March Madness is a crazy time, a neither/nor time. Neither winter nor spring. An in-between time. Neither asleep nor awake.
Mad March targets the tales of those who hide behind the shroud of surety and secrets, takes hold of souls wrapped in remnants of reason, sending them into the mad March wind, freeing the poet’s wonder to unseat what is mean, what is mad, what is best left to the whinings of past seasons gone to seed. Beware the March Hare, unless she is your cup of tea.
The Big Picture these days is like a Gordian Knot. From the domination of the patriarchy and its greed for power and resources, to the negation of any kind of true social and legal justice, fixing the Big Picture is going to take public persistence, strategic action, and (ultimately) creative cooperation to either unravel or discard the current system.
As a White, progressive, middle class extended family, we support working toward re-building our society into a world view that values all life, that prioritizes ethics, equity, compassion, and diversity, and that supports the development of the best of human potential to solve problems in ways that meet the needs of all sentient beings. We make an effort to find common ground – even with antagonists – as a starting point, and often that starting point begins in learning about, understanding, and accepting the truth of each person’s personal journeys and experiences. But too often antagonists don’t want to find common ground, and so there is no place to start or proceed, especially since we are living in a world that seems to have lost all shades of gray.
Decades ago, my (now) adult son was mugged and beaten by three men of color who robbed him of the meager amount that was available via his ATM. Because he was nurtured to understand the influence of the local environment in which these men most likely lived, he was able to move beyond anger and “hate”. As an adult, autistic and afraid of violence, he still lives his life committed to social justice and intersectionality. The road he travels is bumpy, indeed. But he persists in the best way he is able: by intelligent research,analysis, and writing.
When my grandson was 7 or 8 (he is now 17), he became enamored of firemen and their uniforms. Every week, he visited our local fire station, getting to know the firemen personally. Finally, they gave him a discarded uniform, including sections of the hose. He was so excited, he even wore the stuff grocery shopping.
I suppose his love of “costumes” was reinforced by the fact that we are a family with some history in theatrical performance, and his progression into costumes of “authority” was fueled by his feeling secure and protected when he wore them – fire fighter, EMT, detective, police, Dr. Who, Jedi.
So, despite all of his commitment to fairness, ethics, justice, and the goals of Black Lives Matter, and despite his acknowledgment that our system of policing needs to be overhauled, he cannot ignore his empathy toward the plight of some law enforcers – the cop who gets shot and leaves a wife and baby behind; the cop who doesn’t come forward and report unnecessary police violence because he is afraid his partner won’t give him the backup he might need in violent situations; the cop who needs his job to support his extended family.
In addition, my grandson is involved with an online game along with a young POC policeman from the Midwest who has become his friend. That cop has an unmarked police car that is his to drive and even take home. But he does not want to park that car in his driveway because he is afraid to make it public that he is a cop; he is afraid of his family being victimized by opposition forces.
The backlash my grandson gets from his “social justice warrior” friends when he tries to explain his feelings about the police, in his words, “hurts his soul.” But he perseveres in trying to explain why he feels the way he does.
We talk about these things over the dinner table. I tend to come down on the radical side of issues. He is a reminder to me not to forget that each individual has a personal history that is often ignored by critics – a history that might have room for some deserved “walk a mile in his shoes” empathy.
Many of today’s police are trained to believe they must be invincible and to accept violence in order to survive. In some ways, they are victims, whose own fears and bigotries have been co-opted to support a narrow view of law and order. My grandson reminds me that there often are understandable reasons why many of today’s police do what they do; there are understandable reasons why some folks are driven to rob convenience stores, at lethal gunpoint, for basic necessities. To keep our humanity, our empathy, strong, we need to be able to see some gray within all of the overwhelming “either/or” culture.
While Rudyard Kipling was a man with controversial political views, I am one of those who is able to look at art apart from the personal reputation of the artist. So I share with you a personally edited version of Kipling’s “If”, dedicated to my grandson. Edited pieces are in bold.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it all on you
If you can trust yourself when all folks doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And not worry if you seem too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings And move beyond the stress of loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all folks count with you, and some too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ of your soul beguiled, Your love of life will have no limit, And you’ll find your destined place, my child.
I invite any readers to open a discussion of what I wrote here (harkening to the style of the original “blogosphere.”) Or at least leave a comment.
Of course, I’m late again. Of course I’m still trying to get my crazy sleep schedule under control. Of course I’m eating too much chocolate. Of course I’m still experimenting with medical marijuana, which is the only thing that can get me to fall asleep. Last night, I put some alcohol tincture in a glass with V8 juice. It tastes like a Bloody Mary.
It still took at least an hour for me to fall asleep, so while I was lying there, I listened to one of my playlists on Spotify. It includes most of the songs I liked over the past 50 years. As I listened, I realized that I could put the songs in an order that reflected where I was in my life at the time each song was popular. I might try to do that at some point.
Listening to each song brought back very specific feelings, some of which I wish I could choose to forget. I have always tended to make choices based on what I wanted or needed. It’s not that I didn’t consider the wants and needs of others involved; but, ultimately I did what I wanted.
When I lie in bed at night, waiting for the THC to kick in, I let each song take me back, like the images in a photo album, to past places. When my mind reviews what my life was like each time, I feel regret. Regret about how little I understood myself and what little wisdom I had. Regret that I never learned how to “plan” — financially, physically, inter-personally. Regret that many of my choices negatively affected other people. Regret that I must have been very emotionally immature.
Throughout these 80 years I never set long-term goals, but rather I took advantage of opportunities (which worked out fine as far as my various careers, but not so fine in terms of my various relationships.)
It’s obvious to me, now, that the men with whom I chose to have a relationship were chosen because I knew they would not be around long. (The exception was my late ex-husband, but that’s a whole other story.) I knew, instinctively, how to get them to leave when I was ready to move on. In the meanwhile, each contributed, in his own way, to something I wanted or needed in my life. (Perhaps I also knew, instinctively, that there was no one man who could give me all I thought I needed; and now I see that I didn’t particularly care what they needed as well.)
From the perspective of decades, I am finally realizing several things: I am a bit of a narcissist; I am good at manipulating situations and people; I need people more than they need me; I like beginnings and endings and don’t do well keeping things going in the middle; I never knew who I really was. I’m not sure I even do now.
“It was fun while it lasted.” I guess I could say that about many periods of my life, especially when it comes to relationships with men.
I am thinking about that as I read Jack’s obituary. Our relationship lasted about three years, back in the 80s, and it was fun while it lasted. One of the legacies of that relationship, oddly enough, is friendships I formed with a couple of the women whom he dated after me. He had a knack for seeking out smart, creative women.
I kept in touch with Jack on and off over the decades. When, after he moved to Portland OR and my pedestrian son needed a ride from the oral surgeon’s office, I called Jack and he took care of it all. He was a good, imperfect guy. I am glad that I knew him and sad that he is gone.
More than ever, these days, I am painfully aware of the relentlessness of time – which really does seem to accelerate as one ages. And, here I am, at age 78, still trying to figure myself out as those relentless sands continue to carry me along.
It is all about the journey. Slogging through the sands of time. It’s all about the metaphors. Baba Bogina. The Raven. The knight with the swan helmet crest.
My Jungian therapist often uses “sand play” to stir and spur our conversations. I find that I intuitively pick out figures for the sand play without consciously knowing why. And then we work on the why.
I am still pondering why I chose the warrior with the swan helmet crest. It is the only figure I chose that was not obviously either male or female. Its face and body are covered with armor. Its stance can be interpreted as aggressive, defensive, or protective. It is blocking my path. Welcoming? Warning? And then there’s that anomalous spread-winged swan sitting on the top of its head.
My therapist did some searching before I had a chance to, and she send me a link that explained: a medieval tale about a mysterious rescuer who comes in a swan-drawn boat to defend a damsel, his only condition being that he must never be asked his name.
Does that help or not. I don’t know. I will need to ponder this a lot more as I wait for some synchronicity to spark an epiphany.
Is there someone on my path waiting? To lead me to the authentic “me”? To accompany me for a while on my journey? Or is it me in there, under the armor, my wings wanting to escape the hold of the protective helmet.
This is what my “journey” looked like in sand play.
Tonight I watched the film version of Euripedes’ Trojan Women that featured Katherine Hepburn as Hecuba, Queen of Troy, who was given no choice but to watch while her city, her countrymen and women, and her family were ravaged by men of great ego and little else. They took everything from her that they could — her birthright, her identity, her freedom. But what they couldn’t take from her was her voice.
I watched the film with a group of women called together by my therapist friend in ritualized support of one of those woman — an American nurse suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as result of her expriences in Viet Nam. We were there to help her give voice to her painful memories, to rage and cry out and vocalize whatever was staying stuck so painfully in the deep wounds of her soul. (Ritual, art, drama, healing: the legacy of Asclepius.)
ENOUGH! We wanted Hecuba to finally cry ENOUGH! We wanted the Trojan Women to all finally cry ENOUGH! But they didn’t, and so we all cried ENOUGH for all the times we didn’t — for all of the times that men and women of conscience do not cry ENOUGH loud ENOUGH for all of the times that men of great ego and nothing else continue to repeat and repeat, over and over again, the very same tragic scenario that Euripides so eloquently and dramatically and ritualistically unfolded all of those centuries ago. When will it be ENOUGH?
In the Middle East men of great ego and little else ravage and destroy what they cannot possess. In our very own America, men of great ego and little else take away everything from us that they can — expect us to watch and endure, like Hecuba. We are all Hecuba, watching, enduring, while men of great ego and little else ravage our liberties, our identities, the very planet that sustains us.
Where are our voices crying ENOUGH! ENOUGH! ENOUGH!
That sound has been a long-time coming, mostly because the cultural context for male-female interaction has been dominated by a male world view, a perspective influenced by both biological/hormonal as well as environmental/experiential histories. The myth of the superior Alpha Male, unfortunately, still endures in our society.
While some men continue to evolve beyond the influence of adolescent hormones and cultural aberrations and learn to interact with women as respected equals, others still cling to the mistaken notion that women are their inferiors and exist mostly as the means to fulfill their unrealistic fantasies. The worlds of sports, entertainment, and politics are well-populated with ego-driven men who relish asserting the power of their popularity and wealth. These men are many of the ones who are currently being “outed” for their long histories of sexually harassing women.
For women, sexual harassment ranges from an unwanted kiss or sexual comment, to the extremes of rape and pedophilia. But, it seems to me that it is unfair to judge the evil of all incidents of “sexual harassment” by the same standards.
Several years ago, when I volunteered in the Alzheimer unit at an upscale assisted living center, one sad 90 year old gentleman kept trying to pat my butt. Each time I saw him coming, I would try to grab his hand before it grabbed me. Sometimes I succeeded; sometimes I didn’t. He was 90 years old and suffering from dementia. I did not feel sexually harassed.
Like many of the men over 65, he grew up in a cultural context in which men expected men to “come on” to women as an assertion of their male egos. That is why the older politicians and entertainers who have been notorious for the sexual harassment of women don’t think it’s such a big deal. They don’t have a clue that the really big deal is that they never grew out of their limited understandings of women and never emotionally evolved into mature, responsible adults males. I can excuse (and gently correct) a 90 year old man with dementia when he makes a grab, because he is on the very low end of the harasser spectrum.
But It’s another thing to be a powerful elder male still engaging in sexual harassment (like Donald Trump and Roy Moore). It is also another thing to be a powerful elder male who did some stupid adolescent pranks in his early years, has proven that he has evolved way past that kind of behavior, and is embarrassed and apologetic about those past transgressions (like Al Franken). Punching someone is not as horrendous as murder; trying to kiss someone is not as bad as forcing more intimate sexual contact.
Most women neither expect nor want any of those advances, but, as we have been reading in countless current confessions, women usually feel powerless to resist, afraid to lose whatever the harassers had the power to take away from them.
For whatever reason, they didn’t slap their harassers when it happened, so they are slapping back now, loud and hard. They are setting an example for other women who felt and might feel powerless to tell their harassers to stop, to back off, to show respect and not condescension.
Oddly enough, I don’t remember ever being harassed, except maybe by the nuns in elementary school, who definitely felt obliged to assert their power over us puny kids in the most unappealing ways.
Maybe it was that I was careful to appropriately dress for every occasion, well aware of the visual signals that purposeful cleavage and a short, tight skirt tend to send to the eager male eye. That is not to say that I never used what limited assets I had to give those signals; but my doing so was a conscious choice, with a consensual expectation and an acceptance of responsibility for what came next.
And that is the responsibility that we women need to take for how we present ourselves to the world of the puerile assumptions of some males. We need to stand against misogyny where it surfaces, and discredit the advertising media that keeps presenting women as sexual objects and therefore encourages the cultural context that we need to reveal, revise, and reform, We need to engage life (as suggested by Camille Paglia) with wary vigilance, personal responsibility, and enough self-assurance to assert our right to hear the sound of our one hand, slapping.
Someone’s son huddles
gravely under desert rain.
restless as his heartbeat,
he waits for signs in the sky
to turn the taste of metal
in his mouth to blood.
leather jacketed, baseball capped,
takes her place in U.N. Square,
lights a candle against the wind, and
joins her voice to the hymn
that pulses like blood
through the streets, through the night,
through the weary dreams of men
reduced to war.
Someone’s daughter runs
from classroom through snow,
stuffs her duffel to bursting
with camouflage and conviction,
prays for the chance
to set the skies ablaze with truth.
At the table of her father’s house,
she waits for orders
and watches the colors of dawn
melt like blood into sand.
boards a bus at midnight,
sheathed in a confusion of
army surplus and disbelief.
He joins the dawn in Lafayette Park,
seeking solace – if not answers –
in the steady drum,
the solid hands,
the strong songs
of sons and daughters
refusing to bleed
for the dreams of weary men
reduced to war.
As I was strolling around my peaceful and gun-free, politically Republican neighborhood just now, I had this epiphany. Well, really, Freud had it before me, but sometimes a cigar IS more than just a cigar.
Posts on FB made me contemplate how I feel about guns – and penises. Because I don’t dislike either, and believe that each has a legitimate place in life. While I don’t want or own a gun, that has not been the case in my past life as far as penises go. But I really wouldn’t want to walk around the street seeing either of them hanging out of insecure men’s pants.
Guns and penises. Think about it (and I’m sure many psychologists continue to do so). Just the word “cock” brings up images of both artifacts. And you can use either to “shoot your wad.” Each can be used for violence, and it is usually men who use both for both.
They are both useful, in their place. And both can be dangerous in the wrong hands. (ahem)
I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as my research shows, all of the mass shootings and bombings in America have been perpetrated by men. (I think they were all white men, but that’s not the point here).
Penises and guns. I’d bet my bippy that men who are out-of-control gun fanatics also have some sort of issue about their penises. If you can’t shoot one as well or as often as you want to, how about shooting off the other. If you can’t display your penis in public because it’s illegal, then display your gun, right?
Oh, yes. Guns are fun to shoot. So is sex. But there is a time and a place.
I think it’s interesting that gun fanatics say “I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold dead hands.” I bet that they feel the same way about their penises.
Yes, there are plenty of women who like to shoot guns too. There is sense of power (I am told) in shooting off an automatic weapon. I understand needing to feel some kind of power in a culture that has made so many of us, men and women, feel impotent. Power and impotence. Guns and penises.
I have a 15 year old grandson, who plays Grand Theft Auto. I also have a daughter and son-in-law who continually have conversations with him about the the issue of guns and violence, and long ago taught him the difference between fantasy and reality. Actually, the three of them sometimes game together. But it’s their thing, not mine; I play Candy Crush Saga.
Guns and penises. I think there needs to be a whole lot more research into how their essences overlap.
Now, you might bring up the issue of breast feeding in public as some sort of parallel to guns and penises. I have my own middle-of-the-road feelings about that, too.
Because this blog focuses on the lives of American elder women in the last quarter of our lives I will not try to be overtly intersectional in specifically mentioning people of color, of poverty, with physical challenges, and who seek gender equality, because, in truth, “elder women in the last quarter of our lives” is intended to include all marginalized women in that age bracket. So, when I speak here, I speak from my own – somewhat privileged – experience. After all, I am white with a limited retirement income that I should be able to live within (with, granted, limited but livable choices).
Access to unlimited funds pretty much gives you unlimited choices because it eliminates one of the prime restrictions to making a choice: the money to pay for it and whatever consequences result. For 98% of us, that’s a crucial restriction, and we try to live within our means. That means we live with limited choices.
The Equal Rights Amendment did not get approved because it was not ratified by ¾ of the states. That Amendment to the Constitution would have benefited all kinds of people, but because of the options it would open for women, it remains controversial, with religious conservatives opposing it because of their pro-life stance. They continue to work toward limiting many women’s choices by demanding that we restrict ourselves to their choices.
While women, in total, make up more than half of American citizens, it is mostly men who are in power to make the laws that limit our choices. Take, for example the (thankfully unsuccessful) effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. A wonderful recent piece by (of all things) the United Church of Christ blog covers this issue beautifully, ending with
All this new-found talk of “choices” is a mockery, a betrayal of Christian values, a scheme designed to lull the most vulnerable into supporting a health care law resulting in worse coverage for them, at greater personal expense, to the benefit of the wealthy who will continue to enjoy Cadillac care for less.
Again, this is an example of our predominantly male (and conservative) lawmakers giving us “choices” that do not really give us much choice.
Somewhere between oligarachic patriarchy and total anarchy there has to be a system that will minimize the limits of our lawful choices. “Lawful” is the key word, here. From wearing a hijab (or not) to getting an abortion (or not), these are choices we women should be able to lawfully make for ourselves. And the folks making our laws do not understand the meaning, the importance, and the social structure necessary in making choices that minimize negative personal consequences.
I am a democratic socialist, which means that I would like to see America evolve into a system of a modified form of socialism, achieved by a gradual transition by and under democratic political processes. There are responsibilities to its citizens that every democratic government has. The piece on this page written by Alok Pandey, a young man from India, says it better than anything else I came across.
He ends with this. And so will I.
If it isn’t for people, what good is it for anyway? Now when I say for people, it doesn’t necessarily means doling out freebies to poor and giving a carte blanche to the rich. Any method is good if it is consensual and is in the better interest of the people. A democratic government must seek the approval of the common masses and later should be ready to receive the feedback for its acts.
I am no longer with my extended family for the holidays. Our life’s lessons have brought us to different places, literally and metaphorically. But there was an important time that we shared, and I celebrate those times of endearing family gatherings, before our realities diverged and they developed a need to pray for me.
And so I post these, remembering my extended family with nostalgia and also with an appreciation for even the tenuous connections that still exist.
They pray. I write.
Vigil Eve (“Wigilia’ 1950)
There was no mistaking this immigrant clan
for anything but a matriarchy,
bringing from its Polish homeland
the fundamentals of family, earthy foods,
a deference to the will of the grayest female.
The men earned hard money, revered their vodka.
as it was on the farms of the old country.
The rest was woman’s right and work.
So, when the magical time of Vigil Eve drew near
the men disappeared into their smokey enclaves
to share storied fatherland memories,
while the women gathered in her kitchen
a determined lineage of daughters,
by birth and marriage, armed with
the culinary legacies of generations.
Her enameled kitchen table, an assembly line
of dough, tools, bowls of rich concoctions,
filled with reflections of final farm harvests.
For days, they rolled floured, filled and pinched,
boiled, browned and layered.
We children sat at the floor, eye level to legs
in a corner of the steamy kitchen,
playing with scraps of pasty dough,
lulled by the soft humming of female voices,
the steady rumble of snowy urban streets.
The night of Vigil Eve flowed with prayers and feasting,
as full families gathered at the gray lady’s call,
reviving ancient rites of pine and light,
to sing the language and history of their people
carried across oceans of fear and hope.
They sang of homeland yearnings for freedom and faith,
of the tears of mountaineers displaced and despaired,
of the battles of heroes to free the heart’s land,
of mystical mothers and magical births.
Generations of voices in harmony
drifted through the lace-curtained windows
opened to the cold winter night, the night
when animals talked, wishes were granted,
and ancient rituals forged the bonds of blood.
Heart of Rom
(an earlier version published in The Berkshire Review, Volume 4, 1996)
Cyganka! My grandmother scolds,
as I bound off the front stoop
onto the wet city street,
propelled by the promise of stolen kisses
and the musky taste of Tangee
still slick on my lips.
Gypsy. Even the word brings blood
blood rushing to the pit of my stomach.
How I wish for the wild hair,
dark eyes, skin like old copper,
for a power ancient as the land,
the sweep of continents
and countless untamed hearts.
She ruled us with her will,
that Polish grandmother –
a small strong-handed woman
with a voice of faith-forged mettle
and a back turned straight against
truths too bold to hold.
Yet, they tell me once, as I lay young and dying,
she revealed her family secrets:
holy candles, crystal cups, vials of spirits, leeches,
while my mother watched from shadows
fighting demons with her eyes.
They tell me, when the priest arrived,
surprised to find the child alive,
he never commented on the faint red circles
following the tender length of spine,
the scattering of blood marks along the back
like ancient glyphs on altar stone.