some other event that hurt my feelings. Only now, in the safe confines of my imagination, I'm armed with a comeback or some other action that feels like evening things up (like forcing my abuser's head into the toilet and flushing a few dozen times).

These memories powerful, seductive and are on rotation and ready to play when I find myself not paying attention to what I'm thinking.

There is no satisfaction in these rewritten memories but my body responds just as if these awful events were happening right now. I tense up, my face screwing into an angry glare which confuses everyone when I walk into the house ("what happened?" they all say as I stalk off to use the restroom or to get a glass of water--completely unaware that I'm radiating rage).

Without my earbuds in I became aware that this time my mind drifted to this one boss I had nearly 25 years ago. He was the husband part of a husband/wife run business--she ran everything and he spent his time bloviating and hurling abuse. He was a nasty bully and I was frequently on the receiving end of his tirades.

I was inexperienced and didn't know how to handle bullies like him at the time. His wife just laughed--and let him go on. From my point of view,  I had very little power to change things. I just wanted to get out of there and away from him.

One day after months of looking I found a much better job quit without giving notice. Still, I never told him off--rationally I knew it wouldn't do any good but emotionally I never got the satisfaction of telling this jerk what I thought of him. Instead, I've spent many an afternoon in the intervening years on my imagined comebacks--comebacks that will never be delivered but reliably rile me up so much that I sometimes start muttering to myself (which only occasionally happens in front of other people--awkward).

Just as I was mentally winding up to psychically scream at the old gas bag, I caught myself--I was spending my fine jasmine scented morning chewing this rotten old bone--the opposite of what I intended for myself. I sat still for a while and just took in what my time traveling was costing me in lost time and serenity.

Could I break this habit of time traveling? Although it's tempting to replay these old hurts, they aren't part of my DNA. They also aren't making my life better. And above all, they are not representative of who I want to be in the world

And as simply as that, I let the old, hurtful thought go.

I took another deep breath and looked around. My orange tree was covered with blossoms. A single bud was uncurling on my peach tree. Delicate anise fronds poked through the soil here and there. Bees hovered over the blossoms of my black sage. The air hummed with the sound of electric garden tools and cars passing in the distance.

No old boss was to be seen anywhere. My breathing slowed. The day became exactly what I wished. No longer trapped by memory, I was free again.

Do you sometimes find yourself grousing over old hurts and grievances? I invite you to give yourself permission and see what it feels like to simply be present to what is right now.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Spring cleaning--I threw out so many stories!

Now that our kitchen has been reorganized, we decided to tackle the garage and make it into a more usable space for working out, laundry and projects. But in order to do that we had to go through 20+ years of archived paper work, old boxes of mementos, photos etc.

Not a small task but we had already made it easier on ourselves by presorting things so it would be easy to get to the boxes and boxes of old cancelled checks, receipts, ancient tax records and other documentation that had outlived it's useful life.

Saturday morning we put on the coffee and got to work. I pulled all the banker boxes down while Keri went through boxes of personal objects that hadn't seen the light of day in months or years.

Oddly, it was a pretty "whistle while you work" project and we managed to keep the pace up all day.

After about eight hours we had gone through nearly everything and had five 32 gallon garbage bags full of paper to send to the data destroyer--just about everything older than 7 years got bagged up. 

Luckily, I didn't just wholesale dump boxes into the bags. I pulled folders out and did a cursory check for dates and content. It was worth the effort! Going through one folder I found a number of treasury bonds I purchased in the 90s that are now mature--cha ching! I also found gift cards, See's gift certificates and other things we definitely wanted but had completely forgotten about. 

As Keri went through her possessions she did quick searches to check their market value--one statue she bought when she was in her 20s was now valued at over $3000. Others from the same set were also pretty valuable. These she set aside--the rest went to Goodwill.

Pretty good return on our time investment if you ask me.

After sending two full car loads to GoodWill our garage was much more manageable--our laundry area is completely cleared and I can now use my weights and punching bag again. A quick google search gave us the number of a mobile data destruction company that will come to our house to deal with the bags of paperwork, so no tedious shredding either.

However, not everything could be gone through quickly.

In going through my own personal paperwork I put aside a couple boxes full of my old journals, letters, cards and photos from my earlier life--it was too much to go through so I left it for when I could spend some time on it.

Two boxes really isn't that much stuff--I considered just putting it back on the shelf. But with all the other paperwork and personal effects out of the way, I felt just enough curiosity to take a look at what I had been holding onto for all these years.

I sat down with a beer and opened the first box. I was pretty sure I was going to throw most of it away but decided to go through each folder just as I did with all the paper records.

It takes a while to go through twenty years worth of cards--before email was so prevalent I sent lots of letters. I found cards and letters from friends I hadn't spoken to in years. Seeing their names and addresses made me smile.

Mixed in with the cards were dozens of hand written letters sent to me by my Mother after I had moved away from home--I had somehow forgotten how often she wrote me. Letter after letter were filled with little stories about what she was doing, and each one telling me that she missed me. Never one to be sentimental, each letter was written with my Mom's trademark wit and a little request to keep in touch. 

When I look back at that period of my life I most keenly remember my Mom being angry at me for moving, for our conversations being hard and for feeling deep disapproval from her. At the time I could only see Mom's anger, not her vulnerability--her wish to keep me close.

Reading these letters with fresh eyes, I now see Mom's love and concern for me. I couldn't see that the time because I was too busy feeling judged--a story that ossified and stuck in my mind for years.

To contrast my Mom's sweet letters, I found a sheaf of my journal entries written on loose leaf paper. I was taken aback at how much self criticism I put on myself--I committed to paper dozens of negative opinions about my circumstances, my appearance and many other things I believed were wrong with me. I basically said the same horrible things day after day, reminding myself that I was basically a sorry excuse for a human being. Its no wonder that I was reading the same message I was writing--even if the message said something completely different 

I guess I had to turn into the kind of person who could read these love messages--even twenty or so years later.  Even if I'm late, I'm glad--especially because I am able reflect this love back to Mom with new appreciation today.

Are you going to do a spring cleaning project? Drop me a line in the comments below and let me know how you're doing.