Thursday, February 2, 2017

U Can't Touch This

There is a friendly older man who works at my local supermarket.  I first noticed him six months ago when I was shopping with the kids. He waved to them and smiled. They waved back. He came over and asked if they would like a piece of ham. He works in the fancy cheese and meat department.

My children know all the stores to visit to get a tasty treat. They like to go to “pressing” (tailor/drycleaning) with me because the owners have a big bowl of lollipops on the counter and they always get to pick one. They know two different butchers where they will likely score a piece of sausage. At the fancy bakery in our village, they usually make off with an extra cookie or slice of cake. They’re cute and friendly, and they already know how to turn on the charm when there is an edible treat in sight.  

It is no surprise then that they are always happy to see their friend at the supermarket. He often stops what he is doing to give them a high-five or a pinch on the cheek and some goodie from the deli. He puts his hand on my shoulder and asks how I’m doing. He knows that we’re expats and speaks to me in English. (My Dutch is halting.) I’d guess he’s in his 60’s, kind face, quick to smile. I’ve seen him chatting with other female shoppers, even sharing a hug, and they all seem glad to see him. Frankly it’s nice to see a friendly face when you’re doing your errands, especially since sometimes we still feel like foreigners here.

This morning I went to the market after dropping off my daughter at pre-school. Time alone to peruse produce can feel like a spa day for a sleep-deprived parent. Should I get romaine or butter lettuce? Ooooh, or maybe baby spinach? Ahhh, the endless choices, and I don’t have to rush through the store, throwing items into my cart before one of my children wanders off or knocks over a display or rips open a package of something.

I was deciding between granola and oatmeal when Mr. Friendly came by.

“Hello, dear!”
“Hi. Good morning.”

He leaned over to give me a kiss on the cheek and then a hug. Too much of a hug. Far too much. My breasts were pressed against his chest and I felt his hands on my back.

I’m a hugger, and rarely have a problem with someone touching me, even a stranger. I am affectionate with my friends and family. My kids usually have lipstick all over their faces because I can’t stop kissing them. When I walk with girlfriends, I link my arm through theirs. Most people do not have enough platonic physical contact…it’s a reflex for me to touch others in a comforting, supportive, loving way. I acknowledge, however, that when I hug male friends, I subconsciously make my chest concave so that there is not too much contact. Maybe this is a hang-up because I’m busty. Maybe not. Twenty-plus years ago, a creepy (but insightful) guy told me that men like to hug busty women because they became aroused feeling their breasts. This could be total bullshit, but it lodged in my brain for better or for worse.

The hug from Mr. Friendly lasted only a second but it made me interminably uncomfortable. I crossed my arms over my chest defensively while he chatted with me about the children, the weather.  When I finally excused myself to continue my shopping he leaned in again and gave me a half-hug.  My arms were wrapped tightly in their protective position so he was not able to get close the second time.

If you have ever nursed a baby, you know that there are many sensations that awaken in the breasts, some of which are painful or unpleasant. This unwelcome contact provoked a visceral reaction across my chest, as if my breasts were rejecting the assault.

I continued my marketing feeling very unsettled. “Well, maybe he was having a bad day and needed some kind of affection?” I thought. My breasts answered, “that’s not our fucking problem.”

I made my way around the store, crossing things off my list. And then, there was Mr. Friendly again. I’m hoping it was a coincidence.

“Oh, Hi again!”
“Yeah, just finishing up.” I smiled weakly. “I’m really tired (truth) and I want get home.”
“Oh, you’re tired?”
“My little girl didn’t sleep well so…”
“I was going to ask if your husband was, you know, keeping you up.” He laughed and winked.

I fake laughed in response and swatted away the suggestion with my shopping list.  I escaped further conversation with Mr. Friendly and rushed toward the check-out. I still had items to get on my shopping list, most notably ham for today’s lunch, but there was no fucking way I was going anywhere near the deli counter.

While I was bagging my groceries, I kept running over the “innocuous” comment in my head. “Did he just ask about my sex life?! After he hugged me like that?!” I was livid.

In the parking lot, I ran into another mom I know. After exchanging pleasantries, I told her what happened. I just had to tell someone, another woman. I didn’t even mention the comment just the hug. “Ugh, that’s awful. I totally know how you feel. I saw a former colleague the other day and he got way too close, holding and kissing me. It was so inappropriate.”

And that, Friendlies, is the problem. Probably every woman in the world knows how I feel because women have to deal with this crap, these kinds of unwanted advances and inappropriate comments, ALL THE FUCKING TIME. EVERY DAY. Not just at the club when we’re rocking a hot outfit, but even in the market at 9:15 on a Thursday morning.

This is one of the reasons women are so heart-broken and horrified that a piece of human garbage is sitting in the White House. This is one of the reasons millions of women marched. Despite the myriad reasons he is unqualified for the job, his disdain for women, his cavalier attitude about sexual assault (yes, grabbing someone by the pussy is assault), should have been the end of his story.  Instead, it has given men all over the world the green light to (continue to) harass women, to threaten them with sexual violence, to be “inappropriate”.

Well guess what, Grabber-in-Chief? You just ignited some Righteous Female Rage. We’re done with men telling us what to do with our bodies. We’re done with making excuses for YOUR shitty behavior. We’re done being told we “asked for it".  Sisters around the world are rising up. And we’re coming for you.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

One Day at a Time

One of my childhood friends developed a meth habit. Our teenage years in Los Angeles were a bright 80’s pop of sunshine and big hair with a side of underage drinking and a heaping dose of drugs. More than one of my classmates went to rehab. More than one faced an unwanted teen pregnancy. More than one, so many more, lost their lives because of drunk driving.

I caught up with my friend, B, the summer after Freshman year.

“I haven’t heard from you in months,” I said. “Where have you been?”

“I was arrested and then sent to rehab.”

“Arrested?” Rehab was no big deal, but jail time got my attention.

“I was using crystal meth. A lot.”

Half of the guys in my senior class dropped acid. Blow was in. Pot, mushrooms, peyote, even the occasional X. But crystal meth…that sounded like something a junkie would use.

“Wow, that’s heavy. Are you clean now?”

B nodded. “Did you know it takes 21 days to start a habit? The same goes for kicking one.”

I have kept that 21 days in mind for years when making New Year’s resolutions. If I can just (fill in the blank) for 21 days, I’ll be successful. Confession: I have rarely/never made it to the gym 21 days in a row. I have rarely/never hung up my clothes 21 days in a row. I have rarely/never used night cream 21 nights in a row. I have rarely/never gone 21 days without sugar or dairy or…anything else I should avoid.

Fifteen years ago, I was offered a terrific job opportunity. A position with great responsibility, autonomy, creativity. I said yes. It was a new position with no blueprint, no guidelines or advice on how to achieve an ambitious goal in a short timeframe. I was on my own. It was exciting, challenging, frustrating, exhausting, rewarding. A few weeks into my new job, a colleague was added to the project. He had a different area of expertise and authority, but we worked together to further our common objective. We were busily completing our work when a new, tighter deadline was dropped on us. We already worked long hours and now we were expected to pull off the impossible.

“We’re never going to make this happen.” We looked at each other in panic.

“We’re screwed.” We paced around our small office wringing our hands.

The scope of the project was daunting for just two persons.

“We can probably keep it together for tomorrow’s presentation.”

“And fake it til we make it for the following day…” I offered. “But after that?”

Each day we had a new objective to achieve.

“We just have to keep moving forward. Advance a bit every day.”

“Survive and Advance.” We nodded at each other. “Survive and Advance.”

It became our mantra. And survive and advance we did. Some days with flying colors. Some days by the skin of our teeth.

I have written before about the importance of mantras. I offered two that speak to me personally. Your Body is a Temple. and Be Impeccable with your Word. I think mantras are helpful to keep us focused when life feels overwhelming, in moments of doubt, when we have too many choices or seemingly none. They can give us strength in moments of weakness or courage in times of despair.

I was moved to hear from a reader (and friend) that my post about mantras inspired him to create one for himself. More good, less bad.  I can’t think of anything simpler or more essential. Thank you, Friend.

Beloved Readers, please share if you have a mantra that has helped you!

We the People have entered a time of great upheaval. Most days the news is too bleak to read. We are becoming despondent or, worse, desensitized to the suffering and hate that abounds. We live in anxiety. We fear the future. But Friends, the veil has been lifted. Now we know what’s out there: the bad, the ugly, but also the good. Our eyes have been opened, and while we might abhor what we see, this knowledge, this new insight gives us power.  Have you felt powerless lately? You are not. We are not. There is no going back to our cozy bubbles. We can only move forward. We have no choice but to advance. And survive.

I can’t tell you if it takes 21 days to form a habit, but I know for sure that we can get through this day, this moment, and then the next one and then the next one…

Repeat after me: Survive and Advance. 

We’re in this together.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Regret Me Not

My father used to say : worrying is like paying interest on a loan you’ve not yet taken. He also told me : it’s better to be happy than right. He was a bon vivant, a philosopher, a philanthropist, a poet. Once, while shaving, the Muse whispered in his ear…he grabbed a pen and wrote a poem, right there on the bathroom wall.

Many a happy hour were spent watching the sunset and musing on the vicissitudes of life. Also drink and dialing loved ones around the world regardless of the time difference, because he couldn’t wait to tell them that he was thinking of them, that he loved them, to share his reflections or a bawdy joke.

When he left us at the ripe old age of 85 it was a huge loss. But I found comfort knowing that he lived a full life, that he did everything he wanted to do. A life without (too much) regret.

I was speaking recently with a long-time friend who carries the heavy weight of regret with him every day. He was married for twenty years, the last ten of which were filled with strife.
« If I’d gotten out sooner…. » he lamented, « I’d still be a young man.»
« You had hope that things could be salvaged. »
« All that time wasted… » he  looked into the distance.
« It was a learning experience.  You grew as a person.»
He gave a deep sigh and shook his head, inconsolable.
« It’s in the past. You have to move on.»
Watching this friend struggling to find joy, being eaten away by regret was a wake-up call for me.

Like everyone, I have regrets, but I realize now that holding on to them is a crushing burden that I don’t need to bear. I want to live in the present not replaying  the sadness or disappointment of a past action or worse, inaction.

When I wrote the word « regret » the following episodes were the first to come to mind. I regret not buying a pair of purple patent-leather maryjanes that I saw in the 15th arrondissement in Paris. They were the perfect shoe, but I was unemployed at the time and couldn’t rationalize spending the money. I regret not getting on stage to dance when they asked for volunteers at the Salon de Jeux Video at Porte de Versailles. I really wanted to dance but I was self-conscious about my outfit. Lame.

I regret that I did not reach out to a friend who was ill before I lost her. I didn’t know what to say, and was convinced that I needed to write a meaningful, perfect letter, I wasted time and…it was too late.

I regret getting involved with someone for the wrong reasons. It is one of the rare times that I blatantly disregarded my instinct. I knew that were wildly unsuited from the get-go and yet, I proceeded. After several weeks of hanging out and getting to know one another through deep, soul-searching conversations, I felt him pulling away. (I always give credit where it’s due : the guy was a good conversationalist and a good listener.)

We made plans to meet up the next day, a Friday…his tone was cool. When he arrived at my apartment we greeted awkwardly and sat down to talk.   I can’t recall the exact language he used, something to the effect : after all of our conversations he realized that, in fact, we were not a good match. I nodded in agreement.

This part I remember verbatim. « I think you’re great, really interesting, blahblahblah, but… I want to be with a woman who is a dirty whore and a filthy pig. And…that’s not you. » He had a slight note of regret in his voice.

*A note : I use profanity liberally so « offensive language » rarely offends me. I also have many confidants who have shared with me intimate, sometimes graphic, details of their lives which I do not judge. There is little in the realm of human relations that I find shocking.

This person and I had shared stories of previous relationships, including some intimate details, so that’s how he was able to ascertain that I was not « his type. » A dirty whore and a filthy pig.

I was glad, flattered even (!), that he realized that wasn’t me. He knew I had friends of all flavors and sexual orientations and preferences and kinks, so I suppose that’s why he felt he could be brutally honest (and extremely specific) about his true desires.

Once he left my apartment I called my three closest friends to meet me at the neighborhood pub. It’s not everyday one gets dumped in such a fashion.

An hour (and several drinks) later, I replayed the scene. When I got to the punch line, my friends stood there slackjawed, staring at me in disbelief.
Finally one guy pal said : »I didn’t think people really talked like that. »  Another : « wow, you just dodged a bullet. » My sweetest, kindest girlfriend : « A dirty whore? » she shook her head. « And a filthy pig ! » chimed the others.  

Throughout the evening and many more drinks, we repeated the story to friends and strangers. Everyone was taken aback. By the fifth retelling we were laughing hysterically at the dirty whore line. Perhaps trying to convince ourselves that it wasn’t so shocking, that it was normal, just another preference like being attracted to blondes or men who wear glasses.

The next morning in the sober light of day, it hit me again that I had been dumped. Yes, by an asshole, but still dumped. I called my dad for some sympathy. « Dad, I was dating this guy and he broke up with me. He told me he wants a woman who is a dirty whore and a filthy pig. »  Just repeating those words to my father filled me with shame. And so it finally dawned on me that those words ARE f*cking shameful.

My father was silent for a minute and then said : « Any man who would speak about a woman that way is, himself, a pig. »

Friends, just such a man is running for President of our magnificent country.

We visited my mother in California this summer. One night we were out to dinner, a table of four was seated next to us : three women in their 40’s-50’s and a man in his 30’s. It was the night after the DNC.  

I tuned into their conversation just as one of the women said : « What did you think of her speech ?» My mother and I had watched the speech together, holding my little girl (and glasses of champagne), with tears in our eyes. I returned to my dinner as the two other women discussed the merits and weak points of the speech. Then the man, the young, white man said : » Yeah, I dont know if I’m going to vote. »  I had to grip the table to stop myself from turning to my fellow American and shouting : « Are you f*cking KIDDING, Dude ? »

I can’t remember the rest of the meal, only that I skipped dessert, because I was so preoccupied by this stranger’s innocuous (!) comment. I had to talk myself down several times from laying into this guy with a string of insults : « how f*cking dare you ? Privileged white male ! Do you know how much is at stake in this election ?! Not vote ?! It’s your goddamn civic duty. » My heart was racing, my blood was boiling.

When we finally finished dinner, my mother walked to the door with my son, my husband was behind them, and I followed, carrying my sleeping daughter. I got five feet away from the table and turned back. « I’m sorry, I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation, » I said politely. The table of diners looked up, surprised. « Every vote REALLY counts….and Hillary is the only choice. » The women were quick to respond, « Oh, we agree with you ! »  but I was looking at the guy. He nodded at me uncomfortably. I bid them a good evening and joined my family outside where my husband chastised me. He was mortified by what I’d done. « I can’t believe you. That was so rude. No wonder nobody likes Liberals. » « Right, sure, Babe. » I stopped myself from saying, « Guess what? You don’t vote in this country so STFU. »

I walked around the car to put my daughter in her car seat. My mother was next to me. « I had to say something to those people about voting. » She nodded. « J thinks I was out of line, but my conscience would not let me be silent. I would have regretted not speaking up.» Under the glow of the street lamp, my mother, a paragon of politesse, beamed with pride.

Friends, I pray that your lives are free from deep regret.  I believe that the regret of a lost opportunity, of things not done, is more damaging than the possible dissatisfaction or discontent of a « wrong » choice. Yes, even my episode with « that person » was a learning experience.  If you do carry regrets, I hope you can learn from them (if there is a lesson) and move on.

I have learned that perfect doesn’t exist, and that there is no better time than RIGHT NOW to reach out to someone you care about. (Thanks for that one, Dad.)

 And, if your conscience tells you to speak up, listen to it. And finally, if the opportunity presents itself, you should always get up and dance.

Don’t forget to vote! Go shout it from the mountaintop : Nobody gets to sit this one out.

p.s. if anyone sees those maryjanes, I wear a size 8 ;)