Empowerment through Language...

Friday, December 12, 2014

Neighbors - Old School

We got a lot of snow this week. I have a bad back. I didn't know if my plow guy would come because I am still working on paying off the bill from last winter. I just knew that there would be a way to deal with it and sometimes I wonder about my plan to grow old in this house, usually when the snow starts to fly. As the snow piled up, I saw my neighbor to the right shoveling his sidewalk and then mine. He and several of the other men who have rented rooms from him have kept my front walk clean for the last 4 years. Living alone, I have been most appreciative. I have reciprocated by making cookies, soups, and hand-knit hats.

Yesterday, the church mother of the church across the street got stuck in the snow trying to pull into the driveway that had not yet been plowed by their contractor. I texted my neighbor next door to ask for help for Ms. Dorsey, especially since his 23 year-old son just came back to the nest to regroup so I figured there was an able body available to aid the elder in need. Both father and son were soon bundled up and digging her out, then escorting her to the church door, bracing her arm to be sure she did not fall. Shortly thereafter, the son knocked on the door to say that he was going to dig my car out in the back driveway. How sweet.

Today, I saw that the city plow finally arrived on our side street, pushing heavy, wet snow and ice into the end of the driveways up and down the block. I grabbed the shovel and invited the dog to come out with me while I carefully dug out the drive, planning on being methodical to protect my back. The left neighbor's other son, a 10-year old with a clear passion for videogames, was in the front yard playing in the snow. It seems that piles of cold, fresh powder hold an even bigger attraction. As I started to chip away at the ice pack, he called out, "Do you want me to help you?" I accepted his offer and we started shoveling and chatting about games, the school cancellations this week, Santa, etc.

Across the street, Wayne, the plow contractor for the church, was digging out the sidewalks and access points since there is a big holiday party at the church tonight. His little John Deere front loader was getting a workout. He signaled to us, mere mortals, to stand aside and he headed into my driveway pile, then to the neighbor's. In exchange, he asked me and my able assistant to dig out the fire hydrant on the corner as our part of the deal. So the three of us, including Enza the snow dog, headed across the street to meet our end of the bargain.

We thanked Wayne, shook hands, introduced the dog to the young woman leaving the church who was visibly fearful of canines, trying to help her learn that not all dogs attack.

Then it was obviously time for snow angels, if you are 10. My young friend threw himself into the piles and the dog followed, burrowing for whatever was lurking under the surface. They played and played in the front yard and the back yard, the two of them snowy messes in no time. I left them to their play in back for awhile longer, until Enza decided that she was cold and she abandoned her playmate.  I gave him permission to come ask for Enza to play anytime he wanted to roll around in the snow with a four-legged friend.

When my neighbors to the left moved in this summer, I went over the first day to introduce myself and welcome them to the neighborhood. We had conversations throughout the summer about how neighbors used to be when we were young and I was able to say that, on this block, we still look out for each other. We have had many times to prove this to be true in these past 6 months. So today, spending time talking about life and being neighbors with the youngest son was the natural order. It is the only way I know to be. And tonight, I hope to be home from work in time to stop into the party at the church across the street. They are my neighbors too. And I know it will be festive. Maybe there will be food left too...

Monday, December 08, 2014

Teachers Leave Lasting Impressions

Miss Mt. Pleasant. Even her name was magic. Soothing. Safe. Something about the idea of a mountain of pleasant, of being a resident of that mountain was captivating for me. I loved my 2nd grade teacher very much. It was a new school, having moved to the east side in October, transferred into a new neighborhood, social structure, new friendships to forge, new territory to cross.

My journey to school had been two city blocks since kindergarten. Now it was 1.5 miles. Miss Mt. Pleasant, whose face I can barely imagine anymore, was welcoming and showed the smile of encouragement. It was the year of oral polio vaccinations at school, the introduction to Brownies, the first year of school fluoride treatments and hearing tests, the year of school savings accounts and little orange milk containers to collect change for Unicef as we trick-or-treated to help children less fortunate than ourselves. Everything was new. Everything was discovery. The first year of my family's own home, liberated from the apartment we had outgrown. The year before I started writing.

Miss Mt. Pleasant probably fueled that urge. Every day after lunch, when we returned from the playground or cafeteria if weather was dreadful, we started our afternoon's work with story time. Miss Mt. Pleasant opened to the next chapter of the book we were experiencing and filled us in on what happened next. She started with Charlotte's Web. She read Stuart Little. She read several other "classic" children's chapter books, one chapter per day, opening whole worlds to us of magical animals and puzzling circumstances. This is how I knew I wanted to be a reader - being a listener first.

One day, when it was dark early, I had to stay after school to write I will not talk in class  on the board 100 times in dusty white chalk. I don't remember what our how this came about exactly but I paid my penance. I was more concerned with the fact that I had disappointed my dear teacher, my school mommy, and that it had grown to be night outside by the time I finished.

At the end of the year, Miss Mt. Pleasant announced that she was not returning to Ed Smith in the fall. She was getting married. I was crestfallen. Knowing that I would not see her in the hall was crushing. The fact that she would become a Mrs. seemed like every girl's dream but, for me, it was sadness. She would no longer be She Who Dwells in the Pleasant Mountain. She would abandon her name, her identity, everything was subject to change in the act of marriage. Already, I understood that. 

And I knew I would miss her, I would endure another of a long stream of losses. But the books would always be waiting on the library shelf. The sound of the words would ever echo her voice from behind the heavy oak desk in front of the window that opened to Lancaster Avenue and the blue sky beyond. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Image Is Everything

Daytime television is populated with powerful, impressive women hosting countless talk shows going over the same issues and welcoming the same thread of actors, singers, You Tube celebrities all on the stump for some product that they give away to the studio audiences, who scream and jump up and down hugging each other, on the brink of tears for a CD from some teen idol or a copy of Twilight - The Nth Degree.

I often work at home and have some form of media on to keep me company, providing background while I sit at my screen on whatever project needs my attention. The noise can be deafening. The same with many late-night shows. Why are we a nation of screamers?

More importantly, what is the image of woman that the media project? One cell phone carrier depicts a group of Anglo women, obviously beyond their twenties, obviously not hurting for income, at a party huddled in a circle squealing about getting a new iPhone. It is completely unbecoming in so many ways I cannot even begin to address.

Since I was a child, I recognized that the women in t.v. commercials were always attractive but often married to men who were dumpy and demanding. That has not changed, in spite of the women's movement.

The images of woman in media have offended me for a very long time. In situation comedies, we are harpies nagging children and mates, or hypersexualized free agents on the prowl. In magazines, we are starving ourselves alongside
sumptuous recipes.

The profile of Black women is no more flattering in offering accepted stereotypes who roll their eyes, muttering "UNH HUNH..." or who go off on some unsuspecting other fictional character for little reason. So much less than the sisterhood of amazing women I know.

Asian women are depicted as meek and silly or raging tiger moms, rather than the physicists, doctors, professors, nurturing mothers, and engineers I know. 

Latinas are distinguished by their accents, their tits, demanding mothers, and their less than satisfactory husbands. Not the teachers, social workers, poets, artists, and physicians in my social circle.

Where in the pie chart are the Native women who are present throughout the continent the dominant culture stole from them? Even when the demographics are presented by people of color, the Native representation is rarely included. There is little representation of indigenous women in entertainment, at least since the ever-patient Marilyn withstood Dr. Joel's constant whine of insult on Northern Exposure. I loved that show but, if I were Marilyn, I would have lost my temper at some point. I am a lesser woman than she was written to be.

I bailed from watching the second season of The News Room, not because the story line was not compelling but because Aaron Sorkin is no better than Judd Apatow at writing realistic dialogue for female characters. He is sure to have a number of strong women in powerful roles but let one of the men they are sleeping with (or hoping to) walk into the scene and fierce, independent humans become whiny, simpering dolts. It is insulting.

And I haven't even considered the reality show image of women as raging harpies or sex-crazed drunks, much less a mother who marries sexual predators.

Do we really want to be remembered by the characters in the endless stream of chick flicks that perpetuate the falsehood of the Cinderella myth? Do we really want to accommodate this view of who we are, or encourage children to emulate the sexualized profile of the singers they see on screens before them. Even Dancing with the Stars barely covers the female form and they have to dance with men who forgot to cover their torsos.

I have a large circle of astounding, talented, brilliant women, many of whom are unmarried. Many of us have never married and are childless. We are professionals. We are artists. We are independent. We weigh more than 90 pounds and sometimes leave the house without "putting on our faces." The married women I know are vibrant and giving, more often than not working full time, adding to society as well. The mothers I know are doing their best to raise conscious humans in the face of all the brainwashing while also being whole beings themselves, and exhausting themselves in trying to be the superwoman we all must project. This is the result of the conflict between the women's movement and the proliferation of Martha Stewart and her ilk.

Can any of us make all of our own clothes, grow organic gardens, label the shelves in the linen closet in hand-scrolled labels, raise the perfect children, make our own party invitations, invent a signature cocktail, and look spectacular for an occasional date, while we also bring home the bacon?

Women are more than what media tells us we are. We are whole, creative, thinking, feeling beings who represent more than half the populace on the planet and we are being kept in our "place" by conditioning. Our sisters in other parts of the globe are violently subjugated. We must be strong and break the false mirror. The matriarchy is on the rise and we are taking our planet back...or so I hope.        


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sometimes It Is So Simple...

On most Saturdays, just before noon, I am in my office at the YMCA's Downtown Writers Center anticipating the stream of middle- and high school writers who will burst in the door for their weekly 2-hour workshop at our Young Authors Academy. Some of these young talents have been attending since our inception in February 2012, some of them are new to the program this fall. All of them have the need to write in common. Just as their instructors have answered the call during our lives, these are true writers who surrender fully, sometimes obsessively. They are diverse and vibrant, eager and pensive. All have a flair for language and are good listeners. They are generous in their responses to each other's work and keen in their observations of the writing pieces shared at the table. They are supportive and generally really good to each other. It is a joy to witness, much less facilitate.

One thing they seem to have in common is a fascination for writing with blood, gore, and guts ... mysteries, alien adventures with gruesome hand-to-hand conflict, vampire encounters full of foreboding, zombie massacres, fairy tale characters facing certain dangers. They are fully engaged in each other's tales of mutilation and shock. Oddly, I find it humorous, as do they. They love it! They laugh! And they tell each other what they think should happen next, riffing off each other and the myriad television shows and YA novels that fuel their plots and characters.

One of our younger writers declared that her parents are growing concerned that she writes so much murder. But this is common for the age group and does not reflect that either the young ones are particularly depressed beyond typical pre-teen/teenage angst or poised to harm themselves or anyone else. Still, yesterday, as the subject came up again, and after a series of responses to the daily writing prompt reflected either depression or death, I asked why their work was so focused. It was a great conversation that started with acknowledging themselves that they are formulating a new, maturing awareness of death as an inevitable in life as well as a continual backdrop in both literature and media.

One pointed out that Shakespeare dwelled in the depths of loss and murder, as have most other "greats" in literature, with a simple postscript, I mean ... Romeo and Juliet ... HELLOOOO!"

Another declared herself an atheist and that death is a necessary knowledge and that she took solace in the thought that there is nothing after this. Another stated he did not really know what it all meant or if there was a heaven. He wasn't sure what he believed and was not certain there was a definitive answer.

The girl who stated earlier that her parents are growing concerned stated that she writes about death so much probably because she is afraid of it. This was a remarkable self-reflection for any of us but for someone of such youth to be pondering the big blank slate of loss and afterlife, it was very astute.

The conversation also gave this young woman a chance to honor the memory of someone very close to her but no longer living. She was able to move into sharing details of the person she loved deeply who was now a memory and a hole in the heart. She was fully open and honest and every other person around the table gave her all the time she needed to speak her truth. One of her colleagues suggested that we all do meditative breathing to clear the room before we all left, leading us, Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth ... again, in through the nose, out through the mouth as the room filled with our warm air mingling with the soft etude of tears as everyone consoled their friend with the respect of simply hearing her.

The clock indicated we were at the end of our session. Everyone sprang to the door, returned to their exuberant chatter, met their families in the library to head back out into the world. There were some reassuring hugs. It was real. It was honest. It was an honor to witness. Next week, they have the day off to crash from Halloween mayhem and sugar highs. In 2 weeks, they will stream in again with stories to share and blood to let on blank pages that are ready for their words.