Non-Wedding Bell Blues

Dear Bartender and Priestess,

I was supposed to be getting married in less than a month. Instead, my ex-fiance and I have called it off and completely broken up. Now, I feel like I’m left to my own devices. I am overwhelmed by my sense of loss and pain, and am already seeing a therapist to process everything. I am heart-sick, and can’t even put everything to the side because I have to de-plan everything we’d planned. I never knew I could feel this exhausted.

But still. I am left wondering…just what in the heck am I supposed to do on what would have been my wedding day? Continue reading

Weekly Photo Challenge: Create

When I was in college I became enamored with the concept of liminality.  Liminality is an anthropological and folkloric concept that helps us understand the importance of ritual and transitional space.  A wedding is a liminal event because it facilitates the transition from two separate individuals to one unified household; a beach is liminal because it is the border place between water and land; midnight is liminal because it is that spot between one day and the next.  Since a liminal space or event is by definition neither one set thing or another, it holds a vast amount of potential–anything can happen during the witching hour, and who wants to step inside a fairy ring and take a chance on what happens?

And so I’m looking more at the metaphor–and, esoterically, the process–of “create”.  I took this picture while vacationing at an adorable cabin on Keuka Lake.  We had kind of terrible weather for most of the trip; it was rainy and grey, not a good time for novice canoers like my boyfriend and I to get into the boat that came with the rental, but it was a great time to completely slow down and look at what was around.  When we could, we wandered down the hill and onto our dock.  When I snapped this picture I thought it was kind of cool, when I saw how it turned out I was struck by how liminally symbolic it is.  There’s George, at the edge of the dock (a border space), looking into the fog (which is inherently liminal; is it air or water?).

For me, this image captures what you do before you create something–you stand at the vast edge of your imagination, wide open and full of potential, and determine which way to go next.  Do you dive in?  If so, then whatever happens?  Happens.

Check out the other participants in the Weekly Photo Challenge here.

And below are some of my particular favorites, thus far:

http://joycannis.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/weekly-photo-challenge-create/

http://marantophotography.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/weekly-photo-challenge-create/

http://annarashbrook.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/weekly-photo-challenge-create/

http://justfletcher.wordpress.com/

http://iaggelidaki.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/weekly-photo-challenge-make-art/

http://disorderlychickadee.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/weekly-photo-challenge-create/

http://beeblu.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/weekly-photo-challenge-create/

http://berkshireviews.wordpress.com/2012/06/23/weekly-photo-challenge-create-2/

http://seraphim6.me/2012/06/24/weekly-photo-challenge-create/

http://cocomino.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/weekly-photo-challenge-create-making-bamboo-chopsticks/

You can check out more of my writing at http://beyondpaisley.net/

You Say Vageena, I Say Vagina

Last week in Michigan, State Rep. Lisa Brown (D-West) was barred from speaking on the floor of the State House–until further notice–after she said the word “vagina”.  Vagina.  The house speaker who  banned her claimed she violated decorum by her choice of words.  One of the most immediate—and correct—criticisms of this event is by Representative Brown herself, who said, “If they’re going to legislate my anatomy, I see no reason why I cannot say it.”  But the issues that surround the ban for saying “vagina” are more complex than just whether or not the word can be spoken civilly and with tact.  That answer is simple: Of course it can.  It’s not a slang term, it’s not a pejorative.  It’s the legitimate clinical name for a part of the female reproductive system, and it’s had to endure a lot lately.

Instinctively we recognize that we are all greater than the sum of our parts.  We know that there is more to being a man than having a penis, and that the vagina does not make the woman.  But the biological demarcation of gender is one of the primary ways in which we identify ourselves and each other in our society.  One of the first questions asked on forms we fill out is whether we are male or female.  One of the first ways we get divided in school is by gender.  Even our infant toys and clothes are gender-specific and highlight what we see as “normal” outward manifestations of our biological sex characteristics.  We may not think the actual phrase, “Oh, she’s a woman and therefore, she has a vagina,” but we know it, we understand it, and we base many of our interactions on our assumptions of gender identity.

And identity matters.

While Majority Floor leader Jim Stamas (R-Midland) said Brown violated “decorum” but has declined to elaborate further, Representative Mike Calton, another member of the House, said, “What she said was offensive,” and that “It was so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”

*sigh*  Really?  Can someone please install a fainting couch in the Michigan State House?  Because it looks like the menfolk are fixin’ to have a swoon.

Here’s the problem: vaginas and their use (or misuse, as some may see it) are being legislated about all the time.  Abortion, premarital sex, the “age of consent”, access to birth control, condoms in the school, rape legislation, these all center around what goes on inside a vagina.  Representative Brown said “vagina” during a debate about abortion which, like it or not, inherently involves vaginas.  And no matter how you feel about abortion, you have to understand that it’s going to primarily affect women, and women are classified as women (legally, in a hospital, at birth, unless they’ve had gender reassignment surgery—which leads to a whole other host of legal concerns) because they have vaginas.  Saying the word isn’t going to hurt anyone.  It’s not like yelling “Vagina!” in a crowded movie theater will cause mass panic, possible property damage, or death, though it may cause some confusion.  And to think that you can’t say the word “vagina” in front of women is infantilizing for everyone involved.  What are these guys, eight years old?  Are ladies going to giggle and hide because you’re publicly talking about their ladyzones?  This is how you act on a playground, not in a legislative arena.

It’s this playground mentality that delegitimizes any poorly-balanced leg the anti-vagina contingent thinks they can stand on.  First and foremost, sticking your fingers in your ears and humming loudly does not dismiss the existence of vaginas or the very real needs of the people who have them, no matter how much you might hope otherwise.  Neither does bullying your adversary into silence.  And clutching your pearls and swooning because you’re incapable of saying the word “vagina” doesn’t change the social reality that this is a part of womanhood.  Ladies aren’t comprised of lacy collars and high heels and floral scented body lotion and an anatomically smooth and undefined nether region.  Remember, with their pants off, Barbie and Ken are practically identical.  But men and women?  We are not the same.  When you are sworn into office as a representative, you swear to represent the entirety of your constituency and unless you’re the representative from Barbie-and-Kenville, part of that constituency will involve vaginas and the people who sport them.

Consider the other ways we socially identify—consider race, for example, since that’s another cultural marker that’s present at birth.  If members of the Michigan State Legislature were to faint away should another member said, during a debate, “Look, my skin is black, and this thing we’re debating about profoundly effects me, and not in an abstract way,” we wouldn’t expect that member of the legislature to get banned.  We wouldn’t expect the Speaker to get all “I’m not hearing you!  Lalalalala!” by pointing out that there may be different perspectives held by people with other cultural backgrounds, which should be taken into consideration by the officials elected to represent said diverse members of the constituency.  And if he or she did, we would (rightly) expect the ground to open up and swallow the Speaker for his or her reprehensible behavior.  Yet the vagina warrants a muzzle on the basis of decorum.  Indeed.

What it boils down to is this: he didn’t like her argument, it made him uncomfortable.  Because she’s vagina-bearing and identified by said vagina, and the word is indecorous and therefore dismissable, she became dismissable.  This?  Is not acceptable.  Not for adults, not for debates, and certainly not for legislators who orchestrate bills that can effect…oh…the entire population of the state of Michigan which, according to census information, is somewhere around 9,876,187.  Roughly half of all Michiganders have vaginas.  Ladies, don’t let yourselves get overlooked.

Remember, this ultimately isn’t a debate about abortion, even though that’s what brought about the vagina talk in the first place.  This is a public statement on the nature of debate and the creation of policy.  If you’re OK with legislators being shut down because they try to have a dialogue that represents the reality of women’s issues, if you’re OK with being dismissed because you have a body part that is viewed as a shameful thing that can’t be discussed in mixed company, then please, stay seated and continue to do nothing.  But if you’re tired of having to apologize for your vagina and want it to be recognized as a legitimate and healthy thing that does not brook dismissal, then take action.  Support Representative Brown.  Find like-minded people and support them.  And never, ever, ever allow the bully in the room to shut down a conversation because it makes them uncomfortable.  When we step outside our comfort zones, growth happens.  So get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable, and repeat after me:

Vagina, vagina, vagina!

Five Things I’d Tell the Teen Me

Recently, I saw an article on Chick Lit Is Not Dead guest-authored by Jen Lancaster, the unfairly funny author of books like Bitter is the New Black.  Start with that one and move forward through the rest; that’s what I did.  Anyway.  The article she wrote was, indeed, her version of what she would tell her teen self and that got me thinking…what would I tell me, if I thought for a second that teen me might halfway listen?

In no particular order…

1) Put down the cigarettes.  I suffered from a misguided sense of what it meant to look cool, so I started smoking as soon as I could; it took me a little more than twenty years to stop again.  Once I quit for good, and got over the hump of quitting, and got the requisite string of colds you tend to get after quitting and hacked up mysterious humours that were hiding in the depths of my lungs I realized…even though I was feeling crappy because I was going through the various stages of withdrawal, I felt…good.  Not great, but good.  I was processing energy more efficiently, I had less of a brain fog, my skin felt more vibrant and I thought…damn…for how long did I let myself walking around feeling bad?  And how did that factor into decisions I made?  How many times did I think, I just feel shitty, so why bother?  How did this limit me in ways I can’t even fathom yet?  Sure, the health concerns that surround smoking are also real, but metaphorically speaking, if it makes you feel bad…don’t do it.

2) You don’t have it all figured out.  And you never will; you’re not that clever.  When you think you do have it all figured out, hit yourself in the face with a hammer and go back to square one.

3) There are better ways to prove you’re an adult than by getting married.  I met my future ex-husband at the tender age of seventeen and was engaged four months later.  There are many ways in which I can in all legitimacy claim that the friction between the two of us helped shaped me into the mental giant who stands before you today.  But I didn’t marry him for his friction, she said unwinkingly.  I married him because I fell victim to the blue-collar thinking that the only way to leave my parents’ house was by marriage.  I could go on about why, but I won’t, because it doesn’t change the fact that there are, indeed, other avenues toward adulthood one can pursue.  Careers!  Weirder and groovier jobs!  School!  More school!  Travel!  All of these are more than acceptable paths to take and none of them necessitate marrying young and moving no more than ten miles away from your parents.

4) Celebrate your natural athleticism.  Think about all the ways it feels good to move around, and then do them.  Keep skating.  (I don’t mean “skating through things untouched”, I mean “strap blades to the bottom of your feet and hit the ice”.)  Try martial arts.  When things break or wear out or stop working for whatever reason…and they will…you’re going to have to kick your ass hard at the gym to start getting it back.  Defend against that inevitable future and embrace your inner jock.

5) Keep writing.  Write like your life depends on it.  Write like it’s your life preserver.  In a lot of ways, it is.

And a bonus!

6) You’re right to trust your instincts about that hairdresser.  When you walk into Supercuts and they assign you a hairdresser that causes you to instinctively recoil?  Walk away.  Or else, accept that you’re going to have a boy-haircut and will have to spike it for the next few months and will be that weird girl with the spiky hair, until it grows in enough to not be a boy-haircut anymore.

Come visit me at http://beyondpaisley.wordpress.com/

Happy New Year!

Recently, a friend asked me if I’d made any New Year’s resolutions.  The truth is, I haven’t. The truth is, I think they’re a terrible idea, because they mentally set us up to do something differently for the next 365 days and if we don’t…failure!  So when you miss that first planned day of going to the gym or you overindulge or don’t darn your socks in a timely fashion as part of your money-saving agenda, that’s not just a *biff*, that invites a negative moral judgment.  You resolved to do this thing, to embark on this life-changing endeavor, and you?  You failed.

Who needs that?  Mark Twain said, “Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time.”  In other words, Mark Twain got why resolutions are not geared toward fruition.  You don’t throw the bad habit out the window and hope it sticks the landing, because it never does; you just let it go, bit by bit.  Any advice anyone can give me about coaxing nail-biting downstairs will be greatly appreciated.

With that being said, New Year’s is…well…a new year.  A new beginning, by definition a transition point and a good time to do a self-evaluation.  Buddhists will tell you that everything is impermanent and so change is always possible as each moment is an independent one from the past, and there’s an undeniable reality to that.  But non-Buddhist Westerners (like me) like to compartmentalize and pretend that change is something to be initiated and manhandled, even if in our hearts we know that’s not the case.  I’m not saying it’s OK, I’m just saying that’s how it is.  And so, here are some things I’ve recommended to myself to do, which you may be interested in doing, too.  It’s far from a complete list, but let’s face it, neither you nor I have the time or energy to write down every little thing you observe and would like to change.  At least not in one sitting.

Or you could.  It’s your story to write, I’m just making suggestions.

1. Sweat more.  Your skin will thank you for it.

2. Do you want it?  Do you use it?  No?  Then throw it out, donate it, or recycle it.  Interior clutter just clutters you, too.

3. Read a book.  If you’re a student, take a break.

4. Stop hanging around with people you don’t really care about.  Find the people you do really care about, and focus on them.

5. Pay more attention to your food; it does go in your body.  Save the quota of junk influx for the aforementioned overindulgences.

6. Make friends with the question, “Now what?”  Give yourself permission to not know, but never the permission to not look for the answer.

7. Be nice.  By “nice” I mean, humane towards animals, playful but firm with small children and humble and open toward everyone else.

8. Consider other perspectives.

9. Don’t turn the TV on for “background noise”.

10. Find something you love and pursue it like you’re going to ignite if you don’t.

I just watched a PBS-Dr. Wayne Dyer show called Excuses Begone, and while he dances into the religious a little more than I’d like, he always offers sound advice.  In Excuses Begone, Dr. Dyer reminds us of what H. Jackson Brown, Jr. said,  to “Never underestimate your power to change yourself (oh, OK, cool!); never overestimate your power to change others (oh, crap).”  So I’m not envisioning that I will change the world with this, no matter how much I’d like to dash in and save you all with my insurmountably groovy appeal.  Honestly, I’m hoping I can follow my own advice, though with that statement I realize I have already undermined myself, so I’ll stop it.  It’s that easy to be self-defeating.  The hard part is embracing fabulosity, even though it’s what we all want for ourselves.

So go on, be fabulous.  It’s OK.  Have a delicious sandwich and I’ll see you ’round the recycling center.

Now what?

Read more from me at http://beyondpaisley.wordpress.com/

 

’tis the season

Dear Shoppers of America,

Black Friday has come and gone, and with it we have witnessed more than our fair share of the worst of humanity.  The most attention-grabbing headline was the one about the woman who shot pepper spray into a crowd to defend her deeply discounted X-Box.  But of course, there was a shooting in a parking lot as a family resisted a gunman trying to steal purchases, a tazing, and another trampling, though this one didn’t result in death.  I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.  ‘Tis the season, I suppose.

People, we’re better than this.  This is supposed to be the season for expressing peace on Earth and good will to all men and all that stuff.  Peace on Earth?  Is not achieved by shooting people in a parking lot and strafing a crowd with scorching pepper extracts in the name of X-Box ownership.  I could blame the stores—they don’t HAVE TO pound us relentlessly with ads promising everything at an unbelievable price, though that is their job.  I could blame the advertising agencies who send out a beat beat beat to buy buy buy and have gotten pretty darn skillful in equating shopping with happiness.  I could blame the news, who spend all of Black Friday following projected sales estimates and alternatively telling us we’re reviving the economy and fulfilling our patriotic duty by hitting the malls.  I could, but I won’t.  That lets us off the hook and people, it’s time for a moment of reckoning.

Of course we want to make our loved ones happy and of course we want to get them what they want, but are you sure this is the path to happy?  Loved ones want time + an expression of interest.  Do we think, “I’d love to have a conversation with the brother I don’t really talk to” or, “I have a brother I don’t talk to; I wish he’d give me a gift certificate to Macy’s so I know he loves me.”  As adults, do we look back on our lives and think, “Man, if Mom and Dad had gotten me that Barbie doll in the fourth grade, I’d be so much better off right now…they should have shot someone in a parking lot to get it.”

Question:  Has anyone died from not receiving something on Christmas?  Of course not, and I’m ridiculous, right?  Then when did the stakes become so high in the shopping?

In light of all this, I’m going to ask you all to remember these simple holiday tips:

  • Going to jail to defend your holiday shopping (or, to get your hands on someone else’s holiday shopping) doesn’t make you a better parent.
  • Stores and manufacturers don’t love you.  They just want your money.
  • Whatever the item, your loved one will survive if they don’t own it on December 25th.
  • Celebrate the season by projecting good intentions, not pepper spray.
  • Manners count.  All the time.
  • The best memories are made with you, not with the latest piece of technology that will be obsolete before you get it out of the store.

We’re all in this together, people, so let’s alter the direction this holiday season has started going down, and make it one filled with joy and peace.  Let’s make this the year to start a new tradition, one of happy, healthy memories that have nothing to do with unfettered wants and neglected emotional needs.  Bake the cookies, take the walks, plan the winter picnics and please, please, let the people you love know how much you love them in word and interested action.  Participate in the spirit of the season because I guarantee you, that message isn’t printed on the outside of an X-Box.

Peaceful holidays!

Terri

Cello? Cello? Is that you?

The scene:  A New Jersey Transit train, pulling in to Penn Station (New York).

Imagine this: a nearly full commuter train pulls into a busy terminal in New York City.  One of the commuters is a woman—petite, fairly young, with a backpack and, of all things, a cello.  She’s clearly used to the burden of carrying said cello, because she’s moving it about with a casual ease.  A non-cello-bearer, like me, would probably be far too nervous about breaking it or dropping it or stepping on it or somehow managing to initiate launch codes in it and set off a small thermonuclear reaction inside the carrying case.  This lady?  Exudes no fear that she will inadvertently explode her cello.  However, she does need to maneuver the cello out of the narrow train seats and into the aisle so she can leave, which requires a little more effort than a gentle slip into the relentless stream of people heading towards the exit.  She’s ready to go, but is going to be there a while.

Would you stop?  Would you notice her?  Can you step outside your agenda-based reverie to recognize that a ten-second delay would go practically unnoticed by the line of commuters and make that woman’s life much easier?  Would that matter do you?

I’m happy to say that I did.  It didn’t take much; I just stopped, and gestured for her to get herself out of the seat and on her way.  I remember her look of surprise—she actually said, “Really?!?”  And, as expected, she was able to get herself moving in a matter of seconds.  I’ll say it was ten, but maybe it was less.

For whatever reason, I decided to watch her.  As she got nearer to the exit, she let someone else out into the aisle in front of her.  That was nice, I thought.  Then the second person?  Let someone else out in front of her.  That person then held a door open for another commuter.  And so on, and so on.  Before I lost track, I saw something like seven generations of selflessly-paid attention, of unexpected courtesy, of unabashed civility.  I hesitate to call it “paying it forward” since that phrase has become a little hackneyed in our culture…and it also sounds to me like one’s “pay it forward”-esque behavior is calculated.  What I did, and I what I will continue to believe the rest of the people in that succession of pleasantries did, was simply behave as we ought.  And that, friends, is what shared humanity is all about.

If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere.

Civility

I worked retail for years, and by years I mean, ten of them at least.  I was trying to figure it out—it’s been a long time since I worked retail—and between the record store and the toy store and the clothing store and the two shoe stores…and the engraving place…oh, and there was the department store…yeah, at least ten.  And then I went into food service.

My unglamorous work history has one thread that largely unites my various jobs; I have had to work with the public.  I’ve seen them cranky, angry, delighted, I’ve watched couples get engaged, helped people celebrate sixty years of togetherness, prepared special orders for people with life-threatening allergies, and shoveled more Christmas presents into bags that I can dare to count.  All that time, my objective was to do so nicely.  With a smile.  Whether I was feeling good, bad, or indifferent, I still mustered up the energy to say “please” and “thank you”, “congratulations” and “have a nice day”.  At least I did so most of the time because—even  though I am from New Jersey, which many people consider to be The Land that Decency Forgot—my parents raised me right.

Courtesy.  Civility.  Manners.  They’re really pretty useful.

I had a conversation not too long ago with a friend who’s raising three kiddos, and they’re all toddlers so they’re in the primary stages of socialization.  She’s teaching them to be polite, to say “sir” and “ma’am” and “please” and “thank you” in the appropriate places and at the appropriate times.  She said, “I saw a TV show where a father and son were on, and the son said he didn’t think he needed to learn manners because he didn’t want to lower himself to someone else.  And BAM! It hit me…manners aren’t about lowering yourself, they’re about showing respect to the people around you.”

Indeed.

For those who think that a display of manners is a display of weakness or inferiority, please bear this in mind: you’re doing it wrong.  Manners are simply, as my friend said, a sign of respect.  I see you, person, who is another sentient, living being, standing right in front of me, and I celebrate your inherent humanity.  Where’s the debasement in that?  (Hint: there is none.)  We have become far too insular, and I’m not sure if it springs from our unhealthily grand sense of entitlement or our decreasing opportunities for genuine social interaction, or something else entirely.  But, me?  I find all this non-interactivity exhausting.

Humans are social creatures.  We form families, we make friends, we live in societies.  John Donne recognized this four hundred years ago when he said, “No man is an island, entire of itself.”  The world is since a remade place, but some things hold as true now as they did then…we’re still talking about Shakespeare.  Guy Fawkes is back in the news.  And no man, no matter how you look at it, is an island.  So, I’m rejecting insularity and taking civility back.  I’ve had it with feeling that weird, numb tension you feel when you’re transacting; I want to look a stranger in the eye, smile and say, “Yes, please,” or, “No, no…after you,” or “Thank you very much.”  And from now on, I will.  If I’m the only person saying it, then at least I’ll have lived up to my end of the social deal.  I can’t make people act how I’d like, and I’m sure I’ll get odd looks from my fair share of cashiers and unsuspecting neighbors, but then again, maybe I won’t.  The funny thing about behaving nicely is, I think more people want to do it than you realize.  All this time working with the public and I still think people are, in their cores, good.  If you play nice, I will hazard a guess that they will follow.  That’s what I’m doing, anyway.  I’d love for you to join me.