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.