Saturday, February 18, 2017

You Aren't Special : Part I

About two years ago my husband and I moved to Southern California, initially settling in San Clemente.  I immediately started applying for jobs (I tend towards depression when I'm not working), quickly landing my first interview at a local tech company.  They had a solid reputation and the position (project manager) sounded pretty interesting. I arrived for my interview at a large, industrial building.  Very sleek, with lots of stainless steel, glass and hard edges. Like a fancy morgue. After waiting for a few anxious minutes pretending to look over the resume I had brought along, I was called into a conference room with my interviewer.  We'll call him Mr. D. 

 Mr. D was underdressed in jeans and a t-shirt, seemingly reveling in the juxtaposition of the setting and his casual indifference to it.  This meant that in my new pantsuit,  I was extremely overdressed.  So in addition to standard interview nerves, I felt sort of silly.  Like I was trying too hard.  He sat back in his chair, relaxed, and started the interview.  He had an accent but it was difficult to place.  Somewhere between British and over-enunciated English.  (Like Madonna, post-Guy Ritchie). The motion sensor conference room lights did not turn on automatically, so after we sat he stood back up and flapped his arms around to activate them.

     “So…tell me about yourself.” 
     “Well…I just moved here from Japan.”
     “Oh Japan! I love Japan!” He says.  “International experience is so important for Americans.  What were you doing there?”
      “My husband is in the military, so we were stationed there for three years.” 
      “Ehh.  A military wife.”  There is so much blatant disapproval in his voice I almost think I must be imagining it.  No one would be that rude. 
      “Question.” He says, abruptly. “Would you rather kill or be killed?”
I think for a moment, then reply, “Kill. If my life is in danger.”
He shakes his head in disappointment. “No. Wrong.”
      “Do you think it’s okay to invade a country preemptively because you think they might eventually attack your country?” He doesn’t care about my response.  I can already see him formulate a rebuttal to whatever I might say.
      “Well…I guess if you have evidence---“
      “You don’t.” He interjects.
      “Okay.  Then no.  I don’t think it’s okay to invade a country without just cause, because you think that at some unknown point in the future they might turn against you.”
He’s not listening to me as he continues.  “Preemptive is the most dangerous word in the English language.  Americans use it to justify all sorts of horrific acts of war.”

[At this time the motion-detecting lights went out and Mr. D stood and waved his arms vigorously.  This would happen three more times over the course of the interview.]

      “So…I see here on your resume that you worked in the psychology department of a university in…Indiana? What were you doing there?”
      “I grew up in Indiana.”
      “Oh God.” He sighs.  “The Midwest. Is there a more horrible, ignorant place? And now you’re here.  Girl from the Midwest in sunny California.  You’re probably like, (He puts his hands up to his cheeks, widens his eyes and raises his voice) 'Oh my God! California! I can't believe it!' I hate it here.  The traffic is terrible.  The people all so superficial and stupid."
      “Well, it’s not as though I grew up on a farm.  I was actually born in LA.  I grew up in Indiana, but the town is large and fairly liberal.”
      “Liberal FOR THE MIDWEST.” 

I have to get out of here.  I can’t breathe.  If I stay much longer I will die and he'll stand over my body shaking his head, saying something horribly condescending like, “Small town girl in the big city.”

      “But a psychology department.  That’s interesting.  The human mind is so interesting, don’t you think?  Have you read ‘De Anima? By Aristotle?" 
      “No." I admit.  "I didn’t study psychology.  I worked for the department’s PR department.”
      “But how can you not be interested in the human mind?!?  How can you not want to know why you do the things you do?” he asks, incredulous. 
      “Did you major in psychology? I ask.
      “Okay, okay, let’s get down to business.  Do you know what this job is even for?  Do you know what you’ve applied to be??”
He interrupts me. "It’s a project manager position.  Software developers are lazy.  They don’t like deadlines.  You have to make them finish their work on time.  Can you do that?  Can you be assertive and tough?"
I tell him that I think I could, to which he dramatically raises his eyebrows and stands over the table to mock asses me from head to toe.  "I doubt that very much."

And so it went, for nearly two hours, until he stood abruptly.  The interview is over and I have no idea how it went. 

He shakes my hand and says, "You're not special.  You must know that?"
And I say, "Yes."  Because I can't think. 
      "You see, I've interviewed probably twenty girls exactly like you.  Twenty girls who think, like you, that they could do the job.  But you can't.  I think you know that.  It's above you. But thank you for coming in."

And he was gone.  I walked out to my car, just sort of shell shocked.  I called my husband, who assumed it must have gone really well, since I'd been gone for so long.  After I told him what had happened and convinced him not to defend my honor with a good old fashioned midwestern stabbing, I drove home with the radio off.  I was mad, but mostly with myself.  Yes, he had treated me like garbage, but I let him. Why didn't I walk out after five minutes?  Why was my response to being told I was a nobody to AGREE POLITELY?! 

There were many times in the following months when I would hit a low point and hear his voice in my head.  "You're not special.  You must know that?"
And my response, "Yes."

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The Tender Mercy of a Dead Friendship

At first I was flattered, thinking that her desire to get to know me was due to the fact that I was interesting, or funny, or pleasant to be around. Familiarity breeds intimacy and that's what she wanted.  To know me.  And she did, but it wasn't because she cared, I think it was because she was curious. And probably a bit bored.  Entertain her!

Actually, she was the entertaining one. The outgoing one who could make everyone laugh to the point of tears more times than I can remember.  Often at someone else's expense.  But that was her personality!  Just a biting sense of humor.  Chew you up and spit you out kind of humor.

I think there were rare moments of real caring.  Genuine friendship. And those moments made me excuse the many other moments when she made me feel like shit.

She wanted information and secrets and she listened like she loved me but I didn't realize that I had become the subject of her conversations.  That once they left my lips my stories and experiences were hers to share.  Retooled and retold to strangers who dissected my mannerisms and diagnosed my possible disorders and spent time online, deciphering the codes I didn't realize I had embedded in my pictures and posts.  Of all the notifications I received I dreaded hers the most.  Her preternatural ability to deliver backhanded compliments and scathing critiques was unparalleled.  But I can take a joke.  It's just her personality!  She is jealous and spiteful and ecstatic when you look bad, but it's not her.  It's this separate, blameless entity, 'personality'.  The problem with that explanation is that if it's true, it should be universally so. Not applied only to a few, unlucky ones.

And so I was wary.  I guarded my thoughts and hid myself away from her.  She became a friend in name only.  She accidentally left her phone next to me and it dings dings dings and there's a terrible photo of me that she took without me knowing. It's part of a group text with people who don't know me.  I am the punchline of a joke. I am not as pretty or perfect in real life as I pretend to be online and she's got the proof. She rushed back and grabbed it, flushed with the awful fear of being found out.  I smiled sweetly and pretended I hadn't seen anything.  She hadn't violated any loyalty because there really wasn't any left at that point.   The more I retreated the nicer she became, but it was a saccharine sweet that made my teeth hurt.  I didn't believe anything she said anymore and she knew it.  Our interactions were forced and tense and at some point they stopped altogether.

She was a good friend until she wasn't.  At some point I think she really, genuinely started to hate me and I wish she had just done the noble thing and ghosted me.  Extricating myself took far too long than it should have. It meant accepting that some people outside of the situation might take sides, might think of me as full of myself or overly sensitive. Might not know my side of the story. That's something you forfeit in exchange for a clean break. And it's something you find you don't really need in the end.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Somebody Call 911

I have called 911 twice in my life.

The first time I was six or seven and I was dared to by a friend.  My family was visiting hers for the weekend and our parents had gone shopping that afternoon, leaving the kids at home.  My older siblings were watching TV and my friend and I were upstairs, bored out of our minds. I honestly don’t remember how it came up, but at some point she dared me to call 911. Or she mentioned it and I dared her to dare me to call. Regardless,  I did the damn thing. I picked up the powder blue corded phone and dialed those three numbers.  My hands were shaking, and when the operator answered I quickly whispered, “Help me” and hung up.  I hadn’t planned to say anything, but got caught up in the moment and couldn’t help but throw a little drama into it.  What a rush! And no ramifications whatsoever!
Just kidding.  Within ten minutes their house was surrounded by cop cars. And at almost the same moment our parents arrived home.  Everyone was freaking out, trying to figure out what was going on and who had called 911.  *Actually, no, I don’t think anyone was really trying to figure out who called, because they already knew. This was during my “wreak havoc, deny everything” phase of childhood. And deny I did! No, of course I hadn’t called, yes I knew that it was an incredibly serious offense to call 911 as a joke. The flaw in my stubborn assertion of innocence was having a friend who spilled the beans almost immediately.  (Snitches get stitches, Susan!) So I was outed, forced to apologize and promise never to do that again. And as the police filed out I realized that I honestly didn’t want them to leave, because my mom was looking at me with an expression that I can only describe as murdery.  (And she did murder me.  With her disappointment.)

The second time I dialed 911 I was nineteen, working at an upscale tanning salon. In addition to my duties at the front desk I  was also a spray tan technician,  frequently dipping into my own product,  resulting in a hideous year-round Trump glow. Of course, at the time I thought I looked amazing, and the contrast really made my teeth pop.

The salon was on campus, right in the middle of everything, and it was close to closing time on a Friday night.  A coworker (I think her name was Brittni or something obnoxiously spelled like that)  stumbled in and asked to tan for ten minutes in a deluxe bed.  The deluxe bed was no joke an enormous bed with a plush mattress.  The tanning bulbs were on the inside of the top, and they were intense, so I would advise people to start with five minutes on each side.  Twenty minutes was the max, but you had to work your way up to that.  Gradually increase your tolerance. One time a very fair skinned girl tried to buy twenty minutes and I was like, “No, you will die.”

 But back to Brittni. The bar she had been drinking at next door was “too crowded and loud” and she wanted a quiet moment, alone with her thoughts and  mutating skin cells.  I set the timer for ten minutes, which came and went, but she didn't emerge from her room.  I knocked, loudly.  Nothing.  I yelled her name “BRITTNI WITH AN I, ARE YOU OKAY?!” but got no response. I started to panic.  I called another coworker who lived nearby and within a few minutes she had joined me, trying in vain to pick the door’s lock, yelling and pounding on it when we failed.  Finally, fearing that something was seriously wrong, I called 911.  "Brittni is unresponsive in the deluxe tanning suite. Please send help." Within minutes a fire truck, sirens roaring, pulled up and three firemen jumped out. They were pumped.  Maybe it had been a slow day at the station, but they were ready to rescue the shit out of someone.   I pointed to the door and they literally broke it down.  With their bodies. I don’t even think they tried the handle first.  They ran into that  tiny room and lifted the top of the tanning bed and Brittni sprang up like a tipsy, topless Jack In The Box screaming, “WHAT THE FUCK?? WHAT THE FUCK!?”

I immediately started laughing and could not stop.  Like, tears streaming down my face. Spray tan streaked to hell. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline or just relief that she wasn’t dead, but I couldn't turn it off. The firemen left the room, dejected, propping the broken door up against the splintered frame to give Brittni privacy to dress.  She did so, sputtering expletives. I was reigning in my hysterics,  apologizing to everyone. The firemen, disappointed by the lack of real emergency, unceremoniously left and soon after Brittni moved the door aside and stomped out into the night without so much as a goodbye.  Oh Brittni.  You tawny Lady Lazarus. I wonder what you're up to now.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Reproductive Rights Are Not a Liberal Conspiracy

Savita Halappanavar knew her baby was dying inside of her even before the doctors confirmed it. She also knew that if they didn't get the baby out soon, she would die too.  Her fever spiked, her back radiated pain and her contractions were excruciating. She begged, brokenhearted, for an abortion, but because Doctors could still find a fetal heartbeat, they refused. For three days Savita writhed in agony in a hospital bed, waiting for her baby to die. Stillborn as expected, her daughter emerged, and four days later Savita died from infection and organ failure.

 I know this sounds like some kind of dark ages cautionary tale, but this was in 2012.

In Northern Ireland, where Savita died, abortion is illegal. It was only after outrage over her death that a new law was enacted, which allows for an exception to the abortion ban in instances when the mother's life is at risk.  Even that caused a lot of debate, with many opponents arguing that it would lead to "widespread abortion."  Like women everywhere are just conspiratorially tapping their fingertips together, waiting for the opportunity to take abortion mainstream.

With Roe vs. Wade in 1973, abortion became legal in the US, but this right was balanced with the state's interest in protecting the potentiality of human life. As a result, in most states abortion is legal only before the fetus is viable (could possibly survive outside the womb), which is around 24 weeks (6 months).  However, almost all abortions (92%) are performed within the first thirteen weeks, with the majority of those (66%) performed in the first eight weeks.  Because the states are given a lot of latitude when it comes to regulating abortion, many continue to fight Roe v. Wade by cutting funding, requiring parental consent and ultrasounds, enacting waiting periods, etc.  Abortion's existence in the U.S. is tenuously legitimate at best, though that might not be the case in this administration.  Mike Pence has stated publicly that he longs for the day that Roe v. Wade is "sent to the ash heap of history." 

If you're wondering what would happen if Roe v. Wade was overturned, The Center for Reproductive Rights did a thorough, state-by-state report entitled, "What if Roe Fell?"   Check it out.

I recently watched the coverage of Trump reinstating and expanding the global gag rule. He signed it, smiling, surrounded by a bunch of rich old white dudes. (Because really, who is better suited to have dominion over women's reproductive organs than penis-having politicians?)  Essentially, what Trump signed was an executive order banning foreign nongovernmental organizations that receive  American aid from counseling health clients about abortion or advocating for abortion liberalization.   Abortion cannot even be suggested as an option, even if the woman or fetus is at risk.  (And just to throw it out there, in Africa alone there are about 34 million orphans and about 3 million of them have HIV. Under the global gag rule a pregnant woman dying of AIDS could not receive any abortion referral information from a U.S.-funded organization.)

A lot of you will balk at such "extreme" examples.  You will point out that most women in America have access to all kinds of birth control. You will argue that unwanted children should be put up for adoption.  You will point out all of the programs put in place to help single moms. You will say, passionately and with good intent, that abortion is the taking of a life. I can only remind you that as long as women can get pregnant, by rape or accident, there will be abortion.  Before it was legal, there was still abortion.  It is a product of desperation and often times, necessity. 

I am pro-choice because I know that restricting access to abortion hits the poorest, most desperate women the hardest. I am pro-choice because I believe that women are moral beings, capable of making thoughtful decisions about their own bodies.  

P.S.  Abortion rates are the lowest they've been since the Roe v. Wade decision.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

On The Farm

Advice We've Been Given By People Who Know Their (Chicken) Shit:

-Do not name your chickens. (We did.)
-Prepare yourself to see at least one of your chickens die a horrible death. (We didn't.)
-In the event that your own dog kills one of your chickens, tie the dead chicken to your dog's collar until it rots, dissuading them from killing again.  (No.)

The first chick we lost, we buried in a small, intimate ceremony in the front yard.  Willy was three days old, had no eyes and had been nursed by hand since we got her the day after she hatched. Aidin mourned for the rest of the day, reminiscing over the cute things she had done, including that one time she cocked her tiny head to the side as though she was concentrating on what he was saying.  It was a sad day, having put in a lot of care only to see our efforts fail.  Aidin picked flowers.  There is a small rock that serves as her headstone.

For the subsequent twenty chickens we lost, there was far less ceremony.

No-Eyed Willy: Illness.
Chicks 2-4: Neighbor's German Shepherd.
Chick 5: Illness
Chick 6: June (Our German Shepherd)
Chickens 7-9: Unknown predator.
Chicken 10-14: Unknown predator.  Left no trace.
Chickens 15-18: Unknown Predator.
Chickens 19-20: Unknown predator.  Left an explosion of feathers and, several yards away, a head.
*Chicken 21: As of an hour ago, still alive. Torn to shreds, currently in our bathtub but not expected to make it through the day.

Just to be clear, we began with thirty chickens and now we have ten (the realist in me is saying nine).  We have a strong, sturdy coop of chain-link fencing around a cement foundation and still, whatever is getting them is undeterred by barriers and is, perhaps, magic.

The loss of our first few chickens was rough, but there is a gradual desensitization that comes with living in the country. Well that's sort of a lie. I mean, I bawled when my cat Smith died suddenly a few weeks ago, but he was cute and cuddly and liked being held like a baby.  Chickens are basically impotent raptors. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for them. They're given zero survival skills, can't even fly, yet somehow they're made it this far. But they're not my pets. You might totally love your chickens!  You might put your chickens in cute sweaters.  Your chickens might have their own Instagram accounts and that's totally cool.  To each their own.

Now, that said, yesterday morning when Cole opened the back door and said, "Mom there's a chicken head out here. Did you know?"  Something in me really snapped.  These are my chickens.  I raised them.  I got them through their first laying, when they were all like "OH GOD WHAT'S HAPPENING??" And I was like, "You're becoming a hen.  That's an egg."

My point is, I don't want them suffer and I certainly don't want them to die.  So now we go to war with whatever the hell is decimating my flock. Traps are set and we're ready. Dear God,  Please don't let it be a weasel.  How boring. Or a skunk, for obvious reasons.  What would I even do with a skunk in a trap?  Oh boy. I honestly didn't think about that until right at this moment. Anyway,  this is what living in the country gives you.  All these hard lessons to learn, a certain familiarity with death and occasionally, the rare opportunity to call into work with the excuse "A chicken emergency."

Saturday, November 5, 2016

It's Like Falling

Oh man.  It's weird being back in this space.  Doesn't hardly feel like my own anymore.

It was when the rain season came.  That second typhoon season in Okinawa.  It just did me in. Dan was in Hong Kong I think.  Typhoon season in Okinawa means that it rains daily for a couple months. But not just rain.  Torrential downpours.  Wind advisories.  Staying indoors all day every day.

It's so easy to fall apart and I did during that second typhoon of my second year in Okinawa.  The electricity went out for a few days, so the AC was dead.  It was something like 90 degrees, 2000% humidity.  The boys were asleep.  I sat in the front room watching my Nissan Cube vibrating up and down in the storm, afraid that if I turned away it would flip over.  I was willing it not to. For hours I sat there watching it.  My skin was crawling.  I thought about walking outside. I imagined walking into the sea.  I imagined jumping off a building.  I imagined being dead.

Instead I left.  I took the boys and left.   I had so much resentment towards Dan by then.  It crept up on me.  The frequent moves, the isolation, the difficulty finding employment or continuing my education... I was subconsciously heaping blame upon him for a lot of things, many of which were out of his control.  So for the next year Dan and I communicated through lawyers and stiff emails about child support.  I got an apartment in my hometown.  I got a job. Through it all he remained so infuriatingly civil.  The audacity of his love for me was appalling.

By then I knew I'd made this monumental mistake, but I was so loyal to it.  So determined to see it through.  I stood at the top of a building shouting HEY I'M REALLY GONNA DO THIS.  I'M REALLY GONNA JUMP!

That's what it felt like.  Like falling.  And only one person seemed to care and I hated him for it.  You've made a fuss.  People are watching.  You're flailing and screaming and causing a scene and at some point you have to suck it up and die already. You jumped!!  No one pushed you! Why all the ruckus?!

This is hard to write.  This is hard to think about.  I hate thinking about that year.  Those days were

I still hate myself a lot of the time.  Not as much as I did then, but a fair amount.  Like if I were in the hospital a doctor would come in and say, "Great news, loser.  Your self loathing has dropped from 80% to 30%."  I've never prescribed to the notion that everything happens for a reason, nor am I grateful for that year because it led me to where I am (which is a wonderful place despite the somber tone of this post).  No.  I would do a million things differently.  I would take it all back if I could.

It's funny though.  I threw myself off a building. (Made a bunch of huge mistakes/ hurt people I love/ messed my life up for a while.  Not sure how clear this metaphor is anymore.) I made a big show of it.  But I didn't die.  I hit the ground and it was embarrassing.  People watched me falling and had expectations and I'm still here.  How humiliating, right?? But humiliation is mighty humbling and I needed it.

This is where I tell you what I learned

It took that year to realize that I can't trust myself sometimes.  I'm prone to selfishness, vanity and self-sabotage.  As a result I have to question my motives a lot.  I have to question other people's motives.  Which is probably why I don't let many people into my life anymore. It's just easier.  Dan and I bought a farm in the middle of nowhere Southern California.  We just celebrated our twelfth anniversary.   I'm clingy now.  I cling to him, cling to my family, cling to this life I've managed to salvage despite myself.

Falling is scary.  It feels good to have both feet on the ground.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Things That I Forgot To Do

I was in bed, sick and useless,  basically all weekend. It had been building for a while. Last week I started to feel tired.  Overwhelmed.  Pulled too thin like a rubber band just before it snaps.  At work I say yes to basically any new project I’m offered, both because they’re interesting but also because I don’t want to miss any opportunity to learn a new skill.  At home I try to cook all the meals and pack all the lunches and go sledding and do laundry and make sure homework is done and fingernails are clipped and no one’s watching too much TV.  Sometimes I'm even social with other adult humans! (Hi mom!) And because I’m me I want to do all of this without any help from anyone, ever.  But even when I’m managing it all, I somehow still feel like I’m floundering.  Most nights I lay in bed and think about the things that I forgot to do.

I vented all of this to a friend last week, who assured me that I was a great mom. 
“I know I’m a great mom.” I replied.  “I must be with all this crushing guilt I feel all the time.”
I was half kidding, but half not.  I really do feel guilty most of the time, and it’s exhausting. 

Even as the progressive term "modern motherhood" is thrown around, the subtext continues to encourage a selflessness that to me seems both impractical and unattainable.  I think women have the unfortunate, inherited propensity of treating motherhood as a form of martyrdom; As though your success as a mother were measured solely by what you’ve given up.  Last year when I flew from Japan to the US for a week without my children, I had several friends comment that they were shocked that I was “leaving” my kids on their first day of school.  Mind you, they were with their father, safe and cared for, and it was the first time I had gone anywhere alone in more than five years.  Instead of a community of support and compassion I was faced with judgment and criticism.  

In the face of all this turmoil I reflected back on my own relationship with my mother.  It has never been solely her physical proximity to me that offered comfort, but her emotional availability.  I know that if I need her, she’ll be there. I don't need to hear her say she loves me for me to know without a doubt that I am loved.  When I was younger and she was in grad school she was very busy, but I never felt angry about that. I felt proud of what she was accomplishing. When she would on occasion go out with friends, or date, or go on trips, I never felt bitterness or abandonment. I felt a freedom to live my life knowing that she had one of her own.  She used to host Mardi Gras parties with all our friends and neighbors, and after I was ushered to bed in the early morning hours I remember lying there listening to her laughing, and I felt happy because she was happy.   

There’s this thing that parents say sometimes when explaining something to their children.  “I’m doing all of this for you!”  First of all, it’s a weird thing to say. It’s too much responsibility to place upon the shoulders of a child.  Second, it’s bullshit.   It’s a way to avoid responsibility or justify your decisions, because surely if you’re “doing it all” for someone else, then you’re absolved of personal accountability. So following that logic, if you go through life unhappy and unfulfilled, hey, you did it for your kids.  If you don’t accomplish what you want to in your lifetime, surely your children's success will negate that failure, right? THAT MAKES NO SENSE. Someday your kids will grow up and they will see you for what you are.  Not some perfect saint, but a flawed human no different from them.  They will not buy into this whole martyr thing then, if they ever did.  They will know of the sacrifices you made for them, but wouldn't you rather they remember the sound of your laughter?  Wouldn't that be more of a comfort and inspiration?  

We all know in theory that it takes a village to raise a child, but as a mother it’s hard to relinquish control to your village.  It’s hard to let other people, even family, help you raise your children.  It’s been hard every snow day in the past month to rely on friends and family to check on and entertain the boys while I work.  It will be hard to watch them get on a plane without me this summer. Alternately, it can be hard to withhold judgment when we see someone else seemingly doing this mothering thing with more ease, more help or more grace than we feel we have.  Motherhood is tough enough without all the outside influences and subliminal messages we're bombarded with on a daily basis.  Don't feed the machine.  It's broken and outdated and turns women against each other. We all mother differently.  Our children will be brilliantly diverse, isn't that great??! 

 I constantly find myself slipping back into this mindset of feeling like I should value certain ideals that I just don't.  So I get very silent and listen to myself.  I tune out the voices criticizing me for wanting a different kind of life.  I'm immensely lucky to have this village, so I'm going to let them help me.  I'm going to try to lead a life that I love, and in turn give my kids what they need, which is me, happy.