Monday, March 27, 2017

The Sci-Fi Surprise

Until recently, I hadn't seen myself as a sci-fi girl. Growing up I liked Star Wars and I would watch Star Trek late at night while babysitting - pickings were slim back then, all we had was network television. But this never really struck me as being a "sci-fi geek." I realize now that I may have been deluding myself. Even though I wasn't a fan of Buck Rodgers, and Fantasy Island was too intense sometimes for this 9 year old, I had completely bought into the genre long ago. I loved the idea of what might be, what was possible and what we should all be wary of.

As I have gotten older I have realized that I am a sci-fi geek, and a big one. It's time to own it. The first time I fully embraced this side of myself was with the reboot of Battlestar Galactica. That show was incredible! If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend watching it (you can find it on Amazon and iTunes). It's so worth it. It explored many themes with an amazing cast. Somehow the unbelievable was made believable. And then, all of a sudden, we were wondering which characters were machines? Which ones were human? How would you know? Which of course is so relevant to our current human discussions about what makes you an alien, how would I know, and just exactly why would it matter?

To me, this is one of the greatest things about science fiction: it explores what it means to be human. In all my favorites (and there are many: Doctor Who, Firefly, Star Wars, any Marvel movie or series), the genre asks this constant question. Sometimes it asks it in a campy superhero way, and sometimes, as with Battlestar, it's much more complex and cerebral. And I generally love that exploration. I didn't want to commit that geekiness earlier in my life. For heaven's sake it's hard enough to be a girl, let alone a sci-fi geeky girl! I wanted it to be about entertainment. But let's get real. The thing that makes grown men and women dress up at comic con is this intense connection to a story that explores what it means to be human -- and somewhere in that story, that fan-girl saw herself. She recognized the person that was being questioned or resisting evil. And she saw herself. Of course I want to be Princess Leia, and The Doctor's Companion, and President Roslin. Why wouldn't I want to see the world through that lens? A lens at once complicated and simple; seeing both the complexity of humanity and the simple solution of finding love, compassion or truth. That's what sci-fi does. As far as I am concerned, we need much more of that.

I also think it's a little easier to see some of our own, real-life, questions when they are put in a different framework. Doctor Who is great at this. Is it ok to punish one segment of a society for the benefit of another? What will the consequences of our actions be years and years into the future? Sometimes seeing it play out in another world helps to clarify one's position here on Earth. I actually think Star Wars has some commentary in a similar way, especially about women and our expectations and stereotypes around them. I love seeing so many strong female role models in the Star Wars world! Why? Because even with the Women's Movement of the 70s, we are woefully behind in giving women their equal place in society. We are still fighting, and I love to see mighty females we can emulate.

So there you have it; I'm a self described sci-fi geek, cerebral and nerdy and all in. It's helpful at a time like this to have another world to sneak off to. It's a way to find compassion and humanity when many of the humans around me are expressing something completely different. You may not feel it so strongly, but I assure you, I do. Every time another black life is taken, every time another trans person dies, every time another woman has to fend off an attacker, every time a jewish center is threatened, a little bit of my hope in humanity is snatched away. And presently, that risk is higher than it has been in a long time. Make no mistake. The resident in the White House has opened this door. Your votes can close it. Think about that next election cycle when you are weighing the cost of your health plan in the balance with the cost of being human. For me, there is no contest. We have to protect the rights of those who are most threatened.

Help me sci-fi fans, you're my only hope.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Feminism and the Four-Year-Old

I didn't set out to be a feminist. I mean, as a kid, I was so shy it pained me to be called on in class. Calling attention to myself, even inadvertently, was to be avoided at all costs. Fit in, sit down and be part of the group; that was my motto. (It will be hard for some of you to believe this, but you can check it out with my family. They will tell you it's 100% true.)

But sometimes what seems like the best laid plans are just a stop gap measure until you find your voice, know yourself and feel good in your own skin. I feel lucky that I found that in me by the time I was in my 30s. It started in college, and I was realizing that I had been hiding for a while; but it wasn't until I was a mom and had faced down some life shit that I really embraced who I was. (Can we make that our new hashtag? #lifeshit) And hallelujah for finding my true self!  It was so hard trying to be someone else. I am glad I found me while I still had time to take her out and enjoy life.

But, finally being aware of who I am includes (very often) realizing that I am not like all the other ________________ (fill in the blank). I am constantly feeling the abrasion of not quite fitting into the molds around me. And I have realized that I am much more a feminist than I would ever have guessed. I'm not ashamed of it, I think it speaks to my need to see all the people. Men and women. Recently I found myself uncomfortable with this innocent scenario that played out at preschool:

Mom with toddler boy: Hold the door and let them go in honey; Ladies first!
Me with my daughter: . . . . . thanks . . . . (sigh). . . .

It felt gross, not for the first time, but especially because I had my daughter (my fiercely independent daughter) with me. And I did NOT want that to be the message of her world. It very clearly sounded like, "you know women are the weaker sex, so we do all we can to help them out. They need to be treated especially delicately. They just can't do all the things this big hard world expects of them, so be sure you help them whenever you can. That's a sweet lad."

Now I am sure that wasn't what that mother was thinking. At all. I am sure she was teaching her son a lesson about politeness and respect. Which I would have been completely on board with if she had just left the whole "ladies first" business right out of it. Hold the door for me because you wish to be polite, or because my hands are full. Pull out my chair for me because you respect me or love me. But DO NOT hold the door for me because I am a woman. I am capable of doing that myself. As are most women, and most men. Please, please, please, do not tell your child that their world view should include women as the weaker sex. Because that just promotes the idea that we deserve lower pay than men, do less work than men because we are not capable of doing the same work as men. I don't know a single woman who would actually claim those words, but be not deceived. When you point to the fact that I am a woman and then treat me as weak, your message is loud and clear.

When that mom said "ladies first" it made me feel the same way it did when my grandmother told me my black friend was "articulate." Holy lord. Please, oh please, do not start that backhanded double talk with me. Those phrases belong in the same drawer. Let's label it "covert discrimination." There is no need to prop me up. I have legs to stand on and the will to do it. And don't you dare try to shackle my strong, vibrant, curious daughter with those words. No, no, no. And don't shackle your son with that world view either. We have come much to far to let that happen. It does no one any favors.

I implore you, continue to be polite. Hold the door for someone because they are human and deserve to be treated respectfully. Pull out the chair of your loved one, because you want them to feel special. But I beg of you, do not tie these actions to gender. We all deserve more than that, don't we?

Friday, March 03, 2017

You Don't Look Sick

I have a chronic illness. It doesn't always show up the way other illnesses do, although some days it does. And sometimes it's hard to remember that I even have this condition, because it can feel like it has just disappeared. Sometimes I can go weeks, even months and forget all about it. And sometimes it's impossible to forget because it's constantly present, reminding me that it's mine; the symptoms can last for days. It's my own little mystery.

My illness is called General Anxiety Disorder. It's a mental illness. And that totally complicates things because saying "mental illness" to someone can be a deal breaker. There's still a lot of stigma out there surrounding mental illness. Somehow it's different than saying, MS or lupus or Crohn's. All of those diseases could have been the subject of the paragraph above. And having those sorts of chronic illnesses elicits a different sort of response. But once you say "mental illness" it's like there is a shift in the room, and the person you are speaking to leans back, just a bit. At least that's how it feels to me when I say it out loud. I am suddenly afraid that my credibility with that person just went out the window. And the truth is, at least a little bit of it probably did.

Anxiety can be a bitch because I don't look sick. I might not be showing symptoms that other people can see or recognize (at least the people who don't know me well), because I have mastered the art of Assuming The Role until I can get out of the room and into my car or back to my safe space. But the thing is, some days I honestly feel velcro-ed to the sofa, finding it difficult to peel myself off for any reason. It takes a monumental effort to just breathe in and breathe out. Then again, on some days I think I might explode from the feeling inside me - the feeling like a fluttering bird is stuck in my chest, banging to get out, but with no door to open to free it. It's hard to concentrate when something like that is happening. Some days I can't get my brain to stop cycling through the list, the monstrous overwhelming list, of things I have yet to do that may never get done, that seems impossible to triage because everything damn thing is so important. And incredibly, I still have to be the parent on those days. Those are the days that I pray I don't do too much damage to my kids. It's hard to explain to little ones that I am just not feeling like myself and I am so sorry for the yelling (or forgetting, or ignoring). The intersection of self care and child care is not easy to navigate.

I mention this because ever since November and the presidential election I have been feeling that anxiety creeping back into my chest. It doesn't always happen all at once, but when it does start to show up, I can recognize the feelings. And I have been monitoring myself for the past 4 months noticing the warning signs. It's definitely the political climate and the chaos that has ensued that has brought this back on. The need to become involved, and actually being involved, with the democratic process has helped stave it off. But it's definitely back now. And I would stake good money that I am not alone. The sort of upheaval that this election and it's subsequent government has caused is exactly the sort of trigger that most of us need to start the ball rolling on anxiety and depression. It's a hard time to navigate mental illness.

I had a recent conversation with a friend who couldn't quite understand why the election hit me so hard. I know it's not the same for all of us. Some of my friends are fine with the outcome. And some are just as scared as I am. For me, I see all the protections I counted on for my community and my kids eroding. I see a government hell-bent on becoming a Theocracy or Fascist State, neither of which make me feel safe. Being me is a whole lot riskier than it used to be. I live in a state without a hate crimes law, so the rolling back of transgender rights has real and scary consequences here. And I live in a state where our former governor (now the Vice President) made it clear that I am a second class citizen. He signed a law that made it ok to discriminate against me. So when I say that I don't feel safe, please recognize that as a real and honest fear, based in the reality of where I live. Where will it stop? We have already given up so many of our human rights. I have no reason to believe that it won't go further. Well meaning people have encouraged the climate we are now in, and furthered it, taking away my protections. Why would I trust it to be any different 6 months, or 4 years from now? Imagine for a moment what that might do to a person who is already at risk for anxiety. And now imagine that my prescription for medications that help me cope is at risk too, because the ACA is on the chopping block. It feels very unsafe right now.

So be kind out there, walking around this world. Nearly one in five Americans suffers from some sort of mental illness every year. That's a lot of struggling people. There are the mines you already know about (politics and religion) and the ones you don't (anxiety and depression). And maybe you will find it in your heart not to lean back when someone is brave enough to share their mental health struggles with you. Maybe, just maybe you can lean in, just a little. It would mean so much.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Motherhood: A Collision Course

You could scroll through this blog and discover what I am about to confess right here and now: I don't love motherhood. Please do not misunderstand me. I love my kids with a fierce, fierce love. I will protect them at the expense of my own self. I love my husband more that I can express. I love knowing that my people are become good and decent human beings. My family is a bunch of rock-stars. Get to know us. I am 100% sure you will agree.

But motherhood, that job is not my cup of tea. In fact, almost on a daily basis, I want to GIVE. IT. BACK. And I have had jobs that were hard. I worked at piloting an alternative middle school program - we made that from scratch and took all the kids no one else wanted, and I will tell you that was exhausting. I worked at a charter middle school in one of the poorest cities in the nation, working from 7am - 5pm (that was the required time on the job), keeping middle school students focused, safe, and off the streets. That was exhausting too. But none of that even holds a candle to how intense motherhood is for me. It will make you bloody and bone-tired and then ask you for more. It will take you right up to the cliff and kick you over. It is like standing in the middle of Times Square naked and hungry staring down a bear. Motherhood brings it. All the time. It's embarrassing and risky and exhausting.

I used to say (a lot) that I wish someone would have told me about all this before I decided to have kids. Perhaps other girls were paying better attention. Perhaps I just have an intense bunch of kids. Perhaps other women do a better job of sucking it up than I do. Perhaps this is just my own reality, and not that of any other mom. I really don't know. And in a way, it doesn't really matter to me. But I think it's incredibly important that I don't sugarcoat any of my experience as a mom for my kids. It's the hardest job I may never love. And it's the hardest job they may never love. And I want them to know that it kicked my ass on the regular, but that these kids are so important to me, I got up and did it again. Day after day. They are that important. 

This is my truth: You will feel under appreciated and beaten up by motherhood. And everything will go wrong, right after the help who was there yesterday (your husband, the grandparents, the babysitter) has gone. And the shit never hits the fan from 9am to 5pm Monday - Friday when the pediatrician and plumber have office hours. And speaking of off-hours, everything will feel personal at 3 am: puking, crying babies, fire alarms that won't stop. All of it. Totally personal. And no matter how prepared you are for all the contingencies, shit will find you. Sometimes you will have to do whatever you can to stop the bleeding (even if you have to use a tampon in your kid's nose). And the poop issues are prolific. Yours, the dog's, the kids', the over abundance and the lack thereof. Motherhood is definitely all about the poop. And you won't get "caught up" on your sleep for another 6 years, so just stop expecting that. And odds are good that showering regularly is no longer an option. You will not hear me saying to enjoy every moment, because sister, there are moments that absolutely need to be forgotten in the abyss of time never to be thought of again.

Here's what I want to say next: and it will all be worth it. But I hesitate to say that. I am not all the way through it. I have not come to see my kids as adult children with all the emotional and physical distance and time to prove that out. I am hopeful that it will be true. I am operating under that assumption. And the one kid that is close to leaving for college (Lord Jesus is that right?) gives me the sense that it is true. But I can’t give you that hope yet. All I can do is say that I believe making people into decent human beings is incredibly hard work, but what else can we do? We need all the decent and good humans the world can hold. So I persist in trying to make mine into that sort of human. And in the process I am pretty sure that I am also becoming a better human. I am being taught all sorts of lessons about human dignity and grace and mercy and love. And that my friends, is worthwhile.