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.”
“will you get to watch any fireworks?” she texted.
our city has spectacular fireworks. for over three decades i have marveled at the extent of the fourth-of-july display over lake michigan, sitting on the rocks along the shore, in the parks along the lakefront, down by where they set them off by the harbor. the fantastic light show goes on for about a half hour, culminating with a finale that bursts open the sky with color.
this city has a festival down by the lake, a carnival in the downtown, food vendors and dock-jumping-dogs and lots of music. there are children with ice cream cones melting on tiny fingers, bubble machines making iridescent bubbles float all around passersby, red, white and blue tchotchkes/chotchkes/chachkis on carts and people, bike parades with flags and streamers. there are hot dogs and brats sizzling, cheese curds and funnel cakes, lemonade and icees and dippin’ dots. there is no shortage of fun celebration and it’s all right there, within walking distance.
but in this day and age…
we won’t be going to watch the fireworks. this will be the fourth year now.
in 2019 we had just moved on island and didn’t leave dogdog and babycat during the display; they were adjusting to a new house as it was and we had no idea how loud the fireworks would be.
the city cancelled the fireworks in 2020; the global pandemic was early-on and there was a healthier respect for distancing.
last year, following the insurrection at the nation’s capitol, along with little to no leadership-held-responsible-for-all-of-that or any accountability, we stayed home.
and in this day and age…
we will stay home again. for the farcical supreme court has begun absolutely dismantling the freedoms that we are supposed to be celebrating. extremism and religious right are suffocating citizens of this country, thwarting the ability to live freely and make one’s own decisions. equality is going the way of centuries ago. discrimination is rising up, like fog on a wind-shifting hot summer’s day over the great lake. gun violence is dramatically increasing and, yet, guns are not limited. the extreme climate crisis is heaved off to the side in favor of big business; the epa is undermined and our children’s futures will feature many more “air quality alerts” than we could ever imagine, not to mention the global warming fallout from fossil fuel emissions. we watch lake mead drop and drop. we read of the po river in italy receding, lives substantially and critically affected. we see that australia is under water and that there are red flag warnings across the southwest – fires will be prevalent as the heat is heating up. the relationships between countries are strained. politics are warped. politicians play on stages of self-agendized blather. there is a lack of responsibility. there is a bigger lack of looking out for the big picture, the long haul, the world that will be inhabited by the children of our children’s children. kindness, consideration, compassion are looked at as weakness. we are flabbergasted at the stupidity. more, we are incredulous at the lack of people to see the stupidity. it seems the more clownish, the more vile, the more popular. it seems that evil lurks. and i wonder about the hypocrisy of watching fireworks while there are people quietly – and not so quietly – undermining democracy. we could ignore it all and go cheer – as loud as my sweet momma used to cheer – at the fireworks. or we could take a pause.
our old backyard neighbor played two things in their backyard. one was the soundtrack for “mamma mia” and the other was an album of john philip sousa marches. never insanely loud back then, both made us smile. a relationship three decades long.
but in this day and age, there are multitudes – truly multitudes – of children in that yard out back, a yard equipped with every single thing any generous public playground might have: full-size batting cage, full-size trampoline, three soccer nets, a basketball court, zipline, fort, swingset, sandbox, large plastic toys, atvs to ride, bikes, balls, bats, rat-a-tatting big toy guns and a new mysterious large wooden structure being built back along our lot line, where they can’t hear it or see it from their house, like most of the other entertainment devices in the large yard. apparently not at all conscious of the it’s-a-neighborhood-you-live-in-a-community philosophy, surrounded by people who have actually resided right here for decades, they play loud music through outdoor speakers so the whole neighborhood can hear – though no one gets a vote on what’s played – and the children have a spicy – and foul – vocabulary and bloodcurdling screams they don’t hesitate to use. demonstrating antagonism seems the way in this land beyond the dead arbor vitae. goodness! when did the rules of neighborhood – the rules of neighboring – change? did they not watch mr. rogers? parents need remember children are always watching their lead. likewise, leaders need remember citizens are always watching their lead. and how precisely did we get here?
this day and age.
we could make a big pitcher of iced water with slices of orange and lemon and grill some (plant-based) burgers, play a little music – at an appropriate volume – and watch our new pampas grass grow. we could admire our newly-cleaned garage or the new green blades growing in the haynet out front. we could paint rocks to hide on our trail or plant a few flowers. we could speed-dial fred rogers. all are quite likely. well, except for fred.
and we could go see the fireworks.
but we won’t.
not in this day and age.
though it will be a statement we make only to ourselves, it will be comforting to dogga for us to stay home.
besides, some things are just too much. in this day and age.
enough was a long time ago. enough was after the first mass shooting. “enough” is no longer relevant.
i hardly know what to say. every one of us in this country should be shocked into exhausted, sickened silence and then pushed into action, no longer sloughing off of the actual responsibility to protect the citizens of this land from the barrel of a gun, from the devastation of people’s lives blown apart.
this spacious-skies-amber-waves-of-grain united states is an embarrassment. the freedom to live life – at school, at church, at a concert, at the movies, in the mall, at the club, at the grocery store – the freedom to continue breathing is usurped by powerful money-rich-control-hungry leaders – voted into office, no less – with not even a nod to the sanctity of lives taken at gunpoint.
it is utterly shameful if you are not filled with rage, if you are not horrified with the guns in this land and those who support the exponential growth and prioritizing of their presence and the power they wield. they will utter their passive “heartfelt” “thoughts and prayers” and will soon forget their “outrage”. until the next time.
clearly, he is an instigator. just the mere suggestion that he’d be ok with registering a complaint, asking for a refund, asking to speak to management sets me in motion. i am not afraid to speak up in these situations. it’s writing-a-letter (ala my sweet momma’s chutzpah) but in person. i’m the one who goes to the service desk. i’m the one who asks for the discount. i’m the one who returns stuff. i’m the one who will go back and let someone know that their product/service/pricing was not acceptable. he shudders. he set me in first gear and released the clutch; he knows there is no stopping. there have truly been times when he will linger at the sidelines of a store simply while i return something – like chicken that was spoiled when we purchased it or something even easier – like dog food when i meant to buy cat food but the dog food package was on the cat food shelf. i mean, c’mon…that is not a big deal nor is it fodder for embarrassment, but he just sort of wanders off, a little spacey, sometimes like a toddler in a department store playing hide-and-go-seek in the rounders of displays. ahhh.
and let me just say – the aarp discount is a thing, though. i will ask ANYwhere if they offer the aarp discount. you would be surprised how often the answer is yes. you should check it out. it’s a deal. the first day i purchased an aarp membership i booked hotel reservations and saved twice as much as i had just spent on the membership fee. a deal, yes?
a long time ago my sweet poppo was the regional president of the aarp chapter. my parents went to aarp conventions and conferences all over. they were avid aarp-ers. he would be happy with my dedication to his cause.
because i was the product of older parents, i read modern maturity magazine well before my time. even now, i thoroughly enjoy the revised, renamed aarp magazine. great articles. many that are empowering. particularly about speaking up. asking for better service. getting a discount. free cups of coffee. starting a ruckus.
when i was little, going over bridges made me nervous. not because i was afraid of heights or because i was wary of infrastructure and thought it would fall down, but because i was nervous about not being able to get back. something about going over bridges made me feel like there was no way back, especially if we were heading in the wrong direction, taking a wrong turn. i did not like to feel lost.
texas is lost. they have traversed a bridge that appears to be a hellish dead end and, i fear, with no way back. the new abortion law in texas that the governor has touted is a despicable piece of legislation, currying to the favor of men and full-scale demeaning women. that the governor would couch this as concern for the “sanctity of life” elicits a visceral response, a sickened-gut feeling. that the governor would ignorantly speak to the six weeks of freedom-to-decide as plenty, as generous even, is a slap in the face of every woman in his state. that he would put a bounty on the heads of anyone helping in this situation is disgusting wild west gunfire into the crowd.
people have spoken since this decision with more eloquence than i might muster at this moment, but it would seem that every one every where needs to speak up. as more governors make moves to further control the rights of women, we need to – we must – speak up, speak out. the ironies stacking up are deplorable piles of dung as we sit and watch legislation and policy skewed against any kind of gender equality being written, being celebrated, being enacted. sanctity is not in the building.
i read an article about the use of words in statistics. number of girls and women raped. number of girls and women sexually assaulted. number of girls and women harassed. number of pregnant teenage girls. violence against women. the use of the passive construction – noting that these descriptors don’t state the number of boys and men who raped women or assaulted women or harassed women or impregnated women or were responsible for violence against women literally shifts the focus off the guilty parties, pretends that these things have simply happened to women.
it’s hard not to be hugely cynical, disenchanted, about a country that clearly measures women’s rights differently than it measures men’s, that cares about women differently than it cares about men. once again, that yardstick is two-headed and those wielding it speak out of both sides of their mouths.
cynical. disenchanted. yes. these words. from desiderata they seem so hopeful, yet… “neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.”
perennial. usually a positive word. perennial flowers. perennial love. yet, in the docket of these days, what is perennial is the absolute denial of respect and rights for women. it is tiresome to watch the constant lostness. instead of bridges to better times, better health, equality and respect for all, a lifting up of those oppressed, bridges are being built to places of continual control, to power unleashed over others, to inequity and doubletalking agenda – with no way back.
it’s no wonder why i didn’t like bridges when i was little. no-way-back is a terrifying place, for a little girl and for a country.
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.
“it actually doesn’t take much to be considered a difficult woman. that’s why there are so many of us.”(jane goodall)
and because of just exactly this, i will tread lightly as i write.
for the rules are still different in this world – the rules for men, the rules for women. the word “difficult” – and arriving at the word “difficult” – should present its own debate. how does one get this label, one would ask. does difficult mean speaking up, speaking out? does difficult mean raising the bar on expectations? does difficult equate with uncompromising? is agile adaptability difficult? does talent or education or expertise or experience make one difficult? is difficult attached to success? does difficult mean not accepting discriminatory treatment? is difficult shunning a lack of respect or other indignities? does difficult mean pointing out the lack of transparency in an organization, an institution, a company? does difficult mean urging truth? does difficult mean following process? does difficult mean requesting financial equity between genders, between races? does difficult mean asking to be rewarded on one’s merits? does difficult mean asking hard questions? does difficult mean – heavens forbid – talking back? does difficult mean suggesting change? does difficult describe “good trouble“?
do those things applied to a woman make her difficult? do those things applied to a man make him difficult? is the measuring stick different? might there be a double standard? just where is the dividing line and why is there one?
if indeed those define “difficult”, i’d further suggest that a difficult man is considered a powerhouse, a strong leader, a go-getter whereas a difficult woman is considered, well, difficult, out-of-line, disrespectful, even egregious.
jane goodall is right. it doesn’t take much to be considered a difficult woman. not back in the day. not now.
and for that, i would hope that all women would get mighty difficult.
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.
in kindergarten, i watercolor-painted an image of my mom. there was no mistaking her, of course. to my eyes, it looked exactly like her and i was proud as could be when she later turned my masterful painting into a tile to hang on the wall of the kitchen next to the tiled artistic expressions of my big sister and my big brother. now i wonder as i look at the photograph of this artist-sans-maestro image. why did i paint my sweet momma with two distinctly different length arms? was i proportion-inept? was i image-to-paper incapable? was i running out of room on the page in-between all the birds? maybe, oh maybe, i was just not a gifted five-year-old-watercolorist. despite all its shortcomings, my sweet momma carried that tile-painting from one house to the next to the next to the next to the next to the last. as i glance at the art of my children around me – the hand-drawn childhood notes framed on my bedside table, the painted fish-rock on the kitchen windowsill, the handmade signs in my studio – i understand her fierce everlasting dedication.
this snowman seems the snow-replication – at least arm-wise – of my ‘beautiful’ mom-painting. i don’t think i ever painted my mom in a solo piece again after kindergarten. i’m sure i painted my family, my house, my pets, flowers and sky and horses. but i didn’t paint any more portraits. no, it didn’t seem like i was gifted in any way in a depiction of a real person on canvas or paper. but i would hasten to add that i easily have portraited my mom in a million other ways.
she is in music i have written, in photographs i have taken. she is in the branches i have dragged out of the woods and the rocks that have been collected in backpacks. she is in the memories that swirl in antique shoppes and in table coffee-sitting. she is in words i speak and expressions on my face. she is in my mind’s eye, my thready heart and in that little voice in my head. she is in the letters i write and the upside-down shampoo bottles and the homemade chicken soup in my stockpot. she is in the way i push back against inequality, the way i rail against wrongdoing. she is in the merry morning sunshine and the stars that glitter at night, begging attention.
and she is in this tiny snowman we built on a bench in southport park on a snowy day in february, proportionately-inappropriate arms and all.