she was out on the deck, momentarily. stopping by to give me words of wisdom and courage, former u.s. supreme court justice ruth bader ginsburg stood in the sunshine. she leaned over, in emphasis, and the sun streamed through her collar, reflecting through the window onto our dresser. i held her words close to me. she reminded me, “but when i talked about sex-based discrimination, i got the response, ‘what are you talking about? women are treated ever so much better than men!’” then we both laughed, her eyes gleaming with the intelligent fight of a strong woman.
ruth continued, her sage words a repetition of something she had said, quoted back in 2020, “it’s an unconscious bias. it’s the expectation. you have a lowered expectation when you hear a woman speaking; i think that still goes on. that instinctively when a man speaks, he will be listened to, where people will not expect the woman to say anything of value. but all of the women in my generation have had, time and again, that experience where you say something at a meeting, and nobody makes anything of it. and maybe half an hour later, a man makes the identical point, and people react to it and say, ‘good idea.’ that, i think, is a problem that persists.”
her parting words, before she vanished from our deck, before her tatted collar no longer formed a sunlit shadow on our dresser, “whatever you choose to do, leave tracks. that means don’t do it just for yourself. you will want to leave the world a little better for your having lived.” i nodded. it’s our responsibility as women (and yes, as men) to make sure that we leave to those behind us a place that is better for those who follow, a place that is transparent and that rebels against agenda, a place that treats all fairly, a place that is dedicated to the resolution of conflict, a place of compassion and truth. her gaze was steady before she disappeared, encouraging me to stay grounded, to “breathe free,” to “speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.”
“i would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.”
jen told me yesterday that the 1918 pandemic, though most often referred to as a two-year pandemic, actually lasted two and a half years.
two and a half years.
i shudder to think of the toll this pandemic will have taken if it lasts yet another year or more. we have learned so much; we have learned so little. the pandemic has been like a kaleidoscope and like a microscope, both. it has scattered us into constantly changing patterns and it has brought everything into minute focus. yet i wonder where this will take us.
artists aren’t typically conservative in-the-boxers. we take risks, live gig lifestyles, put ourselves out there, are vulnerable and push back against things we consider inequities, ironic double-talk, disinterest in humanitarianism, opacity where transparency is touted. we aren’t quiet, for it is our job to speak – in whatever medium our talent. we are, as artists, there to raise questions, to promote pondering, communicate ideas, tell stories, express emotion, encourage engagement, inspire connection and collaboration, reiterate interdependence of all people.
though this burden does not remain singly on the shoulders of artists, even banksy has participated in making statements about safety and guidelines in this pandemic. i’m not sure how much more blatant it needs to be. encouraging covid-19 responsibility, his work in the london tube in july 2020 was titled, “if you don’t mask, you don’t get.” he spray-paints the words, “i get lockdown, but i get up again” at the end of the video featuring his rats on the tube.
though attendees were 100% vaccinated, the invitation read, “masks required at all times unless actively eating or drinking.” they provided masks, sweet ones with the initials of the wedding couple and a heart. the venues had high high ceilings, exposed rafters and ductwork. the wedding was outside, cocktail hour was outside, dancing was outside.
when the rain came, we all kept dancing. outside, twinkling lights all around, we breathed in fresh air. even with masks on.
“a lot of people never use their initiative because no-one told them to.” (banksy)
initiative (noun): the ability to assess and initiate things independently; the power or opportunity to act or take charge before others do.
i love #2 pencils – though, in an inane detail you are probably unconcerned about, i love mechanical pencils more – and it was a whole pack of ’em. plus each and every one was printed with the word “dissent”.
that’s why i should have bought them. i could have stashed reminders of RBG’s venerable spirit and dedication to equality and goodness and principle and ethics and probity in my purse, on the kitchen counter, at my piano, in our mélange-planning notebook, in my calendar.
they would have reminded me to stand courageously in dissent, to back it up with facts, to hold to integrity, to not waver in the face of any question or any fear or any threat. the thing about supreme court justice ruth bader ginsburg, though, is that she was intrepid – even without the pencils.
and so, with the sisu of ruth, the belief in “an opinion, philosophy or sentiment of non-agreement or opposition to a prevailing idea or policy enforced by a government, political party or other entity or individual in a capacity of contextual authority” (wikipedia), the steadfast commitment to the truth and transparency, we all batten down the hatches and ready ourselves for whatever things we care about for which we must fight.
at the very least, i should have bought the towel.
PS. “despite the fact that the justices routinely disagree with each other, they never let it get personal, and have good working relationships with one another.” (dhruti bhagat, librarian, boston public library blog – ruth bader ginsburg and dissents: what’s a dissent?)
in the outstanding documentary “my octopus teacher” craig foster forges a relationship with an octopus in the south african kelp forest. every day he enters the cold water to search for her and over the period of about a year he bonded an intimate friendship with this amazing creature. when she disappears after a scare, he spends days seeking her, commenting, “i try to think like an octopus.” his success reuniting with her shows he is at least somewhat capable of thinking how she thinks, of seeing how she sees. your heart is filled watching the mutuality of their connection and you wonder why this level of reciprocal respect cannot exist more easily between human beings.
tuesday i had a hissy fit. i have mostly recuperated. i’m not sure where it started but it definitely was a meltdown. anxiety coupled with grief coupled with worry and angst with a pinch of frustration – the ingredients du jour for many of us on a given day in these difficult times. i went on about a propensity for letting things just roll off my back, making things ok, not speaking up – for myself – as often as i would wish or as often would seem apt. in my wild and wooly meltdown, i complained that others can do this and often do this – speak up, push back, say things are not ok – without incident, without remorse, without punitive measures, without concern. i stated examples in that way you do when you are ranting; there are many words you speak asfastasyoucan to make sure the other person keeps listening and there are also many punctuation words you linger on, stretching out the sound of them on your lips, exquisite cuss words that seem fitting at the time. these are not necessarily pretty, but they are definitely handy at providing emphasis. i ranted about neighbors playing music at absurd decibels in a house-dense community. i ranted about the internet and streaming and ridiculously small music royalties, an industry for independents, flailing. i ranted about my right hand’s range of motion plateau. i ranted about speaking up for myself and my rights as a woman, my rights as a professional, my rights as an employee. i ranted about not saying “no”. i ranted about losing my job. i ranted about those who claim to be caring and compassionate not even entertaining having any kind of discussion or dialogue. i ranted about ill-suited leaders in leadership positions, seemingly not being held answerable. i ranted about hypocrisy. i ranted about people’s silent complicity. i ranted about wanting to retort to others about their stance on politics, on gender and racial equality, on the pandemic, on climate change, on gun violence and gun control. i ranted that, even sans retort, even in even-keeled, calm, cool, collected and researched manner, it would be next to impossible to navigate debate. i ranted about the abyss in our nation that makes it impossible to have an intelligent, thoughtful and respectful conversation without vile getting in the way. i ranted about the inability for people to see things together. i ranted about missing my sweet babycat. i returned to the top, taking a breath and again ranted that others seem to do and say whatever they please, despite fallout or impact on others, despite truth or consequences, without care and with agenda, without benevolence and with mean-spiritedness, without kindness and with a lack of sensitivity. i ranted that i could not continue this way. i ranted, “if i can’t at 62, when is it that i can???” can’t what? can what? i’m not even sure i know. ranting is like that.
it would seem that possibly a kelp forest off the coast, deep dives with a weight belt, times of holding one’s breath minutes at a time might aid in establishing some sort of common ground. it worked for craig foster and his fantastic octopus. he carefully, and without antagonizing her or scaring her or moving too quickly, watched her in her short life. he passively, without interfering or having self-serving agenda, watched her deal with day-to-day life, with adversity, with terror, with the pecking order that comes in the ocean. he watched her gracefully and intelligently co-exist with stunning creatures of the sea. he was saddened when she was hurt; he mourned her when she died. relationship. a kinship crossing natural boundaries.
we humans…we have much to learn. we have brains that refuse to look for new factual knowledge, hearts that refuse to respect all love as love, eyes that refuse to attempt empathy or fairness and see what others see. maybe we should spend some time immersed in the vast ocean, in a kelp forest. or maybe we should try harder. or maybe we should spend some time answering the important questions of our hissy fits.
the snow was untouched. our steps, way over our boots, made the first tracks and it’s visible in the photograph where we chose different paths, where we broke off and went different ways. across the snowy field we trod, heading north, heading south. our tracks would not cross again unless we turned, faced and walked toward each other. otherwise, they would not. a snow-simple illustration of division, an illustration of disunity, of not walking together, of estrangement.
having just passed by the second senate impeachment trial for the person who used to be the president of this country, no far-reach into the recesses is necessary to exemplify this quote or this photograph. without getting into the nitty-gritty details, and gritty they are, the insurrection at the capitol was ghastly. but the incitement of the fervor and the lack of responsibility placed upon the powerful inciters was egregious. the positioning of those grasping onto their jobs rather than their integrity was appalling yet predictable. the snowfield was divided; a chasm of incoherent morality between the tracks of those who walk in capitol halls. the evil remains, sticking to the floor, the walls, the offices, the grand rooms…in all the places that people-who-did-nothing occupy, in the air of the complicit.
momma would say, “speak up!” and speak up i did.
in the late 70s i spoke up. there was a man, a leader, who was sexually abusing young women in my town, me included. i spoke up. i spoke out. i reported it to the people-in-charge, to the parents of these young girls, to the authorities. it was a different time for victims of molestation and it is revolting that this man was never held responsible for the way he changed each life including mine, a forever arc of impact. though his hideous actions remain unpunished, and his threats on my life back then were terrifying, it would seem that at least some of the evil moved on in the rush of air that speaking up provides. impacted forever but not silent, not in dark shadows of aloneness. you simply cannot watch someone do evil and do nothing about it. even when you are in some way imperiled. even when it’s scary.
momma said, “speak up!” and speak up i do.
and i wonder. i wonder about people who don’t, who watch evil and do nothing about it, who hunker down and just mind their own business, who figure that anything that doesn’t directly affect them doesn’t really matter, who get lost somewhere in the chasm of incoherence. those not willing to ask questions, not willing to speak up, to speak out, to speak for, to speak against. or, worse yet, those who are propelling falsehoods further into the world, never pondering their actions or the actions of leadership, never measuring them against truth. i wonder what they would do were they to personally feel the assault of evil – anywhere on the spectrum of questionable to inappropriate to shockingly grievous. i wonder why they jump on unlabeled bandwagons to mystery destinations alongside people-with-authority-but-without-veracity, people-with-authority-but-without-moral-compass, people-with-authority-and-with-unchecked-personal-agenda.
i wonder why they trek through the snow, never turning to face in, never trying to come together, to challenge evil, to reconcile, to unify.
it is doubtful – even maybe unthinkable – that this same post from a recent CNN article, a quote by Katherine Heigl, would read, “i may have said a couple things you didn’t like, but then that escalated to ‘HE’S ungrateful,’ then that escalated to ‘HE’S difficult,’ and that escalated to ‘HE’S unprofessional.'” and why is that?
when is the last time you experienced gender bias? when is the last time you experienced gender discrimination? when is the last time ‘preferential treatment’ wasn’t referring to you? when is the last time someone thought it was ok to speak condescendingly to you? when is the last time you were the target of harassment? when is the last time you were the recipient of inappropriate diminishment at work? when is the last time your employer made it clear to you that you were dispensable? like katherine heigl, when is the last time you were told you were ungrateful? when is the last time you were told you were difficult? when is the last time you were told you, as a professional, were unprofessional? if you can answer these questions without a great deal of memory-culling, you are likely a woman.
so, why is this? why did a powerhouse actress have to endure this branding? why does any woman? in this article about ms. heigl, she stated, “the more i said i was sorry, the more they wanted it.” she continued, “the more terrified and scared i was of doing something wrong, the more i came across like i had really done something horribly wrong.”
endless and looping. created by a male-dominated system to hold powerful women, women-who-speak-up, women-who-make-a-difference, women-who-push-back, women-who-point-out-inappropriateness – in check.
and it still – even in 2021 – works.
in the cambridge english dictionary, gender bias is simple: “unfair difference in the way women and men are treated.”
according to a report by the united nations, in 2019 women held merely 28% of global managerial positions. astoundingly, this percentage 28% is nearly the same as in 1995.
wikipedia gives shape to gender bias: “leaders are expected to be assertive, so women who act in a more collaborative fashion are not viewed as leaders, but women who act assertively are often perceived as too aggressive.” what??!!
jennifer lawrence, in an article for harper’s bazaar said, “”i’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable! … i don’t think i’ve ever worked for a man in charge who spent time contemplating what angle he should use to have his voice heard. it’s just heard.”
how many times have you tried to have your voice heard? how many times have you reached out or responded in a nice-nice voice, the “adorable” voice (ala jennifer), in an effort to not escalate a situation? how many times have you alerted others to a predicament, yet they did not do anything to help? how many times have you been silenced, by the shushing of higher-ups, the lack of mature questions and answers, a conversation back and forth like all good chinwags, like all good and professional collaborations, or worse, the retaliatory actions of a superior? how many times have you been disregarded and scared?
meryl streep, interviewed in 2011, said,”no one has ever said to an actor, ‘you’re playing a strong-minded man’. we assume that men are strong-minded, or have opinions. but a strong-minded woman is a different animal.” why?
jennifer lopez railed, “i’ve always been fascinated about how much more well-behaved we have to be than men.”
michelle obama, during an interview in 2018, said, “keep fighting for gender equality, even if it makes people uncomfortable.” referring to the uptick of open and candid stories from the #metoo movement, she added, “the world is, sadly, a dangerous place for women and girls. and i think young women are tired of it. they’re tired of being undervalued. they’re tired of being disregarded.”
ariana grande, in her fight against patriarchy, is quoted, “the incredible double standards that we [women] face on a daily basis, in the industry and just in the world, it’s shocking.” she stokes hope, “i have a long list of things i’d like to change … i think, judgement in general. intolerance, meanness, double standards, misogyny, racism, sexism. … that’s what we need to focus on. we’ve got work to do.”
oprah winfrey is quoted, “i was once afraid of people saying, ‘who does she think she is?’ now i have the courage to stand and say, “this is who i am.”
my amazing and beautiful daughter, a professional coach and instructor, carried a tourist’s skis up a mountain the other day. she was also carrying her snowboard and i imagine the extra baggage was a bit cumbersome, but she recognized that this other woman needed a bit of help. she arrived at the top of the mountain to hear a man making fun of this woman’s husband for not carrying her skis. he referred to my girl as a “little snowboard instructor”. i can see her rolling her eyes from here, over a thousand miles away. she wrote on her IG that “girls gotta support each other when (they) can.” but, the icing on her gender-cake post?
she added, “also, i’m a strong little snowboard instructor, SIR.” yep. she is.
now we all need to be katherine or jennifer or meryl or j-lo or michelle or ariana or oprah and maybe we, too, will be heard. or maybe their words will help us all on this never-ending gender-journey. women helping women.
the cicada was silent, attached to the deck. it was late spring/early summer of 2015 and this insect had chosen our deck as its place of transition. we watched the shell, cautious to not disturb it, waiting for something to happen. until one day it began to emerge, looking much like an extra-terrestrial, wings of flight opening and drying in the sun of the warm day. it was a stunning process from nymph to adult, all silent, with no fanfare for this remarkable transformation. suddenly, this little being was present on the earth, ready to make some noise.
silence to noise – a transition from nymph to mature adult. a lesson, perhaps, for humanity.
our progression from without-words nymph-baby to with-a-voice mature adult, a transformation of growth, of learning, of critical thinking, of fortitude. as cicadas raise their voices to the sky, buzzing and clicking, choosing their song, their chorus wisely, they answer an intuitive call, they align in truth to their purpose, their place on earth. much the same perhaps should be mature adults – answering an intuitive call, choosing their song or chorus wisely, aligning in truth.
there are times we find ourselves in hush. stunned into silence by the words or actions of others, we sit, ensconced in the shell of our exoskeleton. we wait and we watch. and then, as we rise as winged and responsible people, we have the opportunity, the obligation, to speak – to speak up, speak out, speak for, speak against, speak to truth.
perhaps there are adults who have skipped their instar stages, those phases of development that insects pass through on their way to maturity. perhaps they should have lived underground like cicadas, feeding on roots, a bit longer before they emerged, before they walked on an earth where they felt they could use their words to hurt or harm others. perhaps then, after a slow transition into maturation and with no fanfare, they would choose their buzzing and ticking with more forethought, with more compassion, with more honesty, with more wisdom.
probably one of the most frustrating things in human community is the willingness for people to forego hard conversations and, instead, accept things as-is, invest in misinformation and make assumptions. toxic in almost every situation, assumptions are the stuff of poison apples and they will destroy everything in their wake.
a good old chinwag would do wonders for forward movement. people – together – back and forth – who are candid and honest, forthcoming and steadfast, who ask the hard questions and demand straightforward answers, who don’t leave out pertinent details, who expect truth and speak up, speak out, speak for, speak against, freely upfront.
a good old chinwag is a mature opportunity for growth, for learning, for progress. silence is the opposite – it is a wound that will fester, a mistake that will become exponential, an injustice that will become a wart, a carbuncle on the integrity of a community.
a good old chinwag is not easy. it is the stuff of bravery, the stuff of guts, of risk-taking, of fortitude and perseverance. it is the stuff of dedication to the bigger picture, to progress, to being proactive. it does not yell or scream; it is quietly respectful, using language of negotiation, of reconciliation, of courtesy, a deference to thoughtfulness.
a good old chinwag may lead to tears. it can be the stuff of renewal, of healing, re-establishing relationship, correcting wrongs. it can be the stuff of granting forgiveness and the stuff of receiving forgiveness. it can be powerful and it can be most tender. it can bring weeping into the back and forth, drowning out toxins and harvesting hope.
a good old chinwag can never be a bad thing. it can forge or strengthen mature friendships and dig deep foundations with honesty and candor. it can elicit change. it can revitalize and reinvigorate. it can rebuild.
a good old chinwag. simply caring enough to have a conversation.
you speak. i speak. you speak. i speak. back and forth.
there is nothing quite like the last strains of gabriel’s oboe(ennio morricone) falling into your heart. there is nothing quite like a break in lyrics, or like the moments after the words “and the world will be as one” (john lennon). in music the rests grant time for digesting, for processing, for evoking, for wrapping around you. it is golden time, those rests, and it makes everything else – all other notes, all harmony, all orchestration, all lyrics – make sense.
the music tells the story. it is honest and forthright; it is transparent. it does not suggest innuendo, nor does it allude or insinuate or imply. it does not squelch the truth or warp the narrative. one note follows another until it rests and gives the listener time to breathe, to catch up, to absorb it. its words – the notes that are played – are golden. its silence is golden. it is truth.
and – silence is not golden.
“listen to silence. it has much to say.” rumi may have been speaking of the silence of the snowfall, the silence of the sunrise. like the golden silence of music, these silences fall with grace. they are not silences with implication nor are they incendiary.
equally as powerful as graceful silences of rest is the silence of the person-who-does-not-speak who brings inference, who hints, who implies, who, because of a deliberate lack of words, causes others to jump to conclusions, to opine, to form judgements without the basis of knowledge. powerful seems the person who does not speak up, speak for, speak against, who remains silent, crediting correctness but acting out of intentional design. but this is not the power of rightness, despite any display of righteousness. it is not the power of the powerful; instead it is weakness.
to not speak up, to be silent. to not speak for, to be silent. to not speak against, to be silent. to not speak questions, to not speak objections. to not communicate in honest words, to sit in quiet insinuation, to encourage blind compliance, passive and complicit acceptance, blind trust, to encourage conjecture. weakness.
it is it is on our shoulders to choose our words carefully. it is also on our shoulders to choose our silences in that same way. should our public statements be rigorously measured by integrity and responsibility and truth? should they be steeped in justice and fairness and respect?
yes. they hear your words. and yes. they hear your silence.
“never be bullied into silence. never allow yourself to be made a victim. accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.” (harvey fierstein)
“to thine own self be true,” my sweet momma would say. she and harvey fierstein would have been pals. heck, i should be pals with harvey.
there is a cost. we all know that. coloring outside the lines requires sisu, gumption, chutzpah. speaking up, speaking out, speaking for, speaking against. a cost.
like you, i have been bullied into silence in my life. i have been harassed and i have been victimized. i have been liquified and poured into molds that don’t fit. i have been vaporized. i have allowed it. i have not allowed it.
i am a woman. and with that comes bullying, harassment, victimization. with that come molds, generalizations, inequalities, assumptions.
i am not naive enough to believe that were i to be a man i would never face any of these crushing blows. but i do believe that i would have faced seriously fewer.
it is not as likely, were i to be a man, that i would have been sexually assaulted at an innocent 19. it is not as likely, were i to be a man, that, in reporting the abuse of many underage young women, i would have my life threatened at 21. it is not as likely, were i to be a man, that i would have been scarily pursued by a man-with-a-foot-fetish at 35. it is not as likely, were i to be a man, that i would have been terrifyingly stalked at 50. it is not as likely, were i to be a man, that i would have been verbally and professionally assailed at 60.
were i to be a man, the men who wielded the power in each of these might have tucked his superman cape away, might have had a second thought, might have played out his control-game-fantasy somewhere else.
but i am a woman. and, for some reason deeply embedded in society, that changes the rules and empowers the mongers.